Doing God’s Will

Lent 25 ~ Slow the Horses

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The latter days of summer are a good time to wash the heavy linens used in winter. A clothes line is quite handy for this. I have a line full of soft blankets now, that were hung in the early morning, when the day was new and the scent of the mimosa filled the air up. Hanging clothes out is a peaceful task – and you are liable to solve a problem or say a prayer while doing so. I have done both.   ~  Michele Warren, The Rabbitpatch Diary

          One of my faults is that I tend to rush through life. In the midst of doing something, in my mind, I am already chasing down the next thing. I seem incapable of quiet deliberation, focusing on one thing at a time. Maybe that’s one reason why I am often tired.

          Today, Michele Warren’s quote and Linda Raha’s post, The Coming of Spring, hold a teaching for me.

Bring presence into everything

          To quieten the unruly horses within me, I need to learn to restrain my inner presence to the present moment. To be in the moment and to be deliberate in what I am doing. It will not always be possible, I know. Thoughts are much like clouds, chugging and skitting from one port to another. But giving free rein to wild horses is to run many races in one day and that is never a good thing if it becomes a way of life. In a rush, we fail to notice the little wants and needs along the path of life. We will be too intent on covering the course to savour the little joys hidden along the way. Racing from one duty to the next, we risk training ourselves to always focus on the next thing, missing all that’s precious in the present.

Life is not always about the next thing. Often, it is about how we live the now.

          A new dawn slowly begins to light the eastern skies in gold. A busy day is ahead. Already I feel the day’s tension champing at the bit, waiting to be released in myriad ways. Today, like many others, it’s not possible to pare down the list of things to be done nor to reschedule.

          But maybe it isn’t about doing as little as I can in a day as much as it is about slowing my inner horses, bringing my whole presence into every little thing I need to get done today.

          Maybe it’s to be like the sun, moving deliberately and surely across the skies, in careful measuredness, till his work is done at the close of day.

Lent 23 ~ A Time to Heal

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One thing good about Martha’s Vineyard being seasonal is that every year when the tourist season ends and everyone goes home, the island has a chance to heal from the summer onslaught.   ~  Susan Branch

 

                In this time of lockdown or Movement Control Order, it is all too easy to focus on the dark and the negative. On the mounting death toll. On the risks. On the endless what-if’s. I’ve lived too much of my life under the shadow of fear and I won’t go there now. Nonetheless, I’m not buying into the bliss of intentional ignorance either. That’s irresponsible. We must do what we must to be safe and to keep others safe too.

          It is a time of genuine worry and fear. But there’s something else too. Something beautiful out of all this pain and uncertainty.

It is a time of healing

          We need to heal from our dependency on the heady brew of the conveniences of daily life. We need to heal from takeaways, home deliveries and online shopping, just to name a few. They have made things so easy for us, and many of us have come to depend quite a bit on such services. And that’s fine.

          But sometimes, we take our dependency too far. We make excuses to use these services to avoid going out even when it’s safe to do so. We deprive ourselves of a good walk in the sun. We choose to instead stare and pin pictures of spring blooms instead of stepping out and feasting on the many surprises which surround us. We send each other online bouquets or use florist services instead of making up a small posy of blooms from our own little plots.

          When we return home tired from work, the takeaway beckons enticingly, and we tell ourselves we need a break, that a meal prepared from scratch, even a simple one, is too much of trouble. It’s fine when it’s an occasional option, but sometimes, we let ourselves go and make it a habit, and too soon, it becomes something we cannot do without.

          In my little town where we are free from at least the stress of traffic and long lines, many of my townspeople have come to overly rely on food services and food vendors for their daily meals. Eating out is not a luxury here. From the wealthiest to the poorest, almost everyone either dines out or sends out for food. On the rare occasion that people cook, there’s again that heavy reliance on ready made dips and marinades.

They want Grandma’s cooking but someone’s got to do all the heavy lifting for them.

          Over time, little by little, we begin to lose all that was bequeathed to us from generations before. We either forgo gardens or we procure the services of professional gardeners. We search out restaurants and cafés for the warm memories of old kitchens and food cooked with love. We don’t trouble ourselves cooking for our kids and family. We prefer to work than to return home to the whining and groaning of our kids. We hire home tutors and use that as an excuse to remain longer at work because that’s so much easier on our tempers than to struggle with our children over homework and exam preps.

          But with a lockdown, with restricted movement, all our previous refuges have to be vacated. We can’t go to work. Restrictions take away the luxury of some of the services that have become an unhealthy staple in our lives. It’s a terrible time. But even with Stay At Home orders, life still needs to go on. We need to make important financial decisions. But kids need to learn too. Family needs to be fed. House needs to be cleaned. Other needs need to be met as well. But no one’s there any more to do it for us.

We’re on our own

          It can be daunting, it can be frustrating. Some days can be hour after hour of mistake after mistake. But times like this can also be beautiful. Just like that beautiful island that benefitted from tourist dollars needs the rest of the year to heal from the effects of tourism, we too need this downtime to heal from certain conveniences that might have made life easier but also eroded life of value.

          We heal by going back to basics. We heal by simplicity. We heal by doing things ourselves as opposed to always depending on someone else.

          We heal by taking the time to do things. We heal by stepping back from rush and speed and instead, begin to savour moments.

          We’ve been given a gift. Let’s take it. Let’s go home to heal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rise Early

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He walked every Saturday and Sunday many miles to church, departing early in the morning, before dawn, to be on time for Mass and religious-instruction classes. He walked on naked feet, like all the people of his class, the Macehualli… During one of this walks to Tenochtitlan, which used to take about three-and-a-half hours between villages and mountains, the first Apparition occurred, on December 9, 1531. He was 57 years old, certainly an old age in a time and place where the male-life expectancy was barely above 40.   ~   St. Juan Diego, Guadalupe, http://www.michaeljournal.org

 

         He walked every Saturday. And every Sunday. Every trip, 7 hours. Barefoot. In the morning, before dawn. And this was after a hard work week in the fields.

          I think of the various saints who have come suddenly, quietly. Rise early, they are telling me. Some years ago, exhausted from work and lack of sleep, rising at 5.30 a.m daily for my morning devotions, God asked me to rise at 4.30 for Adoration. I couldn’t believe He was asking that of me!

          But God insisted and I obeyed grumpily. The difference it made to my days was immediate. And I kept to it. Until this year. With the stress and my health issues, even 5.30 a.m. was a struggle, I couldn’t do 4.30. God will understand, I comforted myself.

          Yet, here it is again. Through St. Juan Diego, God is telling me the climb up the mountain to meet Him is not easy.

7 hour walk

Two days of it

Barefoot

          Cactus. Stones. Thorns. The weather. It wasn’t easy for St. Juan Diego, it wouldn’t be for me too.

          But he did it. And so must I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Can Have It All

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Act of Hope
from the Augustinian Manual

Since You have promised to come and dwell within me, O my Redeemer, what may I not expect from Your bounty? I therefore present myself before You with that lively confidence which Your infinite goodness inspires. You not only know all my wants, but You are also willing and able to relieve them. You have not only invited me, but also promised me Your gracious assistance: “Come to me, all you that labour and are heavily burdened, and I will refresh you.” Behold, then, O Lord, I accept Your gracious invitation: I lay before You all my wants, my misery, and my blindness, and confidently hope, without the fear of being disappointed, that You will enlighten my understanding, inflame my will, comfort me in the midst of the crosses or afflictions  that You have willed that I should suffer, strengthen me in all temptations and trials, and with the powerful assistance of Your grace, change me into a new creature; for are You not, O God, the master of my heart?

And when shall my heart be more absolutely possessed by You than when You have entered into it?

 

          The week ended with a wounding and a struggle to forgive. When I sought my Jesus, He told me to pray for His blessings upon the two people who hurt me. It was a struggle for me to pray for them, much less intercede that they be blessed. And honestly, I didn’t want them blessed; I wanted the space of two continents put between me and them.

          But there was something about the words of Jesus when He directed them to my churning heart. His words imprisoned me, held me in a vice.

          And so began a new struggle – to pray for God’s blessings upon those who can only live if they hurt me. I wish I could say I fought my heart valiantly in order to fulfill the Divine Will; I did no such thing. I prayed alright, as often as I remembered, but I prayed for God’s blessings upon my enemies with all the sullenness of a spoilt child denied her wish.

          I prayed with a heart calloused by blows. And God saw my struggle. He knew I needed help to soften my heart. He offered that help through a worship song by Brian Johnson, Have It All.

 

          I played the song over and over and over, threading each line like a vine through my sadness and pain. Slowly, I could feel my heart softening. I could feel the hardness give way, the gates and walls crumble. I began to feel as if my heart had found its resting place, the wounds it hid within it bathed in a tender, gentle Love that Saw, that Knew.

That Mourned with me.

          It was then I realized I was loved.

          In a gentle awakening, I suddenly knew that my struggles were not hidden from Him, that He had not turned His face away from my ugliness.

I saw that I was not alone.

          I felt my God was holding me, holding me close, His arms around me, His hands over each one of my wounds.

          From that Love flowed a strength that flooded my will, levelling mountains and hills in its path. Lifted to the quiet skies sweetened by the breath of God in the green~gold breezes, I finally escaped the fetters that sought to imprison me to the will of the earth.

          I turned back towards the prayer He had asked of me,

Ask Me to Bless them.

           Freed by the miracle of surrender, I prayed unrestrained,

Jesus, give them Your Blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Communion of Hearts

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          Late in the evening, the waning sun closed each of its burning hot rays. We had come to this day after passing through portals of thorns and hot coals in the days and weeks past. We were expecting guests: a beloved priest and a friend, from hundreds of miles away. After a day of frantic housecleaning, I rose early again, to get a head start on cooking preparations. My back was sore. My husband and I were more than a little tired from work and the awful weather and its high temperatures.

          But we kept our minds and hearts fixed on the light ahead: Father’s visit. We hadn’t seen him in some years, and we looked forwards to time with him. We weren’t sure how we’d manage the visit. Cooking for our large family was tough enough; cooking for guests,  even only two, after a work week of endless hills and gullies, was reason enough to hold on the counter top and draw in a huge steadying breath.

          Nonetheless, I prayed that God would bless this visit and the two souls coming to us. So often, we ask and expect a lot of our priests, but we tend to forget that, like us, they too require food for their spirits and strength for their journeys, through bonding and companionship. Priests have sacrificed family life for the love of Jesus. Many minister in parishes very far away from their own loved ones. We take this love-gift for granted. We shrug and say, well this is what priesthood is about, and we expect our priests to accept it, be cheery about it and not burden us with the loneliness this great sacrifice entails.

          Some years ago, I remember reading Fr Joe Jenkins’ blog where someone asked him how his Christmas would be. His reply told of saying the Christmas Mass, of standing at the door to the church later, in the winter’s cold, wishing each parishioner Merry Christmas, then locking up the church, and going to the stillness and loneliness of an empty quarters. Fr Joe wrote simply and without seeking sympathy. But his words pierced my heart.

          For it never occurred to me until then that a priest could experience loneliness. That he and his brethren stifle this deep ache and go about their priestly duties every single day in joy of poverty, bringing Jesus to us as best as they can.

          It was this image that I kept before me as my husband and I chopped and pounded and raced from corner to corner today. I prayed that our family and our home be the blessing Fr and his friend needed.

          We might never know what wounds or needs they came with as they drove in with cheery waves and bouncy laughter. Yet, for the hours they graced our home with their quiet and their cheer and their oneness with us and our life, not a shadow crossed their sunny visages. Before us were two people who loved and respected family and in their own ways, sacrificed and worked to save family life.

          Because we said Yes to this visit, because we begrudged not our love and whatever strength we had, the fire-hot hours brought us together in this beautiful, tender communion of hearts. Priest, young man waiting for the right girl, married couple and their bouncy brood. We heard the words we needed for our own journey ahead. And in return, we hope we offered simple witness to the beauty of marriage and family life.

          As my husband and I looked up at the solemn orange moon and its muted gold aura later at night, peace settled gently into the folds of our hearts. I whispered my thanks.

          This was no random visit. Jesus had indeed come to us today.

 

 

 

 

Rock the Boat Now

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          This past weekend, at a family get-together, I learned that the will of God is indeed a refuge in storms. My husband and I were confronted  with the choice between standing up for the faith, annoying people with our stand and perhaps creating a rift between family members and choosing to be silent to maintain peace, as well as not to be seen as over-reacting towards seemingly one-off dissents  against the Catholic faith.

          Trust me, it was far easier not to rock the boat. We were a close-knit clan and it didn’t seem wise to stir up unpleasantness – even if a family member was breaking the first Commandment of God – I am the Lord Thy God. Thou shall have no strange gods before Me. Besides, most other members had chosen the more agreeable response of respecting a personal choice than to respect God’s laws. It was all about freedom of choice. As long as we, my husband and I and our children respected God’s Commandments, why did it matter whether others did or did not?

          It did matter. Because, like it or not, we are our brother’s keeper.

          If it was about freedom, it was that I should be free to express without fear, my concerns for a Catholic who was increasingly distancing herself from the faith. And I should also be free to express my concerns about other family members who were choosing to look the other way on this issue just to keep the peace.

          Why shouldn’t I be free to respectfully articulate the Christian perspective on the issue at hand when our stand was questioned? Why shouldn’t I be free to ask someone to take a moment to think about what they were doing? Even if we were not Christians, if a loved one was moving apart from the family, wouldn’t we talk to the person? To ask the questions that needed to be asked? To express our fears, our concerns?

          Wouldn’t we do all that and more – whether within or outside the context of religion?

          And so, when we were faced with the choice either to speak up or to be silent, my husband and I said what we needed to say. Just calm, quiet statements. No badgering. No condemning. I don’t know if any other hearts will be steered to a different response in the days to come. I pray so, but that is the work of the Holy Spirit. Unless the Spirit moves my husband and I to speak up again, His Will for us now is that we pray.

          As we drove home from that family gathering, my heart and mind returned to what we had done, to the line we had drawn in the sand, and the lonely side we had chosen to stand on. Even if it were never raised in future gatherings, I am certain that line would forever stay between us, possibly as the first of more of such lines. In every pool of laughter and tender tightness of hugs, there will from now on be a shadow in many hearts because of our stand, because of this first line in the sand. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel the sting of regret – not over what I had said – but over the necessary cut to this family I love.

          And yet, as I sifted through the pebbles of sadness, I realized a soft peace had spread over my heart. Even as I probed and prodded it, this gentle peace remained anchored firmly in place.

          That was when I understood. The Will of God is indeed a refuge in storms. We had done His Will this time. There was a price to pay for this obedience, for choosing the Will of God over the will of Man, but even as we paid it and hurt from doing it, He pressed His peace into our hearts.

         It is this peace that sealed the certainty in my heart that there are times when the boat of souls must be rocked. We cannot allow our hearts to be bribed by warmth of relationships and the worldly perception of peace to turn away from the bitter waters of God’s Will. If He stirs our spirits and gives us His words, then we must speak because He wants to speak through us.

          I can already sense a subtle chill in some of the winds as they coast over us. In a family that has always prided itself on maintaining respectful silence when disagreeing over an issue, we have broken ranks by choosing to speak.

          But true love of neighbor means that when the boat has to be rocked, it must be rocked.

 

 

 

 

         

Refuge

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If, on going to the garden to pluck some fruits, you were surprised by a heavy rain, what would you do? You would seek shelter under the shed, would you not? So when sorrow, bitterness, tribulation, rain down upon you, you must seek a refuge in the safe asylum of the will of God, and you shall not be troubled.   ~   St. Paul of the Cross

 

          There have not been many times when I have sought shelter in the Will of the Most High. Even fewer times when I have willingly gone to it, my own will fused to God’s. Almost always, every resting of my will is preceded by struggle. I have learned enough lessons from this point of acquiescence once I have reached it; I have learned and re-learned timeless truths of peace and serenity and strength when God’s will is mine.

          And yet, I continue to rebel. In every storm, I continue to remain out in the open, ignoring the shelter proffered, pleading my case before God.

          Why? Because up to now, I have only seen the Will of God as a call to obedience. I have not learned to accept it as a refuge from storms.

          There are some prayers in my prayer~cart, and I have gone before my Lord for them for a long time now. As there is a time to pray, there will soon come a time to rest those hopes, when He presses His hand against my heart and renders slumber unto my seeking.

          When that time comes to pass, I must, in faith and humility, seek the safe refuge of the will of God, where I shall not be troubled.

 

 

 

 

Lent 10 ~ The Only Son

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….you did not withhold from me your own beloved son.  ~   Genesis 22:12

 

          I was not Abraham two days ago. While I had not withheld my son from the trial he faced because that was simply beyond my power, my response to what had unfolded certainly constituted a withholding.

          Willful and calculated.

          Today, I come to the First Reading and God tells me, Long before you were faced with the faith-response to offer up your child, Abraham was, and he chose to break his own heart if it meant choosing to love his God.

          Abraham didn’t try to strike a win-win deal with God. Neither did he marshal an array of arguments to his favour. In simple obedience, Abraham chose to love God – despite what it would ask of him.

          Faced with an Abraham moment – of a far smaller scale – despite all my resolutions, I had chosen to love myself. I wish I could say that I was ashamed or sad or angry with myself, but I wasn’t. I knew I had sinned but even now, I wasn’t sure I would choose Abraham’s Way the next time.

          Then, came the clincher:

He who did not spare His own Son
but handed Him over for us all..     ~   Romans 8:32

          There will be another race today. My child faces yet another test. And so do I. In some ways, today’s race will be harder. I fear for my son. I fear the crushing. I fear the tears. I fear myself.

          He who did not spare His own Son but handed Him over for us all.

          Then, in a strange fluid easiness, I surrender my child to God. I give Him the race and all that would follow. I feel sick to my stomach but I ask for the strength to suffer that small cross. No bargains, no wheedling. I don’t feel heroic, neither am I pretending to be Abraham.

          It just feels like the thing that has to be done.

          I will not withhold my son from God.