HOPE IN SUFFERING

Lent 25 ~ At the Break of Dawn

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          My return to work after a short break brought with it the inevitable bite of winter. The oppression of loneliness and religious rejection. I tried everything I had learned on keeping my eyes on God, but I could sense the strength of spring slowly leave me.

          Some hours later, I received a text message of a cousin’s pain. As I reached out to comfort her through my gift of tickles, a healing crept back into my spirit. Within the hour, though nothing at work had changed, I was upright once more.

          I came home late yet determined not to bring winter in with me. I stoked the hearth to keep the fires of hope in spring alive. When bedtime came, I sought it with gladness as the day had been long and tiring.

          Settling down to sleep, I began to feel a strange weight pressing down on my chest. It felt like an iron brick. I went still, trying to figure out what was happening. The ‘brick’ pressed down harder – but oddly, I didn’t have trouble breathing. My thoughts returned to the day and I knew then that it had been harder than I was willing to admit. And it was not just today. Today had been just one day out of many long years of this same suffering. No end seemed to be in sight.

          Jesus, I calmly called out in the silence of my heart, Lay Thy hand upon my heart.

          In a heartbeat, the pain lifted. Just like that, it was gone. I snuggled down in the comfort that God was close by.

          But before I drifted off to sleep, I quietly asked God about my work woes, How long more till the promised help comes?

          Today, I see something that brings to life the tiny embers within me,

There is a stream whose runlets gladden the city of God,
the holy dwelling of the Most High.
God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed;
God will help it at the break of dawn.   ~   Psalm 46: 6

          I recalled the pain in my chest and how it had lifted miraculously.

God is in its midst; it shall not be disturbed

          When will help come? I had asked.

          Could this be the answer?

God will help it at the break of dawn.

 

 

 

 

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Endure

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Remember the days past when, after you had been enlightened,
you endured a great contest of suffering.
At times you were publicly exposed to abuse and affliction;
at other times you associated yourselves with those so treated.
You even joined in the sufferings of those in prison
and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property,
knowing that you had a better and lasting possession.
Therefore, do not throw away your confidence;
it will have great recompense.
You need endurance to do the will of God and receive what He has promised.   ~   Hebrews 10: 32 – 36

 

          More than a week ago at Mass, after the miracle of the birdsong, I went eager to hear what more Mother Mary wanted of me – in addition to the praise even in winter – that She asked of me. I had a strong feeling there was something more. All through the journey, later at Mass, I listened and listened.

          A sudden light beamed out of a side I never expected – the response to the Responsorial Psalm,

Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.

          I sat mute before them. I thought there was something I needed to do in response to that pulse of light but I couldn’t imagine what. In retrospect, I should have prayed those words, over and over, till I got my answer, or until the Angel pressed his hand over my spirit. But I didn’t. I just sat and stared at the words. Because I was waiting for something more specific to my seeking, What do You ask of me at my place of work?

          Mass ended and I felt the clouds continue to swirl in my heart. No clear and direct answer did I receive.

          Still, I wasn’t disappointed nor frustrated. The robin~miracle of the morning as well as the January work weeks of unusual inner quiet and immense strength, were before me. Something had begun for me in the fresh year. Something unexpected, not of my doing.

A stirring of a spring, an underground spring.

          Yet, I needed to be really sure. When we’ve been hit and hurt so much, sometimes, all we do is wait for the next blow to fall, even as we hope it will never come. We make the mistake of limiting hope to the smallness of that. Or that we escape. Or somehow survive. Sometimes, the kind of hope we’re capable of just cannot stretch beyond that.

          But I couldn’t turn a blind eye to January either. This strange January where an Unseen Hand had lit a tiny flame, hidden beneath the winter’s freeze. A flame of pure, quiet strength. Of a state of recollection I have seldom experienced before. A flame tiny yet strong, burning steadily, yet hidden deep within the cold breast of winter.

          I didn’t dare hope – but this was a clear call to hope. And no matter how afraid I was that this was merely a temporary reprieve, that the blows and rocks would rain down again soon enough, this strange secret flame, thawing the ice quietly, producing a clear, pure hidden spring that each day filled me with  wisdom, vigour and strength, was a whisper, yet paradoxically loud, strong and clear – that something has begun to stir in my life, even if all around me was the ice of old.

          It was this that filled me with a powerful certainty that even as I was beseeching  heaven for hope for my call, something was being asked of me as well. Praise – and something else. Just what, I didn’t know, my inner seas swelling in a restlessness that refused to be quelled by anything except an answer from heaven.

          Hours later, unable to go any further, I released my hold on my seeking. I had asked all I could. So, I finally rested my will and retreated to wait.

          At that moment of relinquishment, I heard a whisper. An almost inaudible breath against my heart.

Endure.

          Endure. A word, heard at any other time, would have produced waves of frustration, that after all the promise and allurement, it was to the old that I had to return to, not something new and vibrant; but back to all that was worn, rusting, dying – yet possessed with an infernal power to kill slowly.

          But no despair touched me as endure alighted gently upon my heart. Because endure was God’s reply to me. It was Spirit, Life itself, come to tell me to

Endure to do the will of God,

Endure till the rainbow dawns,

Endure till the Promise comes.

 

 

 

Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life.

The Days are Coming

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The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise   ~   Jeremiah 33: 14

 

          Yesterday, I tried God’s patience a little. He must have a lot of it, even for me. Because He didn’t rain down fire upon me. Instead, He has returned several times to my heart, when I least expect it, pressing small flowers into its soreness. 

          Yesterday, I told a friend that while I didn’t doubt the power of God, I could no longer bear to hope for change in my work and work place struggles. God has made it clear to me that I am to remain where I am to shine the light of Jesus. If I leave, there’d be no one else simply because there are no Christians in this place. This is not a Christian community, and will likely always remain so.

          I accepted that, but not in the joy of saints. I accepted it the way one would a life sentence. You just have to cope. You just have to go on. Beat your head against the metal bars when it gets too much. Grit and bear solitary confinement. Live in wary alertness, sometimes, fear, against attacks on you and your loved ones by your prison mates.

          I thought a break away from work would help but it hasn’t. What it has done is to heighten the deep heaviness within as the return to work looms closer. A mere glance of my heart in the direction of my work place, sears and hurts sharply. When I try to tug my heart towards prayer for the place, the people and the environment, my spirit recoils. The only remedy for it is to straighten my spine, stiffen my lip and get back to work.

          But not allow hope in my heart.

          Because, as I wrote my friend, hope is suddenly too painful to bear. It’s easier to return to work if I didn’t light the candle of hope within me.

          Hours later, my husband and I hurried on an errand to a town 40 miles away. We crested a hill and came down into late evening sunlight, curtained by the silver beads of rain.

          Deep in thought, I was unprepared for the massive, vivid rainbow before me. Huge, wide, in a kingly arc through slate grey skies, it stretched in a victor’s triumph from sky to road.

          Never in my life had I seen a rainbow as big and as strong as this! Despite myself and my grey thoughts, I burst into smile at the beauty of that surprise.

          And then, in a flash, I remembered one day, years before. I had just emerged from a terrible confrontation with my father. Only the grace of God had saved me and my family from a worse ending. I had the strange feeling of having been touched by the breath of death. My whole being was gasping and clawing for air – as if in those terrible moments earlier, it had been deprived of it.

          Hours later, my father gone, we were safe once more. My children were in the backyard. They excitedly called out to me to come and have a look at new shoots coming out of a plant. I was trying to defuse the earlier encounter of its hideousness by trying to hold myself together and prepare dinner. To keep things as normal as possible for my young children, to not allow my parents’ poison to find its mark again in our home and hearts again. But I was struggling. I couldn’t remember what to do. Kept forgetting ingredients. The last thing I wanted to do was to go and look at a plant.

         But my spirit had strained against me.

Life! Seek Life!! it called out.

         So, I left the kitchen and went to my brood gathered by that plant. There was honestly no happiness or even life in me, but I was determined that nothing of my inner turmoil should touch my children’s pure happiness in those new shoots. So, I sank myself into their joy. As I angled my head to get a better view of the new leaves, I had to look up the waning rays of the setting sun.

          Stretched before me, in the breast of the blue~gold skies wreathed by orange and pink cloud~ribbons, was a little rainbow.

          On a day when I had been so frightened, rushing to lock my gates and doors and windows, a macabre smile fixed to my face so as not to upset the kids, on a day when shaking from head to toe I fought to secure my home, God filled me with a spill of exuberant joy.

          That day, like a gurgling brook, joy tumbled and tripped goldpearls into my heart as I recalled the rainbow that marked God’s covenant of hope with Noah.

God said: This is the sign of the covenant that I am making between Me and you and every living creature with you for all ages to come: I set My bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between Me and the earth. I will remember my covenant between Me and you and every living creature—every mortal being—so that the waters will never again become a flood to destroy every mortal being   Genesis 9: 12 – 13, 15

          The bow in the sky. The promise of Never again.

          Now, 4 years after that awful day, on a day when I was feeling that to be strong was to not allow hope, a rainbow had appeared again. Mightier than ever, with a power that took my breath away.

          Once more, I remembered the Noah rainbow. I thought of the promise, Never again.

          But this time, hope did not flood back in. The wound was too deep. What does the rainbow signify this time, Lord? I asked dully. My attempts at saintliness had been puny and futile. I didn’t see a way out of my work woes – short of replacing my superiors and co-workers with angels and saints.

          And then, in weariness, I wondered if I was mad. If I was trying to make a rainbow more than it was. If I was trying to read my future in it – when it was just a rainbow, even the most beautiful of rainbows. If the discernment of every marker hitherto had been wrong. If they were all just stones and sticks. And just rainbows.

          As my husband navigated a sweeping turn in the road, the rainbow disappeared. Despite myself, I peered longingly at the rain~misted skies. Even if I didn’t believe it meant anything, some part of me just wanted the rainbow to smile on. Just to make life a little more bearable.

          What does it mean for me? I tugged at God’s robe again. Another turn, and suddenly, it was there again. I almost felt the gorgeous bow giggle at me. On a whim, I reached for my phone to snap a photo. Is it just a rainbow? Or is it a sign – for me? I asked God as I readied to snap.

          At that moment, I touched something on the phone and it switched to selfie-mode. I never take selfies so I’m not adept at switching between modes. Although after some fumbles, I can normally revert it to normal mode, this time, desperate to take a picture of the rainbow before it disappeared once more, I couldn’t figure out how to undo it.

          When I finally reverted, mere seconds later, the rainbow was gone. It didn’t want to be photographed, I moaned to my grinning husband.

          Then it hit me. It was a sign – not just a rainbow. God didn’t want it on my phone, to be looked at over and over, till its significance was diminished. That’s why it was ‘taken away’.

          The king~bow was gone but now ribbons of quiet happiness had wound themselves around my heart. I went happily to the remaining hours of the day.

          This morning, Christmas edging closer, house cleaned and cleaned yet looking like we hadn’t started on it yet, I felt very tired. My thoughts skipped towards the rainbow of yesterday. I no longer doubted it had been a sign for me. But now I wanted to know what it meant.

          I busied myself with cleaning again. A short while later, stopping to catch my breath, the lines of an old Advent reading I see every single day came before me once more. Every single day, my eyes pass them and they have never paused my stride.

          Today, a sudden light pulses out of them, stopping me.

          The days are coming, says the LORD,
when I will fulfill the promise.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the Broken

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          Yesterday, coming out of the dregs of difficult weeks, the sullenness of grey skies and a shuttering of morning winds didn’t bud optimism and cheer in me. I went to my prayers with a dogged determination but it was a struggle, especially when it came to praying for those who were hurting me.

          Then came the 1st Reading for the day – 2 Thes. 1: 1 – 5, 11 – 12, and a light scattered its hope within me.

Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy to the Church of the Thessalonians
in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
grace to you and peace from God our Father
and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters,
as is fitting, because your faith flourishes ever more,
and the love of every one of you for one another grows ever greater.
Accordingly, we ourselves boast of you in the churches of God
regarding your endurance and faith in all your persecutions
and the afflictions you endure.

This is evidence of the just judgment of God,
so that you may be considered worthy of the Kingdom of God
for which you are suffering.

We always pray for you,
that our God may make you worthy of his calling
and powerfully bring to fulfillment every good purpose
and every effort of faith,
that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you,
and you in him,
in accord with the grace of our God and Lord Jesus Christ.

For the very first time, I felt the words were written for me and for every broken reed.

LA SALETTE ~ SEPT 19

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Two years ago, Our Lady of La Salette http://www.lasalette.org/about-la-salette/apparition/the-story.html  came into my life. As I was led to read up on Her, little did I know that a journey was to begin. Maternal hands set me upon a path leading to the light of understanding and healing. It has not been an easy journey; I am, by no means, done. Often, I fell and could not get up, because sometimes, the Light seemed too far away. All through it, like a true mother, Our Lady stayed with me, even when my emotions and lack of trust blinded me to Her presence. Gently but firmly, She explained why sufferings were needed, and in Her tenderness, helped me face the reasons for my trials. Today, on the Feast of Our Lady of La Salette, I share this poem that gently reminds us that our suffering is never for naught.

Blessed are They that Mourn

William Cullen Bryant (1794–1878)

OH, deem not they are blest alone

Whose lives a peaceful tenor keep;

The Power who pities man, has shown

A blessing for the eyes that weep.

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The light of smiles shall fill again

The lids that overflow with tears;

And weary hours of woe and pain

Are promises of happier years.

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There is a day of sunny rest

For every dark and troubled night;

And grief may bide an evening guest,

But joy shall come with early light.

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And thou, who o’er thy friend’s low bier

Dost shed the bitter drops like rain,

Hope that a brighter, happier sphere

Will give him to thy arms again.

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Nor let the good man’s trust depart,

Though life its common gifts deny,—

Though with a pierced and bleeding heart,

And spurned of men, he goes to die.

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For God hath marked each sorrowing day

And numbered every secret tear,

And heaven’s long age of bliss shall pay

For all his children suffer here.

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