PRAISE

When Every Bird Sings

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          Today was a golden, sunny Sunday when it seemed like every bird on our little property was singing. It was lovely to be able to sleep in a bit and then wake up to a chirpy morn, complete with dancing sunbeams and the bluest of skies painted over in white~windbroom  clouds. We had come from a very exhausting week, capped by 2 consecutive days of long distance travelling on Friday as well as Saturday. This was the new normal for the year of 2019. It took a lot out of us and I feared we’d all get crabby and start carping at one another as we so often do.

          But it didn’t happen this time.

          Because Someone was ahead of us before we arrived at any one point.

          He filled us up with patience and wisdom and gentleness for every situation. He gave us the remedy for every challenge we faced. He gave us the energy we didn’t have, and a larger-than-usual capacity for laughs and jokes.

          He smoothed our tiredness and helped us to take the Mass Readings and the Gospel to heart and to find gentle direction in the priest’s sermon. He cleared so much of our hearts of ourselves, allowing us to savour and enjoy dew~pearl moments that might otherwise have slid off us – the priest’s serene and solemn blessing of water in the Holy Water receptacle in the corner of church just before Mass, the blessing of a couple and their 5 children on the occasion of their 15th wedding anniversary. The red and pink roses from an earlier wedding, adorning the bases of the altar and the Divine Mercy image, fulfilling my Saturday longing for Guadalupe roses that day. The brief joining of hearts as we shared in parish happenings, under twilight orange skies wreathed in aging winds calling their goodbyes.

          He pressed His finger to my lips when I would have made unfair demands on my family, when I would have given in to my tiredness and snapped at them, forgetting they too were as tired as I was – if not more. He cleared our hearts of every angry twig and leaf of inconsequential-s, things that took on a shadow of importance only because tiredness distorted them to appear so.

          This Unseen Light brought us safely through dangerous roads and difficult night time driving, right to our front door. Then, He closed all our eyes to sleep and watched over our dreams till the sun rose to its throne today.

          On a day when every bird sings, you know you have been  blessed, and blessed in abundance. With that knowing, comes a chagrin too, that there’s so little you’ve done to deserve any of this.

          And when your heart is pierced this way, you want nothing but to give God everything you have in your offering basket. I had nothing of value in mine except a heart humbled and quietened for once by the abundance of blessings He had gifted us unasked.

          So, as every bird sang, I entwined into that sweet avian garland my own notes of praise,

Blessed be God,

Blessed be God,

Blessed be God.

 

 

 

 

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Fruit of My Lips

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          What is praise? Probably the last question expected from a cradle Catholic. I had already learned the important lesson of when to praise, as beautifully illustrated by Rebekah Durham’s robin in Praise in Winter. But suddenly, it seemed as if the understanding of what praise of God really is, was taken away from me, leaving me in the waters of asking yet again.

          What is praise? I pressed.

         The Angel stirred the waters.

Through Jesus let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess His Name. ~   Hebrews 13: 15

Go home to your family and announce to them
all that the Lord in His pity has done for you.   ~   Mark 5: 19

 

          Swiftly, this understanding was laid before my eyes,

A sacrifice of praise

Fruit of lips that confess His Name

Announce to them all that the Lord in His pity has done for you.  

 

 

 

As The Robin Sings

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         My heart is deep in winter now. The sun mists the skies with rose, shyly and hesitantly, sometimes not showing itself at all. A winter silence has descended. Everything, everyone, is a little quieter. The white power of winter’s cold stays even the most garrulous and rebellious of spirits.

          Every day, I sit by my window of waiting, looking out as far as eyes can see, over the distant hills and expanse of skies, waiting for hope. Even as feet hurry and hands remain busy, the winter has filtered out so much of the usual distractions; thus my spirit remains more securely anchored to this still waiting.

May the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ
enlighten the eyes of our hearts,
that we may know what is the hope
that belongs to our call.   ~  Ephesians 1: 17 – 18

          Where are You, Lord? I ask. Where is my hope?  Winter or not, troubles remain, dotting the hills and plains with their resolute darkness. When will the Promise come?

How much longer, Lord? How much longer?    

          Sometimes, I chide myself for this watching, like a mother to myself, afraid I’d fall hard and hurt myself if hopes are long in coming true. Yet, an unseen Hand continues to hold me to my perch on the watchman’s wall.

          This morning, rising early, looking out of the window, the thick white sky solemnly gazed back at me. Where is the hope that belongs to our call? I tiredly pressed into the watchful fleeces.

          Then, I remembered a visit I needed to make. Hurrying to it, Someone was already there.

I heard a chirrup in the trees and looked up to find a robin, her chest puffed proudly, indifferent to the weather. “And yet the birds persist,” I thought. The robin still perches upon the bare branch and sings out her song for the world to hear—praise to her Maker.   ~   Rebekah Durham, Praise in Winter

          Praise in winter. Praise as the robin does, even in the deep cold. 

          I winced slightly. Praise was a ring I hadn’t worn much of this week. Or the one before.

          I had an errand to run. I drove out, had it done. Driving back home, the radio turned off, I tried to seal my heart to God’s. I looked up once more at the white gray skies. A cheery westerly wind was blowing, making languid boughs bend forwards in welcome.  Remembering the robin on the bare branch, I offered up the beauty of the day to my Lord in praise.

          And then again, my thoughts returned to the troubles our family is facing, and I wondered, How do I hope right, how do I hope without breaking?

          Suddenly, piercing the well-insulated car, came an unusually loud avian singing.

Robins!

           Stunned, I scanned the line of trees bordering the roads. How could it be? How could it be that I heard them?? I could not even hear the crunch of the car tyres on the road. If I were to have heard  anything, it should have been that!

          But instead it was the choir of little robins! Unseen yet strangely, so very close. In a way I cannot explain, they seemed to be flying alongside the moving car – which they weren’t!

          The choir stayed by my ears as I drove into our home and got out of the car. Again, I was startled – they were our very own robins – patriarchs of the trees in our backyard!

          None of this made sense to me. How could I have heard the serenade of my backyard robins, from more than 400 metres away, in a moving car, through completely raised up windows and secured doors?

          As the winds continued their joyful ruffling in accompaniment to the gentle sweetness of the lilting robin hymn, I knew that Mother Mary, Queen Immaculate of my Saturdays, had brought me this beautiful miracle. Speaking through the tongues of birds, Mother bade me know that She heard me, that She was watching over my search for hope.

          But more importantly, She asked that, as the robin sings, undeterred even in the deepest winter, awaiting the hope of spring sun upon the snow,

so must I.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blessed Be God

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Whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to the One Who sits on the throne, Who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before the One Who sits on the throne and worship Him, Who lives forever and ever.   ~  Revelations 4: 9 – 10

          Something stirs lightly within me at these words of the 1st Reading from Revelations. When we glorify God, the 24 elders fall in worship before Him. I do not know what it means beyond what is stated, but even in its most basic interpretation, those verses stir the beginnings of awe in me: that my most meagre praises and thanksgiving  are multiplied in heaven. I begin the day in tentative praise,

Blessed be God, forever and ever

          I feel a slight, quick press of spirit in response to my first offering. Quick and then it is gone. I know I must follow, that it is up to me. This praise offering should have been a route I am familiar with, despite not traversing it enough.

          However, today, it feels as if I’ve never been here before. 

          Since last Wednesday, since the witching hour hammering at my gates, when a nefarious hideousness hovered for long seconds, suspended between my sleep and alertness, everything has changed. Since my broken scream, Where are you, God? Where are You? in response to the evil that came so close that night despite my struggles to hold fast to what is right – and with the gentle embrace of Heaven the next day, everything has lost its familiarity. It feels as if with that attempted encroachment, the past  – my knowledge, my understanding – has been erased by a mighty Hand. Structures – both good and bad – levelled, experiences wiped clean.

          I have to start afresh – but I’ve not been returned to the old starting point. This is a fresh start.

          It feels as if I must learn how to walk again. So, I get to my feet, wobbly and uncertain.

          And begin, Blessed be God, forever and ever.

 

 

 

 

 

I Love Thee

 

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          Almost two weeks ago, someone contacted me and asked me if I had heard of this particular St Joseph novena prayer ~ 

NINE-DAYS NOVENA TO ST. JOSEPH

(Note: This prayer was found in the 50th year of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Sometime during the 16th century, it was sent by the Pope to Emperor Charles when he was going into battle. It is said that whoever shall read this prayer or take it with them, shall never die a sudden death or be drowned, nor shall poison take effect on them; neither shall they fall into the hands of the enemy, or shall be burned in any fire or shall be overpowered in battle. Say this prayer for nine days for anything you may desire. Then let go and let God. Trust that whatever is the outcome of your novena is truly what is best for you in accordance with the will of God.)

O Saint Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires.

O Saint Joseph, assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord; so that having engaged here below your heavenly power, I may offer my thanksgiving and homage to the most loving of Fathers.

O Saint Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms; I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press Him in my name and kiss His fine head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. Amen

O Saint Joseph, hear my prayers and obtain my petitions. O Saint Joseph, pray for me. (Mention your intention)

          Then, this person informed me of a ‘spiritual’ nudge that I would have need of this novena too.

          That certainly got my attention because in the days before this happened, I had noticed that St Joseph was coming up pretty often. And my husband and I were both facing serious work-related issues as well. So, I took it as a sign and began the novena.

          The day the novena ended for me, I received a whipping at work. I had my life efforts dismissed for the second time in two years. My abilities were belittled and in shock, I watched another august institution I had respected deeply crumble into the sewer of moral erosion, pride and blindness.

          Although I withstood it better than the previous hit last year, the bewilderment and the pain was severe and it cut deeper, because this time, my humiliation was public. I was desperate not to cry, not to compound my shame, but I sensed the unrelenting wet hovered close.

          An angel answered my prayers and pressed my tears into a vault in my heart, to not fall before eyes, and a dear friend’s prayers got me through the day. I stumbled home in a condition one would expect as a result of the smashing and grinding into the dirt of every potter’s vessel worked and lived for.

          And yet, I sensed something was different this time. Throughout the lashing, my strength in tatters, I begged for grace to hold onto the Fatima Way, because I was struggling to hold on to my cross.

          Slowly, faintly, I felt my spirit being held up by unseen hands. I felt unseen hearts willing me to not break. I wept some, but again, someone caught them.

Take my tears, I whispered to the angel I had summoned, Press them into Jesus’ Wounds. Tell Him I carry my cross for the Love of Him.

          Turning my heart to heaven, I called upon the saints of my heart ~ St Joseph, Padre Pio, St Francis of Assisi and St Jude. I prayed for help because I feared the wave that would drown me was now hidden from sight yet determinedly advancing.

          And then, I prayed for my prayer.

          The prayer to anchor my heart to God’s when the blackness of anger and hatred born of a wounding inevitably arrived. I prayed and I begged with every breath. But only silence resounded.

          As the barest of evening winds began to be touched by incoming sable hours, my eyes were led twice to hymns and verses of Praise. I recalled Mark Mallett’s deeply enlightening explanation of praise ~ …the most powerful praise comes when we acknowledge God’s goodness in the midst of the dry desert, or the dark night…, and I knew no matter what shadow my heart lay in, the lepers’ response could not be mine; I could not return in thanklessness every gift He had sent me.

          So, I somehow found the will to form praise from my heart. I formed it from the bitterseeds of the scourging I had received. I forced myself to push past the pain to acknowledge my own sinfulness that to some extent I deserved what I had received, because pride in my abilities and work results had birthed tiny seeds of scorn towards others. By nurturing this within me, I knew well enough where I was headed for, yet no attempt had I made to pull this sin of pride out by its roots.

          I don’t believe I watered this poison; but I certainly didn’t deprive it of its home in me either.

          I picked up my sin and wove my praise from repentance.

I have sinned, Lord, Let me suffer this for you.

          Hours passed. Sinking my heart into the night’s Rosary with a yearning only a wounding can bring on, I wearily touched heaven’s door yet again, Lord, give me my prayer.

          In a breath, gently, I sensed something bud and bloom in the emptiness.

You Who live and reign forever,

I love Thee,

I love Thee,

I love Thee.

          I jumped eagerly for the words that streamed serenely into my spirit. But they gently eluded my will to tendril their peaceful vines around my brokenness. Over and over, all through the still night eyes, with no exertion, like breath I breathed them,

You Who live and reign forever,

I love Thee,

I love Thee,

I love Thee.

          I marched the events of the day before me. I replayed my humiliation. I kept my sin before me. Through each one, I breathed,

You who live and reign forever,

I love Thee

I love Thee,

I love Thee.

          When the silvers of dawn found me, the pain had gone. No trace but the memory of it.

          Not to cloud, nor to shadow, but to light the weave of path ahead.

 

 

 

 

The Stream Begins Here

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Praise has nothing to do with whipping up a frenzy of feelings and emotions. In fact, the most powerful praise comes when we acknowledge God’s goodness in the midst of the dry desert, or the dark night.      ~      Mark Mallett, Making Way for Angels

 

          In the week that was, I must have seen the word ‘praise’ light up every day. Like desert blooms after the rain, they popped up without fail everywhere every single day and twinkled their heads at me.

          Praise. Praise. Praise.

          Had I been in the same inner tumble of joy as I was some days past, praise would have come easy. But something had changed. My inner landscapes had shifted. The wildflower fields that had made praise so fluid and abundant just a short time back, had now given way to seas of sand dunes.

          Joy found another address.

          And praise became a sacrifice.

          Worse, praise became something my spirit had to be reminded of – and even then, dragged to; suddenly, everything became that much harder.

          Working in my garden one day, my aching calves called out for mercy, so, I took a break. Sitting in the heart of my green walled hermitage, gazing around me, I felt the air still suddenly.

          But it was a stillness that held itself aloof; it didn’t fall into my heart and take it captive.

          How I yearned just then to be taken captive by air hushed by heaven, its solace would have been most welcome, for  despite countless bouts with spiritual dryness, I have never been able to befriend it, not even now. This aridity came one day unannounced, made a place for itself in me, and began to blow sandcrusted winds across my spirit.

          The sun still rose to bloom white~yellow in the blues of the abode of clouds. The winds still skipped around in playful darts, flowers bloomed and died.

          Yet, even in the midst of life, the sandwinds blew steadily on.

          It was a test, but the gentlest of tests – to see if I’d falter in my giving. It was now time for me to will the song of praise unto heaven. I had to praise God even when I did not feel like it or want to; I had to, if not with love, then as a sacrifice.

          And so, I tried the words. Traced every prayer, thought and reason to find the elusive praise rhythms that could tie my spirit to the gates of heaven. Alas, like dried petals scattering in the wind, I lost them the second I touched them. It didnt take me long to admit this was not the way.

          As I sat there in the green stillness that swayed close by yet excluded me, I pondered this. I realized that the one thing as hard as praising God was for me, was – keeping still. Almost always longing to be still and resting in my God, I failed just as often to make the time and space for it. My every waking minute is spent tumbling from one activity to another. Even before I drop off to sleep each night, my last prayers are me trying to get the last word in before God.

          That moment in the emerald embrace of my budding garden, it came to me that my praise streams were close by. In May this year, for the first time, I began to take an active interest in the garden that was once solely the domain of my husband and children. Where once I was content to stand by its edge gazing in fondness at the various plants that have pearled a life in our soils, in May, in the month of Our Lady of Fatima, I found myself being drawn firmly into its embrace.

          It was as if the angel, the little Keeper of the Trees, had said, It is time.

          And so, every May evening, as the birds set their wings towards home, I began to spend time in this little palm of green cupped out of the earth. I soon added a seat here where I could sit back and rest and thus, place my heart in the stillness God asks of each of us.

          It was the sparsest of minutes, but it was more than I ever allowed myself before. And each time, I let my garden hold me in its love, the winds would begin its gentle skip around me, and the noise within would slow and cease.

          The stream begins here, my heart whispers in sudden comprehension. Not in words, not in thoughts, but here, in the earth~beds of creation. My praise for God is in the resting of the gaze of my spirit on the beauty of this garden, the stilling of my thoughts as I watch the winds hurry to its trysts across the red tangerine skies. Every time I silence the world to instead lean into the birdcalls of the gathering dusk, I form the notes of my own canticle of praise, for the only God there is.

          As I wrapped and bound my heart to this vow, I heard a sudden burst of birdsongs, such as I have never heard before. They came bright, light yet clear, from the greenheart of trees. I strained to make out whose they were but I had a fleeting sense the angels kept the feathered musicians hidden because that wasn’t what I was to keep my heart on.

          St Juan Diego had heard beautiful avian melodies before he saw the apparition of Our Lady of Guadalupe. If what I heard was even a breath of what had fallen on this saint’s ears, then, it is my Fatima sign that the stream indeed begins in resting our hearts in the beauty of Nature, when the world is exchanged for stillness.

CALL OF THE BLUE KING

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One August day, in the violet predawn hours, I was insistently awakened from a deep sleep by the hymn, Canticle of the Sun, the original lyrics of which were attributed to St Francis of Assisi. It was a puzzling experience for me, being one who neither walks through life with a hymn in my heart nor a prayer on my lips. If anything, there’s too often some worldly form of caterwauling in my heart and in my mind – certainly not a hymn.

Hence, to hear strains of hymns, often old hymns, from a place within me, is not something I am overly familiar with. And yet, in recent months, stumbling through the mists of sleep, I have been hearing hymns being sung. Hymns almost forgotten. They haven’t come from any music source. No other Christians here. Just a hushed chorus of unseen voices singing a hymn. And every hymn has had a special meaning, been another signpost in my faith journey.

Sunrise through flowers, Yazoo National Wildlife Refuge, Mississippi

So, I looked up the lyrics to Canticle of the Sun. An ode of praise to God for His gift of nature. As I sang the hymn quietly, Sir Brother Sun lighted up for me, pulsing with an invisible life of its own.

I was being asked to look at the sun. The sun is the sign.

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Week knit into week, and again, I was led to St Francis of Assisi. Led to read nuggets of his life, sampled his teachings some. But I sensed an air of waiting too. Like I had crossed the threshold into someone’s home and had begun to look around, while my host stood off to one side, waiting patiently and in quiet, for me to finish taking in the sights.

I was soon done with my cursory acquainting with this saint, and I too waited, but my silent host made no move. No word. No hand reached out to me.

Unlike other journeys into other lives I felt compelled to learn about. In those, there was always a tangible leading. And in me, an inner expectancy and anticipation to proceed to the next part of the journey. To delve further, unlock mysteries, find common threads that tie me to someone, something. But not this time. I liked what I had read about St Francis. I pondered some of his words. I liked that he had a friend called Juniper, and that St Teresa had called Juniper ‘Toy of God’. But beyond all that, there was no thirst to know more. No inner agitation to part the veil.

Yet, I knew, St Francis was no passing lantern along a darkened street. He was a light that stood in still, silent wait, illuminating a little of the space around him that I may see. Angels had taken me to him, and they had taken me for a reason. He didn’t beckon that my heart follow him. Perhaps, he wanted me to make even that initial move.

Stairway to Heaven, Assisi

Stairway to Heaven, Assisi

So, I prayed a puzzled prayer twice. St Francis, teach me what I need to know.

And promptly forgot about it in the mayhem of daily busyness.

It came back to me soon enough, this seemingly unanswered prayer. And the moment I recalled the prayer I had winged up, heaven told me it had been answered:

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Some days before, up for my dawn Holy Hour, a tiny blue kingfisher on a nearby branch had warbled out an avian melody of joyous welcome. In the hushed stillness of a world still in the last vestiges of sleep, no other sound competed with the little bird of blue as he bade me come to share his dawn. I put down my meditation book, let the prayers slide away. My feather-friend’s serenade to the awakening sun was a gentle chiding that I was not to mute God’s voice through blind adherence to a prayer routine. Through the bell-clear chime of his lilting call, God sent a little blue creature of His to remind me that the morning Holy Hour was not mine to direct but His grace for me. And so, no impediment must I erect to the outpouring of His mercies.

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In the blend of the following days, my blue feathered joy came to visit often, but only in the still silence of gray peach dawns did I hear his call to revere my Lord before his other differently feathered mates joined in the morning chorus to set the grind of the new day in motion.

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I had asked, St Francis, teach me what I need to know, and the saint had answered me through the call of the blue king with the rise of the sun, sent forth to fish for my soul, that it may always be free of fetters to worship in freedom the King of Kings.

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