PRAISE

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 that he had 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 hidden from sight but advancing.

          And then, I prayed for my prayer.

          The prayer to anchor my heart to God’s when the putrid 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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