Yearning

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          As day eats into day, and work becomes an endless biting of the spirit, there’s a world I wish I could escape to – the beloved Prince Edward Island of Anne of Green Gables. Not just for the beauty of this Eden-on-earth, but also for the living that kept souls leaning against God’s heart. For the communing of neighbours. For a return to the time when work was a labour of love built on charity, generosity and simplicity of heart.

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          The fictitious Anne lived the life I yearn for more and more each day. When I come home from work, scratched and worn from a job that seems increasingly removed from God and heaven, when I am too tired and crabby to surrender in love to the calls of family life, when a wretched yellow air stains the little bit of green we own, I think of this bejeweled land and the life it allowed, thousands of miles away, and of the simple folk who once lived it.

          And I long and long and long for it to be mine too.

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          Will my children ever be as safe as it was then, when children knew no fear of shadows and moonless nights and darkened hearts? Will they ever know the little joys of diligence nurtured in honesty and integrity? Will they ever be free to dream and play in innocent abandon?

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          Will living ever be generous enough to allow us time to wander down quiet roads to tryst with nature? More than anything, will time ever slow down, and find its rhythm in gentle passage unbeholden to man’s tainted aspirations to rush and crush?

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          No answers lie in repose in the creases of my spirit. In this humid stillness of fret, that beautiful island and its olden life are further away than ever. Tonight, gratitude and thanksgiving is a bough beyond my reach because I’ve set my heart on a life in a world beyond me.

          But what is hope if not to anchor my vigil by the door of steadfast faith, that someday, that old life of ethereal grace will be mine.

A Deepening

         

          Yesterday brought into the day a deepening of a struggle – my Christian faith against this one other faith. My Christian space against this particular one. My rights against it. This is not a new struggle, it’s been close to twenty years, of being trampled upon, abused – by those who adhere to the tenets of this particular religion. This is a religion of a thousand dictates. Here there is no such thing as a conscience – they do not even recognize it. All it seeks is a rigid and robotic adherence to its tenets, even as the rights of the living and the unborn are abused, the innocent maimed or killed, marriages and family life destroyed by polygamy, abortion, incest and child marriages.

          Yesterday, I reached some kind of breaking point. I received news that my attendance was required at a national programme for a specific work community whose members come from every race and religious creed. But I soon found out that the programme was going to be interpreted through the lens of this particular religion. The greatness of this religion, to be specific.

          I felt as if I was tethering on the threshold of spiritual nausea. We had just heard news of an 11 year old who had died from abuses inflicted on him by a religious school warden (that religion, again). It brought back memories of last year when my own child had been hit at school and the lengths we had to go through to ensure our children were safe at school here.

          And now hearing that I had to participate in an event that was merely an excuse to extol the eminence of this farcical and cruel religion, it took all I had. I had gone past the last gates of tolerance and patience. I had nothing left in me.

          In raw desperation, I looked into familiar nooks for consolation, hope. But it felt like pulling on locked doors. Until night came, and with it, our family Rosary time. I flung myself, heart and soul into the recitation of the Luminous Mysteries. I tried meditating on the mysteries, tried emptying myself to be filled by God Himself – but this was not one of those days. I was too filled and full of my own frustrations; I needed to find the stopper that plugged the keg, only then could I find release.

Please help me, Mother Mary, please help me, I begged. Take this Cross away or give me the strength to face it, to carry it.

          Rosary ended with no discernible sign that the bitter chalice was not to be mine to drink from. I went to bed exhausted. I love Thee, O Lord, I love Thee, O Lord, I love Thee, O Lord, I prayed from the depths of my weakness, seeking the only Hand that could comfort me.

          When I awoke, I was less than ready to face the day. The tough work week had left me tired out; the struggle I was now facing, depleting my energy even more. But it was an important work day and I didn’t dare lie back for some extra minutes in case I slept off. Not this on this day, I told myself firmly. As I sat up, a song burst in my head.

On this day, O beautiful Mother,
On this day we give thee our love.
Near the, Madonna, fondly we hover,
Trusting thy gentle care to prove.

On this day we ask to share,
Dearest Mother, thy sweet care;
Aid us ere our feet astray
Wander from thy guiding way.

          The hymn beat out any other thought. It had been very long since I had heard this hymn, even longer since a hymn had flooded my mind like this. But I had gone through this enough times to know the hymn held heaven’s message to me. I leaned in closer as it played over and over in my head, and realized two lines were standing out more.

Aid us ere our feet astray
Wander from thy guiding way.

          I groaned when I realized what it meant. By asking to be saved from facing this struggle I was going through with this other religion, by asking to be kept away from it, I was walking away from the path Our Lady had illumined for me. I was rejecting the Divine Will.

          Nevertheless, I wanted so much to be wrong about what I had discerned. Maybe there is some other line for me in this hymn, I thought.

          I looked up the hymn, and traced every line of its lyrics. My heart remained unmoved till the last verse ~

Fast our days of life we run,
Soon the night of death will come;
Tower of strength in that dread hour,
Come with all thy gentle power.

          For whatever reason, the journey of my soul and spirit was along this route of thorns and knives. This programme I was to attend was a mountain in my way. And no one scales a mountain to reach the other side by shimmying up the nearest tree.         

          I went resignedly to work, and was soon caught up in the busyness of the day. But a grey shadow of regret remained. Regret that my prayer had not been answered differently. Regret marked by weariness over the many more mountains like this that remained to be faced and overcome.

          Nonetheless, I turned my heart back to heaven. Help me to face it, I slumped into God’s Will, defeated at last.

          Late into the night, there was a knock on the door of my spirit, and the Conversion Prayer dictated by Jesus to St Faustina Kowalska was laid before my eyes.

          My despondent spirit jumped to life. Taken aback by this, I looked closely at the prayer I have prayed very often before.

If you say this prayer, with a contrite heart and with faith, on behalf of some sinner, I will give that soul the grace of conversion.

“O Blood and water that gushed forth from the heart of Jesus, as a fount of mercy for us, I trust in You”.

          Conversion of souls! My spirit leapt at the promise. So that was where this journey was heading to! That was why this suffering, and perhaps more later, could not be circumvented. It was not about me. It was about saving souls.

          Something drew me back to the prayer again. Returning, this time, I saw one little word shine out more than the others:

Contrite

          I had asked for the cup of suffering to be taken away. Despite the almost 2 decades’ long background to my suffering with the members of this religion, the coming Cross in the form of the programme I was to attend was minuscule in contrast to the immense tearing of soul that others had to endure. Could I honestly say I was disturbed by the increasing loss of souls to the tyranny of this religion, and yet refuse to partake in their salvation – just because the path of my compliance lay among deadly thorns and knives? What was the use of lamenting if I was not willing to be Jesus’ Hands and Feet on this earth, in every way, to help return these prisoner hearts and souls to the Heavenly Father?

          Where was my contrition?

          In bringing this illumination to me, an angel had ministered to me in the desert of my present struggles. I got to my feet, still unsure of myself, yet now firmly anchored in the refreshed certainty that God would provide all that was needed. Just as Jesus had died to save us, so must I face this night of death for the conversion of souls.

Aid us ere our feet astray
Wander from thy guiding way.

          I had sought to leave my Cross. To it I must now return.

Loader of the Prayer~Cart

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          My weekend began with an examination of my conscience, and a doubting of the path I was now on – to empty my prayer~will. To empty it (of petitions) – for God to fill it. Off and on, through the weekend hours, I kept going back to this – Was it the right thing to do?

          Then, my mind wandered over the changes and happenings that had ensued from the new prayer.

          There had been power. Strength. There had been joyous, unexpected  happenings.

          And yet, I continued to nibble at the certainty, slowly ragged-ing its smooth edges. What if I was wrong? In these days of fake news and lies and distortion and illusions, had I veered off the True Path? What if I was wrong to empty my prayer~will?

          On the Feast of the Divine Mercy, I went before God. You have to answer me, I insisted.

          The first reply came through Susan Skinner’s post, If You Seek Healing. Of the many things that lit up in her piece, this caught me firmly – once you have emptied all of you, you can be filled up with God.

          And I learned yet again that the emptying of my prayer~will was the Will of God Himself. It was not a hardening of my heart, as I feared. It was not a callous disregard of the entreaties of others.

          It was another step in the journey of Surrender that I first began almost ten years ago. One I veered off many, many times, and returned to as often. And now, with the emptying of my prayer~will, I was tentatively opening myself up even further, laying everything of me at His Feet, to be used as He pleased. During Lent this year, my spirit got caught in the Call of the little Consoler, the Fatima seer, Francisco Marto. As I began to try to offer up little beads of Chaplets and Rosaries, solely to console the Wounded Heart of Jesus, like the little Shepherd had done, I learned of this little by-path the  emptying of the prayer~will was leading me to.

          But my learning was in no way over. Something else of Susan Skinner’s post remained in me: humility. When the eyes of my heart turned to it, I found it in a little pouch, its strings fastened such that I could not undo them to understand what deepened meaning Humility held now for me.

          But meaning came soon enough. That night, I read the words of a niece of the soon to be canonized little shepherd-seers. Jacinta Pereiro Marto said, “God chose my uncle and aunt because this is what He wanted, so much that my grandfather used to say that the Virgin wanted to come to Fatima and she chose his children, but that we didn’t deserve anything.” Because of this attitude instilled in the family by her grandfather – father to Blessed Francisco and Jacinta Marto – “we always lived very simply because God chose, and He chooses who He wants. We don’t deserve anything.”

          Her humility, the humility of that entire family despite understanding the import of the apparitions in Fatima all those years ago, was like a flower bursting into bloom for me. I realized that the erasing of my will in my prayers was a deepening of humility. To understand that it was not for me to ever occupy the driver’s seat of prayers. And not even to decide for myself which prayers to load onto my cart to take to Heaven.

          For the God who chooses me to drive the cart, is the same one Who will decide whose need gets onto mine and whose goes to another prayer~cart.

          Although I still do not understand why I have been brought to this point of placing even this freedom to pray for others in His Divine Will, for now, I feel a deep security in the Marto wisdom, God chose, and He chooses who He wants.

          The same God who chose my prayer~cart, will fill it with the needs He chooses.

 

Lent 40 ~ Fear Not, He Is Risen

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I was with Him when He rode into town
And crowds gathered ’round Him like a king
Their smiling faces joined a sea of branches waving
Though they were masquerading in the end.

And my heart rose in my throat
When I heard them sing
Hosanna in the highest.

We went upstairs,
Broke the bread and drank the wine
From the only living vine that we would taste
And I watch them take Him up the mountainside
Where He was crucified though innocent
And they mocked Him
And cursed Him with their mouths
And told Him to come down if He was God.

And my heart broke in my chest
When I heard Him say
Forgive them, it is finished.

I remember in the garden
When He sweat like drops of blood
And how He begged the Father to let Him pass the cup
I can still feel the anguish
When they pierced Him in the side
And how the ground beneath us shook
Upon the very moment that He died.

Three days later we found an empty grave
And the stone was rolled away where He had been

Tears of joy streamed down my face
When the angel said,
Oh, fear not, He is risen
Oh, fear not, He is risen. ~ Sean Carter, Passion Song

 

Lent 39 ~ Memories

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          Hours upon hours of stillness. A world frozen. A world in motion. One has ended, the other in a flow that barely paused. Voices filter through the bars, laughter even. Huddled in spots, people gather for the news, casting for details they might have missed. Mouth to ear, word by word, a story gets told.

          Almost forgotten is a mother, whose heart beats in the shadows of anguish. Surrounded, yet alone, travelling the length of remembers.

          Of a Baby She held to Her Heart, a life loved, a life lived, lit by lamps of a million memories. Thoughts and words, so many, many, tucked into each crease of times gone by. Old yet fresh, anguished yet tender, in its unveiling.

          Held again, this Mother Her mutilated Son, in farewell poignant, one last time. Released now as Light to the world.

          That life may live again.

Lent 38 ~ For Love

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Love never abandons.

The Blessed Mother walked each step of Calvary.

As He wet the rugged stones with His Precious Blood,

She wet it with Her Holy Tears.

Stone by stone they traversed, Son and Mother,

As before

As always.

He wiped the blood from His eyes so that He could look again at His Mother…

Till the very end, His Mother in His Heart.

She receives His Body from the Cross

Asks for the Blessed Weight against Her once last time.

Memories

Of a Baby held against Her shoulder

Tight and comforting then,

The leadenness of Him against Her now

Knives score Her broken Heart

For She was as much a mother like us,

as she Is the Mother of God

She weeps for the Son She gave up

That He may belong to us all,

Love,

Love everlasting.

 

 

Lent 37 ~ Pressed to His Heart

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          When our Lord announced to His Blessed Mother what was going to take place, She besought Him, in the most touching terms, to let Her die with Him.  ….She did not weep much, but her grief was indescribable, and there was something almost awful in Her look of deep recollection. Our Divine Lord returned thanks, as a loving Son, for all the love She had borne Him, and pressed Her to His heart. ~ Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich

Lent 36 ~ Water from the Wounds

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          Since Sunday, I have been trying to get the family to reduce the hours we spend on ourselves, and instead, carve out minutes for the Lord through an additional Rosary and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. Throughout the course of each day, when school and work ends and we come home, we slip away to our nooks for a bit, and offer a decade as often as we can.

          It’s not much, I know. Not when you compare it with the greatness of what many others offer the suffering Lord in this most holy of weeks. Not when churches are being bombed and lives being snatched away. Not when even those short minutes we give Him are pock-marked with distractedness and hurry and so many other mottles.

          But small it may be, it is willed by heaven for us. And I know it because I am not capable of pulling this out of my own head. It wasn’t until some days into it, that I realized that we were, in fact, consoling the Wounded Heart of Jesus. It has given me much joy to be able to at least offer this; greater joy that the family is part of it too for the first time. All we offered were our minutes. We didn’t ask for anything in return. 

          And yet, the short days we have lived since Sunday are different. There’s a depth and gentle peace overshadowing the tired hours. Despite the hectic work-calls. Despite the little pricks of hurt and humiliations that form the fabric of every life.

          I put out my hands and receive this grace of Holy Week peace and strength with deep joy. And with sadness too because what we have received is so very much more than what we have given. Jesus had no one with Him in those terrible hours of Agony. Today, so many lifetimes later, my family and I timidly approach Gethsemane; sometimes we reach out and touch Him, often we stay among the shadows of busyness and self.   

          And yet, He holds it not against us, but sears us with His Love, far beyond the worth of our blighted offerings.

          This love which I suddenly feel with a new keenness enflames my heart with a yearning to go beyond our Gethsemane offerings, to do more for the Suffering Jesus. This too is new for me. I do not belong to the company of those who willingly suffer for Christ. Spiritual timidity renders me a shabby candidate for this esteemed group who love their Lord with all their soul to the point of death. The prayer to escape suffering must be, by far, the prayer I most often pray.

          Hence, the wanting to suffer for Him now takes me a bit by surprise. Do what? I wonder. Almost instantaneously, I see a situation unfold itself before me. It is a work situation with several very unpleasant people. People bent on making other lives a misery. People who thrive on the pain of others. And I sense Jesus wanting me to go forwards and face this lot for Him. Not to run away, to avoid them – even if it is to keep the peace. But to bravely face them if need be and to be genuinely sweet about it. To do it for Jesus.

          I wanted to run and hide instead.

          I didn’t want to see these arrogant and rude people, much less be sweet about it, because I know who they are and what they were capable of. I didn’t want to be punched in my face, so it didn’t make sense to go looking for a punch.

          An hour later, striding into work, hoping not to be asked to be sweet, I saw a familiar form on a nearby seat. There she is, I thought caustically, my sour little owl, praying rain on everyone.

          Then I heard my own voice in my head, Do it for the Wounded Jesus.

          For my Wounded Jesus, I whispered obediently. Before I could even process that, I realized I was smiling at the woman.

          I got a sullen stare for my efforts, and I’d be lying to say it didn’t hurt because I’ve never done such a thing to anyone. But I whispered again, For my Wounded Jesus, although I felt no love in my heart for that woman.

          That was the only test I faced today, and in the later hours, I did wonder why there weren’t more. After all, I didn’t fare that well; my heart wasn’t flooded with love. Not for that person. Not for the Cross either. It felt more like failure than anything else.

          It wasn’t until I stumbled home from work, bone-weary, very late in the day, that I realized something had happened as a result of the single For my Wounded Jesus. From that moment of suffering, tiny though it was, a gentle and cheery patience had begun gurgling and bubbling thorough my spirit like a happy brook, silvering its way through quiet fields. Despite the tough work day, on and on that little stream went forth, spilling its diamonds into one weary riverbed pocket after another.

          Again, for one paltry offering, an overflowing of grace in return.

          The eyes of my heart go to the Divine Mercy. The stream of comprehension slowly reaches me. Rays of Blood and Water emanating from the Holy Wounds.

          I realise what I have received today. Water from the Wounds.

Lent 34 ~ Stone by Stone

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          There have been times when an element has come up a lot for me in a period of time. Last year, and last week, it was stones. Everywhere I turned, stones turned up too. Metaphorical stones.

          Stones that hurt and kill.

          Stones that shield and protect.

          I cannot be sure what it means. I have both wounded others with stones I had hurled against them, and I have been wounded by stones others have trained on me. On the eve of the Feast of St Francis of Assisi two years gone, I was shown stones – smooth, uniform ones, stacked up together to form the walls to a safe house, a refuge, that was said to be mine.

          On Sunday last week, after the day before was spent in deep prayer, with nothing to precipitate it, no disturbance, no wounding, I felt a sudden change.

          I felt stones in my spirit. And the petitions I had been praying dried up inexplicably.

          Stones were being stacked up, the wall going up higher and higher. In a slight panic, I fought them. I didn’t want stones in me. Not after a night of prayer. I wanted to pray more, but I couldn’t anymore. I ran after every prayer need that had hitherto been entrusted to me, and I tried to carry them back to the altar of God.

          But they all tumbled away from me. And soon, I could no longer even summon the memory of them. Because the stones had begun to go higher around me.

          I was being walled in.

          Yet, there was no anger, no sin I could discern. Who was this, doing this to me? I wondered. Try as I could, I could not make out the mason. I began praying, Lord, tear down these walls, Lord, tear down these walls, Lord, tear down these walls.

          All through the hours, I prayed that prayer. And then, it slowly came to me. I could still pray. I could pray the Rosary. I could pray other prayers. Wall of stones or not, there was no impediment to prayer! What had changed was that I could not summon a need or a plea to those prayers. I could pray as long as my prayers were emptied of my petitions.

          That illumination sobered me up. I didn’t like it any more than I did before. But I was no longer agitating over what black nail I was hanging from. It was willed by God.

          Nonetheless, the stacking of stones continued undeterred. I understood the new way of praying God wanted of. I understood that it could go on for any length of time He had willed.

          But I didn’t understand the stone walls. Why was I being walled in?

          The illumination didn’t come till now.

          I think I am being placed in a room away from others. For now, I think it is a room with tiny openings. Too small for others to enter; big enough for God.

          I cannot be totally sure, but I suspect I am being called to an inner hermitage. Walled in against distractions; yet, walled and sealed to the Church. In days of old, this was what a hermitage was like. Those called to this were known as anchorites. A religious rite, almost a funeral rite, was performed as a sign that the consecrated soul was now dead to the world, but living in God and for God totally. And then, the anchorite would be walled in.

          I’d be a downright hypocrite if I didn’t say I am relieved no funeral rights have been performed upon me. I belong to that unfortunate group with nine of ten toes still firmly and happily stuck in the world, sparing only one for God. This is why I think, I just think, that I am not being called to the level of asceticism of an actual anchorite.

          But it is a journey that will lead me away from myself, towards the Light I seek. The walls of stones rising within me portend an inner seclusion. How long have I yearned and prayed for an inner cloister to escape to, just to be with my God.

          That prayer is now slowly being answered, stone by stone.

          Just not in the way I had imagined.