Fear

Lent 6 ~ The Seas are Stilled

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Troparion

Heavenly King, Consoler Spirit, Spirit of Truth, present everywhere and filling all things, treasure of all good and source of all life, come dwell in us, cleanse and save us, you who are All-Good.

          This is my prayer for today. As I reach for it, I become aware of waves of anxiety coursing through me. Today, I number among thousands in my country who await a court ruling which will determine the next course of our lives. Whether a decision will be made today or not, today is nonetheless a significant marker in our professional journey.

          The waves rise higher within me.

Heavenly King

Consoler Spirit

Spirit of Truth

          I turn and face the waves. Lord, I pray, if these are from satan, take them away. But if they are wounds which I must bear, touch each one…

          The words of my prayer have barely formed when I immediately sense the waves curl into mist and disappear.

          And the seas within me still.

I Will Act

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          Sometimes, even the brightest days can be troubled by ribbons of cold winds. Something just didn’t like seeing me skipping about, and so it brought me a troubling update on my job, to dampen my happiness. I stood still for a bit as I took in the news. It was as real as bad news can be and it was draining away the last vestiges of hope. Then, I made up my mind: It was the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. In honour of Her, despite the news, I decided to make that little leap of faith and willfully choose to cling to Our Lady’s hand. Mother, I prayed, help me trust in Jesus. I returned to my day, brightened again.

          Some hours later, those cold slivers made another attempt to unsettle me. Feeling their presence, I didn’t want to pretend I wasn’t a little anxious. I didn’t want to pretend to be strong. I wanted to be honest with Jesus. And so, I prayed once more. Lord, give me a sign. I am worried and afraid – but I don’t wish to be. Help to me get on with life. Then, I turned to Mother Mary once more. Keep me close to Jesus, Mother. I think I was/am tired of being afraid, of being spooked. There comes a time in every Christian’s life when we realize that the way to really live is to trust fully in Jesus, and I might have finally arrived at this point of realization and of wanting it for myself. Trusting doesn’t suddenly make merry our walk through life. There will still be valleys to traverse and tears to shed. But for me at least, to trust fully might mean a lot less of the inner wobbling I fall victim to so often.

The wavering in trust, as Jesus called it.

          And the minute I made this decision to trust, Jesus answered my prayer for a sign for the way ahead, but in His way. He sent me His beloved emissary, St. Margaret Mary Alacoque,

          I must no longer concern myself about anything it may please my Sovereign Master to do with me and in me; He has told me He will cease to take care of me only when I am preoccupied with self. I have experienced this many times through my infidelity, the outcome of which was the thwarting of my wishes. But I no longer have any desire but to do what He has told me many a time: “Leave it to Me to act.” 

          When I heard Jesus’ words in my spirit, I was infused with a soft yet strong desire to not be a hindrance to my Lord’s work in any way. Jesus wanted me to stop looking over my shoulder and He had shown me the way to do it:

 

Beloved:
Let no one have contempt for your youth,
but set an example for those who believe,
in speech, conduct, love, faith, and purity.
Until I arrive, attend to the reading, exhortation, and teaching.
Do not neglect the gift you have,
which was conferred on you through the prophetic word
with the imposition of hands by the presbyterate.
Be diligent in these matters, be absorbed in them,
so that your progress may be evident to everyone.
Attend to yourself and to your teaching;
persevere in both tasks,
for by doing so you will save 
both yourself and those who listen to you.   ~   1 Timothy 4: 12 – 16

 

          My fears about our future were being fed by the attention I was giving them. And every time I fed my fear, even a little, I took my eyes off Jesus. But the Jesus who knew me so well also understood that I could not simply force myself to stop fearing; I needed to be focused on something instead. So, He exhorted me to be absorbed in my job and in my studies.

          I immersed myself immediately in both calls. Soon, I could feel the shadows retreat and joy bubbled within me once more.

          As I worked and rested in the deeps of joy, the angels came by to gently lay His promise upon my heart once more.

I will act.

Set Me Free

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Thus says the Lord GOD:
But a very little while,
and Lebanon shall be changed into an orchard,
and the orchard be regarded as a forest!
On that day the deaf shall hear
the words of a book;
And out of gloom and darkness,
the eyes of the blind shall see.
The lowly will ever find joy in the LORD,
and the poor rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
For the tyrant will be no more
and the arrogant will have gone;   ~  Isaiah 29:17 – 20

          Oh dear Lord, I pray almost incessantly these days, Let that come to pass. That the tyrants and the arrogant at work be gone. Twenty years and counting, I cannot go on anymore. So many times, I imagined leaving this place. There were opportunities – but I turned away from each one for they would have taken me away from my husband and children. Any move would have entailed a long commute. With my husband already working away from home, my long hours would have broken and splintered this life we worked so hard to build. And each time I turned away from the hope of freedom to return to my prison cell of work, I knew this was the price of putting family first. Yet, it was also a price I would willingly pay over and over for choosing family.

         …the tyrant will be no more
and the arrogant will have gone

          Today though, a deep weariness overwhelms me. It contrasts sharply with my happiness and the heightening inner skip of my spirit as Advent deepens towards Christmas. This tells me how wrong it is to feel so afraid of work – simply because of those in charge – not work itself. If there’s anything I’ve learned this difficult year it is that I have an enormous capacity for work even if I often don’t realise it, and that I can adapt and succeed, despite being rather slow in understanding so many things.

          Yet, what blights my day and wounds me continuously is the arrogance of my superiors in the way they force us to bend to their whim. There are no productive discussions, little respect for genuine effort but plenty of meddling and interference. Today, it is very clear that what I am struggling with is not my inability to work nor is it my inability to be obedient to authority. We welcomed a new boss early this year, and like most new leaders, he had his own ideas of what he wanted implemented in our organization. This otherwise gentle and likable guy didn’t really take the time to understand what we were already doing and if anything needed change. Yet, I didn’t have a problem adapting to his vision and direction. For a while that puzzled me. What this new boss was asking had put me under extra pressure but I seemed able to comply and cope – cheerily too. By contrast, I was in a constant state of tension, fear and anger when working under my other superiors.

… the tyrant

          Today, I understand why: I am struggling under tyrannical authority. That, for me, is the mark of the beast that differentiates those others from my new boss – tyranny.

For tyranny is born of narcissism and narcissism is the plague that has taken so much away from me.

          God has told us to love one another, to love our enemies, to love those who do us harm. But is there a demarcation between this love and subjection to tyranny? Jesus loved in every instance of His life, right to His death on the Cross – but He never allowed Himself to be subject to the tyrannical authority of the Pharisees. He didn’t bend to their vision of God and of life. He didn’t walk the paths they set out.

          How do I do as Jesus did?

          I think I have tried to love, albeit imperfectly. This mottled love I’ve mustered under the pain of sacrifice for those who do me harm has not been a tale spanning a mere few years. It’s been twenty years. But there’s no escaping the fact that my twenty years wilts in comparison to the Israelites’ suffering of forty years in the desert. Held up against that gold standard of what suffering truly is, mine sure seems like a petulant whine.

          And still I cannot rise to my feet, suitably shamed to contrition. Please GodI can’t go on anymore, for today, I know my enemy’s name. Having lived in the chokehold of fear for most of my life, I don’t want to be a prisoner to tyranny any longer.

          Yet, with eight long years left to retirement and no other work options, I have nowhere to go.

…the tyrant will be no more
and the arrogant will have gone…

          Please, Lord. Please, take them away.

          Set me free.

In Transition

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          The week began with 3 distinct nudges to pray for an awakening of the spirit.

          It started with In Sinu Jesu, read in obedience to the quietest of calls to leave my laptop and phone and instead, Tolle lege. Phrases like outpouring of the Holy Spirit, hearts will be opened, miracles and graces abound, synonymous with this Easter period moving towards Pentecost, suddenly reached out and caught my heart without warning.

          Just like that, I knew I had to pay attention.

          The next bell tinkled with a message from my godmother about a virtual Pentecost Pilgrimage. While the details didn’t tug at me in a deeper way, someone held my eyes a little longer on the word, Pentecost.

          The last chime came late on a Wednesday night. A story about a WWII vet who was now a pastor. He had been ill and had asked God to take his life, but God told him he was needed on earth and it was to gather people together to pray for a spiritual awakening. Because of Covid-19, that gathering had to be a spiritual gathering.

A meeting of praying hearts.

          And with that, it became clear what I had to do. While it was nothing that hadn’t been done before, initiating it was a first for me. I texted my godparents and we worked out a time to pray together from wherever we were. We didn’t need to thresh out any details beyond that, how we’d do it or for how long. Just that we would pray in our own ways for this awakening, hearts joined across 2 countries.

          The rest of the day was busy with work, mingled with a slight anxiousness that I’d miss that prayer meet. I also pondered what prayer I was called to. Did I just say whatever came to mind or was there to be a specific prayer for me?

          The answer came quickly enough. My prayer for the awakening was to be the Conversion Prayer in the Divine Mercy Chaplet.

O Blood and Water that gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus,

as a Fount of Mercy for us,

I trust in You.

          Late that Thursday night, waiting for one of my children to finish up for the night, my thoughts wandered to the Heart of Jesus, and from there, to the Wound in His side. I thought about the centurion who had inflicted that final wound on Jesus. Blood and Water had flowed out. Repentance and purification. A moment of searing revelation and utter contrition. An illumination.

Truly this man was the Son of God!   ~  Mark 15: 39

          Longinus was the name given to the centurion who had pierced Jesus. Tradition tells us that nothing had been the same for him since that moment of illumination.

          I slept deeply that night, awakening early on Friday morning. The moment I awoke, from a deep, unknown distance, I heard the lines of a familiar hymn,

I go before you always.
Come, follow Me, and I will give you rest.

‘         On and on, those lines wound through me, but still, as if from a great, great distance.

          I looked up that hymn and imagine how I felt when I saw its title,

Be Not Afraid

          Then, I read about its composer, Fr. Bob Dufford, and about his journey in creating that hymn and the journey the hymn took him on later.

I learned that God used that hymn to ease transitions.

          When I finally went to my Readings for Friday, my heart went still, for it was John 14: 1,

Jesus said to his disciples:
Do not let your hearts be troubled.

          I hadn’t known beforehand of the Gospel reading for Friday – but someone clearly did and had sung those lines early to lead me.

          From what I read, that hymn, Be Not Afraid, had a lot to do with transitions and fear of them.

          On Saturday morn, praying for the awakening, I recited the Conversion Prayer in my garden. Threading the prayer through quiet minutes scented by the white~gold of the sun, I watched unhurried, bees busy among the blooming flowers, and let the gentle breezes hold me in their sweet embrace.

          These weeks of the stay-home order have changed me, maybe even in ways unknown to me. Yet, I have little reason to believe that my workmates and superiors have changed for the better. How could I go back, how do I go back changed – but to a place and values still bound to an old where the sun doesn’t rise? To where I am welcomed one day and rejected the next, because I am an outsider. Not of their faith. Not of their race.

          To work alongside and beside the woman who does all she can to make sure I am aware of her hatred for me.

Be not afraid,

I go before you.

          Then, go before me, Jesus, I prayed that day. I thought about the woman whose jealousy and hatred draws from wells that seemingly never run dry. I cannot love her, Lord, I whispered. If love means to think good of her and to love her like I do my husband and my children, then it was beyond me. All I was capable of was to fight myself in not wishing her ill –  and even at that, I fall a hundred times. I imagined Jesus sitting in her place. Not Jesus in her – that was too much for me – but Jesus in her place, instead of her.

          I smiled at that. If only…

          A few short hours later, I learned that I had to return to work next week. Although the short notice caught me by surprise, I was surprisingly calm and resigned.

          Then, I learned that a new schedule had been put in place. That we would work in the office in teams and in shifts.

          The woman was not on my team, not on my shift.

          I thought of my imaginings earlier that day, under the arching majesty of the sun. Of Jesus beside me at work.

Be not afraid,

I go before you.

          Indeed He had. Things are changing. More than what is visible are the secret stirrings beneath the earth of our daily lives, all moving towards something. The inner call to pray for conversion of spirits, the new normal-s in every layer of life, are just part of this new journey of change.

Be not afraid,

I go before you.

          Jesus had come to tell me that it was time to rise and set out.

          We are in transition.

Lent 30 ~ Be Sealed with the Spirit

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          In the afternoon hours of Thursday, a fear began to press itself into the creases of my spirit. Try as I might, I could not determine its reason for appearing. It didn’t seem to be about the death I had been told of. But it was definitely about the pandemic.

          Fear at such a time is understandable, expected even. Yet, I knew that while what I was sensing was related to the terror and deepening worries about so many things spreading across the globe, the fear seemed to be about something else.

          Something I could feel but not see.

          I rose early on Friday and went to my promise.

Mother, I prayed to Our Lady of Fatima, I consecrate the world to Jesus, through Thee.

Please protect us. Please save us.

          Life went on in the new monastic rhythm of busyness intertwined with quiet alertness. The sun danced its light upon us as we cleaned the home, taught the kids their lessons. As we worked in the garden, as we prepared meals.

          But the quiet thread of fear continued to weave its seam through it all.

          By late afternoon, this fear had grown bolder. I felt my chest tighten. Again I searched for the source of this reaction. Again, the air kept its own counsel.

          Then, I remembered a prayer, and urgently reached for it.

Jesus, lay Thy hand upon my heart

          Immediately, the constricting fear and tightness evaporated. I knew then that whatever had come, it wasn’t from God.

          Once more, the day and its little calls continued. Again, I returned to my duties, but with an alert eye trained on the distance even as I pondered the many things laid against my heart since the morn of Thursday.

          By night, the tightness had returned, reaching into my throat with a firmness of intent. I knew instinctively that it wasn’t a physical condition; my spirit was reacting to something. I started to share about it with my husband, but somehow, the words evaporated and the moment passed.

          Late at night, busy reflecting and writing, an alert popped up in a small window at the base of my laptop screen. It was a message from a website I might have visited at least a year ago, not something recent. And the message was,

Be sealed with the Spirit

          The moment my puzzled gaze took it in, the tightness disappeared.

          I couldn’t believe it.

Be sealed with the Spirit

          It’s been two days and no shadow has drawn close to my gate since. The fear, the tightness – has left.

          I watch the news, read words of pain and fear. All over the world, people weeping, in anguish over lost jobs and lives. I could turn a deaf ear, dismiss the panic as manufactured, busy myself elsewhere. The choice is mine.

          But I don’t – because I can’t and I shouldn’t. That fear I experienced wasn’t from God but God let that fear touch me for a reason. And that reason is the love I profess is of no value if I pull my hands away from the wounds of my brethren. Because I wound my Jesus if I withdraw into my security and comfort when others around me the world over are losing every comfort and security they’ve ever known.

          And so, I return to where He wants me to be – in the pain of His people. Where each life left on earth is in need of the same healing benediction laid upon me,

Be sealed with the Spirit

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lent 2 ~ A Coming Land

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If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God,
loving Him, and walking in His ways,
and keeping His commandments, statutes and decrees,
the LORD, your God,
will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy. ~
   Deuteronomy 30: 16

          There’s something about the times we are in. Susan Skinner of Veil of Veronica wrote about the widely held belief that we are in the end times. She explains simply and clearly why we have not yet arrived. We have a long way to go yet.

          I too believe that the end of the world is not upon us, but that we are coming to the end of something. The violence of the hours so many of us encounter each day speaks to this belief. However bad it was before, these recent years have been far worse. The pain, the frenzy, the struggles.

          The confusion.

          But there’s been something else too, alongside the darkness and drought: wellsprings of hidden graces, surprise oases in the interminable stretches of deserts.

          This year, someone has leading me more often and more quickly to these oases. Now, no matter how much I get torn up, I come upon these hidden healing springs quicker than ever.

          The pessimistic coward in me fears that this too will some day come to an end, that one day I’ll go looking and not find another spring such as this because good times never seem to last for me, why should now be any different?

          Yet, every time fear tries to flavor my time by these springs of hope and healing, I find myself resisting its old claws. Bible verses and parables come to mind, words spoken by prophets and soldiers of this earth gird my faltering steps in strength. And so, I resist fear.

If you obey

the Lord your God

will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.

 

          I’ve lived for too long in the shadow of fear. It’s time to find another address.

 

 

 

Do Not

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Make it your rule never knowingly to say what is not strictly true.   ~   St. Francis de Sales

 

          A struggle from yesterday. And yet it is not a new one. It is a struggle I’ve known since my earliest memory. It is not the struggle against deceitful lying. It is the struggle of every adult survivor of narcissistic personality disorder abuse.

          It is the struggle against saying words and offering gestures that do not come from the heart, but uttered and done only to placate and appease.

          Words and gestures rooted in fear of an oppressor.

          Although this old fear has not made a captive of me yet, I can already sense its shadows inching closer. This time, it’s changed tactics. It is attacking me through one of my children. My child is being bullied by the daughter of a bully at my workplace.

          It is indeed no joke when they say the apple does not fall far from its tree!

          I gently but firmly counsel my daughter to put her heart in Christ’s. To resist fear and to step away from the shadows of a narcissist. As she obeys and struggles, as a mother, I want to further protect her.

          I want to appease the bully-mother – in the hopes that my child would be left alone. But knowing it is wrong, that it in itself will be the beginning of another hell, I resist.

          And yet, I struggle against this, because I see my child hurting and I want it to stop.

          Late in the evening yesterday, as the moans of the winds crested the hills, a blue kingfisher perched awhile on a fir branch. I’ve seen kingfishers everywhere around our property, but never on the firs. This one stayed there long enough for me to note its presence and to know in my heart that it was a sign.

          To ask a silent, Why? because whenever the kingfisher catches my heart, I know it is St. Francis of Assisi’s call to me to Quieten Down, Listen Up.

           I have my answer today – from another St. Francis.

Make it your rule never knowingly to say what is not strictly true.

          I understand his words. Do not lie to put the Beast at ease.

 

 

 

 

Child of Peter

Just days after the Easter Vigil experience, a new prayer slipped into my heart:  May THY grief be mine. Not my words. Not my prayer, for it is the prayer of a Victim Soul. A soul consecrated to suffering for Christ.

Never in a million years would I have the courage to pray such a prayer.

I have had my crosses. I have carried them, however imperfectly. Like everyone else, I still have crosses that must be picked up each day and carried. I like to think that I am not one who runs away from the cross. I might whine and scream and rage at heaven; banging on heaven’s doors is an art form I have perfected. But I have always carried my crosses.

But to be stretched and torn and mangled for others….to be a Victim Soul, or something akin to it…..The mere mention of it makes me flee in terror.

Because Pain is not my friend. I can never see Pain as my companion. Pain has marked a great part of my life but because I am a happy person, Pain repulses me.

And yet, after the “blessing” of the great white Light on the cusp of Easter joy, May THY grief be mine is the prayer God has willed for me.

Heaven’s call is clear: Suffer with Me.

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In as much obedience as my cowardly heart can muster, I whisper the prayer. May THY grief be mine…..May THY grief be mine….May THY grief be mine.  Yet, I cannot claim heroism in praying the prayer. I cannot not help praying it. It slips through my lips for there is a strange power in it. May THY grief be mine is a prayer whose power towers high above my fear and reluctance. I cannot help but yield to it.

Yet, even as I pray it, my heart flees from it, trying to put as much distance between the prayer and what would come of it. I am afraid of what lies ahead. All that my cowardly heart sees is the mountains that must be scaled, the dark and forbidding terrain that must be travelled.

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I see Golgotha for me.

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So many times have I heard about the betrayal of St Peter, the fleeing from his Master at His time of need.

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I have felt brief indignation that Peter would have the heart to do such a thing; smug pride that I would never do a Peter.

But now, I know, I am truly a child of Peter.

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