GRACE

Lent 27 ~ Perfect Grace

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Then He spoke of exterminating them,
            but Moses, His chosen one,
Withstood Him in the breach
            to turn back His destructive wrath.   ~  Psalm 106: 23

          Today, gentle wings softly brought some unexpected news. Prayers to ease sufferings caused by ignorance, prayers cried out in agony and anguish, from the depths of souls, wrought gentle grace instead. On this Thursday, a day on which I’ve long prayed for the illumination of conscience for myself and others, I learned that God had softened the hearts of a small group of people from work. And through that, they found the grace to be merciful and compassionate. It was unexpected, this change. Yes, it has taken long months of suffering and enduring, but in the earliest signs of spring yet, the first of roses are finding bloom.

          Unlike Moses, when we pray, we cannot always be sure where the answers to our prayers will find landing, nor will we know how they will bloom.

          Yet, guided by the hand of the Almighty, grace will indeed come to rest where it is most needed, in perfect answer to prayer.

Waters of Grace

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          Yesterday, I came across a prayer by Pope Francis:

Lord, roll back the stone in my heart

          It’s Easter now. The time of fasting and sorrowing over our sins is supposedly over. The Lord has risen, and by right we are to be all light and joy.

          But here I was, stuck in an unbeliever’s world – not because I do not believe – but because something was holding me outside the circle of Light.

          The Lord has risen but I was still in the tomb.

          I went ahead and (unenthusiastically) said the prayer, Lord, roll back the stone in my heart. Frankly, I was unhappy to pray the prayer. I didn’t like to admit that stones might still be stacked up God knows how high in my heart. It’s as if Lent didn’t work out for me. Everyone else has done their spiritual cleaning and de-stoning during Lent; here I was, wondering if I was only just beginning!!

          Maybe it’s because of the Roll back the stone prayer, but last night, my thoughts returned to the hymn, He, and the refrain,

Though it makes Him sad to see the way we live,

He will always say, I forgive.

          In the last week of Lent, seeing no hope of change in my place of work, I opened my heart and asked God if it were not possible for just a little kindness. I wasn’t asking for much, I reasoned, because before, I had asked for much more. Before this, I had asked to be allowed to leave this town due to its rejection of me and my family for our Christian values. I asked to leave because it’s been 20 plus years of trying to live out our witness to our faith. More than 2 decades of welcoming the people of this town into our hearts. Of suffering with them. Of journeying with them, respectfully, in the ecumenism of different faiths.

          Yet, the long and bitter years to love as Jesus asked have not  changed this place nor its people for the better. If anything, this town and its inhabitants are becoming increasingly radicalized. They have begun turning on us for refusing to cross over to their side, for steadfastly choosing Jesus. Exhausted from navigating upheaval after upheaval, I asked to leave.

          But this year, God made His voice heard on that petition. He told me that if we left, this town would never know Jesus again.

          It broke my heart to hear that. It was not what I wanted. But I never prayed that prayer again because disappointed or not, some part of me bowed in obedience to God’s will.

          Suddenly, last night, hours after the prayer of Roll back the stone in my heart, I decided that the next new day, every time someone hurt me, every time a situation made me want to run and hide, I would face it in silence and allow it to pierce me instead.

          And I would pray, Jesus, forgive me. Even if I had done no discernible wrong, that would be my prayer for the next day.

          No prizes for guessing how the day worked out.

          I tripped the very minute I stepped into my work place. I came face to face with the colleague who’s made my life a misery for years. I don’t normally see her so early in the day but there she was, bright and early, primed for malice.

          The second I saw her, I didn’t remember anything about rolling back any stone. I didn’t remember the purposing of my day for atonement. Instead, I distinctly felt my heart inflame and harden remembering the injustices she has meted out.

          Scant minutes later, I belatedly remembered the response I had planned. Fed up with myself, I honestly wanted to bin the intention of the previous night. What was the point anyway, I never seemed to move beyond the biggest rocks in my life.

          But a promise to God was a promise. So, I bowed my heart and listlessly prayed,

Jesus, forgive me

          Although I knew I had done this colleague no wrong, although I had loved her with all my heart for more than 20 years and didn’t deserve this bulling and abuse of our friendship, once more I forced myself, as self-inflicted penance, to repeat,

Jesus, forgive me

          Then something strange began to happen.

          Kindness began to trickle my way – not from this colleague, but from others. It may not have seemed like much, but it was a lot to me. I had prayed for kindness the week before, just enough to be able to go on. Then, I had shushed myself, fearing that prayer was a rejection of my Cross.

          But strangely, unexpectedly, a pure spring now gently silvered into my day and my burdens lifted. Although almost every day before this had been difficult, now it seemed as if the walls of the day no longer bore nails to hurt.

          For some moments, I struggle to understand what I did to deserve this reprieve. And then, I realise that it’s not about what I’ve done. This is grace. Jesus was pierced as He hung on the Cross. Blood and water had flowed from that pierced side.

          The miracle of kindness I experienced today was that water of grace that came from the piercing of my Jesus’ body. As often as I pray with heart and soul, Jesus, forgive me, not the easy prayer in idle moments free of pain and hurt, BUT praying each time I face piercing, the stone in my heart rolls back further and further.

          2 years ago, at Christmas, I had dreamt of water filling a room in my home right to the ceiling. I had opened my door and the powerful rush of that clear water had knocked me down. I had then felt the words,

Momentarily overwhelmed

          I now know what it means. Opening the door means to roll back the stone in my heart. And I will be knocked down by the in-rushing waters of grace when my spirit bends in humility as I pray,

Jesus, forgive me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Approaching the Throne

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For we do not have a high priest
who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,
but one who has similarly been tested in every way,
yet without sin.
So let us confidently approach the throne of grace
to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.   ~   Hebrews 4: 14 – 16

 

          What would I do without the faithful hearts of friends? Those hurt and bleeding from their own wounds, bent from the weight of their own crosses, yet who immediately and unhesitatingly reach out to help brethren pilgrims who have fallen and cannot get up. Who leave their own wounds to tend to mine. Who carry my cross when I can’t.

          Who give from their own poverty.

          Where would I be without these souls who in love and tenderness mirror our High Priest, Jesus?

          Where would I be without this love born of pain and suffering?

          For it is this love that shines the light I need to see the Throne of Grace. When I would have shied away in doubt and anguish, it is this love that in loving insistence takes my hand and firmly sets me before Grace and Mercy supreme.

          It is time to approach the Throne for them, my brethren bound to me through the shared journeys of grey and gold, sorrow and joy.

          Jesus, I place these souls in Your Divine Heart. Grant each one the graces most needed for what lies before them, in the hours, days and years to come.

Blood and Water,

Heart of Jesus,

I trust in You.

 

 

 

 

Water Will Win

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          In late December last year, we had a houseful of Christmas guests, one of whom was my old mother-in-law. We were having a crisis that most in the family, in the bliss of Christmas, was unaware of, and my mother-in-law was at the centre of that crisis. My husband and I had been struggling to save his mum who, in her old age, seems bent on choosing any rose-strewn path – the wider, the better. Her choices in life have brought us a lot of deep suffering, and very often, I have struggled to love her, to pray for her. That Christmas week, the moment she arrived at our place and alighted from the car and quickly made her way past us into our home, I had to bite down the bitter disappointment that she couldn’t be more of a beacon for us. That even in this old age, she was choosing paths that did not lead to heaven. That our struggles for her, especially what my husband was enduring and suffering for her, didn’t seem to be helping.

          Despite my acute disappointment in her that day, I decided I would keep my tongue well out of the way at the back of my teeth – for the sake of my husband. He had surely noticed his mother’s mood and it would be wounding enough without my adding another caustic edge to his heartache. So, for the first few busy minutes of photos and hugs and squeals, I let Mum be. But when lunch was served, something moved in me and I went to make sure she was taken care of.

          That was the tone for the rest of the day and even into the next. I kept an eye on her but generally kept out of her way. There was no anger in me, but I didn’t trust myself to not fall into red pits because I was very tired and Mum had a penchant for getting a rise out of me.

          One afternoon, lunch over, everyone relaxing in quiet corners, I went to have a short nap to recharge for dinner preparations. Oddly, so tired though I was, my prayer for inner quiet was answered in those cloudy afternoon hours where the yellow~blue winds sang restless notes among the trees. Into that quiet I descended and began to pray for a special peace in all hearts gathered under our roof.

          I fell asleep.

          I had a dream.

          I dreamt of a room in my home being flooded to the roof. It was just this one room. Unlike my old dream from years ago where I saw a terrible, filthy torrent rush into our town, this water was as clear as crystal, and it was only in my home. I worried about what damage this water would do to our furniture.

          Then, I opened the door to this room, this same water drained into where I was. I managed to catch a glimpse of the room where the water had come from, – and I saw very clearly that the water had not damaged any of the furniture.  

          Then, this water knocked me over.

          It then flowed out through another set of doors that opened out over a peaceful garden.

          Getting up from the floor, I went to those doors, and there in the garden, I saw Mum with my husband. I saw her as I have not for so very long: at deep peace. She was gardening with my husband by her side and it was a picture of a mother and a faithful son who loved each other heart and soul.

          When I awakened and asked God what it meant, I felt these words written on my heart:

Momentarily overwhelmed.

          I knew then that this year would be very hard. One room in the house being flooded could perhaps mean that some weeks would be harder than others, and that I would be knocked off balance, that I would fall, but like the water in my dream did not damage the furniture in the room, that the suffering would not hurt as much as I feared.

          But the suffering was needed to save my Mum.

          Then, I remembered the water, and how clear it was. When I asked God why the water was clear, speaking through my godmother, He told me it was hidden graces. Graces that don’t seem like graces at all. Graces that come in the hardest packages. I understood anew then that, that is what suffering is – a hidden grace. I would be knocked over, momentarily overwhelmed, how many times I know not, but each one would be a hidden grace because the pain I endure would save someone else.

          The grace of reparation.

          Nearing the end of her brief stay with us, one night, I took photos of the family, and there was one of Mum watching the kids in the family crowd around a board game. When she had returned to her own home, I had a look at the pics and at this one of my mother-in-law. She was looking away, focused on the teens, and she wore the beginnings of smile. I then saw something in the photo that I hadn’t seen earlier – the first sparkles of joy.

          Joy that wasn’t there when she first came.

          In the weeks that followed, in the daily chats with her, we realized joy had indeed returned to my mother-in-law. It gave her strength to walk paths different to what she had always chosen. It flooded her with love for some people she had taken for granted. It made all the Christmas struggles and pain worth every hurting morsel.

          God’s Light had come into Mum’s old heart once more.

          Grace of reparation.

          Early this week, a colleague’s antics unpleasantly ruffled my day. I tried to stay above the muck that follows a wounding but it wasn’t easy. As the hours rolled on, despite my efforts, it seemed like I was losing this battle to love and forgive.

          Then, I prayed to be given the strength to bear this minor hurt for my sins.

          And that too failed.

          The day came to an end. I was puzzled and discomfited as to why all the ‘right’ prayers seemed to fail.

          When the new day broke, Someone gently took my mind back to Christmas of last year. To my mother-in-law’s initial aloofness and the reason for it. From there, my mind was led back to my Water Dream. And the dream took hold of my mind. Even as the hurt from the previous day remained, it felt like the memory of the dream was the more powerful.

         I then received an email from a dear friend. Its stark words revealed a deep suffering that had deepened even further recently. My heart ached for him.

          Suddenly, the Water Dream formed out of the mists before me again.

          I had a sudden inspiration: offer my hurt over my colleague for this. Suffer it for this friend close to my heart, thousands of miles and many countries away.

          The moment my will fused to this, I felt strength and clarity return. The strife~winds that had rattled my inner windows departed. I went to my day with a new purpose.

          My colleague added a few more nicks to her repertoire against me, yet, no blood did they draw.

          I knew then that the Water of Reparation had won. I had been overwhelmed but momentarily.

          As was promised.

 

 

 

 

 

When Fire Is A Grace

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          During one mist-laced, green June day Mass, my spirit crumbled into a rare state of joyful brokenness and I was moved to pray,

Break my spirit upon Thy sacred stones. Break me till there is nothing left of me but You.

          It wasn’t until some hours later that I recalled the prayer and puzzled over it. I had felt so close to Jesus during that Mass, so safe and sheltered, like He had put His arm around me and drawn me close to His Heart.

          And yet, instead of a joyful hymn to burst from me, it had been, Break my spirit….Break me…. A prayer fierce in its force.

          What on earth is sacred stones? I wondered.

          Looking back on June, then till now has been some weeks of deep inner struggle hidden within days of good work and simple joys ~ which is no pretense. No papering over with false light with the intent to conceal. The inner scourging has not held back the skip of my heart. But in the much that got done, in the happiness I’ve felt and the love I could give, no one could have guessed at the relentlessness of a secret whipping within me: I struggled and struggled with anger and its tainted companions of revenge and unforgiveness.

          Yet despite the secret battle in this one pasture of conflict,  I found deep joys in other meadows. I partook of life and loving. There was no mechanical rigidity to my waking hours. I did not live an existence landscaped by ashes and sorrow. Every pearlseed of beauty around me sank into the grooves of my heart and bloomed.

          This, for me, was something new. In each past skirmish of my entire life thus far, inner turmoil had robbed me of the diamond sunbursts that garlanded my simple everydays. But this one, this time was different.

          Sometimes, even I thought I must be mad, to be so much a part of the light and yet be in pain at the same time.

          I banged and banged on heaven’s door and refused to leave my place on its stoop. Why, Lord, why? I cried in near despair. Why can I not move past my anger? And why this deep swell of red when its catalyst so tiny and trivial compared to the huge trials I have faced and weathered before? Why this strange blend of storm and sun? 

          My spirit seeking discernment, I recalled the counsel of my friend, Fight the dark through thanksgiving. So, I lifted my eyes to the morning sky to scatter the claws of frustration. As I gazed in thanksgiving at the expanse of gold sea before me, the sun shimmered and misted the sky.

          My spirit stilled and I saw the words of my prayer at Mass that day, Break my spirit upon Thy sacred stones. Break me till there is nothing left of me but You.

          Suddenly, it fell into place. My spirit was indeed being dashed and broken upon the sacred stones of God’s Truth. That mysterious prayer had unlocked a fire that now flooded every shadowed crevice of my soul. Fire was piercing through inner crevasses like never before. That was why the turmoil of spirit was unprecedented. My sinfulness had never been so close to Light before; even the slightest smudge burned and burned and burned.The turmoil I was feeling was the scream of sin being rent to ashes.

          My inner burning was manifesting outwardly as joy and love and strength because the fire was a grace wrought by a God who cleanses in order to free.

         

AN EMPTYING FOR MERCY

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          I experienced an emptying yesterday. After so many long years since I bade farewell to someone I loved, I discovered the well had filled to the brim again. So long since the passing. The depths of a grief so deep, it stunned me; it was almost as it was when the wounds were freshly scored into my soul, old, old years before.

          And I emptied this well of sadness. Reached right into its depths and tipped every tear into St Joseph’s hands. Placed my head in his lap and opened my heart, every shadow of it, and told my Lord, Forgive me, I’m sorry, but had I known this grief would come, I wouldn’t have let him go. In an afternoon of exceptional stillness, disturbed only by the rush of strong breezes running through different leaf-shutters, I took every forward step taken, every progress on the pier of pain, every solution to troubles, the ultimate freedom…… and returned them all to my Lord, saying I didn’t want any of them at the price I had to pay – to give up the one person I loved beyond words. Why couldn’t there have been some other way?  I asked my Lord. Why did it have to be death?

          Had I known, I wouldn’t have let go. I wouldn’t have let go. I wouldn’t have let go.

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          I wept from my heart. Yet, it was not a sorrow tinged with bitterness. It was an old sorrow, worn and frayed, watered by memories and yearning. A grief from years before. I was not seeking answers. Not every grief is about answers. And He knew that. I was merely broken and hurting for a while. The urn of sadness needed an emptying, and my Jesus took everything I gave Him. All of the tears, all of the blessings.

          Every single thing that needed to be turned over to heaven’s safekeeping.

          Every single thing that should not have been returned.

          I gave and gave till nothing remained.

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          And Jesus took everything, turning down none, not even what should not have been returned. No anger, no whip of rebuke did I receive for my weakness, for He is Lord Who Knows. Every grief-path we stumble down is known to Him. Every shadow in which we hide our pain He sees. Ours is a God who knows grief doesn’t always make sense to us.

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          It is because He knows grief better than anyone else.  He doesn’t turn away from it, mock it, nor render it trivial. For Him, sorrow is not a shame to be buried, hidden. The mourner’s dirge repulses Him not.

          In the wind-tossed afternoon hours of the yesterday, He took my grief. Every tear, one by one. Held my heart in His hands as I wept over each broken dream, and crushed hope. Held me, my Lord did, as I tipped the urn till it emptied.

          And later, as I slept, in quiet an angel came, a grace from God he bore. The angel brought me an ancient prayer said by thousands the world over ~

          Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. 

          Not for me the comfort of an angelic vision or some other supernatural remedy. In a million years, I would never be able to explain why, in the depths of this particular tumult over the loss of a love I once had, it is this grace of a humble prayer, begging God’s mercy, that makes its way from heaven’s bosom to my pain. This prayer to dry my grief. Against my heart to press.

          To hold as a crutch, and to rise from my ash heap.

          The prayer of Mercy is unseen hands on my face, gently turning me from my pain towards the anguish of others. And it is the prayer-grace from an angel-soul who knows me so well to know that the only remedy for my  wound is to reach out and tend to others wounded worse.

          And so I wipe my eyes, and whisper the prayer the little angel had pressed against my soul ~

          Eternal Father, I offer you the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. 

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