What’s holding you back from living within

I’m a religious sister, so, you could say, spirituality is an important part of my life.
I’ve always reached for the best in anything I did, and the same is true of “the spiritual life.” In fact, in my younger years, I pursued it with a vengeance.

So I prayed extra. I created schedules for spiritual reading. I tried to imitate the saints. I made lists in my journal of anything that could distract me from a single-minded devotion to God…or so I thought.

One year I was making the 19th Annotated Retreat with a Jesuit Director at Boston College. Each evening I sent an email with a short paragraph about my prayer that day. I struggled through the first month or so, treading water in what were my ideas of spirituality. It was a rocky start to a retreat in everyday life I had hoped would bring me closer to God.

Looking back now I realize how self-willed the exercise had been. The sense of inner violence that was marring my soul’s surface was painful as I tried yet one more spiritual practice. Then one day something changed. I can’t exactly remember the prayer experience I shared with my director which prompted him to send these words in response, but I will never forget what he told me. Somehow, that day, I must have yielded to grace, and he wrote in response to my evening email, “That is the Spirit. The Spirit is a gentle breeze, like perfume on the wind, a light fragrance you can barely catch.”

I remember sitting in my office, deflated and free. The years of soapbox speeches and accumulating spiritual kudos had not of the Spirit. The self-styled aggressive pursuit of holiness actually kept me from the inner life of the Spirit, kept me from living within.

The Apostle Paul was also a professional religious person whose spirit before the encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus was marred with aggression. He rounded up the followers of the Way to put them in jail. Zealously he pursued his plans and religious career. Just outside the city of Damascus, he was met by Love. “I am Jesus the One you are persecuting.”

In an instant he realized he had been wrong. This Jesus that he had rejected as dead, was alive. The community he had persecuted were the ones who had truly understood the action of God in history.

This “conversion” experience is the freedom that arises from no longer knowing, having one’s plans overturned, becoming the servant instead of the protagonist, moving from autonomous isolation to community interdependence. “Go in the city and there you will be told what you are to do.” Though Paul had pursued perfection as a Pharisee, he had not lived within. He suddenly touched the immense horizons of the life within that were being opened up to him as he walked into the city of Damascus, blind and led by his companions.

Something that both I and St Paul didn’t ask in our early heady days of religious “conquest” was this: is God in all of this bluster? Do I want to see his face or my own?
God wants to shower on us the radiance of his glory. He wants to draw us into his plans for the salvation of the world. To convert us from our surface life to the deep inner wells of spirit, from pride to wonder, from zealous aggression to sensitive discernment, from certainty to the inner depth that can sense the slightest movement within without needing to know.

If you want this inner life, here is a simple practice you can make your own:

Stop and focus.

Calmly center. Ask yourself: What am I feeling right now?

Disengage

from any strong opinions and emotionally driven behaviors.

Ask:

Where is God in this situation? Pray: “Show me your face, O Lord. Show me your face.”

Imagine

God watching you as a dear old grandparent watches a grandchild. With that type of love, hear God speaking to you about what is going on.

God says, “Dear child, this is what I see when I look at you. (Listen as God describes the situation from his perspective and what he sees is your reality.) I hear your heart’s desire…. I can hear what you are thinking…. (Let God tell you from his perspective what he hears.) I want you to know, dear one, that I care about what happens to you. I have plans for you. I understand this event more than you could ever know. This is what I want for you… (Open yourself to God’s wisdom. Have the courage to see the situation through God’s eyes, and to want what God wants.)

Youth is a time for building our identities, trying things out, learning what works for us and what doesn’t. But when the moment comes when God’s face begins to show us what the world looks like in God’s eyes, we can let go of much of what we’ve built up on the outside to begin a new journey, gently deepening our inner life.

I’m excited to be coming out with my new book Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments September 1. You can get a special offer right now.

Regret Promo 01-3

 

Set free to love

“I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them….” This passage, with its mounting joy and jubilant hope for an eternal covenant, is set in juxtaposition to the seeming darkness and threat of death in the final chapters of the Gospels, which recount the establishment of the New Covenant. What went wrong? Or perhaps we should ask what went right, that this covenant promised through the centuries should be written in the blood of the Son of God? The passion and death of Jesus makes visible to us the extent to which God goes to establish this covenant that sets us free to love him and to live entirely for him. God poured out all his love for us when he sent his Son to become one of us.

From the book Cherished by the Lord

Recognize Beauty in Broken Things

God doesn’t love me.

Everyone around me is healthy and happy and I can’t seem to make things work out.

God doesn’t love me.

I’m not good enough to be in the popular crowd.

God doesn’t love me.

I can’t feel his love.

God doesn’t love me.

I’ve failed at being really good at anything, especially at being a good person.

God couldn’t love me.

I spent too many hours in my early twenties in the back of our chapel alone. Crying. Angry. Lonely.

Months before my twenty-first birthday, a day surgery on my left foot had extended into a two-week hospital stay. I woke up from simple ambulatory surgery dizzy, unable to speak, remember words, use my hands, or walk. My mother knew the signs immediately, though it took a week to confirm through tests. I’d had a stroke.

The 1984 Winter Olympics flashed across the television screen above me as I lay quietly in my bed trying to take it all in. As the graceful Katarina Witt skated across the ice while my heavy body remained pinned to my bed, I thought, “I will never be able to do that” (not that I could ever ice skate!) The beauty, smoothness and grace of the ice skater’s movements was a sad reminder that I could no longer stand on my own without the nurses’ assistance. The sisters came to help feed me. I tried to practice praying the Our Father but could never reach the end of the prayer.

Within two weeks I was sent home on a walker for a year of recovery.

I prayed to God, “You gave me this stroke, it must be for a good reason. Your will be done.” I pasted on a smile as I relearned how to use a fork, how to stand up, how to bathe myself.

There was a beauty to those days, a childlike wonder. Everything was new to me. But the effort was exhausting. Once the novelty wore off and the grudging work of recovery set in, the fear began to surface “what if God does this to me again,” and the anger, “why me?”

One day I sat in the middle of our chapel, surrounded by sisters praying, and the words came out of my heart, breaking it with each syllable, “I. Hate. You.” They startled me. Shocked and even scandalized me. Here I had been in the convent for six years and… this was all I was capable of when it came to suffering.

No holiness.

No saintliness.

No heroism.

Just anger. For weeks and months I underwent the pressure of the divine hands compressing my heart, puncturing it with his fingers, and breaking it apart, into pieces… at last… before him… in need of him…. Blessedly in need of him….

I had to admit that the twenty-one-year-old who could do anything she put her mind to was now a needy child, at the beginning finally of the mountain of the spiritual life, ready to start the journey, ashamed and yet relieved that the truth was out there.

I was nothing.

I was not a great saint.

I wasn’t even as good a Christian as others.

I was in need of him.

If at some point in your life you find you’re disappointed in yourself, feeling that God couldn’t love you, wouldn’t care, that you’re worthless goods—know that you are at the beginning. Allow the pressure of God’s fingers to hold you, to break open the outer shell you’ve built up to survive in this world, and to expose the raw childlike innocence of your inner spirit that’s so in need of him.

For anywhere God finds need, he gives himself, he takes over and gives himself completely. God can’t not give himself.

So give up the idea of perfection.

Stop striving and dreaming of what should be, what could be.

Immerse yourself where God has shown himself to be, right where you are. Right now, as you are.

Accept the raw sense of sinfulness and the astounding gift of God’s glorious kindness.

 

 

 

5 powerful ways to find the love you’re looking for

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.
Ernest Hemingway

I sometimes check an app where people are encouraged to leave their secrets, things they wouldn’t tell others. After many months of listening to people’s stories in this hidden way, I can say that the driving force that is at the root of all their stories and my own, is the longing to be loved, known, seen, heard, cared for.

These whispered fears, adventurous stories, and shame-filled confessions may not be my personal experience, but I too weave my own life’s narrative with the yarn of this deep longing for love. I can’t help but feel this strong inner connection with the rest of humanity, for we all struggle, rising and falling, in this arduous search for an eternal love, often getting short-circuited into a situation that promises love but cheapens us instead.

How God must have compassion on our human hearts, so gullible to the flashing promises of love’s allure. After all he created us for Love (capital L), forming our hearts with his own hands. His own heart has been broken by our longing for a “god” other than the One who tenderly bends over us in compassion. His Son’s heart knew the bitter tears of rejection and isolation, the fire of desire and dreams, the soothing comfort at the presence around him of those he loved.

Some of the situations whispered about on this app would arouse in any of us the deepest compassion: the shame and suffering expressed by those who have experienced abuse, abortion, rejection and loneliness in the most difficult of situations.

I want to cheer for others who tell their story: “I’ve been a month without cutting.” “This is my first year anniversary of being sober.” “This is my child’s first day of school. I chose not to abort her and I am so glad.”

People around us are whispering their stories to us all the time. Too shy to proclaim their need or their success, too fearful of ridicule or shame, incredulous that anyone would even care, the people around us leave clues of their desire to be noticed. And we can so easily miss these clues. It’s easy to look at a social media app and flip through the whispered secrets of people’s lives. What would be different if we could respond to the clues all around us that people are leaving in real life?

I have to admit I often miss them. My attention is on my own needs, my own longing to be seen and heard. My drive to finish something important to me. And I can’t see. Am deaf to the beating of the hearts around me. Perhaps too tired to exert the energy to show another the compassion I long for myself.

We are all struggling to get what we feel we need. We find what we long for when we give it away.

There are five powerful ways to give love away and find the love we’re looking for:

  • Listen with your whole body. Look at the person who is speaking. Lean toward them. Hold yourself quietly. Don’t interrupt except to say, “Yes.” “I see.” “Yup.”
  • Be vocal about your appreciation. Make a habit of telling people what you appreciate about them as a person. “I love the way you….” “I’m so grateful when you do…” “You make everyone smile when you…”
  • Ask someone to help you. Use that opportunity to get to know them a little more and to share something about yourself. Your vulnerability will encourage the other to feel comfortable sharing with you.
  • Be observant and sensitive. Ask someone if they are okay when you notice that they are a little down, or quieter than usual, or you notice something else has changed in the way they present themselves.
  • Practice showing your love on your face. Imagine if you couldn’t speak and you had to communicate your concern or interest entirely with your facial expression. Practice and you’ll see how much you are able to communicate without a word. And sometimes with our words, we don’t communicate the intensity of our compassion unless we pair it with the visible expression on our face. It’s the difference between a casual, “Are you okay? And “I really want to know, are YOU okay?” And yes, I am ready to stay here to receive your answer.

When you give this love away, you will find it coming back to you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our future is in his triumph

Christ has risen, and we too rise with him. He has conquered evil and death. We see our future in his triumph over death and in his ascension to the Father’s right hand. In him we are taken into the circle of life and love within the Trinity. We are held and embraced there, hidden and protected. Such awe! God “has spoken to us…. When [his Son] had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” He lives and so we will live forever. Jesus, you live and so I will live! Forever! Amen.

From the book Cherished by the Lord

 

Cherished by the Lord

The Gift of the Middle Years

The sunrise is the glorious announcement of something new, a new opportunity for joy, for birth, for creativity, for relationship, for love. As the sun stretches its arms of color across the horizon, gradually exchanging pastel hues of a sleepy dawn for the solid gold of day, the night is left behind. Even at times the memory of the darkness is gone. Only the expectant future, pregnant with promise, remains.

To run along the horizon at morn, to dance with the dawn, to explode with the joy of a future that leaves the past in the past is one of the greatest habits of mind and heart that we can develop. God gives us the opportunity to practice these habits day after day, for we can touch the sunrise every 24 hours and the possibility of joy is there again.

When we reach the “middle” years of our life, however, the dark of the night can overtake even the hope that there will be a dawn. Some of the hopes and dreams of the younger years, the expectations of how we thought our life would turn out, eventually begin to sour, no matter what efforts we put into them. As the years pass and we experience both life’s joys and bitter disappointments we realize at last that some of what we hoped for won’t happen, and sometimes it won’t happen because of decisions we ourselves have made. We begin to replay the messy events of the past, choices we made, sins and mistakes that weren’t really us, but there they are. We did them and now we can’t get away from them, even if we are the only ones who know about them. We look at them again and again because we can’t forgive ourselves for what we’ve done, and we fear that perhaps God hasn’t either.

We are primed to label any angst that we feel after 40 as a “crisis,” and the very special kind of crisis we have come to call “the midlife crisis.” Calling these wonderful middle years of life a “crisis” is a problem. Even just the word crisis makes me cringe, shut-down, withdraw in fear like a turtle pulling its head into its shell in the presence of danger.

In these transitional years between past and future, instead, I believe we are longing for something more: more prayer, more relationship with God, more family, more tenderness, more life, more peace, more trust…. Always “more.”

I admire how “sneaky” God is. At this time of our life, many wish they had prayed more, or that they had a better relationship with God. They want “more” of God, of spirit, of joy. They look back and think this feeling of guilt about how “little” they prayed and loved God is a condemnation of how deficient they were when they were younger. It is God coming closer, getting your attention, almost yelling to you, “YOU WANT MORE!” You can have more. Remember that in your younger years you did the best you could with what you had. And no matter what you did, it became a step to where you are now. So be here where you are now. If you want more spirituality and prayer, then take more NOW!

It was when I was in my early forties that I started having the scary thought, “Time is running out. The clock is ticking. I’m running out of time.” It was the gentle wake-up notice, and the beginning of many years of reassessing what my life had been, stabilizing what my life had become, and looking forward to a newer, gradually wiser vision of what I wanted the rest of my life to be. Today I am in my mid-fifties. The journey between the first wake-up call, through the midnight of deep disappointment with my life and myself, and on to a healing that brought closure to the guilt-ridden regrets has been long and difficult and blessed! It is for this reason that it is impossible for me to speak of a midlife crisis. I can’t even bring myself to see it as a midlife opportunity. Instead it is a midlife Gift. I am utterly in awe of the beautiful place God has brought me to…and it was all because I had to face where I had been, where I had fallen short, what I wish I had and hadn’t done in the first half of life.

This journey became my book that is releasing September: Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments. 

This book is offered as a guide through whatever journey of self-questioning and regret God is taking you on now in your life. It will help you to:

  1. Step back, ease up, and take a walk through your inner space, a walk that is gentle, casual, and tender.
  2. Touch aspects of your history, of your soul, of your heart that you may not have had access to for a long time. By just being with all this, new doors will open. The regrets that sometimes assail us in mid-life and beyond are painful to process but ultimately good. We see how we have received God’s grace in our life and how we have fallen away. But the marvelous thing is this: we still have time. We have time to change. We have time for something new to come about in our lives. It is all mercy. It is all grace!
  3. Pray with scripture in a way that will help you deepen your intimacy with Jesus and your trust in God. Scripture shows us that it is when we encounter the Face of God, the gaze of Jesus, that our struggle ends.

Sound interesting? I’d love to share more with you. Join me for a 5-day free email series with exclusive meditations and exercises. God doesn’t want us to be bound by our past. He wants us to touch the sunrise again and again. I love the prayer of Zechariah at the birth of John the Baptist and it is my wish for you:

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

May you once again touch the sunrise.

Sr. Kathryn

Regret Promo 01-3

In Transitional Times: How to Keep Your Feet on the Ground

This morning in our chapel, Redemptorist Father Tizio from Mission Church opened his homily with these words: “There is a Chinese curse: May you live in a time of transition.” The sisters all chuckled since we seem to be perpetually living in transition with a mission to evangelize with the means of communication.

We all in this country, he went on to say, are living in a time of tremendous upheaval. Living in transitional times, it has been described, is like living with both feet in the air. There is no security, no clarity, no way of knowing what will be except that we are not there yet and we can’t go back.

You, my friend, may be feeling this insecurity as you watch what is being reported in the news or perhaps witnessing yourselves the very human consequences of this struggle. For us Sisters, the events reported have names. For you it may be the same. It is a phenomenon that is not only playing out in the US but across the world, as people flee their countries for a better life, but the challenge of resettling millions of people while both respecting both their needs and the security of the receiving country is not easily resolved.

In January 2019, a man who would completely understand our struggle will be canonized. His name is Oscar Romero, the martyred Archbishop of San Salvador, who spoke out against poverty, social injustice, assassinations, and torture. Romero faithfully adhered to Catholic teachings on liberation and a preferential option for the poor, desiring a social revolution based on interior reform.

While seen as a social conservative at his appointment as archbishop in 1977, he was deeply affected by the murder of his friend and fellow priest Rutilio Grande a few weeks after his own appointment. As he took over the care of his flock, he actively denounced violations of the human rights of the most vulnerable people, defended the principles of protecting lives, promoting human dignity and opposition to all forms of violence. He was declared a Servant of God by Saint John Paul II in 1997. His cause for beatification and canonization was reopened by Pope Benedict XVI in 2012 and he was declared a martyr of Pope Francis on February 3, 2015. He was beatified on May 23, 2015.

By the time of his death, Romero had built up an enormous following among Salvadorans. He did this largely through broadcasting his weekly sermons across El Salvador on the Church’s station, YSAX, “except when it was bombed off the air.” In these sermons, he listed disappearances, tortures, murders, and much more each Sunday. This was followed by an hour-long speech on radio the following day. On the importance of these broadcasts, one writer noted that “the archbishop’s Sunday sermon was the main source in El Salvador about what was happening. It was estimated to have the largest listenership of any program in the country.” According to listener surveys, 73% of the rural population and 37% of the urban listened regularly. Similarly, his diocesan weekly paper Orientación carried lists of cases of torture and repression every week. (Wikimedia)

How easy it could have been for the Archbishop to fire up his listeners with anger and violence. But like a sword his words cut a straight line through the human heart in its quivering attempt to hold the horror of their suffering and bring justice. Romero did light a fire in their hearts, a fire we desperately need today, here, in the throes of our own transition.

Let us take a moment to learn at the feet of soon-to-be canonized Oscar Romero:

In mid-May of 1977, military forces raided the town of Aguilares, killing dozens of people, desecrated the church and the eucharist, and deported the three priests remaining in the parish. A month later Archbishop Oscar Romero installed a new parish team. In the homily of the installation Mass, he said: “We will be firm in defending our rights—but with a great love in our hearts, because when we defend ourselves with love we are also seeking sinners’ conversion. That is the Christian’s vengeance.” (June 19, 1977, The Violence of Love, page 4)

How could the Archbishop talk love in a country torn apart by violence, torture, and murder.

“The church’s social teaching … is a looking at God, and from God at one’s neighbor as a brother or sister, and an awareness that ‘whatever you did to one of these, you did to me’” (The Nonviolence of Love, March 14, 1977, page 3).

But in the face of a problem so overwhelming, what should I do? What can I do? We feel like we should be able to do something. Romero couldn’t solve the country’s problems, make them go away, return to mothers their children who had disappeared, wipe away the floods of tears and fear. He invited his flock to enter into the problems of the human family.
“The transcendence that the church preaches is not alienation; it is not going to heaven to think about eternal life and forget about the problems on earth. It’s a transcendence from the human heart. It is entering into the reality of a child, of the poor, of those wearing rags, of the sick, of a hovel, of a shack. It is going to share with them. And from the very heart of misery, of this situation, to transcend it, to elevate it, to promote it, and to say to them, ‘You aren’t trash. You aren’t marginalized.’ It is to say exactly the opposite, ‘You are valuable’” (quote found: https://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2014/08/13/man-gods-microphone-12-quotes-celebrate-life-voice-oscar-romero/).

In Boston, where I live, I may not personally meet these brothers and sisters of mine from Latin and Central America, although my sisters do (even here in Boston). I can hold these people dear to my heart: “You aren’t an illegal alien. You aren’t trash. You aren’t a criminal. You are valuable.”

From this experience of the heart of misery comes wisdom, for, as Romero says, “There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.”

For starters, in conversations, social media posts, comments online, I can be intentional in my language and motivation to convey my respect for them as my brothers and sisters, their human dignity, people caught in the middle of a situation for which I don’t see an easy solution.

“I don’t want to be an anti, against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us” (The Violence of Love).

All I know, as Romero said, is that “there are not two categories of people. There are not some who were born to have everything and leave others with nothing and a majority that has nothing and can’t enjoy the happiness that God has created for all. God wants a Christian society, one in which we share the good things that God has given for all of us” (original quote: https://ignatiansolidarity.net/blog/2014/08/13/man-gods-microphone-12-quotes-celebrate-life-voice-oscar-romero/).

So we can say that in a transition we don’t really have two feet in the air. If we choose, Romero shows us how to plant both feet securely on the ground: one foot in the kingdom where God loves us all equally and the other foot in the human heart where each of us and all of us blossom under the sun of God’s love with equal dignity and value. The winds of transition will continue to blow, the uncertainty cause us to wonder and fear, but our compass will still be pointed due north: to our common Father who makes us all brothers and sisters in Christ his Son.

“We have never preached violence, except the violence of love, which left Christ nailed to a cross, the violence that we must each do to ourselves to overcome our selfishness and such cruel inequalities among us. The violence we preach is not the violence of the sword, the violence of hatred. It is the violence of love, of brotherhood, the violence that wills to beat weapons into sickles for work” (The Violence of Love).

I invite you to sign up for my letter, just a couple times a month, and to join my Facebook Group: 

  • Upon research into this “Chinese curse” I discovered it was not invented by the Chinese at all: “It was first used by Sir Austen Chamberlain in 1936, and later popularized through a speech by Robert F Kennedy in 1966. The phrase “live in interesting times” dates at least to the late 19th century. The “Chinese curse” element was likely added by Sir Chamberlain as an (effective) embellishment. There is no evidence of a Chinese origin.” (https://www.quora.com/Where-does-the-quote-May-you-live-in-interesting-times-come-from)