When we nourish ourselves on the Word of God we gradually are able to see an unexpected, unearned future: new life, a new heart, a new future, a new relationship with God. The word of the Lord became a part of Ezekiel’s being when the prophet was told at his calling, “Eat the Scroll,” and it can become a part of our being as well. When we regularly digest God’s word, options become available to us that we couldn’t anticipate.
The Power of the Father, compelled by His love,
Descended and dwelt in a virgin womb.
“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14)
Dwelt… Dwelt in a virgin womb. Dwelt among us.
Various words are used to describe the way God dwelt among us. It has been rendered: God tabernacled among us. God pitched his tent among us. The Revised English version translates this verse more literally this way: “And the word became flesh and pitched his tent among us, and we gazed at his glory; glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
The first time God pitched his tent among us is recorded in the book of Exodus. God had accompanied his people as they fled Egypt, dwelling among them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. For the Israelites who had spent 400 years in Egypt, culminating in the whole bitter fate of slavery, this new visible appearance of the presence of God to them must have been amazing. They had cried out for freedom and God had responded. And even more they hadn’t escaped Egypt like criminals breaking out of jail and on the run. No, the Lord was coming with them on the journey to the Promised Land.
In the wandering years as the Israelites made their way through the desert, Moses built at the Lord’s instruction a meeting tent outside the community. The tent-tabernacle-place of God’s dwelling was the center of the worship of Yahweh by the people of Israel from shortly after the exodus until it was replaced by Solomon’s temple around 960 BC. The tabernacle was filled with the glory of God. That glory was so radiant that when Moses left the meeting tent after having spoken with God, his face shone so brightly it had to be covered with a veil. Joshua, Moses’ assistant, remained in the tent.
Wouldn’t that be neat? To dwell in a space that was filled with the glory of God? To just stay there… Stay. Abide. Dwell.
God’s dwelling with the Israelites gave them a chance to dwell with him if they wanted. He was there. He was waiting.
When Solomon dedicated the Temple he had built, the glory of God filled it. “When Solomon finished praying, fire flashed down from heaven and burned up the burnt offerings and sacrifices, and the glorious presence of the LORD filled the Temple” (2 Chronicles 7:1).
However, right before the exile into Babylon about 400 years, Ezekiel saw in a vision the glory of the Lord leaving his place above the cherubim of the ark in the Holy of Holies and exiting the temple. The Lord was leaving Jerusalem, opening it up to the invasion of its enemies.
As the faithful remnant was taken into exile in Babylon, God went with them to protect them. He was with Daniel, Ezekiel, Esther and the other believing exiles wherever they were in foreign lands. God dwelt with them, pitched his tent, so to speak, wherever they were to protect them, never leaving them utterly abandoned.
600 years later, John writes that the glory of God has come back, has pitched his tent among us once again in the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. Ephrem’s image is powerful: God was compelled by his love for us—his love for us was so great that he couldn’t resist the power of what his love wanted to do…. To descend and dwell in a virgin’s womb. The word became flesh and pitched his tent among us.
When Jesus returned to heaven he left his glory on earth in the tabernacles of our Churches, where he continues to dwell. God had told Moses to fill a lamp with pure oil to burn perpetually in the Tabernacle or Meeting Tent to signify God’s presence. Today a sanctuary lamp continues to burn to signify that the Blessed Sacrament is presence, God’s glorious presence, the glory of God on earth.
God pitches his tent with you and me, wherever we are, wherever we need him. Longing to meet us, he hopes that we desire to meet him.
Teresa of Avila, reflecting on the state of her heart, this place where the Lord had pitched his tent, once prayed, “O my Lord, since it seems you have determined to save me, I beseech Your Majesty…don’t you think it would be good…if the inn where you have to dwell continually would not get so dirty?” Her famous book on mysticism The Interior Castle describes the lifelong spiritual journey by which we enter into seven mansions (also called dwelling places) which are stages to getting closer to God.
My heart wants to grow in hospitality toward this divine Loving Leader who wants to pitch his tent and abide with me. He who will go with me even in the humiliating and messy times of desert wandering and exile, who will speak with me and listen to me, who will pitch his tent in the tabernacle of my heart and fill me with the Spirit and the glory of God.
I want to be a Joshua who stays in the tent, surrounded with the glory of God, soaking in his presence, being transformed by it, loved and mentored and forgiven and recreated by it. And it is for this reason that I and so many seek out the Eucharist in the Mass and in adoration.
You are entirely a source of amazement,
From whatever side we may seek You:
You are close at hand, yet distant—
Who shall reach you?
St Ephrem, Faith 4:11
One morning last week I noticed the last patch of daisies growing in the garden in the center of our backyard. While other flowers were drooping, the daisies were bravely hanging on to their vibrancy as the temperature began to drop. I grabbed my cellphone, snapped a picture, and sent it to my cousin with a few words, “I’m thinking of you.” It is a new ritual. As pink flamingos remind us even now of her older sister who died of pancreatic cancer several years ago, daisies are the secret connection that pulls up the smiling face of my cousin in my heart. Daisies are my “feel-good” flower that connect me to a dear person in my life.
There are other things that happen during the day to bring up memories that don’t lead to me “feeling good.” I live in a large community. When I walk into the cafeteria for dinner and the only place left to sit is to at a new table by myself, feelings of loneliness and rejection flood me, memories of grade-school experiences. I don’t know why those feelings are suddenly there again, but there they are.
No matter how many times I sit down at a new table and a sister jumps up to join me so I won’t be alone, something in me still trembles as I make my way to the empty table. Probably I’ll carry this fear of no one wanting to be with me all my life, and the simple act of sitting down at a meal, so easy for others, will always have a bit of this tension. Most days I can deal with it, but when the stakes are higher, at special celebratory meals with guests for instance, the anxiety is more acute.
Every life contains experiences that leave scars on us.
Some are small bruises like the one I just described, and some are tragic life-draining experiences that alter our lives in huge ways. Many times, we can deal with them, push them aside and carry on. But other times, like these pandemic days, it can just get to be too much.
So, as COVID-19 hangs on with the probability of a second wave, we sisters are thinking of any of you whose memories of the past threaten to derail your life-possibilities today.
When sights, and smells, and lockdowns, and losses, and life changes brought on by the pandemic and isolation are making you feel alone with the ghosts of your past.
When hearts are heavy because there is no one to walk with as you carry the pain of a memory of a miscarriage, or abortion, or divorce, or a loved one’s death, or sexual abuse.
When you feel lost and depressed and scared of the future.
I think the Evil One right now is having a heyday convincing us that no one cares, no one notices.
That we are alone with no one to help.
That we are crying and no one hears.
The courage to listen to your own heart and then to reach out for God is the first step to reclaiming your life.
When I walk into a full cafeteria I want to turn around, run, and hide. Yet when I read the books that have become my life-companions that calm my fear, and when I experience the kindness of someone who chooses to sit with me, the fear evaporates.
By constantly replacing my inward fearful stories with the words of Jesus, by listening to the wisdom of authors who show me again and again through their writing how God is holding me in my labyrinth of fear, I have the courage to believe I am God’s precious child, loved, wanted, dear to him. I have the courage to offer my love to others, instead of waiting to see if others want me around.
In this pandemic year 2020, our sorrows and life’s broken places become bigger, scarier, more present because of the uncertainty of what is going to happen to us. There is no way to turn the calendar back to 2019. 2020 won’t repeat itself, but 2021 is still a mystery for everyone. We keep expecting COVID-19 to end soon, so there is still that little hope that we don’t have to permanently modify our lives. The future, however, will in some way be different. And that “difference” will eventually become normal for us.
These weeks in the midst of the waiting and hoping for a vaccine, as we contemplate the mystery of what is to be, this time in which we are thinking of what our Christmas holidays will be like, is the time to reach out for help, to strengthen connections that will make the sorrows lighter and the memories less powerful, to find healing through courage and the tenacity of hope.
We have specially chosen a number of books on a variety of topics by quality authors who can walk with you on the way and point out to you the ways in which God is present in the sacred spaces of your pain. No matter what has happened in your life, you need to hear this message from God whispered in your heart:
“You are my precious child. You are loved. You matter. Nothing and no one can change my love for you. You deserve healing. Do not listen to the voices that say you are alone, no one cares, no one understands. People are there. Just reach out. A way through the darkness has been prepared for you. Begin to read, to pray, and to walk on that way. I love you. I love you. I love you. I can’t say it enough. I love you.”
Image credit: pixabay – S. Hermann & F. Richter
Hi. I’m Sr Kathryn Hermes, author of the Best-seller Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach. I’ve been struggling through these months of pandemic as well as everything else that has been affecting our hearts in these days.
So if you feel like crying right now, I understand.
If you feel like giving up right now, it’s okay.
If you can’t seem to think straight, feel deeply, and make sense of what is happening to you, I get it.
Who would have expected we’d still be worrying about COVID-19 and lockdown measures this fall? The difference is that now we have a better sense of the scope of the crisis and no clear end in sight. The world is experiencing trauma as all that we once knew has been swept away and we feel powerless before the uncertainty of what will come in the future. On top of all this, there are the fires in the Pacific Northwest, the unrest on our cities’ streets, and the ugly way racial injustice is playing out before us.
We’re facing so many emotions—uncertainty, grief, worry, anxiety, fear, depression. While anxiety and depression may seem overwhelming, I’d like to offer you a spiritual path to a calm heart. On this page you’ll find a video with some ideas you can put into practice to build a spiritual practice that works for you starting today. After that you’ll find a guided meditation, such a powerful way to feel that God, to know that you are not alone. And finally, there is a short video introducing St Joseph, my favorite saint whom I rely on always in moments of panic and overwhelm.
So let’s get started.
Hi. I’m Jeannette de Beauvoir. It’s time to take some time for yourself. In doing these meditations that Sr. Kathryn is so brilliant at leading, we take time. It’s not time out from the worry and the anxiety, but it’s not giving them power, either. It’s acknowledging them and then giving them to God. Not telling him how to fix things. Just giving them up.
And then coming back to them in different ways. Imagining Jesus telling me he’s heard my fears. Listening to a story from Scripture with the reminder that people’s lives then were not so different in their essence from what we experience now. There’s that context! And feeling instead of worrying. Feeling God’s love in ways that my hasty verbal prayers weren’t allowing.
And I have to say, when I went through this exercise, I felt… lighter. I breathed more deeply. I didn’t feel like I was handling the world’s problems all by myself. I felt God.
Fortunately, we are not alone. When the fear and sadness over our losses and our future become overwhelming, there is one person we know has lived through this, and more, and can give us a steadying hand. There’s a father we can turn to who has had more than his share of worries and concerns and fears, and he can guide us through this, too.
So he can be a role model for us. But even more than that, he can be a comforter. He knows fear and distress and anxiety, and he can help us through it all. He can be our guide, our comforter, and our strength when we feel we don’t have enough.
If you’re ready to find a way forward in healing your anxiety, I invite you to learn more about St Joseph’s Way to a Calm Heart: A Spiritual Path for the Anxious.
What does this course include?
- seven video meditations on companioning with St. Joseph
- six podcasts on understanding anxiety today
- four audio presentations of practices for when you’re anxious
- readings to find peace of heart
- a four-part spiritual conference series on St. Joseph and living the spiritual life when you suffer from anxiety
- six guided prayers and meditations to calm anxiety
- two videos on coping with anxiety and the affirming power of kintsugi