Lord, make us more sensitive to grace and to each other…

Grieving… it’s part of the human condition, the everyday business of living our lives. Grief is associated with mourning the loss of someone we love. We could say, however, that grief can accompany the loss of anything that our lives touch, honor, create, possess.

These pandemic lockdown months of uncertainty are filled with such loss. The sharp still-fresh pangs of uncertainty around the possibilities and realities of loss over a long stretch of weeks and months have strangely and helpfully made me super-sensitive to loss. To the losses that unsettle not only my own heart, but the hearts of others who bear wounds so much greater than mine with consequences that will far outlast the pandemic….

To be rejected by a spouse, to lose a child to unexpected illness or death, to see a future so carefully built collapse through the destructiveness or spite of another, to be caught in cycles of abuse or self-hate….

I see these stories on social media and receive their pain in letters. In this new heart-awareness it is as though I can almost reach out and touch their hands in a compassionate I-am-here-for-you, I-feel-with-you. I hear their longing to be seen, protected and understood in music, in news stories, and am touched by the poignancy of their pain represented in art. I am grateful, so very grateful that a deeper sensitivity to others’ sufferings is growing within me.

On this feast of St. Monica and St. Augustine (celebrated this past Thursday and Friday) I imagine how Monica might have felt, and so many who like this faithful and persevering woman live and love in the midst of sometimes horrific sorrows. Giovanni Falbo in Saint Monica the Power of a Mother’s Love describes Monica’s relationship with her husband Patricius. Although she sought to treat him with honor and kindness, Patricius could be arrogant, impetuous, carnal, and violent. It was difficult for Monica to even speak with him. Often she had to wait until his anger blew over before she could present to him her thoughts and opinions. Nevertheless, the way he verbally lashed out at her must have cut deep. She never responded in kind, but instead waited for the right moment to confront. Women at that time had little recourse to improving the conditions in which they lived, but Falbo called Monica “a competent strategist” who led Patricius gradually toward truth and goodness, and eventually to God.

Saint Monica’s advice: three strategies for growing in both sensitivity and in strategy when life is unexpectedly tough

  1. Pray for eyes to see. Monica knew who she was and who her husband was. She was able to “see” with the deeper eyes of the heart without ignoring or discounting her needs for safety and respect and his needs for the truth and light. She knew that Patricius had a good heart deep down.
  2. Honor the experience of loss. Don’t run from loss or wish it away, but take into your heart the solitude of your own suffering as well as the suffering of all others who are bearing the same thing.
  3. Be willing to become someone other than who you’ve been. The choices St. Monica made in relating with her husband made her stronger and gentler, a mentor of other women who struggled in their marriages, and—in the end—the mother of so many tears who won the conversion of her son Augustine. Through the twenty years in which Patricius lived with Monica, he grew to respect her serenity and Christian virtue, He saw in her life a strength and grace that was not of her own doing. Conquered by grace, he entered the catechumenate and was baptized shortly before he died. St. Monica’s courage changed her into a deeper lover for Jesus, and in the end changed her husband and son.

Sr. Mary Lea Hill, FSP, recounts a parallel story of courage and transformation in her new book, Complaints of the Saints. Daphrose Mukansanga Rugamba (1944–1994) was in an arranged marriage to Cyprien Rugamba (1935-1994). Their marriage was very fruitful, and they had ten children, but Cyprien was unfaithful to Daphrose and neglected his family.

He allowed Daphrose to raise the children as Catholics, but he had no patience with religion. Once in her presence he took a crucifix off the wall and smashed it. Eventually they separated.

In 1982 Cyprien was struck by a rapid paralyzing illness and wrote a song about his coming death. This song became the means of tremendous spiritual light and grace in both his life and that of Daphrose. She could have remained a bitter person. He could have carried on through his illness without a thought for God and his wife. Instead both decided to become more godly and to collaborate with God’s plan as he revealed it to them. They reached out to street children, introduced the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Rwanda and tried to end the ethnic tensions threatening the society in the early 90s. Both Daphrose and Cyprien were assassinated along with six of their children in the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The cause for their canonization was opened in 2015.

Friends, we are in this together.

We are in the same boat of life.
We all suffer in one way or another and have so many reasons
to complain about our lot in life.
May this prolonged “experiment” of living intentionally
the uncertainty and loss of 2020
make us more sensitive to grace and to each other.
Let us take each other by the arm and run together,
our hearts open to love and loving,
into the interweaving of courage and compassion,
believing in the future,
believing in each other,
trusting in the tender heart of Love
who is ever and always
present
to
us.

St. Monica and St. Augustine,
Daphrose and Cyprien Rugamba,
pray for us.

Finding solace in the company of the saints in good times as well as in difficult stretches of the journey can help us both complain and praise, lament and love. Here are some of my favorites:

Saint Monica: The Power of a Mother’s Love

Complaints of the Saints: Stumbling Upon Holiness with a Crabby Mystic

God is All Joy: The Life of St Teresa of the Andes

Oscar Romero: Prophet of Hope

Bernadette Speaks: A Life of Saint Bernadette Soubirous in Her Own Words

If you wish to speak with someone about your struggle and get some insight and practical tools to go forward with greater peace, email me at: startheartwork@gmail.com

Sr Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP

Tabernacle of the Heart II: Finding Our Way to the Treasures of the Heart

Twenty years ago I was tormented by constant headaches. These headaches would last for days and were seemingly resistant to anything I tried to be rid of them. They became a constant companion of my every day, they were a torment of continually sleepless nights.

I gave up on OTC medicine to lessen the pounding in my head and just plowed through my work, trying to push them out of my awareness. It never worked but there was always hope in trying.

A friend shared with me a book that held on one page, in one sentence, through one word the key that begin my journey to a headache free. Surrender. Surrender to the pain. Accept it. Welcome it.

The natural thing for the body to do is to fight it. Instead welcome it.

So I did. And the headaches immediately lessened in intensity. I was elated and curious.

Why? Why did such a simple change in attitude make such a dramatic change on my physical pain?

Shortly after, a friend of the community visited. In the conversation I mentioned something about what I was noticing and she said she suffered from headaches herself. She told me that instead of welcoming them to get rid of them, I should be welcoming them and enter into the space of the welcoming, into the enlarging of my heart that was surrendering and accepting.

Armed with this suggestion I went about figuring out how I was supposed to do this. My heart. I had spent so much time focusing on my headaches, that befriending my heart was a foreign concept.

My heart.

That night I sat up in my room, sleepless as usual. My heart. I know I am feeling something. In my heart. I don’t feel anything. For several hours I sat in the silent darkness trying to become aware of what I felt. Trying to feel my feelings that somehow were related to the gradually dulling ache in my head.

Each night I took the journey out of my head into my body where the tight and taut muscles mirrored the tightness of the headaches, or perhaps they created the headaches. Who knows. Gradually, as I explored the physical sensations of tension, I found my way to my heart.

It too was tight, but in a different way. During those endlessly sleepless nights, I sat at the door of my heart and learned to feel its pain and to describe it with different words. Closed. Defended. Guarded. Shrouded. Withdrawn.

In this odyssey through the sensations of my physicality which brought me to the door of my heart, my headaches lessened until eventually they ceased altogether.

There at heart’s door I learned that I couldn’t pry open the door as I had tried to rid myself of the headaches. I couldn’t demand. It worked on no timetable of mine. The heart responds not to aggression or fearful pleas.

I had to wait.

Welcome its pain. Its fearful closing in on itself. Till it knew it was safe to trust me with its deepest sorrows and its even deeper treasures.

Can you stay with your heart’s deepest pain? Can you sit with some physical pain and ask it for its story? Take a deep breath, feel the way you are held by gravity and by the even deeper Abyss of God’s embrace. Say quietly: I am here. I am yours. I am waiting on you. I will wait always and forever. Come.

Photo by cyrus gomez on Unsplash

How we need our Mother today!

August… the month we traditionally think of heaven.

August, 2020.

Hmm. This year, I sometimes find myself wishing I could escape to heaven, at least in my imagination. It’s on a lot of people’s minds. Some of them wonder why “heaven” doesn’t do something about what’s been happening on earth this year. And between the Marian feasts of the Assumption (August 15) and the Queenship of Mary (August 22), the “vision” of heaven, though beautiful, seems remote from the struggles breaking our lives and hearts apart as the summer winds to a close.

The lyrics to my favorite hymn for the Feast of the Assumption paint a lovely picture of Mary in the blessed joy and glory of heaven: Who is she ascends so far / next the heavenly King? / Round about whom angels fly / and her praises sing.

The loving, living, giving, and suffering of her earthly life over, Mary now reigns in heaven as Queen of heaven and earth. It could almost seem a kind of well-earned eternal retirement, or a victory march, when she took her place in her coronation at the right hand of her Son. As though she lives now in some inaccessible heavenly “castle” where only royalty live!

Mary, however, as every one of her liturgical feasts reminds us, is a Mother. Still a Mother. Always a Mother. Our Mother. My Mother.

Mothers, by the beauty and grace of their sublime vocation, have an almost-superhuman willingness to sacrifice for the wellbeing of their children. Motherhood is the root and foundation of every other accomplishment and expertise a mother may bring to her role.

And how we need a Mother today! A woman who has been where we are. An exile. An immigrant. A widow. She who stood powerless but with faith beneath the cross as she watched her Son die. The woman who was the first disciple, listening to Jesus, lending her ear and then her heart to his bidding, translating it into action of love and obedient trust. We need this mother, teacher, and queen of the bewildered apostles who watched Jesus return to his Father and who, under his Mother’s guidance, began to find their way into the world as his ambassadors and witnesses.

This year, let’s focus on Mary who is standing next to us, each of us, the Mother we so long for. I don’t know about you, but I feel my mother next to me, even though she can no longer be physically near. It’s been said you never really get over the death of your mother, that you still need to feel her near.

This year we need our Mother more than ever. She does not remain in heaven, but comes into the lives of every one of us. Each of us has our own unique connection to her that grows through the years, shifting and changing, deepening and transforming.

If we feel confused, if we feel angry, if we feel lost, if our hearts are anxious, broken, or numb, she holds us in spirit as only she can, as only a Mother knows how to do.

We need our Mother this year, because so many around us need a mother.

A mother’s ear.

A mother’s embrace that says everything will be alright.

A mother’s patience that loves even as it allows a person the freedom to grow.

A mother’s heart that wisely offers the words, “Do whatever he tells you.”

The Assumption and the Queenship of Mary invite us all, this year, to be a part of her motherly strength and loving care for the brothers and sisters of her Son.

Soul of Mary, sanctify me.
Heart of Mary, inflame me.
Hands of Mary, support me.
Feet of Mary, direct me.
Immaculate eyes of Mary, look upon me.
Lips of Mary, speak for me.
Sorrows of Mary, strengthen me.
O Mary, hear me.
In the wound of the Heart of Jesus, hide me.
Let me never be separated from thee.
From my enemy defend me.
At the hour of my death call me,
And bid me to come to thine Immaculate Heart;
That thus I may come to the Heart of Jesus,
And there with the saints praise thee
For all eternity. Amen. 

The Raccolta

Click here for a VIDEO Adoration Guide, Entrusting Ourselves to Mary



The Tabernacle of the Heart: Where Christ Abides Within Us

“I know you will welcome me into your house,
for I am covered by your covenant of mercy and love.
So I come to your sanctuary with deepest awe
to bow in worship and adore you.”  (Ps 5:3f. TPT)

In these days I connect with my parents with a video call each afternoon. It has been a year since I’ve been with them and it may be another year or more before I am able to go home. Being together that 20 minutes each afternoon is a gift. As the weeks go by, however, I know they are wishing they could just hug me close and bring me into their apartment, keep me safe with them, and just…be…together. Close together.

I find myself dreaming of what it will be like…that day when I can walk into their apartment once more and be wrapped in their protective hugs…

“I know you will welcome me into your house…”

This forced separation from others is making me more sensitive to the intense longing to please them, to serve them, to protect them, to hold them, to be held by them, to be welcomed and wanted, my heart watered by their tears and warmed by the sunshine of their smiles. We are all really one after all. I am beginning to sense that.

“I know you will welcome me into your house…”

We have been suffering also, many of us, from an enforced separation from the house of the Lord. Although I have a chapel in my “house” here at the convent, I worry about those who haven’t had the experience for so long of being welcomed by Christ into his house through the Eucharist celebrated as a parish on Sundays and even, for some, each day. And even if we have the immense privilege of once again going into God’s house, we cannot be close to each other.

We all need this divine welcome, even more than we need the hugs we so long for from loved ones from whom we are separated.

“So I come to your sanctuary with deepest awe
to bow in worship and adore you.”

The sanctuary lamp that has burned continually during this pandemic next to the tabernacle is the sentinel that at once announces the presence of Christ in the Eucharist and keeps him company with the flickering of a single candle representing our hearts’ desire to be with him who won for us our salvation.

God’s own love for humanity compels him to take the initiative in providing for humanity this opportunity to experience his welcome, to be comforted by his compassionate abiding, to find the way to return to him in Jesus Christ his Son.

The tabernacle in our Churches, the sanctuary lamp that bravely remains lit in the dark to point the way to the Savior, announces the meeting between heaven and earth, of God and man, of divinity and humanity, of justice and mercy, of wisdom and ignorance, of mercy and sin.

St. Ephrem writes:

When the Lord came down to earth to mortal beings
   He created them again, a new creation, like the angels,
mingling within them Fire and Spirit. (Faith 10:9)

Mary’s womb was the first “tabernacle” or abode for Jesus. How the strings of her heart were tuned to the Father of the One who had been conceived in her. She could hear the Father’s every whisper, feel the import of his every desire. She went with haste to serve her cousin Elizabeth. She went without fear into Egypt. She went without resentment to walk with her Son to Calvary. She went without sadness to the mount from which Jesus would ascend to the Father.

St. Ephrem asserts:

“The Power of the Father, compelled by His love,
descended and dwelt in a virgin womb.”

This same Love dwells in the abode of the Tabernacle in your parish Church. He is as active in the Tabernacle as he was in the womb of Mary.

When we receive Jesus in Holy Communion, he “tabernacles” within our hearts. He takes up there his abode with the Father and the Spirit. Mary, who carried him in her womb for nine months, can teach us how to be attentive to him, led by him, welcomed by him.

“I have found heaven on earth, since heaven is God, and God is in my soul” (St Elizabeth of the Trinity).

Photo Credit: Juan Pablo Arias

How not to become an “injustice collector”

I am almost 57. Fifty seven years of people, situations, issues, reaction, desires, disappointment, dreams, loves….

This year on my birthday, I’m making the resolution to “not look back.”

To not look back at disappointment.

To not look back at rejection.

To not look back at loss.

Of course, looking back is important to do at times. I actually began to rediscover parts of my life during the imposed solitude of the pandemic that I hadn’t taken the time to integrate precisely because I hadn’t looked back. I needed to take the time to “connect the psychological-emotional-spiritual dots” between what I had experienced and lived through to what I was still carrying today in my heart and mind.

Making the connections is important. By making connections we can surrender to God what he has helped us recognize. We can let it go. We can understand it more deeply, even recognize where we may have been mistaken in our perception of what happened.

When we stop to take a bird’s eye view of the context of our life, we discover that for much of our life we, like everyone else, have had a hard time differentiating between our emotionalized perceptions and the external world as it actually is.

When we have confused our perception or opinion with the facts, we put ourselves at the center as the one who “knows,” the one who is the arbiter of the truth of what really happened. If we are at the center, then our vision is skewed because what doesn’t serve the ego—me—is the enemy. Whether it is a person, a situation, a group, a rule, an event…if I believe that I am at the center, then everything is judged on whether or not it serves me. If it does not turn out to my advantage, it is perceived as an injustice.

Of course, we don’t say this in so many words, not even in our moments of deepest self-honesty, because it makes us squirm to think that we consider ourselves the center of our universe. Isn’t it true at least sometimes, however, that it puts us in a better position if we can lay the blame for something at another’s feet.

Quite frankly, every human being since Adam and Eve has had to struggle with this. In the garden they shifted the center of the universe from glorifying God to glorifying themselves.

And hence, the resolution: not to look back. Not to keep recalling events as explanations of what is happening today. Not to nurture grudges. Not to hold people’s past decisions and mistakes against them. To stop refusing others and myself the graced chance to begin again.

It is time to surrender the secret joy that comes from harboring chronic resentment. Bringing them up when it is entirely not necessary. Covering over the past with a blanket of peace.

It is time to surrender unrealistic expectations of the world and relationships.

It is time to surrender demands of convenience, agreement, approval, popularity.

It is time to surrender self-centeredness as a lifestyle.

It is time to pray for the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.

It is time to take responsibility for bringing inner self-centered “me” attitudes to the surface and subordinate them to reason and selfless concern for others.

It is time to accept human fallibility and limitation. To rejoice in the weaknesses of others. To realize each person works with what they have at any given time.

It is time to surrender the seemingly impossible scenarios of the past to God.

It is time to give up the addiction to self-righteousness.

It is time to choose calm, peace, compromise, forgiveness and self-control

It is time to embrace dedication, humility, gratitude, perseverance, and tolerance.

It is time to choose tomorrow over yesterday, a tomorrow that certainly has been shaped by the yesterdays of my life, but even more so by the choices I am making today.

On the altar of my heart, I raise my arms in praise and gratitude, my King, and walk in humble confidence in your merciful compassion. Amen.

I want conversion, not a “new normal”

The year 2020 has been a year so far that has called me to c-o-n-v-e-r-s-i-o-n. COVID-19 which has swept across the world, months of isolation, loss of so much ministry that had been built up by so many of my sisters, the breaking open of the tragic wound of racism and the violence that has filled our streets….

Nothing is as we expected.
Everything has been a surprise.
This moment alone is the entry into the still-point of presence
God’s presence
the present
the heart-presence where wisdom lies.

When I think of conversion, my soul flies first to the conversion of my father, St Paul.

On his way to Damascus to carry out what he thought was what was supposed to happen…

Something unexpected happened
Everything was a surprise
The moment was the entry point where Jesus could slip into his heart

I had my plans for 2020. We all did. Right now I can’t even remember what they were. Can you?

They seem unimportant. Trivial. Like I spent alot of time about alot of things that…well…from today’s vantage point don’t seem all that important.

Either I learned I could live without what once I felt entitled to have or do.

I discovered how quickly the conversation and plans could change.

I’ve discovered after many long mornings with extra time to pray and reflect, that I want something different. That I don’t like “normal” anymore.

I took the isolated weeks to rediscover solitude, to recover from my fragmented craziness, and to be razor sharp about what I believe is God’s call for me going forward.

The onion skin of failures, hurts, memories, beliefs, desires have started to fall away and the beauty of the inward Fountain that leaps up to eternal life is nourishing once again my soul.

Paul had his plans also. He was a good man, well-intentioned. Thought he was doing the right thing. Really we all are well-intentioned, but the music of our life is a bit out of harmony, distorted, perhaps flat or out of tune. When Jesus bursts into our life, we are surprised. Like Paul we may feel blinded by what we discover, or hear, or sense. These threshold moments allow us to step into our souls overcome by the vision of the Almighty bending low to bring us gently into his embrace, his plan, his tender forgiveness that wipes away the normal and creates something we could never have imagined.

Paul could never have planned out his life. The journeys, the struggles, the visions, the theology, the imprisonments, his final witness to Jesus. I remember staying a whole afternoon at Tre Fontaine outside Rome where I prayed before the pillar that is said to be where Paul was beheaded. Paul slipped into my heart that afternoon. His spirit, his courage, the mystic orchestra of his entire being captured by the love of Jesus. Yes. Only Jesus could surprise Paul with a change of life so complete, so beautiful, so graced…a life that would bless every Christian till the end of time.

Another person I think of when I consider conversion is St Augustine. While Paul speaks of blindness until the moment of his baptism, Augustine tells us of being overcome with light in the innermost places of his being. I have experienced, as I am sure have you, this blindness, when we are for a time knocked off course by something, until we find ourselves moved into a life that can only be of God’s design.

But I’ve also experienced this overwhelming light, when I knew that within me is the One who is above me, who made me, who loves me.

Augustine describes it this way in his Confessions:

Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance into the inmost depth of my soul. I was able to do so because you were my helper. On entering into myself I saw, as it were with the eye of the soul, what was beyond the eye of the soul, beyond my spirit: your immutable light. … This light was above me because it has made me; I was below it because I was created by it. He who has come to know the truth knows this light.

O Eternal truth, true love and beloved eternity. You are my God. To you do I sigh day and night. When I first came to know you, you drew me to yourself so that I might see that there were things for me to see, but that I myself was not yet ready to see them. Meanwhile you overcame the weakness of my vision, sending forth most strongly the beams of your light, and I trembled at once with love and dread. I learned that I was in a region unlike yours and far distant from you, and I thought I heard your voice from on high: “I am the food of grown men; grow then, and you will feed on me. Nor will you change me into yourself like bodily food, but you will be changed into me.”

Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace

Both St Paul and St Augustine knew that their experience of God was not meant for them alone. Neither is our conversion meant for us alone. They and we are “positioned” on the world stage to play our part in the drama of God’s heart and each person’s eternal salvation. Here are some quotes I’m reflecting on in these deeply disturbing times, the words of these great converts that strengthen me as witness to Christ, as they were before me, in world’s turbulence as it plays out today.

Be strong in the Lord

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; above all taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” – Ephesians 6:10-18

We are the times

Bad times, hard times, this is what people keep saying; but let us live well, and times shall be good. We are the times: Such as we are, such are the times. ST. AUGUSTINE, Sermons

Don’t hold yourselves cheap

Don’t hold yourselves cheap, seeing that the creator of all things and of you estimates your value so high, so dear, that he pours out for you every day the most precious blood of his only-begotten Son. ST. AUGUSTINE, Sermons

Bear you share of suffering for the Gospel

“Do not be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but take your share of suffering for the gospel in the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not in virtue of our works but in virtue of his own purpose and the grace which he gave us in Christ Jesus ages ago,and now has manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, and therefore I suffer as I do.” – 2 Timothy 1:8-11

Kingdoms without justice

“Justice being taken away, then, what are kingdoms but great robberies? For what are robberies themselves, but little kingdoms?” ― Augustine of Hippo, City of God

Cherish towards evil men a perfect hatred

“He who lives according to God ought to cherish towards evil men a perfect hatred, so that he shall neither hate the man because of his vice nor love the vice because of the man.” ― Augustine of Hippo, City of God

A new creation

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 2 Corinthians 5:17

No, I do not want it to remain the way it was before. No, I don’t want a new normal.
I want the new creation
I want justice and peace
I want to fight against the powers of darkness at work in the world
I want to tell everyone how dearly they are loved
I want to be an apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And Elijah came to the mountain of God

The quiet days of lockdown from the COVID-19 virus came to an abrupt end as the country watched in disbelief the last almost nine minutes of a person’s life being cruelly taken from him…on camera.

A person.

Created by God.

Loved by God.

Embraced by God.

A person with a name: Mr. George Floyd.

And the country erupted into 14 nights of peaceful protest, greedy looting, and violence.

As I watched I felt horror, helplessness, anger, abandonment, fear….

“And Elijah came to the mountain of God called Horeb.” These words jolted me as I read them one morning this week, trying to find some footholds of meaning in the midst of the cacophony.

“Elijah came to the mountain of God.”

Elijah didn’t turn to the refrigerator, or to the internet, or the news, or television, or pick up a good book (or whatever the equivalent would have been in his day).

He went to the mountain of God called Horeb.

I sat with this word from God spoken so softly into my shattered heart and allowed him to draw me to the mountain of God.

Elijah, you remember the story, was at this point on his own roller coaster of emotions. He had just come off his famous contest with the prophets of Baal. While the prophets of Baal had called out to their god to send down fire to consume the bull, nothing happened. Elijah taunted the 450 prophets of Baal, saying: “Shout louder! Certainly he’s a god! Perhaps he is lost or wandering or traveling somewhere…or maybe he is asleep!” No fire. No response.

Elijah summoned the people to him and called down fire upon his water-soaked altar, showing that the LORD was the one, true God.

Then Elijah commanded God’s people to seize all 450 prophets of Baal, dragged them to the Kishon Brook and killed them.

So convincing was Yahweh’s manifestation of power that Elijah probably believed the whole country would turn from their idolatry and believe in the one true God, including the infamous Queen Jezebel, the woman responsible for Israel’s recent descent into unbelief.

Instead, Jezebel sought to take Elijah’s life like that of the prophets he’d killed. Elijah ran away to save his life.

And the Lord brought him to the mountain of God.

In his competition with the prophets of Baal, the Lord had appeared in fire and amazing power. But on the mountain God did not manifest himself to Elijah in such pyrotechnics. Safe from the clutches of Jezebel who sought his life, the Lord brought Elijah deeper into his own plan. I believe God wanted Elijah to know that it was not Elijah’s plans that would save God’s chosen people, that would evoke their commitment to the God who was their Father. It was the work of the Lord himself. Mysterious. Beyond our comprehension. Somehow so all-embracing that it would even hold within it the infidelity of his children.   

After the wind, earthquake and fire, the Hebrew text says there was the qôl dem̆ āmâ daqqâ.  In Hebrew that literally means, the sound of thin or sheer silence, like we experience after a storm has passed. The NRSV translates it literally as “the sound of sheer silence.” The Common English Bible says “After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet.”

And Elijah came to the mountain of God.

There to learn more about being than doing.

More about listening then proclaiming.

More about interrupted plans than perfect setups for successful ministry.

There are two authors who represent for me this thin and quiet silence found on the mountain of God when we are in times of turbulent unrest and uncertain future: Etty Hillesum and Christophe Libreton. I share below some of their words that are blessing me at this time:

Etty Hillesum, a young Jewish woman who died at Auschwitz in November, 1943 at the age of twenty nine became, in the shadow of the concentration camps that was cast over her young life, a vibrant, brave woman of great spiritual depth. Her journals were published under the title An Interrupted Life. I am learning from her to value the interruption of life’s unfolding, the wisdom of lamenting, the blessing of burdens that cannot be lifted. The silence imposed upon the heart when we suffer deep down.

July 20 [1942], Monday morning. 9:30:

They are merciless, without pity. And we must be all the more merciful ourselves. That’s why I prayed early this morning:

‘Oh God, times are too hard for frail people like myself. I know that a new and kinder day will come. I would so much like to live on, if only to express all the love I carry within me. And there is only one way of preparing for the new age, by living it even now in our hearts. Somewhere in me I feel so light, without the least bitterness and so full of strength and love.’

July 21, Thursday, 9:00 PM:

It is all a great big mess. I think to myself quite often, against my will as it were. But today I suddenly wondered why I used the word mess in the first place. It is so much hot air and doesn’t make things any better.

The most depressing thing of all is that the mental horizon of the people I work with is so narrow. They don’t even suffer deep down. They just hate and blind themselves to their own pettiness, their intrigue, they are still ambitious to get on, it is all a great big dirty mess, and there are moment when I would like to lay my head down on my typewriter and say, ‘I can’t go on like this.’ But I do go on, learning more about people all the time.

July 24, Friday morning 7:30:

If all this suffering does not help us to broaden our horizon, to attain a greater humanity by shedding all trifling and irrelevant issues, then it will have been for nothing. (Washington Square Press, copyright 1985, page 195ff.)

Christophe Lebreton, OCSO (1950-1996) was the youngest of the seven Trappist monks assassinated in Algeria by terrorists in 1996. I remember the morning that the letter written by the prior of the community Fr. Christian was read shortly after their martyrdom. I have always felt a strong yet mysterious tie to this community, and this discovery of the journal of Fr. Christophe has only served to strengthen this bond. He began the journal four months before the terrorists first visited the monastery and it ends seven days prior to the monks’ kidnapping. There are so many treasures in Christophe’s journal which has been printed under the title: Born from the Gaze of God. He showed me how to step into the story of Jesus unfolding to this day. It is by assuming the authority of humble childhood that we bring to bear the gift of Jesus’ love over against the power random events of terror seem to have over us.

01/11/1994

Good news: there is an authority in this world
            stronger than the powerful,
            an authority unshaken in the face of the terrorists:
            the authority of humility:
            of CRUCIFIED TRUTH.

03/27/1994 Palm (Passion) Sunday

Jesus is the master of events: of what happens to us here…

Jesus, facing the violence in the narrative of his Passion, in Mark. … Jesus’ way of confronting it is to make us sit down at table.

Then facing a murderous decision, this is the space that resists and holds out: a place of essential conviviality, exchange, sharing.

And then something happens: a woman comes in a performs a foolish act that professes her love there in front of everybody. Love for the Beloved.

Like that man at Bologhine who picked up a policeman, wounded by a terrorist, who was lying in the middle of the road, he got him into his car and drove him to the hospital—and saved his life.

And was himself murdered a week later.

…Jesus stands there, facing the violence aimed at him, and says: as for me, I’m going to pray. Anguish. Still he says, “Abba!”

To face murder there’s only interior childhood in its indestructible relation to Abba. Jesus obeys and leaps in—and we along with him.

Onward! Stand up!

Over against the armed gang, Jesus counters with what he is: the Word. He speaks.

07/14/1994

When he appears, he will unclutter everything: I know nothing more. (Cistercian Publications, copyright 2014)

The quiet eye of the heart

Sometimes I just want to bury my face in my hands as a kneel before Jesus. Quiet. Rest. Serenity. Wisdom. Love. I need it all to bring a shattered heart back into one. Particularly in times of civil unrest, periodically shielding my heart from the opinions and actions of others gives me a chance to breathe. To breathe in the Spirit. To gaze at the world with the eyes of Christ.

They say it is a “quiet eye” that enables athletes to make breath-taking comebacks when they are under extreme pressure. A quiet eye enables the golf or tennis champion to sharpen their concentration. It is described as a kind of enhanced visual perception that allows the athlete to eliminate any distractions as they plan their next move.

Jesus once taught me about the single-hearted gaze, or the quiet eye, that is the natural way that the heart sees. He told me in a time of particular distress, “Just keep your gaze on me, and allow me to look deeply into your eyes, as long as keep our eyes locked in this trusting gaze, all these other things that worry you will be as they are meant to be. Just keep your eyes, Kathryn, on me.”

Burying my face in my hands is one way to eliminate the sight of anything else that would distract me from his Gaze, the Gaze that saves. It returns me to the natural heart-sight that sees more truly than the fixation of fear, anger, and revenge. When the children of Israel were bit by serpents in the desert because they had rebelled against the Lord, God told Moses to mount a seraph serpent on a pole and to raise it up above the people. Anyone who looks at it, the Lord said, would be saved. He drew their eyes toward what would heal them, and away from the chaos of what they must have been experiencing in a camp that had become infested with snakes. It would have been an act of sheer grit and absolute faith that would bring them to leave the position of self-protection to relationship with the One only who would could protect and heal them. God understands that we need something to draw our vision to him precisely when we are in the midst of times of personal or civil struggle.

  • Notifications of the latest post and tweet…. lift your eyes to Christ’s gaze.
  • Conversations that unsettle…. turn inward to receive Christ’s gaze.
  • Pictures of burning buildings, sounds of angry voices…. turn to search the face of Christ that offers that quiet place where your heart’s eye can begin to refocus.

In these days I have felt helplessness, disbelief, horror that one human being could do to another what we all witnessed in the last 9 minutes of Mr George Floyd’s life. Dismay that one person could do this to his brother, yes to his brother and mine, for we all, as sons and daughters of one Creator are brothers and sisters to each other, members of one another. How can we allow this to happen to our brothers and our sisters who have struggled for centuries under the intolerable burden of racism. I go back to that Gaze, the Gaze of Jesus that moment when he said to keep the quiet eye of my heart focused on him.

What is that Gaze?

It is the Gaze by which Jesus makes me his sister, his friend, his beloved. We communicate our hearts and our heart’s love or hate through our eyes. In the Gaze of Jesus I see the eyes of every single person in this country who at this time is trying to grapple with this. When I raise my eyes of Jesus in the Eucharist, I see their faces incorporated in his risen Body.

Somewhere deep inside me there is that flowing river of love that can hold in itself every brother and sister no matter how broken…

That can hold in my arms like the Pieta the body of Christ in my brothers and sisters who have been killed…

That can hold as children the lives of all my brothers and sisters who have clamored for others’ death, as Mary did when she beneath the cross became the Mother of John, and the Mother of everyone present that day clamoring for her Son’s death…

  • Breathe deeply.
  • Inhale and exhale. Notice any grasping. Any distraction. Any running from the quiet Gaze of the Lord.
  • Quietly bless them with Psalm 46: “Be still.”
  • Imagine God placing his hand on your head and blessing you. “Be still.”
  • Spend a few moments looking into the eyes of Christ, at a crucifix or statue, or the Blessed Sacrament if you are in a chapel.

From St. Ephrem the Syrian, a deacon and a prolific Syriac writer of hymns and theologian of the 4th century:

It is you, Lord, that they saw
when they cast their glance at one another.
It is you that your mother saw in your disciple
and it is you that the disciple saw in your mother.
It is you, Lord, that the Seers saw always, in a mirror.
They proclaim that we, too, can see you, O you, our Savior,
when we look at one another. (The Bridal Chamber of the Heart, La chambre nuptiale du coeur, pp 39-40)

And from John of Dalyatha:

Look into yourself and see God within you.
Fasten your eyes on your heart and God, rising out of your heart, will shine on your soul.
If you look there continually, that is where you will find the Kingdom:
that is to say, you will find, in yourself, God, who is your kingdom.
Because their diligence, he reveals himself to the small number of those who keep their eyes fixed in their interior, making a mirror of themselves where the Invisible One can be seen. (p. 48)

The quiet eye…

The gaze of a brother and sister…

The gaze of mother and child…

That gaze of a shattered and broken heart that still believes, still hopes, still knows that it is love that is holding us all together…

  • Invite your heart to be still. Offer a word of gratitude to God.

Coronavirus: The important shift is what happens within

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-symjv-dc365a

The anxiety that has bubbled just below the surface capsizing my frightened heart through all the experiences I’ve had during the lockdown has brought me in touch with anxiety issues that are nothing new. They have been woven through my life and have affected me spiritually and emotionally. This may be happening to you. Perhaps you are touching more keenly the wounds of  PTSD, OCD, scrupulosity, midlife losses as sands are shifting. Emotional struggles. Grief. Depression. Fear.

I’m reminded of what I was once told by a wise mentor: What is important is not the situation itself, but how we are with these situations that are calling us to doubt, question, and fear ourselves and sometimes life itself.

The realities that we live through can bring on headaches, sleeplessness, dissociation, emotional distress. Sometimes these can last for weeks, months, years. At times we are aware of how all this is wearing on us physically, psychologically, and spiritually. At other times it remains a secret even from ourselves.

Mindful practices, awareness exercises, contemplative presence can help us come home to who we are, as we are, in whatever space we are in….

Meditation of Presence: Return to the temple of the heart

God wants you!

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” (Psalm 27:8)

God knows that he made us to look directly into his Face, to rejoice in the delight he takes in us, to feel cherished by his tender gaze that  can never be marred by anger towards us.

We were made for him.

Deep down in our hearts, we know that. We resonate with the beat of our Creator’s heart. We seek his Face for it is only there that we rest at last in the love for which we were made.

God wants to reawaken this desire in you. He wants to refresh you in the midst of this very long epidemic of sorrow through which you are living. He wants you to seek the life you were meant to seek. He wants you to head home.

This is a video meditation that is a powerful antidote to the scary narrative all around us: the dire predictions, the endless what if’s, the numbers of daily cases, and the names of dear ones who have left us for the eternal shores of God’s infinite mercy.

I offer it to you as a gift.

Take a moment to direct your face anew to the Face of the One who loves you and will take care of you. Take a deep breath, and rest in his arms.

ENJOYED THIS VIDEO MEDITATION? HERE ARE 5 WAYS TO GO DEEPER…

God has amazing ways of knocking on people’s hearts, awakening desires, arousing questions, provoking an unexpected spiritual fire. If you have enjoyed this article, and are ready to embark on a sustained spiritual journey, here are 6 ways you can join me on the journey:
  1. Join my private Facebook Group and walk the road of healing with a great group of people. I offer a half-hour live spiritual conference here Tuesday evenings at 7pm EST
  2. Sign-up for my letter Touching the Sunrise. I write a letter a couple times a month from my heart to yours to support you along the way.
  3. Explore my books: Surviving Depression: A Catholic Approach; Reclaim Regret: How God Heals Life’s Disappointments; Just a Minute Meditations Deeper Trust and Inner Peace. Enroll in the free 5-day email series introducing Reclaim Regret.
  4. Enroll in courses on Midlife, Contemplative Prayer, and a do-it-yourself downloadable Surviving Depression retreat
  5. Become a part of the HeartWork Community, a place where you can ask the hard questions and find a path to a life that is free, fulfilling and fruitful.