Evening Rituals to Restore Yourself

I have to admit, I usually have at least 20 tabs open in Google Chrome on one of my monitors with eight to ten programs open on the other. I’m switching constantly between online and offline programs to accomplish tasks connected with maintaining a website, digital marketing, or facilitating digital publishing. At the end of the day, my spirit is fragmented into as many splintered pieces as windows that flashed in front of my sight and soul during the day. And of course, there is the token YouTube video, the news, and my favorite blogs.

I’ve spent a lot of time pondering the effect of internet and computer use on the human spirit. If I were out gardening all day I’d probably have other complaints, like a sore back and hurting knees, but being in nature would be healing and whole. Multi-tasking across multiple different platforms in front of a screen doesn’t quite have the same healing effect. Using smartphones and tablets, now so much of our organizational and communication tools can have the same soul-splintering experience if we are not careful to preserve space for our spirit.

One thing I’ve been trying to do is to spend 15 or 20 minutes before I go to bed, in a darkened room, in prayer or reading. Candles or incense awaken my senses to beauty once more. My reflections or conversations with God reconnect me personally to Someone who hears and listens and speaks and touches and tastes and holds and cares. It restores me to myself.

Do you have any small rituals you’ve developed to restore your fragmented or drooping spirit at the end of a long day?

May I come to your house, please?

The Rabbi, surrounded by the crowd,
looked up into the tree

and he opened his arms wide
offered freely the treasures of his friendship

“May I come to your house?
Tonight?

Please?”

Perhaps there was a hesitancy
on the part of the one who
was out on a limb.

“Me?”

“Yes. You. I won’t take no for an answer”

Not a command–
a reassurance that the offer
was genuine
true
not dependent on all the “buts” that filled
the little man’s head
who knew himself unworthy
tax collector that he was
outcast
despised
unjust

Forgiven.

One of the most colorful stories in the Gospel of Luke is the story of Zacchaeus, the little man who climbed a tree in order to get a glimpse of Jesus as the rabbi walked through the city of Jericho. To his surprise, Jesus stopped when he came to his tree and, looking up, invited himself over to dinner. There were plenty of “good” people among the crowd that surrounded him that Jesus could have decided to dine with. Instead, he chose the most despised person in town, the tax collector known for being unjust, stealing their money, betraying the Jews by transferring his loyalty to the oppressive Roman regime.

Read Luke 19:1ff

Imagine yourself as a tree climber like Zacchaeus. Merge with this little man who is trying to hide his interest, perhaps feeling a tug of remorse or desire, embarrassed when the eyes of the whole crowd look up and see him perched on the limb of a tree. What does it feel like up there in the tree? Relate to Jesus as someone who is curious, or as someone who is attracted to Jesus’ message but not quite ready to commit. What areas of your life are you keeping from full commitment to the Lord and his way, his truth?

Jesus invites himself into your heart. Perhaps he knows there are areas of your life you are too shy or fearful to open to him. Jesus loves you too much to wait around till you muster enough courage to invite him into your life. So he invites himself! And he doesn’t intend to take no for an answer. Certainly, you could say no…that’s your option. But Jesus will be waiting for you around the next corner. “Are you sure you don’t want me to come to your house?”

Zacchaeus teaches us the value of stopping to notice, and what wonderful spirit-filled consequences such a simple decision can have. He left his money changing table and climbed a tree because he noticed that this Jesus was someone people thought was important enough to celebrate in the streets of Jericho. There are many things that can keep us from stopping to notice.

Name one habit you have that keeps you caught up in the everyday effort to survive and prevents you from noticing what is a cause for celebration.

Practice: Breathing slowly for a while in a quiet place, unconnected to a digital device. What does silence sound like? Feel like? What does the silence teach you about yourself?

Prayer: Jesus, I won’t give you no for an answer. I’m willing to go out on a limb for my belief in you. Come!

God is faithful: Holy Saturday Thought

When we hand our lives over to the Lord, we come out of hiding—hiding behind our ideas of how things should be, hiding behind who we think we are, hiding behind our dreams for our future. As God showed himself faithful to Jesus on the cross, God shows himself faithful to us…and will manifest his fidelity to anyone who takes a trusting step into the unknown.

God makes the unlovable lovable

God loves us as if we were the center of his universe! We who have died and risen with Christ, we in whom the Son abides, we for whom Jesus answered to his Father with his life and with his death—we are the object of God’s delight. We are chosen by God. Jesus spent his thirty-three years of life serving our needs with his own hands, wiping up our mess with his own blood, opening our future with his own death. The life of the Word Incarnate was not a blip on the divine screen. For all eternity God will be serving us, bent at our feet in love and mercy and compassion. God makes the impossible, possible; the unbelievable, reality. What is unlovable will melt in his hands. What is ostentatious will thrill to be a cascade of lilies in a blooming field, clothed only with the brilliance of poverty. What is afraid will stand with the certainty of the resurrection. We shy away from grandeur and expectations, but we are drawn with confidence by this extraordinary mercy that will delight us eternally.

O Love! You wash my feet and tend to my vulnerability every day! Give me eyes to see you.

3 signs you’re not a workaholic

Recently at provincial meetings, a presenter talked about workaholics as if they weren’t people. In her rather dated way of looking at balance in life, she referred to workaholics as if they were a special breed of “automatons” who lived in a vacuum. Shortly after, a sister who came by my office surprised me by greeting me with the words, “Hey, Workaholic!”

It is true that I work long hours, not always by choice, sometimes by necessity, occasionally as an escape, and at times because others need me to be available. But I resent being reduced to a label.

I also have many inner struggles around the work I do. Some of the things I have been asked to do in mission required long hours. Sometimes I have gotten angry about the amount of work expected of me, other times I know I could give more but am holding back. On the one hand, I feel like I need to always be available, on the other hand I can use work as an escape. I look at others working more, working less, and in both cases I feel guilty. I want what I do to flow from who I am, and the integration—when it happens—feels wonderful! How complicated is the human heart!

Reflecting on my own experience, over the past months I have identified three guides that help me in unraveling the motivations of my heart; to connect my “doing” with my “being” so that my work flows not from workaholism but from something deeper.

  • Surrender to reality

As a manager of a department in our publishing house, I work hard at building a team with those with whom I work. But at the end of the day, the manager is the one who has to pick up the pieces, fill in the holes, supply what is missing and basically be responsible for keeping the boat afloat.

I would love to be free of deadlines and responsibilities to follow my own dreams. The reality is, however, that being the team leader of the digital department—a 24/7 always-connected mission field —I can’t have that luxury. I have to admit at times I am jealous of those who do. Some days I am hankering after “greener pastures” that others seem to enjoy instead of embracing my own reality.

When I choose (and daily re-choose) the mission field I’m in—and which I absolutely love—with all of its realities and demands and joys…when I choose to love even the craziness of it, to see it as my path, as the gift that has so enriched me…I’m able to see the sacrifices for what they are. They aren’t any more of a sacrifice than those made by my sister who is putting four boys through college. She and her husband work hard at their jobs, as well as their marriage, their parenting, their health and their faith. For many years she has worked in a hospital emergency room. The years she was the manager she was on call 24/7. I wouldn’t call my sister a “workaholic.” She’s a mom. She loves her job and I love mine. By re-choosing to love it again and again I find joy.

2  Give up on seeking balance in life

I find it hard to believe that Jesus is that concerned about us living a balanced life. I think he would rather we be “fully alive.” Protecting and orchestrating my choices, schedule, and plans around keeping balance has a certain value, but I’m reading a growing number of articles that say it just isn’t possible to have balance in life today the same way we used to.

The fine line between work space and private space is eroding. Work and leisure are flowing into each other and expectations are shifting. The nine-to-five workday is a thing of the past for everyone. In some fields people are expected to bring work home and to be available on the week-ends and often on vacation. When our website goes down, the company who hosts our server is available day or night. So am I. It’s a different world. Some things can’t wait till Monday.

When reflecting on these new demands I love the thought of our founder, Blessed James Alberione, SSP who said, “The apostle is one who has a heart glowing with the love of God and the love of her brothers and sisters. She can neither restrain nor suffocate what she feels and thinks.” This being “fully alive” (in the words of Irenaeus) flows from a feeling of expansion, giving and developing in all dimensions of life (not just the dimension of work). It flows from a perspective of fullness. If we want to pursue something in life, whatever that may be, we need to give it our all. All is about more than time.

A full life ebbs and flows; is alternately creative and at rest; is filled with joy and at other times peacefully contemplative. To create this life-giving rhythm, I personally like to build into my schedule quality times for things that are important to me and which replenish my mind, body and spirit. I can’t have this time every day. It isn’t on a schedule. I purposely need to carve out quality time when I can fit in. For example I set aside time for a project and tell my team the door is shut that afternoon. I’m still working, but it is a different experience. I put on music, light a candle, get a cup of coffee and put myself in a different zone. I might make room on an afternoon for extra community presence. I make the week-ends of one month sacred and that’s when I write my book. I’ll take a Saturday for extra prayer combined with reflection, reading, and long walks to evaluate the direction our department is moving (the digital field changes daily!). I might rise early on a Sunday, take my computer out on the porch, and enjoy a couple hours in the silence of the early hours, journaling and writing before the community rises.

Although I can’t have personal time every day, I keep my life in sync by refilling my energy through quality activities which nourish my soul and body.

 

There have been a few years in my religious life in which my assignment meant my mission took over all the other dimensions of my life. Even in these times, however, I worked hard to establish parameters and sought to create some small rhythm for personally life-giving choices.

No one else will create life-giving choices for us other than ourselves. I think of parents of children who require 24/7 care or those who are simultaneously caring for a family and parents. I have in mind also people whose employers are demanding 24/7 availability in order to keep their job. Such situations are not easy.

Even here, however, the idea of rhythm may be helpful. The whole week may be scheduled but some time during the next week can be reserved for an activity that is life-giving or restful. It could be as small as a walk through a park, a time for spiritual direction, sleeping in one morning, a leisurely dinner with friends, or even sitting down with a glass of wine and music to do planning.  We can even in the smallest way preserve our freedom by making life-giving choices.

  • Line up choices with God’s gaze

I made my annual retreat several weeks ago. One of my first meditations was of the woman who washed Jesus feet in the house of Simon the Pharisee. I imagined what she might have been thinking as she waited for Jesus to arrive. Perhaps she was wondering if Jesus would remember her, if he would remember the way he had saved her… the one whom he had “forgiven much.”  I watched her wait for Jesus in anticipation, even felt her fear that this rabbi who had done so much for her might no longer know her name.

As Jesus entered the room, he sensed that there was more to this dinner than he had expected. There were no signs of hospitality, no washing of the feet, no welcoming kiss. In my meditation I saw him slowly look around the room to see if there was someone there whom he knew. When Jesus’ eyes met hers, his face lit up with a great smile. The woman’s heart leapt for joy. “He remembers me. He knows me. Not as the woman with the history of weakness, but only as the woman he re-created through his mercy. He knows me as I am now.” I felt this beautiful and healing gaze of Jesus on me, a gaze that was warm, affirming, supporting, delighting in me. This gaze of Jesus became a strong thread through the eight days of retreat.

I have met this gaze before, as I know you have. I have come to call that gaze “the Kingdom of His Face.” I carefully guard those memories, and they become a touchstone that guides the decisions I make.

“Should I stay late in the office tonight?” I “overlay” on God’s gaze the feelings I have about working late that night as well as any motivations and resistances. Do they correspond to that Face of mercy and trust? If they do, then I go ahead.  I feel a deep peace and joy. And no matter how much work or how many hours it entails, I continue to carry it out with joy and peace.

If the potential action or word doesn’t correspond to the gift received in God’s gaze, I feel it distort, turn in on itself, shrink within me. There is something deeply misgiving about it. I decide not to follow this way since it doesn’t align with what I sensed when I received God’s gaze. This is my touchtone of discernment and it never fails me.

Living within the gaze of God places me squarely in the mystery of mission. Acting out of haste, superficiality, or obstinacy leads me directly down the path of the workaholic.

Every person will need to see how to direct and re-direct her or his own life so that it fully flowers with generativity and hope. The ongoing orchestration of this is essential, because only this will lead to a deeply satisfying life. Your experiences won’t match mine, and I know God will show you your way. I offer you my three guides as a starting place to help you live more fully:

  • Surrender to reality—love the life that is yours.
  • Discover your own rhythm of life. Instead of capping your possibilities to keep life in balance, develop all the aspects of your life.
  • Never act out of haste, but let the gaze of God become the touchstone of your life.

Children of the Resurrection

Christ is the Victorious One who in his death and resurrection conquered evil. Death, sin, unhappiness, and destruction cannot have the last word. The last word is the victory of Christ and his triumph and fullness. No longer is there death that cannot bring life, pain that cannot generate fullness, sadness that cannot convert into profound joy. There are no limitations, fragilities, psychological pain, or mood disorders stronger than the Resurrected One. We are children of the victory of the resurrection. If only this truth burned within us!

Parkland, Florida and the Way of Jesus’ Cross

Has it ever happened to you to be deeply surprised by a prayer you have said a thousand times before but which suddenly strikes you to the heart? This happened to me last Friday as I prayed the Way of the Cross with my community. It was but two days after 17 teens had died at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and the pain of this event, born primarily by those closest to these teens and their community, still lies heavy on my heart. The sacred sorrow of this shooting, as all the other shootings that have marred the peace of soul of all of us here in the US, has been violated by the political wrangling that immediately broke out in articles, comments, and social media posts and comments.

The first station: Jesus is condemned to death.

Eagerly I bend my spirit to follow the Lord on the way to Calvary.

Did you ever notice how the Stations of the Cross are a moving portrayal of the power of love in the experience of violence?

The second station: Jesus takes up his cross. The fourth: Mary, who has followed him as mother, support, disciple, faces her Son and the look that passes from one face to another…. The fifth station: Simon of Cyrene takes up the cross of someone who may have been a stranger to him, but who–either out of duress or out of compassion–seeks to lighten this poor condemned man’s load…. The sixth station: The woman Veronica wipes the sweat, the tears, the blood from the divine face of her Master to give him at least a passing moment of comfort and pity. The eighth station: The women of Jerusalem weep at the sight of goodness treated with such violence and hatred. The eleventh and twelfth stations: Jesus extends his arms on the cross, offering his body to be nailed to the wood of the tree that would become our life, and there he dies, handing over his life for us. The thirteenth and fourteenth station: Nicodemus appears to help Mary and John care for the body of their Lord and Teacher, and together they lay him tenderly in the tomb. In silence they depart.

Where violence seems to have the last word, the only word, the tenderness of love is poured forth like oil into the wounds inflicted on the body of the Savior. Most of the Stations are about that love that rises higher than the undertone of hatred and death, soaring in delicate harmony that outlasts the other elements of the walk of death they have witnessed.

And of course, the whole thing is love. What was meant to be a humiliating triumph over this rabbi, became like a jar of exquisite perfume that when broken filled the whole earth and every time. Jesus begins by opening wide his arms in love to accept the cross, to walk this way, to allow himself meekly to obey his executioners, to die in total trust, offering himself to his Father and handing over his spirit, and at last laid in a tomb, he sleeps in the heart of the earth, searching out the First Adam and those who have gone before and wait for his salvation in the shadowed darkness in the Limbo of the Fathers.

The Roman powers, the people calling for his death, those who played the political games that seemed to ensnare this innocent rabbi, even the sin of all the world seemed to have the power. The strength of love was the real power at play.

Those who shoot, those who make the laws, those engaged in the political dance may leave us feeling powerless. But, really, are we?

Too often we are standing alongside Mary tenderly laying our dear ones to rest too soon, their lives snuffed out by the violence and insanity of another. The love of the disciples who played their part on the way to Calvary was confirmed by the resurrection of the One who said, “I have overcome the world.”

There are many ways to love–weeping, remembering, acting, advocating…. Each of them arises from the will to hope in the passing away of the storms of the world and the coming of the One who alone now gives life, promise, future, and happiness.

The Lord who had surrendered to the blows of suffering and death, still suffers at the hands of others. Caryll Houselander, an unexpected English mystic who lived through two World Wars in the first half of the twentieth century, had several visions in her life which convinced her of this. After her 9th birthday, Caryll’s parents separated. She was sent to the cloistered Convent of the Holy Child. At the school, the French and Belgian nuns taught the children how to make jams, knit woolen helmets, and hate Germans. Here, Caryll experienced her first mystical experience. One day, she noticed a Bavarian (“To us, Bavarian meant German”) nun sitting alone, cleaning shoes and weeping. After a long silence, Caryll saw a mental picture of the nun’s head weighed down by a crown of thorns. From this vision, she came to understand that Christ was suffering in this nun.

Later in her life on a crowded subway train station, she suddenly saw Christ in each passenger—“living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them.” In these passengers she saw the whole world. Later, as she walked among the crowds in the street, she saw Christ in every passerby.

In her prayer she pleaded with the Lord that she might not be moved by pity by the Christ on the wall but be a stone to the Christ suffering around her. She asked the Lord that she might be a modern-day Veronica and wipe away the ugliness of sin from the human face. Under the sorrow, the tears, the wounds and the pain is truly the face of the Lord.

“I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (Jn. 16:33)

Sr. Kathryn J. Hermes, FSP

Photo Credit: Taken by Pethrus; Station of the cross, Saint Symphorian church of Pfettisheim, Bas-Rhin, France. XIXth century. Detail of the 4thstation : Jesus and his mother