Song of Quiet Trust: A Midlife Meditation

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-irjn8-f93696

These past two weeks I have spent from 3 to 5 hours most evenings or early mornings sitting beside a dear sister-friend who was making her last great ascent. That final walk. The ultimate journey. The loving return.

Each breath of hers was precious and on that last night before she died God helped me to realize that in the end, really, that is all we have…our breath…our current breath. We are not promised our next breath. We already have kissed the last breath goodbye. We cannot cling to it, as we cannot hold onto the past.

And even that breath is a gift. A gift of total gratuitously glorious love from a divine Lover who is supporting us in his arms even as we breath.

On that last ascent, it will not matter what we have created or achieved or known or acquired. The fact that I have written a book, or started a company, or sold an astounding number of widgets, or even loved will not be mine as a monument to me..

I will have only this breath that is a gift to me right now at this moment.

Lent 2021: Jesus says “Come” and “Trust”

Here we are in our second pandemic Lent. Maybe we feel that we have been in Lent all through these twelve virus-riddled months. Maybe we’re dreading a season of greater penance when we’re longing to get loose from restrictions as they are somewhat lifted. Maybe we’re just numb and Lent isn’t registering at all. We’re just too tired to face it. Or perhaps the familiar rituals and practices of Lent offer comfort when we are so in need of something or Someone who understands and can do something. about what’s happening to us.

It doesn’t matter where you are. Come to Lent as you are, in whatever state you find yourself in.

This morning I prayed with the narrative of Jesus healing the leper found in the Gospel of Mark. In Leviticus 13 we find the regulation for those who have leprosy:

“The one who bears the sore of leprosy
shall keep his garments rent and his head bare,
and shall muffle his beard;
he shall cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean!’
As long as the sore is on him he shall declare himself unclean,

since he is in fact unclean.
He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside the camp.”

Dropping down into my own heart, I found that there are many reasons why I, though I am not a leper, can cry out “Unclean!” before God. So many ways that I have not been all that I could have been, not given, or perhaps given what wasn’t needed and held back on what I wanted to keep. There is a blessed peace and a grace to acknowledge peacefully our “uncleanness” before our Maker.

St Francis de Sales encourages us to make our repentance moderate and peaceable, not anxious. He encourages us to learn to tolerate ourselves and others, to practice gentleness toward ourselves as well as others. To reprove ourselves without anger, bitterness, or impatience. Holding my own brokenness, gently calling sacred the past that more and more becomes apparent to me to be a place calling out for healing and new birth, I called out in a confident whisper to Jesus, “Unclean!”

I stood beside the leper in Mark’s Gospel who dared to approach Jesus and tell him confidently: “If you will, you can cure me!” Lepers by regulation, as we saw above, were to remain outside the camp so as not to infect others. This leper, however, risked everything by approaching Jesus who no doubt was surrounded by a crowd of people. In the two lines of the Gospel story it seems like it was an ordinary run-of-the-mill request. Leper shows up and makes his request. To his request, Jesus responds, “I do will it, be cured.” End of story. Can you imagine, though, the drama as people realized a leper was standing “inside the community space” right next to them. The leper was a threat to their health and survival. And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the leper. Jesus didn’t run. He didn’t tell him to leave because he was a danger to him. He didn’t even call attention to how he was breaking the regulations. Instead he heard only the request. He saw only the leper’s heart. He was moved only by his most compassionate love that brought him to earth to save and heal a wounded race.

Holding my own brokenness, gently calling sacred the past that more and more becomes apparent as a place calling out for healing and new birth, I called out in a confident whisper to Jesus, “Unclean!”

Though I called out “Unclean!” and though I felt more sharply the uncleanness within, I stood with braveness beside the leper immortalized by the Gospel writer. “If you will, you can cure me! You can make me clean!” I felt his hand upon my head and let it rest upon me. “Be clean,” Jesus said with a firm yet quiet command. “Be clean!” It reverberated through the caverns of need and hope within me. Sometimes when we think of prayer, of Jesus, we forget that he interacts with us as we are in our humanness, our human need for human touch, our human need to know everything will be all right, our human need for someone to come and rescue us when we are overwhelmed or powerless in the face of something bigger than us. “Be clean!” Jesus’ outstretched hand steadying, strengthening, calming.

Many moments of taking in Jesus’ strengthening touch…. Heart opening to Heart, receiving the slow and subtle seeping of grace into the desert now turning into an oasis. “Clean!”

I am clean. Clean. Clean. Clean.

The experience of Jesus’ willingness to cleanse, to extend his hand in blessing and healing, means different things to each one of us. What has been the most powerful experience you have had with someone in your life who has been there to physically steady you with his or her hand, to bless or heal you? When have you experienced surprise and astounding wonder at what was done for you or given to you?

For me, the words uttered by Jesus and his strong yet gentle gesture are spousal words, the gesture of the Lover in the Song of Songs offering his hand to the beloved that they might be one. The Lover says in the Song of Songs 1:15:

Look at you, my dearest darling,
you are so lovely!
You are beauty itself to me.
Your passionate eyes are like gentle doves.

The King of kings and Lord of lords who makes clean even takes the leper’s place–while the leper had had to remain outside the camp because of his disease, after curing the man from leprosy “it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly, and he remained outside in deserted places.” Lent is about touching intimately and profoundly the reality that we have been made clean at Jesus’ own expense, at the cost of his life. He died that we might live.

Lent is about touching intimately and profoundly the reality that we have been made clean at Jesus’ own expense, at the cost of his life. He died that we might live.

The only response, so beautiful and yet so painfully common, is gratitude. The inner treasure of gratitude can be overlooked because saying “Thank you” is a reflex action for anyone with a good upbringing. Gratefulness’ inner sanctuary is not like the astonishment on winning the lottery. It is the created one whose hand is held by her Maker, to whom she bows to the dust in awe that she would be noticed by so great a King, desired, and crowned his Bride, invited to sit beside him. Psalm 45 expresses it this way:

Now listen, daughter, pay attention, and forget about your past.
Put behind you every attachment to the familiar,
even those who once were close to you!
For your royal Bridegroom is ravished by your beautiful brightness.
Bow in reverence before him, for he is your Lord!

The offering of royalty, from which arises the incredibly humble awareness of unworthiness in the sudden realization and joy that it doesn’t matter any more. You have been made clean!

May you come to Jesus this Lent like a trusting child in this way for it is to those who trust in him that the Father has planned to extend his kingdom (Matthew 11):

“Are you weary, carrying a heavy burden? Then come to me. I will refresh your life, for I am your oasis. Simply join your life with mine. Learn my ways and you’ll discover that I’m gentle, humble, easy to please. You will find refreshment and rest in me. For all that I require of you will be pleasant and easy to bear.” Amen.

Remain safely tied to the Heart of Love

This week is National Marriage Week. The storms of the pandemic have stretched and frayed—and sometimes weakened—relationships between husbands and wives. The storms of having to work from home, homeschool children, and even just be together in new ways have overwhelmed the tiny boats of already fragile marriages and families tossed about in today’s society.

This morning in prayer, I imagined myself sitting at a table made by St Joseph in the tiny home of the Holy Family. I shared with Mary and Joseph what was capsizing my little boat, and soaked in the compassion of the three most beautiful people who ever lived. I imagined St. Joseph putting his hands on my shoulders, sharing his strength and stability that came from witnessing how the providence of Abba saved them, even as they found no room in Bethlehem for the Savior to be born, or as they had to flee from Herod for their lives. I felt Mary at my side, who as Mother par excellence knew the broken heart of one who could not save her child from humiliation and death, receiving him into her arms and sorrowing heart, and worshipping him as the King as he rose and ascended into heaven. I let Jesus comfort me as a child would. How delicate his kindness as he confirmed that life is indeed hard and sometimes filled with tears!

As I directed my vision and imagination to the images of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, as I chose with St. Joseph to hold onto Limitless Love’s providential care for me, as I opened my heart in prayer instead of complaint, I felt my little boat was tied to the pier of the Kingdom of Love. I knew that even though the boat will still rock and be tossed about on the storms of life, it will remain safely tied to the Heart of Love by my desire to be of the Kingdom, and the King’s holding me safe in his arms.

Friends, I invite you to fill your imaginations and hearts with images of the Holy Family strengthening you with their wisdom, experience, and witness. Feel Mary reaching out to you to dry your tears, St. Joseph bracing you against the troubles of life, and Jesus holding your gaze with his eyes that say, “I have you. I won’t let you go. Hold on to me. Hold on to me.”

There is a line that frequently appears on social media when people post about their need and struggle. “You’ve got this!” people comment somewhat reassuringly. Instead, I invite you to remember that, even when your boat rocks in the storm (which it will), God has this. God has you. Hold on to him. Hear him whisper, “I have you. I won’t let you go. Hold on to me. Hold on to me.”

Sr. Kathryn

How I found comfort in the sorrows of Mary: Guest Post

For many years I was surprised by how many people came into our book centers and asked for the Chaplet to Our Lady of Sorrows. I personally never had a strong devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows. I always thought I’d rather focus on the joys of Mary than on her sorrows! But as time went on, I too began to find comfort in the Sorrows of Mary.

Even as I type those words, however, it feels like an oxymoron: how can there be a feeling of comfort in sorrow? The answer is simple: because the sorrow is shared. It’s not that there’s a comfort because of the sorrow, but rather that through her own sorrows, our Blessed Mother is with me in my sorrows.

When I reflect on the sorrows of Mary I feel a deep connection to her as Our Lady of Sorrows, realizing that through the sorrows she carried in her life, she understands the sorrows we face today.

The sorrows in my life look very different from those of our Blessed Mother. I think for example of my parents’ divorce, or the loss of a friend to cancer. These sorrows affect me deeply and I think: these things should not have happened. That’s where part of my sorrow comes from. Ideally, my friend wouldn’t have died from cancer in his twenties. Ideally, my parents would not have gotten divorced. In a perfect world, these things wouldn’t have happened. In a perfect world, there wouldn’t be any sorrow. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and through the great sorrows that pierced Mary’s heart, she is able to be with us in our own suffering as a mother who deeply understands whatever we’re going through.

We’ll reach the place of no sorrow when we get to heaven, but until then, we are here to live both the joyful and the sorrowful moments of our lives, just as Mary did. And uniting ourselves to her in our joys and sorrows can give great comfort to us—the comfort that only a mother can give.

United in the sorrowful and immaculate heart of our Mother,

Sr Andrew Marie

My eyes have seen your salvation!

Today is the 25th anniversary of the day of prayer for women and men in consecrated life, instituted in 1997 by Pope Saint John Paul II. The Feast of the Presentation of the Lord is a beautiful day to celebrate the gift of consecrated life in the Church. In the liturgy for the Feast of the Presentation, candles are blessed symbolizing Christ who is the light of the world, and those who have consecrated their lives to God are called to reflect the light of Christ to the world. (The observance of World Day of Consecrated Life in the US has been transferred to the following Sunday.)

One of the key figures who appears in the Gospel today is Simeon. Of all the people in the Temple that day when Mary and Joseph brought Jesus there to present him to the Lord, only Simeon and Anna recognized the baby as the longed-for Messiah. Luke states three times that Simeon was a man immersed in the power of the Holy Spirit. “The Holy Spirit was upon him,” he knew that he wouldn’t see death before he had seen the Christ of the Lord “because it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit.” And finally, that day, “he came in the Spirit to the temple.”

Simeon lived under the guidance and impulse of the Spirit so he could see things that others could not. He could see and proclaim what God was doing. He could see how grace was at work. “My eyes have seen your salvation,” he cried out. Can you imagine the joy of this old man that the mystery he had waited for decades to touch was now held in his arms.

Last year, on this day, Pope Francis reflected upon Simeon’s words at a Mass celebrated for religious. I want to use them as the basis for my thoughts here with you. In the dark and chaotic situation in our world today, all of us need to be able to see salvation, to see in our life God’s faithful gift, to witness God’s love at work in the world.

My eyes have seen your salvation! God’s gift even in moments of darkness and powerlessness. It is the tempter that tries to keep us focused on what hasn’t been, what we’ve lost, what we’ve been unjustly deprived of.

My eyes have seen your salvation! God’s gift in fragility and weakness. It is the tempter who hides the light and whispers to us: “You are no good. God can’t love you. Look at how little you love God. What have you done for him?”

Pope Francis described what happens to us, “We no longer see the Lord in everything, but only the dynamics of the world, and our hearts grow numb.  Then we become creatures of habit, pragmatic, while inside us sadness and distrust grow, that turn into resignation.”

To see correctly, to see in truth, we need to be like Simeon, we need to be able to perceive God’s grace for us. We need to see salvation, to look at what God is doing.

Instead of focusing on thoughts and feelings about what is happening in our lives and within our hearts, thoughts and feelings that disorient us, Simeon shows us how to be led by the Spirit, inspired by the Spirit, filled with the Spirit. It takes a lot of courage to turn our eyes away from ourselves, to turn our attention away from the tempter and to lift them instead to the Lord. It takes courage to believe that God is at work even when everything we see around us seems to be falling apart.

On this Feast of the Presentation, even if you can’t get to the Church for Mass, light a candle, be warmed by the flame, be filled with the light that burns bravely in the darkness and braves event the wind…. May this candle remind you to see the Lord, the Light of the World, in everything. May it remind you that your life is happiest when it revolves around God’s grace. Courageously hold up the candle to a window, in front of the newspaper or your Twitter account or Facebook page and proclaim, “My eyes have seen, O Lord, your salvation!”

Photo credit: Arent de Gelder, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I shall restore you

God is love. God cannot be nor do anything except love. The whole universe is full of his mighty deeds. He manifests the splendor of his majesty by reaching out and saving what he has made. The Father transfigures and transforms us into images of his Son so that we too might participate in his glory for all eternity.

But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever;
your name endures to all generations.
You will rise up and have compassion on Zion,
for it is time to favor it;
the appointed time has come. . . .

The nations will fear the name of the Lord,
and all the kings of the earth your glory.
For the Lord will build up Zion;
he will appear in his glory.
He will regard the prayer of the destitute,
and will not despise their prayer.
Ps 102:12–13, 15–17

“A humble soul does not trust itself, but places all its confidence in God.”

St Faustina

Song of Quiet Trust: a Midlife Meditation

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.[a]

O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time on and forevermore.

This is Psalm 131. It is titled in my Bible as A Song of Ascents.

Ascents.

These past two weeks I have spent from 3 to 5 hours most evenings or early mornings sitting beside a dear sister-friend who was making her last great ascent. That final walk. The ultimate journey. The loving return.

Each breath of hers was precious and on that last night before she died God helped me to realize that in the end, really, that is all we have…our breath…our current breath. We are not promised our next breath. We already have kissed the last breath goodbye. We cannot cling to it, as we cannot hold onto the past.

And even that breath is a gift. A gift of total gratuitously glorious love from a divine Lover who is supporting us in his arms even as we breath.

On that last ascent, it will not matter what we have created or achieved or known or acquired. The fact that I have written a book, or started a company, or sold an astounding number of widgets, or even loved will not be mine as a monument to me..

I will have only this breath that is a gift to me right now at this moment.

Only this breath.

It is freeing, isn’t it?

What is important to you right now? What worries or angers or burdens you? What frightens you? What dreams are you clinging to?

Listen again to this psalm 131 as it breathes through your soul…

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
    my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
    too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
    like a weaned child with its mother;
    my soul is like the weaned child that is with me.[a]

O Israel, hope in the Lord
    from this time on and forevermore.

A child on its mother’s lap has no past built up to which it looks with pride or holds onto as a burden. Jesus called us to be these little children who breathe our past into the heart of God and wait with quiet heart for the future to unfold from his hands. As we cannot hold onto our breath, we actually cannot hold onto our past. It IS gone, and nothing can bring it back. If it seems to be present, it is because we keep it so in our mind to the detriment of our heart. The thought-memories that reiterate, return to, recreate what has hurt us in earlier moments and years end up destroying our joy and peace of heart. They are processed through filters created over years and years of judgments and assumptions, suffering and injustice, desires and disappointment, to name just a few of the factors that determine the way we sift through the information we receive through our sense perceptions. Of course, it certainly isn’t as simple as that because we know that our bodies themselves store past trauma. However, when we are mentally trapped in what has happened in the past, particularly when we don’t realize the truth of how it imprisons us, the whole of us can’t heal.

If a child is quietly at peace with its mother, curiously looking around and trying to figure out what others are doing will only lead to its squirming to break free from its mother’s care or fearfully hiding behind its mother’s protective presence. As adults, when we take our eyes off God and look around at what is happening around us and to us, trying to figure it out on our own reasoning powers, we end up breaking free of the nourishing and creative reality of the One who is our ultimate Refuge. We end up in aggressivity, anxiety, and bitterness.

We can learn from this image presented to us in the Psalm to “see,” instead, with the eye of the heart, to perceive with the faculty of the heart. It is a noetic stance before reality. Instead of attempting to understand what is presenting itself to us through reason alone, it is the “faculty of the heart that is able to comprehend natural and spiritual realities through direct experience” (“Pray Thou Thyself in Me,” Molly Calliger, page 3). The eye of the heart is cleansed through the prayer of the heart, the “practice of interior silence and continual prayer.”

“Hesychia: stillness, quiet, tranquility. This is the central consideration in the prayer of the desert Fathers… on a deeper level it is not merely separation from noise and speaking with other people, but the possession of interior quiet and peace” (Ward 1975, p. xvi.).

Let me end with the Morning Prayer of Metropolitan Philaret of Moscow, a prayer that represents the adult living as a child interior quiet and peace:

O Lord,
grant that I may meet the coming day in peace.
Help me in all things
to rely upon Thy Holy Will.
In every hour of the day,
reveal Thy will to me.
Bless my dealings with all who surround me.
Teach me to treat all that comes to me
throughout the day with peace of soul,
and with the firm conviction that Thy will governs all.
In all my deeds and words,
guide my thoughts and feelings.
In unforeseen events, let me not forget
that all are sent by Thee.
Teach me to act firmly and wisely,
without embittering and embarrassing others.
Give me the strength to bear the fatigue
of the coming day with all that it shall bring.
Direct my will.
Teach me to pray.
Pray Thou Thyself in me.
Amen. (“Pray Thou Thyself in Me,” Molly Calliger, page 1).

To be continued

Your Grace Is Sufficient for me

One of my favorite images of the Conversion of St Paul is found in the Apostolic Palace and is pictured here. It was painted by Michelangelo between 1542 and 1546. January 25 is a big deal for us Daughters of St Paul. St Paul’s conversion is the only conversion celebrated liturgically and it is such a powerful day for us who try to live the experience of St Paul in intimate prayer and courageous evangelization. For this mystery of holiness to happen in our own lives, we too need to go through a Damascus event as did Paul.

At the center of our spirituality is Christ, and his desire to possess us entirely. Every thought pattern and attitude and tendency of our personality. Every desire, preference, behavior…. Everything without exception. This is quite different from making new year’s resolutions at the beginning of January! In the Conversion of St Paul it is Christ who comes to meet Paul where he is, in his frailty (although Paul thought he was someone important doing something significant).

There are several aspects of this painting of St Paul’s conversion by Michelangelo which attract me very deeply. At the top of the image, which doesn’t appear here, is the person of Christ reaching down to Paul through a column of light. There are many people milling around in this image, but Paul is clearly the one who is addressed by Jesus. And Paul is the one who must take responsibility, take the risk, and answer. Isn’t it that way with us, in our unique call from the Lord?

Another aspect of this image which attracts me is the way Paul is almost held by one of the characters in the image. The circular image that is created by the arms of the person reaching down to him, as well as the position of Paul’s body, is almost soft, receptive, intimate. This is not Caravaggio’s strong blinded Paul fallen from his horse. This is a Paul who is being drawn into the mystery of God’s plan for his life and the way God will use Paul to announce the Gospel to the world. It was absolutely moving for me to pray in front of this painting in the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican a couple of years ago, and to see on the other side of the chapel the depiction of the crucifixion of St Peter. Two men who were flawed and frail and human who allowed God to do with them all that he desired.

This is what God desires for you and me. We too have our Damascus event. They aren’t as stunning as what we call the conversion of St Paul, but they can be nonetheless life-changing. I include here a prayer of our community which reflects on the challenge of our own Damascus events.

Light and darkness,
sight and blindness,
power and weakness,
control and surrender.
The “Damascus event” in Paul’s life is often played out in my own,
though in a less dramatic manner.
Lord Jesus, I meet you in so many ways:
sometimes in silence and prayer,
or by stumbling to the ground of my existence.
As I journey through the days of my life,
stop me,
call out my name,
send me your dazzling light,
and take hold of me as you took hold of Paul.
Even when I kick against the goad,
even when I lack courage or when fatigue overtakes me,
even when I fall again or lose my way—
in all these moments I trust that you are with me
and that your grace is sufficient for me.
Like Paul, let me know how to be companioned by others,
allowing myself to be led by those who can point out the way to you.
Help me to be willing to listen to what you are saying to me through them.
As you sent Paul on mission, I ask that you send me forth,
to those persons with whom I am to share your Gospel.
Give me, like you gave Paul, the words and gestures
that will reveal your mercy to me,
and the love you bear for every person you have redeemed.

Photo Credit: Michelangelo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Eucharistic Adoration for the Conversion of St Paul

Blessed be the Lord who has come to us and set us free – Podcast

https://www.podbean.com/media/share/pb-5x94x-f88082

The years of midlife. Transitions. Endings. Wanderings. Grieving.

But also new beginnings. Surprises. Unexpected redirection. Unsuspected rewrites to your accepted narrative for the “you” that you’ve grown comfortable with.

This is the first in a series on the middle years in which we are looking at our midlife transitions, our ultimate yesses to our vocations in the light of the women and men who at midlife responded to God’s gift and call. Today we’re talking about Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist.

Blessed be the Lord who has come to us and set us free

The years of midlife. Transitions. Endings. Wanderings. Grieving.

But also new beginnings. Surprises. Unexpected redirection. Unsuspected rewrites to your accepted narrative for the “you” that you’ve grown comfortable with.

What do you think about yourself?

Let’s ask a few questions, perhaps open a few doors. What are the stereotypes you have of yourself? What’s the narrative you’ve accepted as you, probably the you that will live out the rest of your days? The you that probably won’t ever be much different. Maybe a little tweak, a bit of unexpected happiness to fill a day here or there, but not enough to redirect you entirely into…

…into the reason you were born…

…into the purpose everything has had to this point…

…into what everything you’ve lived and suffered has prepared you for…

So on the day I’m writing this blog post, my personal stereotypical adjectives would be: old, tired, hidden, last. I’m in the midst of yet another transition, so you can pardon the tired colors that make up the mosaic of me on January 24.

Take a moment and jot down some adjectives that describe you deep down. Your humanness. Your vulnerability. The poverty of where you are in life, in career, in relationships. Are they words that weigh heavily on the soul or are they signposts to a new spring where life is worn lightly and the horizons seem bright?

A simple exercise. It is like taking your temperature. It’s good to know what’s going on inside…

When angels appear to us

The Gospel of Luke opens with an invitation into the lives of a couple who were blameless in the sight of God. They were childless, and they were very old.

When Zechariah was chosen by lot to serve as a priest before God in the temple of the Lord, he most likely felt himself to be old, perhaps tired, almost finished. Gratefully he took advantage of this opportunity to serve as a priest in the temple, a privilege that was determined by lot. Most likely, he didn’t expect his life to be steered in a new direction toward becoming the father of John the Baptizer, the one who would make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

The adjectives he may have used that morning for his wife Elizabeth and himself may have been contented, sad, settled, grey. “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” When he emerged from the temple of the Lord, after having seen the angel who announced to him this good news, he may have felt bewildered, uncertain. He an old man with no children was now to be the father of the greatest of prophets who would prepare the way for the Messiah.

Becoming a father at twenty or thirty is life-changing enough. But as an old man to discover at last your purpose in life as a father, this prospect marked a monumental shift in identity.

It doesn’t matter how old we are, whether we are in our 40s or 70s or even 90s. The angel of the Lord will appear also to us in order to rearrange our lives, to restart our lives, to cause our self-narratives built up on our own terms to slip away at the dawning of a fresh beginnings on God’s terms. These become our “middle” years. Middle years mark a threshold from a life lived in some fashion “apart from God” to a live lived “in God.”

The noise
               The seeking
                       striving
                       holding
                       grieving
                                           

  the throes of a dying ego…
                            that longs to surrender, yet needs to build itself up again…
                                                           

LORD, free me from myself.
                                         From Kathryn-apart-from-God.

In this place where I control my life, where I build my future, where I construct monuments to myself, I live deeply devoid of charity. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of love. While Zechariah and Elizabeth were righteous before the Lord and kept his law blamelessly, I have to admit that there is so much of “me, myself, and I” wrapped up even in my best moments and my most giving actions.

“Rollo May notes that without love, willpower is often little more than a twisted, self-centered demonstration of one’s own character. It points toward itself. It does not serve the higher purposes of connecting us to others and to life. And that which does not lead to life leads to death. There is no middle ground.” (Desiring God’s Will, David Brenner, page 47)

The secret of surrender

Angels come into our life in many disguises. They may come as events, invitations, announcements, unexpected surprises, changes in one’s health, financial or career status, or opportunities. Only when we are willing to recognize that we do not control life can we truly offer our consent to the inflow of Grace in the changes announced to us. Only in surrender do they truly become “good news.”

Without love, willpower is often little more than a twisted, self-centered demonstration of one’s own character.

Rollo May

Instead of surrender, however, Zechariah tried to retain control by requesting the angel to tell him how he could be sure that what he was being told was really going to happen. “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

The angel said to him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to tell you this good news. And now you will be silent and not able to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their appointed time.”

The angel Gabriel shifted Zechariah, in a sense, into a liminal period of silence, a transition period from what-was to what-would-be, a threshold space between old and new, between resignation to lost dreams of a fatherhood that had not been his to obedience to a fatherhood that fit with perfect precision into the unfolding of salvation history, as his wife conceived the prophet of the Most High, the rising sun, the dawn from on high.

The “angels” God sends to us to make us not just a little different, but to restart us on new paths, can be quite jarring, as this angelic appearance was for Zechariah.

There is an open secret to the spiritual life, and it’s called surrender.

We can try our best to get assurances about ourselves, our future, our position with regard to God. We can hope forever that our troubling thoughts and feelings will subside so we’ll finally be at peace.

But until we surrender, the fulfillment of our life’s vocation that we so long for will elude us.

There is an open secret to the spiritual life, and it’s called surrender.

What do we need to surrender?

  • Personal needs and desires
  • Attachment to the narrative we’ve spun about ourselves and our life’s meaning
  • Attachment to things being familiar and known
  • The need to know
  • The need to understand
  • The need to control

Surrender everything that makes up your personal identity, and where are you? Who are you? When we surrender, we find ourself in a liminal space.

We’re empty, willing, and totally receptive to accept the gift of God. Here we find:

  • Not emptiness but Being
  • Not darkness but light
  • Not nothing but All
  • Not silence but the beating of divine Heart

Zechariah and Elizabeth simply needed to let themselves be taken down the river of God’s plan for them, of how he would work through them for the sake of all.

Your middle-year shift is toward this restart of a vocation, the ultimate yes to God’s design for your life.

So what are the opposites of the stereotypes about yourself and your life that you identified a few moments ago? My opposite adjectives are: new, refreshed, beginning again, success, belonging.

And yours? Imagining, cherishing the opposite of the burdens of the past, is one secret for recognizing the transition of the middle years not as loss and ending, but as blessing and gift.

I am hidden, yes: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3)

I am last, yes: “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” (Mt 20:16)

I am old, yes: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” (2 Tm 4:7-8)

I am finished, yes: “It is finished” (Jn 19:30) “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” (Lk 23:46)

It was Zechariah’s sorrow over having no children that was the place of God’s activity that directed Zechariah’s life anew. Don’t run away. Don’t change things on your own. Go deeper in your middle years and find precisely in your loss, the place of good news.

To be continued.