Hey Lord – Speak Up!

“Make time for quiet moments as God whispers and the world is loud.”
– Author Unknown

God’s wonderful sense of humor: I sat down to write this, set the Ipod to Benedictine Chant, typed the quote above and my cell phone rang. First, my best friend in Savannah and then my estranged husband called me in rapid succession. Thanks to both of them for proving my point.

I struggle to find silence in this busy world. I am the mother of two young boys and live with my mother and older sister. I am rarely home alone and when I do get time alone I have laundry to do at the laundromat; errands to run; phone calls and emails to return; and then there’s the radio in the car. That is all the external noise I deal with on a day-to-day basis. Then even more deafening is the constant internal racket. There is this nasty little gremlin voice in my head constantly harping on every move I make.

“Oh you are NOT wearing THAT are you? You do NOT have the figure for THAT and you know it!”

“Wonderful! You’re yelling at the boys again. Way to scream like a banshee! Trying out for the Mother-of-the-Year awards are you?”

“Do you even read what you write? With that many typos, its barely literate never mind readable!”

“You aren’t going to call back so-and-so? You know this is why you suck at keeping friends. You’re a total flake.”

I could go on for pages but I’ll skip the diatribe tonight. I know God is in there somewhere aching to get through to me that He loves me, flaky banshee that I am. I wish He would just shout down the gremlin in my head instead of waiting for me to choose to silence it and choose to try to hear Him. I wish He would just text me sometime – “C U @ Mass K? Luv ya! 😉 God”.

In this world of constant noise and constant communication, silence and stillness are becoming rare commodities. My spiritual director has often tried to convince me to spend more time in the adoration chapel at my parish of St. James. I can’t do it. It is not for lack of desire but lack of patience. I walk into the chapel and want nothing more than to kneel before the Blessed Sacrament. Then the noise starts. Someone has to read and turn pages in a book. Someone else needs to dig out a tissue from a plastic pack. Another has forgotten to silence the cell phone. And the keys – like somehow it is of utmost importance to locate one’s keys BEFORE exiting the chapel, even if the key chain is eight inches long and buried at the bottom of a seemingly bottomless purse. I do realize this is my issue and no one else’s. Patience is a virtue, unfortunately it is not one of mine. Okay, so the chapel is not the place for me. Then where?

I go to the beach often in the winter. I love it at that time of year, so wild, deserted, seemingly so desolate, yet there is always some shore bird feasting on crabs or a hawk hunting mice along the bluffs. I can be alone and occasionally I manage to silence the gremlin long enough to hear whispers in the waves. But it’s July now and the beach is crowded most of the time. How do I carve out that silence for myself when I am lucky to be alone for the twenty minutes it takes to drive to and from my weekly therapy appointments?

Maybe it isn’t so much the silence that I am seeking, but the stillness. There is an inner quiet that comes when I stop listening to all the noise around me and especially stop listening to the gremlin in my head. Little by little, I am finding ways to find silence and to use those moments of silence to find stillness, even if it is only in small doses.

I take the long way home from therapy. I shut off the radio and roll down the windows. I silence the cell phone at night and don’t turn it on in the morning until I am ready to deal with the world’s intrusions. I lay awake in my bed for at least ten minutes in the morning and just breathe. At night, I draw on the image St. Therese of Lisieux often used in her autobiography. I try to picture myself as a child, curled on the lap of God, my father.

For me, I was always on my father’s lap as a child. He read to me every night and he hated Dr. Seuss and The Bernstein Bears. He read me poetry by Longfellow, Frost, Dickenson, Poe, Tennyson, Blake, and many others. It was more than my little child’s mind could fathom at the time, but I loved the rhythm and the flow of the words. I loved the intonation and inflection of his voice. There was a passion and a love in the words he read to me that went beyond the words on the page.
This was his gift to me, not only as a little girl, but even now as a grown woman.

That is such a powerful image for me, I can place myself on God’s lap and listen for His words, which I may not fathom yet, but someday, in the stillness, I will understand the passion and the love in His voice. Someday, when I can shut up long enough and shut out the world long enough. For now, I take comfort in knowing that He loves me enough to keep talking to me, even if I fidget and squirm.

Soul Food

Matthew 13: 24-29 Parable Of The Weeds

Jesus describes the sower as sowing good seed and his enemy coming in the night to sow weeds amongst the wheat. I have often heard this explained this way: the good people of the world, those who follow God’s commands, are the wheat, while the bad people of the world are the weeds.

I have a hard time with that. It just seems so black and white, so harsh. Where’s the love, the mercy, the forgiveness? God did not create me to be perfect in this life, ask anyone who knows me. Certainly, He could have made me completely perfect, without sin or weakness, if He had chosen to do so. But perhaps in His great wisdom, He recognized that by allowing my shortcomings, I would have a greater appreciation of His mercy because I actually needed it. I would know what it was to be separated from His love, not entirely, but in part. And in the emptiness of that separation would grow a great desire to be in His love always.

For me, the field is my soul. The sower is Jesus. The good seeds are all the gifts of the Father: hope, peace, joy, love, trust, faith, charity, and all the virtues and gifts of the Spirit. The weeds are sown by Satan himself. They are doubt, fear, anxiety, anger, pride, lust, sloth, envy, gluttony, avarice, and all the other lesser sins that harden my heart, choking out the goodness.

Thankfully, Jesus is a watchful gardener. He tends my soul most gently. Through the waters of Baptism, He first waters the seeds He has planted. He adds the warm sunlight of Reconciliation provide light to allow the seeds to grow. Confirmation adds mulch to protect the young plants taking root. He supports the soil with the Miracle-Grow of the Eucharist. The constant food provides much needed nourishment to the tender plants.

Yes, there are many weeds in the garden of my soul and like the slaves, I would like very much to pull up every last one of them. However, the sower says to leave them until the harvest, lest any of the wheat be pulled up with the weeds. What is faith if I have never doubted? What is hope if I do not know fear? How can I forgive if I have never been hurt?

For now, I can accept His gentle tending, knowing that day will come when these weeds that sometimes seem to be overwhelming me and choking me, will be pulled up. I can bask in the sunlight of His mercy and forgiveness. I can drink in the nourishment of His love. By accepting His careful attention, I can soften my soul to be a place where wheat will grow in great abundance. In my last moments, the weeds will be harvested along with the wheat. Then, Jesus the sower, will remove the weeds from my soul, leaving only the wheat. I will be perfect in His love and I will remain there always. And after the harvest will be the everlasting feast of love.

Prodigal Daughter Part 3

Luke 15: 11-32 Father of the Prodigal

I’ve already spent days, if not weeks, with both the prodigal son and his elder brother. Until now, I really skipped over the father in this parable. Why? I guess I didn’t want to be so bold as to place myself in the father’s role since by most interpretations the father represents God. But as a number of people have pointed out to me, anyone with a four inch tattoo of a cross and stars tattooed on her right forearm is bold, brash, and brazen with her faith. I’ll get to the tattoo is a later post. For now let’s stick with bold and look at Dad.

So Dad has two sons. The older son does all that his father asks of him, patiently learning the family business, knowing that the day will come when he will take over his share of the land. The younger son is not so patient. He doesn’t want to learn. He wants to go out into the world and make his own way. He can do it all on his own and he is eager to prove it. Dad loves them both. He sees their uniqueness and they are very dear to him. He wants to see them grow into fine, strong, good men. He knows they each need to follow their own paths to get there.

One day, his younger son comes to him and asks for his share of the inheritance now. What did Dad do when presented with that request? Did he just pull out a sack of gold coins and send the impetuous young man on his way? Or did he try to reason with his son? Did he ask his elder son to try to talk sense to his kid brother? Given what I do know about the father’s loving response later on, I would be willing to bet my own inheritance that he sat the younger son down and explained that he would give him everything he was asking for, but that it might be more than he was ready to handle. This amount of resources comes with a great deal of responsibility. In the end, Dad allowed his son the freedom to choose for himself. The version of that lecture in my house was, “You have a choice to make. You can choose to do right or you can choose to do wrong. If you choose to do wrong, you have to suffer the consequences.”

I know the rest – kid one takes off, blows through everything, returns broke but alive and repentant while kid two stays on, working hard, and resents the living hell of the welcome home party for this idiot brother of his. But what about Dad? What was he doing while the younger one was gone? I am sure he worried constantly. He knows his sons and he knows the younger one was not ready to accept so much responsibility. I wonder if he heard stories from the caravans of traders about his son’s fast and loose lifestyle. I wonder if he heard of the famine that struck the country where his son was living. I wonder if he feared that his son would starve to death in a far off land and he would never again be able to sit with his child to share a meal.

I know he caught sight of the prodigal while he was still a long way off. Had he left word with the servants and field hands that he was to be told immediately if anyone happened to catch sight of the young man on the road to the estate? Did he look off down the road day in and day out, praying for the safe return of his son? In my home that prayer goes like this, “Please, Lord, let this kid be OK. Let him come home safely. And please, Lord, don’t let me kill him when he gets here.”

Dad’s moment of joy was short-lived because no sooner had the celebration started then the other kid goes off the deep end. The older brother starts in on his father saying that after all these years and all this hard work he never got a party like this. Dad tries to reason with the stubborn elder brother. He pleads with him to see it as the miracle that it is. This younger brother was dead for all they knew and now has been restored to them, a lot thinner and a lot wiser.

I wonder how Dad finally brought the two back together again. They are brothers after all and he wants them to have a good working relationship again. Dad could see them each as individuals. They each had strengths and weaknesses and if they could work together, they would do great things with all that he was giving them.

For me, I have to stop and realize that God isn’t going to give me everything I want, need, and bug Him about all at once. I couldn’t handle it all if He did. I can barely handle what responsibility He does trust me with and even then I manage to screw up more than I get it right. But then, in His great mercy, He forgives me. I can come to Reconciliation and start over anew with His grace. And because He knows me as I truly am, He can smile on me when my Act of Contrition comes out like this:

“Oh my God, I am heartily sorry that I never remember the rest of this prayer that Sr. Mary Lynch tried so hard to drill into my brain. Have mercy on me because You know I am sinner. Grant me the grace to go forward from here and try to avoid these sins.”

And we both know I’ll be back before too long. Bold, brash, and brazen? Yes I am. Better add broken to that list as well.

Psalmist vs. Tennyson

From: Psalm 23

“Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff They comfort me”

From: The Charge of The Light Brigade
by Alfred Lord Tennyson

“Theirs not to make reply. Theirs not to reason why. Theirs but to do and die. Into the valley of Death rode the six hundred.”

So I guess the question of my soul is this: which is my reality? Do I trust in the comfort and guidance promised to me by my Lord? Do I trust Him to lead me THROUGH the valley of the shadow of death? Or do I see myself sent INTO the valley of death? Do I see myself in the position to engage the Lord in conversation about my life? Or do I see myself as ordered forward with no recourse but to follow blindly, unquestioning into seeming oblivion?

The Light Brigade followed their orders boldly and bravely, unquestioning despite a grievous error in their commander’s judgment. It seems he misinterpreted the orders given to him. As a result, two-thirds of the soldiers under his command were slaughtered by the Russian guns around them. I’m not real keen on those odds.

In sharp contrast, Jesus, in His prayer for his disciples, says “As long as I was with them, I guarded them with Your name which You gave me. I kept careful watch and not one of them was lost, none but him who was destined to be lost – in fulfillment of the Scripture.” (John 17:12) In addition to that, Jesus dwells within me and I am His through the power of my Baptism. He will keep careful watch over me and I will not be lost.

How did I come to this comparison in the first place? I am reminded at times that the church here on earth is made up of human beings. And to be clear I do not mean only the Roman Catholic Church as an institution, but the church as the community of believers in Christ the Lord. I see shortcomings and failings splashed across newspapers and the Internet as though I should be shocked that human beings make mistakes, saying or doing things that are hurtful to others. The media would like me to believe that being a Christian means being perfect when what it really means is to be broken but forgiven anyway. As to the Church as an institution, I have the free will to follow orders blindly or to question what I see as possible misinterpretations of God’s commands. God did not give me a mind and the ability to reason so that I could set them aside.

So I need to remind myself, daily and even many times throughout my day, that it is THROUGH the valley that I travel. I do not go blindly INTO it to meet my doom. And I will encounter doom, but not every doom is a “big doom”. There is a little battle against doom everyday. In every encounter with another, I can be facing “little doom” in fear of rejection, scorn, anger, or judgment. I was given free will and the commandment to love the Lord with all my MIND, which uses reason, logic, and questions to learn, all my HEART, which uses love and yet can be broken so very easily, and all my SOUL, where my strength drawn from my faith truly lies hidden like a deep well of solace. To love my Lord is to follow Him wherever He may lead me and yet I can speak to my Lord, question His judgment, argue, fight and rail against what I may see as unreasonable or impossible. I can question why and how. He may answer me and He may not. But when I have exhausted all my human reasoning and excuses, I ultimately have to trust that my Lord did not save me only to lead me to slaughter. No matter what evil, big or small, befalls me in this world; my journey will be THROUGH the valley to dwell in the house of my Lord forever.