Spiritual Fast

When I was a little girl, blogs didn’t exist. The World Wide Web was just an inkling in some programmer’s brain and computers were for huge corporations and the military. In the span of 35 years, the Internet has shifted the world from high gear to light speed. I remember what it was to wait by the phone to wait for my latest crush to call me. There was always that fear that I’d miss the call if I wasn’t home. Gen-Xs like me will remember a time when it took days, even weeks to get a letter from a friend who was at college. When it finally came, that letter was savored. I would read and re-read it to make sure I had absorbed every precious word.

In the 18 years since I graduated from high school, computers have come out of the labs and into my home. I have instant access to my family, friends, and a world of information, all at my fingertips. In the time it takes to brew my evening cup of tea, I can search through several hundred images on Google related to any blog topic. My cell phone is also equipped with email and text messaging. I am never out of touch anymore. There is no waiting by the phone. The phone is always with me.

My calendar has exploded in the past two years due in part to my separation and subsequent divorce. I have rediscovered my freedom and at the same time a deep need to connect with a support system. At the moment, I am part of seven different ministry teams between the parish and school. In addition to that, I have taken on leadership roles in at least two of those. This does not include the time spent writing for this blog, writing my spiritual memoir, my spiritual direction sessions, therapy for myself, therapy for my two sons, nor does it include the time I spend working and being a mom, walking the beach to have some moments solitude and checking my Facebook or exchanging emails each night with close friends.

As life continually speeds up in the world around me, I feel compelled to try to keep up. The speed of it all is scary at times. My days start at 6:30 a.m. and often end some time after midnight. My spiritual director, Deacon Ron, has ordered me into stillness for 30 minutes a day, every day. That was several months ago and while I have gratefully managed to work that time into my schedule, I am still in constant motion for the rest of my waking hours. I wonder – does God want me to move at this pace? Or does He want me to slow down? Am I missing important things because I am so over busy? Too often I’m left struggling to answer Deacon Ron’s favorite question for me – “Where’s God in all this?”

I have to ask myself – What happens to my relationship with the Almighty when God doesn’t move at the speed of life to which I have become accustomed? What happens to my faith in this era of the immediate? Surely the desire for God is no less, but what of patience and trust? The need for instant answers can lead to anxiety and feelings of abandonment when that instant answer fails to arrive in my inbox.

One of my greatest struggles in my spiritual life is accepting that just because God didn’t answer me directly doesn’t mean He isn’t speaking to me. Just because the answer didn’t come right after I asked the question doesn’t mean that the answer is never going to come. Especially when I ask for direction I often find myself craving an Instant Message from On High, the Divine Chat Room, and the Eternal Email.

Then I have to ask, what if…? What if God told me tomorrow that He wanted me to write a book series on the spiritual struggles of Gen-X in contrast to the lives of seven different saints whose lives I have never studied? Then the next day He told me that, in addition, He wanted me to give witness talks to those who have faced the fear of God’s abandonment. And what if He continually added to my to-do list daily without reprieve? Would I be overwhelmed, perhaps even frightened by all He was asking of me.

The direction and answers may be slow in coming, but when they do finally come I need to take the time to savor and absorb it all. Patience is a virtue, I’m told. Unfortunately, it has never been one of mine. My prayer life is one long hard lesson in patience, but it’s a lesson I am determined to learn. I just wish I could Google it.

Cruise Control Christianity

The image of the Good Samaritan is still resonating with me even a week later. As I’ve reflected on it further, it occurred to me that so many of my favorite scripture passages revolve around a journey. The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son, The Conversion of Paul, The Road To Emmaus, even the greatest journey of all, The Passion, all occur on the road to somewhere or even to nowhere for those that never reach their intended destination. As always with scripture, I am led to more questions than answers.

Why the road? What is it that is so important about being on the road that the theme is repeated over and over and over? All these characters are traveling to somewhere or from somewhere and I have to ask, what put them on the road in the first place? All this traveling makes sense to the nomadic populations of ancient times but what does it mean to me in the here and now?

That last question really made me think about how I travel the roads in my life. And I don’t mean the figurative two roads of Robert Frost diverging in the yellow wood. I mean the very literal highways and byways that I travel every day to work, to the boys’ school, to church, to the food store and all the mundane little errands that I run on a regular basis. I get in my car, usually alone, and go on my way. Most of the time, I drive with the music on a bit too loud and aside from not colliding with other drivers or pedestrians, I am quite blissfully oblivious to the fellow travelers around me.

In my younger years, I grew up in Ridgewood, New Jersey. Ridgewood, being all of 15 minutes outside of New York City, has very convenient public transportation. My mother didn’t drive when we lived there and really didn’t need to drive. In addition to all those Jersey buses, I have ridden trains and subways in Boston, New York, and Washington. On all of those, even as one who does not commute daily, I was aware of the commuter’s credo: “I will stay in my own little space and you will stay in your own little space and we’ll get along fine.”

How different and alien it is to me to read about the travelers in ancient times. They meet people on the road. They interact with others on the road. The traveler meets a kind stranger. The son meets his father again. The disciples on the way to Emmaus meet the risen Christ. Paul meets God Himself. Jesus meets His mother, has to accept help from Simon, and welcomes the tenderness of Veronica. All that interacting involved real people sharing their stories, sharing meals, getting their hands dirty, messy, and sometimes bloody to help another traveler.

My car is my own private microcosm. This is my bubble of false reality and I like it that way. I can roll up the windows and crank the tunes and blow through the real world at 70 MPH without dealing with any of it. But is that what it means to be on the journey of discipleship?

In my spiritual life I can put myself on cruise control and set the destination on the GPS for Heaven. I can put in my time in all the nice things at church, attending the functions and Masses, interacting with nice like-minded people at a polite commuter-like level. I don’t get too into their space and they don’t get too into mine and we all get along nicely. I have God just outside the windshield, just the way I like Him, where He can’t mess with me too much.

But if I were to look in the rearview mirror I might be shocked to see the Devil himself riding in the backseat of my car. The Devil is just enjoying the ride, telling me “It’s ok. You’re a nice person. You don’t need to get too involved. You have your own life to worry about.”

There is no cruise control route to God. Nice doesn’t count. The priest and the Levite who walked by the traveler were most likely nice men. The road to Calvary was lined with nice people.

I know in my soul that I am called to be a disciple of Christ. I will never be perfect personified, but that’s not what I’m called to be. I’m called to be a broken human being. I’m called not to make the mistakes, but to accept that I will make them in the first place. I’m called to acknowledge them and to learn from them. I’m called to share my experiences with my fellow travelers. Often times that means getting my hands dirty, exposing my own open wounds to others, and stepping out of my little bubble of nice safe solitude to try to offer assistance to my fellow travelers.

I am called to park the car and walk the walk of my Lord. Thankfully, He knows I won’t always choose to do that. It seems like every time I decide to hit the cruise control and coast for a while I either hit a pothole or have a blowout. Then I’m reminded how much I need the sometimes messy interactions of my fellow companions on this journey of life and discipleship.

And as for Devil, he can hitchhike his way straight back to Hell.

Called To Be Neighbor, Not Savior

Luke 10:24-37 Parable of The Good Samaritan

I had the opportunity last night to take part in Lectio Divina, (translation: Sacred Reading) with a group of other women. Lectio Divina is a way of praying with scripture by reading it three times aloud, slowly and prayerfully. The first time, listening for any word, phrase, or image that stands out for me. The second time, listening for any parallels in my own life or what feelings it stirs up it me. The third time, listening for what the Lord is trying to say to me and determining my response is to that.

We focused on the passage, the Parable of The Good Samaritan. Like many of the parables, this one is very familiar to me but as I read it I was startled by the images that stood out for me. I read it aloud all three times and I could see the story unfolding on the pages in front of me. I knew our discussion was to focus on the topic of “who is my neighbor” and how it isn’t just a matter of reaching out to strangers but also to those closest to us. There was an excellent discussion and our sharing was very fruitful, but the images that I am still drinking in were very different.

I’ve always pictured the story unfolding like this:

This poor traveler gets jumped, mugged, beat up, and left for dead. The priest and the Levite don’t want to deal with the ritual cleansing they would have to go through if they attended to his wounds so they just keep walking, pretending not to notice. Then this foreigner comes along and takes over. He administers first aid and takes the traveler to an inn and essentially nurses him back to health.

As I read this story that I’ve known since childhood, I realized for the first time that the Samaritan did not nurse the victim back to health. He bound up the worst of his wounds and found him a place of relative safety. He provided monetary support for his care and went on with his journey. The Samaritan didn’t hang around indefinitely. He went on with his life.

There have been many times in my life where I have felt an overwhelming need to rescue someone, only to have that relationship drain me almost completely. Why? Because instead of binding the immediate wounds and helping the individual find a place of safety, I would stay on trying to heal wounds I had not inflicted and could not truly understand.

Everyone’s place of safety is different. Some just need to be heard. Some need a little money to get on their feet. Some need to be reassured. Some need a way to reconnect with family or friends. Rarely, but most importantly, some need professional help. Those were the relationships that became most unhealthy and even dangerous. But I had always seen it as my good Christian duty to bring these desperate people back to health.

Having read and re-read this parable the last day and a half, I have come to realize that God didn’t call me to save people. He sent Jesus to do that. He called me to offer a hand of support and friendship to those in need, but not to lose myself completely in their problems. I can help someone to the inn, offer prayers in support, and go on my way trusting the Innkeeper to take care of nursing them back to health in His time and by His methods.

Explaining The Gremlin

In many of my earlier posts I have made reference multiple times to the Gremlin in my head. Well, meet the Gremlin. I didn’t draw this but it’s pretty close to the way I picture him. I wish I could capture his voice for you. It’s eerily familiar. It’s soft and low, yet has a screechy quality to it. When it laughs, it has a maniacal cackle that just ripples with derision, delight, and desecration.

I guess most people would picture that whole angel/devil on the shoulder bit. Same idea roughly but this little dude doesn’t poof away when I make a good choice. He keeps whispering that I’ll just mess that up too. I’ve had the Gremlin my whole life and from what I’ve seen, everyone has one to some extent or another. I’ve just chosen to personify mine more than most people. To be perfectly blunt, it makes it easier to deal with the little bastard.

No, I am not on any meds and I am not schizophrenic. To simplify, I use the image of the Gremlin to come to grips with my own self-doubts and self-punishments. The Gremlin is that nasty, little voice that says things like “You’re fat” and “You’re a screw-up” and basically questions every move I make. I take a new job. The Gremlin says, “You can’t handle it.” I’m doing well at the new job. The Gremlin says, “You’re screwing it all up and they will fire you sooner or later.” I meet somebody and the Gremlin says, “You aren’t good enough for him” or “He’s soooooo out of your league, loser!”

This same Gremlin talks about other people too. My ex is a favorite topic lately. “He’s trying to screw you over stupid,” whispers the Gremlin and I will fly off the handle over something minor. I will get my Irish up & get stubborn only to figure out later it was over something that was no big deal and now I look like a psycho bitch from hell. The Gremlin finds that hilarious.

The Gremlin used to have free reign in my head and he weaseled his way into every thought I had. I reacted to every situation instead of responding to it with a clear mind and heart. Through learning to recognize his voice and his motives, I’ve managed to lock him into a little cage that he doesn’t like very much. It isn’t soundproof so he’s still chattering but it’s easier to ignore him now.

If it weren’t for the grace of God, I’d still be listening to his cruel commentaries. I once asked my therapist, “How do I deal with this crazy little voice telling me I’m such a screw-up?” His answer was so simple, “You need to find another voice.” I started asking God to let me hear His voice and to shout down the Gremlin for me. God doesn’t work that way. He won’t shout down the Gremlin, but He whispers lovingly to my heart, while the Gremlin stays locked up in the cage in my mind screaming in rage. More and more I’m learning that anything nasty I think about myself or someone else is probably coming from the Gremlin. I’m learning to ask myself why I’m thinking this way. Am I reacting to something other than what is really there in front of me? And when I need help with the answer, I try to remember to go to God first. Keyword – TRY.

I mean, honestly, would you want to trust the Gremlin for advice? Scary how often I did listen to him. The best advice I’ve gotten so far came at a Healing Mass with Fr. Roy. He said, “You know that voice, not God’s voice, but that other little guy? Yeah, you tell that little guy to go straight to Hell.”