Salt and Light

I’ve been know to ask (beg, plead, whine, demand, politely request) God to be a bit clearer at times. An email would work. Three foot flashing neon sign would be nice. Text message would be awesome. Ha ha – right? I mean, God doesn’t work like that. Except that all three of those things have happened to me over the years that I’ve been writing this blog. God speaks through the people and the world around me in ways that never fail to catch me off my guard – and that is impressive because I’ve had a tendency to be fairly guarded.

The thing is, little by little, God has been undermining my defenses in a thousand little ways and while I’ve noticed, I haven’t resisted. Does that count as surrender? I don’t know but it’s about as close as I get to it. I’ve learned that God actually does answer me – not on my timetable and not in ways I expect – but answers nonetheless. So I’ve learned to watch and listen and while I’ve cracked the joke to friends that God has picked up a megaphone lately, I suspect the truth lies less in God’s megaphone usage and more in my being open and paying attention.

So paying attention to a bunch of little things stretching all the way back to last Easter led me to these words on the twelfth day of Christmas:

‘Ye are the salt.’ Jesus does not say: ‘You must be the salt.’ It is not for the disciples to decide whether they will be the salt of the earth, for they are so whether they like it or not, they have been made salt by the call they have received.

The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

And in case that wasn’t quite clear enough…

‘Ye are the light.’ Once again it is not: ‘You are to be the light,’ they are already the light because Christ has called them, they are a light which is seen of men, they cannot be otherwise.

The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Ever read something that so rocks your world, you have to put the book down and talk a walk?  Yeah. This was one of those. I’ve spent so much of life trying to grow into or step into or become some ideal that I’d made up in my head. I had some vision cobbled together from a hundred different sources but not one of them was Jesus. And having realized my error and going to the only source that mattered, I was now reading as direct an answer as I could have dared to ask for. By virtue of following Him, I am salt and light, whether I like it or not, and cannot be otherwise, even when I can’t (or won’t) see it in myself. That means all that work of “becoming” really isn’t up to me. Which also means I’m not really in control of it. That is both a relief and scary as hell. Relief because I have been known to make my life way more complicated than it needs to be. Scary because… well…control.

Mary Schmich once wrote: Do one thing every day that scares you. So I made up my mind to do same thing every day until it no longer scares me. I will trust the One I’m following.

Writing The Weeks

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Around Christmas, I stumbled across a Twitter post about an Anglican rosary-making society. And the first thought into my head was: Wait a minute – I thought the Catholics had an exclusive on that.  It should be said that I have never been a devotee of the Catholic rosary. The nuns tried but like the Act of Contrition and the Baltimore Catechism, the Catholic rosary just didn’t take hold for me. No matter how much I tried, it felt forced, awkward and confining. I envied those who found so much peace in the decades.

I was intrigued by the pictures the Anglican priest had posted and asked him for more information. He sent me a link, which led to another link and there I was, several links and an hour later, ordering myself an Anglican rosary. So if the Catholic rosary was never my thing, why would I even bother with reading about, much less buying, an Anglican rosary? Pure, relentless, incessant curiosity.

The Anglican rosary is far smaller than a Catholic rosary, only 33 beads rather than 59. There is a cross, an Invitatory bead, and then four sets of seven beads called The Weeks which are separated by four larger beads known as the Cruciforms. The prayers are variable, some are the prayers of saints, others are lines of scripture, most are no more than few lines long. As I started to explore, what I found was simplicity and a whole lot of open space. Six months later, I have found is that I adapt those prayers to fit where I am in life at the moment. Whether it’s a prayer for strength, trust, mercy, or stillness, I have found what I needed.

In the month leading up to the Week of Guided Prayer, I prayed for clarity. God gave me far more than I ever expected. And while, God gave me clarity, God also gave me homework. The lines of scripture that hit home for me over the past few days will become a part of my daily prayer. I spent my Sunday morning writing out the lines that will become the Weeks and the Cruciforms for me for the foreseeable future. That was easy part of my homework. I have lot more writing to do in the coming months. But I’ve found a way of praying has the meditative quality found in repetition and yet the open space I need to be at home in my own skin. That combination has been nothing short of a gift. I also found that while the Weeks and the Cruciforms have changed, the Invitatory prayer that has been my mainstay for the past month remains the same.

Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ in quiet, Christ in danger, Christ in hearts of all that love me, Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

~Saint Patrick

I Asked For It

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I’d been struggling with the fact that I no longer felt at home in the Catholic Church since June. I finally told my spiritual director three weeks ago. While a bit shocked, Deacon Ron had known something was up all along. After seven years, he knows me well enough to know when I’m holding on to something. He pointed out in July that I was seriously pissed off at God, and I was…well am…, but while I’d admit to that, I wouldn’t entertain a discussion of the reasons why. I tend to do that. Until I can find the words I need to express it clearly enough to understand it myself, I keep it locked down tight.

So for six months I’ve held one of the only people that I really trust at a ‘safe’ distance and prayed for clarity. By now I should know enough to be careful what I pray for. I suppose I suffered a momentary lapse of reason but I begged for clarity. Know what that got me? Questions. Lots of ’em. And dreams. Weird, frightening, cryptic, and über vivid dreams that haunted me for days, even weeks later.

Over the last few months, I wrote down the dreams in my journals. They made no sense. None. Then I had one so haunting and disturbing, it makes still makes me shiver even two months later as I sit in the sunlit kitchen. It scared me enough to tell it to a friend of mine. She told me that deep down I knew what it meant and I just wasn’t ready to face it.

In the dream, I was in the shadows across from a church door. A man came to the door and finding it locked, he began to beat on the door until his hands were bloodied and broken. He had his head against the door, crying as he pounded away in vain. I could smell the blood from where I was but could only watch, trapped and terrified in the shadows. I woke up still trying to scream and unable to.

This week I had another one just as vivid but instead of waking up terrified, I was surprisingly calm. Surprising because for the first time, I actually died in my dream. After months of dreams, most which had me in mortal danger, I finally actually died. So much for that myth we were told as kids that if you die in dream, you die in real life.

In this dream, I was in an office surrounded by a dozen men. One had taken charge of the office and he was cold and demeaning towards me. Then another man came. He tall and very authoritative. The others jumped to do what he said. So I went to Authority, telling him how I’d been treated. The anger was plain on his face. He sat me down across from the cold, demeaning one who had been in charge. Authority had chrism oil which he used to anoint my lips and the man’s ears. But the man stood up in a huff and walked away, refusing to acknowledge me. As he left office, the other men followed. Authority told me to go after them. They all out went out along a cliff to the shore, climbing far out on the boulders. The biggest waves I had ever seen were crashing near them. Some tried to surf but most just watched. I had hung back since I wasn’t really welcome anyway. Suddenly a huge wave swept in and I turned to face it just as it reached me. I was swept up and up. The wave curled over me. I knew I would either be smashed on the rocks below me or drown. I tried to hold my breath but I couldn’t. As the wave started to close over me, I just let go, surrendered and prayed ‘God help me’. It wasn’t a desperate kind of thing. It was like I already knew He was there. The wave closed over, I was under the water then all went black. I passed through the black and was back in the office. No one else was there but there was a note there for me. It was from Authority. It read simply: Finally. Always.

I knew what it meant. Finally, you surrendered. Always, I’ll help you.

I woke up and I could still smell the chrism. I had to touch my face to know it wasn’t there.

Surrender?
No.
No.
No.
Can’t.
Not no way.
Not no how.

But I did. In my dream. Maybe that’s the step I needed to be able to do it in my waking hours?

And that locked door? Can I walk out of the shadows and unlock it?

Not yet. There’s still something between me and the door.

Could it be that the clarity I’d been praying for could be found in the cryptic? A week ago I would’ve said, ‘No’ but now I can’t say that. Not after that last dream. I usually joke with Deacon Ron that it would take a three-foot flashing neon sign from God to be clear enough to satisfy me. Apparently, tidal wave trumps neon.