I sometimes reflect on those times I have known the presence of God in an almost tangible way.
I envy those who remember childhood as a time of safety, innocence and carefree fun. I seek to remember the times I felt that way. Then those feelings of uncertainty, insecurity, fear and just general discomfort arise and run amok over me. My mother once told me she thought me very shy, despite the fact I talked a lot (got teased about it) and I think I was rather outgoing. She once asked me why I always wanted to do things that I was not really good at (mostly athletic/physical pursuits) — implying, correctly, that I seemed disinterested in things where I could excel (intellectual/academic).
In high school I reached a point where I decided that I had to choose: to actually be a Christian or to admit I didn’t believe it and walk away. I had to get off of that fence. It was a pointed picket fence, painted white, in my mind. Coming from the South and good Calvinist roots, I feared blowing off the God of the churches I knew, I didn’t want to go to hell, etc. So, I chose the all-in route. I became some form of “Jesus freak” as it were. Of course, I missed the entire point of the Gospel. I took a rather judgmental approach to life and others. I am sorry for the pain I caused during this part of my journey.
This was an essential step it seems. To decide. To step out. To take a stand. Maybe right choice, wrong reasons. What is clear to me now is that it was more fear driven than anything else. Typical me. At least I was reaching out in some way.
On my religious/faith journey I came to the [Roman] Catholic Church by a crooked path. My first experiences of church were in the Southern Baptist Church (grandparents) and the Presbyterian Church. Both of Calvinist roots. From there I wandered into non-denominational groups as well as Pentecostal churches (I remember the Assembly of God and Church of God); I tried out Bible study with a local Church of Christ. Oh, and then the Methodist Student Center in college alongside the Catholic Student Center.
Ah! 1970s Catholics: people of community and faith who also enjoyed a party, some dancing, a few beers (especially green beer on St. Patrick’s Day) all while exhibiting a deep and abiding faith and dedication to the church (and mass). A new world.
Which leads me to a second moment of decision, under a fig tree. Yeah, I know — the story of Nathaniel is not lost on me.
Sitting under the fig tree that at one time graced the backyard of St. Michael’s church (founded as Sacred Heart Church), I heard the Lord say “You are going to be Catholic.” My response was similar to Moses when he tried to convince God that he wasn’t the right person to lead the Hebrews. In Moses’ words: “Not me, take Aaron!” As a lifelong protestant Christian, this was some serious stuff. (Thoughts here: I’m not becoming some damn Papist… you’re asking me to give up my identity! This is like leaving the church.) Nevermind that I was already starting to go to daily mass, did music for Sunday mass and generally hung out primarily Catholic college students.
God calls. And, in the end, I became a part of the Roman Catholic communion. It took 2 full rounds of Inquiry classes (now morphed into RCIA), and having to convince a priest (or 2) and a couple of nuns that this was the right move. I fully understand their concerns, but I also have learned that God draws straight with crooked lines (was that Vincent de Paul who said that?).
Fast forward past college graduation, grad school, marriage and becoming a mother. Fast forward through moving back to Auburn. Much frustration and probably some depression. A sense of inner deadness.
All I can say is be careful with what you ask for. In the confessional, trying to get past the dead feeling, my ask was to “widen the parameters” — I guess that was a cry to help be open up and look closely at where I was. Be brave. It was a time where I truly felt Jesus in the room. I felt I could reach out and touch Him. And, my world went upside down, inside out — a swiftly tilting planet as it were.
I wish I could say it was the beginning of a time of smiles and joy and more. Not so much. Confronting oneself is not an easy task. It was at times quite painful. I shut down many things that I couldn’t handle. But I found someone inside that I finally liked.
Not long after, I felt the wrath of an ultra-conservative group within the parish enabled by a new priest. Another call, another step. Another process.
One Saturday evening I took myself to a new and strange [to me] parish. Small space. The original Catholic church in the county. No music beyond the priest leading singing acapella. Music has always been an important part of liturgy to me. And yet, it was right. I went up to communion. When I returned to my seat, I promise you, it seemed to me that Jesus was waiting. I sat down and it felt like an arm was around my shoulder and a voice whispered in my ear: “Welcome home.”
It took another 18 months to completely move into this new home. It took a long penance where the music I led at mass was a prayer for those who I felt persecuted me. This time it seems I lost my parish and found my church. That Church is much, much larger than a parish. But this move was one done in love, not fear.
Themes I notice: sitting (sitting on a fence, sitting under a fig tree, sitting in a confessional, sitting in a pew); loss; stepping out;
Art: listening and entering into a place where the muse (or the Holy Spirit) can speak to me with a vision that needs to be passed on, or at least given form be it in color, dance, music or some other manifestation
Craft: the means by which art is brought to life; the techniques and knowledge of how to “make it so””
I work at Craft. I work at technique, or programming, or color palette, or efficiency. But, it is hollow when I don’t seem to be able to hear The Voice, or my voice. And that is frustrating to me. I come closer to this in music and dance than in those things that I work at. I’m an ok singer, and ok guitarist, and ok (maybe not even ok) dancer. But, those actions are almost always where I go beyond and tap into something bigger. In some ways this blog is way to give voice to those stirrings of creativity I sometimes experience. I could spend more time on the craft of writing, but then I’m not sure that’s the point.
Maybe in the new year of 2020 I can take the time to get in touch, to enter through the eye of the needle and find the great beyond that needs expression. Letting go is not easy. But, maybe that’s just what I need to do.
I know I have a problem — I like to play versions of Angry Birds, Candy Crush and Words with Friends. I can get absorbed. I can use it to back off from the world (I’m a bit of an introvert and sometimes I do need to retreat).
That said, there are lessons to be learned from games. This morning’s “Aha!” is focus on the goal and let go of the unnecessary things — in games and in life. Were those 2 angry Red Birds that got left behind when all the bubbles tumbled down past an opened lock necessary to accomplish the goal? Uh — no, it turns out. But, I like using all of my special Red Birds (and Yellow Birds) and I didn’t get to make things explode with the 2 that got left behind! Let it go! They were distractions. Unnecessary to completing the goal.
And so with life. Sometimes I don’t want to give up my anger, my hurt, my sense of righteous indignation. I mean, that’s like letting the other guy win, right? Maybe not. Maybe it is necessary to leave these things on the table and walk away. Of course, I have to actually own the hurt, anger, frustration before I can actually lay it down and leave it on the table. I must admit that this person did indeed cause me a lot of pain and grief. I have to look at the present, and try not to let it be colored so intensely by the past. If he wants to converse with me now, and pretend it never happened, well — what am I losing by being present in the present and relaxing? I don’t forget exactly and I am cautious around him. But, not letting go (not forgiving) is really only hurting me it seems.
It’s hard to figure out sometimes why I hang on to some things: be they hurts or old tech, clothes that don’t fit or that I wouldn’t wear even if they did, photos that are out of focus and need to be deleted. I just found a Garmin, an iPod mini and a Fitbit in a drawer. All dead as doornails. Why do I keep them? I let negative reactions keep me from making contact with others. How are these things advancing me toward seeing/loving with God’s eyes? Hanging on to those clothes is a bit of hanging on to a past version of me.
Let it go!
Today’s “aha!”comes from a January reflection from CAC
…One of the most familiar of Jesus’ teachings is “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39). But we almost always hear that wrong: “Love your neighbor as much as yourself.” (And of course, the next logical question then becomes, “But I have to love me first, don’t I, before I can love my neighbor?”) If you listen closely to Jesus however, there is no “as much as” in his admonition. It’s just “Love your neighbor as yourself”—as a continuation of your very own being. It’s a complete seeing that your neighbor is you. There are not two individuals out there, one seeking to better herself at the price of the other, or to extend charity to the other; there are simply two cells of the one great Life. Each of them is equally precious and necessary. And as these two cells flow into one another, experiencing that one Life from the inside, they discover that “laying down one’s life for another” is not a loss of one’s self but a vast expansion of it—because the indivisible reality of love is the only True Self.
Love my neighbor as myself — that is ultimate connection. Lately I’ve been dealing with some personal interactions that are making that goal extremely difficult. I don’t even want to think of this woman as my neighbor, much less to love her. She’s done her best to make my life miserable. And, she seems to have no regret, or even acknowledgment of the pain she has caused. This is going to be a tough one. After all she seems to be saying that it’s all my fault and even after I made a sincere apology she is still out for blood.
My first step is to spend at least a part of Lent praying for her. Even that is rather difficult. I know it is necessary, but not in any way easy.
I’m terrified of deep open water. The feeling of floating helplessly above the nothing, the unexplored leaves me frozen. This was the first time I had ever been in an exihibit that lets you feel like you are seeing fish deep under the water, and I was a little shook. Looking up however, I could see the tank continued and let you see the only light source coming into the water, revealing more of this deep water. I smiled. Photo and comment by Matt Alaniz on Unsplash
Jesus says, “There’s only one sign I’m going to give you: the sign of the prophet Jonah” (see Luke 11:29; Matthew 12:39, 16:4). Sooner or later, life is going to lead us (as it did Jesus) into the belly of the beast, into a place we can’t fix, control, explain, or understand. That’s where transformation most easily happens—because only there are we in the hands of God—and not self-managing. (from Richard Rohr’s reflection this morning 21-October-2018)
Last year was a blur. Losing so many close to me — brother, mother, brother-in-law as well as one of my dogs (who had been part of my life for more than 12 years) — sent me to a place where I felt I had no control, no reassurance that the sun would rise. I wouldn’t plan anything of consequence. It seemed I had no chance to begin processing one loss before another occurred. My sister thinks I’ve handled it better than she has. Perhaps this is true, but it came only after surrendering to the grief, walking through it and basically remembering one of the lessons of Cursillo: Let go and let God. Or maybe sinking into Julian of Norwich’s “All shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.” Or the signs on walls while walking the Camino: in the end, all will be good. If it’s not all good, then it’s not the end!
The belly of the whale is dark and uncomfortable. At times the darkness might be more comfortable than the light. When one has been taken care of by the belly of the whale, then one can walk in the light again.