We Know Not How

We Know Not How

The kingdom of God is like a seed.

The Gospel for this Sunday focuses on a common image in the parables of Jesus. A little seed yields abundance and the kingdom of God that Jesus is proclaiming is like that.

Jesus said to the crowds: “This is how it is with the kingdom of God; it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how. Of its own accord the land yields fruit, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once, for the harvest has come.”

Mark 4: 26-29

What strikes me the most in this passage is how the silence and waiting bring about a harvest. A seed is scattered on the land, but unlike some parables, the focus isn’t on the soil. Rather, the emphasis is on the seed. Despite the sleeping and rising of the farmer, the seed flourishes and gives rise to a harvest for him to gather. Does the farmer understand it? The Gospel proclaims “he knows not how” the seed sprouts and grows.

The same is true in us. God’s work is slow and gradual and we know not how He does it. Like the child who plants a seed and then looks eagerly each day, expecting immediate growth, if we are fixated on seeing magical growth, we will be disappointed. The seed of God grows in us, slowly and almost imperceptibly. Weeks or months or years later, we have the joy of looking back and seeing how God moved and worked. In the particular moment, we don’t always see the movement or the purpose.

The work of God is silent. So much takes place beneath the surface before we even see any fruit. But the Lord loves to work in the quiet. An immense work is happening in wombs and Eucharistic holy hours and monastic life and a night’s sleep and the quiet of the early morning. We often want the Lord to be striking and bold. Sometimes He is. But sometimes He is thirty hidden years at Nazareth, cared for a father with no recorded words in Scripture and a mother who is so often pondering things in her heart. A hushed unfurling of God’s word in our hearts leads us into a love that is not showy or boisterous but rooted and deep.

In so many areas of my life, I want things to happen quickly. I don’t like the struggle of the waiting or the in between, the time of growth that is often painful as we develop roots to sustain us in later storms. The act of starting is so often delayed because I fear what happens once something is set in motion. Or sometimes it is the opposite fear: what won’t happen despite the steps taken. But if the kingdom of God is like this little seed, then the same could be applied to God’s kingdom dwelling within me. It grows, step by slow step, in the hidden hours, though I know not how.

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Jesus Knows What it is Like to Wait

Jesus Knows What it is Like to Wait

Within the past year, I stumbled upon a verse in Scripture that gave great comfort to my heart. I know I’ve read this verse before and so it surprised me when I read it before quickly backpedaling to read it again. Maybe I had always read it in a slightly different translation or it didn’t seem like it applied to me, causing me to gloss over the words. Whatever the reason, the particular moment I read it was the perfect one for it to have an impact.

Jesus was about thirty years old when he began his work.

Luke 3:23 (NRSVCE)

I paused.

One sentence helped lay to rest some of my worries and concerns.

The God-man began His work when He was about thirty years old. Perhaps I’m not behind. Perhaps this isn’t all a waste. Granted, I didn’t spend the first thirty years of my life with the profound intentionality of the Incarnate Word, but it was a gift to be reminded that missions can begin at thirty.

It isn’t that I think thirty is ancient. I don’t. It is simply that I had assumed I would arrive at different milestones before reaching this particular one. This time hasn’t been a waste, but it is difficult to see what has been accomplished. In high school and college, one moves from one grade to the next, learning information, being continually formed, and preparing for what lies ahead. And I’m still very much on an academic calendar, with neat endings and fresh beginnings. Yet…there doesn’t always seem to be movement.

Interestingly, it wasn’t that I longed for a life filled with adventure. I mean, I did and yet I was entirely prepared for a life that was normal, ordinary, even repetitive. Oddly, it seems that doing mundane tasks for someone else would seem far more fulfilling than doing mundane tasks for myself. Realistically, I know that is simply the lie, the trick that makes one think that the things that frustrate wouldn’t if they were shrouded in different circumstances.

Jesus lived a hidden, ordinary life for thirty years. Over the past year, I’ve returned repeatedly to this reality of angels heralding His birth and then shepherds and magi and then…a seemingly ordinary child grows up. Each day wasn’t lived in a glorious ray of light. People weren’t continually falling at His feet, acknowledging His divinity. He played, studied, prayed, and lived with others and nobody recognized God was pitching His tent among them.

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The Light Doesn’t Lie

The Light Doesn’t Lie

The light shines through my dining room windows and reminds me that I have a consistent layer of dust coating the glass. That same light, however, shimmers through the young spring leaves on the tree and causes cheery shadows to flutter on the deck. It is an equal opportunity gaze, this light, and casts beautiful beams through one thing while highlighting the imperfections of another. It basks the flowers on the table in an ethereal brilliance and then reminds me to change the furnace filter as I see a haze of dust lingering in the air.

…for He makes the sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

Matthew 5:45 RSVCE

The light of Christ does the same thing as it covers the earth. It reveals deeper beauty than we saw before and yet unearths deeper ugliness than we knew before. This is true for the world, the community, and our own hearts. When we step out of our artificially coordinated world and into the unwavering light of the day, we don’t become worse. Instead, we are seen for who we truly are. The light doesn’t lie, but the truth can be equally unnerving.

Often, those rays of light slice through the walls and resistance and point to something I had overlooked or forgotten or hoped I had masked well enough. It strips back the covering and points, unswervingly, at the reality of what is. Like Adam and Eve, we want to sew together anything at hand that would do the trick of providing some coverage, some semblance of disguise. It can be intensely uncomfortable to step even further into the light, to welcome the piercing rays and drop to the ground whatever excuses might be nearby.

A confessional attitude means that one does not hide oneself, does not avoid God’s gaze, but rather exposes oneself to him voluntarily out of love. One lets oneself be seen and exposed….After the Fall, man no longer wanted to stand naked before God. He could not tolerate being illuminated by God’s bright light. A confessional attitude means, not that one actively shows to God everything one has done, but that one places oneself without defenses before his penetrating gaze.

The Holy Spirit, Fire of Divine Love, Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, OCD

The joy of the Resurrection demands something of us, something beyond a delightful entry into feasting and boisterous alleluias! It requires that we enter into the light of the Risen Lord and be willing to stand in that gaze. The Lord’s gaze is always one of love. Yet it is a love that does not overlook the damnable parts but desires particularly to save those very parts.

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I Slept on the Cross

I Slept on the Cross

I often forget that Holy Saturday would have included the Sabbath rest for the early followers of Jesus. After the sorrow of Good Friday, they were ushered into a day that must have been brimming with painful reflection over the tumult of the past day. Did they go to the synagogue or temple? Did they gather together to pray? While the rest of the Jewish people were thanking God for the works He has performed, were they questioning why He didn’t act in this particular situation?

Holy Saturday is a day of waiting. Much of my life seems to be lived in a Holy Saturday state of being. I know the Lord can act and I’ve seen Him acting, yet in some situations it seems there is not much progress being made. So I wait. I wait trusting that the Lord knows what He is about and is preparing something wonderful beyond words for my weary little heart. I trust that the waiting is worth something. I trust that this period of waiting is accomplishing far more than many periods of acting could accomplish.

While we know the “end” of the story, we can sympathize with the first followers of Jesus by recognizing that the next step in our story is unknown. Entering into this liturgical Holy Saturday, we can see that God’s will and actions so often remain a mystery to us. In the fullness of time, it will be revealed and we shall see how God was continually providing for us and pouring out abundant graces upon us. For now, we must trust that the Lord is moving, even in the stillness or the quiet or the apparent absence of His action.

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Let Our Desires Be Big

Let Our Desires Be Big

He complains much of our blindness, and cries often that we are to be pitied who content ourselves with so little.

The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence

This Lent, I want to not settle. I’ve been slowly plodding through The Practice of the Presence of God and I find little bits of wisdom, such that makes me want to savor the book and not just rush through it, although it is brief. As I’ve been seeking to delve into a new relationship with the Lord during this new season of grace, I’ve been moved by this plea of Brother Lawrence to not content myself with so little. My “big” desires turn out to be not so big in light of what the Lord desires. In fact, it turns out that I want too little instead of wanting too much.

It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

The Weight of Glory, CS Lewis

The Lord offers deep and intimate relationship with Him. And we want ease and comfort. Or nice clothes. Or relaxation. Or sleep. Or any number of things that show how little we will settle for when grand things are held before us. This time of Lent is a time to re-focus and shift my perspective to be more eternal, to focus less on the things of this world and see the unending delights the Lord promises if we but bypass the immediate half-goods. I write this as much for myself as for anyone else. This Lent, let us run the race well and seek after the things not of this world and let our longings increase and become longings truly worthy of the beauty for which humanity was created.

Let us deepen our desires. They cannot be too big for the Lord, only too small.

Photo by Jan Kronies on Unsplash

Woman-Who-Prays-Always

Woman-Who-Prays-Always

Do you choose a saint for each year? I do. There are varying degrees of success regarding how much I learn about this saint or how often I ask for the saint’s particular intercession, but I like to try to pick a saint as a patron for the year.

For the past couple of years I have used Jennifer Fulwiler’s saint name generator. Whenever a saint comes up and I am completely unfamiliar with them, there is always the desire to pick a new one, a better one. Sometimes I do, especially if there is nearly nothing known about the saint. However, during a good year, I pick up a book about my new saint for the year and try to learn something about them.

The website gave me the name “St. Rose Philippine Duchesne” as my saint for the year. I looked up a short biography online to see if she made the cut and would really be my patron. As I read about her desire to be a missionary and living through the French Revolution and then journeying to the Americas, I was struck by a particular section near the end of the article.

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No Place I’d Rather Be

No Place I’d Rather Be

At a retreat a few weeks ago, I found myself singing Set a Fire with the other retreatants and the line “there’s no place I’d rather be than here in Your love” struck me a little deeper than usual.

It was incredibly bold. There is no place that I would rather be?

And I imagined the life I wanted for myself, filled with a husband and kids gathered into a warm home, and I sang that lyric again. Those words, in a brief blitz of grace, became something I fiercely desired to be true. Instead of all of my vain imaginings about the future, a future which may never be, I wanted to want to be in that moment, receiving the Lord’s love.

It doesn’t mean my heart no longer wanted those things, but I was shaken with the renewed realization that God can only be met in the present moment. The Lord isn’t in my rosy dreams of domestic bliss, even if He desires it for me in the future. Similarly, the Lord isn’t in my imagined ideal job, where my gifts are fully utilized.

The Lord, instead, is present in the here and now. It is in this moment that He offers me grace. And it will only ever be in the current moment. He has plans for my future, great and beautiful plans, but He is with me in the now.

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The One Longed For And Yet Present

The One Longed For And Yet Present

The longing of God’s chosen people fills the Old Testament.

For generations they are waiting for God to redeem them, to restore their nation, and to enter into a new and lasting covenant with them. They tell their children and their children’s children about His mighty works and the promises God has made to them. While they don’t know how these promises will be fulfilled, they trust that they will be.

I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. I will meditate on all your work and muse on all your mighty deeds….You are the God who works wonders, who have manifested your might among the peoples. With your arm you redeemed your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.

Psalm 77:11-12, 14-15

For years I’ve viewed the birth of Christ as the end to their waiting and a fulfillment of their longing. All that they were waiting for was there, wrapped in flesh, lying in a manger. The King they were waiting for had come. We celebrate Christmas with that in mind: the Hope of the Nations is born and so we rejoice.

Yet this year I was filled with a recognition that one of the most important moments in human history happened and yet virtually nobody knew about it at the time. Similar to the quiet yet monumental yes at Mary’s Annunciation, the birth of Jesus took place in a relatively hidden way. Angels told some shepherds and wise men arrived from the east, yet as a whole, Israel was unaware of what was happening in their midst.

On the day after Christ’s nativity, they awoke….and didn’t know that anything was different than the week before. They still longed for a king and awaited the redemption of Israel. Yet He was there, the little King, already laboring to save them. When they gathered in the synagogue to pray, recalling the promises and the works of God, they did not know that the incarnate God was with them. As they provided work for St. Joseph, they did not know that it was the God-man who crafted and created alongside him.

Christ was living and working in the world and yet the world did not know it.

For thirty years, Christ was hidden. He lived the ordinary life of a son, a neighbor, a faithful Jew, and a carpenter. People laughed, worked, ate, prayed, talked, and experienced life with the God-man and did not know it. The One an entire nation longed for washed His feet to remove the dust, ate His mother’s food, and slept deeply after a day of laboring.

He was there, known and yet unknown.

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Always Good

Always Good

The thing to combat the rampant 2020 pessimism is reflecting on the goodness of the Lord.

About one year ago, I heard people and saw social media fill with a litany of “Thankfully 2019 is nearly over! That was the worst!” People were confident in a 2020 of their dreams, something that would be better than the difficulties of their current year. While I can applaud the sense of hopefulness, it also rang with clear bitterness toward what had been offered them in the present. As a teacher, I see it year after year as students (and, admittedly, teachers) often anticipate the end of a semester or a school year.

Something better must be coming, we say. The present difficulties must yield to glorious triumphs.

So 2019 died and 2020 was born.

While it is definitively a different sort of year, I have heard many speak with gloom about this year, about the complete and utter awfulness of it all. Some have been more dramatically impacted than others, for sure. Yet, overall, the disdain for the year seems overkill.

Yes, I know about the pandemic. Yes, I remember the election. Yes, yes, all of the difficulties we endured were real.

And yet there is much to find hope in and rejoice over.

At a retreat this last weekend, I was surrounded by people who were praising the goodness of God. And I thought, Some people would think we are crazy saying that God is good right now. But it is true: He is objectively good. If we cannot praise Him unless we are surrounded by perfection, we will never praise Him. If our idea that God is good is based on our current circumstances, then we don’t know Him at all. It is a thin and superficial faith we have if it ebbs and flows in direct proportion to how fortunate we feel.

If our God, whom we serve, can save us from the white-hot furnace and from your hands, O king, may he save us! But even if he will not, know, O king, that we will not serve your god or worship the golden statue which you set up.

Daniel 3: 17-18
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A Wintry Grace

A Wintry Grace

Snow has a way of making people live out the Golden Rule a bit better.

Perhaps this doesn’t happen for all five months of winter, but the first few snowfalls find my vehicular encounters with people more pleasant as a whole. People are more inclined to give extra space, wait for someone to pull ahead of them, use blinkers, and not honk when a car is sliding through the intersection with a clearly red light.

In short, we seem to naturally offer more grace to one another.

As I navigated the snowy roads a few nights ago, I was wondering why we find it more natural to be gracious in such situations, when normal driving conditions often bring out the frustrated side of humanity. Maybe it is because it is in our best interest to be gracious. Although the light may be green, it is clearly better for us to wait until the skidding car careens out of the intersection, rather than race toward it because the light indicates we can. Or maybe we don’t desire an accident and the headache that insurance claims naturally bring about.

But maybe, just maybe, it is because we are able to recognize a connection that goes beyond our personal best interest and draws us together as humans. The journey home in inclement weather gives me this feeling of unity that is similar to what I feel when an ambulance or fire truck or funeral procession passes by. For a moment, we are united by something that surpasses our personal desires and we acknowledge that someone else takes precedence.

Grace is often spoken of in relation to God’s free and unmerited favor toward us. While that is true and necessary, grace is also something we offer one another. The unmerited part is particularly difficult for us, though. Oftentimes, there is a natural sense of justice we have about what another deserves, but grace is giving people what they don’t deserve. We acknowledge what could be a fair response toward them and then we choose to be more generous than needed. And because it is freely given, that means it is a gift. In a moment of difficulty, we choose to bestow upon the other a gift they don’t deserve, but one which might cause them to change in some way.

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