Healing, Truth, and This is Us

Healing, Truth, and This is Us

It is necessary for me to fight the urge to write about each episode of This is Us.  Although God is rarely mentioned, I discover ribbons of truth interwoven into every episode.  The authenticity and genuine growth of the characters is unlike anything I have seen in a TV show before.  I encounter truth in their interactions and truth in their experience of a beautiful, broken family.

One aspect I have particularly appreciated is the way they show that past hurts influence our current perspective of the world.  The viewers see glimpses from different points in the characters lives and we begin to understand why different experiences crush them or fill them with joy or anger them.  Through beautiful storytelling, we see, perhaps clearer than the characters do themselves, why they respond in different ways.  In a brief flash, we are shown a moment of their life from twenty years earlier and then see how they respond to something similar as adults.  They don’t respond entirely as we would expect, yet we are able to see how their choices are colored by past experience.

As the audience, we have questions about what happened in the missing years that we haven’t been shown, but I appreciate that there are few nice, easy answers for the characters.  Situations aren’t simple.  The correct move or response isn’t always obvious.  Life isn’t always clear and we don’t always grasp how the past has a hold on our present.  Yet This is Us attempts to show that facing our past, with all the hurts and wounds, seems necessary if we desire to move forward in wholeness and freedom.

Or perhaps that is what I read into it.  Either way, it seems relevant in my life.  Over the past few years, I have been going to spiritual direction and that poor priest has watched me dissolve into tears innumerable times.  Sometimes it is because of a situation that recently happened, but many times it is due to something I thought I was “over” but was not.

The past is a powerful force.  Our negative experiences are real, valid experiences and yet they should not be given the freedom to wreak havoc in our present life.  Running away from these moments doesn’t transform the past nor does burying them deep within and trying to forget them.  It is only in confronting them, in the light of the Father’s love, that we release ourselves from the chains our wounds can form.
Continue reading “Healing, Truth, and This is Us”

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A Beauty Filled Life

A Beauty Filled Life

As I walked the Camino, I found within myself a longing for beauty.  Mile after mile passed beneath my feet and I made commitments to myself about how I would like to live my post-Camino life.

Read poetry every day.
Look at new artwork.
Listen to classical music.

All of those commitments and ideas didn’t translate as neatly into my reality as I had hoped.  In the rush of the daily grind, it is difficult to intentionally set aside time to experience beauty.  Most days, my taste of beauty happens when I remind myself to take in the fall foliage before winter sets in.  But an intentional pursuit of beauty?  Generally, that is non-existent.

Last night, I flipped through a book of poems entitled Poems You Ought to Know.  My English degree (with a concentration in British and American Literature) meant that I recognized most of the names in the table of contents.  Some of the poem names even sounded familiar, but few were ones I could stop and say, “Oh, I love this one!”

Edgar Allan Poe’s “Annabel Lee” was there and I recalled that in college I taught a lesson on this to a classroom of high schoolers during an education class.  It is a beautiful poem, I think, even with the natural morbidity found in Poe’s works.  The poetic devices that I had reviewed with the class came to mind dimly.

It makes me wonder why I don’t read poetry like my heart desires.  Why do I not sit down and read a Shakespearean sonnet in the evening?  Why don’t I learn about the famous classical composers?  Why don’t I use the gift of the internet to virtually explore art museums and learn about the different periods in art history?  I desire it.  Why don’t I do it?

Because it is easier to not.   Continue reading “A Beauty Filled Life”

A Sunset’s Two-fold Gift

A Sunset’s Two-fold Gift

On the way back from my nephew’s baseball game, I attempted to distracted my niece and nephews by directing their attention to the sky.  It was sunset and the streaming colors changed minute by minute.  I pointed out the different colors and asked if they could see any others.  As the minutes passed on our drive home, I would sporadically stop and ask what other colors they could see in the sky.  They seemed intrigued by the way the colors would transform after only a short time.  It was also neat to hear them come up with different names to describe the precise shade of color we were witnessing.

At one point, one of my nephews talked about how the sky was like a painting.  Excited that they were no longer touching each other or complaining about being touched, I ran with this.  We spoke about how God is like an artist and how he creates these beautiful paintings each day.  They are never quite the same yet they greet us each morning and each evening.  My second oldest nephew is a big fan of math, so I gave him a few math problems to conceptualize how many sunrises/sunsets God has made.  He seemed a bit surprised to consider the thousands upon thousands of paintings God has blessed us with, just stretching back a couple of millennia.

Simple beauty is not lost on children, sometimes they (like us) just need to be directed to where they can see it.  A few colors splattered on the vast prairie skies can be an opening to recognize the way God works in the midst of our lives.  Whether or not I notice, God is pouring out His blessings upon me in new and varied ways each day.  Sometimes noticing it requires fighting nephews and an evening drive home.

The Burden of Perfection

The Burden of Perfection

When Jesus appeared to His Apostles after the Resurrection, His hands, feet, and side still bore the marks of the crucifixion.  His glorious, death-conquering body held the holes that won salvation.  To be certain, His body was different than it was before.  He was strangely appearing and disappearing, passing into locked rooms, and yet still able to eat and be touched.  Dying and rising had changed His body.  Gone was the appearance scarred beyond human recognition.  However, His body still showed where nails and a spear had pierced Him through.  Why was that?

There are several theological reasons, but I would like to focus on one minor, personal reason.  I would argue that Christ kept His wounds to destroy our image of perfection.  Here is the conquering King, the One who has fought death and won and yet–He still shows signs of this arduous battle.  As the commander of this battalion, as the King who leads His people into battle, Christ is not unaware of the price of this fight.  Our whole lives seem to be a battle towards Heaven.  Christ doesn’t need perfect looking soldiers; He simply needs faithful ones.

The burden of perfection is one we place upon ourselves.  We want lives that are neat and tidy, yet none of us have it.  Sometimes we brand others as perfect, but that is only because we see portions of their lives and not the whole of it.  And when we expect this perfection from them, we encourage them to fake it instead of living authentically.

Often, when I tell people that my two older sisters are religious sisters, I can see them mentally placing my family in a certain type of box.  Years ago, I gave my witness in preparation for a summer of catechizing youth, and one of the critiques I received was that teens probably couldn’t relate to my story.  While I understood what they meant, I couldn’t help but take it a bit personally.  My story of an aching heart being separated from my sisters was not something they deemed relatable.  Since then, I have discovered that it is something to which others can relate.  Perhaps they don’t have siblings in religious life, but many have experienced anger and frustration with God and a plan you never wanted for your life. Continue reading “The Burden of Perfection”

With the Lord, A Little is More Than Enough

With the Lord, A Little is More Than Enough

The Lord is the quintessential example of making do with what you have.  He is able to provide abundance from an experience of poverty.

When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, ‘This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.’  Jesus said to them, ‘They need not go away; you give them something to eat.’  They replied, ‘We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.’  And he said, ‘Bring them here to me.’  

Matthew 14:15-18

In a situation where the disciples were prepared to send the crowds away, Jesus challenged them to feed them with their meager rations.  To the disciples, it was an impossible feat.  There was not enough food to provide for them all.  How could they feed thousands with food meant to satisfy a few?

The answer is found in surrendering the little to Jesus.  For Him, it is manageable to multiply the fish and the bread to be superabundant.  The same is true with each one of us.  When we surrender ourselves to the Lord, little though we may be, He is able to do far more with it then we could imagine.

You give them something to eat.  In our littleness, Christ is asking us to be streams of living water and bountiful banquets for the weary wanderers we encounter.  Yes, we are to direct them to Jesus, but Jesus living in us.  When we present ourselves to the Lord, He provides.  It is never just enough, it always more than we could have hoped.   Continue reading “With the Lord, A Little is More Than Enough”

When Simplicity Must Be Chosen

When Simplicity Must Be Chosen

Nearly three years ago, I strapped on a hiking backpack and walked five hundred miles.  As I walked El Camino de Santiago, people crossed my path who were completing the pilgrimage for the second or third time.  While beautiful, I wondered why people would complete this trek multiple times.  Once will be enough for me, I thought.

Yet now and again, I find myself longing to be on some dusty trail in the midst of the Spanish countryside.  It isn’t because of my love for travel, although I suppose that does play a role.  My desire to be on the Camino for a second time stems largely from my desire for simplicity.

On the Camino, it is easy to be simple.  In fact, it is almost a requirement that one be simple.  On your back, you carry all of your clothes, sleeping bag, toiletries, etc.  Everything you think you will need along the Way, you must plod every blessed mile with it fastened to your back.

Sometimes it annoyed me to live so simply.  I wanted a different outfit to wear.  I was surprised at how much I found myself longing for a real towel and not the travel towel I would use each day.  At times I wished to simply remain in the same place for more than an evening.  There were several things that made me not like living simply.

Yet, in a very authentic way, I realized my heart was made for simplicity.  When my closet of clothes overflows and the laundry basket is full, when my bookshelves no longer have room for the books I insist on buying, or when I find myself shopping online for things I realize I do not need, I remember that my heart is a simple heart.  Yet I wish simplicity was forced upon me instead of needing to be chosen.

My possessions have a weight and I want to be free.

Sitting in a cluttered room, I find myself slightly jealous of my older sisters and their vows of poverty.  To be free to be poor.  I know I romanticize poverty, but there is a longing in my heart for less.  And in that less, I know I will find more.

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful.  Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her.”

Luke 10:41-42

For over thirty days, I walked the Camino and if I did it again, I would pack less.  There is a simple beauty in choosing between two outfits.  There is a simplicity found in needing to walk a few miles each day.  I’ve never been so aware of my feet before.  And rarely have I felt like I’ve spent the entire day just being and walking in the Lord’s company.  Those lovely, simple things make the Camino something I wish I could be doing right now. Continue reading “When Simplicity Must Be Chosen”

My Seeking Heart is a Sought After Heart

My Seeking Heart is a Sought After Heart

This blog is entitled “Seeking After His Heart.”  Ideally, I like to think of my life as a pursuit of the good, the true, and the beautiful.  Yet sometimes I overlook the fact that it is really about the Good, the True, and the Beautiful pursing me.

God initiates all of our encounters with Him.  If He did not reveal Himself, we would not know Him.  If He did not allow us to perceive Him, then we would be completely unaware of His presence.  Even prayer, which can sometimes be viewed as something we do for God, is actually something He does for us.

In conversation with my spiritual director, he told me to not overlook begging Jesus for the grace to go to Him in prayer.  And sitting in the adoration chapel the other evening, I reminded myself that I was there simply because I responded to God’s grace.  I mean, it kind of felt like it was purely my choice, but I knew that it was God offering His grace and me, finally, responding to it.

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This initiation on God’s part is timeless.  All of the Old Testament covenants are made because God interacts with a human person and desires to be in relationship with them.  They don’t start the process.  “Hey, God!  I’d like to be a part of Your family!”  God reaches down to us and adopts us as His own.  Even greater still, He enters into the human family so as to bridge all gaps between us.  There is nothing left for us to do but to respond.

In John’s Gospel, Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman with simple words, “Give me a drink.”  He seeks her out, He encounters her, and He asks her to enter into relationship with Him.  Yet I love the way that the Lord does this.  He reaches out to her and expresses His thirst for her. Continue reading “My Seeking Heart is a Sought After Heart”

Maybe Friendship Could Change the World

Maybe Friendship Could Change the World

Not too long ago, I went out for supper with a friend.  There were couples and families out at the restaurant, but I was struck by the groups of women there.  One long table was filled with women who appeared to be out celebrating some event.  But there were at least two other booths of women and it made my heart glad to see them there.

Between bites of food and conversation, I would glance over at the booths of women.  They were already seated by the time we got there and, after we had a leisurely meal, they were still there when we left.  Perhaps it seems strange, but seeing these groups gave me encouragement.  What they were doing was simple: it was a handful of women out for food and drinks.  I never saw them photograph themselves or their food.  Instead, they were talking and listening to one another.  I couldn’t hear their conversation and I didn’t want to, yet it was obvious that it wasn’t superficial banter.  Different ladies would speak and the rest would listen intently.  It was obvious that they were drawn together by bonds of trust and friendship.

Did they speak about work successes or any difficulties involved?  Did they discuss dating relationships or family matters?  Were they discussing ideas or the state of world affairs?  I don’t know, but I am convinced they were discussing matters that they held close to their hearts.

I will never argue that I am the best at maintaining or building friendships, but I know that true, authentic friendships add a richness to life.  While I had friends in high school, I think my first experience of deep friendships happened at college.  I’m not one to have lots and lots of friends or share deeply with many people, but I found a great joy in entering into intimate friendship with people who pursued the same values I did. Continue reading “Maybe Friendship Could Change the World”

Unnecessarily Beautiful

Unnecessarily Beautiful

Beauty is unnecessary.

I thought about how unnecessary beauty is as I sat in the Cathedral and listened to an orchestra play.  Although an amateur lover of beauty, I was able to see the magnificence of the architecture and the glory of the music coming from a variety of instruments.  Providence placed us nearly as close to the orchestra as we could be without holding an instrument ourselves.  Yet several times throughout the evening I would think about how unnecessary this all was.

If the world came from chaos and all of life means nothing, I am struck by the existence of the beautiful.  Beauty is unneeded for life to exist.  It is entirely extra and unnecessary.  Yet while unneeded, it is the joie de vivre of life.  While we could live without it, we would not want to do so.  It enriches life ten-fold and I think that is as the Lord wanted.

We have a place in our hearts for the beautiful.  It is why some people spend so much time staging pictures.  We are drawn toward the beautiful.  Although any mug would work for coffee, I am far more likely to choose the ones I deem more beautiful in some way.  It is beauty that makes me notice the trees etched in silver or the special smile on my niece’s face.  Beauty bypasses the need for reason, although we can give reason for why we find something beautiful, if pressed.

The Lord is the one of which all the beautiful, transitory things on earth reflect a glimmer.  My heart is being prepared to encounter Beauty Himself when I take in the toothless grin of my nephew or the majesty of the Sistine Chapel.  When I encounter Him in the simplistic beauty that surrounds me, I am widening my heart to receive more of Him later on.   Continue reading “Unnecessarily Beautiful”

Pierced by Beauty

Pierced by Beauty

Nearly all of my students disagree with me, but you cannot convince me that beauty is not one of the most compelling arguments for God’s existence.

I understand, at least in part, the seeming flaws of the argument.  They protest that beauty is subjective and that nobody would believe in God simply because someone says there is lovely music or they saw a sunset.  Perhaps, perhaps most people would not listen to Bach and then profess belief in God.  But, perhaps some would, perhaps some have.

When I was in middle school, I read the book A Memory for Wonders.  It was by a French woman who was raised in Morocco because her parents, staunch atheists and communists, didn’t want anyone to speak to her about God, filling her mind with such superstitions.  Despite her parents’ best intentions, her initial experience of God took place when she was three years old.

“Suddenly the sky over me and in some way around me, as I was on a small hillock, was all afire.  The glory of the sunset was perhaps reflected in the myriads of particles of powdery sand still floating in the air.  It was like an immense, feathery flame all scarlet, from one pole to the other, with touches of crimson and, on one side, of deep purple.  I was caught in limitless beauty and radiant, singing splendor.  And at the same time, with a cry of wonder in my heart, I knew that all of this beauty was created, I knew God.  This was the word that my parents had hidden from me.  I had nothing to name him: God, Dieu, Allah or Yahweh, as he is named by human lips, but my heart knew that all was from him and him alone and that he was such that I could address him and enter into relationship with him through prayer.  I made my first act of adoration.”   A Memory for Wonders, Mother Mary Francis, p. 30

My parents spoke freely to me of God while I was growing up.  So this experience of seeing the beauty of a sunset and being unable to name the author of it, isn’t something I can share.  Yet I can share, in part, the feeling of piercing beauty at different sights and sounds.

It was during a semester studying abroad that the power of beauty become real to me.  Surrounded by history and architecture unlike any in the United States, I was continually amazed at what I saw.  In Switzerland, my heart ached as I walked around a lake and soaked in the beauty of mountains.  I was nearly in tears as I surveyed God’s handiwork, and I kept thinking, “No atheist can live in Switzerland.  How could you deny God in the midst of such splendor?”

I climbed a radio tower on a mountain in Austria and watched the sun rise.  As the light spread across the mountains, I felt fully alive.  My heart was in awe at the magnificence, at a beauty that did not need to be there even if the sun was necessary for our survival.  The glory of a sunrise is entirely “extra.”

gaming sunrise2

My awareness of the power of beauty began during my European adventure, but it has continued ever since.  Probably three times this week I have been near tears as I watched the sun rise or set.  My heart cannot stop itself from aching and expanding, my mouth uttering the briefest of prayers, “Lord!”  Beauty is not always warm and delightful.  Sometimes it aches: it is a blade, a spearing of the heart, a breaking into my world, and an unearthing of the hidden wellspring within.

For most, beauty may never transform their hearts of disbelieving atheism into ones of faith.  Yet for me, beauty is one of the most potent reminders of God’s presence.  It is a sunrise offered to millions and I look at it, bold colors covering the expanse of the prairie skies, and I think, “For me, Lord?”  For a little girl in Morocco decades ago, it was a sunset that started a relationship with the living God, one that grew into her conversion to Catholicism and her entrance into a religious community.

A heart that is able to see beauty is one that is more fully alive.  Beauty opens us up to an experience of something outside of ourselves.  It places us in a feeling of smallness at such majesty and yet a feeling of greatness to glimpse such sights.  You must be open to such beauty, however, to be transformed by it.

So, perhaps my students are right.  Beauty will never force people to believe in God.  It cannot overcome your free will.  But beauty, if you are open to it, can seize your heart, providing the ineffable conviction that the Creator of all this splendor must be worth seeking, following, and loving.

melk abbey