Hugging Lazarus

Hugging Lazarus

“Do you know how long it has been since I’ve been hugged by someone who cared about me?”

The words themselves were striking. And yet it was even more striking as they settled in us, bearing the weight they ought to have, as we simply looked upon the one who had asked the question.

Of course, how could we know the answer?

I think his words were revealing to himself. His eyes were rimmed in unshed tears, the ache visible and arresting. He was surprised by the sweep of emotion and we were likewise caught up into that surprise. The moment before had been ordinary and now we found ourselves in suddenly deep waters, like when you walk along a riverbed and shockingly find yourself underwater when you simply expected the next step to be like all of the others.

It was another evening in prison, practicing the music before Mass. I don’t remember what preceded this conversation, but I remember the moment when we plumbed the depths. One of the men was sharing about how it was against the rules to hug volunteers and then another mentioned how he had recently been hugged by a pastor when he was struggling with a situation. And, suddenly, there we were in the depths as the man recognized the importance of that human contact, the need he had to be embraced by someone who cared about him.

I wondered if he even cried in the moment of receiving the hug. After he asked that question, those of us nearby could only turn and look at him, reveling in the stillness and sincerity of the moment. It was a window into his soul. We didn’t know what he had been struggling with at the time, but we were certain that this simple action from a pastor was life-giving and humanizing.

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Punctured With Grace

Punctured With Grace

The other day, I was surprised when the thought ‘it is good that I am single’ came into my mind. Yet in sitting with these words, I recognized there was a truth found in them. It occurred to me while in the chapel and I found that the truth was seen primarily in how much I desire them not to be true.

Over the past few years, I’ve realized that something interesting happens when a group of people is asked to introduce themselves to the rest of the gathering. Understandably, many people introduce themselves by referring to their spouse or children or even the number or kind of pets they own. Right out of college, I could get away with listing off my siblings, but the more time passes, the more odd it seems to include them in my sixty second about me for a group.

However, what I deeply desire is to have an identity that is solidly rooted in being the wife of so-and-so or the mother of whomever. The idea of having a person I can always show up to things with or children who become the focus of the conversation rather than me sounds incredibly alluring. I’m not trying to downplay the difficulty in these ways of living, but many aspects of it fill me with great longing and deep desire. For all the hard found in that vocation, there is an abundance of beauty and grace found there, too.

It is in light of those particular desires that I was realizing my singleness is a gift from God. One I hope will not continue forever and yet is most assuredly a gift.

Why?

Because my very hope and desire to have an identity shaped by my relation to a spouse or children shows how desperately I still need to root myself in Christ. The goodness of the Lord is found here, in my current situation, and I am being given a privileged chance to become more assured of my identity in the Lord. I don’t get to hide behind attachments or people who I very much desire to be part of my life. And that ever-present ache can be a piercing reminder of my need for God, one which can’t be assuaged by cradling an infant or a date night with my husband.

It is incredibly, boldly present from the fact that my students address me as Miss (or Mrs. but I am reminded of their wrongness when they do it, even if I rarely correct them) to the fact that I’m not helping children through the serving line at family gatherings. The gaping ache can, if I permit it, become a place the Lord can fill, a place of pure desire surrendered to God, recognizing my own inability to fulfill myself. It can be become empty hands, waiting to be filled, trusting they will be filled, and yet acknowledging the goodness of still being empty.

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Like A Lamb in the Midst of Wolves

Like A Lamb in the Midst of Wolves

In Luke 10, Jesus speaks of how He is sending His disciples, the few laborers for the abundant harvest, out like lambs in the midst of wolves. When I heard this at Mass several days ago, an image leapt into my mind which has been with me ever since. I imagined a little lamb, still with softly spun small coils of wool, walking down a path surrounded by wolves, growling menacingly at the tender lamb. Yet the lamb moved forward, head held high, and seemed unfazed by the danger that lurked around it.

I considered how vulnerable this lamb was, unable to defend itself from the predators and with little strength to offer on its own behalf. And I thought that perhaps that was exactly the point. Maybe this image of the lamb in the midst of wolves is exactly what Jesus desires for us. This little lamb is aware of its weakness and it is likely this knowledge of its weakness which is its greatest strength. If it fixated on the vicious wolves that surround it, the sheep could never move forward. It is rather gentle by nature, with no claws or sharp teeth to maim an attacker. The lamb surrounded by wolves finds its strength in knowing that the Shepherd will provide.

The moments or situations in life where I have known God placed me in a particular situation, and yet I felt wholly unqualified for the task at hand, are the situations where I have needed to rely entirely on the Lord. In this reliance, there is a strength that is given. I don’t know that I was a better teacher ten years ago, but I was far more likely to storm Heaven prior to a difficult class or to beg for guidance in the midst of students’ questions. It isn’t that I don’t ask for God to help me now, but I’m more confident in my own abilities than I used to be. Yet the littleness, the weakness I felt as a new teacher was also a source of strength. I’ve experienced the same in different ministries or experiences which forced me to offer the Lord unrestricted access, imploring Him to provide in the places where I saw an abundant lack.

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Though The Fig Tree Does Not Blossom

Though The Fig Tree Does Not Blossom

On one hand, I like to think of myself as rather mellow, a calm person who is generally unruffled. This seems true when I get to the end of the day and have no dramatic stories to tell. Instead of exhilarating experiences or woeful sorrows, I tend to have rather little to say about the day. In fact, sometimes it seems preferred when I arrive at the end of the day and there is no drama, good or bad, to recount. In these moments, I think I am a balanced, staid teacher who has completed her duties for the day.

Yet, on the other hand, I see that I can go through the gamut of emotions in a single week. I can feel frustration and rage at a student’s insolent response. I perhaps experienced sadness over a student’s hatred of the Church or a traumatic experience they have shared. Or maybe I have felt despair, a desire to give up and seek any other profession than the one I am currently in. In the course of a single week, I can plan for next year to be better and I can find myself searching random missionary positions or job postings anywhere else. I can be both sad to see my seniors graduate and uncertain if we will all make it to the end of the semester with our sanity and goodwill intact. It is in these moments, when I survey the emotional landscape of a preceding week, that I believe the calm affect is a total lie, one I tell myself in order to not pay too much attention to the ferocious swinging of the pendulum.

These experiences, of great, immoveable calm and tremendous swirling of feelings, cause me to wonder which is more me. Which one am I more truly? Or am I both? Are all humans simply both, some perhaps more one than the other? I think I’m steady, but maybe it is a steadiness born of fear to move. In a recent conversation with a friend, I was led to wonder what would make me leap into something new. If I refuse to move unless I know all of the answers, then I may always find it easier to be rooted.

My seniors have a sort of privileged position, even if wrought with uncertainty and stress. They must leap. Perhaps they won’t leap as far as they could, but they cannot remain where they are. We won’t take them back the following year and they cannot simply add another major as one could do in college. Next month, we will wrap up, wish them well, and then firmly close the door behind them, never to be opened in the same way ever again. Rarely does such a situation happen in life again and even more rarely would this situation be considered good.

They must leave.

And I?

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To Waiting

To Waiting

At a recent Christmas party, the host invited the guests to share toasts for the new year (and simply life in general) by setting a theme and encouraging us to toast to various things. Standing there, cupping a glass of mulled wine, I listened to people make toasts to fruitfulness, the fullness of faith, wonder, the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit, and so on. After the person would give their ferverino related to the toast, he would lift his glass and say “To fruitfulness” (or whatever was being toasted) and the rest of us would repeat it.

Partly preparing for the potential of being randomly called on and partly because it was a beautiful idea, I pondered what I would toast to and how it could be connected to the previous toasts. So, lucky random readers, you shall hear my toast!

To waiting. The gift of fruitfulness comes only after a period of waiting. A slow, quiet growing (sometimes painful, sometimes joyful) which gives way to newness. The world waited for a Savior and even after the Incarnation, there was still a period of waiting for redemption, waiting for an epiphany. Our lives are filled with waiting, manifold opportunities for glorious encounters wrapped in the seemingly mundane trappings of daily life. May this waiting not be passive, but may it be an active experience of longing, of hoping for what is to come, and trusting that it will indeed come.

To waiting!

Photo by Al Elmes on Unsplash

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

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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