Pleading for a Drop of Water

Pleading for a Drop of Water

Do you want to know the worst sin? Betrayal,” the priest said in his homily as he reflected on the cup Christ invites us to drink in imitation of Him.

While on one hand my mind was pondering if this was indeed the worst sin, the other was considering moments of betrayal in my own life. In doing so, I was reminded, once again, how easy it is to be the victim, the wounded one. Betrayal, or any other sort of deep emotional pain, can leave an imprint hard to remove, as well as a deep sense of injustice. When wronged, it can be so simple to hang onto the knowledge that someone else is clearly, obviously in error. It can be a sort of comfort, cold though it may be, to know that this instance of betrayal is one where the other is on the wrong side of justice.

I have the blessing and, at times, the inconvenience of having a rather good memory. My sister has told me stories and when something similar comes up again, and I retell the story, she doesn’t even remember all of the details she shared. While far from infallible or complete, my memory is riddled with innumerable moments of life, stamped upon my mind. Some are beautifully grace-filled and others are achingly sharp and jagged. So when it comes to matters of betrayal or pain, I have a painfully accurate memory of words said, emotions felt, and the significance of the moment compounded by time. Add to this memory a heart which is so slow to forgive and perhaps the priest was right that betrayal is the worst thing you can do to me.

Recurrent throughout the Gospel is the call, or rather the command, to forgive. This was the thought during the priest’s homily which immediately followed my acknowledgement of the wounds of betrayal and injustice. Despite my desire for Christ’s words to be slightly more lenient or open to difficult situations, they are not. What my frail humanity wants is for Jesus to say, “Forgive others, unless it was really unjust” or “Forgive those who have wronged you, unless you think they haven’t fully understood the gravity of what they have done.” In my weakness, I want a caveat, a footnote, some indication that perhaps He doesn’t mean forgive always.

He does not give me these easy exits, but He does show what the act of loving forgiveness looks like. With arms stretched out on the cross and as He was mocked by His persecutors, Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who were in the act of killing Him. Without waiting for an apology or any glimmer of sincerity, Christ poured Himself out, generously, unconditionally, faithfully. My stance so often is one of arms crossed over my heart, bracing for impact, looking for a way to soften the blow, striving to ward off the spear which may come to injure my heart. It isn’t necessarily my desire to live this way; it simply seems safer than the unguarded way Christ models on the cross.

Last night, I was praying Evening Prayer and as I came to the Canticle of Mary, I was struck by the offered antiphon.

“The rich man, who had refused Lazarus a crust of bread, pleaded for a drop of water.”

Evening Prayer for Thursday in the 2nd Week of Lent
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Veiled in the Ordinary

Veiled in the Ordinary

Things aren’t always as they seem to be.

The sacrifices we’d like to make aren’t always the ones we are offered.

The fruitfulness of our lives can’t always be seen exteriorly. In fact, we, the insiders of ourselves, cannot always see what is being borne from our lives. In the mundane, ordinary moments of our lives, there rests a significance that we cannot comprehend. Perhaps it is a gift that we cannot always see the weight of the moment and yet it seems necessary that sometimes we do see the particular importance of today, this specific moment, and the way it has a weight that goes beyond what we can presently feel.

The significance of Christmas resonates through the centuries. Yet two thousand years ago, something beautiful and ordinary took place. A child was born. While angels rejoiced, magi traveled, shepherds proclaimed, and a common stable was embraced in a heavenly glow, the momentous event was soon, once again, cloaked in the veil of the ordinary. Mary, Joseph, and Jesus didn’t float through life, walking on clouds or being obviously different from everyone else. Instead, Christ’s life is marked by instances of the veil being lifted, a glimpse given of the reality of underlying glory. Then, the veil is carefully drawn again and life continues with the same significance and yet appearing to be quite ordinary.

In our persistent seeking for the extraordinary moments, we often muddle through the ordinary. I can delight in hosting a meal and then get bogged down in the stress of bringing the details to life. I can be swept away by the ideal of home and then balk at the challenging opportunity to make it into a sanctuary. The veiled ordinary moments are what comprise the primary weight of our lives and yet it can be so burdensome to really enter into these moments, to trust in their necessity even while we are blind to their signficance.

When the glorious heavens changed back to a dark Bethlehem night sky, when the magi left their gifts and journeyed home by another way, and when the shepherds wandered back to their fields, what did the Holy Family do? While being critical lives in the unfolding of salvation, how did they wrestle with the uncertainty of their lives, the nighttime feedings and the unexpected flight for Christ’s life? Most of Our Lord’s life is shrouded in the secretive veil of the ordinary. He grows in age and wisdom is the offered summary of eighteen years of His life. The quiet of the quotidian wraps the Holy Family’s life in a gentle, secretive veil, like the inner lives of most families.

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Waiting Without (A Foreseeable) End

Waiting Without (A Foreseeable) End

When asked why I chose Advent as one of my favorite seasons in the liturgical year, I replied that I appreciated the anticipation. Then, realizing what I had said and the truth of it, I considered how I also liked the set ending point of the anticipation. We are asking for Christ to come in a new way at Christmas and then He comes, December 25th, like clockwork. A definitive period of anticipation marked by a definitive end.

Life, however, is not like this.

Yet I have also come to realize that I am in the Advent of my life. Perhaps, however, we are always in an Advent. Maybe we are always saying, “Come, Lord Jesus” and hoping for a particular fulfillment. There is no definite end in sight, though. That which we long for and ardently desire isn’t simply four weeks away or even a year away. Instead, we wait and we hope. Even if it is clear that the Lord has a plan, it is eminently unclear how it will unfold. Will our desires be answered just as we long? Or will there be some circuitous, meandering path to fulfillment, realized only years later when we look back and can say that God answered, just behind a guise or beneath a veil.

I believe that I shall see the bounty of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.

Psalm 27

Advent is a time of anticipation, diving headlong into our hopes and desires, while also ordering them anew. It is a time of preparation, reminding me that I must always be actively preparing to welcome Jesus, even while my heart is led to long for other, earthly things, good as they may be. If the Lord came tonight, like a thief, I would be saddened if my response must be, “I was simply waiting for you to give me this particular gift and then I was going to….” How much better to be always in a state of welcoming and preparing to make room.

These past few months I’ve been taking a class on the problem of suffering. The proposal is that as Christians, we must hold that God, being good, allows the suffering from which He can draw a greater good for us, which could not be arrived at without the suffering. From philosophers to novelists, we have wrestled with this experience of suffering coursing through humanity, trying to see how it is both a mystery and yet also a means to encountering God. After one evening of reading, I was forced to look at my life and say to myself, “Everything in my life is offered as a way to draw me nearer to the Lord.” It was almost unbelievable, as I gazed at aspects I wished were otherwise, longings left unfulfilled, and wondered why God couldn’t have caused me to grow in some other way apart from the soul-deep suffering. While left with no definitive, particular answer, there is a comfort in trusting that the Lord will make His plan known at some point between now and eternity, revealing to me the ways particular pains were offered as gifts.

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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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