For quite some time now, I’ve felt strongly drawn to prayer. I don’t know if I would go so far as to say it is a calling from God or just something I feel a need to do. However, the more I pursue it, the more strongly I feel compelled to pray.
In my own obsessively perfectionistic way I have been very anxious to make sure I do it “right”. I’ve tried many different forms of prayer. I’ve read many books on prayer and studied what the saints have written about prayer. Valiantly, I have left no stone unturned. My pursuit of prayer has even led me to consider seeking the silence and solitude of the eremitical life. Yep…that’s right…I’m actually thinking about becoming a hermit. In truth, some of my friends might say that I’m already a hermit…a hermit crab, that is.
During all this studying and looking and trying, a little thought began to insinuate itself into my mind. “Follow your own path”, it whispered. It took awhile, but after that thought finally hammered its way thru my thick skull, it took even more time for me to think that it might actually be alright for me to follow my own path. After all, isn’t it better (which for me is a synonym for safer) to follow the wisdom of those who have gone before? Who am I to think that my way could be as good as the way of the great heroes of our faith? It took awhile for all of this to become fully realized, but when it did, it really hit me.
Suddenly, I felt as though I had been walking in a forest full of beautiful trees, each one different from the other. As I walked along, I would come upon a tree that I thought was wonderful and I would do everything in my power to learn all there was to know about that particular tree. No sooner had I done this than I became aware of another tree and the whole process would begin again. While each of the trees had something of value to offer, no one tree was the right tree for me. As I continued my walk in the woods, I came to a large clearing.
As I looked around, I became aware…not of the trees and not of the forest…but of the ground that all of the trees were growing out of. I saw that the ground that gives life to the oak tree is the same ground that nurtures the willow. The soil that gives birth to the pine tree does the same for maple. It didn’t matter how different the trees in the forest were from each other, they all sprang from the same ground and because of this, they all led to the same place. They all lead to God!
While I contemplated this image, I realized the ground symbolized the life giving love of God. It is a love so vibrant that it can’t help but give birth to the many different forms of prayer and ways to follow God which were symbolized by the trees. I understood that the experiences of those who have gone before us are valuable tools to help us learn. However, if we stay connected to the Lord, then we will be able to find our own way in Him. As long as we stay grounded in Him, if I may be allowed a double entendre, then we will discover the path He has planned for each of us. It is a path perfectly formed in love by Him who is perfect love. Who knows? I may even grow my own little tree!
I’m going to follow God,
I’m not coming back
How many times have we ever gone someplace and realized that we would never be coming back? I know I haven’t. Most people, when they plan a trip, almost always plan a return trip. The return may not be immediate. In fact, it may be many years down the road. However, we almost always plan to come back home.
I read this powerful little quote in a newsletter named “Raven’s Bread”. It is a Navajo poem and was sent in by a woman who was sharing her thoughts on it. I will be forever in this woman’s debt. This little quote has had a huge impact on me. The first line is something I’ve heard countless times in my Christian journey, said by myself and many other people who love the Lord and want to follow Him. However, the second line of this little poem really struck me. I never realized that when you follow the Lord, there is no return trip, there is no coming back, there is no going home.
How I managed to miss that one is beyond me…it is all over the gospels. Jesus said it most blatantly when He told Peter to let the dead bury the dead. Nevertheless, miss it I did. It made me realize that in my journey with the Lord I had been holding onto things…things in my past…things I thought I needed…things that made me feel safe. It was like I was hedging my bets without realizing it.
As I thought about all this, I just decided to let it all go…throw it all to the wind and follow the Lord without reservation, without holding on, without “things”. It gave me the first taste of freedom that I had in a long time. How good it feels to say “I’m not coming back!”
Disciple: Master, what do I need to do to become enlightened?Anonymous saying from the Desert Fathers
Master: As little as you can do to make the sun rise in the morning.
Disciple: Then what is the benefit of all the spiritual exercises that you give me to do?
Master: So you will be awake when the sun begins to rise.
When morning dawned, the angels urged Lot, saying, “Get up, take your wife and your two daughters who are here, or else you will be consumed in the punishment of the city.” But he lingered; so the men seized him and his wife and his two daughters by the hand, the Lord being merciful to him, and they brought him out and left him outside the city. When they had brought them outside, they said: “Flee for your life; do not look back or stop anywhere in the Plain; flee to the hills or else you will be consumed.” And Lot said to them; “Oh no, my lords; your servant has found favor with you, and you have shown me great kindness in saving my life: but I cannot flee to the hills, for fear the disaster will overtake me and I die. Look, that city is near enough to flee to, and it is a little one. Let me escape there-is it not a little one?- and my life will be saved!” He said to him, “Very well, I grant you this favor too, and will not overthrow the city of which you have spoken. Hurry, escape there, for I can do nothing until you arrive there.” Therefore, the city was called Zoar. The sun had risen on the earth when Lot came to Zoar.
Then the Lord rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the Lord out of heaven: and he overthrew those cities, and all thePlain, and all the inhabitants of the cities and what grew on the ground. But Lot’s wife behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.
For years, I have wondered why the Lord turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt. It seems to be an incredibly severe punishment for such a human and understandable behavior. Who among us hasn’t looked back when we were leaving someone or something behind? It seems almost as though we need to look back to have some kind of closure. Yet, the angels were very clear: “Do not look back.”
Now, as I re-read the scripture, it doesn’t really say that the Lord turned Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt. It says, “But Lot’s wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt.” Why on earth would that happen? A fundamentalist might say “Because the Lord said it would.” Perhaps that’s true. However, I think there is a deeper, yet elegantly simple reason. It is impossible to move forward if you are looking back.
When the Lord called Lot and his family to leave Sodom and Gomorrah, He was not only trying to save them from the physical destruction of the cities, He was also saving them from a destructive and deeply sinful culture. He was calling them into a new life of trust in Him. This type of call is difficult for anyone. Lot himself struggled with leaving everything behind. Yet, in the end, he managed to do it. Sadly, his wife did not. She needed to hold onto what was left behind and it immobilized her.
The underlying truth of this story has as much meaning for us today as it did for the people who experienced it thousands of years ago. In our lives, we are often called to leave the old life behind, to grow and to move into a new life. Sometimes this change takes the form of a new job, moving to a new city or state, getting married or having a child, to name a few things. Other times the change comes in the form of a conversion experience, or simply an understanding that we have to allow ourselves to let go of our old behavior and to grow. However, it is impossible for us to be successful in this transition if we do not let go of the past completely and, with trust in the Lord, move forward into the unknown. Anyone who has experienced this knows how hard it is to do and how extremely difficult it is not to look back to see where we have been. However, if we cling to the past, like Lot’s wife, we too will become immobilized.
"If you do not understand God's silence, you will never understand His words."
Yet there is a different kind of Pentecost, the one that we can all experience in our own lives. I'm not going to go all Charismatic and say that the only way we can be "saved" is to go the Pentecostal route of receiving the laying on of hands and then start praying in tongues to be formally declared "baptized in the Holy Spirit" according to the way it is understood by many modern day Christians. That is something quite wonderful for the people who are led in that direction. I don't criticize them or their journey in the Lord. I only disagree with their belief that it is the only way.
There is a different and I believe more powerful kind of relationship that we can have with the Third Person of the Trinity. One that is quiet, and deep like the still waters of Shiloh. I could do my best to describe it, however, there is someone who voiced it more eloquently than I ever could. She is St. Mary Magdalene de Pazzi. She was born in Florence in 1566. She became a Carmelite nun and led of solitary life of prayer and self-denial. She never heard of the laying on of hands or of praying in tongues as we know it today. Yet, her prayer to the Holy Spirit is so powerful that it moves me to tears every time I read it:
You, the Word, are most wonderful, working through the Holy Spirit to fill the soul with yourself, so that it is joined to God, grasps God, tastes God and absorbs nothing but God.
The Holy Spirit comes into the soul signed with the precious seal of the blood of the Word and of the slain lamb; or rather that very blood urges it to come, although the Spirit moves itself and desires to come.
This Spirit which moves in itself is the substance of the Father and of the Word, and it proceeds from the essence of the Father and the good will of the Word; it comes into the soul like a fountain, and the soul is immersed in it. Just as two rushing rivers intermingle in such a way that the smaller loses its name and is absorbed into the larger, so the divine Spirit acts upon the soul and absorbs it. It is proper that the soul, which is lesser, should lose its name and surrender to the Spirit, as it will if it turns entirely toward the Spirit and is united.
This Spirit, dispenser of the treasures which lay in the lap of the Father, and the guardian of the deliberations which pass between the Father and the Son, flows into the soul so sweetly and imperceptibly that few esteem its greatness.
It moves itself by its own weight and lightness into all places that are fitting and disposed to receive it. Its word is heard by all in the most attentive silence; through the impetus of love, the unmoved yet most perfect mover infuses itself into all.
You do not, O Holy Spirit, stand still in the unmoved Father or in the Word, and yet you are always in the Father and in the Word and in yourself and in all blessed spirits and creatures. You are friend of the created because of the blood shed by the only-begotten Word, who in the greatness of his love made himself the friend of the created. You find rest in creatures who are prepared to receive you, so that in the transmission of your gifts they take on, through purity, their own particular likeness to you. You find rest in those creatures who absorb the effects of the blood of the Word and make themselves a worthy dwelling pace for you.
Come, Holy Spirit. Let the precious pearl of the Father and the Word's delight come. Spirit of truth, you are the reward of the saints, the comforter of souls, light in the darkness, riches to the poor, treasure to lovers, food for the hungry, comfort to those who are wandering; to sum up, you are the one in whom all treasures are contained.
Come! As you descended upon Mary, that the Word might become flesh, work in us through grace as you worked in her through nature and grace.
Come! Food of every chaste thought, fountain of all mercy, sum of all purity.
Come! Consume in us whatever prevents us from being consumed in you.
|Holy Spirit Rosary at Laude Arts and Gifts|
It was originally written by an anonymous 14th century Englishman. The edition I’m reading was edited by William Johnston in 1973 with a foreword by Huston Smith in 1996. This is all new material for me, yet it resonates with my heart in such a manner that it gives me an unexpected sense of familiarity. It is similar to the feeling I had when I converted to the Catholic Church. I had never been there before, yet it felt like home.
I’ve barely gotten past the foreword and already I have been blown away by what I’ve read. I quote:
“Implicated with mystery, the cloud of unknowing will never disappear, but it can to some distance be penetrated. How! By activating a faculty of knowing that parts the obscuring clouds of words and thought. The underlying idea here is the limitations of language, and no topic has received more philosophical attention in the last half-century: Heidegger, Wittgenstein, and Derida have all wrestled with it. But (to borrow a Buddhist figure of speech) they see that language is only a finger pointing at the moon and not the moon itself...”I connected with this particular image because I am often awed to silence by the rising moon. My words could describe the beauty of the moon to some extent, but my words could never become the moon itself in all its majesty and wonder.
The Cloud of Unknowing, Page 4
This “faculty of knowing which parts the obscuring clouds of words and thought” brings us to the heart which needs no words and thoughts for that which it knows and understands. This, in turn, brings us to the language of silence. It is the language of lovers; it is the language of prayer, it is the language of love itself because it is known only to the heart and it is a language which only the heart can speak.
This language of love is the most direct means of being with God and knowing God. Yet, because it needs no words, it often leaves the mind dark and “unknowing”. This kind of knowing with the heart does not seek to communicate so much as it seeks to touch, to “be with”, and to be in a state of being with God or the other person. It is knowing that “being with” someone is the most direct and most intimate form of communication, yet no words are spoken. This language seeks to touch the object itself rather than being content with a hollow finger which can only point to the object.
This language of silence falls upon us like a gentle cloak when the mind reaches for words and can find none. How many of us have fallen silent when seeing a sunset because its beauty can not be contained in words? How many of us move into silence with our lover because words are no longer needed to communicate our beings to each other? How many of us learn the language of silence in the presence of God? Even the prophets in the Old Testament, after experiencing God, protested that they could not do what the Lord had asked of them because they had no words. They had moved into the silent language of God and their human language had become an encumbrance to them. In the silence of God, their human words seemed inadequate, worthless…even unclean, because they knew their words were but a shallow imitation of God and not God Himself. It was not until the Lord had put His word into their mouths that they were able to move forward. Entering into silence is relatively easy; coming back from it is not.
As we stand on the edge of silence we are inexorably drawn into that inexpressible love which is God. Our hearts urge us forward, yet our minds recoil. Accustomed to the tangibility of words and thoughts, our minds retreat from that which is wordless and without thought. Weaned on the empiricism of science we seek to avoid the paradox of knowing that it is the intangible which is reality and the tangible which is not.
Yet, if we move forward, we begin to enter into the “deep calling to deep” with the depths of our being. We begin to enter the very heart of God, not with our minds, but with our own hearts so that we can become a part of Him and He of us. In silence we become one with our God.
“Through his holy prophets he promised of old
That he would save us from our enemies,From the hands of all who hate us.”Luke 1:70-71
I read these words every day as part of the Morning Liturgy of the Hours. They have become a familiar part of my prayer time and they have always put me in mind of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I’ve always thought of these words in strictly spiritual terms, in terms of our Lord coming to save us from our greatest enemy, namely our sinful nature. I say this because it is our sinful nature that has the greatest potential to keep us away from our Lord. Jesus alone can bridge the gap between humankind and God.
I must also say I thought of this passage in strictly spiritual terms because I don’t perceive myself to have any enemies. There are people I don’t trust, people I don’t particularly like, but I don’t think of them as enemies. I don’t live in a country where I am persecuted for my beliefs or anything else for that matter. My life is pretty good, so where are the enemies that I need to be delivered from?
I never thought of these words in a literal sense…at least not until Sunday when I heard that Osama Bin Ladin had been killed by U.S. Navy Seals. When I watched the news on TV, the words “…He will deliver us from the hands of those who hate us” were the first words that popped into my mind. I was perplexed to say the very least.
I was puzzled because I had never thought of the war against terrorism as a spiritual war. I have to confess that I just did not “get” it. I dare say many Americans did not “get” that either. Most of us have grown up against a background of war. Sadly, we have become used to it, inured to its reality. I was born shortly after the end of WWII, grew up with the Korean War, protested the Vietnam War, have prayed for the troops during the Gulf War and prayed for the brave men and women fighting in the war we are presently engaged in. I’ve thought of war as a fact of life. I’ve seen it as a struggle for territory, wealth, ideologies and political power. I’ve never seen it as an outgrowth of the ongoing battle between the spiritual principalities that fight eternally for men’s souls. While it galls me to give Al-Qaeda credit for anything, I must say that is the one thing that they did “get”. They were the ones who declared “jihad”.
While they understood that this war is spiritual, it was anything but holy on their part. They made it clear that they were our enemies and that they hated us. Thru Bin Ladin and Al-Qaeda, evil has shown its monstrous face in a way that few people alive have ever seen. Very few recognized it as such. Yet it is those few who responded in the only way that we can respond to evil…that is to fight, to battle, to go to war.
I believe it was God himself who gave our leaders the discernment to see the evil posed by Al-Qaeda and it was God who inspired them to act in the only way we could. Could God have wiped Bin Ladin and his forces out with a few well placed lightning bolts? Of course, but He chose not to do that. Instead He worked His will out in the same way He has been working His will for millennia and that is thru efforts of mankind. He has inspired and strengthened those who believe in Him to fight for good and all that is truly holy. It took nine very long years. It took the sacrifice of thousands of men and women who cared enough to give their very lives to prevent evil from succeeding. And it was thru the efforts of those who dared to do the right thing that God’s will prevailed.
On Sunday, the Lord showed us that He has kept His age old promise and has indeed “saved us from our enemies, from the hands of all who hate us.” His strength was revealed in all of this because it was on a Sunday, a day holy to all Christians, and on the same Sunday that a holy man of God, Blessed John Paul II was beatified, that Osama Bin Ladin was shot and killed and unceremoniously dumped into the ocean. No man alive could have planned it to happen like that. Glory be to God!
Many years ago (more than I would care to admit to) I sat down to read my bible. I had been reading it, front to back, for some time and found myself coming to the end of the gospel of Luke. I started to read about Peter's denial of Jesus, and found these words:
"Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail; and when you have turned, strengthen your brethren." Luke 22:31-21 RSVIt is impossible for me to describe the impact these words had on me. It was as if the passage had read "Linda, Linda, behold......." I was suddenly aware of the Lord's presence in the room and became aware that He was using this passage to communicate with me. I had more questions than I have room here to elaborate on. However, I did know the Lord was telling He had something for me to do, but I didn't know exactly what.
I spent a lot of time praying about this verse and wondering what it all might mean. I also prayed a lot about how I might "strengthen my brethren". As time went by, I tried many different things that I hoped might fulfill His command. Some worked out well, some did not, but I never really felt like I was on the right track.
More time went by, life happened and I put the verse on the back burner. I never really forgot it, but I got frustrated with not being able to learn what the Lord wanted me to do. I resolved that leading my life trying to do His will as best I can was His will for me. This is basically His will for all of us.
For the past few weeks, the verse has come to the "front burner" so to speak, and I've found myself thinking about it and praying about it. I feel like I'm still pretty clueless, but slowly the thought of a blog has come to mind. So...here I am with my very own blog hoping to share whatever I feel the Lord has shared with me. It is my prayer that the words you find here will be of some value to you and will act as a vehicle that will bring you closer to the Lord.
Many blessings, L