The Gift of Darkness

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As the daylight draws more rapidly to a close in the weeks ahead, it is hard not to feel as though the world itself is losing the battle for light.

I have found that, if I am not careful, I can begin to grow quite comfortable in the darkness.  After all, even in darkness we find comfort, but here it is very often the ego that comforts us. In the darkness, our ego minimizes our spiritual wants and rationalizes our spiritual needs to the point that we may begin to doubt that we need God at all.  We grow complacent, convincing ourselves that our bad habits– ranging anywhere from the socially shameful habits of alcohol or drug abuse to the socially acceptable habits of material self-indulgence–aren’t hurting anyone (or at least only me). 

And we forget that we were born into the light.

The light is not welcome now.  When light begins to dawn, we turn away, digging ourselves deeper into our own little corner of the world, where we are in control, even if it’s only in the shadows. Our darkness has become our blanket of comfort and protection. Our habits serve us just fine.

We don’t feel suffering at all, until our habits get old and stop serving us the way they once did.  Then the struggle begins anew, as we try to find ever more “things” to appease our wants and desires—more drugs, more financial security, more “friends” so that we never have to be alone (with ourselves).

In that struggle, somewhere deep within, we remember that we are made for the light.  We find ourselves filled with longing for it. We know suffering once more, because we see we can only be in control in the darkness—we cannot control the light.  We may become fearful that the hole we have dug for ourselves this time is too deep, too dark, too far from the light to ever feel its warmth again.

Only then do we realize the gift that darkness brings…an opportunity to welcome the Light once more.

1.  Prayer taken from Little Pieces of Light…Darkness and Personal Growth, by Joyce Rupp.

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Using Nature as Our Guide through the Darkness

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I’ve confessed before that relocating is one of the most painful experiences for me to undergo.  For me, it feels like the closest experience to dying I’ve ever known.  I give up so much of the “me” I’d come to be in one place… faith formation coordinator, religious education teacher, vacation bible school coordinator, book club member, Bunco player, room mother, PTA chairperson, committee member of x, y, and z, etc. etc….only to find myself uprooted and transplanted to another place where people do not know my gifts, my favorite past times, or even my (often sarcastic) personality.  It takes time to get to know others, to get to know who I will count among my friends, and who I will come to consider family.

There is no blue print for how to do this.

Much like the relocation experience for me, I believe we are not meant to stay whole during this Advent season’s experience of waiting and darkness.  Like our landscaped bushes and shrubs during this season, parts of us are meant to be trimmed away, and left broken and raw as the darkness sets in.  There we sit stunned, immobile, and unsure of where to go from here.

Then, eventually, we catch a glimmer or a twinkle perhaps, of something—someone–glistening in the darkness.  Our eyes begin to adjust, ever so slowly, and gradually we make out silhouettes of others that reflect and project the light our way.  Pretty soon, even the heavy snowfall bounces the light around and we feel ourselves lighter, brighter, more hopeful of things to come.

Finally, we realize perhaps this isn’t the end after all, but rather the increasing of Someone in us, and the decreasing of the self we are no longer meant to be. (John 3:30)

It is yet another journey for our soul.

And like all journeys, it requires trimming back some areas of our lives, so that what matters most can break forth and blossom when the light dawns.

Love the One You’re With

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“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,

And in his word I hope.”

(Psalms 130:5)

Open-ended waiting is the hardest kind of waiting for me.  While waiting at stop lights, checkout lines and doctor’s offices can try my patience, at least I know for certain that I will be done with those things before too long.  I can see that my place in line is now three back, or that my appointment is now 20 minutes past due, and I can know –even in my frustration and irritation—that my needs will be tended to soon.

Waiting for God is so different from any other type of waiting.  We do not know how long we will be left to wait, if we are meant to be doing something while we wait, or if we are meant to do nothing at all.  We sometimes do not even have a clear picture of what we are waiting for.  We just know God’s voice has gone quiet, or his presence within our hearts has vanished from our awareness, and so we wait for him to return, to connect with us again.

This type of waiting requires faith and trust that go beyond anything humanly possible.

As I sat this week wondering what exactly it is I’m waiting for God to do (after all he has already become incarnate in Jesus and in a more general way incarnate in each of us and throughout all of creation) so, why wait at all?  Because what kind of Christians are we, really, if we don’t believe and understand that every day God dwells among us?  Put another way, “Every day is Christmas!” which was the enthusiastic reminder of our priest last year at the Christmas Mass we attended.

And I felt the truth in it as he said it.

So what, then, am I waiting for this season?

I would be lying if I said I knew the answer to that.

Can we always know what it is we are waiting for from God?  And are we even meant to know?

I rather doubt it.

While I did feel divinely inspired earlier in the week to point out and recognize my own personal “kingdoms” of Christmas, I know from experience that without God’s help I am completely incapable of letting them go.

Then, by mid-week I realized one thing that would help me.  Instead of focusing my sites on which of my “kingdoms” to let go of this season, I needed to keep within my vision what it is I can hold on to throughout Advent.  And it was that realization that led me to this:

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Love never fails.”  (1 Corinthians 13:7-8)

It is a verse commonly read at weddings, (including my own) and is one that now, eighteen years later, I have a different and deeper understanding of than I ever could have had as a twenty-something bride.  That’s what healthy relationships do over time, isn’t it?  They broaden our perspective, deepen our understanding and unify us with another to the point that words become less necessary, expectations become less demanding, and we begin to trust the other to the point of being content and grateful just being together.  There is not always a need to do something, except be present in each moment as it comes, knowing that whatever happens next, we will face together.

And that is where I found God today.

With all the talk of “preparation and waiting” I’d begun to think I was doing something wrong by not putting up my Nativity yet, not saying the right prayers for Advent, not doing this, not doing that; when I suddenly remembered that the God of Advent is the same exact God he was before Advent.  And the same exact God he has been throughout my entire life, and throughout every year, century, and millennia before me.

He is the same God who has borne every trial with me, who has believed in me every step of the way, who has hoped all the best for me (in spite of my sometimes bad choices), and who has endured every injustice I’ve ever suffered right alongside me.

He has never failed me.

And while I may not know exactly what I am waiting  for right now, nor how long I will be waiting, I am happy and relieved to be reminded today that the One I am waiting for, is also the One with whom I wait.

The Kingdom of Christmas

As the Advent season opens, I think many of us wonder how we can possibly find the time and space for God when the hustle and bustle of Christmas preparations (the decorations, the shopping, the baking, the meal planning, etc.!) demands so much of us already.

Many of us, as the Christmas season begins to dawn, become stressed at the thought of all the ways in which we may disappoint ourselves and others this season:  our gifts may not be appreciated, our decorations may not be admired, our meals may not be edible, and as a result our time and efforts are not validated.  This process can often leave us feeling unappreciated, unloved and rejected.

The simple truth, of course, is that in order to make room for God, we must let other things go.  And the things we must let go are very often things we aren’t meant to hold on to in the first place!

For me, the primary thing I need to let go of is my perfection.  There is no better time of year than Christmas for my inner Supermom to rear her ugly head.  THIS YEAR the house will look (and stay looking!) beautiful!  THIS YEAR our family photo will be the envy of all.  THIS YEAR the smells of my fresh baked cookies will permeate the very walls of our house and leave guests saying for months…mmmm, doesn’t their house smell yummy?    THIS YEAR our family will give so generously to our local charities that we’ll be contacted by our newspaper wanting to give us some recognition (“Oh, no thanks,” we’ll say so modestly, “we want to remain anonymous!”)  THIS YEAR our kids with their shiny cheeks and sparkling clothes will not only go to church and sing like angels but serve the local soup kitchen before they even think to look under the tree and see if there are any presents for themselves.  When they do notice, they will shriek with excitement saying, “Oh my goodness, pinch us!  We do not deserve such kindness!”…  

I will confess this is a *bit* of what my “kingdom” looks like every year.

It is my own personal Kingdom of Christmas.

And, perhaps not shockingly, it never happens that way.

While I do exaggerate my Kingdom of Christmas (at least a little), the one thing I’m certain of is that I’m not alone in my quest for making the Christmas season one of my own private perfection.  What there is “no room” for in my vision of this kingdom (despite my penciling in the extraordinary charitable donations and soup kitchen, haha) is a breaking down of my self.  Because guess who in my little kingdom sketch is really the hero?

That’s right:  me.

Most of us don’t create for ourselves a Kingdom of Christmas where we fail miserably, or where we are humbled, or where we give to the point that it makes us angry or sad that we’ve had to sacrifice our own material comforts (maybe even disappoint our children from the latest technology upgrade?) for people we don’t even know, and who will never know it was us who sacrificed at all.

God’s kingdom, of course, is vastly different from our own personal kingdoms.  I think my good friend Anne over at www.makingroomforgod.com said it best in her post on pride a few weeks ago:

“God sent us Jesus to mimic for us – in human form – just what He wants us to do.

He wants us to realize that His Kingdom looks like a stable and a manger – not a palace and a throne.

He wants us to realize that His Kingdom serves the poor and the lowly, not the rich and the prideful.

He wants us to realize that His Kingdom will go against the rules of society.

He wants us to realize that His Kingdom will endure trials and tribulations that no person should ever endure; it won’t have a lot of uplifting, powerful moments that open the door to prideful thoughts. You may not ever be recognized for your work.

His Kingdom will require us to relinquish control, be smart on our feet, and to outwit with God’s control; it won’t have anything to do with us.

His Kingdom requires the death of ourselves on a lowly cross; it will not be a celebration of all that we have accomplished.”

It’s no wonder Luke tells us that Mary had to lay our infant King in a manger because there was no room for any of them in the inn (Luke 2:7);  many of us are so busy trying to be the heroes of our own stories, that our egos have booked every room!

The Good News, of course, is that when we do fail (and we will), and we feel ourselves “humbled and suffering” as a result of our failures, we can know that that is the precise moment in which a much more beautiful process has begun.  It is the process in which we have broken down enough for God himself to begin working in us, because, unlike us, God does not fear nor avoid the lowly places.

In fact, Luke reminds us, it is always there, where we least expect, that he begins to “make room” and build what we never could—a Kingdom that will last.

Give: A Spirituality of the Eucharist in Four Parts

(This is the fourth and final post in a four-part series.  To see my intro from Part 1 about my inspiration for this series, click here.)

Give

As I was reflecting on this final action of giving, I realized something I’d not noticed before.  In each of the three Gospel accounts where the Last Supper is described in very similar detail, (Matthew 26:26-30; Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-23) one thing is not made clear to me…did Jesus take the bread and wine and give it all to his disciples, or did he keep some bread and wine for himself, too?    It wouldn’t matter that much, of course, if these actions of his at the Last Supper weren’t, for me, so closely tied to his actions throughout his life.

Now I am left wondering here, how do I interpret this act of giving in the Last Supper?  Is it an act of total giving?  Or is it his final act of sharing (where he gives others nourishment, but also takes some nourishment for himself) before finally giving it all on the Cross?

Here I have only questions.

Theologians everywhere are probably rolling their eyes because there is a common knowledge among them to which this housewife is not privy.  No matter.  In my readings right now, I do not know for sure.  Still, even in my not knowing, I find meaning in my closing this four-part blog series with more questions.  Doing so best illustrates, I think, a final and frustrating point for Christians everywhere regarding the life of Jesus and all his actions:  an invitation into God’s Mystery.  Because in our world of instant money, instant streaming and instant access, sitting with questions and allowing a mystery to unravel can leave one feeling highly unsatisfied and uncomfortable.  After all, this is America, for crying out loud!  We need answers!

My best example of the gift of asking questions and waiting for answers, though, is Jesus himself.  In my reading of the Gospels, Jesus asks far more questions than he answers;  and what answers he does give generally come in the form of parables or similes  (“The kingdom of heaven is like…”  Matthew 13:24, 31, 33, 44) which are, in their own special way an invitation into further Mystery.

Indeed, the more time I spend with Jesus in the Gospels, he is almost never about giving answers. He is instead always about drawing us deeper.

Deeper into ourselves.

Deeper into God.

Joining the part of ourselves that is spirit, to the part of God that is human.

For me, it is where “deep calls to deep.” (Psalm 42:7)

But, regardless of whether Jesus’ actions at the Last Supper were of total giving or of sharing (lest we forget that John skips over the details of the meal itself entirely and reminds us that Jesus’ final act was to kneel down and serve  [John 13:1-20]) what we can see in Jesus is that he does leave us with one final shocking example of just how far we have to go before we may fully understand what it means to give.  It was only days after sharing (or giving away?) bread and wine with the apostles in the Last Supper, that he showed us what giving of ourselves—fully– really looks like as he allowed his arms to be hammered open on the Cross.

And so it is these four actions in the Last Supper:  take, bless, break and give, that I try to be open to every time I celebrate the Eucharist.

Like life itself, it is a process.

Like life itself, I do not do it well most of the time.

But also, like life itself, thankfully, I have Jesus to lead me through it and draw me in to the Deep.

And on this final day in the week of Thanksgiving, one thing of which I am certain is this:  whether we are offering gratitude, sharing our lives with others, or giving ourselves up in an act of service or love to our fellow-man, our actions echo those of our Lord in his final hours.

And that is reason enough for us all to give thanks.

Bless: A Spirituality of the Eucharist in Four Parts

(This is the second post in a four-part series.  To see my intro from Part 1 about my inspiration for this series, click here.)

Bless

It has taken me every bit of my forty years of life to see that God sent Jesus—God became human! – because we just couldn’t see how to live.

Like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, it is in our very nature to want what we cannot have, and to try to find a shortcut to getting there.  The bible shares stories over many centuries of God warning us and telling us that there really are no shortcuts to the human experience; that shortcutting it would not get us what our truest selves really crave.  And so God lovingly provided us examples to follow of people who tried really hard to do as he said:  Abraham, Noah, Moses, David…the list is long.

God was very patient.

But to me it seems like we just couldn’t see what it was we were supposed to do.  And so, after years and years and years of saying in essence, “Don’t make me come down there!” our behavior gave God no other choice but to do just that.

And so Jesus came.

It seems clear to me that Jesus’ actions in the Last Supper (and later on the Cross) are a “show and tell” of sorts on how to “take,” (or accept) our lives and “bless” them.   The first definition of the word “bless” in most dictionaries is either “to hallow” or “to make holy.”  Jesus accepted his life, up to and including death on a cross.  That same act– though only recognizable to a few at the time– was also the best example of how to live a life of holiness.

For most of us, obviously, it’s not what we’d expect or choose.

But what does this look like for me?  I wondered.  How can I “make holy” my own life?  Well, certainly adding prayer to my life, and following (as best I can) the rules of my chosen religion are a good and healthy start.  But, for most of us, I think, those two things alone are just not enough to satisfy the deeper longing— The Holy Longing, as Ronald Rolheiser calls it—of our spiritual selves.  In spite of ourselves and every common-sense notion we’ve been taught about hard work equaling success, at some point most of us (particularly in mid-life) are faced with the reality that any “success” that we are going to experience has largely already been achieved.  It’s no surprise then, that at this point in our lives we are faced with a new choice.  And the choice, as I see it, is to either wish and hope for something or someone to “save” me while I wallow in misery about my failings and shortcomings, or to accept and pick up the Cross of my life and begin my own journey to Calvary, following the Way.

And, perhaps to no one’s surprise but mine, I found a simple set of directions for heading there nestled in the verses of Matthew 5:

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

 Blessed are they who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the land.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the clean of heart,

for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me.   

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

From my vantage point now, forty years in, I see that this journey for my “second half of life,” as Richard Rohr calls it, is not one of addition but of subtraction.  Rohr calls it Falling Upward.  And what it has done for me is helped me realize that while I spent my earlier years striving to answer the world’s definition of success (Supermom, domestic diva, and volunteer extraordinaire); I have found freedom in this “second-half” of my life to let go a little.  Let go of expectations (my own and others’).  Let go of perfection.  Let go of the world’s view of everything.

And in that letting go, I have found a new sense of freedom.

I am free to not take myself so seriously.

Free to try.

Free to fail.

Free to define success for myself, through God’s eyes.

And while I would have never guessed in my twenties that the road to success and the road to Calvary are the same road, my spirit now sees the truth in it.  And with that realization I have come to understand and experience for myself why this particular teaching from Jesus in some bible translations does not call the people who follow them “blessed.”

Instead, it calls them “happy.”

Take: A Spirituality of the Eucharist in Four Parts

A few years ago, I was studying the history of the eucharist for a presentation I was going to give to my adult faith formation group.  As I prepared for my presentation, I was forever changed by the words of Tad Guzie in The Book of Sacramental Basics when he said:

“Most people, when they are asked what are the eucharistic  symbols, will answer ‘Bread and wine.’  (What answer did you just give?) That is the answer that medieval theology gave.  Bread and wine are the matter of the sacrament, the words of institution are the form.  But the original eucharistic symbols are actions, not things.  The original eucharistic symbols are breaking the bread and sharing the cup.” 

This got me thinking about the four actions of Jesus during the Last Supper when he took, blessed, broke, and gave bread and wine to the apostles.  (Matthew 26: 26)

Since eucharist is a word deriving from Greek that is generally translated as “thanksgiving,” and since here in America we will be celebrating a national day of Thanksgiving this week, I wanted to spend some time looking at how some of our most difficult moments can be celebrated, through Jesus’ example, as an offering of “thanksgiving.”

As we head into our Thanksgiving holiday, I will touch each day on one of these actions of Jesus, and what they might mean for us as we prepare ourselves to “give thanks.”

Take

I have read a few reflections by others on how we can interpret Jesus’ directive to his apostles when he said, “Take it;  this is my body” (Mark 14:22, NIV)  For instance, Henry Nouwen interprets “take ” as “choose”1 and Ronald Rolheiser and Joyce Rupp interpret “take” as “receive;”2 but,  to me, what Jesus is saying here is “accept it.”  And the “it” that we are to accept?  Well, I believe is whatever life we’ve been given.  For instance, in my life, when I follow Jesus’ directive to “take it” it means I am accepting that in this moment I am a white, middle-aged, middle class, female American wife, mother and housewife who also blogs and writes.  Some of these things could change.  Some of these things cannot.  But the only way to truly “give thanks” for the life I’ve been given, is to accept my life (in this moment and in all future moments) for what it is in each moment.

One of the best ways to do that is to follow God’s example through the life of Jesus and apply his experiences to my own.  As a result, through Jesus’ example, I know that the human journey is one that contains moments of deep love (John 13:1) , and great joy (Luke 2:10), where some of us will be fortunate to see –and even participate—in miracles (John 4:48).  (Try telling any mother that the experience of childbirth isn’t a miracle. I’ve given birth three times!)  The human experience is one in which I will also know wonder (Mark 9:15) , blessings (Mark 5:34) , and friendship beyond measure  (Mark 2:1-5).  Accepting the life I’ve been given, however, means I cannot deny—because Jesus certainly didn’t–that part of the human experience will also involve temptation (Matthew 4: 1-11), suffering (Matthew 26: 37-38) , agony (Luke 22:42-44) and death (Luke 23:46).  It will likely include experiencing what it means to be misunderstood and misjudged and unappreciated, too (Matthew 27:27-31), but it will also include resurrection (Luke 24:5-6).  From this vantage point– this “big picture” view–  it is easier to see that every part of our life, both the so-called “good” and the so-called “bad,” is God’s gift to us.

It is ALL gift, or, as Richard Rohr says, “Everything belongs.”

Accept it.

“Take it,” urges Jesus.

And give thanks.

1.  Life of the Beloved, by Henri J.M. Nouwen

2.  Our One Great Act of Fidelity, by Ronald Rolheiser and The Cup of our Life, by Joyce Rupp.

Freely Given

When I was a tween, I loved the “Flowers in the Attic” books by V.C. Andrews.  They were among one of the first “scandalous” books about love and family I’d read, and they initiated my cross-over from the  babyish “Young Adult” section to the grown-up “Fiction” section of the book store.  In the pages of those books, I had become so engrossed in the lives of the characters, that I was truly sad to say goodbye to them.  So you can imagine my elation when, a short time later, I learned that V.C. Andrews was releasing a new book—the start of another series.  Wanting to read it right away, I knew it would take a while for me to get a newly released book at our local library, so I made a plan to save up my money and buy it as soon as it hit the book store shelves.  For weeks, I saved up my hard-earned money until finally, I bought the book!    That is why it was such a painful decision when my neighbor–somebody that would hang out with me out of convenience of proximity more than out of interest in being my true friend–asked me if she could borrow the book.  I hadn’t even read it yet, and I told her so.  To me, the fact that I hadn’t yet read it explained everything, but she didn’t seem to think so.  She continued to pester me for the book.  She assured me she would take good care of it.  I felt guilt sinking in.  I began to reason the possibilities.  It’s a brand new book.  She might lose it.  She might not ever give it back.  She might drop it in a mud puddle or spill food on it.  There was no way I would give it to her. But then, my Sunday school upbringing and the image of the Santa Clause-like God that was supposed to teach me goodness and save my soul, (even though He seemed a little bit scary, incredibly powerful and very judgmental), pushed the guilt I felt to an intolerable level within me.  The angel of my conscience must have been all but visible on my shoulder.  You should share. Let her borrow the book. It will get you to heaven.  In the end, my conscience overpowered me.  What could really happen? I shrugged and reluctantly handed her the book, fully expecting it would come back to me as good as new.

Not surprisingly, it took weeks for her to give it back to me.  I would ask about it and drop hints that I would like it back pronto, but it seemed that she was in no hurry.  Further, she informed me the book wasn’t nearly as good as she’d thought it was going to be.  When she finally did return it to me, I nearly cried.  While I clearly enjoyed reading books and tucking in bookmarks to mark my pages in an effort of new-book preservation, she clearly preferred to wrap the front cover around the book as she read, and dog-ear pages or leave the book cracked open, face down to mark her place.  The book no longer looked new.  I was sick to my stomach thinking about the generosity of my heart and the sacrifice I’d made to give her the book.  The world had taught me an important lesson:   Don’t be a doormat.  Stand up for yourself.  Do not be bullied into sharing things that belong to you, even if someone makes you feel guilty. 

I never forgot that lesson the world taught me.  I rarely loaned out books at all, and when I did it was only when I was sure I was done with them, totally prepared to lose them forever.  In other words, only when it would be of no sacrifice to me whatsoever.

As the years wore on, I met others who loved books every bit as much as me, but seemed to have no attachment to them at all.  Instead, where my paranoia and need to control who was taking and bringing  books from my personal library had me feeling frayed and frustrated, they would demonstrate—time and again—their lack of attachment by sharing with me books they’d enjoyed, with no expectation or deadline for their return.  Their actions demonstrated for me a new way of handling my books.  For me, it was the “Jesus way,” the flesh-and-blood-God-with-us experience that opened my heart to reconsider my death-grip hold on my books. That experience softened my approach.  I began to share my books a little more freely, but only to those I had faith in, those who were deserving, those who’d earned my trust.  This loosening of control over my personal library left me feeling God-like.  Generous. Almighty. What I failed to see though was that I had only “evolved” into the God of my youth—the Santa Clause-like God who gave toys to only the “good boys and girls.”

Years later, the fact was dawning on me that perhaps my “generous” actions to embody the “image” in Whom I’d been made were no longer a true representation of the God in which I believed.  This was barely a thought, really.  But it is clear to me now this thought was dawning on me because I’d made a new friend who was raising the bar for me in the world of book-loaning.  I had taken note with awe at countless books she’d given me.  Time and time again.  At least a dozen.  Maybe more.  And I mean GIVEN.  Freely.  “You might like this,” she would say.  And inevitably I would.  I would like it.  I would LOVE it, in fact.  And I would tuck it safely on my library shelf, partly because I didn’t know of anyone else who would be interested in reading it, but really–mostly–because I wanted to OWN those books for myself.

Then, barely recognizable, an opportunity presented itself.

Some might call it a “test.”

My husband told me of someone he knew who was really struggling, a recovering addict who was trying to hold his marriage together and stay “recovered,” but who was also feeling so lost and confused and unsure—particularly about God—that he just didn’t know what to do.

I felt for the man as my husband shared his story with me.  I wanted to help him, but how?  Suddenly, I had an idea.  I went and grabbed a book out of cardboard box.  “Tell him he should read this,” I said.  And I showed my husband what I thought would be the perfect answer for this man.  It was my newly bought, unread copy of my favorite author’s book that I had just received from Amazon.  As I showed my husband the book, I felt something stirring inside of me.  A long-forgotten memory perhaps?  I knew this man was struggling.  And I desperately wanted to help. “Tell him to get this book and read it,” I said again, tightening my grip on the book and waving it in my husband’s face.

That lesson of the world was still with me.  I knew that giving things away that were special to me, could leave me feeling very short-changed. This book was unread.  Brand new.  Mine.  I was starting to panic a bit because I had a sinking feeling that I should give him this actual copy, and not make him order his own.  Let’s face it, I knew that when I am struggling–full of fear and doubt and concern and worry—like this man, what helps me most has never been someone telling me to spend my own money, order a book, wait for the book to arrive, and then begin reading.  What has helped me has been someone putting a book in my hand and saying, “Read this.”  Just like my friend had done for me time and time again.  But then a voice of reason chimed in:  if I haven’t read it yet, how do I even know if it’s what he’ll need.  A good point, but quickly forgotten, as my eyes came to rest on the spines of all the books on my shelf given to me over the years by my friend who’d never once asked for reimbursement, nor for their return.  In fact, in that moment I came to the full realization that she’d never even asked me if I’d read them.  And I didn’t know a single person who was more at peace and content with life than her.

I realized then that she, through her actions, had provided for me the experience– the Spiritual embodiment –of “gifts freely given.”

It was the God-like image I was being invited to become myself.

It was also the same opportunity to experience transformation now, just as it was when I was a tween.  The only difference was that now, so many years later, I had the Triune wisdom—the Father, Son and Spirit–of my choices to topple the “worldly wisdom” that had been prevailing within me for so long.  What seemed like “common sense” to hold onto something I’d just bought and hadn’t yet had the chance to enjoy, suddenly seemed hollow and empty in comparison to the opportunity to provide something that just might be the tool this man needed in his struggle.  The “ramifications” of my choices were crystal-clear now:  I was no longer choosing between an angel on my shoulder and my so-called friend’s guilt-trip.  Now, I was choosing between my own selfishness and reaching out to a man in the midst of struggle.  I was experiencing the promise that Jesus made of “his yoke being easy and his burden light.”  The decision was so easy, it could hardly be called a decision.  It was more of a shifting in the wind.  A change in perspective. A “giving in” to the flow of a current much more powerful than I.

“No,” I said then to my husband, “scratch that.  Don’t tell him to get it.  Just give him this one.”

And I see now that both as a tween and as an adult in these two opportunities, I said yes.  But, the first time, I didn’t have the life experience to understand the benefit of my actions, and so I was left with only the “world” pointing out the foolishness of my ways.  Don’t be a doormat.  Stand up for yourself.  Do not be bullied into sharing things that belong to you….  Those thoughts transformed me in ways that I am only now– decades later– beginning to undo:  the hardening of my heart, the giving in to reason, the berating myself for being “too nice.”

For me, had I not stayed on a spiritual journey– not “found God”– I believe it wouldn’t matter how old I lived, I would still have the mindset of my tween-self.  Because without God, without Jesus, without the Holy Spirit to guide me, there are really only two choices in every decision:  one that leaves me feeling like I did the “right thing” or one that leaves me feeling like a “fool.”

Now, as I continue on my journey, I am reminded time and time again through similar opportunities to give away, to share, to be made a “fool,” that it is not so important what we give, or to whom, or even why…but that we do give.  Freely.  Because the truth is that I am neither the “good person” I once thought I was, nor am I the “fool.”  I am merely an “image” of the God I love. And that “image” –in every instance –has the power to transform.

Eucharist: A Meditation

It is a shame how often I make God so small.  He is so much greater than any word can say.  Even the word “he” is such a minimalizing pronoun, because God is not just father, but also mother, love and spirit.  Yet, this God who is so great is happy to shrink Himself to something that I can understand.  Any ounce of my love and attention He can have, He celebrates and rewards.

I see it most often in the Eucharist.  He starts as the seed that must first die in order to grow into wheat.  There, He sits, innocent and vulnerable to, trusting that drought and insects will stay at bay, and trusting the hands of the farmer to pluck Him out as food for all.  In the act of harvest, He is pulled from the soil and beaten and broken into death again, trusting in the hands of the baker, now, to use Him as flour that will rise again in the bread that feeds all.  He is in every grain of it!

He is likewise in the wine.  He is the seed that grows into the vine that becomes fruitful and multiplies, only to be plucked from its source and mashed and beaten into juice and bits.  Bleeding and broken, He is left to rot and ferment to become a source of nourishment for all.

In these ways He gives us life!  He dies.  He rises.

And He offers Himself this way not again and again, but always and forever to be consumed—devoured—by those who love Him!

He is the Perfect Father, the Perfect Mother, the Perfect Lover, the Perfect Provider…and yet.

Yet.

So often, I miss all that.  I do nothing more than get in line, march to the altar and briefly bow my head, and say “Amen” when He is put before me and declared, “The body of Christ.”  Instead, I do it hoping that I have “earned” His love for another week.  Hoping that He is the winning lottery ticket of my life.  From Him I ask so much:  life and health and wealth and luxury and fame.

But for Him?

For Him, my bowing and agreement that this little wafer of bread and this cheap dime-store wine, blessed and broken, is in fact Him?

For Him, this is enough.

Because in that simple act—despite any doubt on my behalf—He has come to rest in me through the violent act of my chewing , swallowing, and digesting His flesh and blood.

And somewhere in that simple act, is the Paschal Mystery taught by the Perfect Teacher in two lessons:

  1.  You are what you eat.
  2. He dies.  He rises.  We die.  We rise.

Amen.