The Killdeer

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.

-Matthew 4:1

This is the opening line to Matthew’s story of Jesus’ time in the desert.  It is a perplexing one, and one that at first glance can bring fear and a sense of foreboding. After all, deserts are known for their unforgiving, barren surroundings.  It is clear that Jesus would not have much to help him if he was going into the desert.  Survival is not a given.  Yet it is there, in a weakened state from fasting, that he is tempted by the devil.  And the most perplexing part is that the Spirit led him to this!

The message then, is a strong one:  go to the place where you are vulnerable, hold onto that place and endure it for a while, and you will find something new.

I see the truth of this in nature each spring.  We have many killdeer in our part of the country.  And they are chatty and somewhat pestering birds when you get near their nests.  You will often stumble upon their nests unknowingly because unlike most birds who build nests in trees or high places, killdeer put their eggs right on the ground and use camouflage as their main source of protection.    They sit on their eggs like most birds, but when you get too close, they do an interesting thing…they feign injury.  They run off their nests and, as my dad says, “flop around and give you the broken-wing treatment.”  Which is exactly what they do.  They flop around on the ground, squawking and carrying on so that you think they are injured.  For animals who act on instinct (like my dog) this is a wonderful distraction as it drives their potential threat away from the nest towards the bird itself (who is not really injured at all), as a means of protecting their young.  It also works for distracting humans as they make quite a scene!

I’m on to their act now, though, so I know not to be distracted by their carrying on, and I go poking about in the rocks and stones looking for their nest, careful of my steps as I could easily crush the eggs if I weren’t careful.  Twice now, I’ve found some eggs hidden right among the rocks.  And there, for me, the message is the same:  new life is waiting to burst forth in the unlikeliest of places, vulnerable and exposed, lying against the harsh backdrop of raw, barren earth.

There is a measure of Jesus’s trust in the Spirit, that I see mirrored in the trust of the killdeer.

To me, the message of Jesus’ experience in the desert and the message of the killdeer are one and the same:  don’t be afraid to start a new life by making yourself vulnerable.  In many ways, this is what the Lenten season is about, really.  Giving up something we’ve been holding onto in place of God.  Letting go of old habits that have gotten a little too comfortable, a little too routine.  We are to shake things up a bit.  Only by doing this, can we see ourselves in a new light and observe how we react and protect ourselves (our egos) from the absolute truth of God.  Only here can we see how easily we let the devil—that is, the great distractor– take our eyes off the new life that God wants to create in us.

There was an encouraging email that went around a few years ago that said, “The will of God will never lead you where His grace will not protect you.”  As we witness Jesus’ encounter with the devil in the desert, we can be certain this is true.  In the end, God sent angels to come and tend to him. Yet, as we read the story in its entirety we find that not only was Jesus able to withstand the temptations of the devil all on his own, but he came out of the desert now sure of who he was.   We’d be remiss to never notice that it was only after the desert experience that Jesus began his ministry.

Reflect:  How has my act of giving something up for Lent, or starting a new habit for Lent, helped me make room for the Spirit of God to create something new in me?  Have I made myself vulnerable enough to let God move in?  If I haven’t gone searching in the “desert” of my heart, what am I afraid of?  How might the Spirit be leading me to discover a deeper calling for his work through me?

Pray:  Guiding Spirit, help us trust you as you lead us into places within ourselves that we’d rather not travel.  Remind us that while we may feel vulnerable and exposed, our fear is nothing more than a distraction keeping us from carrying out your work.  Hold us firmly as we lay open our hearts to you.  Breathe into us the confidence that angels will tend to us, if we are willing to let them, and that a new life awaits us on the other side of our shadowed, broken selves.

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Nail Me Open: A Love Story

Dear Lord,

I am tired. I cannot think straight and I am finding it hard to understand your love for me right now.

But your love is all I can think about.

This morning, I am remembering how in years past I’ve spent this Holy Week feeling the heaviness of your suffering, the sadness of your death.

But not this year.

This year, I sit here thinking of your glorious return. Your unfathomable Resurrection.

Your story is such a beautiful one of joy and love and true power over self and the world, how can I feel anything but joy in remembering this story?

This week, you remind me that you are here to serve me (John 13:5), you are willing to give up all for me (Mark 15:37) you are willing to suffer, be beaten, ridiculed and punished unto death, for me (Matthew 27: 1-56). You tell me with each and every action of your life and with love pouring from your Spirit that I am worth it (John 3:16).

How can that be? Who can love me that much? What have I possibly done to deserve that kind of love? Why am I even here, that you should love me so?

You do not answer me with words, only actions. You wash my feet (John 13:5), you give me food (Matthew 26:26), you ask me to sit with you while you pray (Mark 14:32), and then you wait.

You wait for my betrayal.

And sooner than later, my humanity wins out. I hold onto the world and all it offers me (30 shekels of silver!) and I betray you with a kiss (Mark 14:45-46). Or, at the very least I deny you (Mark 14: 66-72).

And you are taken away (Luke 22:54).

Separated from you, I am without hope. What have I done? I wonder and worry while you are sentenced to death. Even as I don’t want it to happen, I know I will not speak up, will not defend you. I comfort myself with my sinful reasoning that “at least I’m not joining the throngs of people chanting for your death.”

But I can’t prevent your dying.

Even if I could, you wouldn’t let me.

And why?

Because death (yours and mine) is necessary.

And here’s where I’m confused—how can that be true? Why did we have to kill and betray you? Why did you let it happen?

Your answer comes again not in words, but in actions.  You offer yourself up and stretch out your arms in love—and as a reminder to me– you have them nailed open.

Always, always, always I will love you, this says to me(Ps 100:5). And you pour out your Spirit of life into me (John 19:30).

As I sit stunned at the horror of your death, your words echo in my heart…

“Follow me,” you said. (Matt 8:22, Mark 1:17, Luke 9:23, John 21:19)

And I try. Though I am so much more human than you, I do try.

I try to serve others.

I try to feed the hungry.

I pray.

And then?

Then I experience suffering, and betrayal and rejection in my life and I wonder and worry and blame you for punishing me for my goodness!

And you wait and you watch, wondering what will I do? Will I follow you?

But in my humanity, I become afraid and angry and I demand better. I do what you never did: I resist.

This is where the mind boggles and buckles, as the ego tempts…am I really to follow you all the way? Am I to give in now? Give up? Lose?

Then I think of the times you could have been killed, but you slipped away (Luke 4:24-30, John 10:39-42).

And I see now that your death has opened the door for me to slip away, too (1 Cor 10:13). In your forgiveness and mercy you give me another chance to try again, to serve more, to share more, to forgive more…until I, too, can finally let go of this world for the next one (Luke 23:46).

Again and again, bit by bit, ever so slowly, I let go (goodbye excuses, goodbye self-loathing, goodbye perfectionism, goodbye ego) and I open my arms to you (hello love, hello forgiveness, hello reality, hello acceptance).

And I ask you to nail me open, too.

Do not let me close my heart to you, nor to others.

And never, please never, let me stand in judgment without mercy.

Nail. Me. Open.

You taught me this. You showed me this. You lived for this.

You died like this.

I live because you loved me into being.

I die because you love me into New Life.

That is the love… that is the joy…that is the hope of Easter.

It is the Paschal Mystery. It is the Mystery of Faith.

It is a Love Story unmatched in history.

A Love Story for the Ages.

Amen.

Embracing Our Need to Receive

“Life is not a solo but a chorus.  We live in relationships from cradle to grave.”

           -Anonymous

This past weekend I had the great pleasure of spending a day in retreat with some women in my parish.  Many of the women who sat at the same table as me, shared things that have stayed on my heart and in my mind since that day.

It seems I have been called out of my blogging sabbatical to share with you about one thought in particular:  our need to receive.

The story we were reading as a group was the story of a paralyzed man whose friends carried him on a mat in order to meet Jesus and be healed (Mark 2: 1-12, Luke 5:17-26, Matt 9:2-8).  Before reading this story, we were asked to “tell about a time a friend went above and beyond to help you in a time of need.”  Many of us shared how, while we were grateful for those times when others do things for us as part of social convention (like bringing us meals after the birth of a child, in times of sickness, or after the loss of a loved one), what stood out to us most, were the little things others have done for us when we were least expecting them.

Later, we were asked if we could see ourselves as a kind of friend that could appear in the story of the paralyzed man.  One woman bravely admitted that while she would gladly help a friend in need, she had a hard time seeing herself as the one who would allow others to do this for her.

Her comment struck me. While I didn’t say it at the time, I felt the exact same way.  Hearing it come from someone else, though, made me wonder what if we all felt this way?  What if we all wanted to be the one to help, but are not willing to be helped except in times when it’s “socially acceptable”?

If we are truly followers of Jesus, the point is clear.  In his own life, he demonstrated for us that receiving the help of others is a necessary part of humanity.  Jesus was open to receiving from others.  He received baptism through John the Baptist (Matt 3:13, Mark 1:9, Luke 3:21), he received anointing with expensive oils from a woman others rejected (Matthew 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-11).  Beyond that, in the garden as he agonized, Jesus requested help from his apostles to stay with him while he prayed.  (Matthew 26:36, Mark 14:32).

If Jesus, who needed nothing, was able to receive and even request help from others, why should I think I am above similar help?  Seeing Jesus in this way, makes me question whether I have, in fact “picked up my cross” at all, or am I trying instead to create  my own twisted, incomplete version of one?

This first week of Lent–when the spotlight often shines brightly on our call to serve–I am grateful for having also been reminded of our need to receive.  As a result, perhaps the next time I find myself waving away someone trying to offer their help to me I will remember one stark observation made by another woman in our group:  if the paralyzed man had not allowed others to help, no miracle could have occurred.

My Perfect Life at 40

I’d hate to jinx things, but it looks like I’m finally growing up a bit.

I know.

And to think it only took me 40 years.

(I’m sure my mom must be very proud.)

But, as I look back at the three months since I’ve turned 40, and the changes I’ve made in my life, it seems like a logical conclusion.  I mean, I’m getting my diet and exercise under control.  I’m more organized.  I’m staying on top of the housework.  I’m making good choices with the time I have each day.   And even though things like having a daughter with a raging stomach virus slow me down for a bit, I find I’m calmer than usual in the midst of the storm.  I understand there are many things beyond my control, and I’ve learned better how to just roll with it.

In fact, prior to last week’s bout of stomach flu, I would have thought last week was going to be one of the busiest weeks of my Spring.  I’d committed to helping with several things at my children’s school (on top of the “normal” things I volunteer for), and I’d made promises to myself to stay on top of eating right and exercising,  in the midst of all of it.  When all was said and done, even the exercise had to fall by the wayside.  But I kept my eating relatively under control so that this morning, when I did my weekly weigh in, I was still pleasantly surprised.

It seems my One Word idea for this year (SIMPLIFY) combined with my Lenten promise to “give up” my excuses, seems to have moved me forward a bit.  Forward in terms of getting things done.  Forward in terms of letting go of the desire to want everything to be “perfect” and then “stay put”.  Forward in terms of trusting that when things go wrong, a solution will be made known to me for where to go from there.

In SIMPLE terms:  discipline, detachment, and trust have allowed me to move forward.  It’s easy to see now that somewhere in the endless loads of laundry, the nonstop homework paper trail and the miles of errands and activities, I’d lost hope that I would ever feel at peace with the rhythm of life.

The best image I can think of to describe what I’ve come to understand isn’t Biblical.  In fact, it’s not even “grown up.”  But it is SIMPLE.  It’s a scene from the movie Finding Nemo.   The scene where Marlin, the clown fish (who’s anything but funny), wakes up after an intense, worrisome, anxiety-ridden journey to find the EAC (East Australian Current) which he knows will lead him to his lost son.  After many mishaps and near misses, he falls unconscious to a jelly fish sting.  So used to searching for the EAC, he wakes up and quickly realizes that in his unconsciousness he’s lost valuable time to get there.  So he begins to panic and quickly asks the very laid-back surfer dude sea turtle, Crush, to point him to the EAC.

And what Crush says next, is how I’ve felt about the “perfect” life I’ve been searching for this whole time.  Most of my life I’ve searched and worried and worn myself out trying to control and think my way into a better way of living.  But, it wasn’t until I got moving (discipline) and let go of my need to control every little thing (detachment)  and believed that Someone bigger than me had the answers (trust), that I was finally able to see what Marlin saw once Crush helped him “open his eyes:”

“You’re looking for the EAC?”  asks Crush, as he laughs his surfer laugh, “You’re riding it, dude!”

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And though my realization was more of a slow unveiling, than a clear-cut statement, Crush’s words ring true all the same.

Because what is the perfect life after all?  Is it not a life full of hills and valleys?  An epic journey fraught with harrowing moments of indecision and bad choices?  But is it not also sprinkled with moments of ridiculous ecstasy like the birth of a child, or at least the birth of a great idea?

That sure sounds like a “perfect” life to me.  In fact, I find it every bit as obvious from this perspective as I did Crush’s answer to Marlin in the movie.  Suddenly, it seems so silly of me to ask, because God’s answer is so obvious:

“You’re looking for a perfect life?  You’re living it.”

Yep.

And to think it only took me 40 years to figure it out.

The Pharisee In Me

Of all the characters throughout the Gospels, the least relatable to me are the Pharisees.  Those well-to-do, high-and-mighty, laa-dee-da, goody-two-shoes men who have taken their jobs of upholding the law (Their God-given law! The Church’s law!  Man’s law!)  so seriously that they do not see what we, some 2000 years later, have the full benefit of seeing:

They are killing God.

And so I look for the Pharisees around me, and I speak out against them when I see fit.  “Get behind me, Satan!”  I say.  (Only it sounds more like, ”  “That’s just stupid!”  or  “You are so blind to the Truth!” or “How can you say that?”)

And when I’ve successfully changed their hearts and minds, I walk away feeling triumphant in my battle.  I have won!  I have shown “them” the way of Truth!  (Because I know it).

I am impressed with myself.  And sometimes, I can see others are, too.

And I smile to myself, “Look what I’m doing for you, God!”  I say.  (And secretly, I think I’m his favorite).

Until today.

Good Friday.

The day I see what God’s love really looks like:

…the buzzing coud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath’s sake, hitched up….  Herein is love.  This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.   -C.S. Lewis, from The Four Loves

Today I see that if this is what love looks like, I am more like the Pharisees than any other character.  Me, still thinking God’s love is “earned” through careful score-keeping.  Me, still thinking I can “see” God’s truth better than anyone else.  Me, still thinking it is my duty (and my God-given right!) to uphold the Law.

But not willing to open my arms, and my mind, and my heart to those who think differently.  Who live differently.  Who sin differently. And who love differently than I do.

Not willing, despite the fact that I say I am.

Who else can I be in these stories, if not the Pharisees?  Why am I so willing to see myself in any other character of these stories–even Judas, who at least has enough sense to just get rid of himself!–but not the Pharisees?

I don’t know…probably because it stinks to admit that I’m killing God?

I. am. killing. God.

And my breath catches at that realization.

I am a Pharisee.

And the thought sinks into my core.  The awareness dawns that even though I am just now beginning to see the Pharisee in me, our Triune God has seen it there in me the whole time.

And I wonder at that for a while.

I am speechless.

The tears begin to fall, as I want so desperately to hate myself for God.  But how can you hate yourself when God has commanded you only to love?

I don’t know how to remedy that.  In fact, if I understand the stories right, I don’t even think *I* can.

But, what I see in Jesus on the cross, is an act of love.

“Follow me,” he says.  And I want to.

What will my act of love be?

Today, it will be that I will go to liturgy, and I will kiss Jesus on the cross.

And I will ask for forgiveness.  (Again).

And I will feel his love. (Again).

And I will accept his love. (Again).

And I will cry.

Because my heart spills over with this impossible realization:

I am a Pharisee…and he loves me, anyway.

21 Days

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By this midpoint of Lent, I hope you’re finding your Lenten journey has been fruitful!  It is amazing the things that can be revealed to us, as we sit quietly in the desert of our hearts.

I’ve had a bit of a startling realization myself this morning.  Although, to be honest it really shouldn’t be that startling, because it’s almost always the same realization, shown to me in a new way:  the realization that I have a real knack for getting in God’s way.

This morning’s realization came to me after finally writing out in my journal exactly what I’d hoped to accomplish when I began this blog last Lent.  And when I wrote out those memories of what I’d hoped to achieve, I had to face the reality of what was wrong now.

Here’s what I remember about my reasons for the launching of The Mystic Mom:

1.  To share with “the world” (which at that time consisted of my mom, my mother-in-law, and a few friends of mine–Hi, Faithful Readers!), how I “see” God working in my life all the time.  Since I felt that the “mud had been wiped from my eyes” after reading several books by and about mystics (in various faiths…not just Christianity) I wanted to share how the Being that I call God really is a very ordinary and real part of our everyday lives.

And that’s it!  That was the start and end of my list at that time for starting this blog.

But, here’s where I get in the way.  Because as soon as I hit that “publish” button for the first time, a whole new list of thoughts began to form.  You know, those sneaky little thoughts that you try not to even entertain, but somehow seep into your being and attach themselves to the other, simpler, intention?  Thoughts like:

  1. Maybe someone would tell me how much my writing has changed their life.
  2. Maybe that person will tell some other people and one of those people will be a publisher.
  3. Maybe that publisher will want me to write a book.
  4. Maybe I won’t have an idea for a book, and my one chance for ever writing one will be gone!
  5. On the other hand, maybe I will have an idea for a book and it will be published, but not sell.
  6. Or, maybe that book will be a New York Times best seller!
  7. Maybe I will become famous for that best seller.
  8. Maybe I will have to travel the country promoting my book.
  9. Maybe I’ll have to travel the world!
  10. Who is going to watch my children while I’m traveling the world?
  11. Will my husband be jealous that I’m now traveling the world and the kids are more his responsibility than ever?
  12. Will our marriage survive this jealousy?
  13. What will we do with all the money, too?  Will we give it to charity, or hoard it for ourselves and become all focused on riches and wealth and forget all about God?
  14.  OK, Reality check.  The book will never get written.  The world doesn’t need another book.  Especially a book by me.
  15.  I’ll just blog sometimes.  For fun.
  16. Or , when I have something really important to say.   And that I know is coming from God.
  17. And also if I have the time to blog. If I don’t have the time that’s OK, too.  God will surely understand that.  I mean, he blessed me with motherhood three times over.  Surely he knows how busy I am!
  18. God probably doesn’t really need me to say anything anyway.  He’s got a whole slew of angels to deliver his messages.
  19. Plus, there are lots of better messengers than me.  More gifted.  More talented.  Just…better.
  20.  Why am I doing this again?

Do you see what happened there?  Over the course of the past year, I’ve drifted away from my original intention of taking my enthusiasm for understanding God through mysticism to “the world” and convinced myself that I should fear failure, and success, and just about everything in between.  So the posts have dwindled, the keyboard was broken, and The Mystic Mom was silenced.

And in that silence, God was able to be heard.

So this morning, when I  asked God to walk me through this whole process again and show me what it is HE intended (if anything) for me on this whole blogging journey, he very conveniently pointed out how far I’d strayed from my original intention.

Then he very conveniently also pointed out the one thing I’d promised to “give up” this Lent…my excuses.

And I know from experience, that excuses can only be extinguished with actions.  If I begin to act, then the excuses disappear.  This type of action is called discipline (from the word disciple), and it takes a lot of effort–especially in the beginning–to follow, and trust, and allow yourself to be transformed in the being God intended you to be.

For me, the act of discipline is, in most cases, the same thing as forming new habits.  I’ve heard it said that forming a habit takes only 21 days. I hope that’s true.  That’s why I’m announcing today that I will now be forming the habit of publishing a blog post every Monday, Wednesday and Friday through the end of Lent.  I will also tweet and post some other encouraging words on my Facebook page five days a week. 

It’s a start.  I don’t promise my posts will be good.  And I’ll probably surely fail the schedule at least a few times.  But, I promise I’ll get up again, when I do.   Also, in the beginning at least, I’ll probably be doing a lot of sharing of other people’s writings and words instead of my own.  But it’s the action of writing every day that I need in order to get rid of the excuses.

I learned a long time ago that what the Catholic church calls “sacraments” are really actions, not things.  They are actions of God for people.  We call them visible signs of invisible grace.    They are not “received” by us, so much as they are “celebrated” by us.  Because God is always everywhere, so is His grace ever-present.  Sacraments are the principal action through which Christ gives his Spirit to Christians and makes us a holy people.  We celebrate by affirming, honoring and praising our life in Christ through the sacraments.

With that reminder, I am now keenly aware that my writing…this blog, my journal, (a book?), whatever…is my sacrament.

My only real “job” here is to TAKE the experiences God gives me, BLESS them with a grateful heart, BREAK them into a lesson, and GIVE that lesson to others.

Why would I want to make an excuse for that?

A Technology Fast… I’ll Call Him John

For a little over a week now, I’ve been taking what I believe is a Lenten fast from technology.

To be fair, I can still browse using technology  without much difficulty.  But, this has a bit of a one-way mirror effect for me.  I can browse out in Bloggyville and throughout cyberspace, but I’m almost forced to abstain from corresponding with it, or sharing my thoughts.   In effect, I’ve been the equivalent of “struck mute” in the technological arena. In other words…I can really only “listen” to you, and can’t really “say” much in reply.

Perhaps, not surprisingly, this fast has NOT been voluntary.

Regrettably, a family member (who shall remain nameless) spilled apple juice on our laptop over a week ago.  This resulted in keys that very inconveniently now type two letters at a time (and sometimes even perform random functions!) with the touch of only one key.  Were it not for our family Christmas gift of an iPad (or some serious patience with editing, I’d not be able to write you at all).

Ju6st so you6 know what I+’m talki=ng abou6t, I+’ll leave thi=s sentence u6nedi=ted.

See what I mean?

And for added fun, when I try to delete something, I get this:  33333

Currently, we are working on trying to figure out the best way to replace the keyboard.    Until we can figure out the most cost-effective cure for us (yes, we are even running the old keyboard through the dishwasher),  I am mostly silent in cyberspace.  I trust there is a reason for this, though I find it incredibly frustrating to have been rendered “mute” in the season of Lent.  I think of Zechariah and his being struck mute until his wife, Elizabeth, gave birth to and named their son John (the Baptist), as God directed.

Right now, I’m not sure what this forced “silence” is trying to tell me, but when I figure it out, I promise I’ll share it with you.

In the meantime, until my technological “voice” is returned to me, I ask that you head on over and visit  my good friend, Anne at Making Room for God.  She has been kind enough to share her insights and observations with all of us daily as a Lenten Reflection.  So, please go on over and visit her, and I’ll be sure to let you know when all my technical difficulties finally cease.

Until then, I promise you all that if I give birth to anything new in the days to come, I’ll share the news.

And, of course, I’ll name the newborn John.