Archive for the ‘reading the Bible’ Category

From Provincial to Radical: Getting Below the Surface

Friday, May 18th, 2012

I am currently re-reading Henri Nouwen’s last book, Sabbatical Journey The Diary of His Final Year. I read it years ago and found his honesty and vulnerability very moving. There is a journal entry for each day of his sabbatical, and each one sparks reflection.

from http://tennoshima.com/Events.html

In the entry from Tuesday, September 9, Nouwen mentions the occasional retreats he gave with friend Jonas and how Jonas could play the Japanese bamboo flute. He writes, “The amelodic music he plays on the shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute, allows people to experience God’s spirit in ways that words cannot express.”

Learning to stretch

In my reading of the gospels over the past year, I have been struck by a recurring theme: Jesus’ insistence that we get beyond our preconceived notions. As the great Spiritual Doctor, He diagnoses humanity with the affliction of narrow-mindedness: we practice our faith by clinging stubbornly to ritual, all the while being oblivious to the actual meaning. It’s easier (and safer) to blindly follow the rules rather than digging deep to understand their intent.

Jesus challenges us to be radical lovers and thinkers; He means to stretch us.

Leaders bound to ritual

This is evidenced by His repeated confrontation with the scribes and Pharisees, the most learned of the people. Despite their knowledge, these leaders adopt a provincial view of life through their observance of the Law. They flawlessly fulfill the rituals yet have no clue as to how the Law applies to their inner lives. It’s all about outward performance and it fuels their pride and arrogance, blinding them to the Son of God who stands before them.

Talking to myself

Rituals affect prayer too. I can use a parochial approach to prayer, doing my fifteen minutes a day mindlessly reciting my rote prayers and feeling a sense of accomplishment at performing my duty. I might as well be saying the prayers to myself. Jesus is waiting for me to sit at His feet and be with Him and I don’t recognize Him standing there before me.

Following the Spirit’s lead

In the book of Romans Paul writes, “the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” (Romans 8:26). In essence, prayer without the Spirit’s help accomplishes nothing.

Be, not do

The prayers we’ve been taught are good, reinforcing what we’ve learned. They prepare the heart. It’s the next step that requires a more radical approach and that involves acquiescing to the Spirit. My only task at that point is to allow Him to lead me.

It takes effort and fortitude to quiet myself and allow the encounter to begin. Then all effort ceases. And that’s when I sometimes wonder if, in fact, I am praying.

Is it prayer?

Sometimes a wave of peace and gratitude will flow over me.  The result is a sense of love and well-being that wells up inside. It surpasses words and instead, produces tears.

Other times I experience intense pain and swirling confusion, leaving me floundering and helpless.

If during those moments, I turn and face Jesus, they become prayer.

Music as a means to prayer

Nouwen’s description of Jonas’ music reminds me of how easily music leads me to these encounters. I feel almost guilty letting my collection of spiritual and classical music shuffle through my iPod as I drive into work. It’s too easy, there’s no effort.

And that’s when the encounter begins. It’s not my effort that produces prayer but the intercession of the Holy Spirit.

The preparation

Music prepares my heart and soul with a rhythmic kneading, softening what was once hard. I am then prepared to stretch out my hand and allow the Spirit to grasp it, leading me into the inner sanctum.

The experience

In there I could experience a myriad of things: the sense of being loved, deep sorrow for my sins, insight, consolation, maybe even nothing at all. No matter what I may or may  not feel, Jesus is as close to me as my own breath.

Openness to the gift

What a wonderful gift our Lord gives us through His Spirit when we open our minds and hearts and step outside of ourselves. This was the gift He longed to give to the Pharisees but they could not let go.

But like the cripple who, after being healed by Jesus, throws away the crutches and walks freely, I too can employ that same trust, knowing that God will extend His hand and lead me deeper into His heart, and closer to paradise.

In honor of the Virgin Mary and her Assumption into Heaven

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Today on this feast of the Assumption, a simple post: letting pictures and songs tell the story of Mary. We can gaze upon the beautiful faces of Jesus and Mary and thank  God for all the blessings we have received in our lives. We can lay down our burdens at the feet of Mary and ask her to take them to her Son for He will refuse her nothing.

Gaze upon the tender love shared between the two, knowing that we too are included in this intimate circle.

Mary, Queen of Peace, pray for us!

Readings for the Day:
Revelation 11:19a; 12:1-6a, 10ab, Ps 45:10, 11, 12, 16, 1 Cor 15:20-27, Luke 1:39-56

 

 

 

Reading between the lines regarding detachment

Monday, June 27th, 2011

I have just begun a book that will mostly likely be my summer companion. It’s called Fire Within by Thomas Dubay, SM. It’s a thick volume with densely packed type on an intense subject: contemplative prayer, based upon the writings and lives of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Happily this book was also available as an eBook which I promptly downloaded onto my ipod. Because I can adjust the size of the type, somehow the book seems less intimidating. :-)

The need for contemplative prayer

I could not have read this book even 6 months ago. Contemplative prayer demands a surrendered life and had God not prepared me with The Prayer of Mary: Leading a Surrendered Life, I could not have handled this book. It was recommended to me by a confessor (thank you Fr. Moe!) after he listened to me talk about the fear that permeated my life. He knew I needed to surrender my life and tap into the power of contemplative prayer.

Learning to detach

I haven’t even gotten into the “guts” of the book yet but I know I’m going to have to learn how to detach. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’ll detach from my possessions, from money, from the desire to have my own way, ” etc., etc. But I’m finding it’s more than that. I have to detach from my family, my friends, my interests, ambitions, desires, and especially my feelings. For example, I’ve known for a while that I need to detach from my grown children. A reminder today from my daughter and her “I really want to strike out on my own and not be tied to my parents all the time” attitude told me to back off and give her the space she wants until this time passes. I remember feeling that way at her age and it does pass eventually. She’s an adult now and I must let her go.

Feelings can do you in

Then there are those feelings that come up over matters so trivial yet they can have a profound affect on my attitude. My weakness is aggravation and the Enemy knows it. I have a wicked temper and he knows just how to set it off. Until recently I used to believe it didn’t matter if I spouted off when I got angry so long as I did it privately but I learned from God that in fact this was not so (see previous post, The Value of Self Control). It builds a thick barrier between myself and the Spirit, and I find it hard to pray or to love, and it sure snuffs out joy and patience!

So what got me so mad? Ever tried vacuuming a pool? We have an above-ground pool and the vacuum consists of the head (which does the scrubbing and vacuuming), a long pole that the head is connected to, and a very long hose that is connected to the pump. When vacuuming goes smoothly, I rather enjoy it as I love doing anything with water. BUT, when it goes wrong as it did yesterday, it can be an extremely frustrating task. That vacuum thought of every way to possible to malfunction in the form of detaching the hose from the pump, or the head from the pole, or the hose from the head. It must have happened in one shape or form about a dozen times and I was beside myself with aggravation by the time the job was done. Needless to say, my self control went right out the window!

The anger grows . . .

Anger like that lasts and builds on itself. Later on in the day while preparing dinner for my son and his new girlfriend, the microwave kept tripping the circuit breaker. Somehow I got the potatoes to cook but not without a lot of aggravation.

Prayer to the rescue!

When this cycle continued into this morning I knew I was under attack from the Enemy. This is actually the first time that I’ve ever recognized an extended period of aggravation as an attack and I applied the one foolproof defense against it: prayer. I prayed the rosary this morning to try and prepare my heart to hear the scriptures, and then listened to the readings of the day. The first reading from Genesis, chapter 18, verses 16-33 recounted Abraham’s petitioning to the Lord to not exact punishment on Sodom and Gomorrah if there were just a handful of innocent people. The psalm’s response, “The Lord is kind and merciful,” summed it up perfectly. And in reflecting on that thought of being kind and merciful, how could I possibly be either with all this anger inside, especially over such stupid stuff?

I entered into a quiet space with the Lord and relayed my desire to let go of this anger and knock down the barrier it created. I found myself sitting next to Jesus on a dock, and my ankle had a chain around it. The chain was connected to a large barge. With Jesus’ help, I unlocked the chain and we both pushed the barge away with our feet and watched it slowly sail down the river and out of sight. Just as slowly my peace returned and I felt the anger dissipate. And I am happy to report, the attack has ended.

I can see that I have much to learn about detachment!  As in all things in the Christian life, there is so much more in between the lines.

A prayer of surrender

Here’s a wonderful prayer of surrender courtesy of The Catholic Spiritual Direction blog:

Loving Father,

I surrender to you today with all my heart and soul. Please come into my heart in a deeper way. I say, “Yes” to you today. I open all the secret places of my heart to you and say, “Come on in.” Jesus, you are the Lord of my whole life. I believe in you and receive you as my Lord and Savior. I hold nothing back.

Holy Spirit, bring me to a deeper conversion to the person of Jesus Christ. I surrender all to you: my time, my treasures, my talents, my health, my family, my resources, my work, relationships, time management, successes and failures. I release it and let it go.

I surrender my understanding of how things ‘ought’ to be, my choices and my will. I surrender to you the promises I have kept and the promises I have failed to keep. I surrender my weaknesses and strengths to you. I surrender my emotions, my fears, my insecurities, my sexuality. I especially surrender ______ (Here mention other areas of surrender as the Holy Spirit reveals them to you.)

Lord, I surrender my whole life to you, the past, the present, and the future. In sickness and in health, in life and in death, I belong to you. (Remain the Lord in a spirit of silence through your thoughts, a heart song, or simply staying in His presence and listening for His voice.)

I encourage you to read more on this wonderful site – the  Catholic Spiritual Direction Blog.

Thanking my angel – better late than never!

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

I have a long commute to and from work which leaves lots of time for prayer and thought. Yesterday I was reminiscing about my high school days, prompted by the discovery that a youth minister I had known back then had passed away. Although raised in the Catholic faith, I started exploring when I was 15 and ended up joining a non-denominational youth group which originated out of Park Street Church in Boston. The youth minister was the Rev. Wayne Anderson (eternally grateful to you, may you rest in peace). I accepted Jesus as my personal savior when I was 16 and enjoyed the companionship and safety of palling around with a large group of like-minded and fun-loving Christian teens. We spent time playing competitive team sports, singing contemporary Christian hymns as lustily as we could, studying the Bible, listening to dynamic teachings about Jesus, and praying for each other.

This youth group was exactly what I needed at that time of my life. It was a safety net and so much more. My own home life was strange to say the least, in fact dysfunctional, yet because I lived in the middle of it, I never really thought much about it. I only knew that I felt very alone and this group took me in. I gained 1 eternal and 2 lifelong friends out of that experience (one of them being my husband of 32 years).

When I entered college, I no longer had access to this group and I keenly missed the fellowship. My faith came upon hard times and I found most of my beliefs being systematically stripped away. Only one thing remained: all through my teen, college and 20-something years, I never stopped attending mass. My husband had a lot to do with that but I also think it was because I had a gut feeling about the Eucharist. As a child I experienced some beautiful times of prayer after receiving the Eucharist (images of a gleaming hardwood floor, cleaned after receiving; also of a rose bush growing in my heart) and in a sub-conscious way, it taught me that Jesus was present in that bread, somehow.

This foundation was very important to my remaining with the Catholic church. My time in that youth group built on that foundation, showing me what it was like to have a personal relationship with our Lord, and  to share that with other believers. After college I wandered around in a spiritual desert for 18 years, but I never lost that hunger and thirst for God.

At 37 I had a conversion experience that brought me home for good. But in reminiscing yesterday, I realized that I had led a charmed life, and I suddenly started thanking my guardian angel for helping to lead me to where I am today.

I have never paid much attention to my poor angel (whom I have dubbed “Celeste”) but lately I find myself thanking her whenever I escape bodily injury from a potential car accident, tripping, falling down the stairs, etc. In thinking about my life’s journey yesterday, I knew at that moment that she had been leading and guiding me.

So, after 55+ plus years, I want to say a public “thank you” to my dear Celeste and I promise, I will pay more attention to you! God has been so good to give you to me.

Do you remember the Guardian Angel Prayer? Let’s see if I do . . .

Angel of God, My Guardian Dear
to whom God’s love commits me here.
Ever this day be at my side
to light and guard and rule and guide.

Amen.

Yeah, I had to look it up! :-)

Some “murmuring” songs

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

As a follow-up to my last post on the value of murmuring. I thought I would share a couple of songs that I used today for that purpose. Both songs are performed by Steve Angrisano, a Catholic worship leader and youth minister. Each song is done in a repetitive manner so that they are a quick study; they are very easy to sing along with. I find the very act of singing such songs to myself as a way of facilitating prayer and meditation. Most times I do it while driving in to work. Great way to fill up an hour long commute!

The gratifying thing about a song is that it can stick in your head, and you can find yourself murmuring it throughout the day. That way, we can “pray always” as St. Paul reminds us.

Visit this page and you can listen to the MP3 files and purchase them if you like. The songs are “Sweet Redeemer” and “Sacred Silence.”

As I come across more such songs, I will share them with you.

The tortoise really can win!

Monday, June 20th, 2011

I have often lamented the fact that I am a painfully slow reader. I will reread sections, and read every word. Otherwise, I feel like I’ve missed something.

I follow a delightful blog called A Room of One’s Own by a college lit student. She ‘s plunged into reading the classics after having only read current commercial fiction, and she’s keeping a literary journal as she reads. She has read an amazing number of books (and given me a tremendous reference to turn to as I slowly plod through different classics). She wrote a wonderfully thoughtful post wondering whether it was better to read quickly as she does, or read more slowly, like I do.

I have no choice, I have to read slowly, but I envied my friend’s speed reading skills. Until now.

Yesterday at Divine Liturgy, I heard the priest preach about a section in John 14, verse 15 where Jesus states, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Fr. Paul proceeded to explain that following the commandments is not just following a set of rules and then feeling good that you’ve done it. It’s so much more. He used Psalm 1, verse 2 as the example: But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.” He focused on the word “meditates,” explaining that the word “murmurs” is a closer translation of the original text.

Murmuring, of course, involves speaking; in many cases, reading out loud. Students often use this method when studying; people who wish to memorize will also use this tact. Murmuring most definitely slows down the reading process. It also helps one to absorb the material.

While I haven’t actually employed murmuring before in meditating upon the scriptures, I have used note taking as a means of unlocking hidden treasures in books. Often it has involved reading a chapter or section twice to get down all the thoughts I had. Using this method, I spent 3-1/2 months reading a 187 page book! Seems absurd, but I unlocked countless treasures by outlining the chapters and the guts of the book (The Prayer of Mary: Leading a Surrendered Life) really sunk in.

Yet, I ‘d like to try murmuring. I have tried murmuring repeatedly the Jesus Prayer, and even have 3 different versions of it set to music so I can “murmur” by singing. Singing is a wonderful way to murmur.

The art of Lectio Divina invites such murmuring as it requires one to read and then pray on a particular scripture, repeating a line or lines over and over. This moves you into meditation and then divine contemplation (John Michael Talbot’s newest album, Worship and Bow Down, has a song by that title that beautifully lays out how to use Lectio Divina to pray the scriptures. Listen to a clip of the song here – track 17).

I felt a real affirmation yesterday at liturgy from the Lord as Fr. Paul described the art of murmuring. It’s okay to be slow. In fact, it’s good to be slow. As the lyrics to Talbot’s song say, “Prayerfully read the Word of God, prayerfully read, take your time . . .”

I am a tortoise who loves to read, and would like to read like the hare. However, as a tortoise, while I probably won’t be able to read everything I have on my list, I will read what I can very well. A slower approach will facilitate the unlocking of many a treasure in scripture and beyond. Sounds like a win-win to me!