God Asks Us the Favor of Our Love

This morning, Christmas, I am meditating on the birth of Christ, kneeling next to Mary, a new mother, perhaps 15 or 16 years old, cold, under a blanket, in the dark, as she looks at the miracle before her: God made flesh, Emmanuel, the Everlasting One with Us Forever. I was 15 years old when I entered the convent. 15 is young to become a mother or a nun. In my prayer, Mary called me over and I knelt beside her and let Jesus curl his hand around my finger. Here is a moving passage from a book I received for Christmas, “The Life in Christ” by Nicholas Cabasilas. It encapsulates this mystery of love in our Christmas prayer:

God is not content to remain where he is and call unto him the bond-slave he loves so dearly, but he descends and seeks for him himself. He, the Almighty, stoops to the lowliness of our poverty. He comes himself, declares his love for us, and it seems almost that he is asking a favor of us. When we refuse he does not withdraw, he is not wounded by our rejection; rebuffed, he waits at the door, does all to show his abiding love; he takes on himself all these humiliations and dies.

When we are older we look back at things we wish we had or hadn’t done. We feel bad things hadn’t turned out differently. We might feel that time is running out. We are no longer 15 or 16 with our life ahead of us. This Christmas Day God has come seeking for me and for you. It is our poverty that attracts him. He is not put off by our fascination with the things that glitter in this world. He is here only to love and to die of love if that is what it takes to win our love. I think of a man asking a woman to marry him. “Will you wed me?” God asks me and you. Today is the day to think about your answer, or why it is taking so long to answer the only sensible answer: Yes!

May this year be the time when we decide to take on the mind and heart of Christ: Love. To Love Him. To Love in self-giving compassion those near and far. To Respect Ourselves and the Dignity we have been given as the Son of God took on flesh and lived among us.

Merry Christmas!

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Guarding Our Minds

It wasn’t till I started following the news more closely on the internet, and now on my cell phone, that I found my mind invaded by fears, confusion, uncertainty about my place in a world so filled with violence and pain, my mind progressively collapsing in on itself even as it hungered to see and read more and more.

Our minds were made to remember God and God’s action and benefits in our life. Does that mean we don’t care about or hide from the problems that riddle the lives of others in today’s world?

Today I turned to the annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Zechariah and the annunciation to Mary to find my way. The angel could have talked about the Roman occupation, the poverty in the community, the political efforts to find a just life. Instead he called Zechariah and Mary to rejoice. He came to bring good news. He announced what God was about to accomplish in the world. The canticles of Zechariah and Mary, the Benedictus and the Magnificat respectively, are very similar in their responses: They bless the Lord, offer thanksgiving, proclaim the continuity of God’s faithfulness from ages past to the end of the ages, and, particularly in the song of Mary, announce what God is going to do as already accomplished.

Both Zechariah and Mary lived through and endured the tragedies of life. Both saw their child enter the public stage, manifesting the vindication and compassion of God in the face of obstinacy and rejection, both lost a child to persecution and martyrdom. But I would like to believe that the verses of their Canticles were the memories they carried through their life, the remembrance of God forever in their mind and imagination. Through all situations of clouds, confusion, and darkness, they proclaimed that God is faithful, God has a plan that includes them and their child, that they don’t understand the plan and can’t personally advance it other than through surrender and trust.

The news is in our pockets and on the screens at our desk and in our homes. It is omnipresent. Our minds were given us for the remembrance of God that we might become deified. God is omnipresent, not as a passing ticker of news, but as an eternal Rock upon whom we can put our trust. It’s actually very simply. Memories and imagination filled with the remembrance of God leave no room for the incessant army of passing thoughts that invade our soul with fears and trouble. The remembrance of God is not an escape from reality. The remembrance of God is the proclamation of Reality.

Stand diligently at the gate of your heart

Imagine standing at the edge of the ocean at the sunrise, the breeze blowing through your hair and rustling your clothes, the sea gulls overhead calling out to each other as they play on the edge of the breeze, fresh air filling your lungs…. A new day ahead. The past slipping away. Worries and plans and fixations melting. You are becoming one with yourself, one with the beauty around you, one with the sacred presence of God reflected in the beauty before you.

Deep within is the feeling of peace. Your inner gaze is stilled. Your mind silent. The tyranny of accusing thoughts or expectations ceases and life becomes what it was meant to be. Here you might be able to touch the sunrise within you. A sunrise that is forever promising the bloom of new life.

We don’t live our lives standing at the edge of the beauty that announce that God is again doing something new for us for one simple reason. We are trapped in the rigid repetition of thinking that is poisoning our spirit.

Recovering Myself

Depression, if we’re honest, is a fleeting companion in all of our lives. If we haven’t been officially diagnosed as suffering with a form of depression, we slip in and out of depression after listening to the news, or discovering a favorite nephew has left the Church, or thinking about a gargantuan project that just seems too much for our present energy. Maybe once we could respond with emotion and energy to the challenges of life, but there are times when we simply want to sit down and ask ourselves, “Is this really all there is to life?”

Finding the question at the bottom of the malaise is an important first step to embracing the darkness. Depression follows from fleeing the phantoms in the shadows. Life-giving energy grows from facing them. This week-end I was out at a Church preparing an exhibit. For the past couple of days I’ve felt out of sorts. At the bottom of the disheveled spirit I carried around behind my smile was this question, “Is this really all there is to life? Is this as good as it gets?” A scary question to ask… Perhaps this question leads mid-lifers into abrupt changes to try to recapture the energy and excitement of earlier days.

Yesterday I spent the day on retreat not fleeing the question but facing it as a teacher. No books, no prayers, no beads. I prayed simply. The Jesus prayer filled the halls of my heart: “Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.” I looked directly into the thought, “Is this really all there is to life?” and discovered that I was not there, there really was no subject of that thought. It was just a thought. It dissipated just as all thoughts do, those clustered of opinions and fears and conjectures that come and go in our heads. I instead was the silent and vast openness that even in the nighttime of depression was yet united with the Infinite Ocean of God’s Being who has given me birth and holds me moment by moment in life. I am the one who proceeds forth from God’s mouth, a word spoken by God to the world, simple, silent, alone. I could be comfortable with this solitude.

Little by little, as hours slowly passed, I recovered a deep peace. I recovered myself.

Can I just be a bush?

I’ve been rather anxious lately, that all around uncomfortable feeling that has no beginning or end, no rhyme or reason, no explanation for its reappearance in my life. I tried analyzing it, understanding it, de-stressing, sleeping, reading…. It wasn’t until this morning that I touched the sunrise:

In the book of Exodus, when the Lord appeared to Moses, he did so from the midst of a burning bush. The bush wasn’t special, different, accomplished, amazing. God chose that bush for his own purposes. The bush was there, doing what bushes do. Insignificant and yet the bearer of divine Majesty. The channel of God’s self-revelation that would lead to the Exodus, prefigure the Passover that would be celebrated by Jesus on the night before he died, and ultimately transfigure all of human history.

Can I just be that bush? Open, willing, nothing more than what I’m given to be?

What peace.