Reconnecting to Our Origins (4)

Angie turned over in her bed and faced the wall. She was recovering from her treatment for breast cancer and worry for her family consumed her. As she thought of her two teenage girls her heart sank. How was she going to tell them that their father wanted a divorce. “I’ve not been happy for a long time,” he had told her the night before. “I’m going to be leaving. You and the girls will be fine now that you are getting better.” Over and over again the words “will be fine” ricocheted across her brain. “Fine.” She didn’t feel fine. She didn’t know what she was going to do. She didn’t know how she would make it on her own.

I met Angie shortly after. As she told me her story I realized how alone she really was, since she had moved away from her family into the area for the sake of her husband’s education. He was leaving her now for a student he had met while working for his doctorate. How could she have been so stupid to bring her girls here, far away from their grandparents…and now this…with no support. How could she have done this, she asked herself over and over again.

As we explored how this situation made Angie feel about herself we noticed a pattern across her life-span of feeling unworthy, powerless, and no good. A memory from her childhood surfaced of her father telling her she couldn’t do anything right. She had brought home a report card with two Bs. She had been sent to her room to study, while he took the rest of the family to the movies. That sense of isolation and worthlessness had eaten away at her self-confidence. Timid and fearful, she seemed to always have been waiting to discover again that she wasn’t good enough, wasn’t wanted.

I led Angie through a very simple practice of prayer. After she became present to herself and aware of her breathing, I asked her to relax her body from her head to her toes. Quietly she looked at her thoughts. She noted her emotions. She observed her judgments of herself, others, situations.

“You are not your thoughts or your feelings,” I told her. “Often our judgments are like tall stories…. They are not based on a whole lot of fact. To get unstuck, we need to first separate ourselves from them.”

I taught her a simple prayer she could say quietly, each phrase on a breath: I am – here – now – Yours, O Lord.

Before Angie left, we invited Jesus to be with Angie when she was a little girl, left in her room alone to study. She told Jesus what she was feeling, how angry she was, how powerless, how unworthy. I asked her just to watch what Jesus did. I prayed quietly as she allowed Jesus to come into her heart in this very special way.

After a while I asked what Jesus was doing. Angie wiped her eyes. “Jesus sat down next to me and took out a chess board (Angie loved to play chess). He had all the time in the world just to play with me, to make me happy!” I asked her how that made her feel. “I can’t believe someone could love me. It feels warm. Beautiful.” Over the next few months we began to explore this image, to strengthen her roots in this ground of her being where she discovered herself to be shaped by and protected in the hands of a loving God.

What is always so awesome, is that this process of reconnecting to our origins, as simple as it is, powerfully changes the practical situations of life without a person even trying. Angie’s husband didn’t change his mind, but Angie began to find herself again, and that began to make the difference.

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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!