Be the Instrument

Saturdays are for Mary. I get her. More importantly, she gets me. I didn’t love her so much at one time, but I grew to love her because my heart was fervent for her. As a converted Catholic, I committed to giving her a chance, to knowing her more deeply and to accepting the Church’s teachings on her. I could not understand her role and place in my life and couldn’t quite fit her neatly, squarely into my life’s hectic corners. But I desperately needed her…

I needed her guidance and tender care. I needed to understand how she could pray for me. I was desperate to see how I could get myself closer to our Lord, and knew that she was the fastest and surest way there.

My theological mind told me it wasn’t possible. My intellectual mind told me it didn’t make sense. But my heart, my heart was longing and wanting for love of her, for imitation of her, to be close to her. To read of the Saints that had seen her, the graces she offered, the love she carried with her. It took a short time for me to understand the Marian doctrine, but a much longer time for me to accept it.

I started to see her as an instrument of God’s love. A carrying of His heart. She brought forth divine life and hope. She was a teenage unmarried Jewish girl who was chosen by God to carry the savior of the world. What an awesome and terrifying task. There was so much there for me. The weight of a large divine task, the visibility of this divine responsibility, the loneliness she must have felt, and the knowing that this birth would change the course of history.

I thought of my own journey- pregnant with a love for Jesus as a converted Jewish girl, visible for all to see, my great loneliness in carrying our Savior. I too was an instrument of grace, trying to make my way as a young Jewish girl who had become a Christian. God’s chosen instrument, as I did not choose Christ, but rather He chose me.

It is difficult to be God’s instrument in a world that does not understand. It is difficult to be different. It is difficult to be an instrument of His will with a great desire to play only sweet sounding music when your audience does not understand nor care for your brand of music. Over the years, I have invested in the truth; that I do not play for large audiences, I play for an audience of one.

But I have come to this conclusion.

An instrument is played by it’s musician and the musician is focused on the instrument, not on the audience. That instrument being played is God, and so is the audience we play for.

Mary has helped me understand that. She has helped me keep my focus on Him. She has helped me accept myself as a Jewish girl who has fallen in love with Christ. I trust her, give my all to her, so she can guide me straight to Him.

She is a worthy vessel, an honorable mother, a great protection. She has showed me how to play beautiful music, to use my life for the greatest good and most importantly she has made my crosses sweet.

I don’t pray anymore for God to take my crosses away, but instead to send Mary.

I will always be a Jewish girl who loves Jesus. It doesn’t require further explanation accept to say that I could not imagine my life any other way.

And I will play that sweet music that He has assigned to me, as Mary did, to bring the love of God to the ends of the earth.

Have You Lost your first love?

This morning I got on my Peleton bike for a ride I had planned through cyberspace with a fellow teammate. I had joined a six-week challenge with a group of riders who were dedicated to our Lord. There were hundreds of them, thousands even. Different denominations and time zones, ages and sexes. But in this six-weeks, we were all on the bike for Him- united in our purpose to grow in our fitness journey and in our faith.

I had planned to do a ride “out of order” and posted in our group on Facebook to see who would join me. The same gal that had joined me for a ride last week, raised her hand and volunteered to join me this week. I was excited, thinking that I wouldn’t be alone, riding in the early morning hours. The teams are designed to place “hands on your back” as Instructor Christine D’Ercole would say, and certainly I felt that I would have one.

I got on the bike, GU down the throat, a swig or two of water, towel across my handlebars and ready. I looked over at the leaderboard and noticed another member of our team had joined, but I didn’t see my “friend.” I was sad and disappointed.

We had made plans, I thought to myself.

I was disappointed and felt alone on the bike, but I was determined to push through. Some encouraging words; I needed to do a spiritual “remodel” and remember my purpose- to get better, to ride the race that was set before me, to focus. Still, I couldn’t help but think of my missing “friend.”

I received many high-fives on that leaderboard, even some from another teammate of mine who was riding. But nothing compensated in my heart for my “friend” and I wondered if she was ok. Had she abandoned me? Was something wrong?

The high 5’s kept coming in and I felt stronger. I embraced the hands that were on my back. I was riding stronger than ever, listening to the instructor’s cues and remembering my purpose.

By the end of the ride I was inside of it. The leaderboard seemed to disappear. I was joyful, even too much so. And then came that teammate of mine with more high-fives, the encouragement that I needed. I took it, not feeling so abandoned anymore.

I jumped into a quick stretch and yoga class and decided to post about how phenomenal the ride was. In fact, it was the best ride I had ever taken. I hoped my “friend” wouldn’t be offended, but at least I had that other teammate of mine on the leaderboard and hoped she would see my message.

A minute later I saw my “friend” respond.

It was so great riding with you! Thank you for inviting me!

It was in that moment that I realized that the lady who was high-fiving me was my “friend.” I hadn’t realized it was her. I had mixed up her leaderboard name with her “real” name, and I realized that she was there the whole time…

And isn’t that just like God? When we think he abandons us, He is right there. We sit and we wonder, Where are you Lord, I need you, when in fact He was right there walking beside us, and our eyes simply were not open.

Today if you cannot feel His presence, return to Him. Ask Him where He is. Don’t place expectations on where that may be , but instead let him lead you there. You may find yourself returning to your first love, after having fallen, but this time with Him at your side.

Day 106- The Silent Retreat Mile

Photography courtesy of Kim Stalker ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers.” Acts 2:42

Our numbers differ. Our time differs in which we see the light. One of my brethren at onthepilgrimroad, Phillip, mentioned that our time is designed by God. Now he may have not said it exactly in that way, but he did tell me that day that one- hundred- and- six may not in fact be God’s day one -hundred -and- six for me, but that I should keep at it, keep going, and he was right.

Enter the silent retreat.

Kicking and screaming I went but gently into God’a arms. Where are you taking me? Where are we going? Is it enough that you have removed me from everywhere I have loved? And then I remembered, it was to bring me to the place He needed me; to the next place He had placed on the landscape of time.

Our time differs from God’s. A trek of three -hundred -and -sixty- five days may take us a thousand days. We go at His pace and in His timing, sometimes at lightning speed and other times at a snail’s pace. But we keep striving, keep reaching towards that light, that aching, that wanting in our souls. When we have no peace, it is a sign to dig deep, it is a message to seek God. God is only peace, not a false sense, but a constant. And if this peace is gone, than this is our awakening, our call that something is not right on the inside.

I heard this call to silence, and I began scrambling. I fell off a cliff in my initial descent, plunging, screaming, arms wide and chaotic, crying out to God, can’t you see I’m falling! This is the initial descent of the soul.

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God

When I was done plunging, I heard His voice echo in my soul. He was sitting right beside me. He asked me to give away everything I was scrambling about, all of it. The people and places. The worries and cares. All of it. And so I did. I gave my property and possessions away to Him and asked Him to divide them among all who were in need, all according to each one’s need. I asked Him to bless that.  Then I would be free. Then I could devote myself to Him, be fully embraced by Him, fall deeper into His arms. I could rejoice with Him and cry tears of joy for my freedom. Now that I gave everything away, I was truly free.

The way was clear. No cloudiness, but only openness of soul. My loud cries, my external prayer had turned itself on the inside, like a baby ready to find its way out into the world. All else faded away except the song in my soul, the freedom and the god man sitting next to me. I repented for holding on to all of these earthly things and asked His forgiveness. He touched my head, than my hands with a smile.

Now you understand my child…

He said He knew me before I was born. That He formed me in my mother’s womb. That He dedicated me as a prophet to the nations, appointed me. That this promise of His did not change. That He and the promise had stayed constant, that all of the other stars pointed me to this very moment. Oh, how my soul sang!

This is what you long for. You long for community. You long for me. You long for the center, which is the Eucharist and the people that surround it. You long for my plan and for my purpose for you. But in all these things my precious child, long for me first. Want me first. Seek me first, and all these things shall be added unto you. My will is not apart from me, it is a part of me. 

And so I sat there, as the minutes flew by my tears flew too. I was no longer defined by anything, but by Him, my great Master. I will only be what He wants me to be, what He designed me to be, and give that all away to the community to which he will bring me. And by the giving away of self in the silence came the sureness of self, the answer to prayer, the song in my soul.

He gave me everything

I am no longer afraid. I am ready for Day 2, which took me one hundred and six days to get there.

Thank you Phillip.

 

Day 105- The Blooming Mile

“Mary Magdalene stayed outside the tomb weeping.” John 20:11

When the other disciples returned home, Mary did not. Attached to her Lord and overcome by grief, Mary stayed weeping by the tomb. Unable to remember the scriptures or unaware of them in that moment, she was consumed by her feelings of loss and loneliness. The one who had saved her, who had made her new was now gone. And she left with this new life in Him, was alive in her skin but dead in her soul, dependent on Him for every breath of her life. 

Mary’s weeping is the loneliness we feel in our sorrow and grief when we know the truth but are overcome by human emotion. We, like Mary, can choose in those moments to stay outside the tomb and wait for Him or take our sorrow into the world where it will quickly be tossed aside.

The greatest comfort of Christ is found beside the tomb

Why is it that in our greatest sadness, Christ comes to us more real and prevalent than ever before? Because He is the One that knows sadness and grief, because He had to die to be glorified, because we have a high priest who sympathizes with us in our greatest weakness. Jesus did not come to prove to the world that God was real, Jesus came to show the world what God looks like with skin on.

In our human flesh, the divinity of God is a mystery that we can hardly understand. We can understand Jesus because He looked, talked and ate just like us. He experienced human emotion, made friends and was part of a family. Jesus was relatable because He became poor, not in the monetary sense, but in the sense of spirit. He knew what it was like to be human.

So when we come to Him empty, He knows that emptiness- He experienced it cold and alone in that tomb. He has encountered all that life has to offer, which is nothing outside of Himself. And that’s why Mary was weeping, because she knew and understood that. She knew that without Him, she was nothing. What she failed to realize was that He was always with her, stronger than ever before, defeating death for her so she could live fully and eternally on earth as it is in heaven.

But the depths of Mary’s despair are a beautiful reminder of her deep love for Christ, her self -realization that He was everything to her, and her inability to move on with her life without Him. And this should be our story too. To sit by the tomb with Mary and miss Him, to come to the self-realization that we have filled our emptiness with things other than Him and to reconcile ourselves to Him. Time beside the tomb weeping is not wasted time, it is precious.

The seeds of our tears produce the flowers growing beside the tomb of Christ

Today, spend some time beside the tomb, engaging in this spiritual exercise.

Sit in Silence.  Allow any emotion that comes to you to flow. And allow yourself to be reconciled to your Lord- for the things you have not done, have not said. For the people you have not invited back in. Allow His forgiveness to flow, from His heart to yours. Hear Him say your name, because He knows it. Sit in the intimacy of the moment. Allow His love to flow through you. Do not leave the tomb until your tears and joy are taken care. Until you hear Him call your name. Until you see the flowers bloom.

Day 104- The Mile I left the tomb

“And behold, Jesus met them on their way and greeted them. They approached, embraced his feet, and did him homage.” Matthew 28:9

Two minutes before, the women were still at the tomb, afraid. The lover of their soul was not there, and they experienced a mix of fear and joy like never before. A healthy and reverent fear of God mixed with the joy of Easter, knowing that everything was about to change.

Easter was not spent at a temple or a church, it was spent at a tomb

Empty, cold and lifeless. And the first Easter included only two women, unknown to the world, and without titles or fame. Yet the Lord chose them as His resurrection disciples, why? To show the world that He chooses the weak things of this world to shame the wise. That forever and in eternity these women will  be known, loved, and adored by our resurrected King. In God’s economy, the weakest are the most powerful, for they hold the keys to the Kingdom.

Why did the angel first invite the women to see the inside of the tomb before he admonished them to go quickly into Galilee? Because one must spend some time inside of the tomb before experiencing the joy of Easter. And Jesus admonishes us to do the same.

This message can be lost if we do not fully transition ourselves from Lent to Easter. If we do not leave the emptiness of the tomb behind for something more. Jesus is telling us not to stay there. Not to stay in sadness and mourning, but to enter divine joy. 

This may be hard for us to do right now. Our Easters may have felt lonely and cold. We may have felt empty inside, missing friends and family, and our memories. Many people around the world were also ready to enter the church on Easter, and now find themselves still desperate and waiting for our Lord. This message is for them too.

Today, we are not at the tomb. Our emptiness must subside. Today, the Lord will meet us wherever we are, unable to move, moving or walking backwards. In that, get down on your knees and pay Him homage. If you are able to do that you are not inside the tomb, you are in the sunlight of Easter.

 

 

Day 103- The Resurrection Mile

“On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb”

John 20:1

While we still lie in darkness, while the earth lies in gloom, we slowly slip away to visit the place where our Lord is buried, to marvel with Mary of Magdala, at the stone that had been rolled away with wonderment and awe. The earth is heavy, but the heavenly grave is not, filled with hope and the anticipation of a new day. In the darkness, we are with her, tears and smiling, knowing that we do not have to see His body to believe in His resurrection. The emptiness testifies to it, that is where He is.

In the thickest of fog and dark night of the soul is the voice of our Lord. He is with us in our deepest pain, creating joy in madness. And when we see the emptiness, we do not run away from it, but towards it, to marvel at the work of the cross. What a great mystery!

To find God, one must come running to nothingness

When we’ve abandoned ourselves, our ideas of who God is and what He looks like, we too can visit the tomb with Mary. But unlike Mary, we can run with confidence back to our homes, our friends, and shout, He is not there! He has been raised!

It is the great hope of Easter that makes me a Christian. The knowing that out of the darkness will come a great light.

The embrace of the dawn, just before the rising of the sun, is the embrace of Christ

We are an Easter people. We believe in the darkness. We rejoice at the grave. We see the miracle in the dark sky before the sun has arrived. This is God’s grace.

What other faith do we need? Is there another promise that can bring us gladness? Everyday on the calendar is spent in the joyful hope of Easter, knowing that God has bigger and greater plans for us, on earth as it is in heaven.

Why do we seek the living among the dead? We know darkness because we know light. Today, let the emptiness of the tomb fill us as we await our Risen King.

Let us be an Easter people for our Lord

 

Day 102- The Mile I thirst

I thirst…

I miss everything about the Eucharist.

Its free grace. The ease on my tongue. Your love wrapped in it.

The way You hold me when I do not deserve it. 

The entryway to heaven. The gift of peace. The song of redemption.

In all this, I long for you O Lord.

On my knees, I am empty. You are not there.

When I cry out to you, you are not there.

Your body is a song, and I cannot hear the lyrics.

My love seems empty and cold.

I long for you to hold me in your embrace.

My Father, where are you?

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

 

Born of a Spiritual exercise taken from Father Dan’s 3 p.m Good Friday homily. Watch it here.

 

 

 

Day 101- The Mile I found Jesus

“But Peter stood at the gate outside.” John 18:16

Omission is just as bad as commission. Looking on or acting on. Looking away or looking towards. Our gaze determines our infidelity- where are we looking now?

One of my most beautiful and precious friends asked me this profound question yesterday, “why did He have to come?”

Of course she knew the answer to that question, but asked me from a Judaic perspective. I had to sit with that question for awhile as I made a pathetic attempt at an answer. But all I could muster up was my story.

I told her that in my own journey, my initial seeking after God became more religious in nature- wanting to keep kosher, keep the shabbos and invest myself in all of the Jewish regulations. The more I tried, the more I failed.  And in any event, as a woman, I would never be able to celebrate God in the way I knew Him, in the way I was trying to find Him. And these rules which I held so dear in my heart became chains, became snares. And I broke these chains in a sign of rebellion against those rules to find freedom. But freedom brought me great misery, brought me to loss, brought me to my knees.

And on my knees lost is where Christ found me 

I didn’t understand at the time how my answer had anything to do with the question she posed. Like Mary, I took it with me in the silence of my heart and let it sit, so as to be enlightened by God’s wisdom through the womb of His Blessed Mother. It was old to new. Death to life. Flesh to Spirit. But what was the answer to her question?

Why did God make me a Christian?

Peter was Jewish. All of the first disciples and communities were Jewish. Mary and Joseph were Jewish. And so was Jesus. 

Jesus grew up in an observant Jewish household. Went to temple. Worked. Studied. Was bar mitzvahed. Celebrated all of the Jewish holidays. Was part of the Jewish community. Until He taught them something new. Until He stood up for what was right. Until He taught them to observe the law in a way that they had never considered before. And for that they wanted to kill Him.

And so they handed him over, away from the only love and community that He had ever known. He was betrayed, beaten and ultimately crucified. And while the rest wrote him off as a blasphemer and traitor, his mother and dearest friend stood by him, so he was not alone.

And where were the rest of his disciples? They went into hiding. One unto another in their own separate hiding places, leaving their friend and Master to die. No matter that they had left Him, they were safe now. And the ties of friendship and community that had been built over a period of years was washed away. 

Our greatest tests come in times of great tragedy. Will we too abandon God?

I considered the story again from a Jewish perspective. I had been one of those in community. I had studied the Torah as much as I was permitted to and understood its precepts. I had gone as far as I was permitted. When I tried to follow farther, I was unable to- not because I didn’t want to, but because it wasn’t allowed. And in order to find God, I had to leave Him behind. But I didn’t. I carried Him with me unknowingly.

My whole search was filled with God. My travels, the people I met and the losses I suffered. Before I became a Christian, God had me walk through some high peaks and dark valleys.  I got married. The closest person in my life died, my beloved grandmother. I suffered through infertility and miscarriage. Then the birth of twins. Then another baby. A new job. My best friend left me. New friends came into my life. Then darkness and chaos. Then Christ.

Why did Christ have to come? He had to come so I could live. I can not answer this question for anyone else. The answer is personal and intimate and makes up the DNA of who we are in Him.

When we reduce that question down to a certain sect, religion, history or time it doesn’t work- it becomes cold and endless. Theologians debate it. Old and new covenants. Prophecies and fulfillment. They are all wonderful and intellectually stimulating. But they do not answer the question. They do not fill the soul.

On this Good Friday, the third night of Passover, ask yourself the same question.

Why did He have to come?

Your answer may surprise you…