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 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…

 

Day 98- The Mile I read God’s Will

“Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but, above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.” Yehuda Bauer, on Kristallnacht

There is always a moment, a space, a pause in time that we can put our finger on and pause to reflect on the moment that led to the moment.

When we look back and perform an examination of conscience on life’s past events, we can see that before an event took place, there was an event that sparked it, that catapulted it into the next universe. Raising our levels of consciousness in this matter takes patience, time, and openness to the message that God will give us.

The greater picture though are the events that we cannot stop from happening, not the ones we can. The ones where we are helpless, and can only watch from the sidelines. These become movies playing in our minds about what we could or should have done. But the fact of the matter is that traveling to those destinations should not produce in you the anxiety of the should’ve or would’ve, but rather a deeper understanding of who you’ve become and where you are going because of it.

We cannot rewrite these narratives

If we look back on the story of Judas, we often wonder why the Lord would have chosen someone that He knew would betray Him. We become angry and judge Judas for what He did to our Lord, selling his life away and making a deal with the devil. But every word in the scriptures, both the old and the new testament, has a place and purpose.

It is only when we stop and reflect on that purpose when our eyes become open  and we are able to watch God at work

As we sit back and reflect on today’s gospel reading, we remember that every soul on this earth has a purpose, a role to play in the story of salvation. Whether atheist or non-religious, Christian or otherwise, God is universal and uses every soul to write His story. Judas is no different. He is a man who went bankrupt- in spirit and in truth.

He is not unlike the rest of us

Judas’ betrayal becomes the catalyst for the events which place Jesus on a cross. One could say He is responsible for the arrest, torture and death of Jesus. But if you don’t stay in that space, if you make a pilgrimage in your mind to walk a little further, you can also say this.

Judas is responsible for the resurrection as well. 

Although he did not stick around to see it, he should have. Scripture says he killed himself instead. Marred with sorrow and grief, he took the responsibility of the world on his shoulders, and blamed himself unto death. Judas’ suicide was in fact an acknowledgment of his betrayal to God. It was not an act of sin, it was an act of sorrow.

We too can blame ourselves for the pain that we have caused our Lord. And if that were all, we would just stay in that place and not move. This does not produce any fruit, only worldly guilt, that only leads to self-doubt, anxiety and brings death where there should be life.

Godly sorrow always produces life while the world’s sorrow produces only death

If we stay in that dark night, in that betrayal, in that shame, we will find that there is no way out. Reflecting on Judas’ mistake should help us reflect on our own. But that reflection should bring us to that tree, the one where Judas took His life, and have us say, Lord help me die to self. Don’t let it be night in my soul.

We can live the events of Holy Week in a more profound way if we enter into the mystery, place ourselves in the story, and not judge the people that we read about. Both the Old and the New Testaments were given to us by God as a great gift. But more than that they were given to us as a last will and testament by God.

So today as you are opening up God’s word, remember you are opening up not only His will but His will, what he has left behind for us, a direction, a disposition of his property to us. And a will is not meant to be buried away, it is meant to be read, so that a person can determine what they get.

Don’t miss your opportunity to see what God has left you

 

Day 97- The Mile I Broke

The dance of the perfumed oil was not the smell of life, but that of death. It was a preparation, a love story, a total consecration. The one whose heart beat for the one whose heart would soon be stopped. 

The scene of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus and drying them with her hair is a movement of love. It is an act of worship, a passionate “yes.” The contradiction of the time was that is was in fact a  woman, and not a man, who was performing this religious ritual. It was Mary who was preparing Jesus for death.

The subtlety of the movement can be lost if we expect complicated answers. Worship is not an act that is performed for others, it is an act performed for one. 

Her movement was intentional, the dowry that was all that she had, the most precious gift.

The very thing that was meant to make her was the very thing that she gave away

The costly bottle of nard was the entirety of her inheritance, what the world had given to define what she might have been. And while for years the fragrant nard sat listless in that bottle, it came alive at the feet of Jesus with purpose and meaning.

The breaking of the fragrant oil at the feet of Christ was not a waste, it was a rebellion 

And while we contemplate this one small act, this sacred mystery of what that nard may have smelled like, the sweet smell that reaches our nostrils should remind us of the sweetness and the sorrow of preparing ourselves for Holy Week. We too are to prepare the body of our Lord for proper burial, but how do we do that?

By breaking our most precious possession, by breaking our alabaster box

It has been several weeks since our vulnerabilities have been exposed, since time at home has forced us to stare into the eyes of our maker. We have found ourselves helpless, crying, desperate and out of control. We have realized that we are small.

And in that smallness, we have either continued to live our lives as if God did not exist, or we like Mary, have fallen at the feet of Christ and found ourselves desperate and unworthy. Mary did not break that alabaster jar to have it go to waste, we too should not break ours without counting the cost.

And what is it in your alabaster jar that you do not want to break it?

Do you refuse to give alms because the church is closed?

Have you accumulated earthly treasures that you have hoarded away?

Are you holding on to that very important thing- your job, your pride, whatever it is that you refuse to let go, refuse to break, because you think that it belongs to you?

Would you not rather be able to break that alabaster box of your own free will in an act of worship and total devotion to God rather than have the sin of man break it for you?

What is in your alabaster box?

Sit with these questions. The answers will come to you. If it’s all that you have, if it is everything, you must count the cost.

Have you truly counted the cost of being a follower of Christ?

It will cost you everything…

Heavenly Father,

I have been clutching my alabaster box close to me and am unwilling to break it for you. Now before your passion and death, I beg of you to expose me, to help me to break it, so that I can be free to serve you with my whole heart. I have waited for this very moment, like Mary, to give myself away to you, as the bride does for her bridegroom. I am here at your feet, box in hand, waiting for your words.

In Jesus Name,

Amen