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 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 100- The Mile I stopped to wash your feet

“Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person.”

St. Teresa of Calcutta

It is a concept that Mother Teresa touted but was little understood by the masses.  Person to person interaction. The act of one. 

Although the culture lifts up Mother Teresa as a demi-god, her heart is often misunderstood. Her lessons are deeper and more profound then simply serving the poor and the dying.

Her heart was for the dignity of the human person. The right to die with love. And the understanding that we are all poor and dying, each of us in our way.

As a young Jewish girl, Mother Teresa’s impact on my life was profound and I invested in her philosophy of servitude and deep love. In her acts of kindness and humility, I found the God of love, and unconsciously my soul opened up when it contemplated service to others.

As a sexual abuse survivor living in the 1990’s, there were no outlets of help. My cries became muted and I had to move on. My body was dead but my soul was not, in fact it was the only thing that was keeping me alive…

It is important to note that our deepest purpose comes from our deepest pain. In God’s economy, he uses it all, every last bit of it. In understanding Mother Teresa’s profound love in service, I found a way to express my pain in a tangible and healthy way, pouring myself out like a libation for others. The more I gave, the more I healed, and I soon found myself at the feet of the least and lost of our society.

How was I able to serve them? That’s easy.

I was one of them.

The difference for me from death to life was the understanding that self-loathing is different than humility. Hating one’s self is contradictory to the very essence of who God is, as I learned later on as a Christian. That we are made in the image and likeness of our Heavenly Father, and God cannot hate himself. 

Therefore, humility was an entirely new concept to me. That I did not have to hate myself to love God. No, quite the opposite was true! I had to love myself in order to love Him and serve Him. It was only after this great epiphany that I was able to heal.

I served whoever I could and made it my life. I started when I was sixteen and never stopped. The ability to begin the healing process without a single word spoken was powerful and set the stage for the plans that God had for my life. It seemed that there was no triumph or tribulation that I couldn’t endure- until I couldn’t.

You see service without the consciousness of God is simply that- service. It is self-reliant and many times full of pride- indulging ourselves in our “good works” to show the world. Service becomes a resume and an ego builder, and not an act of humility before the divine master, even for those of us that have committed our lives to public service.

And so through my transformation of being in Christ, my healing through recovery, and my service back to my sisters who were also victims of sexual abuse, I learned how to wash the feet of my Master.

We often think of this scene with Jesus, the washing of the feet, as us having to go out and wash the feet of the “poor” in the secular sense. If in fact you look at the sentence again, Jesus admonishes his followers to wash “one another’s feet.” In other words, each disciple should wash the feet of the other disciple. He is saying in fact to you, who do you consider your equal? Wash that person’s feet.

That is humility.

This will look different for everyone. As you examine this verse again and think of your colleagues or those you identify most with, the thought of serving those people may be more difficult for you than to go out and feed the homeless. This is exactly what Jesus is talking about. The kind of service that nobody sees. The kind that you wouldn’t tell anyone about.

We are supposed to serve those people that God has brought into our lives, even if some of those people are in our lives temporarily. It could be people you work with, family members, ministries you are involved with, or friends.

If it is easy, you are probably not serving the right group of people, try again. 

“For if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” Luke 6:32

She said Yes

In the 4th installment of “The Wild Goose” Series by Father Dave Pivonka, I was awestruck at the simplicity and complexity of the message all at the same time- Mary’s Fiat. 

Let it be done to me according to thy word

God’s Will is the center of the universe in our lives. But as I have ebbed and flowed and felt the current of the world and its many waves, I have longed for eternal peace. 

At the tender age of three, I began experiencing communion with God. His light, His love and His gentleness. And I’d like to tell you a beautiful story about how that billowed into a cloud of divine exquisiteness, but it did not. Or maybe it did.

My sexual abuse began at the tender age of 4 or 5. So God’s Presence at three became a great force in my life that protected me. I never doubted that God loved me. In fact, I truly believed that I was created to suffer and die for God. It wasn’t until Jesus entered my life that I learned that there was someone else that already did that for me.

In group, we talked about those ways that God became present to us even amidst the abuse. Many women recounted stories of horror that included such beautiful light. God was present in so many ways during these times, and I see now looking back that it was a gift from God that I never doubted Him, His Presence or His love for me, even amidst the suffering. I was not one who left Him. He was always such a beautiful part of me. And even my grandmother, God rest her soul, was sent as the embodiment of the unconditional love that I needed. And the thought that I had in the back of my head that weaved in like a thread was this- Why would God create me to be so intelligent, so loving, so creative only to kill me?  There was this sense I had within me, this war I had with my conscience that He wanted me alive. Yet I thought there was more glory in my death, and of course this was a thought from the evil one.

I am 41 years old and still alive.

Father Pivonka said that on his tombstone, he wanted one thing said about him. 

FATHER DAVE PIVONKA,

HE SAID YES

HE SAID YES

I had to take a breath. 

This is acceptance of the Divine Will. Of the things God allows and those He does not. Of the people and places and things He surrounds us with, and those He takes away. Of the acceptance of it all. Of the fiat.

God’s Holy Will is a reaction. It is not forward movement by us, but by Him. It is  responding to His call, a step closer to His sacred heart. It is an emptying of ourselves over and over and over again.

I think about my tombstone often, and have for many years. But these days, I do not think about it in the context of morbidity, but of light. That I know for certain that I was not destined to die, but to live- in His Will and in His divine light. 

Father, 

Help me to embrace those three Holy words

SHE SAID YES

Watch the Series, The Wild Goose here

 

The Spiritual Bouquet of Christ

Easter has begun. And not just in the source life of the Church, but in the hearts of many believers. Easter is the promise of hope, the resurrection of our forgotten dreams, the time when our bodies are so badly beleagured by Lent, that the only place to go is up. Our hands are outstretched, we are on our knees, we have barely crossed the finish line. We are tired, hungry and ready to surrender.

This is exactly where God wants us to be

My ego is surrendered to my Maker. I have been humbled and afraid. I have cried and crawled and begged for water. I have sustained myself by every word that comes out of the mouth of God. I have hung on to Him when there was nothing else to sustain me, the imprint of His mother’s rosary beads in the palm of my hands. I came out of Lent covered in dirt, barely breathing. I came out exhausted and longing for change. I was beaten, battered and often times alone. And only my God could save my wretched soul.

I was exasperated when Easter did not produce the type of fruit I imagined. I felt desperate and disappointed and heard the words this-was-all-for- not repeat in my head. I was walking around in a daze.

Where are you God?

Until I met up with a friend. I prayed earlier that day for Jesus to show up, and He did. Her words changed me forever. It was an explosion of flowers. It was spring. She reminded me that Easter was not a day, it was in fact a season.

What a game changer! I had been living liturgically for so long, but realized that I still fashioned a bit of secular living. Have you ever felt like that? Been reminded that God’s calendar is not the world’s calendar? That the Church, like the world teaches us to live in “seasons.” As the globe spins in winter, spring, summer and fall, the Church lives in the glory of Advent, Christmas, Ordinary Time, Lent, Easter, then back to Ordinary Time.

If we learned to live liturgically, our joy would blossom into the most beautiful bouquets.

We would align with the will of our Creator. Live in joy with Him, cry with Him, be reborn with Him and be still with Him.

Our spirits would soar!

Why do we fight against the current of our spiritual ocean? We are swimming upstream while Jesus is calling us to flow with the current. We are climbing when we should be descending. We are trying to knock down doors when we should be sitting in the waiting room. And isn’t it a great relief to know that we are not crazy, but rather we have an answer in Mother Church! That as our souls ebb and flow and yearn to be closer to Christ that Mother Church with her open arms takes us in, makes us clean and says

Yes my child! Live with Jesus! Die with Jesus! Rise again with Jesus!

Isn’t this such a glorious notion. I can run like the prodigal son into the arms of my loving Father!

So if you are feeling out of sorts, your Easter wasn’t what you thought it would be, you are feeling confused, perplexed and unsure, open the Church’s liturgical calendar and find hope in the SEASON. It is Easter and Jesus Christ has Risen! Rejoice with Him and anticipate his heavenly departure. Remember all those Lenten seeds you planted and find hope in it’s Easter fruit.

He has Risen Indeed!

The Tomb of Silence

Thirty seconds in and I am terrified. I cannot control the racing of my thoughts. I am afraid to ask the question, God, what do you want me to do?

The question stands alone and cold. I don’t want to move from it. In fact I want to hide behind it. It is a shield, a fence that I am on the other side of. .

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak

I finally settle in. He’s only asked me for five minutes. But I am scared to go here, scared of what He will ask of me. It may be spring, but it is winter in my soul.

I cannot resist any longer. I sit beside my Lord and find myself beside the tomb. I cannot see Him. I cannot hear Him. But I know that He is there. How so? I have finally visited the grave.

Even in the silence I am working, He tells me. I am bringing souls to heaven. You can’t see it behind the tomb. It is only in the silence that you can understand it. Stay beside my tomb and you will see. Beside my tomb of silence there are great treasures to behold. See all that is going on! When in doubt, go sit beside my tomb. It is busy with activity. It is silence that comes before my resurrection. Learn to sit with me in silence, I have much to say here. There is great joy here. Silence before meditating on my Word. 

I settled in. I wasn’t so afraid anymore. The time had passed quickly and now I didn’t want to leave. But I knew I couldn’t spend too much time before the tomb, there was a resurrection to prepare for. So I opened God’s word and heard His voice. The words were alive because of my time beside the tomb.

He spoke to me about the seriousness of sin. That monster that waits to devour us. But this time I heard it differently. This time He opened the door to even deeper treasures.

Sin begins in the first thought. How will we respond? It lies in wait at the door in order to devour us. The devil tricks us into believing in an outward looking world, focusing on the sin of others and what others may or may not be doing. This then produces the ugliness and allows us to lose focus on our own personal holiness. But if we pause before we act, correct our thinking in our minds, turn inward instead of outward, we will remember our Lord’s beating. We will remember our Lord’s scourging. We will remember our Lord’s silence.

Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth (Isaiah 53:7 (b))

It is in that moment that we can pause too. Sins urge is for us, but we can rule over it (Genesis 4:7). We can sin no more if we are repentant (Psalm 4:5). We can prepare the way of the Lord.

If I choose to sit beside the tomb in every moment that I am about to offend my Lord, I can remember all of these things. I can remember the silence in the face of accusation, I can remember the stillness in the face of a beating, I can remember His prolonged agony as he suffered for my sins.

Today, sit beside the tomb of silence

 

 

You are not far from the Kingdom of God…

“We accept the love that we think we deserve.”

Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower

It is twenty-two days into Lent and the desert feels hot. As things get more difficult, emotions get more raw, God becomes more real. He is straining me, pressing me like Gethsemane. He wants to get things out. He wants to retain the good. It is painful…

But what makes it more painful is to know the truth. The truth that for so long, I have believed that I had to perform for God in order to get Him to love me. And although I know better, my human family has set these wheels in motion.

I am only as good as my last assignment

So yesterday, He made me look introspectively at this. Why I toil and then lie in pain over and over again. Why I never think that I am enough… for Him. This is what has filled my head for so long, the God that wants more from me. The successful God. The friends that have left me because there love was conditional. The people that have conditioned my success on how much I do for them. The inability to take the day off, or scream or just sit in silence. It is an interior war, not an exterior one. It is me against myself…

What a great struggle it is to realize deep and cutting truths. Having an idea of love that is shaped by those around you rather than the one above you. We befriend the same kind of people, work for the same kind of people, attract the same kind of crowd over and over and over again. This is nothing short of an internal pulse, a signal that we put out that we are unaware of. We believe that we do not deserve better, that we do not deserve more. When we believe that love is conditional, others who believe that seem closer to us rather than farther. We try and surround ourselves with people who love us regardless, but end up pushing those people away. It is too much to know that someone would love me for who I am, not what I can do for them. This thought to me is overwhelming…

And yet, God tells me I deserve better, I deserve more. Not things, or tangibles or praise but love. I deserve to be loved in its most purest form, in its most innocent form. I deserve to be loved the way He loves me.

In seeking Him first, my Father tells me that I am not accepting of this great love. I cry in His arms because He understands. My heart is heavy, but swallowed in the divine love He has for me. 

There are so many of us out there like this. Dancing with exhaustion to gain the approval of others. People leaving our lives because we disappointed them. Trying to be enough when it will never be enough… for them.

We can’t rest, we can’t stop until they love us. And we are exhausted. I needed to be visited by God. I needed to know that He wanted better for me, more for me. I was afraid to go on an adventure. I was scared to follow my dreams…

There are no disappointments in the love of God

So if today you hear HIS voice, harden not your hearts. You are not far…from Him.

 

The Time that I can’t change

I am feeling overwhelmed by the time that I can’t change. As the clocks move forward, I struggle to catch up. The hours and minutes and seconds are in a sprint before me, and I am breathless and desperately chasing… time. In a haze of exhaustion and sorrow, the words in my bible seem to run off the page. Esther’s desperate plea for protection against her enemy, the psalmist’s cry for help. Sometimes I feel as if the words are there but I just can’t seem to catch up… in the same way time is escaping the grasp of my hands. God am I enough?

It is very obviously winter in my soul. Lent does that to me. When I have strained and poured myself into the divine colander, making the Master  tear apart my imperfections, and there are many. God is not cruel, but the truth sometimes is. And I wonder how I ever thought these words in my head, Am I my own Master?

The hiddenness of God is the beauty of God. As I travel, grope ground and dirt along my way, I am drowning. This is the part where I start to get hungry. This is eight days in the desert with no food from the world. It is just me and God.

And the more I sink, I fail, I get dirt on my face is the more I want Him; the more I realize that there is nothing good in this world. And the more the world reaches out to me with all its false temptations, sorrow and madness is the deeper I run into the Lenten desert he has created for me. It is not a retreat or defeat, it is a crown of thorns. It is not fighting back. It is a wanting for holiness. The world has nothing to offer me.

The Kingdom of God will grow upon earth, will be brought to fulfillment, in the same way it was established; by the daily and seemingly hidden lives of those who do always the will of the Father.

Servant of God Walter J. Ciszek, S.J.

Run to the wilderness with me!