A moment of faith

I have been deprived of peace;
    I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
    and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
    the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
    and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
    and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
    for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
    therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
    to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
    while he is young.
Let him sit alone in silence,
    for the Lord has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust—
    there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
    and let him be filled with disgrace.
For no one is cast off
    by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
    so great is his unfailing love.  
Lamentations 3:17-32 (NIV)

Often faith is the difference between a person who is fearful and miserable, and a person who is hopeful and joyful.

Without faith in ourselves, we struggle to accomplish things. Without faith in others, we struggle to trust, and without faith in something bigger and more loving than ourselves, we fail to have hope for the future.

Faith brings confidence that, in the midst of things that are difficult, we are being challenged, strengthened and upheld. I love the verse that says it is good to bear the yoke when we are young. So true! We will all have difficulties at some point in our lives. But when we are young, we have energy and openness to growth. If we know where to look, we have support from those who have “been there done that.” It also gives me hope that our youth struggling, though painful to see, is building their character and strengthening them so that they will be able to carry on into the future.

I, like the author in Lamentations, remember the struggles of my youth and I also remember the reconciliation of those struggles. In those moments there was growth and I benefit from the faith and resolve that makes today’s difficulties seem lighter and less painful to move through. With faith in the God who loves me, the people who sustain me and the inner strength that guides me I am confident in the impermanence of life’s difficulties. I am confident in the goodness of the world. And, I am most confident in the joy of it all.

With faith, we believe in the positive outcome of all things. With faith, we believe in the essential goodness of humankind, and with faith, we are confident in our potential for growth.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 (NIV)

HAVE FAITH

A moment in the dark

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Last week, I posted a poem I had written in 2015.  When I came across it in a pile of papers and notes I have written over the years, it struck me that moments of winter come and go, over and over, through the course of our lives.  Finding myself once again in a spiritual winter, I decided to publish the poem.  What I call a moment in winter St. John of the Cross calls ” the dark night of the soul.”

In Paul Murray’s book about Mother Theresa, he references St. John of the Cross when he speaks of the difference between depression and suffering from a “dark night of the soul.”  I feel this distinction is crucial and I would like to share a little of my own personal experience with these often intertwined moments.  In my experience, depression leads to paralysis and inaction.  The “dark night” leads to action.  Though similar in appearance, depression stops you in your tracks and the “dark night” turns you toward.

With depression, there is a great deal of focus on the self, mostly self-loathing, low self-worth and lack of desire.  “Dark night” experiences for me have more to do with an emptiness that leads me to an anxious search for God, in spite of my doubts, at that moment that there is a God.   Because I cannot see God inside myself or around me, I begin to pray more intentionally.  My desire to see and feel God is intensified and I am moved to connect with those whose spiritual foundation is sound, or to those who need love affirmed even more than I do.

Sometimes I embrace the darkness, remembering Jesus, his 40 days in the wilderness and his last moments on the cross.  Contemplation and aligning myself with the human and divine Christ is healing and taking the time for self-care is of great import.

By surviving passages of doubt and depression on the vocational journey, I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish act–it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was was put on earth to offer to others.  Parker J. Palmer

Palmer, 2000, p. 30

In the deep sadness of feeling abandoned by God, I sometimes feel called to action.  I have the desire to offer others who are in suffering comfort and love.  In the faces of others, I often once again see God.  Because without him I am ill-equipped to offer love, and the love of others in return is a deep reflection of God’s presence.

“Nevertheless they know how to find God by devoting themselves to Him in self-sacrificing labours in which they are able to remain in his presence all day long.” Thomas Merton

Merton, 2013, p. 31

In 2006 after Hurrican Katrina I wrote, in the margins of What is Contemplation? By Thomas Mertonthese words, “I would rather be in this place of darkness with my God than in a world of lights without Him.”  Not long after that, I was compelled to start a prayer group which continues to bless my life today. All this to say we are not alone in our suffering, and there are some fantastic stories and writers to guide us in the way to heal ourselves and others.

“For a man of prayer is, in the final analysis, the man who is able to recognize in others the face of the Messiah and make visible what was hidden, make touchable what was unreachable.”  Henri J.M. Nowen

Nouwen, 1979, p. 47

Recommended Readings:

Murray, P. (2016). I loved Jesus in the night: Teresa of Calcutta, a secret revealed. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press.

Palmer, P. J. (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Merton, T. (2013). What is contemplation? Mansfield Centre, CT.: Martino Publishing.

Nouwen, H. J. (1979). The wounded healer: Ministry in contemporary society. New York: An Image Book Doubleday.

​A moment for walking

person wearing blue denim jacket while walking on foggy road

“Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!” Mark 2:8-12

Why were they so amazed? People get up and walk all the time.

Many years ago I was told by someone, “You don’t reward someone for doing what they are supposed to do.”  When I heard this, I was at first taken aback, but then I somewhat bought into the idea. Recently this perspective has been brought to my attention again, and I realize how much my viewpoint has matured.  I now know, there is no love, dignity, honor, or faith, in that statement.

We are not all equally capable of everything.  We are each made up of strengths and weaknesses.  Sometimes our weaknesses get the best of us, and we become convinced that that is all we are.  Jesus, in this story of healing, first addressed the inner-weakness in the person brought to him by saying “Your sins are forgiven.”  All the things that make you feel less than worthy, all the things you have done that make you feel ashamed, all the things you are that you are not proud of.  They are gone, now get up and walk.

Letting go of our “sins” is difficult if not impossible on our own.  We often need a formal release from the guilt or punishment we inflict on ourselves or others.   We are not given an explanation of what this man’s sins were.  Jesus does not list them and then check them off.  He incontrovertibly says “the past is the past now go forward.”  What a gift to have such release!

Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.”  Mark 2:3-5 

For a person who is mentally paralyzed by sin, shame, depression or fear, healing is complicated.   The person who needs healing must let down all the preconceived notions of self-sufficiency and allow others to lead them to the place where healing can begin.  This act in weakness is also a moment of considerable strength.  It is a moment of humility for the individual, and yet it takes courage to acknowledge the need for help and to receive it.  Those with the strength to help must treat this person and this moment with love, dignity, honor, and faith.  The barriers of judgment and pride must be removed, and openness to love and healing must take its place.  In this story, Jesus saw not only the faith of the man but also the faith of his companions.   A moment of unity in the desire to encounter Christ produced a perfect reward for everyone.

“they were all amazed and glorified God”

When was the last time you were amazed?

Take a moment today to celebrate the simple acts of others.  It might be more difficult for them than you know.

 

A moment of unlimited access

silhouette of trees and mountain under blue starry sky
Photo by Sindre Strøm on Pexels.com

For me, this week is the best part of Christmas.  The advertisements are slowing down, the need to shop has all but stopped, and most of the returns and exchanges have been made.  And with a deep and glorious sigh, I now have time, time to rest in the Christmas season which will not officially end until January 6th.  Growing up in New Orleans I think I took Epiphany traditions for granted.  January 6 was an important day! It was, sadly,  time to take down the Christmas decorations, but it also marked the beginning of Carnival season and my favorite treat the King Cake.  Over time, as with many traditions, the significance of Epiphany has developed into something much more precious.

It is during this time that we reflect on the Magi, also known as the Wise Men, and the Star of Bethlehem.   The wise men, traveling across the desert, saw a star.   Knowing the Old Testament prophecies, understanding the stars, and recognizing that this one was new and in motion, they would have been compelled to investigate.  Faithful to the promises made in history they would seek the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Savior.

When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy.   Matthew 2:10 (NRSV)

As they entered the house and saw the child with his mother Mary, their reverence and adoration brought them to their knees.  So much hope led them to this place, and in this moment they were given a miraculous gift.

The gift of unlimited access to the love of God was given.

In my mind, it is as if time stood still.  King Herod, the wily and efficient ruler and a cruel tyrant, is forgotten and all the love that is God radiates in the room where the Christ child rests in his mother’s arms.

If we are wise, faithful to the promises and follow the light, we too are given unlimited access to the love of God.

Your word is a lamp to guide my feet
    and a light for my path.   Psalm 119:105 (NLT) 

January 5th “Twelfth Night” by tradition I will add the “Three Kings” to my nativity in preparation for Epiphany.  I will pause and contemplate the power in the moment when they saw the star, in the moment when they first laid eyes on the child, the Messiah, who was promised to the people of God, and in the moment when they fell to their knees and worshiped him.   I will take out my Bible, and I will remember that we to have been given a guiding light.   I will recognize that we too have been given unlimited access to the Love of God.  I will let time stand still for a moment, and I will offer my reverence, adoration, and gratitude to, Christ, Emanuel, God with us.