Tag Archives: Evelyn Underhill

Being present to the past

A recent magazine article evoked memories of something that happened thirty years ago, a short chapter in my life I had not thought about in all these years.

As I allowed the scene to play out in my mind, certain details of the people involved came into sharp focus. I remember the names and faces of people who were part of my life for only a few months.

Two men came into my life because one of the men was dying and needed a place to go for the final weeks of his life. I was living in a guest house and was happy to welcome them during this difficult time.

Once this memory resurfaced, I let it play out, allowing the scenes of everyday life with these two men to present themselves. I recalled the people who came to visit them, and I remembered one visitor in particular whose fidelity I greatly admired.

And then I asked God what invitation this memory is offering me. Why now? Why these people and their situation? Why such sharp details?

St. Paul encourages us to forget the past and move on to the future (Philippians 3:13), and I get that. But sometimes the past can hold an invitation or a gift that is helpful to the present.

I have chapters in my past that I would rather not revisit—dark times when I behaved badly and did hurtful things. But just because I try to ignore them does not mean they go away. And sometimes revisiting them can offer a clue to some healing that I need now.

Evelyn Underhill prayed, O Lord, penetrate those murky corners where I hide memories and tendencies on which I do not care to look, but which I will not disinter and yield freely up to you, that you may purify and transmute them.

I have been praying this prayer for the past six months or so, and maybe God is answering with memories like this one from thirty years ago. Maybe it is revealing a tendency on which I do not care to look but which needs to not only be looked at but offered to God for healing.

Underhill ends her prayer, Lord, I bring all these to you, and I review them in your steadfast light.

God-vulnerability-faith

For me, the goal and the gift of the spiritual life is freedom—the freedom to live with open hands, accepting whatever comes to me. To do that, I need God’s light to shine a spotlight on those places where I am unfree—my comfort zone.

God invites me to move beyond my comfort zone and to face what limits my freedom.

Unfortunately, a large portion of my comfort zone is filled with negativity and insecurity, and I struggle to see my own goodness.

God invites me to replace negative self-talk with affirmations.

Maybe this memory came back to me to remind me of my generosity in giving this man a place to live his final days.

God-vulnerability-faith
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Staying focused

The temperature was hovering around freezing, and a mix of rain and snow was falling from the sky. “Keep both hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road,” the radio weather person advised.

Curious advice, I thought. No matter what is falling from the sky, shouldn’t one always keep both hands on the wheel and eyes on the road when driving?

It is easy to get distracted when driving, just as it is easy to get distracted from what is truly important in life, what will keep me headed in the right direction.

The letter to the Hebrews advises us to keep our “eyes fixed on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:2).

Staying focused on Jesus can be a challenge because of the level of honesty is requires in dealing with ourselves and others.

Evelyn Underhill prayed,

“O Lord, penetrate those murky corners where we hide memories and tendencies on which we do not care to look….The persistent buried grudge; the bitterness of that loss we have not turned into sacrifice; the private comfort we cling to; the secret fear of failure which saps our initiative and is really inverted pride…”

How honest, how brutally honest.

After my conversion when I was twenty-one, it was relatively easy to stay focused on Jesus. I read my Bible every day, seeking Jesus’ advice and guidance. He became my constant companion, and I turned to him daily for direction and forgiveness.

Just because I was walking with Jesus did not mean I had stopped sinning—rather, it meant I was more convicted of my sins, more sorrowful for my wrongdoings and more desirous of changing my ways.

In my mid-thirties, I had what I came to call my “garden year,” a time of intense prayer and mystical visions. I could not not pray. At all hours of the day and night, I would experience this deep desire to pray. The nuns at my parish gave me free access to their chapel so that I could have a private prayer place whenever I needed it, and I often left work during the middle of the day to go pray.

What was God doing with me? I wondered. It was odd, and, frankly, somewhat annoying. It was not something I could talk about at work or really with most anyone except my spiritual director and my housemate.

My spiritual director thought it wonderful how God was filling me with grace and blessings. She thought visions were pure gift and encouraged me to be open and to record them in my journal.

My housemate, like me, thought it all a bit peculiar. I was just an ordinary person having this extraordinary experience. And for what reason? To what end?

Over time, I have become more comfortable with the way Jesus has shaped my life.

Keeping my eyes on Jesus means a continual invitation to forgiveness and compassion. It means having a heightened awareness of people who are marginalized and vulnerable—and how their vulnerability intersects with mine.

God-vulnerability-faith