Tag Archives: grace

reflection-God-prayer

Slow me down, Lord

Slow me down, Lord.

Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind.

Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time.

Give me, amid the confusion of this day, the calmness of the everlasting hills.

Break the tensions of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of the singing streams that live in my memory. Help me to know the magical restoring power of sleep.

Teach me the art of taking minute vacations — of slowing down to look at a flower, to chat with a friend, to pat a dog, to read a few lines from a good book. Remind me each day of the fable of the hare and tortoise, that I may know that the race is not always to the swift — there is more to life than increasing its speed.

Let me look upward into the branches of the towering oak and know that it grew great and strong because it grew slowly and well.

Slow me down, Lord, and inspire me to send my roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring values, that I may grow toward the start of my greater destiny.

~Richard Cardinal Cushing

We live in a culture that seems obsessed with speed. Our everyday language affirms our preoccupation with speed: we have fast-food restaurants with drive-through windows, expressways and instant messaging. We can’t seem to stop or even slow down.

I recently read that Michigan is increasing the speed limit to 75 miles per hour on several roads because that was how fast people were driving anyway.

Faster is better seems to be our national mantra.

And now we have added busyness to the equation—because moving fast means we finished everything and then, what? Have some empty space in our lives? No time for doing nothing—we have to keep moving and doing.

I think Cardinal Cushing was onto something, though, when he wrote the Slow me down, Lord prayer.

My brother recently visited from Arizona and we went on morning walks at a park on the lake near my house. Swans, ducks and geese swam by as people fished from the shoreline or out in boats. No rush, no hurry, no busyness—just life slowly going by.reflection-God-prayerI can easily fill up my days with lots of activities and then rush around to accomplish as much as possible. But that is not how I want to live. I want to have periods of silence every day, to ponder the glory of creation and to pay attention to the gifts God is giving me.

I want to be available to the people God brings to me, to be able to sit and listen to what they need to say. At the cancer support center where I work, someone invites me every day to slow down, to take a few minutes to listen to their joys and sorrows, the ups and downs of the cancer journey.

 

Slow me down, Lord.reflection-God-prayer

retreat-meditation-God

To see as God sees

Retreats are wonderful opportunities for serendipitous moments of insight. Stepping away from daily living creates a space to be more open and aware, and to get a different perspective on what is right in front of me.retreat-meditation-God

The second morning of my recent retreat, I opened my prayer book and found a note a friend had sent a few years ago. I did not remember putting it there, but there it was.

My friend was reflecting on her desire to let go of wanting to be seen by others in some particular good light (good mother, good neighbor, etc.), and just to see herself as God sees her.

Her words touched my own struggle with my desire to be seen—just to be visible—and then also to be seen as good or successful or as possessing some other positive attribute.

My desire for others’ approval can motivate me to accomplish many things; it can also take up an inordinate amount of energy and leave me feeling anxious.

My friend’s note included a Celtic prayer:

“Be the eye of God dwelling within me.

Be the foot of Christ in guidance with me.

Be the shower of the Spirit pouring on me, richly and generously.”

The phrase “eye of God dwelling within me” caught my attention, and I spent some time that day and the next pondering what God’s eye would see through my eyes and also what God’s eye sees when looking at me.

For many years, I would not talk about my faith, believing it would be of little or no interest or particularly helpful or relevant. I believed that each person’s spiritual experience was as personal as mine. Plus, who was I to talk about how God blessed me? It sounded too bold—not humble at all.

My spiritual director gave me this definition of humility: Humility means telling the truth—being neither less than nor greater than I really am.

Her words deepened my pondering on who I am in God’s eyes, how God sees me.

The past seven years have been a time of great loss for me and each loss left me feeling more and more vulnerable. Being vulnerable is very uncomfortable for me, and I instinctively dealt with it by closing in on myself. With each loss, I added another layer to a protective shield around my heart, until my heart had become encased. In the process, I think I forgot who I am and whose I am.

In a dream one night, I had to climb through a barbed wire fence. Upon waking, it occurred to me that barbed wire is a fitting image for the protective shield around my heart—painful for me to climb through to be free or for anyone else to reach in.retreat-meditation-God

I prayed for the grace to dismantle the shield around my heart, to unwrap the layers of barbed wire so that I can see as God sees and be the person God calls me to be.

 

grace-humility-vulnerability

Possibility

The cancer support center where I work has been growing rapidly, and so we recently moved to a larger building.

Prior to the move, I had measured a spot for a huge shelving unit; it would just fit. When I pointed out this spot to the mover, he said, “There is no way that piece will fit into that spot.”

“I measured,” I assured him, and showed him how I had walked off the space.

“You needed to really measure it,” he asserted. I would not give up my point and he called another mover over for his opinion.

“That big piece?” the second mover asked. “It’ll never fit in there.”

I was not in the room when they brought the shelving unit in, but later I saw that it fit perfectly.

A friend who was helping with the move told me she had advised the movers, “Don’t tell Madeline she was right or she will gloat.”

She was right; I gloated. She knows me so well—or I am that transparent. Either way, ugh. Not my finest moment.grace-humility-vulnerabilityOn my way home that evening, I heard a man on a radio show talking about his heritage. He had traced his family back to a southern city where there was a plantation owner with the same last name as his. His voice took on a confident tone as he suggested that he would be able to trace his DNA back to this slave-owner.

I don’t doubt the possibility or even probability that a plantation owner fathered children with his slaves, but it seemed to me this man needed for it to be true, and I wondered if he would accept any other outcome.grace-humility-vulnerabilityIt made me think of my needing to be right about the shelving unit fitting into the space.

What is it that makes me need to be right? And why do I take so much pleasure in someone’s admission that I am right?

When we were in our early thirties, a friend’s mother told us, “If there is something you don’t like about yourself, change it now, because it will only get worse as you get older.”

At the time, I thought about my negative traits, the things I wanted to change. If the need to be right was one of them, I did not do a very good job of changing it.

In the New Year, I pray for the grace to be less certain and more curious, to let go of my need to be right and be more humble.

I want to be curious—not convinced, knowing that certainty can cloud my judgment. I want to leave room for some other possibility that I had not even considered, some gift God desires to give me.

I remind myself that God is doing something new (Isaiah 43:19) but I need to make room for what God has planned, to be more open to possibility and to believe that the best is yet to come.

 

Aging gracefully

When I was in my mid-forties, I became more aware of women who were aging gracefully. These were women in their fifties, sixties and seventies who were not embarrassed by their grey hair or shape-shifting bodies. They exercised for health but did not obsess over the effects of gravity. Peace and wisdom seemed to emanate from them, and just being in their presence calmed me.

aging-gracefully

These women were content with themselves and their lives. They lived in gratitude for all that had been and hope that the best was yet to come—even though they had endured hardship and suffering.

One woman had lost a son to suicide and another had a life-threatening disease. Another woman’s husband had been having an affair and after forty years of marriage, he asked for a divorce. My friend was devastated by his betrayal. Yet, even in her pain, she was able to pray for the grace to see her ex-husband and his new wife as God saw them.

What courage, I thought. I want to grow old with that much courage and grace.

I know that holding onto hurt and anger can make me bitter and cynical, and that is not how I want to live. I believe God calls me to live as my friend did—to forgive and let go, to be compassionate and merciful, to try to see as God sees and to love as God loves.

Last Friday, I turned sixty-five; I am a senior citizen by every definition. We have longevity in my family—my mother is ninety and her mother lived to ninety-six—but I know I have many fewer days ahead than have already passed. That awareness gives me a greater sense of urgency to appreciate each day.

aging-gracefully

The Native American story of the two wolves that live within me has been coming to mind recently: One wolf is good and does no harm. She lives in harmony with everyone around her and takes no offense when none was intended. She is joy, peace, serenity, hope, love, kindness and compassion.

aging-gracefully

The other wolf is full of anger. The littlest thing will set her off in a fit of rage. She fights anyone, any time, for no reason. She is full of envy, greed, anger, regret, self-pity, false pride and resentment.

The two wolves vie for my attention and energy; whichever one I feed will dominate.

I am paying more attention to the negativity within and around me and trying to counter it with positivity and hope.

I tend to think of my life in thirds—the first third was formative; the second third was restorative and this third I want to be generative.

Like those women I admire, I want to show compassion and mercy, to forgive and to encourage others to let go of anger and regret. I want to be content and grateful.

Life is short—no matter how many years we have, and I want to live each day to the fullest.

aging-gracefully

 

Set free

unbind-her

“Unbind Her” by Anna Woofenden, 2014

Anna Woofenden’s picture Unbind Her prompted me to ponder the difference between being bound and unbound. Her depiction of breaking free from the bindings and leaping away conjures up images of being free enough to soar into a new direction.

The idea of breaking free and leaping into some unknown future is appealing. But, breaking free can be difficult—just ask anyone who has walked away from an addiction to alcohol, drugs, unhealthy relationships, food, shopping or anything else that had kept them bound. It can be very challenging to walk away from a life lived in bondage, no matter how unsatisfactory or even painful that life might have been.

It is not always easy to walk away from people, situations or self-images that bind us. The old way is familiar, and finding a new way can present lots of challenges. Change often calls for a great deal of determination, discipline and perseverance; it involves saying “no” to what was previously a “yes.”

This Lent, I have been reflecting on times in my life when I turned away from relationships, jobs and behaviors that were holding me back. Sometimes my turning away was short-lived and I quickly returned to that which held me bound—old habits die hard. Other times, though, I have been able to stay strong in my resolve. Mostly, though, I feel I have been slowly chipping away at behaviors and beliefs that needed to be changed, those things that bound me.

Incremental changes over the years have added up and I can see that I am a much different person today than I was forty years ago. The invitation of Woofenden’s picture, though, is to ask if I am free enough to leap.

At the Easter Vigil last night, the priest talked about the leap of faith required of the apostles to believe the reports of Jesus’ resurrection and how we need to make that same leap to be followers of Jesus.

As he spoke, I imagined the scene at the tomb when Mary Magdalene and the other women had gone to tend to Jesus’ body and found that Jesus was gone. I could see them telling the apostles, and the apostles disbelieving them. I imagined Peter running to see for himself. Their emotions must have been all over the place—sadness at Jesus’ death, confusion that his body was gone and hope that something fantastic was happening.

Even imagining this emotional firestorm gave me pause. Am I free enough to feel strong emotions? Or do I keep my emotions in check? How would it feel, I wondered, if I let myself experience the range of emotions Mary and the others felt that first Easter?

I fear I have been afraid to feel.

My Easter prayer is to be set free so that I may experience deep joy, be open to possibilities, and be courageous enough to respond to God’s invitation to live fully. I want to leap into the future and trust that the best is yet to come.

 

Mercy and compassion

Pope Francis has declared 2016 a Year of Mercy.

A friend told me she has been pondering the connection between compassion and mercy. She had read that compassion is being with and mercy is doing for. If that is true, than the Year of Mercy will suit me because I am much more inclined to be a doing for kind of person than a being with.

The question then becomes, “For whom will I do something?” which is closely followed by “What will I do?”

Every year, my parish participates in a shelter program for people who are homeless, this year offering overnight hospitality to twenty-five men during the week after Christmas. Like many shelter programs, the people go out during the day and return in the evening. But on New Year’s Day, the men were able to stay in for the day. I signed up to be a “host” for the afternoon.

It seemed a good way to spend New Year’s Day of the Year of Mercy.

I have volunteered at emergency shelters and meal programs in the past, and I have been on the verge of homelessness twice in my life.

I say “on the verge” because my homelessness was short-lived and connected with my living in another country; transitional homelessness is how I think of it. In both situations, I was fortunate to have friends who helped me find places to live, but the experiences gave me some insight into the vulnerability of not having a permanent place to live and helped me be more empathetic toward people who are homeless.

During that time of transition, I learned a lot about vulnerability and pride.

A woman who lived across the street from me and knew my situation offered me food from her pantry, but I was too proud to accept her charity and instead went to a local church pantry. When she found out I had gone to the church, she chastised me for being too proud and pointed out that I was willing to take charity from strangers but not from someone who knew and cared about me. She was right and I was humbled. The next time I needed food, I “shopped” in her pantry. It was very humbling.

That experience helped me to see that mercy needs both a generous giver and an open receiver. I was not open, and in the process, I prevented her from being able to be merciful. I had been given the opportunity to allow someone to be generous, and I said no. It was a powerful lesson, and one that I have tried to hold close to the surface of my awareness.

Mercy needs to be both offered and received.

So in this Year of Mercy, I want to be open to opportunities to do for others, to show mercy. I also pray to be humble enough to allow others to do for me, to receive mercy.

I was lost

The caller asked for me by a name I have not used in almost forty years—definitely someone from my past, I thought, but I did not recognize the voice.

It turned out to be a woman I had known in my twenties; we have not seen one another in more than thirty years. We had worked together and were even housemates for a while, and then I moved to another state and we lost contact. She said the Lord had placed my name in her mind and she decided to look me up.

“You’ve been serving the Lord,” she said.

I have, haven’t I? I thought.

As I reflected on that call the next morning at prayer, words from Amazing Grace flitted through my mind—I was lost, but now am found.

I was a lost soul in my twenties and it took me a long time to find my way. This woman had been with me through some of my darkest days and she saw me at my lowest— scared, hopeless, on the wrong path. I was still in a pretty dark place the last time I saw her.

Over time, though, my choices started to move me away from the darkness and toward the light. It took lots of prayer and God’s unending patience and mercy, but I finally felt like I was growing into the person God created me to be.

Then, two years ago, I moved to be near my family. Although I have returned “home,” in most ways I am starting over. As with many transitions, this one has left me feeling a bit unsettled. What was has been left behind, and what is to be is still unfolding.

I have been asking God, “What do you want me to do?”

“A new king, who knew nothing of Joseph, came to power in Egypt,” I read the other day (Exodus 1:8).

“Why are you telling me this, God?” I asked. What does this new king in Egypt have to do with me?

And then I thought about who is leading my life. In Exodus, the new king was fearful and set about to enslave the Israelites. Am I being ruled by fear? I wondered. Is fear holding me back? Is that what God is pointing out to me?

Upon reflection I can see that I have been feeling vulnerable and a bit unsure of myself because my life does not look like it once did. It does not have the activity level it has had in the past—friends and church and civic activities. My evenings and weekends are often devoid of scheduled events. I can go whole days without talking to anyone but the dog.

I sometimes feel like I am drifting through this time of transition.

My new house has a sun porch, the perfect place to read or just linger. Looking out over the flowers, watching the hummingbird at the hanging fuchsia, counting the lightening bugs at dusk—my summer is the summer of a carefree child. Little things bring great joy—hearing the owl on my morning walk or watching a squirrel grab an apple from my neighbor’s tree.

Transition time stretches out ahead of me, inviting tentative steps into the unknown.

Perhaps more activity will come in the fall. Perhaps God will invite me to a new ministry, but for now, I am trying to let go of my anxieties and fears and to be content with enjoying the summer, trusting that this unsettled time is temporary and certain that the Lord is leading me.