Tag Archives: love

blessing-forgiveness-love

Fortunate

You shall bear no hatred for your brother or sister in your heart….Take no revenge and cherish no grudge…                                                                                                                               ~Leviticus 19:17-18

On my first trip to Swaziland, Southern Africa, I met a girl named Fortunate. She was twelve years old and I couldn’t decide if her name was apt or not.

She had grown up in a homestead in rural Swaziland with no running water or electricity. She, her parents and her five siblings had lived in a one-room hut until both of her parents died from AIDS.blessing-forgiveness-love

After that, she and her siblings moved to St. Philips’ Mission where she lived in a large dormitory with fifty-some other girls.

The Mission provided food, clothing and education. There was electricity, running water and flush toilets. All good things. But losing her parents and leaving her homestead must have been incredibly difficult.

Fortunate was curious and bold enough to ask questions. She had a trusting nature and a beautiful smile; she stole my heart.blessing-forgiveness-love

I wonder what happened to her since I last saw her in 2005.

Fortunate came to mind on the feast of St. Josephine Bakihta last week.

Josephine Bakihta grew up in Sudan and was kidnapped as a child and sold into slavery. Her kidnappers gave her the name Bakihta, which means Fortunate.

After being sold and traded a number of times, Bakihta eventually ended up in Italy. Her owners once left her temporarily with the Canossian Sisters, and while with the Sisters, Bakihta had a religious conversion and decided to stay there. Italian law allowed her to secure her freedom, which she did. She converted to Catholicism, took the name Josephine and eventually became a Sister.

Was she fortunate? She had been taken from her homeland and endured years of abuse and mistreatment as a slave. But, in the end, she overcame these tragedies and, by all accounts, had a blessed life.

In her own words: If I were to meet the slave-traders who kidnapped me and even those who tortured me, I would kneel and kiss their hands, for if that did not happen, I would not be a Christian and Religious today… The Lord has loved me so much: we must love everyone… we must be compassionate!blessing-forgiveness-love

Despite her horrible history, Josephine Bakhita became a loving, forgiving person.

She inspires me. Here was a woman who had every reason to be bitter and vengeful. She had lost so much and endured terrible suffering. Yet she chose to overcome her history. She chose to love, forgive and look for the blessing.
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I wonder if my Swaziland Fortunate was able to face her history and rise above it. Was she able to find blessings in the hand she had been dealt?

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Not everyone has such dramatic histories to overcome, but I believe most of us have something in our past that we need to overcome, some person we need to forgive or some event we are invited to rise above. Only then will we be at peace.

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healing-prayer-spirituality-Jesus

Leaving my comfort zone

One moment of clarity during my recent retreat involved Matthew 25:31-46, the story of the sheep and the goats.

For the better part of one year, (many years ago) I prayed almost exclusively with this passage of scripture. I would try to move on, but God kept calling me back. “I guess I am a slow learner,” I would joke with God when I could not seem to move onto other scriptures. I knew I was missing something but could not figure out what it was.

I did continue to have aha moments as the year passed, gaining deeper insight into the message as the words permeated my being.

Thirty years later, this passage still draws me and connects me with my basic call from God:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.

These works of mercy became the standard against which I measured myself. When was the last time I fed someone who was hungry or gave drink to someone who was thirsty? When did I welcome a stranger or care for someone who was sick or visit someone in prison?

I took the commands literally. I believed Matthew outlined these works clearly so that there could be doubt about what I was to do. And I believed that Jesus was calling me to engage in each and every activity.healing-prayer-spirituality-Jesus

The passage goes on to say, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did to me.

That is the part that took me a while to grasp—to see that whatever good work I did, I did for Jesus, that the person on the receiving end was Jesus. Here was the mystery.

I had done good works before 1986, but I had somehow missed this piece of the equation, the part where I was actually doing it to or for Jesus. I thought I was just helping another person, but to realize that I was helping Jesus cast my efforts in a different light, because by doing these good works I was actually putting myself in a position to interact directly with Jesus. And in doing for Jesus, I was setting myself up to receive something in return—healing.

God was inviting me to get in touch with my own hunger, thirst, nakedness, alienation and imprisonment—and to let His love in through my acts of service for others. By offering mercy, I was receiving mercy.

Every act of kindness I did softened my heart and made me more compassionate. Every good deed opened the door for Jesus to shift my vision so I could see the world as Jesus sees it.

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Some of these commands can demand I move far outside my comfort zone; and I have come to believe that that is exactly where Jesus is waiting for me.healing-prayer-spirituality-Jesus

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Jesus, I give you my heart

We had a visiting priest for Christmas Eve Mass, a charismatic, high-energy young man who was ordained three years ago.

His homily focused on the love of Jesus, and he shared his own story to illustrate the transformative nature of Jesus’ love. He had been raised a Catholic but lost his faith, moved away from the Church, and bought into the cultural promise that things would fulfill him. At some point, he realized that was an empty promise; he was disillusioned. Then he encountered Jesus and everything changed. He came back to the Church and eventually made his way to the seminary…and the rest is history.

He is clearly on fire for Jesus, and it was sweet to see his passion for Jesus. He so wanted to share it with us that he even gave us homework assignments. The first was to give our hearts to Jesus every morning, and he had us repeat after him, “Jesus, I give you my heart.”

As I listened to his homily, I reflected on my own relationship with Jesus. I remember those days of my early passion for Jesus. I remember how Jesus filled me with hope and gratitude, and how loving Jesus made sense to me.

Jesus’ message of forgiveness was exactly what I needed to hear when I was in my twenties and feeling lost. I had felt empty until I met Jesus. Then, like this priest, I could not stop talking about Jesus and how wonderful His love was.Jesus-heart-loveThe next morning, I began my prayer as the priest had suggested. I prayed, Jesus, I give you my heart.

To me, giving my heart to Jesus also means taking on the heart of Jesus, and I really do want my heart to be like the heart of Jesus—loving, accepting, forgiving. My prayer was sincere.

As I contemplated the love of Jesus, I thought of the people of Jesus’ time. I imagine that most people were expecting a Messiah who would free them from their occupiers.

How disappointed they must have been when Jesus told them to turn the other cheek, to actually love their enemies.

Imagine waiting for a Messiah who would give them security and prosperity and hearing Jesus’ message about vulnerability and riches in heaven.

Imagine wanting a Messiah who would make them feel strong and in control and hearing Jesus’ message about being weak and trusting that God was in control.

Where people were concerned with overthrowing their enemies, Jesus was more concerned with building up their spiritual lives, and his plan was based on love, not war.

Two thousand years later, little seems to have changed; many people still clamor for security through aggression.

Giving our hearts to Jesus means we have to let go of the illusion of power and control so that the love of Jesus can lead us to true peace and freedom.

Jesus, I give you my heart, I am praying every morning. Make it more like your heart, I add.Jesus-heart-love

 

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Christmas love

In the days leading up to Christmas, I have been pondering how God infused humanity with divine love.

This infusion of love happened in the most vulnerable of circumstances—an unmarried woman became pregnant, Joseph had the courage to take her as his wife, their arduous trip to Bethlehem, no room at the inn and giving birth among the animals. It happened to ordinary people who were living ordinary lives.

The shepherds were the first to hear the news, lowly shepherds. God chose to reveal His greatest glory to working-class people—not royalty or rich people, but poor people, marginalized people, people who smelled like the sheep they lived among.

The fact that God chose these particular people and circumstances makes me think that lowliness and vulnerability are highly esteemed by God. God prefers lowliness.

As I pondered the mystery of God coming to us in these humble surroundings, love took on a different look. That first Christmas turned societal order upside down, placing first those who seemed to be last. That Christmas, the lowliest were the first to receive the message of God’s love breaking into the world.

Christmas love seeks out those who are marginalized and lets them know that they are the most important to God, that God chooses them.

Christmas love honors two things we might find difficult to even look at, let alone esteem—poverty and powerlessness. Who wants to be poor and powerless? Who wants to even think about their brokenness and fragility?

Yet, the message of Christmas seems pretty clear—God chooses those who are lowly; Christmas invites us to consider our own lowliness—our own weakness and insecurity.

This is the gift of Christmas—not expensive presents or lavish parties, but humility and vulnerability; that is where God touches us with divine love. God turns things upside down by blessing those very parts of ourselves we try to hide.

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As I thought about Christmas, the word fear kept coming to me. Fears keep us from accepting those we see as different, because we can fear being judged, being hurt, being taken advantage of or even being seen as different. I wonder if Mary and Joseph were afraid of the shepherds who approached them and their newborn baby—in the way we might be afraid of being approached by someone who had been living outside.

Christmas assures us that God prefers to meet us in our vulnerability, our fears and insecurities, our poverty and pain. There God can infuse us with divine love so that we can be open to pain and suffering—our own and others.Christmas-love-vulnerability

Christmas love is accepting and forgiving. It is abundant, and it offers true freedom and peace when we can let go of our fears and expectations and honestly admit our dependence on God.

To be humble rather than proud; to be weak rather than strong; to love rather than hate; to trust rather than fear; to hope even in dire circumstances—let the Christmas celebration begin.Christmas-love-vulnerability

 

 

 

 

 

Choose love

I recently officiated at my nephew’s wedding, and he and his new wife gave me some thank-you gifts; among them was a journal and on the cover were the words Choose love.

Choose love

I read it as a command: Choose love.

Tears filled my eyes.

In that moment, I had to admit that I have been afraid to choose love. Choosing love means being vulnerable, taking risks, being open. It means letting go. Avoid love would be a more apt phrase for me. Avoid the possibility of hurt and pain and sorrow.

A few months ago, several people recommended I see a movie called “The War Room,” and I finally got around to watching it last weekend. It is the story of a wise, older woman who is a prayer warrior. It is also about committing oneself to Jesus completely.

The movie invited me to look at my own prayer life and my commitment to Jesus. It held up a mirror and in the reflection I could see how far I have moved away from a heart connection with Jesus. My fear of letting go, of being vulnerable, of choosing love has distanced me from Jesus, too.

Today is the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. St. Mary Margaret Alacoque (1647-1690) was devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. She wrote:

The sacred heart is an inexhaustible fountain and its sole desire is to pour itself out into the hearts of the humble so as to free them and prepare them to lead lives according to his good pleasure.

From this divine heart three streams flow endlessly. The first is the stream of mercy for sinners; it pours into their hearts sentiments of contrition and repentance. The second is the stream of charity which helps all in need and especially aids those seeking perfection in order to find the means of surmounting their difficulties. From the third stream flow love and light for the benefit of his friends who have attained perfection; these he wishes to unite to himself so that they may share his knowledge and commandments and, in their individual ways, devote themselves wholly to advancing his glory.

This divine heart is an abyss of all blessings, and into it the poor should submerge all their needs. It is an abyss of joy in which all of us can immerse our sorrows. It is an abyss of lowliness to counteract our foolishness, an abyss of mercy for the wretched, an abyss of love to meet our every need. 

As I reflected on the movie, I also thought of the abyss of love that is the heart of Jesus and the invitation Jesus extends to me to live in his love, to submerge myself and all my needs into his heart. By avoiding love, I know I have also been avoiding joy.

I want to choose love, to let go and move closer to Jesus, take a risk and be vulnerable. Jesus’ heart invites me to jump into the abyss.

 

God whispers

Whisper is a word that has been catching my attention lately—as in, hearing God whisper.

Figuring out God’s will for me has not always been easy. For many years, I was watching and listening for God to proclaim the plan for my life in obvious ways—like peals of thunder and flashes of lightening or neon signs—something I could not miss.

But, as I look back on my spiritual journey, I can see that God’s guidance was much quieter; God mainly whispered.

My conversion experience when I was twenty-two set me on a path of trying to discern God’s will. My deepest desire was to hold nothing back from God and to live the Gospel radically. Ten years later, I still felt unsure of a direction for my life that would be enough to repay God for the forgiveness and love God had given me.

I considered becoming a Catholic sister, and when that did not seem radical enough, I moved into a l’Arche community and several other Christian communities after that. Even though some of those experiences were incredibly difficult and painful, none seemed radical enough. I am not sure what I was looking for, but I knew the things I was trying were not enough.

And then on retreat one year, when I was pleading my case before God, explaining all the ways I had to find God’s will for me and how I had tried to live the Gospel radically, God spoke. I never told you to go to l’Arche, God told me. I was pleased with the way you were living and the work you were doing. You wanted something more radical. You were not satisfied with the good work you were doing. Your life was radical enough for me.

Walking the retreat center grounds, I replayed God’s words in my head. Had it really been my will instead of God’s? In a flash, it became clear—I had been projecting my insecurities onto God and acting out of my belief that I was not enough and whatever I did was not good enough.

God’s assurance that the work I was doing was good enough and radical enough freed me. Suddenly, I saw that the radicalness of living the Gospel is a new way.

While I had been looking for some big sign, God had been whispering, “That person, love her,” and “That person, forgive him,” and “That person, be compassionate to her.” If I could do that and do it consistently, I would be living the Gospel radically, I would be doing God’s will.

One thing I learned from my earlier efforts to live more radically was that just about the most radical thing I could do was to touch my own brokenness and vulnerability and to allow others to see my wounds. Loving, forgiving, being compassionate to the people I meet every day—and doing that from a place of my own brokenness—now that is radical.

Find another way

I awoke this morning with the image of the wicked witch from the Wizard of Oz crying, “I’m melting,” as she dissolved into a puddle. “I’m melting” I said, and immediately the image changed from the wicked witch to an image of a thick coating falling away from my heart.

In another dream I had recently, I was kayaking down a river and the passageway was blocked so I had to backtrack a bit and find another way. Find another way was the phrase in my head when I woke up.

Dreams have a way of letting me know what is happening interiorly and offering direction and guidance.

Is my heart more open? Am I seeking other ways? My dreams seem to be saying yes.

It can be difficult to move away from old ways, though. Old habits and familiar patterns can easily drag me right back to unhealthy ways of thinking and relating. Fears can creep back in, no matter how many times I shoo them away.

But my dreams hold out a promise of something different, the promise of moving beyond my fears into freedom.

Three things I can do to respond to the invitations of my dreams:

Live in gratitude. Fear and gratitude are mutually exclusive for me. Gratitude leads to a greater awareness of abundance, whereas fear is about scarcity. There is no room for fear when I am conscious of all that I have—and grateful for all that I have.

Live in trust. Trust shatters fear. Trust is about hope and receptivity. A trusting heart is an open heart.

Let go of negativity. Freedom comes from letting go of old hurts and negative messages. Only by letting go of the past can I be open to the promise of the future.

Looking ahead to the New Year, I want to be more open to another way, living in greater freedom and loving with an unguarded heart.