Tag Archives: meditation

Be seen and heard

Shh.

Be quiet.

Don’t speak.

Be seen and not heard.

Make yourself small.

Cower in the corner.

Become invisible.

Keep the little girl inside you little.

This is my beloved Son; listen to him, God said of Jesus.

Did God say of me, This is my beloved daughter; listen to her?

But who can hear me when I am being quiet?

How can you listen to me when I am not speaking?

If I remain tucked in the corner, trying to be invisible,

how can I spread God’s message of love and forgiveness?

God whispers to me.

Think big thoughts.

Speak up.

Make yourself seen and heard.

In a holy place

When I walked into the Notre Dame Cathedral at Bayeux, France, two things happened.

First, I had a felt sense of the prayers that had been offered there over the years (the Cathedral was built in the 11th century), as if I was part of the communion of saints—I was joining my prayers to all the people who had prayed in this space over the centuries. Their prayers hung in the air, filling the vast space; I could almost hear their shouts of gratitude and cries of anguish. I walked into that communion of saints, and I prayed in gratitude for the opportunity to be there, to be part of this community of faith.

I was reminded of the tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels and imagined a parade of people from the past, heads bowed in prayer.

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One of the Communion of Saints tapestries in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, Los Angeles, California
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Tapestries line the interior of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels

(The Cathedral at Bayeux also has a tapestry, which depicts the adventures of William the Conqueror in 1066 and is now housed in a museum near the Cathedral.)

The second thing that happened when I walked into the Cathedral was a memory of a mystical vision I had almost forty years ago.

In the vision, I was in an old church like this one (I had been in Spain a few years earlier and had visited several churches like the one in Bayeux—stone walls, floors and pillars and no permanent pews or fabric to soften the church interior).

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Interior of Notre Dame Cathedral, Bayeux, France

When I had the vision, though, I was praying in the convent chapel at my parish in Pennsylvania.

In the vision, I saw myself lying prostrate on the floor of a medieval cathedral. I could feel how hard the stone was against my body and how cold it felt against my arms. Then, the floor began to shift and rise up, becoming a hand that was lifting me up, and I knew it was the hand of God. God said to me, “I will hold you.”

It was soon after that vision that I moved to a l’Arche community, and I thought of that vision many times during my time in l’Arche and how God held me.

Today is the feast of St. Norbert, an 11th century French priest who was known for his deep faith. The writing in the Liturgy of the Hours, says, “He spent many hours in contemplation of the divine mysteries and fearlessly spread the spiritual insights which were the fruit of his meditation.”

I wondered about the spiritual insights of my meditation, and then I remembered my vision. God will hold me.

God did hold me during my time in l’Arche, and I came away from that experience with a deep awareness of God’s care for me. Living in l’Arche was the most challenging thing I had ever done and also the most fruitful—I learned so much about myself.

The vision was a gift, a promise from God that I would be held. Almost forty years later, the vision still consoles me.

Castles, castles everywhere

Before visiting France, I probably would have said I had little or no interest in castles, but I would have been wrong. I found the castles of France fascinating. Some were mere ruins while others had been well maintained.

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The Chateau d’Angers, built between the 13th and 16th centuries.
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On top of the wall
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The garden inside the castle walls
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Chateau Villandry, built in 1536.
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The Meditation Pool at Villandry
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The gardens at Villandry
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Part of the moat and the only castle we visited that still has water in the moat.
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Chateau de Commarque was built in the 12th century and is still in the Commarque family. It is currently being restored.
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Inside the grounds of the Chateau Commarque
Beneath the Chateau are caves with carvings that date to the Magdalenian Period (15,000 B.C.).

Leaving my losses at the foot of the cross

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In the early 1980’s. while working at University Lutheran Church at the University of Pennsylvania, I had the opportunity to go on a Palm Sunday weekend retreat with the Taize brothers from Hell’s Kitchen, New York City. I felt privileged to be among this group of pilgrims preparing for Holy Week. The retreat house was in rural Maryland, and signs of spring were all around us.

The small chapel where the brothers led us in Taize prayer services was dominated by a large wooden cross, and we were invited to meditate on the cross.

I remember sitting in front of the cross on Saturday afternoon and imagining the scene on the day Jesus died. I imagined Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalen (my patron saint) at the foot of the cross, overcome with sorrow, crying out in anguish. In my imagination, I joined them at the foot of the cross and looked up at the dying Jesus. I gasped at the sight of Jesus in agony.

As I sat with Mary and Mary Magdalen, I joined in their questioning the scene before them. Poor Mary, recalling the prophesy of Simeon that her heart would be pierced. How right he had been!

Poor Mary Magdalen, losing the only man she truly loved, the man who had given her hope and loved her into wholeness.

How could this be? Where was God in all this? How could God abandon Jesus and us?

Even though Jesus had suggested bad things would happen in Jerusalem, we had no idea he meant this bad. I wondered how I had missed the signs, how I had misinterpreted what Jesus had been saying. How blind I had been, how comfortable in my denial.

As we watched Jesus dying and heard him cry out to God in his abandonment, my heart broke, and I wept along with Mary and Mary Magdalen.

Tears streamed down my face as I thought of the losses in my own life, of times when things did not go as I had hoped, of unmet expectations and crushed dreams. I joined Jesus, Mary and Mary Magdalen in the depths of despair. I questioned God’s love and care for me.

And then, one of the Taize brothers approached me and gently invited me to lay my burdens at the foot of the cross. “Lay them down,” he said, “and walk away.” He told me to trust that Jesus would take up whatever was weighing me down.

What? Just let go of the hurts I had been carrying around for so long? Let go of those losses that had shaped me? Those painful events that I had survived and carried as a badge of honor?

The brother sensed my hesitancy, my resistance, and reminded me of the resurrection. God did come through. God is faithful.

By the time we left that retreat house on Sunday afternoon, I felt ready to enter Holy Week, believing that God’s love would transform my sorrow into resurrection joy.

Originally published in Manresa Matters, Spring 2022.

A message from art

I love to travel, and last week, I visited friends in Ireland. When I travel, I try to be especially mindful of my surroundings and pay attention to what I notice.

My friend and I visited the National Gallery of Ireland in Dublin and there we saw, among other great works of art, The Taking of Christ by Caravaggio, which had apparently been hiding in plain sight above a mantle in a Jesuit house in Dublin for many years.

The Taking of Christ is full of emotion, and I stood looking at it for a while. What caught my attention, though, were Jesus’ hands, which were clasped loosely in front of him and looked like a sign of acceptance or surrender. His face had an air of resignation; his hands confirmed it. Jesus was not going to put up a fight; he would be led to his execution.

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‘The Taking of Christ’ by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio

Later, I came upon The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes by Giovanni Lanfranco, and I again noticed the hands in the painting more than anything else. There are hands raised in supplication, hands being used as support and hands pointing. Most of the hands are empty and outstretched, waiting for bread.

I wondered why the hands in these paintings were grabbing my attention. Is there something in the position of the hands that might hold some meaning for me? Am I being invited to a deeper level of surrender? How am I like the people in The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes? Am I grasping for some nourishment?

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“The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, ” Giovanni Lanfranco, Italian, 1582-1647

I also wondered what my hands might be saying about me—do they convey a message about what is going on in my life? Is there something in the way I position my hands that reveals something about me?

My friend did not notice the hands in these paintings. She noticed the expressions on the faces in The Taking of Christ and the people more generally in The Miracle of the Loaves and Fishes, so I know there is some invitation or message specifically for me in my noticing the hands in these paintings.

Last month, I saw an exhibit at the Detroit Institute of Art called By Her Hand: Artemisia Gentileschi and Women Artists in Italy, 1500-1800. Perhaps that set off some sort of fascination with hands in art, although I don’t remember being particularly drawn to hands in any of the paintings at that exhibit.

As I walked through the National Gallery, pondering the possible message of the hands in those two paintings, the words of St. Theresa of Avila came to mind: “Christ has no body now but yours, no hands, no feet but yours…” How am I using my hands? How might I use them to benefit others?

My spiritual director recently reminded me that God speaks to us through all sorts of channels—prayer, scripture, people, rituals, events, art, etc. These two works of art spoke to me, inviting me to pay attention and to be open.