Tag Archives: prayer

Be a Joseph

Our Christmas homily included the advice: Don’t be an innkeeper; be a Joseph.

The innkeeper in the Nativity story, the guy who said there was no room and turned Joseph and Mary out, was probably a realist—all his rooms were filled (Luke 2:7). Granted, he may have been inundated with people seeking shelter because of the census so he had no empty rooms, but the priest wondered if the innkeeper had considered all his options? Had he thought of giving up his bed so that a pregnant woman could rest comfortably?

We don’t know. Maybe another pregnant woman had arrived earlier. Maybe…. Well, we just don’t know. The story handed down to us is not a first-person account, so we can only guess at what really happened that night.

The more important thing to consider, though, are our own actions.

We don’t have to go far to find people in need, people facing difficulties, struggling with illness or life’s challenges.

How are we like the innkeeper, turning people away when we feel we are at our limit and they are asking us to make room for them?   

Do we do things a certain way because we have always done them that way? Are we so focused on one course of action that we cannot see alternatives?

When life seems full, do we shut the door and say enough? Or do we make room for one more?

Compare that to Joseph, who had already made up his mind to divorce Mary, until he had a dream suggesting a different course of action. Then he pivots and does as the angel in the dream instructed (Matthew 1:19-24).

I wondered if the innkeeper might have had a dream that night after turning Joseph and Mary away, a dream when an angel told him to go find Joseph and Mary and offer them his bed. But upon waking from the dream, he only said, “I had the weirdest dream last night,” and went about his day as usual. Haven’t most of us done that?

We are all invited to change course from time to time, to reframe a situation, get a different perspective.

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Can we be like Joseph and be willing to rethink our decisions, to make new decisions based on new information? Can we be guided by the whispers of the Spirit when we feel a nudge to reach out to someone, to offer assistance or comfort? Can we hear the voice of God in our dreams and gain insight into a new direction for our lives?

As I review my journals from this year and remember different events, I am aware of how often I am like the innkeeper, choosing to be comfortable rather than stretching to meet another’s need.

My friend Steve (who died ten years ago) used to start each year by choosing a word or phrase to guide him through the year, something that the Spirit had whispered to him.

Be a Joseph is my phrase for 2023.

Mother Teresa speaks to me

Mother Teresa has been speaking to me recently. Not directly, of course, but through a daily reflection book I have been reading this year, Do Something Beautiful for God.

Sometimes, they are pithy sayings like the entry for October 19:

Life is an adventure; dare it.

I, too, believe that life is an adventure, and I am doing my best to dare it, by taking risks, traveling, saying yes to opportunities. I am doing things I love and enjoying life. I wonder, though, if that is what Mother Teresa meant. Her life seemed totally devoted to service, so when she says adventure, what does she mean?

Last month, I participated in two opportunities to serve meals at two churches in the city, and I was reminded of the importance of direct contact with people who live closer to the edge than I do. Most of the volunteer work I do now is organizational (boards and committees), so cooking and serving meals felt like an invitation to return to the kind of service I used to do. A different kind of adventure.

Other times, Mother Teresa’s words seem to be inviting me to a movement in prayer. The entry for October 14: Every moment of prayer, especially before our Lord in the tabernacle, is a sure, positive gain. The time we spend each day sitting with God is the most precious part of the whole day.

This one spoke to me on several levels. First, I don’t tend to spend time before our Lord in the tabernacle, perhaps because it was not part of my religious upbringing and because I have to go someplace to find a tabernacle. I pray in the morning at home, but I know that when I have prayed in chapel (on retreat mostly), I have found it peaceful. When I read this reflection, I wondered why I don’t go to chapel more often.

That led me to reflect on my time in prayer every morning and if it is the most precious part of the whole day. I know that when I am on retreat, spending a whole week in silence and focused on God 24/7, my prayer seems to be deeper and more precious.  Perhaps the invitation is to be more attentive to God throughout the day—on retreat or not.

The entry for October 16: If you were to die today, what would others say about you? What was in you that was beautiful, that was Christlike, that helped others to pray better? Face yourself, with Jesus at our side, and do not be satisfied with just any answer. Go deep into the question. Examine your life.

When I left Pennsylvania nine years ago—after having lived there for twenty-eight years—friends had a going-away party for me and one after another, people said all kinds of wonderful things about me. My friend Ted said it was like being at my own wake, and I still smile when I recall that party. One thing that stood out to me was how many people thanked me for doing some small thing that I did not even remember doing—a kind word or some small favor that meant little to me but had a big impact on them.

That reminded me of Mother Teresa’s saying: Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.

More pics from Mackinac Island

One of the things that makes Mackinac Island unique is that there are no cars on the Island, so transportation is via foot, bike or horse.

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Horse-drawn taxi
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Bikes line the streets

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Mackinac Island was an important part of the early fur trade but during the 19th century developed into a summer vacation destination. The Victorian houses and horse-drawn carriages are a step back in time.

We stayed at the Bayview B&B, built in 1891 and maintaining the charm of that era.

The Mackinac Bridge is the fifth longest suspension bridge in the world. It connects the Lower and Upper Peninsulas of Michigan and can be seen from Mackinac Island. There are no bridges to the Island, though; the Island is reached by ferry from either Mackinaw City in the Lower Peninsula or St. Ignace in the Upper.

Discovering my path

Ever since I was eight years old, I knew that God had called me in some special way. I didn’t know how the “call” happened. I just knew that God had chosen me, and I could see that I was different from my brothers and friends in certain ways—mostly in my desire to spend time in church and to talk to God.

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I felt a closeness to Jesus, and I knew instinctively that he was with me. I thought of him as a brother who “got me,” who related to my vulnerability and my feelings of helplessness.

When he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I heard an echo of my own cry. Like me, Jesus was an innocent victim. And even though I felt chosen by God and closely connected to God, I still went through my life experiences on my own.

Knowing that God was with me was a comfort, but I understood that God was not going to take away the difficulties of my life. God was not going to make my dad stop drinking or make my mom protect me. God was not going to change my “bad-touch” uncle or prevent my being abused.

Yes, God was with me, Jesus was with me, and I was also on my own. It was a mystery.

Why God had chosen me was a mystery, too. Why me? A poor girl from the east side of Detroit who had no special talents or skills.

At one point, I thought I could escape to a convent, but I have a lousy singing voice and I thought being able to sing was a requirement of being a nun. (I did not go to Catholic school, so I had no first-hand experience with nuns.) I was stuck living the life I had, playing the hand I had been dealt.

I envied Jesus because he had a clear sense of his mission, of why God had sent him. Me? I had no sense of my mission.

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Finding the path I was meant to walk has been a life-long quest.

When I read St. Paul’s letters about our different gifts (Romans 12:6) I could hardly relate. What gifts did I have that could help build God’s kingdom? I wasn’t a teacher, a healer, a prophet or a preacher. What was my gift? Another mystery.

Now, here I am at seventy years old, looking back on the path I have walked. Over time, my gifts and talents revealed themselves through the events of everyday life. Over time, I have been able to let go of unrealistic expectations, the “shoulds” and “oughts,” and accepted what is.

I am now comfortable in my own skin and grateful for my life.

I recently completed an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and hope to help others discern the path God is inviting them to walk, to help identify their gifts and to affirm that God can be found in all things.

Imagination in prayer

At Mass last Sunday, we heard the story of the Prodigal Son with intro parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin. (Luke 15:1-32) These stories introduce us to at least nine (9) characters:

  1. a shepherd whose one sheep has strayed
  2. a woman who lost a coin
  3. the friends and neighbors who rejoice when the sheep and coin are found
  4. a man who has two sons
  5. the older son
  6. the younger son
  7. the pig farmer who starved his workers
  8. the father’s servants and
  9. the older son’s friends

Nine different personalities inviting me to step into the stories and imagine myself in each role.

All week, I have engaged in imaginative prayer with the scenes in this Scripture, placing myself in each of the roles portrayed, letting the scene play out and looking at how I am like the person or how I am different.

For example, when am I put myself in the place of the shepherd, I wondered if I would be willing to leave what I have in search for something lost. It is a risk to leave the safety of the known, and I wondered if I would take the risk.

My opportunities to take risk don’t usually involve sheep, but as I let this image play out, I thought about the safety and security of my circle of friends, and I wondered if I am willing to take the risk of inviting someone into my circle of friends or even just to reach out to someone who seems to be on the outside. Do I tend to play it safe or am I willing to stretch beyond my comfort zone?

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The woman who searches for something precious that has been lost is an easy one for me to imagine because I frequently lose things (mostly earrings, which is why I had an extra hole pierced in one ear so I can still wear the remaining earring). I tend to tear the house apart and retrace my steps looking for a lost earring. But what about other things? Do I persevere or give up? Do I persevere in prayer? In hope?

How am I like the forgiving father? The rebellious son? Or the dutiful son? When am I like the servant who has to prepare something for others to enjoy while I just look on? Or like the local pig farmer who cares more for his pigs than the people who work for hm? How do I react when a friend complains about unfair treatment from a parent?

Each of the people in these stories help me to see myself in relation to God and to others. Each invites me to imagine myself inside the Scripture passage and learn something about myself, others and God.

On my walk one day, I realized that each person represents a different character trait, and it reminded me of the words stenciled at my neighborhood school—incoming messages through different avenues.

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Feeling blessed

I had another dog-sitting gig this week, with a sweet Brittany Spaniel pup who happens to live on a lake, so it was like being on vacation. Just before coming to the lake, my sister brought me a box of chocolates from Paris, and so I enjoyed them while watching the dog play by the water. Life is good.

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Looking out the window onto the lake.

All week, I felt incredibly blessed. It seemed that one good thing after another kept coming my way. I finished my Internship in Ignatian Spirituality, a two-year program with quite rigorous requirements; got invited to speak at a fundraising dinner for a local non-profit; was asked to consult on a project; the last of my home-improvements projects was completed; and I got to share the lake view with several friends who came to visit. A very good week.

At the same time, a cough has settled in my chest, and I can’t seem to shake it. It worries me because I am someone who rarely gets sick—and when I do, I usually respond to medicine. Not this time, though.

I am doing what I can about the cough, following doctor’s orders (getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, taking my medicine) and, at the same time, trying to focus more on the good things happening in my life.

Balancing life’s challenges with life’s blessings is a work we are all called to.

Being grateful for the good in my life and putting more energy into the positives helps tip the scales toward the blessings. I can’t ignore the challenges, but I can keep them in perspective.

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And I can remember that most growth comes from challenges. I am where I am because of the struggles I have gone through.

After a particularly difficult time in my life, I came to believe that God holds all the cards, and my job is to play the hand I am dealt. Sometimes that hand is a winner, and other times I just want to throw in the cards and ask for a re-deal.

God invites me to stick with it, even when my cards are lousy, to keep looking for glimmers of hope and to remember that God is with me through it all.

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.

Give us joy

Give us joy to balance our affliction, for the years when we knew misfortune. Psalm 90:15

A few months ago, I was talking with a man who had lived a charmed life. He had grown up in a loving home with parents who cared deeply for him and desired the best for him. He had a wonderful education and excelled in his career. He had good friends, got married, had children, travelled and basically did all the things he wanted to do. Everything was going so well—until he was diagnosed with an illness that ended his career and eventually his marriage. As the disease progressed, he became more physically incapacitated and had to hire aides to help him at home.

He told me about one of his aides, a woman whose life had the opposite trajectory from his. Her early life was full of affliction and misfortune. She had grown up in a home without love where she was abused in every way imaginable. She lacked education and family support. Eventually, she ended up in prison. After leaving prison, she entered a treatment program that enabled her to turn her life around and move in a different direction. Now she supports herself by taking care of vulnerable people. She has found love and is engaged to be married.

This man, with his Job-like challenges, has a wonderful attitude and outlook on life. When his career ended, he went back to school so he could begin a second career, one that was not dependent on his physical abilities. His body is failing, but his mind is still thriving.

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As he and I talked, I thought about how some of us know affliction and misfortune early in life, while others face them later.

This man told me he and his aide talk about how their lives have intersected because of his illness, how they would never have gotten to know one another in the way they do if he had not become sick. He believes that her story is the more amazing because she has overcome so much; he is in awe of her.

I stand in awe of both of them. He, for his positive attitude in the face of a debilitating disease; she, for her determination to overcome her past and create a new life for herself.

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Not anywhere as extreme as his aide’s, but my early life was marked by chaos and trauma. I was a shy child and very anxious. School was a nightmare to me socially, although I loved learning, and being in school felt safe. My unresolved childhood trauma made me vulnerable to abuse as a young adult.

Like his aide, I finally feel I have come into my own. I am confident in what I learned from my career, pursuing things that interest me, comfortable in my own skin and living in joy.

How about you? Did you know misfortune early in life or later? Do you know joy now which balances out past afflictions?

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Shh, it’s a secret

Just days before my mother died last year, she revealed a secret to me, a secret she had kept for almost fifty years, a secret that flipped a light switch in my brain. Suddenly, I could look at events from fifty years ago and see them in a different light.

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The clarity was almost blinding, and I wanted to explore the implications of what I had learned, but my mother was dying, and I needed to pay attention to what was happening right in front of me instead of examining events from the past. So, I tucked her secret away.

And then one day last fall, her secret came rushing back to me like a tidal wave.

I was overwhelmed with a truth I had never even considered, a truth that explained my father’s attitude toward me after I got divorced. I realized that my life could have gone in an entirely different direction had I known then what my mother had revealed before her death.

I was hurt and angry.

Moreover, my mother’s secret dislodged a secret that I had been keeping for more than fifty years, a secret I was not consciously aware I was keeping.

Suddenly, disparate pieces of my early twenties fell into place like cogs on a gear. I had great clarity about my early life and things that had happened to me that had shaped the rest of my life.

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At family gatherings, my younger brother liked to point to my mother and then to me and say, “Tree, apple.”

My mother was great at denial and at keeping secrets. She denied anything bad that happened to her and would not risk disclosing an unattractive (or downright ugly) truth about someone, in case it might be embarrassing (or possibly illegal). She protected people who were not worthy of protection, and she taught me to do the same.

Like my mother, I am a great secret keeper, a steel trap for people’s confidences, and I have held sacred the secrets people have shared with me over the years.

What I know about secrets, though, is that the shame attached to them can turn something innocent into something sinister, and I know how shame can paralyze.  

A few years ago, when I finally said the name of the man who raped me, I realized I had been protecting him by not saying his name; I was keeping it secret.

Saying his name—revealing the secret—broke the power of shame over me.

Back to the tree…apple scenario.

I have spent my adult life trying to unlearn my mother’s lessons, trying to be more honest and forthcoming. I have gone to ACOA meetings and worked the steps. I know that we are only as sick as our secrets, and I have tried to live transparently, without secrets.

And yet now I am faced with two new secrets from my past.

But those events are no longer buried, and I have begun talking about what happened to me.

What I want

Last week Rachel Mankowitz wrote about hearing and trusting her internal voices speaking of what she does and does not want to do. I resonated.

I learned early on (probably before I was five) that what I wanted or did not want mattered little. I did what I was told—whether I wanted to or not—and rarely got anything I wanted, so I learned to stop wanting.

The depth of the disconnect was made clear to me when I was twelve years old and had my tonsils removed. On the way home from the hospital, my mother stopped at the grocery store and said I could pick one thing I wanted. I had no idea what I wanted and was overwhelmed by having to pick something. I remember standing in the store paralyzed by indecision. What did I want? No idea.

So, I picked something practical, something I thought my mother would like—dill pickles.  

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I have spent a lot of my life doing things other people wanted me to do—out of guilt or not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings or some other version of making other people happy—while ignoring my own desires.

Therapy in my early thirties started a process of discovery, and by my late thirties, I began to identify some things I wanted.

I took my first real vacation, a windjammer cruise, when I was thirty-seven. It was thrilling to realize that I knew what I wanted and that I could make it happen.

At the end of a retreat in my early forties, I read Coming Down the Mountain by Thomas Hart, and I have kept a “cheat sheet” of questions from that book that I refer to regularly.

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These questions have helped me gain clarity, and after years of asking them, I am much better at knowing what I want.

But I can still fall into the old patterns.

When I turned fifty, I made a “travel wish list” of places I wanted to visit over the next decade. Other than the Holy Land, my destinations were in the U.S. or Europe. Included at the end of that list was a thirty-day retreat, something my friend Jim had done, and he thought it would be good for me to do. I put it on the list more as a reminder because I could not foresee a time in my fifties when I would have the money and time to do it.

My sixties’ travel list included the retreat, along with the Holy Land and some of the European counties I had not managed to visit, but my sixties were full of upheaval, and I did not do much traveling. So my seventies’ list closely resembles the sixties’ list, including the retreat.

Now, I am in a place where I can do the thirty-day retreat, and so I signed up. I told my spiritual director, expecting her to be thrilled, but instead, she asked why I wanted to do a thirty-day. “Because Jim thought I should,” was my first response, and even I could hear how lame that sounded.

She suggested I pray about the retreat and ask God for clarity. So, I prayed, and I got clarity.

I realized that I feel passionate about European travel. I am energized by my volunteer work (especially supporting survivors of sexual assault) and the consulting work I am doing. I am excited about the Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and have clarity around how I want to use what I have learned (mainly in helping people process the experience of pilgrimage or mission trips). I am also drawn to officiating at weddings and funerals.

Where is the retreat in all that? I am indifferent.

Discernment is a big part of Ignatian Spirituality and following the process has helped me gain clarity about where God is calling me, and what I want to do.

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