Tag Archives: prayer

Linger

Sit by the water’s edge

and rest.

Linger here,

without worry or hurry.

Feel the breeze that

brings life,

swirling around,

wild and untamed one minute,

gentle and caressing the next.

Listen for that little voice,

that tiny whisper,

inviting you to

immerse yourself in the silence surrounding you,

to dip into the quiet and

let it speak hope to your heart.

Waiting

“How is retirement so far?” my older brother recently asked.

“Every day feels like Saturday,” I replied.

“That’s retirement,” he said.

Saturdays have always been my “catch-up” days—grocery shopping, cleaning, running errands, etc. All those things I did not get to during the week were seen to on Saturdays.

With no work and no “mom duty,” my calendar is clear, and I have loads of time to spread out my shopping, housework and errands throughout the week.

Last weekend, I attended a (virtual) retreat for people in transition, and the question that snagged my attention comes from 1 Kings 19:13, when the Lord asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?”

It took me back to when I worked for an adult literacy council and often spoke to community groups about our work. I usually asked an adult learner to accompany me and share how we had helped.

One of the adult learners spoke of the challenges of learning English. She would say that the two questions, “How are you?” and “How are you doing?” confused her because she thought she was being asked two different questions. The word “doing” threw her.

I thought the same as I listened to the question to Elijah. What was he doing there? He wasn’t doing anything, really, just standing outside waiting for God to come by.

It occurred to me that different questions might have been, “Why are you here?” or “What are you looking for?” or “What do you want?”

Now that I am no longer working and no longer caring for my mom—two things I used to do—I am asking myself, “What am I doing here?” and is it ok to do nothing, to just stand outside and wait for God to pass by?

God-mindfulness-vulnerability

On retreat–I had hoped

On the sixth day of my retreat, my spiritual director suggested I pray with Luke 24:13-35, the Road to Emmaus. The story is that two disciples are walking to Emmaus from Jerusalem after the crucifixion. They are sad and disappointed.

Then Jesus is walking along with them, but they don’t recognize him. He asks what they are talking about, and they relate what has happened in Jerusalem and what happened to Jesus. “We had hoped…” (Luke 24:21) they said.

Those three words jumped off the page at me, and I repeated them a few times. “We had hoped.” Then I personalized it to, “I had hoped.”

What had I hoped?

I had hoped…

  • To be loved, cherished, valued and respected;
  • To stop the negative messages in my head;
  • To go to college after high school;
  • To visit Poland again;
  • To live in l’Arche for the rest of my life;
  • To reconcile with a friend from Winnipeg, and on and on.

It turns out I had a fair number of dashed hopes. Like the disciples who were feeling let down, I also had hoped and been disappointed.

After a few hours of creating a list of my unfulfilled hopes, I went back to my Bible and finished reading the Road to Emmaus story in Luke.

Jesus says to these two disciples, “How foolish you are and how slow to believe…” and then he explains what happened to him from a different perspective; he reframed the situation.

What Jesus says to these two disciples on the road to Emmaus is that their hopes and their vision were too narrow, too small. The resurrection was bigger than anything they could have imagined or hoped.

Jesus says the same thing to me, too—my vision is to narrow, my hopes are too small, and what I need to do is broaden my vision, to get a different perspective. I need to think big thoughts, to focus on God’s abundance and to remember all the good things that have happened to me.

I thought back to the litany of blessings I had done a few days earlier and how I call myself “the luckiest girl in the world.” It is true that I have had unrealized hopes and dreams; it is also true that I have had opportunities beyond my wildest hopes or dreams.

God’s vision for me is much bigger than I could ever hope or imagine.

On retreat–the bear got poked

Some years, my week-long silent retreats are days of rest, prayer, meditative walks and feeling God’s presence. Other years, some old wound in need of healing is revealed. This year’s retreat was the latter.

On the fourth night, I attended a Healing Service. The presider talked about the difference between being cured (disease is gone) and healed (disease is still there but attitude toward the disease is transformed).

He talked about holding grudges and how doing so is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.

None of this was new to me.

Then he shared a story from his university days in Europe, and I felt resentful. “Lucky you,” I thought, and then I remembered that I had gone to Spain when I was in college. Why would I resent his time in Europe? It made no sense.

That night, I had a dream—one I had had before—about not knowing my place, about overstepping my bounds.

“The bear got poked,” I told my spiritual director.

I told her how I noticed my resentment during the healing service and how it had surprised me. And then I started to cry. Tears from some deep place, pouring out as if a scab had been ripped away from a wound.

I try to pay attention to when I am angry, and I try not to hold grudges. So how had I not noticed that my snide comments and eye-rolls were a sign of resentment or envy?

My director talked about how grudges can come from old hurts that seemingly have nothing to do with the current situation. She suggested I reflect on hurtful events from my past and try to get some distance from my emotional entanglements to them.

That night, I saw three deer walking along the edge of the woods. Deer are a sign for me of God’s presence, and in that moment, I felt comforted in the reminder that God is with me on this journey.

The next day, I walked to the wetlands and just as I was about to sit down on the dock, I noticed two deer about twenty feet away, partially hidden by the brown reeds. They looked at me but did not run. I sat down and watched them. 

After a few minutes, they disappeared into the woods.

I remembered my walk through the woods my first day of retreat and how the undergrowth made the woods seem impenetrable. Yet the deer we able to enter.

I took a walk through the woods and felt that God was inviting me to look again at the undergrowth, but with a softened gaze so I could see beyond what appeared to be a mess—like those optical illusions that require soft eyes to see the hidden picture.  

With soft eyes, I can see that the deer are hiding in plain sight.

With soft eyes, I can see that God, too, is right in front of me, desiring to heal my wounds.

On retreat–pondering my blessings

The weather while I was on retreat was perfect for spending time outdoors, and the retreat center has beautiful grounds—grassy areas, a labyrinth, and trails through a wooded area.

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The labyrinth at Manresa Jesuit Retreat House

I had not been on retreat here in two years and was startled by the number of fallen trees in the woods. The undergrowth was so dense I wondered how deer could make their way through, and then I wondered what undergrowth might be preventing me from moving forward. What is tripping me up?

Time on silent retreats is different from daily life in that there is nowhere to go and not much to do. A schedule develops around meals, Mass, meeting with a spiritual director once a day, and prayer times.

Retreat time allows for being able to stay with one image, idea, word or phrase for a whole day—or two or three; there is no need to move on. Rather retreats invite and encourage dwelling with words and images, letting the richness surface, and then going deeper.

On the third day of retreat, I woke up with the words of the Magnificat running through my mind, and I wrote this prayer in my journal, noting which words or phrases created some reaction in me. I prayed the words as though they were my own, as though I was the one offering up this prayer from my life experience, as Mary once offered it when she was visiting her cousin Elizabeth.

On one of my walks, I stopped by a statue of Mary and sat on the bench facing Mary. I played out the scene of Mary visiting Elizabeth and heard Elizabeth ask, “Who am I…?”

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Statue of Mary at Manresa Jesuit Retreat House

Who am I? I asked, that I have been so blessed. I thought of how many times I have said, “I am the luckiest girl in the world,” because of all the wonderful opportunities I have had.

A litany of blessings started coming to mind, those experiences that were seemingly beyond the scope of possibility for a poor girl from the east side of Detroit.

For example, I was one of five people on a private tour of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, when the Basilica was closed (the Basilica closes when the Pope celebrates Mass on the Square).

I was one of three people on retreat in a cottage on the coast of the Irish Sea.

I was the only person on retreat in a hermitage on the grounds of a monastery in the desert, being directed by priest who has published books about spiritual writing.

I was one of three people on a night safari in Kruger Park in South Africa, which included a barbeque in the bush, complete with cloth napkins and candlelight (and armed guards watching out for lions).

I was one of eleven people on the shores of the Hudson Bay, 150 miles south of Churchill, Manitoba, watching polar bears migrate.

The list goes on and on.

Who am I that God has so richly blessed me?

On retreat–staying with the questions

Staying with the question

During the opening session of my week-long silent retreat, we were presented with the invitation to stay with the questions in our lives rather than rushing to find answers. Rainer Maria Rilke was quoted.

Retreat-prayer-spirituality

The next day I reflected on my questions, those unanswered mysteries that keep resurfacing and whirling around in my head.

Why me? is the question I have asked countless times over the course of my life. Why did God choose me at the age of eight? What did God expect from me? I was the least likely candidate to do anything great for God; I was a child in a working-class home with few resources and no influence. Why me?

In my twenties, I went on a Cursillo retreat and learned the slogan, God don’t make junk. I even got a button to wear with that quote. God may not make junk, I remember thinking, but God makes mistakes—and choosing me seemed to be one of them, because I could not see how I could serve God in any meaningful way.

On day two of my retreat, as I walked along a riverbank pondering my why question, my cousin Marlene came to mind. When she was being treated for pancreatic cancer, she told me that she had gotten to know some of the people who were on the same chemo schedule, and as they sat for hours getting infusions they would chat about cancer and how unfair it was. Why me? was the question people kept asking. My cousin said she had come to see that was the wrong question. Why not me? she asked.

Maybe that was true for my God question as well. Instead of asking why me? maybe the question I need to ask is why not me?

I started to think of other people God had called who might make me wonder about God’s decision-making abilities, people like Dorothy Day, who as a young adult led a somewhat non-conformist life. Or Frances Cabrini, who was considered by some people to be too frail to become a teaching sister. Or St. Augustine, who lived quite a hedonistic life until his conversion. Or scads of other people who seemed too inconsequential or too frail or who were on the highway to hell and then, bam, God called.

Lots of people who seemed unlikely vessels for God’s message turned out to be exactly what God needed.

Who knows, maybe I am one of them. Why not me?

Arriving at the wetlands

The Canada geese announce their arrival

as though they were royalty.

Clear the path; here we come.

No matter the time of morning or

whether you are trying to sleep in,

they are not to be ignored.

Honking, honking, honking.

And once they land,

they yammer at one another.

Come here.

No, you come here.

While the deer creep silently at dawn and dusk,

preferring you not notice their presence.

Stealth is their way.

Spot us if you can, they seem to say.

How will I announce myself?

At the edge of the wetlands

From my perch on the dock

at the edge of the wetlands,

I watched three hawks circle overhead,

gliding, then swooping,

then flapping their wings before another glide.

What could they see from so high above the treetops?

Did they notice even the slightest movement?

Were they somehow signaling to one another?

Mouse by the maple tree.

Chipmunk on the fallen branch.

They flew in unison,

as if they had rehearsed,

as if they were putting on a synchronized show.

Round and round they went,

gliding and flapping,

seeming to be in no hurry at all,

never coming to ground,

content to be aloft.

And then they flew away.

I waited for them to return,

but after a while,

I gave up.

I don’t have the patience of a hawk.

Seeking justice

A large plastic bin has been sitting in my garage since I moved here eight years ago, and I finally got around to cleaning it out. At the bottom was a scrap of paper with a quote from Helen Keller.

God--justice-rape

I have been pondering where I might “soar” as I contemplate the next chapter of my life, or as one friend put it, my “last act.” Yes, I am in the third third of my life and it is time for me to consider my last act.

What shape this chapter will take is still a mystery; it is a mystery I want to explore.

One “scene” (to stay with the play metaphor) is speaking out about being a rape survivor, and particularly being someone who was raped by a man in law enforcement.

I want to reach out to others who have been sexually assaulted by law enforcement officials to let them know they are not alone—and that there is help, hope and healing. Prosecution may not be a realistic expectation or option but moving from victim to survivor is.

One of the presenters in my Internship in Ignatian Spirituality course said, “Justice is what love looks like in public,” which got me thinking more about justice.

Upon hearing my story of being a rape survivor, several people have asked me about justice—or rather the lack of justice because the man who raped me never faced prosecution.

I have to confess that when the #MeToo movement started, I felt that justice had finally come, because I imagined the man who raped me having to wonder if anyone would say his name. It is a bit perverse (and perhaps not very Christian), but I got a little thrill from thinking that his foundation may have been shaken by wondering if he would have to face his past actions.

Another law enforcement person put it this way to me: “He has to wonder if someone is gunning for him.”

But now I am thinking about justice a bit differently. I have come to a deeper understanding and acceptance of the fact that people do cruel things out of their own brokenness. I am not excusing cruelty; I am allowing for redemption.

Reflecting on my friendship with a woman who committed a heinous crime because of her mental illness has helped me deepen my understanding of justice.

I did not know this woman before the crime, but afterward, once she decided to take her prescribed medicine, she was a different person. Instead of hurting, she began helping and instead of ranting, she began listening. She developed compassion, and she became someone who used her abilities and talents in service of others.

Where once she was intent on destroying, she became committed to building up. Her transformation helped me see how someone can grow into the person God sees, how love can restore wholeness.

That looks like justice to me.

Overcoming resistance

Over a year ago, I stopped going to church—at first because churches were closed, and when they reopened, I was not comfortable going. I had realized early in the shut-down that those things that are most habitual pose the highest risk of forgetting we are in the midst of a pandemic. Church is a place of ritual and habit.

My church is one of those places where many people hug in greeting one another, and I wanted to avoid having to put my hands up in a “STOP” position. I have missed being hugged, but protecting my health is more important.

Once I received the vaccine, however, I decided to go to Mass.

The seats had been rearranged to ensure social distancing, and I felt very safe. Then came communion, and I happened to see a woman walking back to her seat touching the hands of people she passed—just as she used to do before the pandemic. It was habitual, and people responded as they did pre-pandemic.

I was immediately uncomfortable, and I have not gone back to church since.

At the beginning of the pandemic, when we thought it would only last a short time, I decided that I did not want to watch Mass on a screen. Something felt off about it, as if Mass were a play. I always think of Mass in terms of participation, so not only had I not gone to Mass, but I had also not watched it.

Then, on Easter Sunday, I decided to try watching Mass being livestreamed from my church. It was wonderful to see people again, and I appreciated “being” there.

During this Mass, I began to wonder why I had been so resistant to viewing Mass on a screen.

Resistance is familiar to me, and this incident with the livestream Mass seemed to open the floodgates of my awareness of things I have been resisting during the pandemic.

God-resistance-fear

I think fear of contracting coronavirus has sparked other fears, and the fears have just kept piling up. For example, I have not traveled, and the few times I have eaten in restaurants, I was too anxious to enjoy my meal. Even though I have gotten the vaccine, I am still hesitant to be around more than a few people at a time.

Last week, I was talking with a friend about retirement and said I was afraid I would not have enough money.

“I’ve never heard you talk like that,” she said. She is right; I never feared not having enough money. I live within my means and even though I don’t have a lot of money, I have always managed financially and been content with my financial situation.

I am going on retreat next month, and my spiritual director suggested I try not to anticipate what will happen. I do hope, though, that God will work with me on my fears and resistances. And I am joyfully anticipating going to Mass every day.

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