Tag Archives: resurrection

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.

blessed-God-gratitude

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.

Leaving my losses at the foot of the cross

Jesus-sorrows-healing

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.

On a journey

I signed up for Ignite the Fire, a five-week, virtual program presented by a Martina and Pat Sheehan who live in Cork, Ireland, and who facilitate retreats and offer spiritual direction. Two years ago in May, I was supposed to go on retreat in Wales with Martina, but Covid happened, and my retreat did not—at least not in person. Martina and Pat have offered several on-line retreats since then, and I have appreciated their offerings.

In the first session, we heard about two Irish saints whose feast days had just been celebrated—St. Brigid (February 1) and St. Gobnait (February 11). (I imagine St. Gobnait may be a new name for some of you; I only learned of her a few years ago.) Both Brigid and Gobnait were seekers, which was a theme for the first session.

We were invited to ponder the quote “anything is possible” (Luke 1:37), and Martina talked about being a pilgrim, embarking on a journey and seeking places of resurrection.

Most any talk of a journey resonates with me (which is why my blog is called On a journey).

Since leaving my job last summer, I feel like I am back in pilgrim mode, seeking and trying to be open to what comes my way.

After seven years in the same job, I am exploring options for using my experience, skills and talent in some way other than a job at one organization. I am exploring various avenues (e.g., non-profit consulting, spiritual direction, officiating at weddings and funerals) and trying to keep an open mind when opportunities are presented (e.g., the man who called me the other day and asked if I would be interested in being a project manager at his company, which is something I have never done before).

In the first session of Ignite the Fire, we also talked about some basic dispositions toward life and were asked to pick one as a journaling prompt. These included:

•           Living with uncertainty

•           Seeing setbacks as opportunities

•           Letting go of trying to control the uncontrollable

•           Practicing altruism.

A memory came to me of a talk about managing stress. The speaker talked about a crisis being both a danger and an opportunity. Since that memory came to me, I selected seeing setbacks as opportunities as my journaling prompt.

Setbacks have been part of my life journey as far back as I can remember. Learning to see the opportunities in those setbacks took me a while to develop, but once I came to fully believe that every curse has a blessing, I handle setbacks with a little more ease. I don’t look forward to them, but I am not completely thrown by them as I once might have been. I can still be disappointed, but not devastated.

We are nearing the start of Lent, which is also a journey toward resurrection, a pilgrimage, and I am looking at Ignite the Fire as a way to help me be more aware of where God is calling me.

Pilgrimage-God-Lent
Some day, after mastering the winds,
The waves, the tides and gravity,
We will harness for God the energies of love.
And then, for the second time,
Humankind will have discovered fire.
(Pierre Teilhard De Chardin)

See my wounds

While praying with the resurrection stories this week—scripture passages I have read dozens of times, heard preached about every year and thought I knew so well—I had an “aha” moment.

The idea that Jesus’ suffering was not in vain, that his death had a redemptive quality is not new.

This year, though, the image of Jesus showing his wounds to the disciples after his resurrection took on a different meaning for me.

Recently, I have been pondering sharing more of my wounds. I have written pieces that expose parts of my story that have been long kept secret. Although I have been through years of therapy to help me get past the shame, I can still be crippled by it. Don’t tell are two words that reverberate in my mind and prevent me from full disclosure.

I admire others who get past shame and tell all and am amazed by those who seem to have escaped shame all together.

But I have not been able to shake off shame. I still cringe whenever I reveal a detail of my past, when I speak of something I have been warned not to tell.

Reading the resurrection stories this year and imagining the scene of Jesus standing with his fearful disciples sparked a new insight.

Jesus got his wounds in a shameful fashion. He was mistreated by his own religious leaders and crucified as a common criminal.

The disciples scattered rather than stand at the foot of the cross and watch the man they respected be humiliated and disgraced. He had been their leader, but now he was broken—not powerful at all, but humbly submitting to ridicule, abuse and death.  

And yet, just days later, there he was, standing in their midst and inviting them to look at his wounds.

For Jesus, they were not marks of shame, but rather signs of victory. He was proud to show the marks of his suffering.

The disciples had been cowering in a locked room when Jesus appeared and invited them to look at his wounds.

What was clearer to me this year is that if Jesus could endure humiliation and overcome shame, so could his disciples. He was inviting them (and me) to shake off shame, to convert what looked like weakness into power, to break free of the bonds that kept them in hiding, behind locked doors.

Jesus broke through their fears and invited them to spread the word that humiliating treatment did not define or limit him, but rather he converted that treatment into true freedom.

God-healing-faith

Fear drives people to abuse power and victimize vulnerable people.

By showing his wounds as signs of triumph over the fears of others, Jesus was offering the ultimate freedom. He did not let what had happened to him to limit or define him, and he invites me to do the same.

Showing his wounds was the exclamation point on his message that fear is useless and that trust in God leads to freedom.     

God-healing-faith

Surrender

The post-resurrection stories in Mark 15:9-15 depict Jesus’ disciples as doubters, as people resistant to change.

After hearing the accounts of how Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene and two others, Jesus’ companions did not believe. Not until Jesus appeared to them did they believe. Jesus rebuked them for “their unbelief and hardness of heart.”

Why do we resist? Why do we stick with our own certainties and refuse to see things in a different way? Why do we close ourselves to new ideas?

Jesus had predicted that he would die and rise, so it wasn’t as if this was completely new information for the disciples. But still, they dug in their heels and refused to be moved.

My word for Holy Week was surrender. During prayer times and church services, that one word kept coming back to me: surrender.

What, I wondered, is going on in my life right now that I am resisting? What certainty am I clinging to irrationally?

We, like the disciples, can find change difficult. Change is a kind of betrayal—it is as if the truth we knew and believed wasn’t really the truth. Changes shifts the ground upon which we have been standing—like an earthquake—and when the shifting stops, nothing looks the same.

How do we make sense of it?

In the disciples’ situation, Jesus appeared to them to dismiss their doubts. That is unlikely to happen to us in such a dramatic fashion. So how does it happen?

I recently attended a talk on mindfulness and the speaker talked about trees and how they change four times a year. Trees appear dead in winter, but then bud and leaf, before losing their leaves and appearing dead again. Every year, the same cycle of change. But, she noted, the tree does not resist. Rather, it simply changes.

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Be the tree, I said to myself. Embrace change. Lean into it. Welcome it. That is what it means to surrender. Not insisting on my way or my beliefs but living in the kind of openness that invites change, living in the reality of every moment instead of getting stuck in the past or worrying about the future.

If I had been one of Jesus’ companions in Mark’s Gospel, how would I have reacted to Mary Magdalene or the two people who met Jesus on the road? Would I have been quick to believe? Or would I have been incredulous and cynical? Would I have needed to see for myself? Would Jesus chide me for my lack of faith and hardness of heart?

I fear the latter. But I want the former. I want to be like a tree that moves smoothly through the changes in life, that welcomes and celebrates every season and sees the beauty of each. I want to let go of my certainties and be quick to believe.

Surrender is a discipline to be practiced—letting go of the past and living in the present with a heart open to change.

God-hope-letting go

Holding on and letting go

A woman I know became sick a few months ago—suddenly. I learned about her illness through social media. Her family asked for prayers and said she was “gravely ill,” but it was not until they used the word “hospice” that I realized how gravely ill she was. In a matter of a few weeks, she went from posting pictures of her husband, children and grandchildren on social media—to dying.

Life is so fragile.

When death is near, what is happening in the rest of the world seems distant and unimportant. The passing of a loved one becomes the most important thing and offers great clarity about what really matters.

I try to remember those moments—the times when I had great clarity about what truly matters in life.God-hope-letting goThese thoughts came back to me while reading the Gospel of Mark. I wonder if St. Mark had clarity as to what was really important, if he had a sense of urgency about spreading the story of Jesus’ life and message.

I thought of how God uses us to spread the Good News. Was Mark a writer? Or was he just compelled to write the story of Jesus? As I pondered Mark’s mission, I was reminded of some notes I received when my friend Jim was dying from brain cancer.

Several friends wrote to me during Jim’s illness reminding me that we were living the Paschal mystery—facing death and resurrection every day. It was true that we knew Jim would die soon and yet every day we found a way to laugh and every day we recited our litany of gratitude.

Jim was unable to read for most of the time he was sick, so I read his mail to him, and I also read any notes I received. One of the notes about the Paschal mystery sparked a conversation about the everyday deaths we faced.

Jim’s physical decline was an obvious death, but there were others that seemed as significant. We kept being faced with situations where we needed to let go so that we could truly live.

Holding on and letting go was part of our daily conversation.

At some point, I realized that it was not just at the time of one’s death, but that living the Paschal mystery was a continual invitation to see things in new ways, to look from different angles and to be open to change.God-hope-letting goAs I reflected, the words to Unsteady by X Ambassadors, popped into my mind.

Hold

Hold on

Hold on to me

‘Cause I’m a little unsteady

A little unsteady…If you love me, don’t let go.

Holding on can offer a sense of security and stability, but there’s always the question, What am I holding on to?

While our world may seem to be spiraling out of control, Christians are called to remain “steadfast in faith” (1 Peter 5:9), not caving in to popular culture or the “prowling Satan” but holding on to Jesus’ message of hope.

 

God-Easter-hope

From death to life

Holy Week and the Easter Triduum (Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday) have long been my favorite time of the liturgical year.God-Easter-hopeI love hearing the Passion twice in one week and watching the pageantry of Palm Sunday and Holy Thursday. The rich symbolism of the Easter Vigil touches my heart and invites me to renewal in a unique way. The baptisms and confirmations of people choosing my faith as their own always strengthens my faith and makes me more hopeful.

Since 2002, Holy Week has the added significance of being the week my dad died. It was Monday of Holy Week (March 25 that year), and every Holy Week Monday is now a memorial day for me.

On the Saturday before Palm Sunday in 2002, the hospice nurse called and said, “Your dad is ready to die, but your mother won’t let go. You have to come home.”  I explained that I was coming home for Easter and already had my ticket for Thursday. “No, you have to come now,” she insisted. So I changed my ticket and came home the next day, Palm Sunday.

Contemplating Jesus’ Passion and death that year, while my dad was also dying, brought new, deeper meaning to the mystery of death and resurrection.

Once my mother let go of my dad, once she truly said good-bye to him, he died within an hour. The nurse was right; he was ready.God-Easter-hopeThen five years, ago, my friend Jim died on Tuesday of Holy Week (April 3 that year), adding another memorial to an already meaningful time.

On Palm Sunday 2012, almost nine months after his diagnosis of brain cancer, we knew Jim was close to death. He ate his last meal that Sunday afternoon, spent the next day in bed, and died early Tuesday morning.

Their deaths, occurring during this holiest time of the year, has deepened my understanding of the Paschal mystery—how death is part of life and how new life can come from death.

Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a single grain; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. (John 12:24)God-Easter-hopeI ask myself what fruit has been produced by their deaths—and the deaths of others I have loved.

One fruit is my deep awareness of how fortunate I am to have loved and been loved. I know myself as blessed, even in the absence of those I love.

St. John Chrysostom said, “Those whom we love and lose are no longer where they once were. They are now whenever we are.”

It is true that my dad, Jim and all the other people I have lost are no longer present in physical form, but I carry them in my heart, and they are with me in a different way. I think of them often, and their lives and deaths help me to live each day in awareness of the fragility of life and in gratitude for all that is.
God-Easter-hope

 

Sight

On my recent retreat, we prayed with Luke 24:13-35, the story of the two disciples walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus after Jesus was crucified. Jesus joins them on the walk, but they do not recognize him.

Early on in the retreat, one of the facilitators commented, “expectations can bind.” His words reminded me of my postings from last month about being bound and unbound. Was it expectations that bound me? Would I be unbound if I let go of my expectations?

As I pondered the Emmaus reading, it occurred to me that the disciples’ expectations may have bound them, but they also blinded them; they literally did not see that it was Jesus. Expectations can blind, I concluded.

The disciples knew Jesus had died and even though they had heard that he was risen, they had not yet reconciled with that reality. They had no expectations of meeting Jesus on the road and so they did not recognize him. Had they been expecting him, they might have recognized him.

How often is that true for me? How often do I set up expectations that limit my ability to see Jesus in others? How often do I miss the gifts being offered because I am not expecting them or because I am expecting something else?

Quite often, I fear.

When I met with my spiritual director a few weeks ago, I shared my ponderings about being bound and unbound. I talked about how I not only wanted to be unbound, but I want to leap into freedom. She suggested I focus my daily Examen on when I leap and when I fail to leap.

I began to note in my journal when I took risks and when I hesitated. Each time I hesitated, I tried to discern what held me back.

On retreat, leaping and not leaping were still on my mind, so the phrase expectations can bind resonated with me. I reviewed my journal, looking more closely at entries about not leaping, and I could see that my reluctance to leap was connected to a fear of being judged.

If I had been the person Jesus appeared to, I wonder if I would have recognized him and run to tell the other disciples that Jesus was alive. Even if I had recognized Jesus, I don’t think I would have shared it because I would have feared others’ disbelief. “Why would Jesus appear to you?” I can imagine them asking, their question dripping with disdain and disbelief.

My expectations of being judged do bind and blind me.

“Were not our hearts burning within us…?” (Luke 24:32) ask the disciples once they realize it had been Jesus walking with them. I pray for the grace to act when my heart is burning within me, to push against my fears and let go of expectations so that my eyes can be open to see Jesus walking beside me and all the gifts God is offering.

Following the rules

“I have seen the Lord” (Mary Magdalene, John 20:18)

While Mary Magdalene was able to run and shout the good news, I have been a much quieter witness to the resurrection. It is not a secret that I am serious about my faith and spiritual life; but until I started writing for this blog, I only shared little snippets of how God had touched my life and with only a very few people.

As I prayed about what fears have prevented me from shouting out God’s good works, I remembered an incident from when I was a child of about eight.

A girl from across the street had come over to play. My mother was nearby and overheard our conversation. After my friend left, my mother admonished me never to share as my friend had done. I didn’t remember my friend sharing anything significant, so I was confused. I tried to get a clarification, but my mother would only repeat her admonition that I was not to talk about our family as my friend had talked about hers.

Still confused, I decided that the only way to avoid the possibility of inadvertently revealing something my mother would think was significant was to never talk about anything personal.

Years later, when I became active in church as an adult, I attended parish activities that invited sharing, but I instinctively followed the “no-sharing” rule from my childhood. I became an observer in these groups, not trusting myself to be able to sort out what was ok to share and what was not. Rules instilled in me as a child seem to be the most difficult to confront and change.

By the time I was in my thirties and had enough of my own life experiences that I could share if I wanted, not-sharing had become a well-established pattern. Whenever I came close to disclosing something personal, I would be filled with anxiety—my heartrate would increase and my stomach would get queasy. Self-disclosing was not worth the angst I felt, and after a while I just stopped going to church programs that involved faith-sharing.

Through all of this, though, God continued acting in my life, lifting me up, forgiving me and changing me. In the midst of some pretty dark days and horrible experiences, God reminded me that I was not alone; Jesus had paved the way through suffering and was always with me on the journey.

I felt unworthy to be so blessed, so cared about, so loved. I was convinced that if I told people how God had touched me, they would be incredulous. The voices of skeptics in Jesus’ time echoed in my head. “Isn’t he the carpenter’s son?” became “Isn’t she the…?” and I imagined the different negative things people could use to complete the question. I was a nobody. Why would God choose me? Why had God chosen me?

I admire people who share the good news about God and I desire to be so courageous.