Tag Archives: scripture

vulnerability-God-compassion

What I am learning from my tears

The other morning at prayer, these words from Ezekiel 47 caught my attention:

I saw water flowing out from beneath the threshold of the temple….Along both banks of the river, fruit trees of every kind shall grow, their leaves shall not fade nor their fruit fail. Every month they shall bear fresh fruit, for they shall be watered by the flow from the sanctuary.vulnerability-God-compassion

Lately, I have I have been very emotional, and I am unable to stop my tears from flowing.

I grew up in one of those families where crying was discouraged; tears usually elicited a response of, “I’ll give you something to cry about.”

Then, in my twenties, I worked for the FBI where agents used to tell me to “toughen up.” This was usually in response to a mood-shift after my oh-so-easily-hurt feelings had been hurt. I would sulk and feel sorry for myself, but I would try not to cry.

My years at the FBI did toughen me up. I tried to keep inside any emotion that might make me look weak or vulnerable. Being tough (or at least looking tough) was my goal, so I swallowed my emotions.

At some point in my life, though, I realized the pendulum had swung too far and that I had developed an impenetrable shell to protect myself from criticism that I was weak. That shell helped me feel invincible and kept me from feeling vulnerable. It also kept others away.vulnerability-God-compassionOne of the good things about getting old is that I can look back on so many opportunities God has given me to move against my resistance to being vulnerable. God invites me not to toughen up but to soften up.vulnerability-God-compassionAs I read the words of Ezekiel, I wondered if my tears are the river that gives me life.vulnerability-God-compassionRecently, as I watched a high school volleyball game, tears started rolling down my face. The same thing happened a few weeks earlier at the Motown Museum while watching the movie about the early days of Barry Gordy and the high school students who would become his stars.

Reading a novel about Puritans in Connecticut, tears welled up and spilled over. Watching television, seeing a rainbow, spotting a butterfly—I have no idea what will set off a tearful episode.

I try to let the tears flow freely. I want the emotions to be set free—rather than tamped down or stifled.

My recent tears tell me that my protective shell has a crack in it, and I want to widen that crack. I want to acknowledge my fears and insecurities. I want to be softer. But it is not easy.

My early training sets me up to be afraid of showing my vulnerability, and fear can be a powerful paralyzer.

But, God keeps prompting me—with the words of scripture, my memories and my tears. I know I that I can sit with the discomfort of feeling vulnerable and not be overwhelmed.

Let the tears flow.vulnerability-God-compassion

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

healing-prayer-spirituality-Jesus

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

Pins in my journal

Seeking a new knitting pattern, my sister suggested I look on Pinterest. I had signed up for Pinterest several years ago, but found the site overwhelming. Things seem to appear and then disappear for no discernable reason. It was beyond me.

“You have to create boards and then pin things you like on the boards,” my sister counseled. “Otherwise, you may never find them again,” she added. That had certainly been my experience.

So I created a board (called “Knitting”) and began pinning patterns I liked.

Once demystified, I can now visit Pinterest with confidence. The secret is to recognize when something catches my attention—even briefly—and “pin” it to a board.

This method of adding things of interest to Pinterest boards reminds me of praying lectio divina—that prayer method that invites me to notice the words or phrases in Scripture that catch my attention and then to spend some time in prayer with the images and ideas generated by those words. My journal is where I “pin” my Scripture ideas.

I write in my journal every morning, reviewing the previous day and recording thoughts and actions. I also record night dreams and day dreams, and I write whatever catches my attention during my morning prayer. At the beginning of the year, I write plans and goals for the year, and at the end of the year, I re-read my journals from that year. Before meeting with my spiritual director each month, I read what I have written since my last meeting with her.

I interact with my journal frequently. It is much more low-tech than Pinterest, but it is the system that works for me.

It would be easy for me to get hooked on Pinterest. Each click leads to something else of interest and is an invitation to keep exploring and collecting pins.

I think Scripture is like that, too. Each reading invites me to go deeper and collect bits of insight and wisdom. Each reading leads me to a deeper understanding of how to be more loving and forgiving. Spending time in prayer reminds me of God’s love and offers direction for my life.

Yesterday, before I met with my spiritual director, I reviewed my journal for the last month, and noticed a theme of growth. The words of Scripture that caught my attention had to do with watered gardens and gurgling springs (Isaiah 58:11) and cultivating the ground (Luke 13:8). On several occasions, I had written about moving beyond shoulds and oughts and being the person God created me to me—no matter how outrageous she may be.

The words of Scripture encourage me to keep growing, and give me hope that God does really call me His “delight” (Isaiah 62:4). I want to be that person—God’s delight—and keep “pinning” God’s promises in my journal and on my heart.

Gospel challenge

This week, our Parish Lenten program focused on listening to and acting on God’s Word. “Think of a time when you yourself were a ‘doer of the word.’ How were you affirmed or challenged by ‘doing’ what you had heard in the Scriptures?” the program booklet asked.

I was the last to share in the group of nine and related how I had felt challenged when I befriended a women who had been sentenced to life in prison for murder.

“When did this happen?” asked one woman.

“It was in the mid-eighties,” I told her.

“There were crazy people even then,” she commented.

“Mental illness has been around a long time,” I replied.

“Now you can befriend the Uber driver,” said another woman, referring to a recent shooting in western Michigan.

Scripture challenges me in several ways, including trying to see people as God does, responding to the invitation I hear in Scripture and standing up for my views.

I don’t condone acts of violence, but I do try to see the person who commits those acts as someone’s child who is loved by God just as much as I am.

At my friend Jim’s funeral, a woman approached me and shared how Jim had visited her son in prison. She had been so grateful and felt it had made a difference to her son. He was in college at the time, and had been caught selling prescription pain pills he had gotten for a sports injury. After he had served his sentence, Jim had even hired him to help out around the parish. In the years since, she said, her son had gone back to school and was now doing fine.

I knew of her son’s situation and that Jim had visited him, because Jim had asked me to accompany him. Visiting people in prison was not something Jim had done before, but I had. He said he would feel more comfortable having me there, so I went.

Hearing this part of the story seemed to surprise the woman.

“Are you a probation officer?” she asked.

“No,” I replied, somewhat mystified by the question.

“A social worker?” she asked next.

“No,” I replied again.

“Then why have you visited people in prison?”

“Because it is in the Bible,” I explained, and then quoted Matthew 25:36, “…I was in prison and you visited me.”

She seemed unfamiliar with this verse.

I suggested that now that she knew how much Jim’s visit had helped her son, she might consider visiting other people’s sons in prison. She protested that her son was not like other people in prison. “He just…” she started to rationalize, but I stopped her. “Your son did something wrong, got caught and went to jail. He is exactly like the other people in prison,” I said. She then excused herself and walked away.

I am both affirmed and challenged by doing what Scripture invites me to do.

 

Poverty

Some days, a phrase or sentence in my daily scripture reading jumps out as if the letters were bold.

This morning, the scripture reading in my prayer book was from the second book of Kings, chapter 24, a story about rival kings. And then the words in verse 14 caught my attention, like sunlight shimmering on the ocean. I read and then reread: “None were left among the people of the land except the poor.”

An image flitted through my mind of a land where only poor people were left, a land devoid of “craftsmen and smiths;” all the skilled labor was gone.

And then the landscape of my own life came to mind.

I rely on my talents and abilities to define my life. I think of myself mainly in terms of what I can do, what I produce. But verse 14 asked me: what if that was all gone? What if I only had my poverty?

And then a memory popped into my mind of the time just after I left l’Arche. My time in l’Arche had been extremely difficult. I was crushed by the experience and bereft when I left. Too proud to return to Philadelphia and admit my failure, I sought refuge in a nearby Benedictine monastery. Psalm 86 became my prayer: “Help me Lord for I am poor and needy.”

And the Lord helped me. I was invited to move into one of the homes of a small, intentional community. Emotionally spent and without a work visa, I was dependent on the generosity of these strangers who welcomed me and accepted me as I was. I was too broken, exhausted and defeated to contribute much to the community.

One of the women in the community was a stay-at-home mom, and I spent hours sitting at her kitchen table, staring into space. Licking my wounds was my main activity in those early days. After a while, though, I started to heal. I realized that here, in this community, in my non-productive state, I was accepted and loved. Here I was accepted for just being.

Doing was the only way I had known, and it was a major part of my problem in l’Arche—just being seemed beyond me; I had to be about the business of doing. I am a Martha! Post-l’Arche, I became more like Mary.

Gradually, this small group of people, banded together to live Matthew’s command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and welcome the homeless was loving me back into life. They helped me see the gift of my poverty, to see the truth—that all I really have and all I really need is God. The rest—my talents and skills—are the gifts God has given me to tell the story of my poverty.