Panic and Stress Decompressed

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I don’t know who originated this excellent tool –and may God bless them– but I’m sharing it again for those who live with Panic Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or any number of psychological challenges that can stop us cold in our tracks and halt even prayer. And 2020 has provided a lot of opportunities for fear!

This five point count down to grounding is powerful in its simplicity:

Find…

5 things you can see,
4 things you can touch,
3 things you can hear,
2 things you can smell,
1 thing you can taste.

There now. Take a deep breath, and thank the Good Lord that in all things may He be glorified.

Image by jwvein from Pixabay .

Saint Hildegard Knew the Perils of a Good Listener

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I’m catching on to why it’s so unsettling to be in the presence of chatty elderly women. It’s because I like to do and there is nothing to be done beyond my presence. In my discomfort I default to what is most familiar, silence, and listening.

Here is the problem. When you’re dealing with someone who is a good listener, they wait.  A good listener doesn’t try to alter what it is you’re thinking, or bring their personal bias into your words. It is in their waiting that you have to keep going, sharing and revealing to fill the silence of preconception.

And then it’s all out.

As from the confessional, not knowing yet what to do with what was revealed, I bow my head in prayer.

On this day, the feast of Saint Hildegard, let us all pray to be attentive to those who come to us to be heard, and not just listened to.

Image by Andrew Martin from Pixabay .

(2014)

A Ministry of Presence

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A few years ago when called from my monastic lifestyle I  found the Lord leading me in an unfamiliar direction that demanded learning a new ministry.  Here is the story of how, one early autumn day, that calling began; to sit in the presence of another as a silent member in the Body of Christ:

Exiting my car at the women’s care facility, I saw there were plastic grocery bags sitting atop a picnic table, in the shady end of the lot. Within them were dozens of perennials that had been dug from someone’s garden. The bags were crumpled, the cardboard boxes were warped, and the plants they contained were wilted; the soil dried. I looked around the grounds for evidence of a new garden, but nowhere was there fresh turned soil, waiting to be planted.

It was a kind and thoughtful gesture of someone, to bring flowers to the facility and so enhance the lives of women who resided there. But it appeared to be an incomplete act and not thought through. Many of these women were not physically or mentally capable of planting a garden on their own. The facility was too poor for an activities director, let alone a horticultural therapist.

The blooms on a few clumps of bright yellow daisies had wilted and flopped over the edge of the table. In a way their sad droops reflected my feelings at the moment: an external, bright and cheery demeanor, withering from an incomplete transplant after an uprooting.

I am very much out of my element when interacting one on one with the poor, preferring to be anonymous and hidden. Taking telephone calls as a St. Vincent DePaul Angel is more to my liking.

And yet, here I was.

I had answered a calling — sensed on my way home from Adoration — to stop here and offer myself as a pray-er with these women. I have since been asked to companion a Catholic woman my age (let’s call her Annie), who struggles with schizophrenia. As I crossed the parking lot to the brown brick building, I mentally prepared for the hour ahead.

Annie is a large and petulant woman who has lived in group homes most of her life. She is well aware of her mental disabilities and limitations, and I am made aware of them as well. She is filled with fears – multiple — always anxious, and obsessed with all things Jesus. When I visit her she rocks resolutely in her chair, and prattles loudly and non-stop for the duration.

One day, I knocked on the side of her open door, stepped in, and found her sitting naked on the bed. She yelled and slapped a t-shirt against her thigh; she was having trouble getting the shirt over her head, and it made her angry. She was frightened that men would come in, and force her to have intercourse. I turned my back and leaned against the door frame, assuring her repeatedly, and in a low voice, that I would keep “the men” from entering while she dressed.

Eventually, her yelling lessened. When she had dressed, she asked if I would please come into her room and see how she had “made it nice” by putting up pictures

She had. Scotch taped to the tan walls were prayer cards, magazine pages, and old creased and worn prints. On the window sill were two identical six-day glass religious candles, four miniature statues, and several small kitschy objects. All of them, every single item, depicted the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

If one was to have an obsession, I thought, this was a good one!

Sitting across from her as she rocked and prattled on, I realized how ill equipped I was to be anything to this woman. In the presence of over thirty sets of Jesus’ eyes, I felt ridiculous and useless. I didn’t have what it takes to feed a soul like hers.

I felt small in the enormity of her challenging life: schizophrenic, developmentally halted, adopted and sexually abused, and finally abandoned to government assisted living.

Against that broad misery, how narrow my life felt! The charity of my heart, the sacrificial offerings, and the prayers for those in need – these actions had, for the most part, taken place in seclusion. This episode with Annie made me realize how limited my heart has been, and why God may have called me here.

What I am learning is the practice of a Ministry of Presence, and I expect to be stretched to my limit. Like the fading flowers I had seen in the parking lot, I have been uprooted from the shady, safe soil. I am in mid-transplant – slightly shocked and longing for what is familiar, but willing to wait for the Master’s planting schedule.

Image by Eak K. from Pixabay .

Redefining Intimacy

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A pair of Mourning Doves rested beside the massive zucchini leaves near the bird bath. They cooed, crouching in the warm soil, and rubbing their heads along each others beak and neck. Scratching the soil with their ridiculously pink feet they created a shallow divot. They then tucked themselves down into the earthen bowl to lay close together, front to tail, heads resting atop one another’s back.

I watched these two birds with a sense of reverence. Mourning Doves mate for life. I wonder if they possess an innate sense of intimacy, unlike humans who require an awareness of it for close physical contact.

Sharing my thoughts with a friend, I learned that the physical element of intimacy was the least of its definitions. That caught me by surprise; I thought that was all of its meaning. When later I pulled the dictionary from the shelf, I found intimacy to mean:

  1. a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving personal relationship with another person or group.
  2. a close association with or detailed knowledge or deep understanding of a place, subject, period of history
  3. an act or expression serving as a token of familiarity, affection, or the like: to allow the intimacy of using first names.
  4. an amorously familiar act, sexual intercourse.

Being a survivor of abuse, the word intimacy tends to strike a cord of fear in my heart. Discovering that intimacy is largely about a mutual knowing of someone else, I had to think if and where this was true in my life and redefine what I thought.

My first sense of this closeness brought to mind the woman who guided me into a writing career. She is four hours drive away, and we occasionally talk on the phone. This seems obvious, though, based on my original definition, I had only thought of her as a dear friend.

Another friendship, very different from the one above, is with a sister Benedictine Oblate who lives in New York. We’ve only met a few times and yet we share a deep spiritual connection with prayer for one another. The sense of deeply knowing the other increases as we read each others blogs and articles or exchange emails. This is a friendship of absence; we are not involved with each others life.  I would never be asked to a wedding or baptism—and yet the prayers that flow between us are intimate and, I believe, reliable.

There is a developing closeness with a lovely woman in Michigan, recently married and and navigating her own new sense of intimacy. She had spent a few nights in my home before her marriage, and in the mornings, I found loveliness in sharing prayer time in the company of another—a rare occurrence for me. The lightness I feel in her presence draws me out of my anchoritic life and at the same time breathes air into it.

Now, at this age of approaching ‘golden years’ I have been gifted with the restorative and mutual love of friends in their eighties. They’ve asked that I assist in their lives as one of them slowly declines into vascular dementia, the effects of multiple strokes.

A loving reciprocal relationship with another person isn’t something I’d imagined possible. I enjoy the company of (most) others and my solitary nature never drew me truly close to anyone. I always felt distanced, different, and singular.

Maybe it’s my aging, my lack of family, or, of late, being called back in to my solitude to be a pray-er, that draws me to appreciate more the profoundness of knowing another. There is a depth of learning more about a self that I thought never existed, as known through their eyes.

At times it makes me shudder, this word intimacy, when I realize that being known so is to be vulnerable. It has also opened my eyes to the startling intimacy of God!

Image by Irene K-s from Pixabay .

(2014)

The Restorative Nature of Rain

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A thunder storm roared through here, breaking away weakened tree limbs and turning the leaves backwards on many plants, making them look inside-out. That storm was followed by a couple days of quieter scattered rain.

In the region of the Midwest that I call home, it had been drought. The acres of corn were becoming rigid, the leaves curled in and pointing skyward. Many fields and lawns had yellowed, some browned and burnt.

A spiritual drought had gripped my soul as well, and for several years.

In November of 2017, denied for the third time consecration as a hermit — though I had lived ‘as if’ for nearly 20 years — I moved the Blood of Christ garnet ring from my left hand to my right. When I made the oblation to live an anchoritic life I had purchased the ring as an engagement to Our Lord.

At Mass on that Vocation Sunday in 2017, the hurt of denial was fresh, and I was deeply saddened by what felt like a loss of identity. The priest to whom I had confessed the day before was also dismayed by the news of my again being turned away from my calling. He encouraged me to ask God for trust in him on whatever the path he was calling me towards. Trying to hide my tears all through Mass, I cried out from my heart, “Lord, who am I too you if not that [an anchorite]?”

So began a season of drought, a longing and a seeking for three long years. Many a morning my arms reached up, like drought-stretched leaves of corn, begging for rain on the parched soil of my soul.

I waited, and prayed, and begged.

As a child I loved electrical storms, their power, the smell, and the rushing winds for at that age in them was God. Early in this waiting I dreamt I was running across a corn-stubble field towards a silent electrical storm with roiling dark skies and intense lightning strike. There was a turbulence coming up behind me; another storm, but not in the sky. It was as if heaven and earth had merged and the massive wall was churning everything I knew and would soon overtake.

In obedience to journey a different path, I left behind the security of my rooms, clinging tight to the words of Saint Teresa of Avila:

Let nothing disturb you,

Let nothing frighten you,

All things are passing,

God never changes.

Patience obtains all things.

Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God.

God alone suffices.

Well, try as I might, I was often disturbed and frightened, and yet persevered through the changes and expansion of my soul.

Somewhere I decided to return the engagement ring to my left hand; I was still the Lord’s supplicant if not a consecrated bride.

Then after Christmas a different force came in to play; a new darkness less about growth and more like a battle. Like the struggle of a plant to breath when it leaves are covered in grime, suffocating the stomata.

What my soul needed, like the plants that were suffocating or curled up from drought, was a restorative rain. And it came.

It seemed to begin with a gift of The Word on Fire Bible, which was like a wind before a storm awakening the living to what was coming. Over the next six weeks three different priests were the rains — from Psalms 77:18 “and the skies gave forth their voices” (NAB, St. Joseph Edition, 1970).

From the confessional, each priest gave clear spiritual direction on the path to which I am to return. I am retreating back to a monastic lifestyle — under the Rule of Saint Benedict — to more fully embrace my calling as a supplicant with a refreshed and broader focus.

The storms of the past few years have broken away weakened branches and at times turned me nearly inside-out with their force. But like a tree, the force of the storm strengthened the windward side for deeper roots.

I am eager to return to a beloved anchoritic life of prayer, writing, and painting, that in all things God may be glorified.

Note: I will collect prayer requests from my personal Facebook news feed on Sunday evenings.

Image by Comfreak from Pixabay .