To Serve with Joy, Tuesday’s Prayer for Sisters and Nuns

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Blessed Virgin Mary, pray with us this day for our Sisters and Nuns. In the face of unending need, let them not be discouraged but always serve with joy. Let their hearts, so often moved with pity, always reveal their devotion to your Son. May their faith in Him help them to persevere through seemingly insurmountable tasks.  Guide them Mother, encourage them in their desire to love, as God loves, in a world that often does not love back. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

Image by Astrometeo at pixabay.com.

A Skin Thin Upon the Soul

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It was an early autumn morning at the retreat center and I was walking through the back meadow in the pre-dawn light. Even with the hood of my bright-blue sweatshirt scrunched up around my neck, I felt a slight chill and shivered; my pant legs and shoes were wet from the morning dew.

The sky was clear. To the west the heavens were a dark navy and still reflected a few stars. Eastward it transitioned to a luminous blue-gray. A thin fog filtered the emerging coral light. I was reminded of the skies in Maxfield Parrish paintings.

To say that I was praying feels inaccurate, even shallow. As written by a friend, “the Presence feels touchable at those moments, when the world falls still and angels have time to catch their breath.”

Silence is a defining portion of my life…welcomed and practiced.

I work diligently to be concise with words, and many times am confounded trying to find a language that expresses holy awe, love, and assurance. I read in Magnificat, from Fr. Donald Haggerty, that “The soul can only wait in a poverty of speech.”

This poverty was made more pronounced at a Catholic writers’ retreat when I was asked, more than once, what made me so joyous — jokingly teasing me about being on drugs. It felt odd to have these new friends ask where my peace came from. I thought…we are Catholics, we have Mass, Eucharist, the True Presence…it just exists.

I continued my walk through meadows and woodlands and realized that to describe the love of the Creator is like trying to describe skin. It is simply there, intimately and uniquely formed, expanding and contracting, sensitive to damage, and without it we would die.

But to write about how skin feels against the veins and tendons of my hands, or the sensation as it sets upon my cheek or toes is an awareness that words cannot describe. I am rarely conscious of it unless it is damaged. Skin is there—simply, purposefully, essentially.

This is how I experience our God and the love that envelops. I cannot tell you of its existence, but I can tell you of the sense of absence when I have damaged that relationship.

There are times — when exposed to disrespect of others, when hearing of violence, or when I am insecure or self-centered and have my feelings hurt — that the outward expression of happiness may recede. But that is an emotion and emotions change. Joy always remains — it is the very skin of God intact upon the soul.

Image by Pasja1000 at pixabay.com.

(2014)

Scent of Heaven

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

Next to the south wall of the screened porch is a small stand of Liliaceae ‘Golden Splendour’.  They are one of the few flowers remaining from last summer’s dig-out, when, because of arthritis, nearly all of my gardens were removed. This trumpet lily cultivar was introduced in 1957. It is tall—at nearly six feet—and the highly fragrant flowers are 7-10” long. It has been one of the pride and joys of my garden since it was planted in 1989. Twenty years ago a friend had taken a photo of me—standing proud at 5’ tall—beneath the canopy of blooms.

For about three weeks the racemes of trumpets slowly open from bottom to top, and the nectar furrows explode with scent. There is no mistaking it, as when the lilacs bloom, all the yard is perfumed.

When the air is still and humidity high the sweet aroma hangs dense. Through a few summer nights and early mornings I deeply inhale the sweetness and breathe my soul back into me. Like the scent of coming rain, it is a spiritual memory, an essence of God that awakens our sleeping hearts.

Image by Margaret Rose Realy, Obl. OSB. All rights reserved.

When we become aware of a fragrance in the garden we follow our nose. Gently wagging our heads we find the direction and move towards the source. We seek from the air the origin of our delight.

The delight of the soul is sought in much the same way. We pick up the spiritual fragrance of peace and our souls move towards the source until we breathe deep the sweetness of Holy Love. And we remember—a brief return to Paradise.

 

Four Waters of the Soul

Image morguefile.com

“A beginner must think of herself as one setting out to make a garden in which her Beloved Lord is to take his delight[1]

St. Teresa of Avila was a Spanish Carmelite nun and mystic who was an affectionate extrovert of great joy and determination. By her own admission, she tells of her exploits as a teenager with a great attraction to fashion, perfume, and boys! Her poor widowed father in exasperation and fear for her virtue sent her to an Augustinian nunnery, and once there her life found a different kind of fertile soil.

Often sick in her early years she did not labor in gardens as required of the other Sisters, but she did convalesce in them and found them a source of meditation and insight. It wasn’t until she was around forty and having regained her health that her spiritual development really began to take root and at forty-seven she began writing about the practice of prayer.

Part of her early writings on spiritual doctrine depicts different stages or grades of a life in prayer in metaphorical terms taken from watering a garden, known as The Four Waters. The water being how God reaches the soul and our soul is the garden to be grown for his delight. A very simple description of prayer is that God plants the garden that we grow through prayer which is equated with different ways of irrigation:

  • We draw the water from a well using a rope and then carry the water to our garden; this is an active form of praying, using one’s faculties and reaping what benefits one can through ones own efforts. We work at this and with diligence unless what God had planted withers and dies.
  • Next, to simplify the flow a water-wheel is used which has dippers. As the wheel turns the water is poured into a trough that hydrates our garden. St. Teresa describes this stage as a point when the faculties of the soul begin to recollect itself, bordering on the supernatural, and this enjoyment brings greater delight. Here we have learned to increase the flow of prayer and are aware of our growing with God.
  • The flow of irrigation is then expanded by means of a stream. This form of prayer is more mystical, requiring little human effort with all the faculties focused on God. At this third way of watering the garden of our souls, we have a flow of prayer that moves steadily throughout our day. We can dip into the stream when needed to water an area of our garden that the Holy Spirit has brought to our attention.
  • In the final method of watering our garden we accept the rain God sends without our own effort. This is called the Prayer of Union and is totally infused by God, a mystical action taking place in varying degrees. It is the ecstasy of prayer, those brief and unexpected moments when the beauty of our garden is so pleasing to God that our senses are overwhelmed as God rains upon us to cool our fervor and enhance the flowering soul.

In her book, The Way of Perfection, St. Teresa gives a much more expansive and beautiful explanation of the gardens of our souls.


[1] Teresa of Avila, The Book of my Life, Part Two, The Four Waters. There are many translations available on St. Teresa’s writings.

Pentecost, what no fanfare or cupcakes?

Tongues of Fire cupcakes for Pentecost from the Catholic Cuisine. Lots of other good recipes, too! Check it out…

Let me introduce to you Michelle Dawn Jones. She writes, among other things, about life in rural Canada. Her blog is called County Road 21: Simple. True. Beautiful. She asked if I would read something she wrote about Pentecost.

I did, liked it and am sharing it with you.

I don’t read theology exhaustively, nor church history. I read “Web Exclusives,” from First Things every day though, does that count for something? I set my sights on the Catholic Church in my teens, but didn’t officially convert until I was married and pregnant with my fourth child. It was a happy time for all of us, joining the church that Easter Vigil. Since then, I alternately sigh with the contentment of being home, stand in grateful awe at the gift of such a church, and feel desperately lonely and little bit homesick for the churches I knew before.

I remember planning Pentecost on a worship team once. Definitely a jarring concept for my present circumstances. We didn’t do it all right. There are serious flaws in worship planning as we were executing it. But it meant a lot to me. Pouring over scriptures and hymn books, sharing the way the Gospel was moving in our own lives, aching out loud together for a way to draw the hearts of those present into an act of worship pleasing to God, for a way to bring home more clearly the reality of God’s mystery, majesty, and love. 

I can accept that what we did then wasn’t good enough or fit to be replicated. But the sense of community and the presence of so much mutual striving towards God was both comforting and inspiring. I don’t remember what we did that year. I remember someone wanted to release red balloons from the balcony after the closing hymn, but it was controversial and I don’t know which way we went. We talked about birthday cake after the service and singing Happy Birthday to the church. We racked our brains for special music options that included brass. It was Pentecost. The day the Holy Spirit came down. That same Holy Spirit we still hoped and believed was moving today.

I knew it was Pentecost at our church this year because my prayer book told me so the night before and because the priest wore a red stole. The homily mentioned Pentecost and the Offertory hymn was a prayer to the Holy Spirit. If you were looking to know if there was an observance that day, the information was available, but we didn’t go in for fanfare and celebration.

Call me confused, but the Trinity, I asked my priest, how can the church say she believes in the Trinity, as in truly THREE equal persons, when there’s an Octave of Christmas, fifty days of Easter, most every Sunday for God the Father Almighty, and one day of passing reference to the Holy Spirit? My priest, very English Canadian, and a great lover of both the people and the Church, ignores the details of my math but say that Pentecost used to be an Octave. He wasn’t sure why it got changed exactly, but it really was a pity. Pentecost was worthy of an octave, he agreed. That the church was lacking in support for the notion of Trinity, seemed a stretch.

My husband worked Pentecost weekend, so I packed extra things for an after Mass outing. With clothes changed, we drove to a beach area on the river and into the St. Paul‘s annual picnic. A hundred Anglicans in red shirts were filling up their plates at a pot luck, and yes, there was birthday cake. They didn’t look like left leaning Anglicans, they looked like happy Christians.

“Why are they all wearing red?” asked my 13 year old.

“It’s Pentecost,” I said quietly. “They’re celebrating the birthday of the church.”

“Cool,” and off we trundled to the beach.

So what is a woman who loves her church but yearns for the fire of Pentecost to do? Buoyed by the notion that when praise is lacking, God is prepared to let the rocks cry out, I have decided to at least be a pebble on the sand of the ocean. At Christmas, God offers Himself in the form of a baby. Jesus, our brother, the King of time and eternity in flesh and blood. At Pentecost, God offers Himself in mystery. Unknowable, indefinable, uncontrollable, and omnipotent.

At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came in fire. The wind of the Spirit blew life into the church. Into the hearts of believers the wind blew then and it blows now. At confirmation, we receive with the laying on of hands, the movement of that same Spirit, just as alive and powerful and full of mystery as He was 2000 years ago when those gathered saw tongues of fire.

The Holy Spirit is not visible to us. Sometimes the Spirit moves so mightily or so tenderly as to be felt, other times Spirit’s presence is a matter of faith. At Pentecost, we remember that.  We awaken to the breath of the Spirit, and we awaken to hope. Which is good, because the Holy Spirit is the actual hope we were given to face a culture gone mad with destruction.

When we acknowledge the work of the Spirit, we give wings to our faith. We allow ourselves to be born up beyond our knowing on the holy winds of grace. We are a barren, lonely, and desperate people. On the whole, our churches, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant are not thriving.  We send children forth into a world that despises us and the faith we cling to. And yet. The Holy Spirit remains. We are promised redemption, transformation, and new life.

I pray for the day the church offers a more clearly audible recognition of Pentecost, but the Spirit may be moving elsewhere first. Pentecost, I realize, can begin in your home and mine. And maybe it should. Maybe it belongs there, growing in the hearts of the people, the fruits of the Spirit’s joy one day spilling out off the tables and across the floors until the church has no choice but to fling wide the doors, sound the trumpets, and leap in holy celebration that our redemption long whispered in the night, is upon us.

Pentecost is getting the Octave treatment at our house this year. I don’t know how it will all work other than it probably won’t turn out how we’re planning it. Maybe that will serve to underscore the whole point anyway, about Someone good but as untameable as fire and as beyond our understanding as the Holy Spirit.

Seeming Chaos, Burning Love, Kind Gentleness, You Whom We Fear to Address but Long to Know, to our stumbling attempts at observance, come. To our hearts, dry, heavy and wanting, come.

 

Michelle Dawn Jones, 2014

Her blog touches my Benedictine heart; simple, true, and beautiful.