Demons Love a Well-swept House

demons 1During Lent I place in the oratory a small plaque with two words: Vacare Deo, to empty oneself for God. It’s a reminder for spiritual cleaning.

As it’s midwinter, and I’m already bored with being indoors, I am looking for things to do. This translates to “it’s time to clean up,” and I try to organize the attic recently assaulted with boxes of Christmas decorations. The basement could do with a bit of organizing too.

When cleaning things up, indoors or out, we often open up space.

As a gardener I love how the landscape looks — often after a marathon work-bee — when I’ve cleared a section that’d been overrun with weeds, crowded by perennials or tangled from unkempt hardwoods. I diligently pull, root out and trim back all the bedlam, opening the area to allow more sun and air for better growth.

When cleaning out an area — basement or flower bed — I’m often reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 12:43-45. “When the unclean spirit has gone out of a man, he passes through waterless places seeking rest, but he finds none. Then he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes he finds it empty, swept, and put in order. Then he goes and brings with him seven other spirits more evil than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first.”

It seems inevitable after I clean or organize the basement or attic, I find more stuff to fill the open area. Once again a few years later I’m in the same mess. Things not really worth saving have ended up on the shelves and scattered on the floor. Again I’ve not gained wisdom about myself, and again I’ve used poor judgment about what has worth.

In a garden, fallow ground is filled much more quickly — in a matter of weeks — than ground with established plants. Inexperienced gardeners are inclined to pull the weeds and thin out plants, exposing the ground. Leaving soil open makes it available for more things to grow. If we are not attentive and leave the freshly cleaned area unattended, seeds from God-knows-where take root, and there are more weeds sprouting than when we started.

I see this “clearing out” much like the verse in Matthew. Even though I work diligently at bringing the Lord into my heart by pulling up the weeds of sinfulness and removing the clutter of bad habits, if I do not fill that space with the Word of God and his Mercy, then there is nothing to prevent the disorder from returning.

Like most things that run off course, the intrusion of unneeded objects or undesirable plants begins so small. A few items back on the shelf, a few weed seeds falling on exposed earth. Then without me really noticing, things are seven times worse than when first begun.

The determination to remove the unwanted, without equal desire to take the next step, leaves us vulnerable and open to fall again.

Lord, save me from the pride that empties and fails to fill the void with your ways.

(First appeared at Aleteia.org, reposted with permission. Image from morguefile.com.)

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Lent’s Perennial List, Fasting From

Every Lent (usually before Ash Wednesday!) I am asked to post the perennial “Fasting From” list.

This began as a series of weekly columns on this blog about fasting from certain attitudes and striving to become more virtuous. Several of those columns made their way into my book Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent .

The list of those fourteen “Fasting From” reflections became popular, and many friends said they had printed them out and hung them in work spaces.

So, here again is the excerpt from my book:

One year during a late winter retreat a small handout was distributed and the idea of “giving up,” or fasting, took on a whole new purpose. Here is what it said:

Fast from bitterness; turn to forgiveness

Fast from hatred; return good for evil

Fast from negativism; be positive

Fast from complaining; be grateful

Fast from pessimism; be an optimist

Fast from harsh judgments; think kindly thoughts

Fast from worry; trust in Divine Providence

Fast from discouragement; be full of hope

Fast from anger; be more patient

Fast from pettiness; be more mature

Fast from gloom; enjoy the beauty around you

Fast from jealousy; pray for trust

Fast from gossiping; control your thoughts

Fast from sin; turn to virtue

Maybe we should consider hanging this list on the fridge for more than the forty days of Lent.

We are taught to be charitable in how we respond towards others. We also need to be charitable with ourselves as we become a more virtuous person.  Let us begin our journey this Lent with our hearts open, accepting the challenges to become who we are truly called to be as Christians. A virtuous life isn’t for the faint of heart.

May God always be praised!

Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent

CGG Patheos book coverIt must be a bit unnerving for a deacon to go all a cappella  in front of the congregation when cantering the Epiphany Proclamation. I’ve listened to friends Dr.Gregory Popcak and Deacon Greg Kandra — lovely voices both — chant the proclamations of The Epiphany or Easter. This year at a local church, the deacon there did an excellent chant as well. What I heard within his proclaiming was that Ash Wednesday is coming early this year on February 10. That’s only a few weeks away!

Like a lot of folks, I like having a Lenten book of reflections. Having a daily read to meditate upon helps us grow towards a personal Easter resurrection.

To that end, I would like to offer you an excerpt from my book, Cultivating God’s Garden through Lent, available on line through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the publisher Patheos Press, in hopes that you will consider it for your faith journey. It was awarded the Catholic Writers Guild Seal of Approval!

First Week of Lent: The Creator’s Joyful Gifts

Friday of the First Week

Attentiveness to Details

The big Eastern White Pine tree that grew at the southwest corner of the house was recently removed by the local power company.

When it was young, I would attach food to it during the winter to feed the animals; peanut butter-coated pinecones rolled in seed, corn cob halves hung with twine, and home-baked animal cookies full of protein. Its adolescent boughs held out hope for many animals when food was scarce.

As it grew, the boughs spread further into the garden. It wasn’t until many years later that I figured out it was not the cultivar I had thought it to be. This Eastern White Pine was going to be big, very big. It had not been planted in an appropriate site so as to grow to its full potential.

So it grew, as the cliché goes, “where it was planted.” It protected the birds, housed the squirrels, and hid the raccoons. It buffeted winter winds and provided shade from hot summer suns.

I would listen from my upper bedroom windows as its boughs whispered when the winds blew through them. When working in the yard I would often stop and touch its long delicately soft needles, the same needles that would fall off in late summer and provide beautiful golden mulch for the flower beds. I loved how the new growth, called candles, would come out pointing toward heaven, and how the pollen would burst into the air like incense when I thumped the male cone clusters with my hand.

Repeatedly it needed harsh pruning to keep its limbs off the house. The lower boughs encroached into the yard so far that they eventually had to be trimmed up the trunk so one could walk under them. Its expansive limbs grew between the electrical wires and were repeatedly trimmed back by the power company. With all this cutting-back as it grew it became misshapen, less beautiful than it was intended to be. Yet it was as fully what it could be in the circumstances in which it was planted.

During storms, and there are many of them here, the branches would hit the wires as well as the sides of the house. During one particularly nasty winter, three massive limbs broke off due to snow loads. The blessing was that they brushed against and then fell free of the power lines, and completely missed the house and wooden stockade fence.

I had prayed many times about that tree. It needed to be removed and I could not pay to have that done. It was ruining the siding of the house. It was a threat to my neighbors during the winter because of its potential to create a power outage. It grew only feet from my bedroom wall and I feared a wind shear or tornado would drive it through the roof. I loved that tree. I was also frightened by it.

My prayers were answered one spring day when a representative from a tree trimming service hired by the power company came to my door. The young man who stood there very respectfully explained about the neighborhood pruning that would take place in a few weeks. As I walked outside with him, he delicately tried to describe to me what this large, already misshaped pine would look like if they trimmed it back the required distance to free the power lines.

While he spoke I was secretly hoping that the Holy Spirit had moved someone somewhere to answer my earlier prayers. When he asked permission to completely remove the tree I nearly squealed. He looked at me, startled and a little relieved as I exuberantly answered, “Oh yes, please!”

Having an overgrown tree removed may not seem like suitable stuff for prayers, especially when I think about a friend dying of cancer or the violence in the world. Yet, there it is once again, God’s attentiveness to the smallest details in my life. I sometimes think God just wants to see me wriggling with delight.

____________________________

My Lord,

Let me always be confident in your love. Help me to know in my heart that every prayer uttered, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is heard by you. Let us accept that the betterment of a soul is always your answer to prayer, and be assured that you are ever present in the details of our lives.

If you’ve already read the book, thank you! Please let others know that you enjoyed it, and maybe, if you have the time, leave an Amazon review.

Also for the new year from Ave Maria Press, is another one of my books, A Catholic Gardener’s Spiritual Almanac. Its a month-by-month look at our faith traditions, how to create liturgical gardens, and some good old fashioned gardening advice.A Catholic Gardner's Spiritual Almanac

Laetare Sunday and Hard Rocks

rocksWe’ve passed Laetare Sunday, the fourth week of Lent, and still I’ve not been able to adhere to its disciplines: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. My usual prayer and abstinence routines are securely in place. It is the extras, so important to this spiritual season of faith, that are lacking.

The other morning after Lauds and a rosary, rising from my chair, I stood at the home altar. Drawing the sanctuary light that hung from the wall towards me, I blew out the candle. The holy images that would draw me into prayer hung above and were hidden behind purple cloths. Their hidden faces echoed the distance I felt from the observance Lent.

I touched the arrangement of objects placed on the altar. On a wood box covered by linens was an eight inch rock with angular surfaces of pink and black, on which set three square-cut iron spikes.

The book Way of the Cross, by Pope Benedict, was propped open to the image of the eighth station—Jesus meets the women. Here the suffering Christ was concerned with the weakness of those women. I shuddered remembering his words, “…weep for yourselves and your children…” It is chilling to know that his suffering brought to us in ours would be our only comfort. I wondered if those women, like me, focus on the gentleness of God and minimized the mystery of evil and pain in our world.

On the altar is a path of fourteen stones, representative of each step of the Passion. I picked one up, smooth and cold in my palm, and rubbed my thumb over its surface. These rocks suggest the austere realities of the life of Christ, and moments of our own: The hardness some paths take, the coldness of the journey, that every path has a beginning and an end.

Flat and dark, each stone has its own weight. As do each of our challenges, as do the Stations-of-the-Cross. All are hard and, depending on our frame of mind, can halt our progression under the burden.

I turn and look out the window. Laetare Sunday has passed. It marks a time to rejoice in the middle of Lent, a time to see the joy to come as the Pascal Mystery lives out.

The stone in my hand has warmed. It, along with the thirteen others, holds many silent prayers. The little path of stones is like a Lenten rosary. Each stone passes through the hand, and a memory through the heart. The images may be brutal and sad, but each is softened with gratitude. Had Christ not suffered, I would have no way to God. Had my life not been demanding, my soul would not have sought Our Lord.

It was the hardness of life that had brought me to joy. I look to the rock in my hand and rejoice.

(Originally ran 2/2014)

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