Mouse in the House

It’s turning cold outside, and with it comes that scratching sound that distracts me from my prayers. They’re running up the chimney wall and across the ceiling. With any luck the rodents will run under the bathroom sink and into the cheese-filled trap.

I’m conflicted. I really hate having to kill mice. They are funny little things. One late summer evening sitting in the yard, I watched a pair of them scurry, hop, and tumble with one another under the sunflowers, gathering fallen seeds from birds.

I remember from childhood sleeping on the floor in the back room and, having saved tiny pieces of bread or corn from dinner, would place it under the radiator. Soon enough my “pet” field mouse would run up and snatch my gift. It wasn’t long until the little rodent was waiting for me to feed it. It would tickle my finger tip with its tiny paws, eat, and eventually dart off. The mouse was always aware of any danger to its tiny being and would run for cover at the slightest threat.

Having grown up in Detroit in an area where personal threat was a very real thing, I am (still) uncomfortable and distracted in public. For the love of God, I set that fear aside. It is not just the opportunity for physical harm that keeps me mindful of my surroundings, but mental and spiritual peril as well.

I fret over what my responsibility is in public situations—of men being sarcastic and mean to women, mothers being verbally abusive to energetic and misbehaving children, cell phone users speaking inappropriately (ignoring their companions or children) in public spaces—and the general rudeness of people living under stress and the oppression of being without a sense of God. My confidence of being a good Christian often wanes in public.

To be some sort of a presence of Christ we all work at being attentive to people and their wants, confusions, challenges, and stories. It is in our silence that they reveal their needs. I attempt to be a source of calm, offering prayer so the Holy Spirit can work in them.

I sidestep sharing on the same level. The encounter is not about me. They needn’t know more than I am a gardener, Benedictine Oblate, and that I love to pray—the people I meet fuel my desire to do so.

I see myself as a mouse, scurrying about the perimeter of life to avoid detection, and at the same time aware of what is going on around me. I snatch up little morsels of food I find—those little bits and pieces of human sorrows, needs, and emptiness that are dropped—and carry them back to a place of safety for prayer.

Meanwhile, the devil prowls about ready to pounce, and sometimes I get caught in his claws. Wounded, I know where to find healing. And from the wounding I learn to be more vigilant, to circle sooner behind the Holy and wait.

It’s not about being perfect in our encounters, or praying more. It’s about doing and being our best no matter how small we are.

(Photo by Rama, Wikimedia)

A Walk through the Garden

For those of you taking your daily walk through the beautiful prayer garden that is Margaret Realy’s blog post, you may notice a different gardener today. As Margaret is on retreat for a few weeks, she has very kindly allowed me to help tend to her garden while she is away.

In the garden

Image courtesy Marty Rymarz.

As an Oblate novice at the same monastery as Margaret, I have been blessed to become friends with her and see her daily blogs. For me, reading her daily post is not unlike taking a leisurely stroll through my local greenhouse in the spring. There, I see many beautiful flowers starting to bloom, waiting to be taken home and planted where they will grow and flower further. Margaret’s daily prayers are inspired flowers of thought that I take with me each day and allow them to germinate in my mind and flower in my soul. Like the lilies and petunias in the greenhouse, some of Margaret’s prayers are perennials and some are annuals. Some will stick with me year after year while others flower brilliantly for a time and may fade away with the season.

It is the loving embrace of God’s light and warmth that allows these flowers to blossom and our prayers to bloom to their full beauty.  A little seed that looks insignificant and gets tenderly planted in the soil may eventually blossom into a beautiful flower. Another type of seed may produce the vegetables that feed us. Though unseen, these seeds are quietly but faithfully striving upwards, ever upwards, towards heaven, until one day, they burst forth from the earth, straining towards the sky and the sustaining power of the Son.

So it is with God’s word and the prayers of others for us. These start as a little seed in our soul that can be covered for a time in the dirt of our concupiscence. Our daily prayers and contemplation give these seeds of our soul the water and warmth they need to grow.  They may manifest themselves, flowerlike, as a beautiful smile that we share with a stranger or a helping hand that we lend to those in need. They may also bloom as succulent fruit and healthy vegetables to feed our own spiritual needs when we minister to those in need. Our job, as gardeners of Jesus, is to cultivate these seeds, while pulling the daily weeds that can so easily sprout, until these seeds grow and others may appreciate the beauty of them as they are reflected not only in our words, but more importantly, in our actions.

So on this day, as we have taken the time to walk through this prayer garden, do we also take time to gaze in childlike awe at the beauty of God’s creation in both this garden and in the beauty of each other’s souls? Do we truly strive to see Jesus in everyone we encounter? For if we did, if we sought to see Christ in both our friends and those who challenge us, we would truly be living in a modern day Garden of Eden. And that garden, my friends, would not be a bad place to live until we reach that final destination that we know, as Christians, is the loving eternal communion with our Father in heaven.

Short at One End Coming to Christ

walking red

Image morguefile.com

I’m still trying to find my place as a pray-er among the residents at the women’s care facility. As an introvert and hermit, and with what little social skills I possess, the challenge is large.

I had been given a list of names of the women who are Catholic and ambled to each room to introduce myself. Awkwardly I’d pause to greet those in the corridors and sitting areas.

In the first room, the woman sat on the side of her bed, a wheeled oxygen tank between her knees and tubes under her nose. She was confused by my presence but not my purpose, and accepted my offer to pray with her. She’d scurried to the administrator’s office when I left her room. I learned later she had asked if I were real—and convinced that I was—asked if I would come again.

My next stop was with a very joyous developmentally-impaired woman. I’m not a touchy-feely kind of person and found her advances to hug and touch off-putting. I struggled to hold my ground against the urge to back away. She could not understand that I was offering prayer, telling me instead of her upcoming birthday and of many other happy things.

I knocked on two more doors, shamefully relieved that there were no responses, and headed upstairs. In the stairwell I stopped, overwhelmed. I was ill-prepared for the emotions that flooded my heart.

I was upset because of the confusion I felt in the presence of these women, and questioned if I lacked genuine love in my actions. I wanted to feel that my presence gave validation to Jesus’ love, and to feel pleasing to our Lord. I felt none of this. What I felt was the little love I had was barely enough to keep me moving to the next floor, let alone sufficient to be a presence to these ladies.

Leaning against the banister I steadied my resolve to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit felt months ago. I prayed for those I had just encountered and for perseverance and the confidence to move on.

Later at home in my oratory I thought about my shortcomings of truly being the hands of Christ. I felt that the spiritual food I had to offer was not enough for the enormity of the summons set before me.

As I sat in silence, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000—more than that counting women and children—came to mind. When I read the Bible passages (Mt 14:13-16, Mk 6:30-37, Jn 6:1-13) something struck me. Consistent in all three, Jesus did not say to the apostles that he would feed them—he said you feed them.

The apostles begged Jesus, for the good of all, to quickly send them away. There were too many in need for only a dozen hands to feed.

Jesus knew that with what little they possessed there was enough for him to work with. He didn’t change the venue of the challenge; he multiplied the bits and pieces that they had to meet the need at hand.

I only have a small amount to share—of confidence, courage, and love. But in the hands of Jesus, what little I have is multiplied enough to feed those standing beside me, and he gives me enough for another day.

There’s a miracle in here, somewhere. I’m just too startled to see it.

 

An Abrasive Solitude

marsh

Image morguefile.com

One cannot live the life of an anchorite with an expectation of companionship. The journey to draw closer to God often means a journey away from people. To bring Christ into our world is to serve others; to draw closer to God is to leave all behind. It is a paradox. The challenges I face as I learn what it is to be a Benedictine Oblate seem to strike at the core of who I thought I was. I must now be more of the Body of Christ.

In less than a year, and more so within the past few months, I was expelled from groups in which I had been active for several years, in which I had sought friendships, and forced to face an estranged family come to haunt. I feel I must step outside myself to address these relationship issues, and yet, to discern if it is a calling beyond my comfort zone. My spiritual director hit a nail on the head when he said, “A calling by the Holy Spirit is not just a feeling.”

This conflicted desire to go out—for I would rather remain in my rooms—and be a model of Christ in the world has only brought me the disdain of some, and caused others to hate me. Can the desire be, therefore, just a feeling and not a calling?

From my own heartaches I’ve learned to be gentle with others. When someone is mean I don’t assume they’re evil but that there is brokenness in them. Yet when I’m being pushed away and treated coarsely, I still assume it is something I’ve done to initiate their brokenness.

It is hard to silence the devil’s self-deprecating lies that crowd out the Essence of God. When the parasitic Legion comes, I hear in my head the worn tapes of self-loathing…for being unlovable, for again being rejected, for again not being worthy or worth affection. It is (it seems always) the precarious balance between solitude and isolation. Rejection enforces the latter.

There is also a careful balance between wanting, for the love of God, to go home to Him, and the when-will-this-all-end despair of exposure to the earthly sufferings of others.

I struggle to follow God’s will and am often uncertain if it is his will. Is this sensitiveness my cross to bear well? Is the brokenness of the world something sent to rest hard upon my heart, or a grotesque intrusiveness to contaminate my peace? Am I despised because I believe in the teachings of Catholicism or do I bring these teachings offensively into my world? Am I honest in my faith or delusional?

I do not doubt God’s Love and Mercy. I doubt and question the genuineness of my actions.  What is it in the silence of my heart that chafes against the world in which I walk?

Summit Climbing

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I remembered being light headed and giddy. The man who had brought me to that secluded place held me tight as we leaned against the rocks of an adjoining mountainside. The air tickled my lungs in a way that a city girl—I was from Detroit—rarely experienced. There was a purity and thinness between where we stood on the alpine tundra, and God.

I had taken the summer off before beginning a graduate program at Michigan State University. He was a friend of a friend, a geologist, and worked as an oil drilling engineer—of sorts. He lived in Colorado and part of his job was hiking and surveying the land his company thought productive for drilling. He and his sister had planned several backwoods hiking adventures for the summer and he’d offered to fly me out to join them.

I had done a lot of hiking, cross-country skiing, and canoe portages around the Great Lakes. Not until that summer, over thirty-five years ago, had I seen mountains. We backpacked several trails throughout the Rockies, Tetons, Pikes Peak, and the Big Horn. What I experienced that summer was exhilarating and grueling. And I had thought myself fit! One such hike took us from a sweltering near ninety degrees at the ranger’s station, to snow gear a day and a half up a mountain.

Those memories came forward during morning prayers while reading a reflection in Magnificat (Aug 2014, p.52) by Sherry A. Weddell. Her description of Pike’s Peak Barr Trail sent my thoughts to wandering along rocky paths, sitting on cliffs bordering raging rivers, through forests, and gasping at the sight of being surrounded by alpine tundra wildflowers.

Sherry wrote of the challenges to reach Pike’s Peak summit on foot.

A small child could be carried up Pikes Peak, but adults cannot simply wander up to the summit casually, much less passively. They have to spend some seriously strenuous hours covering nearly thirteen miles…nearly five thousand feet through foothills, the montane (forest), and then the sub-alpine zone before climbing another three thousand feet beyond the tree line.

The air at the summit is thin, having less oxygen. The farther one goes hiking the trail, the more challenging the journey becomes. I remembered this from personal experience. I had not been trained, physically conditioned, in high-altitude environments, so for my safety hiking up only went so far.  Even at that I’d felt the mild side of mountain sickness—lightheadedness. To reach a summit is not, as Sherry said, a casual thing. Learning and conditioning come first in order to persevere in thin air.

It is to that intentionality that she speaks regarding Communion:

I don’t think it is an accident that the Church uses the metaphor of a summit to convey the significance of the Eucharist. The Eucharist is described as the summit, the apex, and the pinnacle of the Christian life….Just as we have actively to climb a mountain summit, we have to make an intentional journey, properly prepared, fully to receive the inexhaustible grace to be found in the Eucharistic Christ.

Any mountain climber or backwoods hiker will tell you, preparation is everything.

With that, let us pray that through the intercession of St. Bernard of Menthon for the protection of all who travel in the mountains of this earth, and the mountains in our souls, that they be granted strength and fortitude as they seek. Amen