Praying to be Disturbed

Wind sunset picmonkey

How many of you have the same basic routine for Lent, year after year? Or maybe you have the same habits that guide your spiritual life throughout the whole year. Although there’s something very comforting about these routines, they can also turn into a kind of “spiritual inertia,” and Lent can be a wonderful time to shake of that inertia and allow ourselves to be disturbed.

What does it mean…to be disturbed? It’s a word that has a pretty negative connotation, doesn’t it?  When something is disturbing, it’s usually not good.

Not necessarily.

Picture the way a strong wind disturbs the branches of a tree, moving them and shaking them a little. Now imagine that wind is the Holy Spirit blowing through your soul. How is it moving you? In what ways is it stirring up your faith? Let yourself embrace this feeling instead of avoiding it. This is called “Holy Disturbance.” It prevents us from playing it safe or phoning it in.

I read an article where the author described Jesus’s constant re-entry into our lives as a type of chaos. Jesus enters, we push him away. Just when we get back to our own sense of what’s safe and routine, Jesus enters once again. His presence is something we often resist because we don’t know where it will lead, and we’re afraid of the change it might bring.

Now maybe calling it “chaos” is a bit harsh. I’m not sure that’s exactly how I would describe it. I once heard someone refer to this feeling in way that spoke to me: “God is trying to ruffle my feathers,” she said. She knew that God was calling her to do something different. She wasn’t quite sure what it was, but she sensed she needed to be open to it.

My birthday is in December, and a few years ago it fell on a Sunday. I announced to my husband that the only thing I wanted to do for my birthday was stay in my pajamas all day, curl up on the couch, and watch the latest Avengers movie. My husband went a bit pale because unbeknownst to me, he had arranged for all of our friends to join us with their families for a massive traveling scavenger hunt, looking for various Christmas related items. (You had to find and take pictures of things like a carton of eggnog, a Santa on a rooftop, a decorated mailbox, an outdoor nativity scene, etc.)

I had to very quickly shift gears. Instead of my relaxing day on the couch, I would go on an exciting, breakneck journey through the neighboring towns, ending with a rowdy and fun lunch at a local restaurant. Not at all how I expected my day to go, but so much more fun and meaningful than what I had planned for myself.

At the post-scavenger lunch one of my dear friends asked me if I wanted to join her for an Advent candlelight labyrinth walk later that evening. Now, if she had called me when I was in the middle of watching the Avengers, I can guarantee I would have said no. I would have been firmly rooted to my couch with no desire to go anywhere. But the scavenger hunt had already “disturbed” my plans and opened my heart to this spirit of adventure. So I said “yes,” and my birthday ended with an incredibly moving, peaceful and faith-filled walk through a silent labyrinth experience.

During this last week of Lent and Holy Week, spend some time thinking about how you react to change. Do you welcome it, or do you shy away from it? What if you began to look at change as God calling you? A calling that stirs your heart and moves you to a deeper level of faith. How often do you say “yes” to those opportunities?

Before you start to feel overwhelmed, keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be a huge life-changing event. You don’t have to move to an impoverished nation to serve the poor or give up your career to pursue a certain ministry. (Although there are plenty of shining examples of saints and modern day disciples who do these kinds of things!) But we can also pay attention to the smaller holy disturbances in our daily lives.

So, if you feel like you’ve gotten into a rut this Lenten season. I offer you this old anonymous prayer to reflect on.

“Disturb me, Lord, when my dreams come true, only because I dreamed too small. Disturb me when I arrive safely, only because I sailed too close to the shore. Disturb me when the things I have gained cause me to lose my thirst for more of You. Disturb me when I have acquired success, only to lose my desire for excellence. Disturb me when I give up too soon and settle too far short of the goals you have set for my life. Amen”

Wishing you a blessed Holy Week!

You Are Loved

 

crucifixion sunrise

When I was an 18-year-old college freshman, a chaplain at my school (Fr. Michael Ford) said the following words during a homily that have stayed with me all these years:

“Expect to be loved and be loving in return.”

Back then I was young and filled with insecurities. It felt a bit presumptuous to expect to be loved. Who was I, after all, to be worthy of such love?

It reminds me of something a friend said the other day. We were talking about the new love song by James Arthur – “Say You Won’t Let Go.” Assuming he wrote this song for his real-life spouse, my friend exclaimed: “How lucky this person is… to be loved like that!” Beneath her words was the subtle implication that she didn’t feel loved in this all-encompassing way.

I heard about a recent survey looking at happiness and well-being in adults, and 17 percent of all respondents said that they did not feel loved. How heartbreaking! I wish I could have found each and every one of that 17 percent and told them how wrong they were!

The journey of Lent and its culmination in the Resurrection on Easter Sunday shows us in the most profound way that we ARE loved.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

We were created to be loved by God. In his book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen describes it in the following way: “Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God’s loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love.” Can you fathom such a love? Can you fully comprehend the impact this Divine Love can have on the way you see yourself and the way you live your life?

And then we turn our thoughts to the second part of Fr. Ford’s advice—“be loving in return.” When Jesus gathered his disciples at the Last Supper he gave them this directive: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (John 13:34) Parable after parable teaches us that we must love one another.

Yes—being born into God’s love comes with responsibility. One that we should welcome.

Sometimes I think our world has become less good at loving. People are defined as winners and losers rather than brothers and sisters. Cruelty prevails over compassion. Bigotry overshadows our shared humanity.

This is not what God hoped for when he breathed life into our souls. It’s not what Jesus wanted when he commanded us to love one another.

I invite and encourage you to reflect on Fr. Ford’s words during this season of Lent: “Expect to be loved and be loving in return.”

How will you acknowledge God’s great love for you?

How will you share God’s love with others?

Sacred Struggle – Journeying through the Desert

desert

My parish choir sang a hymn on Ash Wednesday that described Lent as a “sacred struggle.”  What a beautiful and thought-provoking phrase.  It suggests that Lent is not a time for putting up a front of spiritual tranquility.  It’s not a time for pretending everything is rosy and perfect.

Think of Lent as a pilgrimage—a journey—and not necessarily an easy one.  It’s time to dig deep.  To walk in the desert with Jesus.

Jesus was led by the Holy Spirit out into the parched wilderness to be tempted, tested and prepared, just as the ancient Israelites wandered the desert so many years before, in preparation for their entry into the Promised Land.  We are called to make this same 40-day journey.  To be tested, prepared, and renewed.  To encounter God in new ways.  And to ultimately be transformed by the experience.

Let us approach this Lenten season as an opportunity to embrace that which is difficult.  To face temptations. To examine our personal failings. To reveal our doubts. To work through blocks and barriers to our faith.

Don’t be afraid to walk through the desert.  You are not alone in the journey.  When you encounter thirst and drought, cry out to God to quench your spirit.  Know, without a doubt, that God will answer.  “They were not thirsty when he led them through the deserts; he divided the rock, and water gushed out for them to drink.” (Isaiah 48:21)

A desert journey is not a time of punishment, but a time of strengthening.  Jesus left his time in the wilderness with a renewed and strengthened spirit to begin preaching the message that the Kingdom of Heaven was near. (Matthew 4:17)  Your time in the desert will lead you closer to that Kingdom.  To a place of deeper connection to our Divine Creator.  To a greater understanding of the gifts we receive – brought to fruition with the Resurrection of our Lord on Easter Sunday.

May your Lenten journey be blessed, as you come out of the desert with a renewed spirit. Amen.

Responding to God’s Invitation

 

jesus-knocking

“Stop in anytime!”

“My door is always open.”

I’ve never felt comfortable with these kinds of open invitations. They’re much too vague and raise way too many doubts for me.  What if I choose a bad time?  What if they don’t really mean it?  Maybe I’ll put it off for now.  They’re not really expecting me, so I won’t go today.  It becomes too easy to let time fall away and never really take advantage of the invitation.

I’ve always preferred something more formal.  An invitation addressed specifically to me with a specific date/time and specific details of the event so I know what to expect.  (As you can see, I’m big on specifics!)

As we begin this holy season of Lent, we are told that God invites us into an intimate relationship with Him.  Again, this sounds a bit vague.  How do we take advantage of this invitation?  When and where do we show up?  What is expected of us?

Today’s Ash Wednesday blog post is my attempt to make God’s invitation a bit more personal and… specific!

WHO
Make no mistake… God is directing this invitation to YOU.  Not to a general group of chosen people to which you may or may not feel you belong—but to you.  Our Lord says: “I have called you by name.  You are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1)  God promises that He will never forget us, for He has written our names on the palm of His hand. (Isaiah 49:16)  John’s Gospel introduces Jesus as the Good Shepherd, caring for each of His sheep in a deeply personal way.  “The sheep hear his voice and come to him; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.” (John 10:3)  What a powerful thing to realize that this invitation from God—through His Son Jesus Christ—comes to each of us so individually.  Close your eyes for a moment and imagine God calling you gently and sincerely by name.  You are a child of God… and you matter.

WHERE
Interestingly, our holy invitation does not direct us to God’s house, although we do visit there every Sunday.  But our connection to God takes place within our own hearts.  Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, God abides in us; and for our faith to flourish, we have to let God in.  There’s a famous depiction of Jesus standing outside a door… but there is no doorknob on the outside.  It is based on the Scripture from Revelations 3:20: Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” God respects our free will.  Jesus will not enter unless we let Him in.  He is always there, waiting for us, but it is up to us to open the door.

WHEN
Our invitation from God is for NOW.  Today.  Right when you finish reading this blog post.  It is a daily call to keep Jesus with us always.  God should be invited into every moment of our day.  If this is still too vague or overwhelming to contemplate, then look for ways to make it more specific.  Plan “dates” to be with God.  Set aside a few minutes each morning to pray or read Scripture.  Attend a Lenten retreat.  Take advantage of any spiritual programs offered by your parish.  Spend some time in silence each day.

WHAT TO BRING
All you need to bring is an open heart.  A willingness to let God in.  A desire to be connected to God in all that you do and say.  A willingness to live out the teachings of Jesus in your words and actions.  Jesus tell us:  “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4)

My prayer for you this Lenten season is that you accept God’s invitation.  That you remain connected to the Vine as we await the promise of our Savior on Easter Sunday.  That you live in God’s love just as God lives in you.  Amen.

God’s Work in Progress

potter clay
Christians often refer to the season of Lent as a second chance at our New Year’s resolutions. Our broken January promises are renewed as we vow to give up unhealthy foods, to take on healthier habits, to change in some significant way. For the most part, I love this time of year because it ushers in a season of transformation and renewal, as we embrace growth and progress. But there are some “side effects” of this approach than can actually halt our progress in two significant ways if we’re not careful.

  1. A constant focus on all the many ways we need “fixing” can become a roadblock on our spiritual journey if we hold ourselves back from God because of this belief that we are not good enough.
  2. Our efforts to do it all ourselves as we choose and control our own path to change can get in the way of God’s plans for us.

On both January 1st and Ash Wednesday, I always used to say: “I’m a work in progress.   There’s a LOT of work I need to do.” Somewhere along they way I reframed this statement

I am God’s work in progress, and he is working in me. Continue reading

A Woman’s Lenten Journey

woman in woods

The season of Lent is a journey.

A journey to the foot of the cross at Calvary…and to the heart of Jesus.

Years of working in retreat ministry has shown me that more than anything, women long for a daily encounter with God. Whatever form that may take, the desire to connect with the Divine is a major driver in a woman’s spiritual journey. A retreat presenter recently urged, “Don’t ever be satisfied with where you are with God at this moment. Always desire something deeper.”

Reaching for that “something deeper” can be a real challenge. Today’s woman is pulled in a million different directions. Always on the go, we are doers and nurturers. This hectic pace can make if very difficult to listen for the voice of God.   Women need TIME! We need quiet. We need a safe, sacred space, free from distraction. We need to stand still long enough to be found.  Only then can we take up our cross once again and resume the journey. Continue reading