Thursday, December 9, 2004

Mother Knows Best

The Virgin Mary's little miracles are the among the best

Yesterday the Roman Catholic Church celebrated the 150th anniversary of the solemn proclamation that Mary, the mother of Jesus (a.k.a. Em-Yeshua) was miraculously conceived without sin. It's certainly no big stretch for me to celebrate that event with solemnity and a festive spirit, because I firmly believe in the truth of that 150-year-old proclamation

A co-worker who's interested in becoming a Catholic joined me at Mass last evening and we stopped to have dinner together after the liturgy. She remarked to me how much peace she experienced visiting the parish church with me, even meeting me at this point in her life. She said that she felt like one of those disciples who's ready for the master to show up. I certainly can agree, because my friend from work whom I'll call Lynn, is like a beautiful little sponge, soaking in everything Catholic that surrounds her. Since the liturgy that we attended last night was her first Mass, Lynn is more like a disciple who's just met her Mistress.

Having been raised as a Baptist, Lynn already has a deep love for Jesus on a personal level. Now, she is meeting the Church and Our Mother on a very personal and intimate level. As we left the nave after Mass, we paused to light a candle at the Marian shrine and to say a prayer that the Blessed Virgin would guide Lynn's journey toward Jesus in the Catholic Church.

What a miracle of grace, this conversion process that I witness in Lynn! It rekindles my own desire for continuing conversion - and the Lord knows how much I need that. I'm praying for Lynn, and I ask you gentle readers to pray for both of us, that we might walk together on this narrow path of conversion together in peace and serenity.

There was another little miracle yesterday; my music sorority pin, something that I had lost last winter suddenly appeared on my bedside stand yesterday morning. Needless to say, I immediately affixed it to a garment and intend to keep it there! Thanks, "Mom" for this little miracle on your special day.

Monday, December 6, 2004

Of Vivid Dreams and Earlier Rising

I chose to rise earlier than usual today

I wanted to have more time to pray and write, and so I set my alarm for an entire hour earlier than I have for the last three weeks. Learning this new rhythm will be difficult, but not insurmountable. It seems to be a matter of budgeting what time I have available to me, so that I might be able to set an agenda, sort-of:

5:00 Mental Prayer
5:30 Breakfast and PC time
5:50 Lauds
6:05 Dress
6:15 Leave for Mass

My dry run didn't work so well this morning. By the time I finished my morning toilette (as the French call the face-washing, teeth-brushing routine) it was way too late to leave for Mass. So, I decided to give the Lord my good intentions and set the alarm for 4:45 tomorrow.

I just don't like to rush in the morning... frankly, because I can't do it anymore. The only way that I can rush in the morning is to leave out a step or two, and that's not a pleasant thought. So, rising earlier is paramount.

But, I find that rising early can be a drag, too, especially after a night of vivid dreams. Last night's subconscious fare was a review of everything that I've learned so far in training at my new job. How much fun is that? I cannot complain, though - my bedtime prayer was that the Lord would prepare me for the work week. I would say that my prayer was graciously heard.

Of course, all of these vivid dreams wake me up every 60 to 90 minutes, and that gets old, too. Aging isn't all it's cracked up to be! My desire is to cope with equanimity and grace... Lord, help me!

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Life in the Dense Lane

This new job is mentally draining, but fun

Finally, I have some free time to return to blogging. I've just completed three weeks of customer service training at Bright House Networks, and the amount of content to learn is staggering and quite dense. So, yesterday was spent sleeping and today I've been catching up on correspondence, and now a moment with my readers and my thoughts.

The lumbar spine is still giving me fits, but nowhere as severe as it was three weeks ago. That turned out to be the beginning of a nasty Behçet's flare involving my eyes, my skin and oral ulcers, too. It's very unusual for me to have four systems flaring at the same time... and it's quite painful, too. Thanks to Doug for his scripturally-loaded comment to my last post three weeks ago!

I've been rising early for prayer most mornings, and I'm not overly anxious about how often I fall asleep when I make my mental prayer. The good Lord knows that I'm showing up to be with him, and when he rouses me I simply tell him that I love him, that I'm totally his and that everything I have belongs to him. Then, it seems that I eventually fall asleep again, and we start the cycle all over for a full thirty minutes or more. By the end of mental prayer, I'm finally half-awake enough to pray Lauds and face the day.

Praised be Jesus that he should love me so much as to put me to sleep on his heart! Even though I may be seated in my room, Jesus loves me enough to calm my pain, to quiet my thoughts, and to cradle me in his arms so that I might rest in him. It's not a bad thing, you know... it's all good.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Bcoming Mistress of My Body

Aches and pains may get me down, but this body will never get in the way of my quest for sanctity

I start my new job today and I have to admit that going back to bed seems like a wise thing to do. Apparently I've pulled a muscle in my back... either that, or my Behcet's Disease has inflamed my lumbar spine. When this has happened in the past, my remedy has been rest. But, I'm so wicked that there's no rest for me, today.

I recall the words of St Paul when he talks about mastering his body and making it obey him. I know that this is a lesson that I'm still learning. Friends who also suffer from Behcet's Disease wonder how I'm able to keep going in the midst of all the problems that I've had. I reply, "by the grace of God."

Well, Lord, I could use a big shot of your grace today as I begin this new employment. Be my strength today! Grant me the grace to learn quickly and accurately, and to excel in this work. Jesus, I trust you - help me to stay in today!

"Rien que pour aujourd'hui..."

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Lord, Take My Anxiety

Anxiety is a terrible waste of energy

Some of you may know that I've been searching for stable, full-time employment with benefits since the month of July. It has been a long, difficult road that dates back to the spring of 2003, when I originally found myself unemployed. This dark night is only for the hardiest souls.

To share the lot of the poor in darkness is a gift. There is plenty of suffering and anxiety to go around. Suffering well can be a form of love, but I have yet to meet the anxious moment that has as much virtue attached to it. Anxiety - borne from fear of the unknown - is, after all, only an emotion over which I am powerless.

I once loved a man who would always remind me, "if you're going to worry, why pray? If you're going to pray, why worry?" Tonight, it is not so much worry that has me flummoxed, as a gnawing anxiety about my state of affairs. Will I obtain employment? Will this only be another flash in the pan, generating little light and not much heat? (Winter is coming and I'm already thinking about utility bills to be paid)

O Lord, hear my prayer - let my cry come before you! You know how I am willing to work, how I even love to work, because I have come to value the dignity of work. Jesus, be merciful to me, a sinner. I beg you to have pity on me in my unemployment and to grant me the dignity of work and the security of insurance benefits. You alone are my provider, and I count on you - I trust in you. Do not abandon me in my hour of need! Jesus, I love you...

Sunday, November 7, 2004

Creator of the Sunset

"In the evening, you will be judged in love"

In the evening of this day, I was driving southbound on Interstate Highway 65 from Chicago. The sunset was stunning, and my face, my entire being was filled with gratitude to know that the Creator of that sunset loves me infinitely and intimately, and I love him as intimately as I can, too, in my finite way.

One day my finite nature will come face to face with the ultimate sense of it's "finity" - and the infinite God, my creator, redeemer, lover and sustainer will overwhelm me with infinity. In my theological poverty, this is how I understand the end of my earthly life. When I see a stunning sunset, I am drawn to smile at infinite Love, who is God.

I was smiling more than ever before the sun began to set because I had just spent a beautiful 24 hours in Chicago, most of it spent visiting an old friend, a Comboni missionary priest who has been transferred from Darfur, Sudan this year. He is now undertaking a new ministry to youth in one of Chicago's toughest neighborhoods - St. Marin de Porres parish. From the "Peace Center", young men and women have the privilege to gather in peace and to be loved in peace by my friend and his confrère.

I hope that he shares this post with his young friends, because I counted it a privilege to meet them and to share their hospitality. Compared to their life experiences, I'm living in a monastery. Yet, their experience of reality is chopped by concrete sunsets - and sunrises, too. Thanks to the Comboni ministry, the youth from the Peace Center have an opportunity to gather outside of their concrete and steel surroundings and to experience life outside of the city. And, thanks to the welcome that I received from these young people, their concrete and steel surroundings melted and for a moment I felt that we both had touched eternal Love.

In the evening, my friend and his new young friends will be judged in love, too. Based on my brief experience with them, love abounds already... and their divine judgment may feel quite familiar because already they have been deeply loved by God through my friend.

Small wonder that I smile: I feel deeply loved by God and my friend, too.

"Thanks be to God for his inestimable gift!"

Saturday, November 6, 2004

Hommage au Saint Esprit

Remerciements au Seigneur des passages en France

Que c'est incroyable à penser qu'il y a 10 ans j'ai fait passage à Toulouse, où j'ai fait la connaissance du frère Pierre Éliane, OCD. Doué d'une voix belle (je devine qu'il en dirait autre chose) je me souviens bien de la première fois que j'ai entendu un de ses "Therese Songs."

En ce temps-là j'étais toujours novice au Carmel de Haifa, en Terre Sainte. Je ne sais ni le comment ni le pourquoi, mais un jour Notre Mère nous ont annoncé au réféctoire que ce frère carme nous ont fait cadeau d'une cassette, des chants carmélitains qui tiraient leur inspiration des poésies de Ste Thérèse de l'Enjant Jésus. Musicienne, je souriais, mais sans y penser davantange.

A l'écoute de la première corde de son guitar, je me suis tenue en arrêt, immobilisée de ces sons jusqu'ici inouïe au Carmel du Mt Carmel. "Mais, qui est ce Carme?" Sa musique m'enchantait... non, ces paroles sont injustes... sa musique m'a fait fondre d'amour de Jésus, comme les paroles de Thérèse peut faire. Je trouvais que le musicien Pierre a vraiment trouvé le secret de présenter les paroles de Thérèse sans mettre la musique à quelque place plus importante. Non, ce n'était que la Parole qui chantait à mon âme.

Alors, que de beaux souvenirs je garde de mon passage à Toulouse, même 10 ans plus tard. Rencontre le frère, un homme bien simple qui faisait ses stages de formation comme je les avait fait moi-même, ce n'était plus qu'un témoignage des rencontres coeur-à-coeur où souffle le S. Esprit... on était en famille, au mois je le sentais ainsi. Et vraiment on y était, musicien et musicienne, carme et carmélite, frère et soeur devant le bon Dieu... sans besoin de s'armer de belle paroles ou d'une sagesse musicale exquise.

Je n'ai jamais oublié cette rencontre. Je lis maintenant que le frère Pierre Eliane continue son ministère musical, et je m'en réjouis. Et bien, moi aussi...

Aujourd'hui j'irai à Chicago avec une étudiante de voix pour conférer avec un collègue maître de voix. Nous allons voir comment aider cette jeune chanteuse dans sa vocation désirée, devenir vedette. Il faut que le Saint Esprit travaille davantage!

Après notre consultation, je vais passer par la maison des Comboniani pour revoir mon ami, Abuna Daoud, ce père combonien qui me compte comme amie et bienfaitrice depuis beaucoup d'années, même avant mon entrée au Carmel. Encore, il faut le souffle du Saint Esprit, car ce P. David entreprend un nouveau ministère auprès des jeunes noirs... non plus au Darfur, mais actuellement à Chicago. Il semble que les jeunes de Darfur lui manquent, mais les jeunes de Chicago se méfient de lui.

Alors, on se reverra, on priera, on prendra un repas simple entouré des Comboniani et religieux et laïques. Viens, Esprit Saint, remplis le coeur de tes fidèles...

Friday, November 5, 2004

Gatorade, Reglan and Sleeping Prayer

During a viral crisis of gastrointestinal proportions, prayer gets reduced to the basics.

Yes, it's true - I came down with the "creeping crud" this week. It was a nasty virus that took my body by storm and surprise, from seemingly out of nowhere. After a few phone calls, I learned that I probably caught this ugly bug from someone at the parish where I work.

See how these Christians love each other?!

One thing that was most evident was my inability to get into a contemplative frame of mind and heart. After all, isn't that what Carmelites are supposed to do? I can't find the quote right now, but I recall as I write this that our great reformer and Doctor of the Church, Saint Teresa de Jesus de Avila once remarked that when one is ill, it's nigh impossible to pray.

As for me this week, I couldn't even think to pray for the misery to end. Well, maybe last night... when I'd had more nausea than I could stand in one week, I reached for a container of Reglan anti-nausea tablets that my doctor had prescribed last year. Yes, I was that desperate for relief. Fortunately, the nausea lifted and my poor body craved nothing but sleep.

When those moments occur when I sleep through my prayer, I smile and don't worry about it too much. It used to drive me crazy, thinking that I was committing a mortal sin. Today, my attitude is more laissez-faire, perhaps because the good Lord has finally assured me that I'm loved whether I sleep through my mental prayer - or Lauds, as was the case this morning, since I could barely keep my eyes open - or whether I am wide awake and full of distractions.

Now that I'm well enough to care about cleaning up after myself, I found my kitchen in a shambles. I had spilled Gatorade, my beverage of choice in such moments spilled all over the kitchen. I'm not really certain when that happened, but the small rug at the kitchen sink is pink with Gatorade stains. Quite a few of them, to be exact.

Imagine how messy we become when we poor sinners start pouring out our sin upon the environment around us? Now, there's a thought worth pondering.

Back to evening prayer... with eyes wide open this time...

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Pope John Paul II, St Charles and Kenosis

As I was praying this morning, I realized anew how down-to-earth St. Charles Borromeo was in his holiness.

And, today we celebrate not only St. Charles' day, but also we celebrate with Pope John Paul II, né Karol Wojtyla, who observes St. Charles Borromeo's feast day because this great Pastor is the patron saint of our pope.

There was a very interesting paragraph in this morning's readings, taken from one of St. Charles' homilies during his last synod at Archbishop of Milan. Since I was reading in a French translation, here's a rough translation of the homily, which was probably delivered in Latin or Milanese:

"Are you in charge of souls? This isn't a reason to neglect responsibility (or, charge) of yourself and to give yourself so generously to other that there's nothing left of yourself for yourself. Because, you must remember the souls of whom you're the superior without forgetting yourself."

How balanced can that advice be? For a pastor of pastors - the calling of a bishop, in effect - to counsel his confrères to be measured in the pouring out of themselves on behalf of their flock, this is most certainly borne of personal experience, wouldn't you think? In other words, if Charles Borromeo didn't know what it was to expend oneself so completely that there was no time, no energy, no resources left for himself, then how would he have known to offer such advice to his own archdiocesan pastors.

This issue of a self-emptying work ethic among pastors dates back to the beginnings of the Church, I suspect. Having seen the heroic efforts of the apostles - our first pastors - over the years, it's only natural to desire to replicate those heroic efforts. The problem arises that we don't know our own weaknesses and the limits of our own strength.

In today's religious culture, this might translate into burned-out pastors; neglected clergy families and/or spouses; temptations to explore those "near-occasions of sin;" and, a host of other issues that form a background to scandal upon scandal in ecclesiastical circles.

Hey, even in my pastoral days I wanted to be more expendable than Jesus, to give myself to the nth degree. Often, that meant that I became a victim of my heroicity and I needed a St. Charles Borromeo to bring me back to reality. Of course, the reality for me was to withdraw from ordained ministry among the United Methodists and to join the Church that St. Charles loved.

But, I think that the advice holds true for all those who participate in any ministry or apostolate today. How generous is too generous? How much self-emptying is too much?

Speaking of self-emptying or kenosis, I'm in the midst of translating a conference given by Jean Sleiman, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Baghdad during a recent appearance in Chicago. Although I'm barely into the body of the work, the Archbishop's discussion chills my bones. May Christians globally come to aid of their suffering brothers and sisters in Iraq!

So, back to translation...

In the early-morning quiet

"Dieu, tu es mon Dieu, je te cherche dès l'aube; mon âme a soif de toi. Après toi languis ma chair comme un cerf altéré, sans eau."

Comme elle est belle, la nuit! Je me lève de bonne heure ce matin pour prendre des médicaments, et je reste en éveil puisque la nuit me fait respirer l'Amour de Dieu. Au dehors de ma fenêtre, j'entend la bruit de la cité qui m'entoure, et je pense à Dieu... plus loin, je voudrais que tous pensent à Dieu.

Néanmoins, je sais bien que l'on est occupé des affaires du monde là-bas, comme moi la plupart des matins. Je me lève, je pense à Dieu, et puis je pense aux mille choses qui me sont destinées aujourd'hui. Et j'avoue que je souhaite très souvent que je sois debout même 30 minutes avant cette heure-ci.

L'aube n'est pas encore arrivée ce matin... que j'aille la chercher, avec le bon Dieu.

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Welcome to the Karmalight Blog

Welcome, friends - here's a place where you can be yourself, kick back, post as many comments as you want to...

all are welcome here!