Open

What makes a heart open? What light begs its delicate petals to unfurl?

Lately, when I think of my husband, I think of the peony bush by the back door. One day there were small, tightly closed buds and then it was in bloom. It all felt so sudden though I know it didn’t really happen over night -I just didn’t notice until all that beauty was right before me.

So when he said he would like to read that book, the one about God’s relentless love for us, I was shocked. I wanted to ask why and why now but really, it doesn’t matter. Still, I began to reflect on how he’s changed: it’s like there’s more of him give these days. Not just time and money, but himself. That goodness and generosity was always there but like the peony, it seemed smaller, a bit more closed than now.

The book -we’re reading it together. Him, for the first time. Me, for the first time with him. And the conversations are slow, some days we say nothing about the pages read. We talk, instead, about our days and lives together. But this is a start.

 

It was New Year’s Day and we and a friend were out driving. He prompts me suddenly to tell the man sitting behind me about the book and the author and the message of his words, the Word itself. I did not expect to find myself evangelizing but there I was and there we were. Talking about God on the first day of the new year.

Like before, the conversation came in fits. There was utter shock in the voice behind me but also disagreement. Me, a cradle Catholic, now somewhere in the middle. Him, born and raised conservatively, evangelically, and thoroughly Protestant. So it drifted from one thing to another. The book. Scripture. Jesus. And both our pasts and present circumstances affected how we came to it all.

It wasn’t the kind of dialogue you’d hear in a stadium full of people or even on a street corner. But that conversation, like the one before it, was a place to start out from.

 

Sure, you can ask others if they’ve heard or where they’re going after that last breath, the last beat of their fragile hearts. And I can worry that I should be out there, in dusty lands, digging wells and helping the Living Water to flow. But to what end?

I find it almost as unexpectedly, a passage underlined the week before and I remember marking it, not really knowing why.

There, in Mark 7, is a deaf man. “Be opened,” says Jesus and so he was. Ears to hear and a tongue to speak with, plainly. And it didn’t happen in front of a multitude. No stage or lights. No microphone to project. Rather, he took him aside in private, away from the crowd.

This has me considering other ways, quiet ways.
Listening as well as speaking.
Words and silences alike.

Maybe it’s not always about what we say. The conversation in the car was as much about God as when my husband and I discuss our day. Because God’s story is our story. What we talk about when we talk about God is really the story of us wrapped up in Him.

The conversation in the car wasn’t a success any more than our daily conversations are a failure because God isn’t explicitly mentioned.

And all those seemingly mundane things in our lives are important, too. Indeed, our lives may be the greatest testament we ever give.

 

So this is what I’m meditating on and praying over.

That we are opened to God not only through burning bushes and thunderous voices but quiet breezes and wings on air.

That this opening is both private and public because our lives need both witnesses and lonely places in which to grow.

And that we find peace in however, wherever it happens.

 

 

Jacobs

When he said humans were co-creators with God, it felt like coming alive, like live wires sparking. And I looked out the window and thought of all we had made and would make. The world we could shape.

But it isn’t only about what we assemble. Our identity is also a creation and the process is one in which we are intimately engaged with God. This creation -it’s our vocation. It’s the work of our soul and it is only with God and through God that we are ever able to shed the layers and lay bare on the altar.

This is how we engage with the Mystery and this is where I find myself now.

 

For ten years I was absent.

Not once did I attend mass or a service of any kind. Not even for the “big holidays.”

And yet already this week I have gone twice. When it is still dark and the air is sharp, I make my way to the church on the top of hill. It looms over the city and for the years I have lived here, it has loomed over me too.

Opening its doors felt both familiar and strange. The creak of wooden pews, the rustling of pages. The quiet anticipation.

More than once I found myself overwhelmed and in tears. Sure, there was joy and adoration and forgiveness. And the church itself -well, it’s more a cathedral. Who could sit there and not help but feel small? My mind drifted to those peasants, the first to enter the cathedrals of Europe, and I thought myself at that moment a peasant too. The walls, the windows, the light all spoke of God’s grace and magnificence.

I looked down at the dirt on my shoes.

 

As I walked out, that old injury aching in my knee, I felt confused.

Here is the Church I grew up in, the Church that has housed us for generations.

All of the questions and struggles of these past few years and for what? To have come full circle, back to where it all started?

So far I have avoided labeling myself but here I am caught somewhere between Catholic and Protestant. Not really wanting to give up one for the other, unable to reconcile the present with the past.

I felt alone. Lost.

Someone followed me out and I heard their steps behind as I descended the stairs. Me, limping. Him, more spry. And I thought to myself this isn’t unique to you. You aren’t alone in this. Haven’t we all wrestled with God and now walk with holy, clumsy limps? Aren’t we all Jacobs?

 

Our vocation, it’s work. We were never promised it would be easy or that it would come easily to us. Most of the time we aren’t even sure what exactly we’re grappling with. But we wrestle with it all the same because what else can we do? 

If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him…
-Thomas Merton

 

 

 

 

The Question of the Cup

Something is coming.

My awareness is shifting to the arrival of something extraordinary and this moment is blessed with anticipation.

Tomorrow marks the beginning of Advent but hasn’t this whole year been a year of holy, grace-filled waiting? Pope Francis called it the Year of Faith and so it was as I became more intentional about my faith, more fully aware and in awe of God’s presence.

So what will come next?

 

The title of the passage is deceiving in its simplicity. “Jesus Prays in Gethsemane.” Sure, he prays. He prays hard for an answer from God, for relief that just won’t come. In the quiet of the garden, he is vulnerable and utterly human. The Son of Man indeed. And knowing that the cup set before him will not pass, Jesus readily drinks from it.

Henri Nouwen wrote a whole book about it, about the question that comes in the shape of a cup. The question with the power to “crack open a hardened heart and lay bare the tendons of the spiritual life.”

So.
Can you drink from the cup?

Jesus asked the disciples and then God asked him and now He asks us.

Can we say yes to life? A life with God and all that it entails?

Because until faith is given hands to work and knees to kneel, we are merely talking about life with God. We are called as we are, where we are, but too often I use this to excuse a lack of action and I lapse into a kind of spiritual apathy. Does this mean packing up and leaving all to fight injustice or feed bodies more dead than alive? No. Still, I must drink from the cup.

And how long has the cup sat before me, patiently waiting for an answer? A whole lifetime? If so, then Brother Lawrence is right: “let us redeem the lost time, for perhaps we have but little left.”

 

The year to come will still be a year of faith but also a year of faith-work.

The cup, the question, it is always being posed to us but we have only so many days to give an answer.

And how else do I answer but through the living itself?

 

Here, the day before the beginning of Advent,  I read it again. How he kneels low in the garden, in the darkest dark. And he trusts what God gives. In this brief scene I see what a life with God can look like, the faith-believing and the faith-doing, and I find myself in Gethsemane too; a moment made eternal by a questioning cup.

 

 

A One-Fabric Life

So maybe some lives are like patchwork quilts, a mix of patterns and colours coming together to create something solid and warm and real. The pieces laid down one at a time, edges pinned and sewed into a whole.

Others are woven from myriad threads, so fine and slight as to be nearly imperceptible.

Which life am I making?

 

And wasn’t it Charles de Foucauld who said that our lives should be so closely united God that we cannot but proclaim His life through our actions and thoughts and words?

I turn again to Paul, to the letter I have been reading over all week long. The death of Jesus is reflected in the passing away of our outer nature, “so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” (2 Cor 4:10). But does this come through in our living?

I ask myself this and am brought low.

 

Because the life I long for is a one-fabric life. Each thread, divinely given, waiting to be woven. Or a stack of patches needing to be bound together. The result either way is a single whole.

 

This is where I have been brought and my fingers find the edges of all these mismatched pieces; I worry them to fray.

How to unite all the parts so they reflect the one in whom we live and move and have our being.

 

So it stands like this, with no answer, though I know I want to envelop myself in a life that draws me closer to Him.

New Growth

Weeks can go by, sometimes even months, with nothing but ease and calm breezes.

And then, like the changing of a season, you suddenly notice how cold and dark it has become. The days are shorter and the nights are longer and it’s all happening so quickly. This is the season I am in right now. Trying to find my footing, not sure where the ground is exactly.

But isn’t that it, the living by faith? You trust in what you cannot see because it is eternal.

 

It’s not just the walking that can be all trepidation and unease. The pain, the tearing away, is unsettling too.

What will come next or be left after all this? I wonder.

Sitting in the emergency room, watching the woman with her arm cradled close in a sling and the bloom of a bruise around her eye. Police, just down the hall, standing outside someone’s room. My stomach tightens.She walks out beyond the sliding doors and onto the street.

I look away, down at my own hand, all bloodied and swollen and turning darker shades. What will come next for us after all this? What comes from such pain? Where is grace?

 

I wasn’t looking for it but things have a way of coming to you when you need to hear it most.

On the screen and the page, such simple words:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!

The resurrection didn’t just happen once, it is always happening, God is always working in us. Our outer nature, as Paul called it, wastes away but inside there is new life. Our whole being is a testament to resurrection, to the life of Jesus.

So death is at work in us, but life in you.

 

Maybe this is where we are to see grace. Seemingly endless opportunities to die and be reborn, transformed, into something new. Endless, radical grace. 

 

I don’t know when this season will end or what it will bring. But the work of faith is the living itself, so I get down to laying new seeds and pulling up old growth. Deep in the holes, I know, something new and delicious will grow.

 

 

 

Under the City

Down the steps and into the hot, fetid air of the subway station. Since we arrived in the city, all I could smell was garbage and all I felt was low, low, low. My eyes felt hot and wet and I swallowed hard, trying not to cry the leftover tears from last week.

So we went lower under the city until I wasn’t sure anymore how to get back up.

Standing on the platform, as quiet as a subway station can get, watching the faces. Across the tracks I could see in big block letters the name of the station. And as I shifted from foot to the other, I saw what was all around.

 

One step to the right and the pillar shifts so the letters read CHRIST.
On the wall behind me and down the platform and everywhere, if you looked with right eyes, there He was.

 

In every passing body, every in-drawn breath. In the fields I’ve not yet walked, someday, and in the city where I am, now.

CHRIST. Bold and simple and true.

 

The hand and eye longed to take a picture but no. And so I replayed that moment again and again for days. As we walked around the city, I kept it in mind. That moment. Do not forget.

 

Nothing separates us from God’s love and when we shift our perspective, He comes into sight. Awareness is everything.

Sure, that hound of heaven is always on our trail but you have to allow yourself to be caught. You have to take that step. Change your perspective and reorient yourself to Christ. Do what you have to, whatever it is, to get back to that essential spot.

 

But I wonder now, as I saw the face of Christ in all those strangers, God’s presence everywhere, whether anyone saw that face in me.

 

Risking Yourself to Find Yourself

I have been and am still wrestling with it, right there on the ground, dirt and sweat and tears. It’s the words on my lips and the beat of my heart these days. And if I could only dig deeper, really sink into it, I just might get it.

John 1:1-18, I’m committed and it’s etched into memory. Someone has said that what a heart knows by heart, a heart knows.

Indeed.

 

Because in there is the courage to be. Our true selves are tucked in somewhere in there. Words written almost two thousand years ago know me better than I know myself. So I breathe deep and keep digging.

What I’ve unearthed is few but precious compared to the dirt that is on me.

So I roll it around in my hands and on my tongue, all of those throughs and ins and beings. I’m sure I’ve polished them smooth, I’ve gone over them so many times.

And I bring in others, theologians and scholars, to help with the task. Some are more useful than others but all contribute to the necessary work. Some make me uncomfortable as they force me outside the boundaries I’ve imagined and really, this is what Jesus calls us to do. Everything belongs, nothing is wasted.

 

Something has been raised out of the dark. What exactly, I’m not yet sure, but it’s essential. That I know.

And really, I know little else. But faith isn’t certainty, it makes room for doubt and in doing so becomes one of our greatest blessings. Faith persists despite our lived reality. Because you can’t deny that something has come into being through him and in him. Our true selves are found only in Him.

Jesus calls us to the freedom of knowing who we are, our true identities, as children of God. Born not of blood, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God. Here is our courage to be, to claim life with and in and of God as our own. The boldness we have, we have in Him.

 

Living It Out with Trust and Hope

There are bills and notices. Reminders and statements of what’s left and what’s left to give. And cars break and everything starts later than it should. No one says “thank you” or even notices what’s been done. There are still dishes and a meal to make and more after that.

There are times when it feels like too much, I forget who to trust. I am restless to get it right, to do it better. I forget that we, like those who received the letter, are holy partners in a heavenly calling.

The everyday is my biggest distraction. But it’s where I need to be and where I must live in God’s grace.

Always, when I turn to the word, I am reminded that faith is not just believing but living in patience, obedience, and with hope. Because what we have been blessed with is an anchor of the soul. And whatever I thought separated me from God, well, it doesn’t.

And when I need Him in a real and human way, I need only look to the one who reflects His very being. The constant and unchanging character of the one in who we live and breathe and find our rest.

This is what I must remember when I am falling or failing. Ruthless trust is the only thing that’s needed.

Everything Starts Out Small

It’s not that I want more time to do more things or see more places, foreign lands or salty seas. To struggle with maps and words or run till I am breathless and sore and bleeding.

What I want is to dig in deeply. Thick, ropey roots here and now.

But years of neglect left me feeling dead and hollow.

Sure, there were prayers in the delicate time between wakefulness and sleep. But to who was I offering my petitions? Who would care about such pathetic blanket gratitude?

Faith is just a word when your actions say “I don’t believe.”
But there is never nothing; there is always something. And we are never alone.

Right here where I am, the small is being made enough. With God’s grace I’ve been given the space to grow. This space, here in the midst of everything – place to hear what I need to hear most.

With time real gratitude has emerged and the small, the ordinary, is elevated by thanksgiving and faith.

This is how you truly live. This is how you make a life. All the small details are worth noting because this is life with God. And what you have is grace unending.