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I’m blessed to share my home with two adorable furry housemates: Sabrina and Alvis. In addition to companionship, comfort, and fun, they’ve also given me occasion to ponder my relationship with God, how I see Him, and how He perhaps sees me. Granted, the analogy isn’t perfect; God sees me as His own daughter, not as a pet, and at the same time, He is far more superior to me than I am to my cats. But it’s been helpful nevertheless.
No matter how unpleasant your situation is, no matter how little sense it makes to you, keep trusting!
To my cats, getting locked up in a carrier, being taken to a strange place to be poked and prodded by strange people, then coming home only to be force-fed pills or vile liquids–sometimes with the added indignity of being wrapped up in a towel like a cat burrito–is nothing but a series of meaningless trauma. They don’t understand that these things are happening in order to make, or keep, them healthy and feeling well. And it is surely mystifying that the same person who was cuddling and feeding and playing with them just a short time ago should now turn so cruel and cold, ignoring their cries and their squirming. So it is sometimes with me and God. Sometimes life seems to take a cruel turn for no apparent reason, and sometimes God seems like a completely different Person, seemingly ignoring my pleas.
But just as I know that taking my cats to the vet and treating any ill condition is for their good, so does God know what good may come from times of testing, purification, building and re-building, fortifying my weak spots, strengthening me where I need it, and chiseling away ugly spots or sharp edges. And if my will toward my cats is so good, then surely God’s will toward me is far better still! And well, at least He hasn’t given me the burrito-wrap treatment… yet.
At the same time, be prepared to accept and to marvel that God is a complete mystery.
Each and every morning, my cats witness an astonishing ritual. Each and every morning they see me close myself up in a small, cramped torture chamber that–horror of horrors!–sprays water all over me. Water! All over me! And I submit myself to this insanity willingly, even with delight! What sort of messed up masochist does that?! And that’s just one example of the apparent insanity that possesses me.
Likewise, there are things I just can’t understand about God–things no mortal human can understand. Like the Trinity. Like the Passion and Crucifixion. Like the Resurrection. Like what exactly He sees in me that is so special that He created me out of nothing and holds me lovingly in existence, a little speck afloat in the unspeakable vastness of the universe–not only that but that He loves me! These mysteries–both majestic and intensely intimate to my little life–always surround God, as He surrounds me with His marvelous deeds, His tremendous power, His unwavering attention, and His boundless love. And how He must smile when we gaze toward Him wide-eyed and bewildered, just as I smile at my cat sitting nervously outside my shower!
How many people prefer to dismiss Him today as something impossible and foolish to believe in! How many people are eager to dismiss all things that are mysterious and marvelous just because they cannot be examined by human eyes or neatly defined by human definitions! What a magnificent relationship they are missing!
You’re always your best when you are simply yourself, flaws and all–there’s no need to fear rejection!
My cats sometimes make me crack up with laughter (see: Sabrina being silly at left). They do it without any shame whatsoever. They are free spirits who do whatever comes naturally in the moment. Sometimes, they make me shake my head because they don’t realize how incredibly comfy and easy their lives are–but I wouldn’t ever want it any other way! Sometimes they’re a real handful–like when I’m trying to give them medicine and they just won’t be still, and I have to resort to the burrito-wrap. But I understand and just do my best to make it as quick and painless as possible (knowing full well that they would beg to differ). And sometimes they are so incredibly sensitive and insightful and tender toward me when I am sad or sick or in any kind of pain that it’s like God is acting through them. They may never know what it means to me that they are just who and what they are, and that I love them for it.
I think God regards us the same way, whether we make Him laugh or shake His head or even when we squirm and kick and scratch and protest and do our darnedest to shove Him away. He knows when we are trying to lie or hide or BS Him. He sees straight through us. He knows how we are made. He knows our limitations. He knows our individual personalities. He knows them–He loves them–He even died for them. And no matter how much we may reject Him–for He made us free to do so if we truly wish it–He never wills nor wishes to reject us. That’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? Sometimes, it’s a bit difficulty and even frightening to believe! We are so fearful of the rejection we sometimes suffer from our fellow man. We may instinctively try to throw up walls between ourselves and God.
But what liberty, what joy, what lightness of being and peace of mind can be ours if we will venture to just be ourselves before God! I could never reject my cats just for being the cats they are. And God would never reject me for just being the human being I am. Nor would he reject any one of us for being who and what we are.
As good as we are to our pets, those little creatures we share our lives and homes with, God is far better–infinitely better!–to us. And as much as we enjoy our pets, God rejoices so much more in us, His own children. And as much as we would love to spend our whole lives with our beloved pets, so much more does God desire to spend all eternity with us. So never doubt, never fear, never dismiss Him! Curl up in his arms with all the confidence and security that your pets curl up next to you with!
Alvis says “Relax!”
I’m still here and still doing my retreat. During this time, I’ve talked about shaking things off, or having things chiseled off. And for a while, that has been happening. Many things have fallen away or been taken away from me: worldly and spiritual indolence… arrogance… trying to be somebody other than who I am and who God created me to be… overall malaise… grudges and non-forgiving… putting too much value on material things… lots of unhealthy and unattractive things.
I have now come to a place where I am rather bare. Raw in some spots. Vulnerable. There are things I would still like to shake off or have removed. And God says, “There are some things that can’t be shaken. And there are some things I will not remove from you. There are some things so integral to who you are that you would not be yourself without them. You may not understand them. You may not want them. You may think they are not good for you, that they are even harmful to you. You will understand someday. For now, you have only to trust me and accept them. Accept yourself.”
This takes me back to the very first day of my current retreat, when I pondered weakness and strength. I put my finger squarely on one of my greatest weaknesses: namely, that I hate weakness. Now, I have been brought to the heart of the matter. After so much has fallen away from me, I still have weaknesses. It’s still difficult to accept them and to put them in God’s hands. But it is far less difficult than it was on day 1.
Things that can’t be shaken… things integral to me… I think the chief among these is grief. A few nights ago, it hit me like a hammer: the loss of my father, and ever farther back, the loss of my intended husband. I wept and cried and felt the losses in my soul as I have not done in years. I think that my grief for my father has only recently fully sunk into me. And I think the reason is that I’ve put up barriers to it… not been true to myself and to my situation. It’s one of those spots that has newly been stripped away. Grief, for losses old and new… it is always going to part of me. Not only my past, but also my present and future. I can’t be rid of it and still be myself.
But the surprising and wonderful part of this is: when I acknowledge that grief has a place in myself and in my life, then that place becomes very defined. Because grief has a place, it can’t fully occupy me or take over my whole life and being. When it has a place–and when I allow it its place–it stays in its place. And that’s a good thing. Grief occupies its own chamber within my heart. But my heart keeps beating and growing and expanding. It opens wide to include new people and new joys and new possibilities. When I give grief its place, then my life and my love and my self flourish.
St. Paul’s words come back to me: “For when I am weak, then I am strong.” I think I understand that better now.
There are many other such integral and unshakable things. Some are genuine strengths–for we all have strengths, just as we all have weaknesses. Some are strengths that may come across as weaknesses to the outside world–I am a “still waters run deep” kind of person; not very impressive on the outside, but a constant wellspring of thinking and sensing and reasoning and understanding. Sometimes I would like to be a lot more impressive on the outside, but then I would be just a shallow, dried-up, graven image of a person, and not my authentic self.
Being anything other than my authentic self is just draining… exhausting… it doesn’t get me anywhere. I’d rather just be myself, with all my strengths and weaknesses and quirks. That is when I can make true progress. That is when I can be closer to God and to other people.
As it turns out, I have more to shake off than I realized. And what I expected to be a refreshing rest has been more like lying on an operating table. Once again, I should have known better–for it often happens: I reach a point where I myself cannot loosen the things that immobilize and bind and mar me.
So now, God has His chisel in hand and is slowly but surely chipping away at all the pieces that still need dislodging, chipping away at things that hold me captive and mar my form, chipping away at the barriers I’ve thrown up myself.
It’s a painful process, and difficult to remain still and be utterly trusting in God’s sure hand and eye. The baser parts of my nature resent it and cry out, “Why are You doing this to me? I’ve turned to You for help, and yet You cause me such pain!” But the higher parts of my nature understand perfectly. After all, what am I but a clump of earth that God has seen fit to fashion in His own image and–wonder of wonders–to love? And if He is willing to work, again and again, to bring forth the greatness He sees in me, to liberate and purify and beautify me, then why should I complain?
It reminds me of one of my favorite passages from C.S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain:
One can imagine a sentient picture, after being rubbed and scraped and recommenced for the tenth time, wishing that it were only a thumbnail sketch whose making was over in a minute. In the same way, it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less.
(HarperCollins, p. 34)
Or, as St. Augustine said, “The doctor doesn’t stop cutting just because his patient is screaming for him to stop.”
There are many, maybe hundreds, of other sayings to express the idea that pain is sometimes necessary and beneficial for us. It is one of those timeless and universal human experiences. That gives me a little comfort. Just a little! So does looking forward to the final result. It is always worthwhile. But for now–just gotta be still and be trusting!
Just a few months ago I seriously started looking for a relationship with a man again. This is the first serious effort I’ve made since losing my intended husband 6.5 years ago. And, as you may have gathered from some of my recent posts… to say the least, things have not been going very well!
I don’t know if I’ve just had the bad fortune of running into lousy men, or if I am just so rusty with interacting with men that I have been making my own lousy mistakes, or if the rules have changed drastically in the last 6.5 years. Maybe it’s just that I am 6.5 years older now, and decades more mature than a person my age should be.
In any case, it has been so hard not to get utterly discouraged and fall into despair. Yeah, it’s only been a few months, but I’ve gotten quite a few fresh wounds in this short time! My spiritual life has been pushed nearly to its limits as I struggle not to lose hope and patience and trust in God.
However, I have also found great comfort in God and the Church–particularly the Communion of Saints. I have found some novenas that are said to bring wonderful, even miraculous, assistance in finding a spouse:
Currently, I have just completed the Novena to St. Jude–since finding a decent man and potential husband does seem like a rather impossible cause.
I also pray each day this prayer to St. Raphael the Archangel.
In these and in my daily Divine Office and Rosary, and each time I go to Mass, I pray that I will soon meet a good man to be my husband, and that in the meantime, I will devote myself to growing deeper in love with God and to preparing myself to be a good wife and mother, with the Virgin Mary as my role-model.
I also pray for all the other single Catholic women who are also longing for a good husband and marriage and children.
I offer prayers for my future husband and children and ask that we all be together as a family soon.
I pray very hard for all the single men out there, especially Catholics, that they will fervently and steadfastly and courageously pursue the vocation of marriage and be open to loving women, no matter how many times they may have been hurt or rejected.
I pray that all of my own wounds from the past will be healed so that I can give myself whole and healthy and happy to my future husband.
Overall, I am just trying to put God first in my life and trust that He will richly provide for every need and desire I have. I am trying to be mindful of, and very grateful for all that He has given to me and done for me, to focus on the blessings I have, rather than focusing on what I lack. And I am trying to always remember that I am His daughter, and He is my Father. He loves me, and I love Him, and from that love springs all others.
Whenever I ponder love, I am brought back to this quotation from the film, Diary of a Country Priest:
Priest: We did not invent love. It has its order, its law.
Countess: God is its master.
Priest: He is not the master of love. He is love itself. If you would love, don’t place yourself beyond love’s reach.
Words to live by.
Today, 16 October, is the birthday of Elisabeth Leseur. Here is something she wrote the day after her 39th birthday in 1905:
How plainly visible is Providence in the history of my soul and of my life! It must be the same for all, if one knows how to discern its beneficent action; when I look back, in spite of misfortunes and tears, I can only bless and adore. I begin this new period of life–long or short, calm or sorrowful, according to God’s will–with these words from the depths of my soul: I believe, I adore, I hope.
I too can clearly see God’s Providence when I look back over my life, and especially in the past five years. Years of so much sorrow, grief, pain, and battle. And like Mme. Leseur, I can only bless and adore God for it all.
The Scripture readings for yesterday wonderfully communicate God’s abundant grace to us. They also teach us an important lesson about who we are and who God is–a lesson in pride and humility, doubt and trust.
I can so empathize with the prophet Isaiah:
“Woe is me, I am doomed!
For I am a man of unclean lips,
living among a people of unclean lips;
yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
And with St. Paul:
For I am the least of the apostles,
not fit to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God.
And with St. Peter:
“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”
Even after nearly five years of being back in the Church, I occasionally look at my life and say, “Oh Lord, after all I’ve done, I am not worthy to be part of Your Church!” But then God says, “You are part of My Church for one reason only: because I created you to be.” Or in other words, “It’s not all about you and what you’re worthy of. It’s much more about Me and what My will for you is.”
Sometimes our egos are our worst enemies. What folly to suppose that we could ever be worthy of what God gives us! And what folly to second-guess His freely-given love and blessings! What a cleverly-disguised pride! A pride that preys upon our trust in God and in His providence.
Fortunately, Isaiah, Paul, and Peter also provide examples of true purity and trust that we can follow. Reassured by God, Isaiah and Peter put themselves at His service. And Paul says so beautifully:
But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me has not been ineffective.
When I look at my life with genuine humility, I too can see that God’s grace has been abundant and extremely effective. It has never failed me. I may fail myself in not being open and receptive to it. But He does not fail me. On Him we can depend completely.
I’ve had a busy but wonderful weekend. The retreat on faith and science was fantastic! A lot to absorb, a lot to think and pray about. Of course, I will try to share some of what I have learned and pondered.
One thing we discussed at the retreat is the nature of faith: that it is an act of trust and steadfastness. One phrase I wrote down and that has really stuck with me is: “Faith is the habit of trusting God.” I think that came from St. Thomas Aquinas.
Faith is the habit of trusting God. I have to say, this makes me a bit uncomfortable. To tell you the truth, it makes me seriously question just how much faith I’ve got. Looking back over the last couple of months, I see a pattern of me not trusting in God. It’s something I’ve have to bring up with my confessor a few times.
Oh, I know God is good. I know God is generous. I know God has saved my skin (and my soul) more times than I can remember. I know God is trustworthy and constant. I know, I know, I know. I believe in God’s goodness and generosity. I believe that He will not cease to save me, provide for me, be good and generous to me. I believe, I believe, I believe.
And yet… I still have the awful habit of worrying that my life is just going to be a huge disaster and I’m never going to be happy. I still have the awful habit of demanding that God prove to me His goodness and love… usually by demanding that He do what I want Him to do, give me what I want Him to give me–and do it now because I’m tired of waiting!
Where is the trust? Where is the steadfastness? Where is the good habit? In short–where is the faith?
As if I weren’t already being haunted by these questions, our parish priest (who is also my confessor), gave his homily this morning on pretty much the exact same topic: faith as trust. I got that sinking “This is not a coincidence” feeling deep in my gut. That unnerving “Here we go again, the Holy Spirit is not going to let me go until He’s thoroughly banged this into my head!” feeling.
I felt like Father was speaking directly to me this morning when he said that faith is much more than just checking off the list of beliefs you assent to. Rather, it is based on steadfast trust, on a strong personal relationship with God that perseveres even in the times when we don’t understand, even when we feel doubt. Faith pushes us beyond the comfortable things we think we know about God and draws us into the mystery of who He really is. It draws us into the “hard sayings,” such as that He gives us His flesh to feed, indeed to gnaw, upon. And at that point, we, like the original disciples, have to make a choice: do we stay with Him or do we leave?
I realized that lately, in my life, I’ve come to a point where I don’t know what God is doing. I don’t know what He’s got in the works. I can’t see, and I don’t understand. Doubt, frustration, and impatience creep in. And I make the wrong choice. I choose to go my own way. I choose to walk away.
It’s not a permanent choice, obviously. Something brings me to repentance. Something opens my eyes and makes me say, “Oh Lord, what have I done?” I think that something is the personal relationship I have formed with God so far. It’s remembering that His love and goodness are real, that they are not just a list of things I believe. They are the fabric of my life and who I am. They have been proven over and over, without my demanding it. There is something more there.
I am not without faith (thank God). It just needs to grow. I need to let it grow. If I can’t see things clearly now, as is bound to happen, I don’t have to bang my own head against it–nothing is more futile than that. Rather, I can take that opportunity to look back on all that God has done for me and given to me. In fact, this was my confessor’s advice on a recent occasion: stop and look back to where you have been. See the ways in which God has led you and provided for you, and see how you have received and responded–or not. Get your bearing so that you can stay the course.
This also relates to some things Father Powell told us. That faith is a gift from God, among countless other gifts He gives us. God’s giving is a given. The question is: Do we receive? Do we receive with gratitude? So, gratitude is an important piece of the puzzle also. What other reaction can we have when we realize just how good God has been to us? Does not gratitude engender trust?
So, you can see, even beyond the retreat, I have lots to think and pray about. Lots to learn and lots to overcome. And I’m sure the Holy Spirit will bang me on the head as much as needed. But as always, that is a good thing. Sometimes we need our walls torn down, and our foundations built up.
[UPDATE 1] Oh, and this section from today’s Evening Prayer scripture passage (1 Peter 1:3-7) struck out at me as one more bang on the head:
You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials; but this is so that you faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ appears.
[UPDATE 2] And then I found this quotation over at Exultet:
“Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.”
I think this advice may resonate with me most of all. Leave it to good ol’ G.K.! :D
Happy feast day to my beloved spiritual father, St. Dominic!
Appropriately, I will be on retreat today with my Lay Dominican chapter, praying, studying, fellowshipping. What better way to spend our founding father’s feast day?
There are two things that struck me early on about St. Dominic, and still today spring to my mind whenever I think of him: courage and trust in divine providence. Probably because they are two lessons that I most need to learn! Here are a couple of quotations from Dominican Spirituality : Principles and Practice by Fr. William A. Hinnebusch, OP.
An example of courage:
With courage he traveled through the Albigensian country. At times he knew his enemies were planning to kill him, yet he continued on his way. Once they took him, but seeing that he offered no resistance, they asked: “What would you have done, had we carried out our plans?” “I would have begged you to put me to death in the slowest possible way, to cut me to pieces bit by bit so my martyrdom would be prolonged for the good of souls.” Realizing how much he wanted martyrdom, they did not kill him. He was a martyr by desire.
A martyr by desire. How many of us can say that about ourselves?
On his trust in divine providence:
The very fact that Dominic was willing to found a mendicant Order, one that owned no property and had no revenues, indicates his mighty trust in Divine Providence. He relied on the free-will offerings the faithful would give him. He so believed in God’s help, that he did not want the brethren to store up more food than they needed for a day. That is why they sometimes went hungry. But his faith was rewarded, more than once, by the miracle of the loaves. Both in Bologna and in Rome there were days when the early friars, unknown newcomers, did not get enough from their begging tours. Then they found a bare refectory. There was nothing to place before them. But the Founder had them offer the grace and take their places just the same. At Rome the angels came and distributed a loaf of bread to each friar. This was the answer of Providence to Dominic’s trust.
The sad thing about my having to constantly learn to trust divine providence is that… I know I can trust in it! I because it has come through for me time after time after time. Maybe not via the miracle of the loaves, but still in some pretty marvelous ways. And yet… I still need to work on it. Why, why is it so easy to lose sight of things like that?
At least I am in good hands. If anybody can help me master it, it’s St. Dominic.
May his prayers and blessings be with you all… especially my fellow Dominicans! :)
I happened to come across this, posted by one of my Facebook friends. I needed to read it today:
“God in His infinite goodness sometimes sees fit to test our courage and love by depriving us of the things which it seems to us would be advantageous to our souls; and if He finds us earnest in their pursuit, yet humble, tranquil and resigned to do without them if He wishes us to, He will give us more blessings than we should have had in the possession of what we craved.” ~St. Philip Neri
Actually, I think I need to read it every day!
I apologize again for not writing much lately. I may be silent, but I am not idle. I’ve hit a rather dry, rough patch in my spiritual life. These are never easy, nor much fun. But they always turn out to be worthwhile.
Whenever I have times like this, I’m reminded of this verse from the Book of Hosea where God says of Israel:
“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
and bring her into the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.”
The desolation I feel is only an illusion. I know that God is near, speaking to me in depths of my soul, so deeply that I simply cannot sense it. But who knows what seeds he may be planting there? Just like plant seeds, they take time and nurturing to grow and come to fruition.
It’s tempting for us to get impatient, to harden ourselves about those seeds and crush them. It is tempting to grow cross toward God, who would lovingly, patiently, mysterious bring about their unfolding. This is what can easily happen if we let the seeming desolation get to us and turn us cold.
Our spiritual lives have seasons just as the material world does. There is a time for planting and a time for harvesting. There is a time for dryness and a time for lushness. These spiritual seasons may not always be as measured and predictable as the physical seasons. But they are written in God’s mind and He provides for them as need be.
There can be no harvest, no fruits, without the planting of seeds. Dryness can be good also, for too much dampness can bring about not lushness, but rot.
At times like these, we have to do our best to just lay ourselves open and allow God to plant the seeds and make them grow. To trust in God’s wisdom and goodness, and look forward with joy and eagerness to what He will bring forth in us.