Fruit that Endures

The slick website invited me to take a productivity assessment.  This should be interesting, I thought, scanning the piles of papers, laundry and dishes stacked around me.  Let’s see how productive I am.

Ten minutes later, I had my answer.  Turns out I’m “not quite a crisis.”  I laughed ruefully.  Yep, that sounded about right.

Seems like I’m flying by the seat of my pants most days.  I check items off my lists, but not as often as I add others – that is, the ones I can remember.  I actually write on those lists to “keep up” – a reminder to keep moving so that I keep my head above water.   Longer-term goals?  Ha.  I find myself marveling at ads offering to help me design a successful platform, automate my professional growth, build a portfolio, quadruple my retirement plan, and get 1000 email subscribers in the next 30 days.

Just getting the craft closet cleaned out would be a major win.  It’s been on the to-do list for, oh, about three years.

So, yea, not too productive.  Also, not a crisis.  So there’s that.

There’s a good reason for my lack of “productivity,”  I thought as I scooped cups from the counter and fished for a forgotten sock under the couch.  I stood up and glanced at my little tribe playing the backyard.  Actually, six good reasons.

But that’s ok.  Because God has another gauge for us.  It’s a bit messier, maybe, and harder to measure, but for all that, it’s definitely much more lasting.  God doesn’t desire our productivity.  He wants us to be, calls us to be – fruitful.

“You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide; so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”  – John 15:16

Fruit bearing is not glamorous. It’s long and tedious, involves a lot of tilling, planting, watering, watching, hoping, defending and a whole lot of waiting.  A lot of the work, much of the important work, is done under the ground, in silent hidden places we cannot see.  Most of the time, it doesn’t look – or feel – productive.   We toil in the Lord’s vineyard, bringing his love, his life, his wisdom, his Word, pouring it out onto soil sometimes thirsty and receptive, sometimes rocky and ungrateful.  And many seasons it feels that the ground swallows up our efforts and we are left spent and empty.

But we not only work in the vineyard.  We are vines, too.  And we are grafted onto a True Vine which pulses with eternity and with the sap of the Holy Spirit.  We draw strength by clinging to Jesus in prayer and sacrament and remaining rooted in His Church.  All of our fruit owes its life to this life-giving Vine.  For, it’s true, “the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.” (Jn 15:4)  In him, we cannot help but bear fruit.  The dry seasons are there – maybe as part of our necessary pruning – for while the fruitless branches are cut away completely, even the fruitful ones must be trimmed back in order to keep them producing that perfect fruit of the heavenly variety.  (Jn 15:2)

In fact, our most painful times will be, in the end, our most fruitful.  When we are pressed under the weight of suffering and remain united to Him, the oil and the wine flow freely.  That is when the fruit gives itself over to be consumed in Love.

Still sometimes, we’d like to conquer the world for Christ.  Sometimes maybe we’d just like to have clean counters.  But then we remember that the season is ripe for planting, so we get on our knees to bandage a toe or tie a shoe or scrub a floor or beg for strength, and we carry on with the little small sacrifices that work together to swell those seeds into living, growing, fruit-bearing plants of their own.

And then our little ones smile in their carseat, or fold their sticky hands in prayer, and we see the blossoms burst open into the sun. Not productive by the world’s standards, but souls alive in Christ will remain long after platforms crumble, careers fade, and retirement plans are spent.  Fruit that abides.  And by this, Jesus says, “my Father is glorified.” (Jn 15:8)

So we rise, take up our spades and break ground again, to-do lists trailing behind.

“The fruit that endures is therefore all that we have sown in human souls: love, knowledge, a gesture capable of touching hearts, words that open the soul to joy in the Lord.”  – Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger

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Martha’s Many Things

I am a Mary at heart, a Martha by trade.

Today’s feast of St. Martha has me thinking of both of them and the tug within each of us:  the longing for intimacy with God and the pressing needs of life.  I don’t need to repeat the story of the two sisters.  It can even be cliché sometimes.  But I can’t help but think that Martha was more than just a stereotype of busyness and worldly preoccupation. She was a good woman who deeply loved the Lord, too, and desired to serve Him. To serve Him the way He deserved.

Surely, if God was coming to dine at our home, we wouldn’t serve leftovers.  We’d throw the dishes in the dishwasher, the socks in the hamper, and the crumbs in the wastebasket.  We’d light a scented candle.  We’d hang fresh hand towels.  We’d turn the sofa cushions to the clean side – ok, the cleaner side.  We’d whip up some chips and dip.  Who can really blame Martha?

But what does Martha ask?  “Lord,” she says, “do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”  Do you not care?

Jesus is so gentle in his rebuke to her complaint against the sister sitting at His feet: “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things…” He acknowledged. He knew.  He saw.  He sympathized. He cared. Not just about her to-do list but about the storms inside her spirit.  I can imagine the tenderness with which He called her name – twice.  And I think it must have not only humbled her, but stilled her, too.  I don’t know that she dropped her dish towel and joined Mary on the floor at that moment.  I suspect she turned slowly back into the kitchen, pondering his tender reminder.  And somewhere, sometime, she too came to listen.

Maybe that night, after the work was done, she sat with Him in the garden, weary and humbled and ready.  Maybe she said softly, “Teach me now, Lord.  Teach me how to choose the good portion when there is so much to do.  Teach me to order my life so that I may serve You well but listen to You first.  Help me.”

We don’t know what passed between them, but we can guess.  We can guess because it is what He says to all of us, when we pause long enough to ask.  We can guess because it is what He has taught us over many years of practicing and and learning to pray.  We wonder if He didn’t teach her that when she prayed, she must first bring all those “many things” to Him, and then He must have shown her how to pray always.  To linger with Him in her heart, no matter what her hands were doing.  To bring His words into her home and His love into her hospitality.  To put the One Thing in it’s proper, primary place – which is sometimes right in the middle of the many.

But then He would leave them and these two sisters would have much to ponder, and soon, so very much to suffer.  The next time we see them, their beloved brother Lazarus has died.  They had sent word and waited in anguish for Jesus, who incredibly does not come.    Finally, when it seems to be too late,  Martha hears that Jesus is near.

Martha is never one to sit around.

She leaves her home and goes out to Him, filled with grief but even more with faith – and she tells Jesus, I imagine through tears, that He could have saved her brother, that He can still save him, that she believes in the resurrection, that He is the Resurrection, that He is the Son of God. She clings to and proclaims steadfastly everything she knows about Him, everything she heard.

Because Martha had listened, too.  And she had believed.  And what she does not ask this time is “Do you not care?”  She has learned the answer.

And then, of course, she quietly gathers her sister so the miracle can commence.

What good new this is for us who are busy with many, many things.  She is a Saint for those of us who must listen from the doorway, sometimes – or the sink, or the washing machine, or the playground or the pediatrician’s office or the pick-up line.  She is a woman who learned to drop her demands and embrace her vocation.

She is a woman who lived action, learned contemplation, loved Jesus.

Marthas of the world, take heart.  You bring Christ into the messy crevices of the everyday.  You image a God who ‘sets a table before’ us, and you do it because you love Him so very, very much.

St. Martha, pray for us.

 

 

 

 

 

He Speaks into Our Silence

I ran into a friend recently, another mom with lots of littles, at an indoor trampoline park.  It was a sizzling summer day in Phoenix and we’d both reluctantly shelled out too much money for a few hours of much-needed activity for the kids.

The place was loud.  As in, I need an Advil loud.  We were delighted to connect and catch up, but we had to raise our voices into a near shout to hear each other over the thumping music.

My friend shared that last year had been her first with all of the children in school.  Not quite there yet myself, I asked her wonderingly, “What did you do with yourself?”  She lit up.  “I’ve been volunteering at a house of hospitality for the homeless,” she shared, telling me about all the different services they provided: showers, meals, laundry.

Then she paused.  “And,” she added, “I’ve been silent.”

A quiet, still house, sans noise of any kind, to be savored – that had been her sanity.

I exhaled.  Only a mother surrounded by noise could appreciate fully that gift.

I told her that I understood, a little.  Our long daily commute to school, while a burden in many ways, still afforded me a luxury I’d never had before: a solid half-hour of silence while my youngest napped in the backseat of the van.  Sometimes I prayed the rosary, sometimes I listened to a podcast, but mostly, I chose silence.

Then, just a few days ago, I confided to two friends that I longed to make a silent retreat.  They looked at each other, eyes wide.  They didn’t think they could do it – three days without talking?  Impossible.

But me?  I crave it.  I crave silence not just for silence’s sake.  I desperately desire to crawl inside the silence between me and God and wait to hear Him.   Because true Christian silence is a welcoming space, an adoring pause in our endless interior monologues, carved out in order to receive the One who created us in silence and calls us back into stillness to meet Him there.

The desire to see God is what urges us to love solitude and silence.  For silence is where God dwells.  He drapes himself in silence.    – Robert Cardinal Sarah

The silence of prayer is a surrendering of our own words and the noise surrounding us so that something far fuller can rush in – so that we can be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19).  So that the creative, powerful and eternally self-donating Word, the one Word that matters, the eloquent Word that contains perfectly within it all our poor scattered syllables of truth, can be spoken.  And in speaking, transform us within that silence to be a little bit more like Him.  In speaking, reduce our interior and exterior storms to obedient breezes.

Then, awed and hushed, we answer.  And engage in that sacred dialogue: prayer.  The rising of our response, Spirit-filled and soaked with humility and love.

While God will  – and does – meet us anywhere, He doesn’t like to shout.  He prefers whispers to earthquakes, shattering winds, roaring fires (1 Kings 19:11-13).  (And I’m pretty sure, obnoxious music at trampoline parks.)  So when we wonder where He is, we may have to creatively seek out a little stillness; sneak away from the endless stream of sounds our world pours into us, even sometimes the beautiful babble of our babies. (I love an adoration chapel for a holy silence filled with God. )

Then, slowly, silence can become a habit of the heart.  Mysteriously, the more I seek it out, the more I take with me.  An interior stillness, a listening spirit everywhere in my kingdom of chaos.   And the discordant everyday noise is sweetened and moderated by the adoration within.

“Humanity advances toward love through adoration, ” says Cardinal Sarah in The Power of Silence.  “Sacred silence, laden with the adored presence, opens the way to mystical silence, full of loving intimacy.”

My friend from the trampoline park reminds me of Our Blessed Mother in many ways: in her devoted motherhood and her attentive service to the poor, certainly, but also in her embrace of silence. Mary, who in the Gospels is a woman of few words but much marveling, pondering, quiet and receptive love.  “Her prayer, ” says Cardinal Sarah, “was a perpetual silence in God.”

It’s more than I can manage, Mary’s perpetual silence.  But I am quite sure I can find a few moments of quiet somewhere…

Where are my car keys??

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today, Little Boy, I Choose You

Life is so very busy right now, dizzying in its demands.  The days rush by, a whirlwind of laundry, housework, paperwork, appointments, driving, cooking, cleaning, studying, working, parenting, praying.  Each day orchestrating this family of eight is its own little storm.  Each day I tackle its demands and each night I tumble into bed after kissing  a certain small, tousled head.

I find myself lately gazing at him sleeping, amazed at how long he is, stretched out on the bed.  It used to seem that the days flew by.  Now it seems that it is the years that rush past in a blur.

I have no baby anymore.

For more than fifteen years, I always had a baby.  But this little guy, as much as he loves snuggles and kisses, sternly reminds me that he is positively, definitely “not a baby.”  And he is right.

I thought life at this point would be different.  I thought I would have more time “once the kids were older.”  But no.  I have never been so busy.  What happened to browsing through cookbooks, reading novels, playdates, story times, trips to the zoo, afternoons at the park, walks with the stroller, naps?  Yes, especially naps.  What happened to naps?

Instead, so often, he tags along as I do life.  He doesn’t know any different, and he makes the best of it, taking along his toys and chattering away happily in the backseat.  When we are home, he doesn’t ask me to play with him anymore.  Maybe because he’s older.  But maybe because he knows the answer.  “Just a minute!”  he hears so often.  “I just have to ___ first.”

Well, today, little boy, I choose you.

Today the dishes will stay in the sink, the crumbs on the floor, the laundry in the hamper.  Today the emails will go unread and the bills will stay in the pile.  Today we will eat leftovers.

240px-Reflection_in_a_soap_bubble_editToday the sunshine calls us outside and into that swing you love.  This time, I will tickle your toes as you fly past me.  Today we will blow bubbles and chase them, giggling as they pop into a tiny spray.  Today I will sit on the floor and race cars and do puzzles.  Today I will read you stories without glancing at the clock.  Today I will sit and listen to you, looking in your eyes, without checking my phone.  Today I will enjoy your chatter.   I will watch the sunshine play in your wispy hair and I will breathe in deeply the smell of little boy.

Tomorrow, my love again will take on its other shape – the love that is shown by its provision for you and for our family.  I will love you by bending over the laundry basket of your small clothes.  I will love you by cleaning your bathtub, cooking your dinner, sorting your toys, driving your beloved brothers and sisters to school and practice.  I will love you by working to help provide a little bit for all those extra expenses that seem to crop up daily.

But I promise you this: all of our tomorrows will have a little bit more of today.  Every tomorrow will have a little more play, a little more joy, a little time for you.

Because last time I had one child at home everyday, he was my only one.  And the days stretched long before me.

But I know now what comes next.

I know how soon you will be grabbing the keys and heading off to work, or to college.  I know how it will take my breath away with its suddenness.  I know that eighteen years is like a flash.  And I want to be present – fully present – for all of it.

Because long before I chose you, God chose me.

God chose me to be your Mommy.

I worry sometimes that I don’t have time or enough of me to give, but I should know better. The Giver of all Good Gifts gave me you, and He gave me all I have to give you. He will multiply my time and my little loaves and few fish.  Time with you will bless all my other efforts with fruitfulness.  Until I have baskets left over.

And now, little monkey, let’s go.  The air smells like orange blossoms and the breeze has blown from heaven to call us outside.  Race you to the swing.Child_swinging

 

 

 

To Pro-Life Warriors Everywhere: Thank You

Yesterday was International Women’s Day.  Feminists encouraged women to make a statement by making it “A Day Without A Woman” and to not “engage in paid and unpaid work” among other things.  I guess that means leaving employers in the lurch and kids and home uncared for?  No thanks.

And quite frankly, I’m tired of protests.  It’s nauseating.

I was proud though, of the March for Life this year, and the stark contrast it was to the lewd displays of the Women’s March.  So I wanted to share my thoughts about it,  published in the National Catholic Register last month.  I have a suspicion, friends, you will each find yourself somewhere inside:

http://www.ncregister.com/blog/clairedwyer/to-pro-life-warriors-everywhere-thank-you

 

New Every Morning

It is a new calendar year, with new resolutions and new ambitious goals.  We crack open   delightfully empty new planners, begin hopeful new journals, form resolute new budgets, buy new gym memberships, and have jogging shorts with the tags still on.

Starting now, we will count our blessings, money, calories, and steps.  We will banish wasted time, watch our words and hold our tongues. We will be better parents, spouses, friends, neighbors, coworkers.  We will pray often, and well.

This is the year, we are sure of it.

And then that little familiar hiss from our left shoulder begins its taunts.  Who are you fooling?  This year will be like no other.  The budget will be broken, the memberships unused, the journals remain empty, relationships still strained.  You will not be healthier, holier, happier.  You will fail, and failing hurts too much.  Better not expect too much; maybe, really, better not even try.

You know what?  If we were doing it on our own, he’d be right.  But he’s a liar.

Because we are children with a rich inheritance.  We are filled will all the fullness of God (Eph 3:19) from which we have received grace upon grace (Jn 1:16).  He has plans for us, too, and he wants to anoint our work and bless our efforts.  We do, however, have to give him efforts to bless.  We’ve got to give him something to work with.  We have to try.

And yes, even then, we will fail sometimes.  The glorious thing is, our God is so faithful that He will take our knotted messes, unfinished projects, and broken hopes and work everything for good for those that love him (Rom 8:28).  Which is us, that much we know.

So sharpen your pencils and crack open your planner.  Make your lists, makes your plans.    Take a few moments to dream dreams for yourself over a cup of coffee. Because on top of all his other promises, there is one more I’ll hang onto.

It is one thing the devil would like you to forget: God isn’t constrained by calendars.  God’s gifts mercies aren’t new every year.  No. He is so, so much more generous in his goodness, lavish in his love.  His mercies are new every morning.

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“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lam 3:22-23).

We get 365 chances this year.  365 fresh starts.  Every morning has been promised it’s share of mercies – not brushed off, polished up, half-used graces, but the brand-spankin’ new kind.

How about we take these measures of mercy and invest them in ourselves, our loved ones, our relationship with the One who pours them out like sunshine spread over the morning sky?  Let’s begin now.  Who’s with me?

Reflections on Into the Deep: Finding Peace Through Prayer

Here we go again.  Another new calendar year, another gloriously empty planner, another fresh start.  Another chance to count our calories and our steps, watch our words, manage our time, balance our budgets. It’s our annual self check-up.  What did we do well last  year, and how can we build on that?  What areas can we brush off and re-evaluate?

The most important things, we know, are sometimes the least urgent, and therefore may be the most neglected when we venture into the dusty corners of life.  You know where I’m going with this: our relationship with God, nurtured by prayer, is necessary for this life and the next.  But it doesn’t clamor for our attention like the kids in the next room.  It doesn’t cry, it doesn’t beg, it doesn’t climb into our lap and ask for breakfast.  And so it may not get a whole lot of anything, let’s face it.  So often our prayer life may consist of a few frantic Hail Marys tossed up for heavenly grabs as if life was a series of desperation plays.  And maybe some days, or some seasons, it really does resemble that.

But mama needs prayer.  Shall we all sigh a collective sigh and nod our tired heads?  We know it’s true.  Where to start?  How to recommit to – or just begin – our journey to union with God, the union which is our source of strength, wisdom, joy, and peace?  It can overwhelm us.  I have what I think of as a spiritual junk drawer – so many devotions, books, novenas, saints, and practices – all wonderful, all helpful, all part of our incredible Catholic inheritance – but the sheer amount of choices when it comes to prayer can be paralyzing at times.  If I could somehow set aside a few precious quiet moments for God each day, which may seem like a small miracle in itself, what should I do?

Dan Burke, president of the Avila Institute for Spiritual Formation , the creator of Divine Intimacy Radio and SpiritualDirection.com, and the executive director of EWTN’s National Catholic Register, has managed to pack a lot of wisdom about cultivating a strong, consistent, and fruitful prayer life into a relatively brief and very readable book: Into the Deep: Finding Peace Through Prayer.

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The desire to pray, Burke begins, comes from the Lord.  Therefore we can be sure that with our cooperation and persistence, God will fulfill that desire.  God created us to be with  him; he first desires us to enjoy union with him, a union which prayer makes possible, even in this life.  Knowing and receiving that invitation, he says, is the first step to beginning a deep prayer life.

The second step is to begin with a commitment to simply do it, and do it even if we don’t fully understand it.  Burke invites us to trust that the Holy Spirit will take and bless our beginner’s efforts and guide us into the deep.

He teaches us to start with “Discovery Prayer,” a new term for lectio divina, the ancient but ever-new practice of using scripture as a starting point for conversation with God, meditation on his mysteries, and even the depths of contemplation.  He walks us through exactly how to practice this time-tested method of prayer.

But wait – holy practices need holy time, holy places.  We can – and do – pray in the car, snuggled in bed with sleepy kids, in line at the grocery store (while trying to ignore the obnoxious magazines), and during our many hours at the kitchen sink.  But if we want to grow in our prayer life, if we are really serious about committing to regular, structured prayer, Burke suggests we treat it with a degree of solemnity we may not have before.  He walks us through setting aside a time in our day and a holy place in our home and consecrating it to God.

Burke uses the image of a tree full of monkeys to describe our mind and all of its distractions, the biggest challenge to fruitful prayer time.  He encourages us to get up early to pray everyday, or at least to do it first thing upon rising, because “groggy monkeys rarely raise a ruckus.”  This, I admit, was a challenge for me.  I get less sleep than I need most nights, and need to get up long before the sun anyway just to get our brood off and running each day.  But I’ve learned he’s right.  The few extra minutes of missed sleep are more than made up for by the peace and strength that comes from spending serious time with God.  I find that I wake craving it – spiritual caffeine for a weary soul.

I also struggled to find the perfect sacred place to pray.  I liked the idea.  Looking around our home, it was full of religious articles.  Statues, crucifixes, paintings, holy cards tucked in corners everywhere.  But sacred?  That gave me pause.  I liked the idea of a place just for prayer. But if you are like me, you may have more monkeys in your house than in your head.  And if your little monkeys are as mischievous as mine, with swift and sticky fingers,  sacred places may not be safe.  One day, my solution dawned on me.  Literally.

With a head full of groggy morning monkeys, I was opening the blinds in our front living room.  The sun, just beginning to stretch above the horizon, streamed in between the wooden slats. I realized that I’d found my spot!  I wanted to pray facing East, the traditional orientation for prayer, and watch the sun rise over my prayer, fresh with the new mercies God promises each morning.

Right now, I can’t claim a place in that room just for prayer.  But I have a corner of the couch, facing that front window, where I curl up with coffee and scripture each morning.  To make it more sacred, I’ve tucked a bible, statue, candle, journal, and any other current prayer books into a basket kept safely out of reach and ready to pull out each morning.  It’s emergence is a symbol to me – and the kids – that it’s time to pray.  Time to hush our voices and hearts.  Early wakers know where to find me, and sometimes they curl up next to me as I finish praying.  But they know now that everything else can wait a few minutes.  They know what comes first.

I hope that it won’t take them as long to figure all of this out.  I pray that their inner lives will be nurtured by consistent prayer long before I got serious about it.  And I already know one book I’ll be giving them to help them get started.