New Every Morning

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advent -Hushing our Hurried Hearts

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Now that we’ve got Thanksgiving under our (slightly loosened) belts, it’s time to turn our attention to something – new.  While to our worldly senses, the year is winding down with a celebratory month of shopping, singing, decorating, and baking, our liturgical year has really – very quietly – just begun.

It sneaks up on us, Advent does.  It’s that reminder in the form of four candles each Sunday at Mass, and replicated on our tables (if we’ve thought ahead to dig out the Advent wreath and search out candles in the appropriate shades.)  We slide into the pews and notice a new flame lit and we take a deep breath: Oh yes, it’s not Christmas yet…I should really prepare somehow….in between our list-making and party-hopping.  It’s a twinge of guilt, a whisper of pray.  It’s a lot of good intentions, swallowed up by the jubilation of the world, which has, not surprisingly, skipped over the hard part.  The patient part.  The long, silent stillness of wait.

The world waited thousands of years for Him, but like self-centered toddlers we want Him and we want Him NOW – on our schedule.  We expect Jesus to be in the manger when the lights and wreaths are hung – even if that’s weeks before Christmas.  As if blaring carols from the radio and store speakers make it happen.

The beautiful thing is, in the liturgical calendar, we really do participate somehow in this breathtaking mystery.  But it’s in sacred time, not secular.  So we’ve somehow got to set our inner watches to that holy reality.  How?  How can we hold onto the hushed, expectant wait when everywhere else they’ve fast-forwarded to the feast?

I know the answer lies in the heart. I know that there I watch with the stillness of the season.  It’s like my morning prayer time, clutching coffee and keeping company with the Word while waiting for the pink glow of dawn to begin spreading over my Eastern-facing living room.  The rest of the house sleeps, and I am tired but expectant.  I know I need to keep that inner silence this Advent.  I need to build a manger with my small little sacrifices – the crusty pots, the squirrelly pre-schooler, the traffic, the bills – all of it offered up with joy.  I need a craft a cradle from the extra reading and meditation stolen from the demands of the season.  But then the challenge is to leave the little manger empty and to simply allow myself to long for Him.

Advent is a time to ache.  In a good way.  To ache for something which has been promised.  To remember that He will come, but there must be a place for Him – an emptiness carved by our inner watchful hush.  Where the paper wrappings are cast aside and the immense wait begins for One to wrap Himself in flesh.

I’ve no illusions that it’ll be easy.  With a large, busy household, “hushed” isn’t our usual Advent adjective.  Christmas gift and cookie exchanges, programs, and parties keep us hopping all Advent long, and it’s impossible to side-step it altogether.  It’s a joyful time, and I don’t begrudge that.  But in the midst of it all, this year I’ve made a promise.

To keep a place of emptiness inside, a hollowed-out and hopeful place in my heart which only He can fill – in His perfect time.

No “Gloria” yet.  Just this: O come, O come Emmanuel.

A Mom on Mount Carmel

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I took a fascinating online class on the nature of Mystical Theology in the Church this Spring. What precious time I could carve out from my busy life as a mom six, I spent delving into the works of St. John of the Cross and meeting a new friend, a little Carmelite mystic named Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, often called a “spiritual sister” to St. Therese, the Little Flower.  Late at night, huddled on the couch while the household slept, I read about the ascent of  Mount Carmel, the famous allegory used by St. John of the Cross to describe the spiritual life, the journey of the soul’s toward union with God.

Our professor asked us to write our final paper on our own journey on this mystical mountain.  He challenged us to reflect on how we could embrace the self-renunciation necessary to climb closer to the summit.  After a few days of mulling this over mounds of laundry and miles of carpooling, here is what I came up with: Continue reading

What Little Boys Are Made Of

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My husband are I are raising six lively children; two-thirds of which are boys. (Come March, one will be a man…but let’s not think about that just yet.  Oy vey.)  And the boys are bookends of the bunch.

Which means that for almost eighteen years now, I’ve been buying, stepping on, picking up, sorting, containerizing, carrying, hot-gluing, and looking frantically for, an ever-growing collection of “guys.”  That is what they all are called: guys.  Whether they are Jedis, Lord of the Rings or Narnia figures, army men, knights, or comic-book style superheroes, they are cherished “guys” and we cart them around everywhere.  There are always some in the car, the bottom of my purse (covered in crumbs), scattered in the bottom of the bathtub or kitchen sink, in pockets, puddles, sofa cushions, strollers – for a while my youngest took to carting guys around in an empty cereal box.  Guys appear out of nowhere in church, and even – true story – were spotted this Christmas in the crèche on our table “protecting the baby Jesus.”  My daughters were never much inclined to carry dolls around outside of the home, but my sons all clasped ever-so-tightly to miniture men with gigantic powers.12377679_1041101309255511_2580522357998219090_o

Their eyes would shine as they studied their guys in quiet contemplation.  Then, silently, their lips would move as they began an imaginary scene.  More guys would be gathered, and epic stories unfolded on the carpet, in the car, even the shopping cart.  And always, the everyday would fade away and scenes I would never fully see were played out in imaginations filled with boyish wonder.  Bad guys would be thrown, smashed, tossed, hit, flung.  And good guys would be lifted, victorious in the end.  And it would repeat, day after day, hour after hour. Continue reading

Everyday Mercies

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“The theme is Mercy,” she said.  “Our scripture is, ‘He crowns you with steadfast love and mercy.’  But what you want to talk about is up to you; just keep it to about 25 or 35 minutes.”

I thanked the organizer of the woman’s conference and hung up the phone.  I was delighted to have been asked to be one of the local speakers at the dynamic, well-attended diocesan conference.  But as I stood there in the kitchen, feelings of doubt began to well up and I thought, Why couldn’t I have an amazing story to share in this talk?  A miraculous healing, maybe.  If only I could have been brought back to life – after a tête-à-tête with Jesus in heaven – by the touch of a relic flown in from Rome.  Or a conversion.  Yes, a conversion – a breathtaking story of how God appeared to me and broke through the years of hardened cynicism and unbelief.  But, alas.  I was just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill cradle Catholic and I didn’t much to say about Mercy.  This was going to be awfully dull, I decided.  Maybe I should back out.

Have I not shown you Mercy every single day of your life?  The words, unspoken, were unmistakable.

“Yes, Lord,” I admitted.

Then tell them that. Continue reading