For Those Who Persecute You

There is probably nothing in the universe that will calm & change you heart faster than praying for people who make you insane with rage.

It’s also a fantastic way to alienate & annoy the sort of people (nearly every human on Earth) who feel entitled to their rage.

I haven’t written here in a while. I was keeping a private journal, then stopped, writing nothing at all, which is an odd thing for a writer to do, let alone an economically disastrous thing. But as is the case with me when I suddenly stop doing something, I was exercising a spiritual practice.

I am vexingly given a great deal of these by my priest, whom I grudgingly admit is always right. I had been reading Story of a Soul, which many of you (okay, 5 out of my 7 readers) know to be the autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux. It is delightful, and, as another priest in my parish says, “So beautiful. Also, such drama.”

Therese is a little French girl, & therefore slightly over the top.

But it is really quite spectacular, & essential reading for anyone whose vocation is love, no matter what they are doing with their lives.

So I’m reading this lovely book & having a somewhat spirited conversation with priest & teenaged goddaughter when he whips out a hardbound copy of Imitation of Christ and exhorts me to read that first. After all, it’s the source material for St. Therese’s entire existence.

“Fine,” I say, & take it.

It takes me a while to get through. It was written during a time when it was incredibly useful to tell people they were going to Hell. We don’t really do that anymore; we spend more time telling folks how easy it is to get into Heaven, since Jesus died for us (also love the Lord your God with all your heart & all your soul, etc). But back then, people used to randomly stab each other, gut cats for medicinal purposes, and literally believe that red haired women were brides of Satan (imagine such a thing!). Yes, people do that now, but they were much worse back then.

Everybody loves to talk about how awful the world is now but have you seen history?! The entire story of man’s day to day life shows a progressive trend upwards toward love. We are actually doing much better. We really are. Since Christ’s death & resurrection, people have been gradually becoming less awful on the whole.

Day to day life is less brutal. Complain all you want about a barista getting your Starbucks order wrong. It’s a hell of lot less stressful than having a marauding band from a neighbouring city-state murder your whole family. Sadly, that still happens in some parts of the world. But it still happens less. Marauding a neighbouring city-state & murdering whole families is pretty much frowned upon by all people at this point in human history.

Wow, that was divergent. Anyhow, it took me a minute to get through Imitation of Christ. I didn’t rip through it like I was ripping through Story of a Soul. It needs more thinking. It’s basically a collection of 4 smaller books (the third one seemingly interminable at times) telling you that you are a piece of crap, the cause of all your own problems, & that you need to do better.

And it’s right. At this point in my adult life, isn’t every problem I have my own damned fault? Didn’t I create every situation I’m in? Didn’t I allow someone to treat me that way, didn’t speak up soon enough to prevent something, neglected to do something I should’ve done days ago?

I’m now back to reading St. Therese, & she says pretty much the same things as Imitation (hell, she quotes it all the way through), but in this breathless girly style that speaks to the child inside me that still aches for love.

And of course the only way to receive love is to give it abundantly, even when it is spurned, misused, ignored, or trampled. Give love abundantly anyway. If you cannot find a thing, be a thing.

Love, actual burning love like Therese goes on & on about, does weird things. It inspires random weeping in front of an icon of Mary holding the infant Jesus. It inflames inconsolable sobbing during a particular beautiful piece of music. It leads you to merrily injure yourself in ten different little ways helping out someone who will never know what you did, whom you’re not even sure you like. And you will do it gleefully.

Love also helps you pray for people who, let’s face it, totally suck. People who hurt you, who hurt themselves, who hurt others. People whom you would rather punch. People who probably deserve a good punch.

Pray. For. Them.

And don’t do this thing we all want to do, which is, “Dear God, please make So&So stop being a prick. May they burn in Hell for all eternity if they don’t stop.”

No. When Jesus asks us to pray for our enemies, he means like he did upon the cross. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These people were in the process of killing him & he prayed for them.

Notice he didn’t invite them up for tea & bickies. But he did pray for them.

You can pray for someone you know you can’t even be around again. You can pray for someone you hate but never met (I don’t understand how people do that, but apparently some of y’all hate people you have never & will never meet). You can pray for internet trolls. You can pray for abusive parents (only if you are ready & feel safe to do so). You don’t have to hang out with these people. Just pray.

You don’t even have to ask forgiveness for them. You can just say, “Heavenly Father, I pray for So&So.” You don’t even have to use the words “help” or “be with”. Any time you want to punch someone, pray for them.

If they make you cry, pray for them.

If they boggle the mind, pray for them.

You may never see them change. What will change is your heart. Your mind. Your sense of peace. Your ability to live fully. Usually. You’re still a person. You’re still going to hate everything from time to time. Take a second & pray.

You know what else changes? Sadly, some people get annoyed with you if you start doing this. Even if you don’t tell them. It’s like when you quit drinking or eating fried Snickers. The people who still drink & eat fried Snickers see you over there not drinking & eating fried Snickers & they feel oddly betrayed. You haven’t told them even once that they need to quit, too, but they are judging you. For being healthier & less judgy. I don’t know what to tell you. That happens.

When you pray for others, your desire to participate in addictive outrage & the constant turmoil of public discussion diminishes. Imitation spends a lot of time on shunning the advice & thoughts of people, & it is not wrong to do so, because every human on Earth is a flawed creature who could be telling you something while suffering a hormone imbalance or hunger or maybe they’re a manipulative jerk. Who knows? Hell, don’t listen to me. I’m getting over a migraine & I’m loopy. I’m just telling you a thing I’ve been doing.

You may want to try it, too. Whatever. It’s all in scripture.

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Adoration Part Two

As I mentioned last week, Father Michael’s been putting out a monstrance for Adoration these last couple of weeks of Advent. My last experience was pretty emotional & very intense.

Tonight’s was also, but in a very different way.

This time I went having heard much less bad news, which didn’t mean I was necessarily having a good day. I had a weird day. But it wasn’t an awful day.

I went in a cheerful mood. I was happy to be ending my day in this manner, knowing that everyone else was busy with a vestry meeting, & I’d selfishly have Christ all to myself again.

I knelt for a bit, & in my head I sang the little chant Father Vladimir taught us:

Here’s my heart, Lord.

Here’s my heart, Lord.

Here’s my heart, Lord.

Speak what is true.

I did that for a good long while with a smile on my face, then just said “Speak, for your servant is listening.” And then I was quiet in my mind.

Here is where some of you will think I am crazy.

I perceived Mary sitting on the pew next to me. I knew she wasn’t actually there there, but she was there. She looked so young & yet spoke with such an aged, wise voice, in a slow, deliberate way, like English was her second language, but she was very good at it if she took her time. She glanced up at the monstrance subtly. “You can sit back,” she said gently. “You’re in pain.”

So I did.

She said, “I knelt by his cradle when he was a baby. And I fell to my knees when he died on that cross.” She said it so carefully and lovingly. I burst into tears.

She spent a good long time telling me some things that might not make any sense to you, but they made perfect sense to me. She said to love him as she loved him, because he is both her son and her God. She knew it was strange.

She said that he never didn’t love me, even when I denied him. You want to talk about a Jewish mother guilt trip. But she didn’t mean for me to feel bad. She just wanted me to know. I felt bad because I felt guilty.

And then Christ was there. I mean, he’s always there, but he was part of this conversation. “Hey, you were a child,” he said, & for some reason Mary sounds like she’s from Israel, but Jesus sounds like he’s from Yonkers. There is nothing I can do about that; he always sounds like a 30-something rabbi from Yonkers to me.

I was basically sobbing at this point. “You were a child & you were in so much pain.”

“He cried with you,” she said. “He cried for you.”

So basically I’ve completely lost it alone in this dark church & Jesus is walking me through some stuff I feel like crap about & he’s explaining where he was during all that & helping me love & understand difficult people. He’s also forgiving me for not getting things at the time.

He & Mary are also consoling me on some difficult people & things now. And telling me that no, it’s not fair but if anyone can handle it, I can.

But where I completely surrendered to the conversation & cried like a child was when he very plainly said to me, “I love you so much. Hey, I love you. You have no idea.” And Mary said it too & I just kind of crumpled on the kneeler & sobbed like a child.

Which of course is when Father walked in & had to lock up the church. But his timing was impeccable; if he’d come in a couple minutes earlier, I would’ve missed all that.

I’m not telling you this because it’s a special experience just for me. It’s a message for you, too. Jesus loves you. You have no idea how much. You can’t possibly comprehend it. I can’t.

Also I get the impression Mary feels a little sorry for men, because they have a hard time being vulnerable. And sometimes they are mean about it. That was really good mom advice. Jesus was basically like, “Ya know, she’s not wrong.”

So that’s the story of my near hour with Jesus & his mom. She thinks of the church as her daughter-in-law. Isn’t that sweet?

I am going to see if other parishes have weekly or daily adoration, because there is nothing like it & I want to go again. I don’t know if it’ll be the same as St. Nicholas — a dark, cold church lit only by a few candles with lingering Sunday scents I know & love — but I want to try.

Adoration

No one has known more suffering than Christ. I know that now. I know it.

He suffered on the cross & he suffers now. Every time we wound one another, be it something as heinous as murder or simple as indifference, he aches with sorrow.

This hit me during adoration this evening. It hit me long enough to sob for an hour in front of a monstrance. It hit me long enough to sob in the car on the way home, though I did manage to hold it together long enough to buy my stupid sensitive skin soap.

Now that 87% of you think I’m crazy, let me explain what adoration is. Actually, let Brother Jim explain it. This is a lovely piece of writing Father had me email to everyone in the church (yes, someone has entrusted me with yet another database).

Father then announced at Mass this Sunday that during Advent, we’d have adoration on Tuesday evenings. I spent a blessed hour alone in the church, Christ all to myself, kneeling in the front pew.

It occurred to me after maybe 2 minutes of gazing at the Host that I would need tissues, which we apparently don’t have in the sanctuary. I wandered into the sacristy & snagged a couple. I came back, began to pray for Christ to speak to me, & was besieged with inconsolable sorrow.

Every hideous news story I’d read that day hit me with a furious sadness I was incapable of feeling while scrolling my FB feed. A 9-year-old girl who hung herself, a pregnant teenager stabbed to death by her boyfriend. Starving children. The homeless who visit our very parish hall 3 times a week. The unbearable fear & isolation & loneliness of these souls pierces Christ as surely as any spear.

There were visions of friends who are dead, one who killed herself & another who ODed. A friend’s niece who died stupidly, horribly, unnecessarily. My friend’s beautiful brother who recently passed. All walking strong & joyfully with Jesus now, but his own sorrow for them was so much.

I thought of a friend who is going through a tremendously painful, scary medical mystery, his lack of faith, & even pure hatred of God.

I spoke to him. “Is this you all the time? How do we end your suffering? What can I do to end all the suffering? You control the universe! How do we console you?”

I had the sense that all human rage & hatred is only suffering & pain, expressed in sin.

I didn’t get any answers today. All I knew is that after a little while, I stopped crying, & I looked at my watch. I had been there an hour. I figured Father probably wanted to lock up the church & go home. I got to blow out the candles surrounding the monstrance. That felt like a reward.

Sometime during this hour, I also thought of Mary, giving birth to this glorious child who was destined to suffer & die for us. That also made me sob. That never doesn’t make me sob.

On the way home, Garmana’s version of “Virga ac diadema” shuffled up. It was written by Hildegard von Bingen. These are the words in English:

O branch and diadem in royal purple clad,

who like a shield stand in your cloister strong.

You burst forth blooming but with buds quite different

than Adam’s progeny—th’ entire human race.

Hail, o hail! For from your womb came forth another life,

that had been stripped by Adam from his sons.

O bloom, you did not spring from dew

nor from the drops of rain,

nor has the windy air flown over you; but radiance divine

has brought you forth upon that noblest bough.

O branch, your blossoming God had foreseen

within the first day of his own creation.

And by his Word he made of you a golden matrix,

O Virgin, worthy of our praise.

O, how great in power is that side of man,

from which God brought the form of woman forth,

a mirror made

of all his ornament, and an embrace

of all his own creation.

The heavens’ symphony resounds, in wonder stands

all earth, O Mary, worthy of our praise,

for God has loved you more than all.

O cry and weep! How deep the woe!

What sorrow seeped with guilt

in womanhood because the serpent hissed his wicked plan!

That woman, whom God made to be the mother of the world,

had pricked her womb

with wounds of ignorance—the full inheritance of grief

she offered to her offspring.

But from your womb, O dawn, has come the sun anew;

the guilt of Eve he’s washed away

and through you offered humankind a blessing

even greater than the harm that Eve bestowed.

O Lady Savior, who has offered to the human race

a new and brighter light: together join the members of your Son

into the heavens’ harmony.

Like, seriously. That happened. Of course, I burst into tears again.

I don’t really know what to do with this information except to try super hard to never cause anyone sorrow, ever. I mean I already have a No Sorrow policy, & I try to make as many people happy as I can, & alleviate pain as often as possible. But it must not be enough.

I don’t know what to do.

The Fruit

22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, 23Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.”

–Galatians 5:22-23

If the fruit of the Spirit is all these things, then my day was absolutely 100% chock full of the Spirit. I don’t think I had to experience a lot of longsuffering today, but let’s just say that’s been the hallmark of my life so far.

I felt all these things today. I had opportunities to share them with others. It is fair to guess that I spent literally all day with church folk, and an acutely indefatigable poodle.

I also encountered actual fruit. We endeavored to determine if something out of someone’s back yard was an orange. It was decidedly not, as it was most definitely a lemon inside a skin that looked quite a bit like an orange. We think maybe a tangerine tree & a lemon tree nearby enjoyed untoward congress with each other.

People think the Bible is full of things you can’t do, and that’s very true. It is also full of things you must do, & things you should feel.

Following Christ means feeling a lot of things: longing to serve, perseveration over vocation, revelation, illumination, indescribable love, deep compassion for others, bursting into tears during a hymn because it’s so beautiful, & simple pleasure at ridiculous things, like helping others, or watching a laughing child run all over the place.

If you feel the fruits of the Spirit, all in one day, you’re having a pretty good day.

I had a pretty good day. I even enjoyed the stealth lemon.

Station to Station

This’ll be a quick one. I’m not going to ruin your evening by rambling about Jesus for a thousand words or so.

BUT ALSO CHECK OUT THIS VIRTUAL, VIDEO STATIONS OF THE CROSS HERE.

I’m helping a gal at church come up with a bilingual Stations program for Lent, & I happened across that one during my research. It’s done by hip Catholics. I like Busted Halo’s quick explanations of things you generally have to take months of catechism to learn. That way, I’m not just nattering on to my unchurched or evangelical friends about liturgical wonders & quirks for twelve hours, like ya do.

Not that I don’t enjoy that, but I get the distinct impression they don’t, or that they are amused for all the wrong reasons.

The Stations are moving, brutal, intense, loving, & immense in their impact. I am so excited for Lent. You know how I dig a penitential season. You can go to church almost every day, & most people don’t think you’re crazy (for once).

And you really spend a good deal of the time clearing out anything putting distance between yourself and Christ. What’s not to love?

I wrote a little something about that, which you can get here.

This world

These are the vibes today, right here:

1 John 2:15-17: Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever.

“What is she upset about now? Ugh–the Bible.” Yeah, I know you.

I’ve actually had some forward momentum. At least one thing in my life is working out, and that’s huge. When everything has gone meshugena, getting one vital component sorted is wonderful. Finding a place to serve is wonderful.

I also find delirious pockets of happiness and laughter mixed with serenity and understanding here and there. They are usually at church, but that’s not a bad thing at all.

I am getting really far away from having any interest in what happens day to day and more stoked about what happens from age to age. This is utterly impractical and completely unfashionable, but I find that the constants in the human experience inspire the most passion. Love, birth, loss, rebirth, connection, meaning…this is not making front page news, and that’s fine.

The front page news is so depressing and triggering for a lot of us right now that I’m about to hide in a hermitage. Thankfully, throwing myself into work has about the same effect.

Facebook is a dumpster fire of misinformation. People share whatever version of affairs affirms their beliefs. People don’t talk to each other. There is yelling and point making, but no conversation. I imagine Twitter is the same way, but I just can’t bear to look at it anymore.

“Pride in our achievements.” Likes and retweets. Clicks. A lot people pay bills this way now. Heck, clicks paid my cellular bill this month. I’m not knocking this new economy, but I am asking you to read more than headlines. Click on the info embedded in stories. Get a fuller picture.

Pray. If you don’t pray, mocking those who do is just kind of weird. It’s like hating someone for imagining a better world. Nobody wants to be the bully in the after school special…except on the Internet.

I’m going to make myself sad. Okay, here’s the deal. You comment with a happy or at least pleasant thing that’s happened to you, in the world or in spite of it. Because that’s what spiritual joy is…taking pleasure in the connection to God and others despite the general crapitude of the world.

Let’s rain down sunshine on this piece. The things of this world are meh.

If you are so moved, donations are always kindly accepted. Thank you!

New book! 

Here it is!

For reasons I cannot imagine except I’ve been busy, I forgot to tell y’all I have new book out! Now this one has decidedly less sex & death in it than The Method, but it also has other goals. Like trying to help you feel like you have some say in what happens to you.

So if you’re feeling rubbish or frightened by things that you feel shouldn’t frighten you, Christ, Not Crisis is your jam, in paperback & Kindle.

You don’t have to believe in Jesus for it to speak to you. I just happen to do so, which has been life changing for me. For example, I can confidently say I love you even though I’ve never met you. I want you to feel joy, or at least safety.