sharing sent in this week from our world-wide reading group.
The Sharing for week 3: Chapters 22-34.
1. Praying the passion assimilates one into Emmanuel
and freedom of spirit in the midst of physical, emotional, psychological
and spiritual pain.
But what will most deepen my relationship with God and increase my spiritual freedom is practicing lightening the load on the journey. If,” Everything that rises must converge”, then the Seraphim had better be on the lookout for my townhouse as it rises into the stratosphere once freed from the accumulations of 30 years residence, many lived at a frenetic pace!
I can certainly vouch for the fact that:” having more than you need is a burden, not a blessing” and that one must make space for the spiritual and a relationship with God by getting rid of many material things in the home. I have actually started and will be working at it for quite awhile. I look forward to “learning to live with the minimum and then being free”.
About a year and a half ago I actually paid attention to a confession we use in our church almost every Sunday and realized we were saying something we didn’t believe. I was discussing it with one of our pastors and he suggested I email the president of our local Lutheran University. So I did.
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us
our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. I John 1:9 (NIV) My
problem is the idea that If I - then God.
He agreed, but, of course, we still say the same confession every week. Regardless, I like Paul Courtinho’s way of saying it – Repentance, therefore, becomes a consequence and not a condition of God’s love. What a great reason to share this wonderful message of God’s love!
As to the vertical/horizontal way of living – I believe that when I’m focused on my vertical relationship with God, my horizontal living out that relationship is guided by Him and has love-filled consequences.
I got stuck at the 2nd temptation. Fear of what people will say. I never wanted my family to know that I was going to mass.It was always my secret hiding place. I was afraid of being called 'devout', 'holy', 'spiritual', 'religious'. I still have an unease about it. I carry a wooden cross around my neck and a meraculous medal and a finger rosay ring with a picture of the sacred heart. These are reminders to me of my GOD not because I want to appear religious and now it does not matter anymore what people say because its what's in my heart that matters.So when I am at work I see the sacred heart on my finger and I can continue to speak to HIM.
Week three had so many rich moments for me... there were
so many chapters that i just didn't want to move on from. I know when
I am through reading the entire book, there will be many pages I want
to go back to. Ch 22 recalled what I consider the early beginnings of
my spiritual journey - the quotes from Isiaah that I spent many hours
meditating over, learning and beginning to accept how precious I am
to God. I still enjoy returning to these passages when I am in need
of spiritual comfort.
Several things in these chapters stood out for me. I love the song "You are Mine" that we sing at Mass. Fr. Paul's comment that he can sum up his relationship with God with those three words is something that is a bit foreign to me. In the past, I don't think I often believed that God felt that way about me. It has been a process for me to understand that God loves me just the way I am, warts and all.
At times in my life I have put too much focus and emphasis on other people-family and friends. Perhaps sometimes I lived my life and made decisions in an effort to please someone else. I was struck by the discussion of the illusion of love; that love and relationships often are not what we think them to be. I think that in the past I have looked to other people as a way of validating myself rather than finding that validation within myself as a child of God.
Fr. Paul's comment that we are the breath of God really makes sense to me and again is something that I have not thought about much in the past. Not only am I the breath of God, but so is every other person as well. This ties in with the concept of the I and how I can only find the true me by understanding that I am part of the I. It has been a long process for me to get outside of myself, to slowly die to the me so that I can live in the I and by living in the I, to have a greater love and respect for all other people as well. Much of what Fr. Paul discusses in this book are things that I have been struggling with and talking about with my priest/spiritual director for awhile now. This book has given me fresh insights on a number of things and I honestly feel that I will put some of the points made in this book into practice in my daily life.
I am finding this book to be intelligent and wise but I have problems with some of the 'parables' being used to make some of the points being made. For instance, the story about the man who initially would not leave his wife and family to follow the wise man, though making a valid point that our relationship to God is the most important pursuit of our existence, had a slightly harsh and condemning tone about our relationships with each other, even committed relationships. Who is to say that the way to God is NOT by being committed and faithful to those we have entered into relationship with in our lives? Who is to say that in so doing, we are not putting God first? I associate the kind of thinking of that story with pre-Vatican notions of the celibate life being 'higher' than the non-celibate life. God being Big, for me, shows up in all our choices that are made with the thought of praising Him/Her.
However, I thoroughly enjoyed the chapters on always having a beginner's mind, living in the here and now and on not letting what we own own us. I loved the chapters on the vertical and horizontal world and the search for meaning. I am seriously considering looking at all I own and discarding what I do not use. The book has also awakened my interest in Victor Frankl. His definitions of the human experience are illuminating and freeing. The 'parable' story of the godmother living fully until her death was very moving and inspiring.
I look forward to reading more and seeing if I find material that truly opens up for me how Big God is.
Again, there is so much to ponder within these pages. I must say that
the advice to be enslaved to "things" is what haunted me all
I found this week's readings - Chapters 22 - 34 - very challenging, especially chapter 29, "The Enslaving Illusion of Love." I know there are places in the NT where Jesus calls on his followers to leave their families to follow him, but still, the idea presented in this chapter, that devotion to your family will stand in the way of you following Jesus/God, is upsetting to me. Didn't the disciples take their wives with them on their journeys? Having said that, there were two other chapters with messages I really liked.
One was chapter 30, "Original Sin Reconsidered" in which , Fr. Coutinho writes - "My Jesus didn't die for my sins ..... My Jesus died because he spent his time with social and religious outcasts, tax collectors, prostitutes, and sinners, promising them that the kingdom of God belonged to them. My Jesus died because he came to destroy the temple. Jesus died to give us the knowledge that God is within us and that when God created us, he created us like himself." I'm fairly anti-atonement, so this made sense to me.
The other chapter that touched me was #31, "Confession, Celebration of Divine Presence." Fr. Coutinho's idea of confession seems much more authentic than a ritualized recitation of sins. He writes ..... "Confession is acknowledging the wonderful God whom I have just encountered and acknowledging that I am aware of my own shortcomings and weaknesses, which are obstacles to deepening my relationship with God and being able to share this experience with the rest of the world. This awareness is a consequence of my encounter, my experience of God, not a condition for the Divine's presence." This has been my own experience, too.
There are many things in these chapters that are very meaningful to me. My son just noticed that I've taken a lot of notes while reading, but that's because there are many things that I just want to hold on to so that I can share them with others.
The stories in chapter 24 (the sample chapter on the web page) about the Jesuit whose leg had to be amputated and about Fr. Paul's godmother dictating recipes as her final expression of love were a big reason why I became involved in this reading group. After reading them on the web page, I shared them with our RCIA group as an example of how our attitudes about suffering and death can be so different when we recognize these as opportunities to experience the Divine.
Lightening our load…I used to ride an old BMW motorcycle. I don't ride anymore but I'm so hesitant to get rid of that bike. It helped to identify me, to make me different from others, to set me apart. But now it just takes up space in my garage. How foolish of me!
I have always had a hard time with the concept of Jesus dying for my sins. When encountering Fr. Paul's paragraph that begins, "My Jesus didn't die for my sins", I shouted, "YES!" That paragraph explains so beautifully what I've been struggling for a long time to express. What a blessing!
The crux of the chapters 22 - 34 for me is the reiteration
of the fundamental I am God's [ (engraved on His Palm)(a one to one
relationship) ] - He loves me unconditionally. The ripple effects of
this truth which is 'stretching ' me and making me receptive to change
This is where Fr. Paul's book becomes more challenging. I see the whole book as a sort of trumpet: not one to look at and see from the outside, but where at the beginning I was exploring to widest part of the inside and getting an overview, moving gently on a shallow slope towards the deep centre. Now in this last section things are getting tighter and the wall of the trumpet bell is getting steeper. I feel I am moving faster towards the depths, of me or God I am not certain.
The older, firmer convictions are looking a little fuzzy and my thoughts seem to be concentrating in a way which makes me feel something like Alice slipping down the hole at the beginning of her journey to Wonderland. . .
Getting rid of things seems an ideal till I actually try the physical doing: two of my children have no house of their own - can I really get rids of the things they would like and maybe need to have in the future? Do the others who have space get yet more? Do I have to pay a huge cleaning bill before I can get rid of the unwanted clothes in the cupboards? Etc. etc.
Then up jump the vertical and horizontal worlds (p.111) and I can breathe a sigh of relief: something to steady me and hang on it and the silly worries stop. The Vertical and Horizontal come together. It's the cross of Jesus and that signifies everything. I can stop falling and wait here while I discover what my 'I' is, what is important to me. Everything outside me slips away and I find my God. God and I meet while I sit on the horizontal of the cross with my arms around the vertical, silent and at peace.
Thank you God, for this lovely gift you send me through the words of Fr. Paul.
This week's chapters really spoke to me in my vocation as mother. God was calling me to live my life more fully and be more present to my children, and when I followed His call, He spoke to me in so many beautiful ways.
When I read the title of the chapter "You Are Mine," I thought of a book my daughter likes me to read to her. It is called The Way Mothers Are and in it, little kitten asks his mother why she loves him. He just can't understand why she loves him when he is so bad sometimes. The mother asks the kitten why he thinks she loves him, and he tells her about the times when he is good and nice to his sister and about how smart and talented he is, but of course, none of these things is the reason why she loves him. Finally, the mother says, "I love you because you are my little one, my very own child. I love you all the time because you are mine." I have always loved this book, but now it holds new meaning for me. Now, it is a story about God's love for me and I want to give that to my children. I want my children to feel as though they are "pampered and spoiled" children of God, that no matter what they do or what happens to them, they are always God's children who He loves very much. But I have to believe in God's love for me in order to teach it to my children.
The chapters about fully enjoying what we have and living in the here and now really challenged me to rethink my priorities. I made a schedule in August that centered on spending more time with my daughters. Somehow I got caught up in the housework, and I forgot the whole purpose of my schedule. Reading this book however has helped me to remember my priorities. My children are so young still. When they are grown, I don't want to think back on all the wonderful times I could have had with them; I want to think back on all the wonderful times I did have with them. So these past few weeks, I've been working on being more present to my children and freeing up my time by making simpler meals and getting rid of things that clutter my life. This means I've had more time to read books like The Way Mothers Are.
Also, I found out some exciting news last week that has really helped me to understand the idea of living in the here and now. I am pregnant. Right now I'm making space for this new person, enjoying food while I still can, playing the drum set while I still can, and enjoying time with my other two children and my husband before their competition arrives. Morning sickness is the immediate tiger that's waiting for me (and for me morning sickness means "morning, noon, and evening sickness"), but right now food is still delicious to me, and so I'm going to enjoy it!
These chapters were tough for me to read. I thought I
was detached from my possessions. NOT SO! I came to the USA with two
suitcases in 1978 and after all these years
I truly enjoyed Chapter 28. Keeping that fresh outlook on life is so invigorating. However, it does not come natural for me. I always seem to be in a hurry to move on to the next task! I am really enjoying everybody's sharing. Thanks for this enriching experience.
There was so much wonderful information in this week's reading that touched my heart and made me re-evaluate how I see my self and my relationship to God. In the past and even sometimes now I look for my self-worth in relationships and what other people think of me. I often times feel like I will never get it right with God. This was false thinking because God loves me unconditionally and He has tattooed “You are Mine” on my heart. This is His gift to me and there is nothing that I need do to deserve it. All I have to do is open my heart to receive His love.
I was challenged that I need to remember that I was created in the image of God and that He is in me and I am in Him. When I focus on the fact that I was created with the breath of God I am free to love God with all my heart, mind and soul. Our relationship is deepened and the flow of His love through my heart spills out into all that I do in life. He is my Source. To finally understand and receive His love into my heart was so incredibly freeing. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me now has a new meaning for me. I will still make mistakes and fail at times, but that too is okay. God will pick me up, wipe off my tears, forgive me and send me back out in the world to try again. Thank you God for such a wonderful gift!
Reading these last twelve chapters really touched something very deep inside me.
I have been struggling with getting closer to God, becoming one with Jesus. I really identified with Chapters 24, 25 and 26, because this has been my struggle: letting go of the material possessions. I have also had a hard time with this because I have two daughters: one 21 and the other 16. Sometimes children just want so much stuff and most of it is just use less and ends up enslaving them.
My husband is retired so he is at home and over the last fifteen years, he has become so obsessed with television he cannot set himself free, I wish he would become involved with some activities outside the home - volunteering at hospital or even helping senior citizens at home. It is a really good example of being enslaved by something not fully enjoyed, but done out of boredom.
I know many us struggle in our every day lives, with loneliness, but most of this has to do with not feeling close to God. So many people do not experience God in themselves, as Fr. Paul tells us in chapter 30. I encounter this so much in my every day life, people with out God or just enough God to help them, but no thought of helping others. I guess for them its all bout the "me' and not the "I."
People are afraid of being alone with themselves and with God. About eight years ago I went through a really bad time in my life. I was depressed and lonely, and out of frustration I looked for love in all the wrong places. It took me four years to bring my life back to God the way he wanted, not the way I wanted. I know how special I am to God and after reading this book I feel even closer to God.
There is so much in this book. Each chapter keeps adding more enlightenment. When I started this week, I decided that I wanted to go to confession (receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation) and I made the appointment to do it. I knew it was the right timing. I am reading and sharing this book; I am directing a 19th Annotation retreat and guiding 2 ladies through Discernment in the Spiritual Exercises. I wanted to be in the best possible place to do this work for God and cleansing through reconciliation, I knew, would help. And then, lo and behold, I came to chapter 31, Confession, Celebration of Divine Presence. How amazing is that timing! I call things like this “God Moments.” So I set forth to try to do my confession, as Fr. Paul talked about doing his, from a positive note, an encounter, an experience of God.
In Chapter 23 I was told that God promised to give me the inner freedom, joy and happiness that NO ONE and NOTHING can take away from me even in the midst of suffering, sickness and death. That realization is clearer after reconciliation. I have also had many issues with suffering and sickness and many flair ups with my arthritis including an extreme time of pain with my hip. I have come a long way since last March when this was at its worst and I can move well right now. I wasn’t cured from my arthritis, just given the tools I needed to get myself moving again. It feels so good to move well. I am exercising, losing weight and overall have energy again. I have had times when I hurt so badly that I couldn’t even pray. Now I work my hardest to thank Him each day and praise Him. Right now, I have freedom in the midst of my suffering.
I am realizing more and more that happiness is an inner choice. Happiness comes from God. The only thing that matters in my relationship with God is my life giving, all sustaining, experience of the Divine. There is the “Me” and the “I” and I told myself that I have a lot of me in my life. But then I sat with that for along time and realized “the me” comes after I have given of my self to work, family, service to God. I need time for myself and thus I cherish my spirituality and my prayer time and prayer space. My God is getting bigger because I believe He is telling me that I am His and that He is mine and together we are experiencing the Divine. And I am slowly learning to name by relationship with God, the Divine.
In the thirty-second chapter the story of the man running
from the tiger and landing on the limb with the fruit over the pit of
snakes delights me in the story's clear message and truth applicable
in our lives. "Delightful?" I love that Father Coutinho laughs
with us a moment at how we worry so much about things we cannot control
in the past and in the future. What a waste of time! How human, but
shall we stop? Perhaps sometimes.
The reading this week is a struggle. Hang on a minute! This guy does not have children and that changes the game. How can I be happy when my children are suffering? How can I let go to the point where I can still dance while they are in pain? How can I enjoy living in Europe when they are in the US and we don’t get to be together like other families? They are God’s most precious gift. How can that stand in the way, be an obstacle to the Divine?
Yet, I know there is truth in what he is saying. My life is changing. I am 51, one teenager left at home, one married, one settled in a serious relationship, one starting college. And I am a bit lost. I miss them so badly it is a physical pain at times. I worry – did I teach them what they need to know? Will they know and love God which is all that really matters? Will they hurt and be hurt? Will they experience the kind of intense joy they have brought into my life?
I can’t answer those questions. I am no longer the center of their lives and I need to let go. But it is so painful. I think I am doing just fine until I read something like this and I sit and cry my eyes out. And then I turn to God and ask for the grace I need to let go and move gracefully into this new phase of life.
And on pages 102-103 I am blown away by Coutinho’s description of Jesus. Yes, yes, yes!! This is what I have been trying to talk to people about for the past few years and they look at me like I have two heads. Jesus did not die for my sins. God did not demand a preordained blood sacrifice of atonement. What kind of a sick God would that be? How could I place my trust in that God? No, God is love. God came in love, suffered in love, died in love and rose in love. He went to his death to show us how to live and never veered off of that loving course.
In the midst of the suffering he was free. And that is the balm for
me at this difficult stage. Even in the midst of missing them, feeling
like we are strangers over the transatlantic phone lines, worrying about
who they are befriending and choices they are making and just plain
missing them like there is a hole in my heart – even in the midst
of that, I am invited to sing and dance with a God of love. It is a
quiet song and a gentle dance this morning but one for which I am profoundly
grateful, even if it takes me a while to learn the steps.
The chapter, "You Are Mine," reminds me that
God never lets go, he is always seeking me and you, and he will never
stop seeking us. "Freedom in the Midst of Suffering" helped
me to better understand and respond to the hard question that I have
been presented with many times: Why does God allow bad things to happen
to good people? The person asking the question is missing the point.
Jesus did not come to free us from hardships, but to give us freedom
from ourselves and the freedom to give our free selves to him completely.
Only then can we find joy in both happy times and in our suffering.
Understanding the Good News of the Passion frees me to live in the here and now. I am not bogged down by my sorrow or regret for the past nor fearful about the future. I am living fully alive in the present, confident that regardless of my circumstances, my comfort, joy, and peace are rooted in God. I am not bound by the worries of today, if things will improve or how much better a person I can be if things improve. My life situation simply is and God simply is the Center of my life. This is my grace for this week, living life abundantly in Christ here and now in the midst of chaos surrounding me. I do have a lot of chaos in my life, that is my cross. But it's not going away, instead, God is present with me.
I am convicted to start relieving myself not only of superfluous possessions but also of worthless time distractions from a powerful media. I have been overwhelmed by trying to take care of everything and get it all done. I have received the message of letting go from another source so Fr. Paul's word confirms the need for me to let go of unnecessary clutter, both material and time, that distracts me from God and productive family time.
I love to imagine God's hands cupping my face, with the tattoo of my
name against my cheek, smiling at me and saying "You are fearfully
and wonderfully made my child. You are mine." I recently did that
to my daughter during a time of angst in our relationship to remind
her of both my love and God's love for her.She shrugged her shoulders,
smiled and walked away "Cheesey, mom", but it did diffuse
an unpeaceful moment.
The themes that run through this week's reading are direct and encouraging. They remind me of the invitation that God has given me to place my trust in Him and deepen my relationship. The words ‘You are mine’ are such consoling words to hear when we feel lost. Our ultimate security needs to be found in God. Meditating on these words alone could transform my whole attitude; they can be a defence against many anxieties and preoccupations that can lead to a kind of inner paralysis.
My God will become bigger if I let him take centre place in my life.
I found the chapter on possessions quite challenging. I do not consider myself a very materialistic person but I think I can be quite sentimental so I have enormous attachment to mementoes of the past. Consequently I can even find I am emotionally attached to clothes, music, and places and there is a part of me that resists change. The questions posed on possessions – are they enslaving or freeing? - revealed to me that my sentimental tendencies can also inhibit my spiritual development and growth. They could stop me from living in the present. This living in the present (the now) is such a challenge but the invitation to do so is so liberating. As we get older there is definitely a tendency to think we know it all, we can so easily become cynical and unable to see each day as new and experiences as fresh. The challenge of living with a spirit of openness and an almost childlike delight in the newness of each day is exciting. I want to live in the present and delight in each moment but I know I need the grace of God and the indwelling of His spirit.
There were also some very searching philosophical questions posed this week ‘who are you’? It made me reflect upon change and personal changes within my own life. Amongst all these changes there has been a constant throughout my life. The constant has been the love of God. Some powerful words of scripture came into my mind as I engaged with these themes of change and identity. ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of God.
I believe in God naturally. When Father Coutinho asks ". . how big is He?", I know that’s a stretch. I don’t defend my God to others who have different beliefs because they may be better prepared with their rational arguments. It’s their loss because through indifference they have failed to make themselves available for the free gift of Faith that God gives us to appreciate and understand His ever-loving care.
My best argument is that, as humans, we are finite but our God is infinite and unless we accept His love and guidance, we will not achieve the future vision that He has promised.
As always, there were a many images in these pages that spoke to my heart. Right in the very first pages, I was so aware that I, too, feel “tattooed” with the words “You are mine”. As in all lives, there have been many twists and turns, many ups and downs, yet consistently and faithfully, even when things were a mess, or I felt far away, I could always hear the insistent voice of love that reminded me that my life is totally, intimately and completely a part of God.
I loved Fr. Coutinho’s reflections about suffering, and the cross. I almost lose my mind, when in the face of some terrible tragedy, some senseless loss, someone says, “Well it’s God’s will”. How could a God of love possibly will the death of a child from cancer, or child abuse. How could a God of love send a Tsumani to wipe out hundreds of thousands of people? This has never made sense to me, even as I heard and continue to hear that concept spoken by more than one person in some ministry in the Church. God’s promise is simple – in the face of anything, I am with you. I weep with you, I hold you in my arms, I understand your pain because I too suffered at the hands of evil. A friend of mine, a therapist who helped many, many people in her life, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 54. She had surgery and treatment and thought she was home free. Two years later, she was found to have cancer in the other breast and she had liver mets. Eight years later, she died. During those eight years, she was able to see three granddaughters born, and even though she would have loved to see them grow up, she was so grateful for being able to meet them and love them. She fought a brave battle, and continued to help others, even as she faced the end of her life. She told me once that the cancer became a gift because she lived so much more intentionally and intensely after the diagnosis. When she died, I realized how much I hated the phrase “She succumbed to cancer”. In fact, what really happened, was that the cancer died, and Sheila was snatched to a place of safety by God, who was an intimate part of her whole life. That is how I have understood suffering. I am not alone, and the people I love are safe. I am stuck in time, in grief, but they are free, and alive. It is the only thing that makes sense in understanding a God of love.
Two themes really resonated with me for this week’s reflections:
Live life fully in the present - Fr Paul’s godmother prays that she can “…live life one day at a time and live as fully as I can.” (pg 81) Even though she was terminally ill, she didn’t surrender, but continued to experience life to the fullest and positively impact those she came into contact with.
There’s a mantra here that the deployed troops in Iraq are supposed to adhere to. It goes like this: “Don’t count the days, make the days count.” I’ve got to think that there is some purpose for being here and that hopefully I can provide some type of positive experience for those I come in contact with.
“Get rid of the material anchors in your life, and your journey into the river of the Divine will be lighter and freer.” (pg 89) Paul is using the wonderful river imagery (reminds me of the front cover) to describe our journey through life unencumbered by our material trappings. How can we come into contact with the Divine if we are trapped by our possessions?
Eight years ago I was in the process of leaving a disastrous marriage. I left my house with all of my possessions in the back of a Mazda Protégé. I did miss my books and records for a time, but I was free to concentrate on where I needed to go.
Just when the doubts about the economy of the US are kicking in, this week in time we are reading these particular pages. How Big is Our God? Pretty big!! Bigger than we will ever know.
This week's readings leave so many wonderful tidbits that it is hard to comment. For me God seems to be saying go deeper, find truth, find peace, live in the Divine. That is the only real heritage. While there are many themes to reflect on, the story about the man who loved his family and was loved by his family yet none were willing to give their life for his caused me to think about some of the things that are always going on, those reasons why I can't do this or that, etc. Why not, yes I love my family but they are not mine and I am not theirs really. Gifts to each other but not possessions, those things and people we enjoy, we let go of.
Last week I spent the week in Vegas. I had never been
there. It is really quite a place, nestled next to some of the most
wonderful examples of natural beauty, it certainly contained much that
was opposite to the readings of the week, yet that is where God had
me this particular week. Contrast, yes, but no. In the stillness of
the craziness, I found ways to let go of things and draw closer to God.
More to go but the reasons are very clear.
Fr. Coutinho continues to provide fresh perspectives of timeless truths. His comments regarding a dying person for whom “death was a joke” (82) and the “resting fully in God’s love ... at all times of life” (82) reflect my experiences around and following the death of a loved one. Jesus in his mercy did, as Coutinho exhorts, “give [me] peace” as well as “joy ... in the midst of ... suffering” (77-8).
There is a nemesis peculiar to writers whereby a part of our self lives and has our being and another part observes the self. And so it was that, unable to continue the relationship on this side of eternity, I held onto pen and notebook and scrutinized my observations from the ludicrous nature of untimely death, to new relationship in the communion of saints. I look back and see where God had been there with him as he died and with me hundreds of miles away, guiding him into the next phase and me into mine while turning up the volume on peace and joy for the journey.
Coutinho’s reminder that, “This present moment is eternal time” (109) delights this chronic wool gatherer. If it were not for the here and now needs of the body, which can dwell only in the present, we may well float endlessly in the nowhere. If we “are the breath of God” (103), the operative are exists in the eternal present, not the ineffectual meanderings of past or future.
I have so appreciated the contributions of the participants. Isn't it interesting we all read the same material and are touched differently, which when shared, expands all of us, enlarging our understanding of God in surprising ways.
Chap. 22, You are Mine, reminded me of an experience during which I truly felt God enlightening me to understand that I was His. It was at a time when there was a fair bit of attention being given to a number of books circulating concerning the nine personality types. I didn't feel comfortable reading the material. Trying to figure out my own personality type was frustrating; trying to analyze the personality types of others seemed judgmental. I prayed about this and was awakened one night and a poem just rolled out on to my paper, assuring me that I am the Lord's and He is pleased with me just the way I am. I share it with you. (I have never written a poem before!)
I'M JUST THE LORD'S
It does not matter if I'm educated or not, I am the
It does not matter if I'm understood or not, I am the
For my Lord tells me what I need to know, I am the
God understands and knows me deeply, I am the Lord's.
Chap. 23, Freedom in the Midst of Suffering. When I am challenged and
life seems uphill, I recall the words of a hymn I love and my burden
seems lighter and I feel empowered to willingly accept "what is".
"Lift up your cross and follow me, I hear my blessed Savior call;
Chap. 25 (Possessions) was awesome. "Having more than you need is a burden, not a blessing". I so believe this to be true. A priest I truly respected used a phrase that has stayed with me for over 20 years. He referred to materialism as "the poverty of affluence." As a child, I was blessed to live in a home where there was "enough", nothing extra or extravagant ever, but enough. I know now that my childhood was happier than that of many children today because the fun I had as a child had nothing to do with money or acquiring things. We were contented with what we had.
Chap. 34 The "Me" and the "I" . Some time ago, I began to see the difference between "me" and "I" in my life. Whenever feelings of anger, irritation, critical thinking or free floating anxiety would crop up, I realized the "me" (ego/pride) was "navigating my boat" and robbing me of serenity. As soon as I recognized this, I would get quiet and ask God what to do in this situation. Shortly thereafter, my spiritual vision would put a different spin on the same scenario. It is the best feeling in the world to subdue the "me" in me and allow the God-directed "I" to lead the way.
My mom was the most holy person I ever knew. She prayed day and night. She lived her life for God. Everyone who knew her said that she had a direct line to God because there was nothing that she would pray for, that wouldn't receive a favorable answer. She and my dad were antique dealers. When my dad was too sick to work, and my mom needed to be with him constantly to care for him, refinishing and selling antiques became their means to survival. It also became their deep love. That love was so deep, that even though my mom was so holy, she would often complain that she could never get to heaven because she loved her antiques too much. She worried that antiques had become her obstacle to God.
I could look at my mom, and shrug over her worry about her obsession with antiques, and think, I just don't get it. This woman worked hard and suffered all her life, why is she so worried about the one thing in life that she enjoys? Why does she feel that she shouldn't have her many antiques? I think the answer was that she knew that God wanted her all for Himself. He didn't want to share her love with her possessions.
Now for me, material possessions just do not turn me on the way they did for her. Does that mean that I don't have any obstacles between me and my God? I wish I could say it was true, but it's not. I have a huge obstacle between me and my God.
"The Enslaving Illusion of Love", has my name and my story written all over it. I saw myself very clearly in this chapter, and what I saw left me in shame. The obstacle that I allow to come between me and God is my attachment to others. I have a great need for attention and approval. I am extremely clingy and needy. When someone is kind to me, I put that person on a pedestal as if they were God, and they become my idol. I'm sure God is very hurt about this, because He is jealous, and He wants me to love Him alone. Again and again, He asks me to surrender my attachments, and cling to Him alone. Again and again, I try to follow what I believe is God's will for me, but I fail. It doesn't seem to matter how often I confess my struggles in this regard, my best intentions to exist for God alone seem to be far beyond my abilities to detach myself.
This has become my new well. My neediness towards others keeps me out of God's flowing river; it holds me back from experiencing God's great love as freely as I should. So I pray with St. Teresa of Avila, "Nothing is wanting to him who possesses God. God alone suffices." God alone. Please, God, I pray, let me possess You, so that You alone, will be sufficient for me.
Whew! Am I tired! Having reached the midpoint of reading and writing these reflections, I realize that much of this is not new, and that I have taught some of these concepts in the past. What is new, is organizing my thoughts in one place, sharing them with others, and experiencing this at a deeper level where God is rumbling around and I'm not sure where I'm being led. Growing Pains!!!!
Oftentimes I ask myself "How would I look, feel, and act if I believed and experienced to the core of my being that I am totally and unconditionally loved by God?" Reading the Chapter "You Are Mine", reminded me to revisit this question in prayer. Although the God of my childhood was judgmental and legalistic, I always had the sense that there was "more" to God than that. Looking back, I think it was a grace that sustained my faith and connect-ness to God.
We come so engrossed in our material possessions that we lose our identity as spiritual beings and our freedom to live the fullness of life. I linked this statement back to the earlier chapters of the "desert" experiences of Jesus. It isn't just the meaning we give to material things that weigh us down, but the power we give to relationships, jobs, projects, roles, busy-ness, work, ways of thinking and doing things, outcomes, beliefs about ourselves and others, etc., that get in the way of God's movement in and through us. This leads me to ask more questions, such as "What drives me?" "Am I giving this more importance or energy than it deserves?" "Am I expecting more of this experience than is reasonable, or am I expecting too much of myself?" Asking and answering the questions, I have the freedom to look at what I do and how I do it from another perspective. It sounds good, but usually leads me into the desert where the struggles begin between staying where I am, and moving to a new place. I eventually get there through the challenges, tears, anger, and frustration, and whatever else comes along. Then it begins anew as God always has something "more" in mind!
Sometimes I wonder if Fr. Coutinho is playing "Gotcha!" with me. I was happy after the first two reflections because there seemed to be some positive movement in my life. In fact, last week part of the day's reading from Proverbs 30 was "..give me neither poverty nor riches..," and after Mass I wrote my pastor, confident that I didn't have an inordinate desire for material things. First, kids used to call me "rich" when I was young, because our dad remodeled our house after he bought it, so "rich" was a negative word for me, and when I moved to Missouri from Chicago, I took a cut in pay from $25,000 to $14,000. I knew that a fancy car or house were not important to me. I was unattached.
Then I read chapter 25 "Get rid of the material
things in your home….In getting rid of material things you are
making space for the spiritual." I had "another think coming."
I did give away a 24 can carton of Diet Mount Dew this morning to the librarian at school. That's 850 cubic inches more space for the spiritual than I had before. And that's a start!
Blazer vs. Savior--- Fr. Paul makes the decision and gives up his cherished blazer. Oh how I identify with holding on to a treasure. His story reminds me of the time my first real attachment is taken from me. Unlike Paul, I don't relinquish it. I begin learning at an early age the consequence of caring too much.
I am about 3 years old and I am fondly attached to my little black and white, furry panda bear. One day Mom decides Panda has to be laundered. This is at the time of washers with wringers and out door clothes lines. And Panda is not a washable bear. You know what's coming…Panda is agitated, wrung out and put on a radiator in order to someday dry. He becomes a lumpy, hard, gray mess. I see me clinging to the radiator, crying inconsolably and feel my heart break. Panda is dead to me, gone. You see I don't give him to Mom to clean. The object of my affection is simply taken away without my consent. I have no control. I feel helpless. I resolve, "I'm never going to love anything again!!!" Fortunately that doesn't last forever.
As I pray the St. Ignatius prayer of relinquishment with all my heart, "Take Lord and receive…," I struggle to release my good health, a specific job, and the cabin to God's care. Even today I remain passionate, focused and I CARE. Becoming inordinately attached is a day to day, lifelong exercise for me.
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