Aug 29, 2013

Jesus and the Jar of Pickles - Distractions at Prayer

I admit it. I am not a "morning person." Morning prayer times were not fruitful for me for many years. By "not fruitful," I mean that I would fall asleep whenever I attempted mental prayer in the morning. Even if I was sitting in an uncomfortable pew after morning Mass and wanted to stay for a bit with the Lord, my head would nod and I would startle awake, only to nod off again. I could pray in the afternoon, or late at night and stay awake, but not in the mornings. I read and was told that it was preferable to have a morning prayer time, but I just couldn't stay awake through one!

Well, I have been quite pleased with myself for faithfully praying Morning Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours the past months – and staying awake. Maybe it's because I pray the Liturgy of the Hours from my phone using the Laudate App and electronics really do keep us awake? Or maybe it's just - cough, cough – middle age? Whatever the grace, I was doing so well that my spiritual director suggested I add the daily Mass readings to my morning prayer time, and that was a nice thought - a little time to meditate on the scriptures before starting the day.  

Maybe I shouldn't have been quite so pleased with myself and my success. After all, Proverbs 16:18 says, "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall." I was feeling a little proud, kind of full of myself. Should have known better and remembered - it's all a gift, not me at all, whether I am awake or asleep, it's a gift from God. But I forgot and this week in my exuberance I added in a little something extra in the morning instead of waiting til later in the day. I read the verse of Jesus washing the feet of the disciple, meditating on it and praying for the grace of humble servitude.

Now, we know that distractions at prayer are common, even Theresa of Avila described them in her writings, but it is truly strange what our minds can come up with. My mind came up with a doozy. Somehow while meditating on Jesus washing feet, I could see Our Lord reaching into a jar of pickles and passing them out. Oh, and I knew they were dill chips, because I don't like sweet pickles and Jesus' pickles looked crunchy and tasty; and Our Lord was so very generous as He handed them out.

I didn't realize I was in LaLa Land, not even when I started thinking it would be kind of gross for hands that were just washing feet to be in that pickle juice reaching for pickles and that Jesus MUST have washed his hands before he reached into the jar. But as I continued my prayer time, I couldn't remember any hand washing in the scripture verse. I became a bit befuddled about the pickles and sanitation before finally coming to my senses with The Grand Revelation: There was no jar of pickles at the Last Supper!

It took that Grand Revelation for me to realize that my mind had made it all up. Why? I don't know. Just a random thought that my imagination took and elaborated on, and I followed down that bunny trail of imagining for quite a bit, trying to figure out just when Jesus washed His hands.Or maybe I fell asleep and was having a pickle dream that integrated with the verse I had just read. The "why" doesn't really matter. 

What matters is what we do about distractions. We must pay no attention to them and not get too upset with ourselves. When we realize we have succumbed, the saints say we should "recollect ourselves." We turn away from the distracting thoughts and refocus on the point of mediation, on the scripture verse. St. Theresa of Avila said she always had to have a book when she prayed during a particularly distracting time in her life. Now I understand why! 

As for me, I still can't get that pickle jar out of my mind, and it seems that whenever I picture the Last Supper there will now ALWAYS be a jar of pickles in the hand of Our Lord as He stands up from washing His disciples' feet. I just hope that by the time Holy Thursday comes around this pickle-distraction will have ended. I don't want to feel something is missing if the priest doesn't open up a jar of Kosher Dills after the last foot is washed. Sigh….

We will just keep moving along, one little step at a time. Even when the path is strewn with pickles.

Aug 6, 2013

Can You Love God for Just One Minute?

Edited Image from Microsoft Clip Art Collection August 2013

We want to do great things for God, but sometimes it is the little things that make all the difference. Fr. Rick Pilger gave a small challenge to the parishioners of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church  a couple of weeks ago - spend one minute a day telling God you love Him. Just one minute and no one was off the hook. He explicitly said that those who already practice other devotions or prayers should still do this. It's just one minute, after all.

It doesn't sound like much does it? In fact, it sounds like such a little thing that it isn't even worth doing. How can one minute loving God be anything but a waste of time? "Bring on a bigger challenge that is worthy of our greatness," says our pride.

But here is the secret: That one minute is like a tiny seed, planted so quickly and then forgotten. But it grows unseen, finally sprouting above the surface into something beautiful. Just as it isn't a waste of time to plant a seed, our time loving God isn't wasted either. Each minute has an effect on our lives and souls beyond what we can imagine and as much as we permit.

Fr. Rick isn't the first to realize the importance of something small. The Little Flower knew the power of small things, too. Her little way wasn't about doing great and mighty things for God. St. Therese did small things with great love and allowed those seeds to sprout up into even greater devotion. The Little Way is about giving to God the small things that come our way each day and trusting Him to use them for our sanctification and the salvation of souls. We get an awful lot of minutes each day, many opportunities to set just one aside for loving God.

Just one minute loving God. Funny thing how that one minute so easily stretches to five minutes or sometimes more. This has been such a gift for me as I have struggled with prayer time. Meditating on scriptures has been hard for me lately, but I can love God, I can praise God. I love God for that one minute, a minute that I can choose to extend when impelled by love, but at least that one minute each day. By lifting my heart to God, by giving Him just one minute, He is meeting me there and leading me to respond more deeply to His love and mercy.

He is God of the mountains and God of the minutes. Are you willing to do something small and unimpressive for God? Will you love Him for one minute or instead wait to climb a mountain for Him? He will meet you in that minute. Go ahead, love Him and let Him love you back, one minute at a time.

Jul 7, 2013

Infinite Goodness Stoops Over Man

Deus Caritas Est
God's Infinite Goodness
Deus Caritas Est by Fr Lawrence, OP 

"Man's wickedness may accumulate sin upon sin, evil upon evil, but overall, God's goodness will remain unchangeable. The shadow of evil will not mar it; instead, God who is always benevolent, will bend over the evil to change it into good, and to draw a greater good from it. Thus, infinite Goodness stooped over man, the sinner, and made an immensely superior good come from Adam's fall: the redemption of the world through the Incarnation of His only-begotten Son. This is the distinctive characteristic of God's goodness: to will the good, only the good, even to the point of drawing good from evil. "  Section 232, Divine Intimacy 

God with His infinite Goodness stoops over us as we suffer in our brokenness here on earth. It's not so hard to acknowledge this truth intellectually, but it's much more difficult to remember the transformative nature of God's goodness in the midst of one's own suffering.
Yet clinging to this truth brings some small comfort, for in the midst of darkness there is a light of hope in remembering that our Good God is stooping over us in our misery and that He will draw good out of even the most awful circumstances. Nothing is wasted, there need be no pointless suffering. God's goodness is unchangeable, even though we don't always see it at the present moment.
 Faith tells us: God is Good. Faith tells us: "All things work together for good…" Romans 8:28.
And so we believe, we hope, we trust.

Jun 25, 2013

Our Suffering is God's Kindness

"Accordingly, I cannot too greatly admire God's kindness towards you, disciplining you as He does for years at a stretch by this kind of deprivation, designed to break even the least of your attachments. He assails your body with physical ills, in order to detach you from yourself; He assails the soul with weariness, aversions, spiritual insensibility and other disabilities in order to detach you, interiorly, from all sensible aids and consolations. If you allow Him to work freely in you, you will come at last to cling only to Him in pure faith, in pure spirit, and to quote St. Francis de Sales, in the highest part of the soul. Allow, then, the God of goodness to do His work. For it is indeed His due that you should put your trust in Him."

Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence
by Fr. J.P. Caussade, S.J. page 316, Tan Publisher 1959

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May 23, 2013

St. Therese and the Little Straws: Surviving Aridity in Prayer

Little Straws to Throw Upon the Embers
Image via Microsoft Clip Art May 2013

"In times of aridity when I am incapable of praying, of practicing virtue, I seek little opportunities, mere trifles, to give pleasure to Jesus; for instance a smile, a pleasant word when inclined to be silent and to show weariness. If I find no opportunities, I at least tell Him again and again that I love Him; that is not difficult and it keeps alive the fire in my heart. Even though this fire of love might seem to me extinct I would still throw little straws upon the embers and I am certain it would rekindle."  
From "Thoughts of Saint Therese by Tan Publisher: XVI Letter to Her Sister Celine"
When we are going through the times that it feels impossible to pray, when it is tortuous to sit in quiet with ourselves and the Lord,  it is a very un-holy and un-saintly feeling. Sometimes there is a feeling of being very far away from God, and what sorrow that causes when the soul longs to be closely embraced by the One she loves! And sometimes even the love seems to be absent, although we want it to be there. How miserable and alone we can feel and most especially during prayer times when we most want to feel love for God and from God.

St. Therese writes that at times she felt as though  the " of love might seem to me extinct..." What consolation to know that even the saints experienced this aridity, that we not alone, and that there is hope for us yet! St. Therese writes of throwing "little straws upon the embers" with the certainty of rekindling that fire in her heart, that love of Jesus that doesn't seem to be burning, but she has faith it is there. We may not believe that fire still exists smoldering within us, but it is a fire that was planted at our baptism.

Like St. Therese, we can "throw little straws upon the embers" when we don't feel the warmth emanating at the moment. Our little straws can be very simple, just as St. Therese's were simple. A smile when we are feeling depressed or saddened, a kind word to one we would rather snap out or ignore, short aspirations that speak of our love and trust in the Lord - "Jesus, I trust in You!" or whatever has spoken to our heart in the past or at the moment.

Most importantly, when we would like to run and hide from our prayer time, to watch a TV show instead of embrace the misery of time alone with God, or to write a blog post in order to avoid approaching what feels like the barren desert, we must push on and pick up that little straw to throw upon the fire, too. We give our time to Him in prayer even when it is miserable. Why? Because it is how we choose to love Him, it is how we choose to fan the flames that we can no longer feel. We trust Him; we love Him. And we are not alone in suffering through aridity in prayer, even saints have gone before us along this path that can be quite painful. We believe; we trust. The straw will ignite and the glow will warm our souls once more.