Life after Epiphany


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If you have left religious life…

Screen Shot 2015-02-07 at 4.57.30 pm… do you feel a little lost, or a little alone?

Please allow me to share with you a little of my own baby steps in this area, and tell you about a wonderful service you might find helpful as you take the time and space you need to re-adjust.

When I returned to the world, even though there was a real peace in the knowledge that leaving was what He was asking of me, I still felt the weight of a very radical life change. I had moved half way around the world, had no income or means, and was completely dependent on the goodness of others for several months. I felt a little isolated, too; there just isn’t any kind of experience analogous to living and leaving religious life. It was something I need to explore and talk about in order to process it and adjust to the “new normal”, but with whom could I discuss it?

I tried to talk with family and friends. They wanted so badly to help, to comfort, to assist with the adjustment, and did what they could; yet I needed something they were not equipped to give. I needed to speak with someone who had lived something similar to what I had lived. I needed someone who on some level could understand the experience, because it was a shared experience.

“Friendship is born at that moment when one man says to another: “What! You too? I thought that no one but myself . . .””

― C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Lewis knew what he was talking about!!!

Friendship is so important through life’s ups and downs, but often the type of friendship that helps most is the very type Lewis defines here. Re-connecting with a few very dear friends who had also entered and left was the very best thing that could happen to me. We lived in different timezones, but somehow we managed to organise times for Skype calls where we could enjoy each other’s company, reminisce a little and support each other through our respective adjustments. Shared experience, a great deal of gentleness with each other  and some quality time… and all of a sudden I was experiencing healing. The Lord was working through these wonderful women and drawing me closer to Himself all the while!

Then my need for this fellowship encountered an extraordinary blessing: the Leonie’s Longing ministry. Leonie’s Longing are a not-for-profit based in the United States, but with a global reach. As far as officially who they are, I’ll let their own “about” page do the talking on that. But I WILL tell you what I have experienced.

When I first contacted Leonie’s Longing I was tentative, afraid, even. I did not share particularly personal information – my heart was hurting and I needed badly to protect it. I gave only those essential facts, the bare minimum of what I needed to convey to be able to receive whatever assistance they could offer. A member of their team of volunteers responded so gently and simply. There was no pressure to respond again, but I did… after a little time had passed. I was still so afraid, so it took a little while before I was ready to reach out again and continue the conversation. Over a period of many months an occasional email went back and forth, but that was all because it was about as much as I could deal with. Each time what was offered was real support and a willing ear, accompanied by respect for my privacy and patience with my fear. Reading the various blog posts of many young women who had similar experiences to my own… but seeing it all through their eyes… was SO HELPFUL. Occasionally, even I now write the odd post here or there for their blog, in my own little effort to give back just a little bit, because I am so very grateful for the support and the sense of community I have found through them. I’d love to be able to help others in the same way… to “pay it forward”, so to speak.

So if you are looking for prayer support, for fellowship… even practical support in your area, you may find this ministry helpful like I did. May the Lord bless, comfort and provide for each of you as you adjust to life out in the world again.

Follow @LeoniesLonging on Twitter

Find Leonie’s Longing on Facebook

Leonie’s Longing Website

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Sonnet of Self-Dedication

Otherwise entitled: “Prayer of a Postulant.” This was written during my Postulant year – but the themes hold true even out here in lay life. Perhaps even more than at the time of writing.

– – – – –

King of the deep, Lord of the storm
Command mine raging heart be still
To ponder Your Incarnate form
To contemplate Your holy will.

Now stir me up with zeal for souls
and send me out to push the plough
To run t’ward the Eternal Goal
Then live the Everlasting Now.

Yet in my weakness, Lord, I fall
Please help me humbly stand again
Would that for love of You, my all
Be in Your service wholly spent.

Saviour, King, Beloved, Friend:
Totus Tuus, till my life’s end.

– – – – –

(A dusty sketch from October 2011)


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Addicted to numbing agents

IMG_0003The experience of dining alfresco on a fine day with a light meal and a nice glass of Sauvignon Blanc … perhaps with laptop opposite me on the table, or with a good book in hand. This was something I learned to enjoy whilst completing my Masters degree, back before I entered the convent. A research student isn’t anti-social by design, but does end up spending a great deal of time alone, working away at reviewing the available literature on a given topic, or updating the latest chapter in the dissertation that is the object of his/her research. When I couldn’t tear myself away from what I was working on, but needed a change of scene, I’d find a nice restaurant or cafe and I’d nerd it up in style. 🙂

Since returning home from the convent and obtaining some modest employment, I’ve found that I’ve returned to the practice of dining alone at a nearby cafe, with either a laptop or a book to keep me company. In the early stages of my PhD, this is unsurprising, I suppose. It was a winning study formula during my last degree – why not stick with what worked?

The thing is, I think I’m addicted. No – not to the sauv blancs or the lattes. Not to anything you would have THOUGHT would be called an addictive substance. I think I’m addicted to the ambience, to the joy of discovering a new, quirky cafe or a new favourite menu item to delight the taste buds. I’m addicted to the experience.

IMG_0001As part of my personal campaign to do better, I’m looking honestly at some of the things that get in the way of my peace with myself and my relationship with God. Dining out at cafes is definitely a good to be enjoyed… but I think its important to look at HOW we enjoy things, and why.

Often, for me, the experience of dining out is an escape… a sort of numbing agent. If I am finding my post-convent lack of direction and peace troubling, and if I have a little bit of disposable income available on a given week, then I’ll go and cheer myself up with an afternoon out. Oh – I’ll take my research with me. Nothing worse than spending an afternoon unproductively and feeling guilty about it later. But in a sense I remove myself from my regular environment and place myself somewhere that is pleasant in numerous sensory ways. I distract myself from what I am feeling so that I don’t have to face it, process it, pray about it, work on it.

Lately, I’m realising, though, that not even my subconscious is fooled! I picture in my mind’s eye “the perfect afternoon,” note down all the things that need to happen to make it so, and then execute the plan… and come up dry. The lack of peace doesn’t disappear, and even though I’ve eaten lovely food and had a comfortable afternoon and enjoyed some time to myself, I come out the other end unsatisfied.

I’m looking for peace and happiness in all the wrong places, all over again.

Distracting myself from my need for God is unhelpful. I need to frankly admit my need of Him, to Him. Numbing my frustration, trying to escape – they are different ways of describing the classic self-lie. And the dis-ease that I feel is the evidence that even as I try to lie to myself, I really do know the truth. Maybe that constant yearning for Him that I really do feel is my prayer when I’m not consciously/deliberately praying? My lack of satisfaction with the things and experiences of the world, my lack of comfort with the holding pattern that post-convent life seems to look like just at the moment – all of these things just ARE. They’re my experience of reality right now. They’re the things that I need to be honest about WITH MYSELF so that I can, in turn, be honest about them with God, and take them before Him.

IMG_0002The next time I go out to enjoy a bite and a nice glass of something, I think I really will enjoy it more – because I’ll know that, even though life isn’t perfect, and that the afternoon won’t be perfect, life is good. It really is good. And God is with me in my need. And I’m not running from the things in my life that aren’t just right. I’m sitting there at the table, with my glass of wine, my frustrations, my insecurities and a good book. There at that table, I’m not hiding anymore, because I’m sitting at a table for two, and He is with me.


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“Salvation” … a song I wrote about the hope that the Resurrection gives me

Many years ago I was in an awkward situation. It was Easter Sunday and I hadn’t been to confession in a long time. I had been struggling in faith and in life for a little while and here I was at Easter Mass thinking I’d have to miss out on receiving Our Lord in the Eucharist.

My parish was one of those parishes where we were blessed to have more than one priest. As I stood for the Gloria I saw out the side door of the Church one of the other priests of our Parish walking across the carpark to the Parish Office. Amazed at how Providence works, I ran outside and asked him to hear my confession. He heard it on the spot and I returned to Mass before they even got to the Second Reading!!

I was on fire with joy and gratitude at the forgiveness I had received! I could participate fully and receive Our Lord! As I listened to the priest’s homily on Salvation History, ideas started forming. Later that Easter day I wrote a song. Here are the lyrics:

SALVATION

Surely if You could free the Israelites from Egypt, You  free me
from the things that tie me down – the things that keep me far from You
Surely if You could make the world anew after the flood, You could
create a new heart in me – a heart more capable of loving You

Your Resurrection gives me hope
in the power You have to change my life! 
Roll the stone away and pour Your mercy out to heal the world!
Salvation History points to the mystery of how 
You gave Your people life

A man who conquered death: my King, my Saviour
You paid off my debt
Emptied Yourself that I be given life
There had to be a reason why

(Refrain x2 with melodic variation second time)

Surely if You could free the Israelites from Egypt, You could free me…

The hope that I realized that day really helped me to face some of the things in my life that were keeping me from God. He truly DID free me. From time to time I sing it and play it on the guitar to remember and to praise Him for what He did for me. One day I might make a recording of it.


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the harrowing of hell

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An empty tabernacle

In churches around the world today, the Tabernacles are empty. The Lord Jesus, who makes Himself truly present to us in the form of bread and wine and dwells Sacramentally among us in our churches, cannot be found where He usually resides.

The empty tabernacle calls to mind the Lord’s lifeless Body in the tomb. Jesus, who is God, truly died on that First Century Passover. What transpired between His Death and Resurrection? We profess in the Apostles Creed to believe that He descended into Hell, and on the third day rose from the dead.

The following is an “ancient homily on Holy Saturday” – a moving, powerful piece that dares to imagine the Majesty of the Lord enacting His victory over death:

The Lord descends into hell

Something strange is happening – there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

He has gone to search for our first parent, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow the captives Adam and Eve, he who is both God and the son of Eve. The Lord approached them bearing the cross, the weapon that had won him the victory. At the sight of him Adam, the first man he had created, struck his breast in terror and cried out to everyone: “My Lord be with you all.” Christ answered him: “And with your spirit.” He took him by the hand and rasied him up, saying: “Awake, O sleeper, and rise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. Out of love for you and for your descendants I now by my own authority command all who are held in bondage to come forth, all who are in darkness to be enlightened, all who are sleeping to arise. I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be held a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead. Rise up, work of my hands, you who were created in my image. Rise, let us leave this place, for you are in me and I am in you; together we form only one person and we cannot be separated.

For your sake I, your God, became your son; I the Lord, took the form of a slave; I whose home is above the heavens, descended to the earth and beneath the earth. For your sake, for the sake of man, I became like a man without help, free among the dead. For the sake of you, who left a garden, I was betrayed to the Jews in a garden, and I was crucified in a garden.

See on my face the spittle I received in order to restore to you the life I once breathed into you. See there the marks of the blows I received in order to refashion your warped nature in my image. On my back see the marks of the scourging I endured to remove the burden of sin that weighs upon your back. See my hands, nailed firmly to a tree, for you who once wickedly stretched out your hand to a tree.

I slept on the cross and a sword pierced my side for you who slept in paradise and brought forth Eve from your side. My side has healed the pain in yours. My sleep will rouse you from your sleep in hell. The sword that pierced me has sheathed the sword that was turned against you.

Rise, let us leave this place. The enemy led you out of the earthly paradise. I will not restore you to that paradise, but I will enthrone you in heaven. I forbade you the tree that was only a symbol o life, but see, I who am life itself am now one with you. I appointed cherubim to guard you as slaves are guarded, but now I make them worship you as God. The throne formed by the cherubim awaits you, its bearers swift and eager. The bridal chamber is adorned, the banquet is ready, the eternal dwelling places are prepared, the treasure houses of all good things lie open. The kingdom of heaven has been prepared for you from all eternity.

— Taken from the Office of Readings for Holy Saturday


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avoiding accountability, refusing responsibility

pilate

The events of Holy Week present us with one of the most universal weaknesses to result from The Fall – the tendency to point the finger.

The similarities between The Fall and the Passion and Death of Our Lord can be summarised into four elements:

A – Desire to be without God

B – Enactment of selected means to be without God

C – Attempt to hide from consequences of act

D – Attempt to shift responsibility to another

The Fall

        Element A:

In the Garden, a crime occurred that amounted to deicide. The first
parents wished to be like God, but without God and not in accord with
God.

Element B:

The enactment of this desire was one of proud disobedience in eating the
fruit that God had forbidden them. This was essentially a severance of
their relationship with God and for all intents and purposes was for them,
within their scope of being, attempted deicide.

Element C:

After their act, when they hear God walking through the Garden, the first
parents attempted to hide from Him.

Element D:

In the interrogation/trial that follows, the man blamed the woman who in
turn blamed the serpent. When Adam blames Eve, it is interesting to note
that He also blames God – “the woman YOU put with me.”

The Passion & Death of Our Lord:

Element A:

Judas, the chief priests and eventually Pilate each wanted to be without
Jesus Christ, each for their own motive. In the case of Judas and the
chief priests, this was manifested by a conspiracy to kill Him. In the
case of Pilate, this was less of a pre-meditated reality and more akin to
looking for what he considered to be the “path of least resistance” from
the standpoint of maintaining control of the people under his governance.
Nevertheless, in all cases the desire to be no longer “inconvenienced”
by Christ is present and only differs in its degree.

Element B:

Fast-forward to another Garden.

Judas consummates his betrayal of the Lord with a kiss, having already
accepted money for his crime. The chief priests enact their part in the
conspiracy by giving over to Judas the promised 30 pieces of silver.
Pontius Pilate is a little more complicated – for him, Elements B, C and
D are all encapsulated in a single act – the ritual act of washing his
hands. The decision to permit the chief priests to have their way was the
internal enactment of Pilate’s desire to be rid of the inconvenience
Christ posed to him, and this was manifested in the external act of
washing his hands.

        Elements C & D:

The elements are a little less easily divisible in Judas’ case. Confronted
with the horror of what he had done, having now fled the garden, Judas
attempts to return the earnings for his treacherous deed to chief priests.
In desperation as a result of his inability to shoulder responsibility for
what he had done and seek forgiveness, Judas takes his own life. The
chief priests, concerned with the ritual uncleanliness of the money with
which an execution had been purchased, refused to take the money back.
In this case, the 30 pieces of silver are symbolic of responsibility.
Acceptance of the money is acceptance of culpability for deicide. Pilate
hides behind his office and his responsibility to the Emperor and washes
his hands of the whole affair, explicitly stating his desire to be
disassociated from the act and specifically casting responsibility for the
execution back onto the Jews.

I too

I too, am culpable of deicide. If evil, by definition, is the privation of a due good, then it stands to reason that to choose evil is to choose for the absence of God who is the embodiment of ALL good. I too attempt to hide from my wrongdoing and through each little self-lie I try to convince myself that I haven’t done anything wrong. I too look to blame my wrongdoing on others, or on circumstances, or on anything I can think of to shift the blame from myself.

Reparation & Reconciliation

In my fallen state, I sever my tie with God, I alienate myself from Him through sin. The best act of love that I can think of to offer my God in reparation for my sinfulness is to solemnly examine my conscience, admit my guilt and, realizing that I cannot undo the damage that I have done, turn back to Him in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the gift by which the fruits of His Sacrifice, that is, reconciliation with the Father and a healed and renewed relationship with Him, is made legitimately mine. No longer do I feel the need to reach out and take for myself a forbidden fruit. The Lord Himself, who makes all things new, is OFFERING legitimate fruit to me, fruit that is wholesome and good. All I need do is have the honesty and humility to receive it.


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attributing motives to others: just another way we fool ourselves

imageI was reading a blog that I follow (and generally enjoy) and the blogger was speaking about trolling, and how anytime a particular angle was used with respect to the topic in which he was interested, it must surely be a troll post. As someone who, once upon a time when I had much less life experience, held the very position to which he objected, I know that the expression of this (however misguided I now know it to have been) was never intended as trolling. Perhaps it LOOKED that way, but it was not.

This got me to thinking about how easy it is to fall into the trap of assuming we know another’s purpose for a given word or deed. Happens all the time… In business (e.g. “He can’t change that term in the contract at the 11th hour, he’s dragged his feet up until now… He’s trying to sabotage this deal!!”) or in personal life (e.g. “She said that after all I’ve done for her? She must still be after revenge for xyz..”)

When I was a Novice, my Novice Mistress quoted an older Sister in the Community with the following wisdom:

Always give others the benefit of the doubt in assuming good intentions… if not good judgement!

It is so easy to get worked up on an interior level about a fabricated imitation of reality that reflects to us our fears in a situation far more than it reflects the objective reality. Psychologists such as Reeder have done studies that show how the tendency to do this arises with bias because of opposing views… His research is interesting and HE is an expert whereas I am not, but I’d hazard the suggestion that fear is truly what causes this behaviour. Fear would be the substance to which the opposing view was an accident, or at least, a trigger.

If you look at the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, you will see in annotation 22 an exhortation to extend the benefit of the doubt to others as a benchmark of basic civility. That this is included in this work, however, demonstrates that it is about more than playing nice with others… It is a crucial part of spiritual theology and has a direct bearing on our interior peace and the quality of our relationship with God.

Imagine a tightly wound ball made from rubber bands… when we get caught up in others’ motives and what they might think of us, something inside of us gets wound up just like that ball… But instead of rubber bands, it’s a complicated entanglement of pride and fear. This image is another piece of wisdom I owe to my old Novice Mistress.

Truth needs to enter in. Really, if we allow ourselves to get worked up about imagined motives on the part of another, well, we’re fooling ourselves. We allow our reasoning to become compromised by the fallacy “ad hominem” and as such allow our view of the other to become poisoned. This is how relationships degenerate toward discord. Surely if we are going to hold an unfavorable opinion of someone we want it to be informed by truth, by what can be apprehended from objective reality, as opposed to emotional supposition, self-lie and the tangled mess of pride and fear?

If there is not enough fact to go upon then integrity is required to be able to admit to ourselves that we just don’t know why that person did or said what she did. And from there? Trust. We need to trust in the good intentions of others until their intentions are proven to be otherwise. The jaded person who employs cynicism about others as a defense mechanism doesn’t protect himself from deceit.

Perhaps he won’t be fooled by others. But he’ll be fooled by himself and he’ll have cheated himself of happiness.


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Blessed John XXIII’s Decalogue

Having just moved house this weekend, I find myself in an area with about 3 different Catholic parishes almost equidistant from my new home. Two of the parishes are familiar to me so I thought I’d try the new one this past Sunday. Slipped into the parish bulletin was a document entitled “Decalogue for Daily Living.” It read:

Pope John XXIII wrote a Decalogue for Daily Living, his own commandments for daily life. They reflect his depth, his simplicity and his humility.

  1. Only for today, I will seek to live the livelong day positively without wishing to solve the problems of my life all at once.
  2. Only for today, I will take the greatest care of my appearance; I will dress modestly; I will not raise my voice; I will be courteous in my behaviour; I will not criticise anyone; I will not claim to improve or to discipline anyone except myself.
  3. Only for today, I will be happy in the certainty that I was created to be happy, not only in the other world but also in this one.
  4. Only for today, I will adapt to circumstances, without requiring all circumstances to be adapted to my own wishes.
  5. Only for today, I will devote ten minutes of my time to some good reading, remembering that just as food is necessary to the life of the body, so good reading is necessary to the life of the soul.
  6. Only for today, I will do one good deed and not tell anyone about it.
  7. Only for today, I will do one thing I do not like doing; and if my feelings are hurt, I will make sure no one notices.
  8. Only for today, I will make a plan for myself; I may not follow it to the letter, but I will make it. And I will be on guard against two evils, hastiness and indecision.
  9. Only for today, despite appearances, I will firmly believe that the good Providence of God cares for me as no one else who exists in the world.
  10. Only for today, I will have no fears. In particular, I will not be afraid to enjoy what is beautiful and to believe in goodness. Indeed for twelve hours I can certainly do what might cause me consternation were I to believe I had to do it all my life.

Some of these sound like they might take a bit of practice to really be able to live them well! But that’s what a virtue is… an acquired habit, a firm disposition to do the good! These practices that Blessed John XXIII established for himself seem to me the kind of goals that, apart from the Lord, are frankly unachievable… but with the Lord? Such practices would surely result in a joyful, grateful person that truly reflects the love of Christ, and finds both his strength and his rest in Him. Way to be a signpost to the Kingdom, JXXIII!!