Life after Epiphany


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when eyes fail to meet…

Doesn’t it drive you nuts when you’re being served by a store assistant or a fast food attendant and they’re saying the words you’d typically expected to hear, but they’re not even LOOKING at you? They’re saying “have a nice day” but they’re already thinking of the next order they’ve got to fill and looking in the direction of their next task.

Have you ever walked into the Church, sat down, stared into space in the general direction of the Tabernacle, and… well… not even engaged with the Lord before you realise that you’re out of time and you need to get on with your day?

So much of my prayer over recent months has been like that. My new years resolution – my ONLY new years resolution – is all about prayer. I intend to be faithful to a daily time of prayer, and I intend to do whatever I can to be truly present to He who is omnipresent during that time.

Whatever happens then isn’t up to me… and I trust Him entirely!


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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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I would so much like to do better!

compline

One of the most confusing things, when one leaves religious life behind, is trying to figure out what a healthy prayer life “on the outside” looks like.

On the one hand, stopping to pray at all the same times and with all the same devotions as I did in the convent is just plain unhealthy. I’m not a religious – I am a lay woman. The prayer life of a religious is not appropriate to the lay state of life. In fact, its actually harmful, as it keeps the lay person from performing the duties proper to the lay state.

Having said that, the opposite extreme would be disastrous. To cease to make prayer a part of my day? Unthinkable. That would be to sever my relationship with the God with whom I have developed an intimate and precious relationship. That would be to lose the spiritual dimension of my life, that life breathed into me at Baptism, that in-dwelling of the Blessed Trinity that I hope and pray I would literally die to preserve.

Well… how about minimalism?

That doesn’t really work either. My relationship with God is founded on love. Minimalism is pretty loveless, pretty self-serving. That would be turning God into what I have heard described in the past as a “Toothbrush God” to be used for ones own health and well-being, and placed back on the shelf until the next time required.

So I know what healthy prayer in lay life is NOT. But what IS it?

I’m still over-correcting one way, and then over-correcting the other, trying to find equilibrium. In 3 days it will have been 8 months since I removed my habit and got on a plane to return home. In that time I’ve done a pretty mixed-up job of trying to maintain a strong and loving relationship with my Heavenly Father. I so much want to do better!

One thing I know for certain – the Mass is central. I need to get to Mass as often as I can. I need Jesus. I need Him. There’s just no two ways about it! I meet Him in the Eucharist. Whenever I’m tempted not to bother with weekday Mass, THATS when I need to step up my commitment. THAT’s when I need Him most. And not in a self-serving way. I need Him because I know that He is the only way for me to be able to return love for Love.

But outside of the Mass?

I’m a Scripture research student. My research is doomed to fail if I don’t spend time PRAYING with Scripture to support my study. I want my research to be at the service of the Lord – so I need to remember ALWAYS to put it in His hands. Each time I sit down to do any work on this, I need to start by praying with the Text for at least 10 minutes prior to commencing any work with it.

What about mental prayer? I need to set perhaps a more realistic target than the 1.5 hours of time before the Blessed Sacrament that used to be part of my horarium. Perhaps 15 minutes of dedicated time for mental prayer. That’s St. Teresa of Avila’s recommendation, right? They didn’t make HER a Doctor of the Church for nothing! 😉 At the beginning of the day, or perhaps some silence in the car on the way to work if all else fails.

And here is something that I think will REALLY be helpful – I need NOT to let go of the Office. Perhaps praying all the hours that I used to do is maybe a little unrealistic at the moment. But Compline? I can fit Compline in. It takes 10-15 minutes and its just before bed so it’s pretty hard to forget.

OK. These are the concrete goals I’m going to set myself for now. Not as a checklist of daily chores – but as an authentic commitment to a relationship that I want to nurture. If you chance across this blog post, please pray for me!


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the harrowing of hell

stMarysCathedralMAR2013 023 (733x423)

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