A Word from Thomas Merton

My Lord God,
I have no idea where I am going.
I do not see the road ahead of me
nor do I really know myself,
and the fact that I think I am following your will
does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you
does in fact please you.
And I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this,
you will lead me by the right road
thought I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always
through I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear for you are ever with me,
and you will never leave me to face my struggles alone.
Amen.

When We Were Born, and When We Die

By Faithful Finch

I recently had the gift to care for my Mom as she was dying. It was amazing to go through the experience with her, that she went about with such faith, grace and trust. The process of dying and preparing for heaven unfolded before my very eyes.

As I was clipping her fingernails, the memory of her clipping my fingernails as a little child came rushing into my head and overwhelmed me. Yes, roles certainly do reverse. I realized in that and other simple acts, she was letting go, and beginning the process of looking toward her journey home. As she continued in that journey, her trust in God and in others grew. Gradually she lost her ability to walk, and talk clearly, and if she said a word or a sentence, we would be listening with baited breath, as a parent would with its baby’s first words. It was almost like she was gradually changing to be more child-like so she could be “born into heaven” on the other side. It seems like death is something that we struggle with because we are so afraid of the unknown and of letting go. When I thought of that, I remembered I had filed a poem my Dad had written twenty-six years ago that was similar to that very thought:

When We were Born, and When We Die

When we were born, we also died
To life, as seen and lived inside
Our mother’s womb, where safe and warm
We’d lain protected from the storm,
And from the threat of living life outside.
When we were born, we kicked and cried,
Resisting change and terrified
Of life, unknown, upon this earth.
To us, ’twas death instead of birth,
We could not see a door was opening wide.
As so it is, that when we die,
We’re also born to life on high.
No foe is death, a friend is she:
Opening the door, she sets us free.
Gone fear and pain, as to our Lord we fly.

Detail, mosaic apse of Christ in Glory, Church of the Transfiguration at the Community of Jesus

Up in the Air: Faith

It was a long flight from St. Louis to San Francisco. For me it was not just a question of the four-plus hours of travel but also managing the fear I have of flying and the constant anticipation of turbulence.
Seated next to me was a minister from rural Kentucky, Reverend Silas Wildes, both a southern gentleman and a man of God, who was headed to an evangelical conference in the San Francisco Bay area. Quickly discovering our common bond, we passed most of the time sharing about Gods’ daily providential care for us, the unwavering faith that we need to permeate our life, and the call to deepen our relationship with Jesus beyond the laws of our particular religious affiliations. Although we revealed pieces of our heart, I kept my fear of flying to myself.
Breathing with relief at the relatively smooth flight and checking my watch for the time left until we landed, I cringed when I heard the pilot’s voice. In a somber tone he asked the flight attendants to take their seats and the passengers to fasten their seat belts. He added that the control tower had indicated a “very bumpy” descent. In reality, I knew that really meant significant turbulence. My heart began to pound and sweat rolled down my face. Reverend Wildes just gazed peacefully out the window as the roller coaster ride began.
After about ten minutes of choppiness, Reverend Wildes leaned over and whispered, “Well, I see the water and wonder if we are landing just a bit too close to it because I can see fish jumping and splashing.” Panicked, I reached under my seat to check for my life vest and then, boldy and humbly, asked the reverend if I might hold his hand.
With a gentle smile and elegant courtesy, he extended his hand and then asked me a question I have never forgotten; “Sister, you seem to be living with so much unfaltering faith on the ground. Why then do you lose it when you are up in the air?”

Owning the Story, Opening to Grace
When my life seems up in the air, I can strengthen my faith by…
The times I need the outstretched, comforting hand of another are…
I can renew my trust during turbulent times by …

“But when Peter noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out: Lord, save me! Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Matt: 14:30-31

Excerpt from Doors to the Sacred: Everyday Events as Hints of the Holy by Sr. Bridget Haase; Paraclete Press

Thorny Weather

By Sr. Nun Other

Sometimes I clear my thought collection by writing poetry. I un-jumble the jumbled mess by sorting, eliminating, and re-arranging words on paper. Recently, I captured the words thistle thorns and placed them in my reject section. However, they persisted and insisted on space in my poem.

I’m of Scottish descent and somewhere in Scotland, there’s a clan chief and a run-down castle that bears my name. Enter the lowly thistle, scorned by gardeners, despised by children in bare feet, and just below dandelion on the least wanted list. It also happens to be Scotland’s oldest recorded National Flower. A 13th century legend tells of Viking invaders, who hoped to capture the Scots as they slept. Their plan failed when a barefooted soldier tromped on a thistle, cried out in pain, and woke the sleeping Scots. If I’m any example, Scots are not morning people, and the Vikings were quickly overcome by enraged clansmen.

The thistle is a symbol of tenacity. It’s both a humble weed and a complex entity composed of soft downy flower and sharp thorns. Its roots reach deep, it keeps a stubborn grip on the land, and flourishes in adversity. I’m aware that God hands me flowers with thorns now and then. The beauty of the flower is a blessing, but it’s the thorns that make me strong.

thistle

Officially Next Year

By Sr. Nun Other

Baseball season opening day. Defined by colorful uniforms against green grass. Flags unfurled and the Star Spangled Banner sung by someone famous or a regular person deserving a chance. A Blue Angel flyover, and the two best words in all of baseball, “Play Ball!”

And right there, lurking in the background, are the naysayers. They’ve already predicted the third baseman (who they loved three weeks ago) is a huge mistake, the #2 starting pitcher will breakdown mid-season, and at best, your team (fill in the blank) might have a shot at the wild card.

Don’t let them (whoever they are) pick-pocket your hope. They–we–make up stories because really, we don’t know what God intends and just might do. Our job is to hope, believe, anticipate and participate in a well-planned outcome that leads to ultimate good.

Image courtesy of Catholic Trivia Blogspot

The Present

By Faithful Finch
A couple of weeks ago, I got stopped for speeding. I was so caught up in my thoughts of what I needed to accomplish and the happenings that had just occurred, that when I saw the lights on the police car, I thought he was going after someone else!
The humorous thing about it, is that the Lord had just been speaking to me about living in the present. I had been reading the scripture where Jesus was teaching in the house, and it was so crowded, no one else could get in the door. A paralyzed man had friends who cared about him so much that they decided to find another way to get him to Jesus. They dug a hole in the roof and lowered him down.
Jesus stopped everything he was doing, and made time for the man in need. That was the present need, and Jesus wasn’t concerned about anything else.
I miss the present because I’m either caught up in the past or worried about the future.
I didn’t get a ticket from the police that day, or even a warning, but I did receive a lesson.

Parting the Red Sea

By Sunset Septuagint

As I was thanking God for his miraculous protection after Winter Storm Jonas, I realized once again that we sit on a fragile piece of land. Although we may be more removed from some of the riots occurring in the large American cities, Cape Cod has its own threat of destruction.

This made me think of one of my favorite frescoes in our Church – Moses and the parting of the Red Sea. Moses looks pretty small standing between the gigantic waves on either side. The bottom of the waves where he is standing are almost black in color…..and yet he has both arms up stretching to God. His face is turned upward toward the large beautiful light in the blue sky beyond.

I wonder if Moses felt like he was tightrope walking, similar to the man going over Niagara Falls – if a lot of his energy had to go into keeping his arms uplifted – what if he looked down even for a second….

As a young person one of my favorite hymns was How firm a Foundation: ”When through the deep waters I call thee to go, the rivers of woe shall not thee overflow; I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand, upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand.” (based on Isaiah 43:2)

CapeCod

City of Glass

By Melodious Monk

I met a new friend this week, Welsh poet R. S. Thomas. While recently feeling a little lost and tired of looking for God with seemingly no answer back, I went to a shelf of poetry books in hopes that someone else’s words might open my eyes a bit differently.

Perhaps it was Paul Powis’ colorful illustration on the front cover of the R. S. Thomas collection that caught my attention, but every poem of R. S. Thomas that I read I find compelling, thought-provoking, and profoundly mysterious.

One such poem is titled, “the empty church. “ I spend a significant amount of time in an empty church here at the Community of Jesus– either cleaning, doing maintenance work, or praying alone–so, in quickly glancing through the index, this poem’s title leaped out at me as one to read.

The Empty Church

They laid this stone trap
for him, enticing him with candles,
as though he would come like some huge moth
out of the darkness to beat there.
Ah, he had burned himself
before in the human flame
and escaped, leaving the reason
torn. He will not come any more
to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still
striking my prayers on a stone
heart? Is it in hope one
of them will ignite yet and throw
on its illumined walls the shadow
of someone greater than I can understand?

In the short time I’ve spent with this Anglican priest’s poetry, I have found a strong sense of the knowledge of God’s presence when, and perhaps especially when, He is not tangible to us. I often ask God why this road through life has so many components that often feel pointless or at cross-purposes with one another. I think Thomas might say that our inability to understand God in our lives is not something to be afraid of. At the end of his poem Emerging, Thomas reminds us that God has destined us for good.

There are questions we are the solution
to, others whose echoes we must expand
to contain. Circular as our way is,
it leads not back to that snake-haunted
garden, but onward to the tall city
of glass that is the laboratory of the spirit.

Poetry by R. S. Thomas. Artwork by Paul Powis

Purple Shade by Paul Powis

A Very Present Help

I have distinct memories of the morning, some forty-six years ago, when my father died. Every facet of that life-changing day is carved in heart and memory, and I expect always will be. Our family gathered in the waiting area outside intensive care, anxiously awaiting word. When the doctor arrived, my mother asked, “Is there any hope”? His kind (and wise) reply was, “We hope he’ll live forever.” For me, it was a moment of decision–insist on what was, or move forward with graceful acceptance. I give this as an example of the difference between hope and Hope: that is, the I want versus what God’s mercy ordains.

When viewed through the prism of hope, life is a shifting pattern of beautiful colors and images. Big picture Hope. The kind I can’t distort or negatively impact. It moves silently ahead, checking dark corners and clearing a path. You can lose your way, lose perspective, lose your wallet — lose any number of things — but my advice? Never lose Hope.

Rainbow

Claim the High Calling

By Sr. Nun Other

Come, labor on. Claim the high calling angels cannot share.

These beautiful words, written by English lyricist Jane Bothwick, perfectly describe the pilgrimage of a soul. I can say, in the best sense of the idiom, I lead a double life. That is, I walk a practical journey from one endeavor to another,  attending morning office, washing dishes, weeding the garden, or perhaps checking out a sunset on a near-autumn evening.

Running simultaneously with the practical is my individual, inward spiritual journey. There I search through the everyday and ordinary for what Jesus called the pearl of great price. I wonder if it’s really “the absence of” that I search for: the absence of fear, doubt, ego – whatever it is that obscures my vision and hinders the work of God. The longer I journey, the more perspective changes. What seemed so important just a few steps ago, has lost significance. The pearl is less elusive and just there, within my reach.

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