Upon this Mountain: On Carmelite Prayer

Upon this Mountain provides a beautiful and succinct introduction to Carmelite prayer.  “We are never alone on this most solitary of paths.  ‘We are nudged along, taught, and inspired by so many witnesses in a great cloud all around us’” p. 7.   The author is able to simplify and bring us into Carmelite prayer.  So much of my own prayer has been about bringing myself into just the right place, time, position, attitude, to drive out all my distractions and settle into a fleeting moment of prayer.  “Teresa’s own interior liberation came when she finally stopped forcing herself…and allowed herself simply to enjoy a friendship with Christ Jesus.” P.8 .  Can it possibly be this simple?  Can I stop the searching, practicing and study and simply be in the presence of my prerequisites for a serious life of prayer are love of others, detachment at all levels and humble self-knowledge.” P. 8.

Once I have managed to simply turn to Jesus as my friend, there I will meet God in the depths of me.  I have very dear friends who I don’t hold back from.  I love them and they love me, and I am completely myself with them.  I am safe from judgement.  They listen to my feelings and musings of life with patience and love.  They are given by God as a glimpse of the friendship that I can have with Him.   I love that the Carmelite tradition encourages me to “have confidence in following the way of prayer that suits us.” P.12.  I can be alone in prayer with God himself.  I don’t need to be impatient with myself.  I only need to trust that I will find the God in me through my prayer and then I will find him everywhere; “turn our attention in faith and love to the one whose attention never leaves us for a moment … whatever is on our heart when we come to prayer can be allowed to be there, for it is already on the great heart of God and he lives its reality with us.” P. 13. 

When I realize these truths, I will come into the “same personal contact with the Lord as men had during his life on earth.”p.14.  I like how Teresa “advocates simple attention to the immediate presence of the Lord within us here and now.” P. 15.  I don’t need to find a special moment because the moment is always now to say, I see you here Lord.  I am here with you, and I am yours.  I come to do your will.  My husband and I recently had a beautiful experience of visiting my husband’s siblings who we had not seen in two years.  They live across the country from us.  We were blessed and happy to be present with them.  No expectations, only the love and familiarity between us.  That is the relationship that I have wanted with God.  It is already there for me when I turn to Him.  I appreciated the description of night as “we are plunged into darkness, not because the light is not shining but because the brilliance blinds us.” P. 18.  I do not need to fear the night.  I need to be “aware of the startling simplicity and immediacy of God’s oneness with us”. P. 18.  

Chapter two further describes prayer as relationship.  John of the Cross describes this as between Lover and beloved.  “God wants to relate to the real person that I am and the real God that He is” p 20.  He wants to engage with the real me.  This will involve really getting to know myself and pealing away layers of protection.  This is an interesting way to think of the dark night.  When I fail to see God, it is perhaps because I am not spending time in my own hidden depths where God is.  God is waiting for me to turn to Him.  In the journey, we confront our faults and weaknesses as we learn to cast off the persona we present to others and be with our God.  “We can only consent to live more and more in that light:  to know that we are naked, and not hide. “ p. 25.  “In the stillness of utter simplicity, we are one with God, because he has already chosen to be one with us.” P. 26. 

Chapter three brings us into stillness.  An elderly member of the author’s order explained how to enter into silence by “listening to the silence of the chapel”.  McCormack extends this to the silence of where we are.  We can absorb the moment of the chapel or garden or wherever we find ourselves.  Become aware of the traffic noise, the fan, and then the noise of my own breathing.  Then, repeat a simple word or phrase.  For me it is “Be still and know” or “Jesus, I trust”.  This book was rich and profound in its simplicity and depth.  “If all we can do at the time of prayer is to be there, then we must be content to sit there and just be.” P.32  In that space we meet our God.    

Lessons from Lois

My friend Lois died yesterday afternoon of old age. She was 97 and a joyful person all the many years that I knew her. For the last dozen years or so, Lois was blind from macular degeneration. For the last 2.5 years, she was in memory care. Prior to that, she lived in her home lovingly cared for by her children, grandchildren and home Healthcare staff. I rarely heard Lois complain if ever.. She might say something self criticizing for her weight which was a struggle for her. Or,, I might hear her say “I could complain but what good would that do me”. During COVID-19 lockdown, I couldn’t see her but I could call her on the phone and chat. It was difficult to tell if she knew who I was or if the many questions she asked were her way to cover her confusion. I loved those talks. Lois was always an encourager, helping me to see the positives in the day. When I would say goodbye and wish her a good day, she would say it was a wonderful day already because I had called.

I met Lois when I met her two daughters Barb and Beth and the rest of the Higgins family as a teenager. Barb, Beth, and I have been lifelong friends. Lois was always cheerful, interested, listened with compassion and generally helped me to feel good about myself. She believed that you offer your advice only when it was really needed. I needed that advice on more than one occasion. My husband and I made it a practice to visit Lois and her husband Dick whenever we were in Des Moines, usually 3-4 times a year. When our children were young, they came with us and visiting the Higgins house is a good memory for them. We were always welcome. When I was in my 30s, I had a tendency to complain about my mother and my mother in law for one thing or another. Lois let me know that wasn’t ok. She said that she didn’t go for the “blame your parents” theme of the time and encouraged me to see that my parents were doing the best they could and I needed to be thankful. Lois rarely corrected me so I was taken aback. I hadn’t realized that my comments sounded so negative. I learned to appreciate my mother and my mother in law in a new way and developed a close relationship with each of them that I cherish. I thank Lois for that revelation and for guiding me to treasure the women that I loved so much.

My memories of Lois include how warm and welcoming her house always was. I always felt like I belonged. She remembered my birthdays and always asked about my parents, my husband, and my children. Lois and her husband Dick, who died in 2013 were a model of a good marriage to us. When my husband Michael and I coached engaged couples for 20 years, we used little stories of how we saw Dick and Lois live out a good marriage. I knew they had arguments like everyone else but they didn’t have those arguments in public. We learned to be supportive of each other and save tough conversations for private time

I lost both my mother in law and my mother in 2012. Lois was a comfort to me. In her later years, she forgot that they were gone and she would ask me about them. For a brief moment, they would be there before I reminded Lois that they had died. My dad died in 2019 the same day that Lois lost her son Doug. Their funerals were on the same day in different states. I couldn’t imagine her pain and hoped that her dementia would ease her pain as she lived mentally in earlier times.

While life has given Lois many challenges, she always focused on the blessings and a positive way to respond. She also always left others with a positive thought. She has been an important role model in my life and I will miss her. From Lois to all of us, listen with love, encourage others, do what you can, don’t take yourself too seriously, be willing to lovingly say what needs to be said, argue if you must and do it in private, look at the positives and live this day joyfully.

Love and prayers,

Mymom

Family doesn’t give up on anyone.

You each have your own stresses right now. The pandemic has gone on so long. You are working long hours. Caring for little ones. Being there for family and friends. Know that we love you and we are here for each of you.

Cherish our family relationships with each other. None of us are perfect and each of us are special in our own ways. Where you are weak, I am strong. Where I am weak, you are strong. Our family is a beautiful pattern of people knit together by the love you share with us and with each other. Sisters, brothers, sons, daughters, daughter in law and sons in law, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends for life. Our family is strong because of our unconditional love, forgiveness that is granted without strings attached. Grace from God and sharing that grace with each other. Build each other up. Be patient with each other. Communicate. You are loved and valued. No one is left out and no one is left behind. We are each as close as we choose to be. God bless each and every one of you.

Love,

Mymom

See others through the eyes of Jesus

I can’t think of a person who hasn’t let me down at one time or another.  And I’m sure that I have let others down many times.  God wants us to depend on Him.  He loves us and is always there for us if we turn to Him and put our trust in Him alone.  Only Jesus who leads us to the Father and works in us through the Holy Spirit.  If we can trust God, then we are free to joyfully love others and allow them to be imperfect.  We can love who they are and not who we wish they would be.  We are all imperfect humans trying our best in an imperfect world.  Our sense of sometimes feeling let down often comes from putting too much on the shoulders of that other person to bring us happiness.  Peace comes from those moments when we let Jesus take us by the hand and show us others through His eyes.  Accept, trust, forgive, love.

Love,

Mymom

Do not let the sun go down on your anger

“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger and give no opportunity to the devil.” Ephesians 4; vs 26-27. In my study bible it says – In the case of personal insults, we should strive for reconciliation with the offender before the day’s end. That is a most difficult thing. I have had many times when I haven’t been able to do this and that leads to a sleepless night or a fitful night. Always remember that we don’t have to be perfect. Indeed, we can’t be perfect but with God’s help, we can make progress and do our best. Sometimes, the best thing is to calm down, journal, pray for help and begin again. Then decide whether it is worth the conversation or not. Maybe we just need to let go and love.

Love,

Mymom

Cooped up because of COVID-19

This has been a tough time for me and I know it is tough for everyone.  I’m grateful for so many things, home, family, food, warmth, working from home, the birds singing.  I’m sad about all the separation.  I miss my daughter, son in law and their children although we do talk to them often.  They live in Minneapolis and that is probably the worst area to live in.  Still in Minnesota, it isn’t so bad.  Our numbers remain very low. I miss church although I am watching it. I miss eating out and I don’t even eat out that often.  I bought show tickets this spring for the first time in a long time and won’t be seeing those shows.    I am sad for my younger daughter who lives in North Dakota, she is trying to look forward to her wedding at the end of May and dreading any news of further extensions of the stay at home orders.  Her venue is hopeful still and has many plans for keeping people safe including a backup date if we need to change it.  Still this should be such a happy time and it is instead filled with stress for her and for us.

 

I thought I was so grounded in my faith that this situation shouldn’t impact me so much.  I should be peaceful, faithful, obedient.  Truly though I have so many moments of anger and frustration.  I am worried about the situation around the world and so I gave money to Catholic Relief Services.  I am worried about my church.  Financially, how can it be solvent?  Donations down $60,000.  How can our church make the mortgage and pay the staff?  So, I gave more money to my church.  What is happening out there while we are all so preoccupied with ourselves?  I feel like I should listen to the news but it is so depressing that I can’t listen to the news.  All I can do is stay in place, work, and enjoy the people in my small circle; my husband, my sons, my daughter in law, and my two grandsons.  Six people.  My life line.  I make phone calls.  I use Zoom to connect with my community.  I watch sitcoms looking for light-hearted relief.   I pray, I work, and I wait.  Please God, help us find a cure, a vaccine, a test to show those of us who have already had this disease, help us to move forward and see each other again.

 

So to the government, from the bottom of my heart, I know that you mean well.  You have incomplete data though.  You have 300 million healthy people locked up just in case.  I agree with sheltering those who may be vulnerable but not in isolating them from their families and friends.  Trust us to wash our hands and take care not to spread germs.  We are a smart group of people.  We can take care of each other and will take care of each other.  No more extensions.  The curve has been flattened.  The hospitals have been built.  The equipment is coming in.  We are as ready as we are going to be.  Peace.

Love,

Mymom

How do I agree to disagree and move on respectfully?

Arrrg! I disagree with this decision you are making! It impacts me and I know you heard me but did you really hear me? I don’t want this direction to be a mistake. It will cost us money and time. We/you don’t have the experience needed.

Does this thought process sound familiar? Sometimes the littlest decisions can be big and divisive. Sometimes big decisions can be divisive too. When my husband makes a decision that I don’t agree with, I have trouble letting go. He is my best friend. I respect him. He is knowledgeable. I trust him. I ask his advice on many things. I tell him everything. And yet, when I disagree, it is hard to let go and let him make a decision and support the direction he is choosing to set.

What we try to do is let each other lead decisions that align with our expertise. My husband loves to do infinite research for making major purchases. I don’t have the patience for that so I will give him my wishes like I want a red car with 4 doors and a sun roof and I want us to buy it in the next 3-4 weeks. He will do the research and get it done.

I take care of all the monthly bill paying. I’m efficient and I work well with all the online accounts and I keep things paid on time. I also work with repair people for scheduling work at the house.

We have found our areas of responsibility and trust each other. A couple of areas are still difficult for us to agree on. We have learned to compromise for most of those areas.

Once in a while, we simply disagree. I find that when either of us take the disagreement personally, that can lead to a standoff. In these cases, we both lose. There may be consequences for incorrect decisions. There may be unexpected gains from good decisions.

If we disagree, it is good to hear each other’s point of view and then make the decision agreeing to disagree. Support each other in these decisions and always apologize if in an argument, I forgot to listen and support. In the worst case, we will lose a little money or time.

Perhaps the way to handle the situation is to trust that the outcome will lie somewhere between the best case and the worst case and we will learn to listen and trust each other all the more.  And we might learn a lesson or two.

But… As anyone who knows me knows, I sure do like to get my way. I thank God for a patient, loving, supportive, smart, and faithful husband.

God, please help me to let go of control and trust others, especially my husband. Help me to know that in all cases, You are there. Help me to learn to share my opinion and trust others to listen and make their best decision with the information they have. Help me to be supportive. Thank you for your guidance through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

Love,

Mymom

When does sharing news become gossip?

When we are all together with friends or family, it is loving and joyful to share news about those friends and loved ones who aren’t able to be there. We share news of blessings and suffering that our loved ones are experiencing and we rejoice and suffer together. One rule a friend shared regarding the difference between sharing and gossiping is that you should never say anything spoken to you clearly in confidence and you should never share anything you wouldn’t say if you were telling the story with that same person present. Keep your criticism and your editorial comments to yourself as they may be very hurtful. Don’t share comments meant to justify yourself or tear down the other person’s reputation. To that I say while tempting, it is bad form.

What if someone asks you directly about someone you are known to have a disagreement with? Please decline to comment. State that you have strong feelings between you and hurt feelings that are not yet resolved. Ask for prayer support for the opportunity to have the difficult conversation that will be needed to lead to reconciliation. Remember that peace begins with each one of us. Choose not to gossip but love and forgive instead. Pray for each other. Listen with love. Treasure these precious moments of time with family and friends. Spread joy, not gossip.

Oh God, help us to be instruments of your peace, where there is hatred, let me sow love, where there is injury, pardon through Jesus Christ or Lord, Amen. Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for us. Our Lady queen of peace, pray for us. St Frances, pray for us.

Love,

Mymom

Come together in love and friendship

Our nation and the world need to come together in love, friendship. forgiveness, hope, peace, and a sincere attitude of cooperation and collaboration in the interest of the common good.  Dear God, we pray that you drive the devil out of our conversations and help us all to listen before we speak.  God bless each of our leaders in all areas of government and business, regardless of political party or level, with the wisdom to seek your will in all their words and decision making.  God bless each of us and help us to listen to your call and to love one another.   Peace be with you.

Marriage: Be together even when you are apart

In my relationship with your dad, we see each other in the morning as we both wake and get ready for our days. We always say a goodbye with a kiss, a hug, and a prayer for the day. We greet each other with a kiss and a hug. We hold hands. We pray for each other.

Some days are so very busy. There is so little time to be part of each other’s lives when there is so much to be done. So you need to be part of each other. When we married, God brought us together. Two individuals making a marriage with God at the center. When we are together, we are complete. When we are apart, we take each other with us as we go through the day supported in our love for each other. Not together in time and space, but never apart either.

We have been married for almost 36 years. I am always conscious of my husband in my life whether we are together or apart. I go through my day independently, fully supported in God’s love and in the love of my husband.

We are away from each other 10-16 hours a day depending on our work, social, or service commitments. When we are home together in the morning, your dad makes me breakfast and we sit together for a couple moments and enjoy breakfast. In the evening we have dinner together most days although that isn’t always possible. For many years when our children were small, we would stop what we were doing after the busyness of the day, after the kids were in bed, and share time together. This is a time for rest and nurturing each other.

There are many seasons to marriage: a time to be young and dating, a time to be newlyweds, a time to raise small children, a time to counsel teenagers, a time to put those kids through college a time to help aging parents, and a time to be those aging people. Throughout these times there is always each other.

Schedule time for important conversations. I learned to keep a list of what we needed to talk about so that I could let my anger go and know that we would talk when we were both ready. I learned to listen too.

Be confident in your loved one’s love for you. When we doubt each other, our communication suffers and erodes the quality of our time together. Trust each other. Share each other with the world around you and then come back together in the intimate moments, in the sorrowful moments, in the joyful moments and in the ordinary moments.

Oh God, help us to see you in our relationship. Help our commitment, help our communication, strengthen our marriage, be at the very core of us. You are our God. Thank you for our marriage. Thank you for our time together. Help us to do your Holy will each day even when we have to be apart through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

Love,

MyMom