No, this isn’t about drugs or about being adrift at sea. It is about a wasted week. But, since the particular week hasn’t come yet, I guess it is about a week to be wasted. At least that is what some people might think about my coming week….
First of all, the week in question has one more day than your run-of-the-mill week. My week will has eight full days. Better yet, all eight days will be spent in silence. Literally, yes! No television, smart (or dumb) phone, computer, radio, etc. “So what is it, solitary confinement?” you might ask. Not solitary by any stretch of the imagination. I will have about twenty-five (silent) companions.
So what will be going on? Well, it will be my annual retreat, that is, an eight-day period of prayer and reflection. Glorious! I know that some of you are underlining the word “wasted” in my title – what a way to waste a good week! Really, I can assure you that it is not a waste, but a splurge.
Each and every one of you should think of making one of these retreats even if it is only for one day. It is a time of calm and relaxation for both body and spirit, a time to reassess the past year, a time to check on your character, your habits (good and less impressive), a time to plan what progress you hope to make in the year ahead. It is a time for accountability and calm. A time to contemplate and pray.
While I am at it I promise not to pray only for myself, but also for you because you are part of my past year and will hopefully be part of the year to come. May your hearts be at peace. May a little quiet time enfold you. May your days be straight and your steps secure. So, I will pray for you and hope you pray for me, too.
here is crabby mystic at work…
Blessings all around!
In his Gospel, Matthew mentions nothing about the Annunciation of the angel to Mary which resulted in the Incarnation of the Word. Instead Matthew begins with the annunciation to Joseph who realizes Mary is pregnant, but not by him. Although Matthew says that this pregnancy is through the power of the Holy Spirit, it seems that Joseph didn’t know that. He only knew what he could see. Being an upright man, a just man, he would quietly divorce this woman who was to be his wife. We assume he also loved her and could not allow the law, which he also loved, get hold of her. Now the Gospel doesn’t mention that Joseph prayed about this matter, however, he most certainly must have since he was upright. One thing that the Gospel does show us is that an upright life in itself is a prayer. Joseph was a man of God. It seems he was both fervent and devout. God saw his prayer of anguish, his prayer of concern for Mary’s safety above his own humiliation.
God sent an angel to answer an unasked prayer. Proceed as planned, the angel said. He explained the role of the Spirit. He calmed Joseph’s fear: Take Mary. She will give birth to a Son. You, as her husband, as head of the family, as foster-father, are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins. Imagine how long Joseph would be processing such a thought! This potentially tragic event has taken an unbelievable turn. A prophecy dear to every Jewish heart has been fulfilled. So Joseph took Mary as his wife and lived with her in God’s sight. It is amazing how the two of them continued to live as normal people knowing, that literally, God was with them. Only the upright of heart shall see God.
In the kingdom here and now, I am a privileged woman. I’ve been called, chosen, graced, and blessed, but I must confront myself: am I really upright? How often I think of my life as upside down, meaning things are out of order with me. Sometimes things don’t go as I planned; sometimes a monkey wrench gets thrown into the mix; sometimes circumstances try to trip me up. I may even actually pray in those moments, but am I simply asking for a quick-fix? Would I change my ways if an angel suddenly appeared with an explanation? This is the crux: are my everyday ways those of the Lord? Am I standing upright in front of God? Is my life a prayer as was the life of Joseph?
Black Friday is almost over, thank God. The day is little more than a commercial feeding frenzy. And unfortunately it is strategically placed to follow on the tail of one of our most cherished family feasts: Thanksgiving. So, don’t spend any extra time enjoying the company of those you love. No, run out at the crack of dawn to buy stuff to show how much you love them.
Well, this Sunday we begin a very quiet liturgical “feeding frenzy.” For four weeks we are invited to reflect on God’s greatest gift. Oh, we spend so little time digesting this most delectable fare. We surround ourselves with pretty pictures of the angels, shepherds, sheep, mother and child, but are these images imprinted on our soul? I mean: are they real, important, and personal to us?
Am I there in quiet prayer when God’s messenger surprises a humble young woman with a request? Will she relinquish her plans and cooperate in the great mystery of God? Would I try to convince her to think twice about saying “yes”?
And what about poor Joseph? He is a hardworking, pious, just man awaiting the time when he can take that same young woman home as his wife. She will return from visiting her cousin looking very pregnant. What does that mean? Should he denounce her? What of his plans?
Many other characters appear in these next four weeks. Yes, we’ve heard their stories many times so we’ll be tempted to indulge in distraction when we recognize what is coming up in the readings. Here’s a thought: pick up the Good Book on your own (even as it is parceled out in the Sunday readings in a missal) and give a read. Let some thought stay with you and go over it a few times during the week. God is giving us a peek at the Gift he picked for us. Go ahead, it’s OK to check it out.
I’ve been reading the mystic poems of Gertrud von Le Fort, Hymns To The Church. Why? Just because they are so beautiful, so exquisitely worded. One poem begins with this line: “I have fallen on the Law of your Faith as on a naked sword. Its sharpness went through my understanding, straight through the light of my reason.” This is how it is with faith! We can be merrily going about our life when suddenly we prick our soul “on a naked sword” of faith. We believe, but don’t always give our mind permission to roam over our beliefs. We’re too busy – and really most of us are very busy just with the business of life – but how healthy to pause and run our spiritual fingers over the sharp edge our faith. No need to draw blood, but just to feel the reality of what we believe. Do we need an example? Well, one example would be the pain of a passing doubt. Has it ever happened to you to realize that you have a question, maybe a big faith-shattering question about God? Things have grayed over. What always was taken for true has suddenly become hazy. Suddenly you feel a little foolish about believing there is a God. You are nervous about trying to communicate through prayer with a being who might not be real. It is painful to have such doubts, but more painful yet to entertain them. Just to know: it will be even more painful to overlook the doubt. This pain is the pain of healing, however. After an injury or operation there is often more pain in the healing than in the problem. So it is when we face our doubt. First of all, we need to know that we can only doubt what we believe. Verbs are all important here! Doubt only happens in the present. Because I believe, I am subject to doubt. Or, I doubt because I believe.
We fall victim frequently to our own crowning glory: our intelligence. It is painful to confront our intelligence, our reason, our understanding when we think we have come upon some unquestionable doubt. Perhaps the most painful part of faith is the humility it requires.
Von Le Fort continues: “Where my feet refuse to take me, there will I kneel down. And where my hands fail me, there I will fold them.” Laying our doubt before God in humility and quiet love soothes the soul. Faith hurts, but heals!