Friday, November 19, 2010

Quick Takes - Roz's quirky gratitude list

In honor of the approach of Thanksgiving in the U.S., here are some things that may be unusual to find on a gratitude list:

I am grateful that
  1. Sometimes, people who don't impress me at first as being anything special turn out to be wonderful.
  2. That Jesus went ahead and ushered me into the fullness of fellowship with the Trinity despite the fact that, at the time, I considered him pretty lucky that I'd gotten around to believing in him.
  3. That my children are a lot of fun to be around.
  4. That I never got embroiled in a truly awful romantic relationship.
  5. That I get to go to the Adoration Chapel at my church, and -- look -- there he is! Jesus.
  6. That, during a trip to Rome, I accidentally ended up at Mass at Santa Maria della Vittoria and got to spend the time gazing at this instead of listening to Marty Haugen music at the church across the street.
  7. That Cabbage Patch dolls taught me that something homely can be truly beautiful.
Don't forget to stop by Conversion Diary, the godmother of 7 Quick Takes, so you can see what other bloggers are quickly taking.

    Wednesday, October 06, 2010

    I don't know

    I'm not sure how to write this post. It may go through many iterations and lose these first lines. It's not often I have an experience leaves me with confused emotions that can't quite sort through right away. But that is me, now. I got (figuratively) socked in the solar plexus last weekend, and I'm still sucking air.

    The weekend itself was very good. My high school class met for our 40-year reunion. It was a bit of a shock to my system to stroll by the homecoming game and realize that my own children are all far too old to have been playing in that game. But, chagrin at the passage of time aside, it was very good to connect with the people who share memories with me that no one else holds. "Roz at 15" is nothing I particularly want to put up on display, but it is part of me, and the connection with my cohort, and particularly some old friends, was a good thing. 

    The dismay comes from encountering a friend's experience of those 40 years and realizing the brush I myself had with calamity.

    My experience

    Chris wasn't a particularly close friend; I didn't travel in the sphere of cheerleaders and Homecoming Court candidates. But she was bubbly, likable, and kind. We might chat if we had a class together, but that was about it. In the fall of our senior year, she and a number of other girls from my high school began to get involved in a religious group whose focus was keeping kids off drugs and getting to know Jesus. Though reared a Catholic, I hadn't paid much attention to my faith since I was confirmed and was of the opinion that the evidence for the truth of Christianity was pretty thin. But when one of the girls, someone who wouldn't normally go out of her way to talk to me, invited me to go to one of the meetings, I agreed.

    I found an extremely warm and dynamic group of the most non-loser type of teens I'd ever met. They were enthusiastic, prone to shaking hands with vigor, and they talked about Jesus as if he was personally the most exciting thing that had ever happened to them. To say I was intrigued is an  understatement.

    We sat cross-legged on the linoleum tile floor of a small church of a denomination I'd never heard of. At the front of the room were four guys who looked to be in their 20s, scruffy enough to be credible to teens in 1969. One of them was a good guitarist—people sang songs I have no memory of now.  You'd think I could remember what actually went on at the meetings, but I don't. There was talk about scripture and what it meant (occasionally including a super-spiritualized interpretation of a single verse out of context), talk about how God really will speak to us today, etc. I liked it a lot. The part of me who was seeking for God, love, connection and meaning responded. I began to lean into believing.

    I still struggled with a rational basis for belief. I asked questions about specific scriptures—I remember that people took the time to answer me, but I don't remember feeling completely satisfied. Do I really remember the process in my faith and my emotions? No I don't. I can only guess from what I remember of my actions.

    There was one meeting when we came to what normally was the end of the activities. A lot of people got up and left, but some of us stuck around, probably because the guys in front were still sitting on the table. One of them said that, since they hadn't actually announced the end of the meeting, the Lord must have meant those other people to leave and us to stay because he had something big in store that was intended for those who remained. I guess we prayed for a while, then one of the leaders began to utter a message in tongues. I don't remember whether I was freaked out by that, but then he or another guy began to speak what he said was an interpretation of what had been said. He addressed individual messages to people in the room. It went on for about 20 minutes. Here and there, a girl began to cry audibly. I was struck by it, but likely my primary emotion was that I felt left out because I wasn't mentioned—I don't know.

    More and more, as I hung around with friends from the group, the more dedicated ones would talk about listening to tapes of talks or getting rebaptized. They were thrilled. I was hesitant. I began to back away and eventually stopped going.

    The article

    About ten years after I graduated, a series of disturbing articles appeared in my hometown newspaper. That group hadn't dissolved; in fact, it had deepened its impact on its members. Many had moved to New Mexico and broken contact with their families. The leader was elusive, members wouldn't talk to the press. There were scattered reports of suicides of people who had left or been expelled from the group. Distraught parents were quoted. On the front page were the smiling senior pictures of seven area women who were among those who had dropped from sight. One of them was Chris.

    I was heartsick. I hadn't known her well, but I had been fond of her. Even so, it surprised me to realize how distressed the news made me. Apparently, (I don't recall this), I wrote Chris a letter addressed to the ski resort they'd turned into their enclave. Of course I never got a reply. I prayed for Chris consistently, if not particularly frequently, for the next 30 years. I continue to this day.

    I spoke with Chris at the reunion. She left the group (which has apparently since dissolved) in 1998. She goes by another name. They all changed their names several times, coinciding with moving to new locations, and it was too much trouble to go back to her birth name. She remembers with gratitude the letter I wrote her, apologizing that she hadn't been allowed to respond. She is married, apparently happily, and says that she's experienced a huge amount of healing from her experience in what turned into a serious and destructive cult. She has an alive and vibrant faith and is active with her husband in their church.

    After I returned home, I pulled out my trust toolbox and looked for more information. I found the series of newspaper articles of which I'd only seen the first one. I found information on web sites concerning indie bands with which that good guitarist had played. I found accounts written by former members. I spent a whole day in front of my computer, absorbing the enormity of the travesty that had been foisted upon men and women who were beloved children of God.

    One of the accounts was written by a young man who had been ejected from the group in the mid-1970s. His reports of the rapid deterioration of spiritual sanity and psychological health during the few years he was involved make me dread learning more about what happened in the 20-odd subsequent years that Chris remained and rose to leadership. How can anyone not remain deeply scarred by the deep betrayal of self that would have been necessary? Yet -- God's mercy and power transcends all things. I realize that I don't understand. I'm concerned. I'm not in charge or even directly involved. I trust God.

    Until last weekend, when I spoke with Chris and then started learning more, it was all just a vague memory. Now, it feels like present trauma, as if a sniper's bullet had picked off the person standing behind me in line at the bank. In high school, I wanted what Chris wanted -- and more. I wanted to have friends, to be included by people who were more attractive and successful than I, to experience love and acceptance, to know God, to be part of something significant. Chris became trapped -- or trapped herself. I went free, relatively speaking, to an encounter with God and a freshening of faith a mere year or two later.

    It could have been me. It wasn't me. I feel a kinship with anyone who was in the World Trade Center on September 10, 2001.

    I'm grateful. I'm sad. I'm confused. I'm overjoyed that God delivered Chris and allowed me to be in touch with her again. I'm glad to have another friend Ann whose experience was like mine, so I can talk about it with her. I'm profoundly grateful that my husband cares deeply and is a good listener.

    I guess my next steps are to sit with this, allow God to speak to me, and do what I know will help me process it. One of them is writing about it here. Thanks for listening.

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    Going to the (adoration) chapel

    Once again (I'm such a creature of habit) Jenn at Conversion Diary has inspired me. She wrote a piece about Eucharistic adoration I began to write a brief comment. When I hit my fourth paragraph, I decided that it was turning into a blog post instead. Thank you, Jenn. You never fail me.

    My parish has a little chapel behind the sacristy where the Eucharist is perpetually exposed. A dedicated and worthy woman makes sure that two people are signed up to be in attendance around the clock, 24/7.  I've always been happy (and perhaps a bit sinfully proud) that our parish is able to support 24-hour adoration, but my original feelings toward the devotion were ambivalent. At first the idea of adoration didn't seem particularly attractive to me. I was afraid I'd be bored if I had to stay a whole hour, and I felt a bit awkward around the outward expressions of -- well -- adoration that I saw around me. People seemed lost in reflection, walked up to slip (I'm sure) self-revealing notes in the bowl beneath the relic of the True Cross, or might prostrate themselves before the monstrance.

    Gradually, however, adoration began to mean more and more to me. I decided to sign up for a weekly slot and began to go regularly. At first I wondered what to do. I brought some spiritual reading, I'd say a rosary (that can take up a nice 20 minutes), and worked hard at avoiding distractions. Over time, however, it's become much more organic and natural. I've grown so appreciative that I subsequently signed up for a second slot during the week as well.

    But more important than my increased appreciation for it, I've been grateful for its fruit. I've developed a deeper capacity for prayer -- I don't know how to explain it, really. The focus has moved from taking strategic and proactive steps to advance my prayer life, to letting God initiate and lead. Instead of trying to figure out what will work, I simply ask God to draw me into his presence. If I'm distracted or in a funk, I mention it to him and ask for help. I listen for inclinations; if it seems to me that God might be hinting that it would be good to read Scripture (or if my well seems to be running dry) I will shift to reading or other devotions, but always with an awareness that I'm in conversation with the Father.

    What I wish I had named this post

    I really wanted to call this "How Eucharistic Adoration is like the Wall Street Journal", but I couldn't find a way to write it to fit the title. But that's how I explain the "what's in it for me" of going to Adoration regularly.

    When I was in business school, I got in the habit of reading the Wall Street Journal every day. No single issue hit me like a ton of bricks, but over time I realized that I was becoming very well informed about business strategy, marketing, the economy, world events, etc. In the same way, I may never become weak-kneed with piety after any given hour in the chapel. But over time, God and I are stitching together a closer relationship than I'd had with him before. I wouldn't trade it.

    How does God want us to ask?

    Jennifer at Conversion Diary wrote recently about petitionary prayers - specifically, how particular or targeted we are when we ask for things. She makes a great point: sometimes pointed requests are expressions of faith, but sometimes they are artifacts of our wanting to  be in control ourselves and dictate to the Almighty One the results we want and how we think he should do his job. As she eloquently puts it,  "I notice that, as I move from more-specific to less-specific prayers, I feel within me a change from wanting to be God, to simply wanting God."

    Sometimes, though, the opposite happens to me. I examine myself praying as if from the outside, trying to tweak my approach to be the most pleasing, the most holy, the most charitable, the most self-forgetful. (Hah! Self-forgetfulness is exactly what is not happening at that time.) When I catch myself at it, I need to be reminded that my relationship to God is that of his child rather than his choreographer. I can just tell him humbly what I want flat out without embarrassment or pretense. In this spirit, it's not presumption but sweet trust.

    An early and memorable example of this was back in 1975. I was a relatively new Christian and newly baptized in the Holy Spirit.  There was to be an International Conference on the Catholic Charismatic Renewal in Rome over Pentecost. Many of my friends were going, but I had procrastinated making the arrangements. When I inquired, I found that the charter flight was fully booked.

    I was heartsick. I very much wanted to go, and go on the same plane as my friends. I was in my office after closing time and started to pray. I thought about whether it would advance the kingdom in some way for me to go and whether I deserved to go. It had been my fault, after all, that I was shut out. So I scrambled to find some rational leverage with the Lord.

    But by God's grace I finally saw the folly of that. I finally fell on my knees and told God that I really, really wanted to go, and I would really appreciate it if he would work it out. The next morning, of course, I got a call. The 10 or so people on the waiting list ahead of me had backed out, and there was a seat for me if I wanted.

    Well, it turns out the kingdom of God was indeed advanced, because this has stayed in my mind as a testimony of God's gratuitous care for me without my deserving or even needing it. But mainly, it reminds me that God is our Father, and he just wants us to talk to him intimately and let him know what's going on with us. He created us for companionship - it must be true that the companionship we're capable of offering him is something he really enjoys.

    Monday, September 27, 2010

    Worth repeating

    "All I can say is thank God for Pope Benedict. Not only is he fending off wolves in sheep's clothing, but he's facing down werewolves dressed as shepherds."

    An unnamed blogger on Catholic Light.

    Friday, September 24, 2010

    I peek around the curtain once again

    I won't apologize for my long absence (that would be arrogant and pretentious), nor will I resolve to begin again posting regularly (because my capability of breaking resolutions is well-documented), but I am breaking the ice, dipping my toe in the water, and performing other relevant idioms as I once again apply keyboard to blank screen at Exultet.

    I've run across lots of wonderful and memorable things in past months, but for right now I will just start by revisiting some things I've said here before that might be worth reminding myself of.

    N.B. The trouble with being an extrovert, you see, is that we develop our thoughts as we are expressing them, and when we're done, we can't completely remember what we said. So, to me, these thoughts are fresh as the morning dew. Pathetic, huh? I hope you enjoy them

    Are you caught up in the "oughts"? What like you've got is a feast of blessing that will never grow dry or stale and from which you can help yourself any time you want. You're rich, woman! So, yes. You can read and study, or be still before God's face, or see God in the face of your neighbor, or have long phone calls full of holy hilarity, or whatever.

    See, you've hit on one of the things I can get staunch about (until God tells me not to). His job is to steer. Our job is to follow. The choreography of our spiritual development is not our responsibility, but we listen and respond as He trains us how to listen and respond.

    Am I lazy or trusting? Who knows? But I trust that God's fully able to change my focus if He wants me to do something else.
    A comment on a post by fellow blogger Therese in 2004
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
    Time magazine's recent (excellent) piece on Mother Teresa's dryness and "dark night" experiences during most of her spiritual walk has made quite a stir. And I have indeed been stirred by the realization that her faithfulness, love and service stemmed completely from grace, not even assisted by those moments of joy and spiritual consolation that most of us think we need in order to keep our spiritual lives on track.

    The uber-predictable Christopher Hitchens, who has made a lucrative profession as an Atheist, has a slightly different perspective.
    So, which is the more striking: that the faithful should bravely confront the fact that one of their heroines all but lost her own faith, or that the Church should have gone on deploying, as an icon of favorable publicity, a confused old lady who it knew had for all practical purposes ceased to believe?
    Well, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Mr. Hitchens seems to believe that everyone is on the lookout for the Main Chance and is ready to leverage all for personal advantage. Ergo, I believe, his rather energetic and hysterical responses over the years to Mother Teresa as the epitome of all things Christian. More fool, he.
    From a post entitled "What is Teresa teaching us?" in 2007
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    Thursday morning, Henry and I were at the closing for our new house. Our realtor stepped out to take a cell call and returned to tell us that an offer would be coming over that day on my house [that I had long been trying to sell]. We reviewed it and accepted it that afternoon. So, amazingly enough, in all the 2,912 two-hour periods since I listed the house, God chose that one to bring me an acceptable offer to purchase my own. I love it when God reminds me that he's in charge.
    From 2006. I had completely forgotten that "coincidence".
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    I tried and failed to excerpt this simply because I'm madly in love with the whole post. Here's "what to look for in a husband."
    ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

    And finally, some assorted quotations I've pulled in over the years:

    "In point of fact, God is less concerned to make us perfect than to attach us firmly to him."
    Jacques Philippe

    "Once we accept him, we find we were truly deceived. It was only the skin of the heavenly fruit that seemed bitter. The meat ravishes the soul."
    Bishop Sheen

    "The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice."
    G.K. Chesterton

    [Regarding 9/11] "We all became more considerate, more respectful, more mature, almost instantly. Drivers drove their cars correctly. People held doors for one another. There was the tacit understanding that we were all "in this together." We put ourselves aside. We were as one. We could have moved a mountain. You could see it. You could feel it. It was real.

    It only lasted two weeks. After that, we reverted. But to have seen it at all, even once in a lifetime, is a memory worth keeping."
    Ed Gurney, on Facebook
    It's nice to see you again.


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