Fall Prayer Series – Analytical Meditations

This week was the fourth session at the University of St. Thomas of the Fall Prayer Series I’m offering this Fall at both UST and at St. Hubert’s in Chanhassen. As I’ve explained in previous posts, the series is designed to introduce participants to different prayer forms and styles (although even those with some familiarity and experience with the particular styles and forms of prayer can benefit from hearing something they have heard before in a different way).

Our subject this week was “analytical meditations,” a type of meditation that brings into play creative, intellectual thought. It rests on the idea that an important step in developing insight is to gain a deep conceptual understanding how things are. It is a form of meditation that aims at forming a conceptual clarity that ultimately brings one to a direct and intuitive knowing. I became exposed to this type of meditation during my years as a Buddhist. While many of the analytical meditations are peculiar to Buddhist thought and have no relevance to a Christian, others are easily adaptable, and indeed helpful to a Christian pray-er.

During my talk, I explain what this form of meditation is and why and how it might be used by Christians in their prayer. You can access a podcast of my talk here. (The podcast runs for 31:56, that last 10 minutes or so of which are a guided meditation on compassion). You can access a handout with my suggestions for the participant’s prayer for this week here.

The Gift of an Awakened Heart – Overcoming Misconceptions

This podcast is the second in a series based on the 8-day guided retreat I gave this summer at St. Ignatius Retreat House on the theme, The Gift of an Awakened Heart. In the first podcast in this series, I identified some qualities of an awakened heart and talked about what it means to live out of that awakened heart.

An important aspect of opening ourselves to God’s gift to us of an awakened heart is getting in touch with the wounded parts of ourselves and our misconceptions, that is, those things that harden our heartrs and hinder us from fully responding to God’s call.

This podcast talks about three common misconceptions that hinder our ability to open ourselves to the gift of an awakened heart – the misconceptions underlying perfectionism, envy and co-dependency.

The length of this podcast is 15:51. You can stream it from the icon below or can download it here. (Remember that you can also subscribe to Creo en Dios! podcasts on iTunes.)

Atonement and Reconciliation

Today (sundown last night until sundown tonight) our Jewish brothers and sisters are celebrating Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. It is the “Day of Atonement,” on which those of the Jewish faith atone for their sins of the past year. The day is traditionally observed by fasting and prayer, and many of my Jewish friends spent a significant period of this day in their synagogues.

The day of Yom Kippur itself is reserved for atonement of sins between oneself and God. One comes to the day itself having already atoned for sins committed against other persons. To atone for those sins, one must seek reconciliation with that person, preferably doing something to right any wrongs one has committed against them. This is to be done before Yom Kippur.

We who are Catholics don’t have a single annual day of atonement. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is available to us all the time for us to seek pardon for our sins between ourselves and God and between ourselves and other perople (although it is a Sacrament frequently ignored by many except, perhaps, during Lent).

But one of the things I am drawn to by Yom Kippur and the days leading up to it is the emphasis on seeking reconciliation with those we have injured, on seeking pardon from the person and trying to do something to right the wrong. This is not something that should seem foreign to Christians; Jesus tells us to do exactly that. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says “if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your borther, and then come and offer your gift.”

We who are Christians can learn from the example of our Jewish brothers and sisters. Seeking absolution for our sins from God is important, but so is seeking pardon from, and reconciliation with, those against whom we have sinned.

St. Vincent dePaul and the Vincentian Spirit

Today is the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, one of my great heroes. Although my training as a spiritual and retreat director is in the Ignatian tradition, I feel a strong affinity to the spirituality of the Vincentian family.

The Vincentian spirit, in the words of Robert Maloney, C.M. (former Superior General of the Congregation of the Mission), “flows from a vision of Jesus Christ as the Evangelizer of the Poor.” Maloney explains that the vision offered by Vincent to his followers “is a vision of Christ not as a teacher (as might be the vision of a Christian Brother), nor as healer (as might be the vision of a community dedicated to hospitals), but as the Evangelizer of the Poor.” The call of the Vincentian spirit is to enter into the journey of Jesus, who opens his public ministry by announcing, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; therefore he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring glad tidings to the poor, to proclaim liberty to captives, recovery of sight to the blind and release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”

Although I describe this as the call fo the Vincentian spirit, following in the footsteps of Christ the Evangelizer of the Poor is not an invitation open only to those who explicitly call themselves followers of Vincent. Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel, and the Church’s teachings on the preferential option for the poor, make abundantly clear that all of us who call ourselves followers of Christ have a shared vocation to “bring glad tidings to the poor.”

I try every day in my prayer to take time to pray to St. Vincent. Today I pray in a special way to be guided by his spirit. At the same time, I pray particularly for the work of all of my Vincentian friends, and express gratitude for all they have taught me.

Laughing With

I saw a link on Facebook to a youtube video of an artist I was not familiar with singing a song I had never heard: Regina Spektor singing Laughing With. The lyrics of the verses speak of situations in which “no one laughs at God,” suggesting for example, that No one laughs at God..in a hospital…or when they are starving or freezing….or when a doctor calls with bad news after a supposedly routine test…or when the airplane starts to shake uncontrollably…or when the cops come calling with bad news, etc.

The refrain is something of a contrast, telling us:

But God can be funny–
At a cocktail party when listening to a good God-themed joke, or
Or when the crazies say He hates us
And they get so red in the head you think they’re ‘bout to choke.
God can be funny,
When told he’ll give you money if you just pray the right way,
And when presented like a genie who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus.
God can be so hilarious.

The song ends by telling us: “No one’s laughing at God…No one’s laughing at God…No one’s laughing at God…We’re all laughing with God.

I think the verses of the song reflect real truth – calling to God is a frequent response to human pain and suffering. In those situations, many people who might do so otherwise, don’t tend to laugh and joke about whether God exists or worry about whatever their particular problem with God happens to be. Instead, for many, there is an instinctive cry to God for comfort and assistance.

But the refrain is what really draws me, because it reminds us that God has a sense of humor. God is happy to be with us in our need – comforting us and loving us and caring for us. But God also just likes to have a good time with us. God laughs with us and invites us to laugh with God.

You can watch the video of Lauging With here.

I Will Fill This House with Glory and I Will Give you Peace

Today’s first Mass reading comes from the Book of Haggai, one of the books of the Old Testament that is less familiar to us (or, at least, to me) than many of the other books we hear from more regularly in our Masses and other celebrations.

The setting for the book is the period after the Jewish people have returned from the Babylonian exile. The people are encountering great obstacles in their efforts to rebuild their community in Judah, including Samaritan efforts to block their rebuilding of the temple. The people are tired. They are depressed and feeling defeated.

It is against this background that the prophet Haggai appears to encourage them with the Word of God. Sure, things look bad now, says the Lord. But we hear God say in today’s reading, “take courage…I am with you…my spirit continues in your midst; do not fear.” God promises, “I will fill this house with glory…And in this place I will give you peace.”

Imagine the impact of those words on the people. Salve for their wounds, music to their ears. An incredible boost just as they must have been ready to give up. Reason to keep on with their efforts.

Those are the words God speaks to us in our moments of pain and fear and discouragement…in those moments when we can’t see the road in front of us. Take courage. I am with you. Do not fear. Words of hope that no matter how bad things look now, God is in our midst and God will make things right.

Some people have difficulty hearing God when God speaks those words to us. Others have difficulty believing the words. Either way, they feel terribly, painfully alone in their suffering. Part of spreading the Gospel is doing what we can to help others to hear and to believe. To hear and believe that God is right there in the midst of the fear…in the midst of the suffering….in the midst of the pain.

Fall Prayer Series – Centering Prayer

This week was the third session at the University of St. Thomas of the Fall Prayer Series I’m offering this Fall at both UST and at St. Hubert’s in Chanhassen. The series is designed to introduce participants to different prayer forms and styles (although even those with some familiarity and experience with the particular styles and forms of prayer can benefit from hearing something they have heard before in a different way).

This week, our subject was Centering Prayer. Because Centering Prayer is not a regular part of my prayer practice, I asked my friend and colleague Jennifer Wright, who has been practicing Centering Prayer for a number of years, to faciliate this week’s session. She gave basic instruction in the form of prayer and also talked about the theological bases of Centering Prayer and what one might experience from it. During the session, participants had time to experience this form of prayer and then ask questions of Jennifer.

You can access a podcast of Jennifer’s talk (which I post with her permission) here. (The podcast runs for 26:22, and ends at the point at which participants engaged in their silent prayer.) At the end of the session, Jennifer distributed a handout with some guidelines for Centering Prayer as well as some suggestions for further reading.

God’s Way vs. Our Way

We often forget God’s admonition in the Book of Isaiah that “my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are you ways my ways.” We expect God to think and act in accordance with our mindset.

I’m reading Mark Shea’s three-voume, Mary, Mother of the Son. In the first volume, which I just finished, Shea, who was raised in the Evangelical tradition and then converted to Catholicism, suggests that his Evangelical background led him “to think in rigidly economic terms about the glory of God.” Thus, Evangelicals ask why Mary or the saints are “necessary” or what is the “use” of asking the saints for their prayers and worry about whether devotion to Mary and the other saints upsets the “economy of salvation.”

Discussing how he got past this way of thinking, Shea refrences a book by Robert Farrar Capon called The Supper of the Lamb. Shea writes:

Capon explained that to approach anything in creation with the question “Why is this necessary?” or “What’s the use of this?” is to be fundamentally tone deaf to God. Asking whether flowers, galaxies, beautiful weather, or the Virgin Mary are “necessary” or “useful” makes no sense, says Capon, because none of creation is necesary or useful to its Creator. The whole universe exists because God just thought is was a good idea and gratuitously loved it into being. “God,” says Capon, “has love, not reasons.”

God does not create out of necessity, but out of love. Shea says this led him to a number of startling realizations, including the “subversive possibility that God is not a human resources manager fretting about economic theory, parsimonious allocation of limited glory resources and the need to eliminate an oversized workforce of saints who are making his job unnecessary.” Shea goes on in the book to talk about God choosing Mary “as he chose us: not becuase he needed her, but because he loved her freely.”

How often are we “tone deaf” to God, whose way is so much more beautiful than ours can often be?

The Women Who Came Before Us

This past weekend I gave a women’s retreat day in my parish, St. Hubert’s in Chanhassen. We spent the day walking with Women of the Bible, Women Mystics of the Church, and Latter-Day Women “Saints.” (I put “Saints” in quotes to signify my broad use of the term to include women who have not been formally canonized as well as those who have been.) These women who both came before us and walk beside us, demonstrated great faith, courage, determination and strength, and are a wonderful source of encouragement and inspiration for women of today.

Part of the challenge for me in preparing this retreat day was selecting which women to include in each of the three sessions. The most difficult for me was deciding which “Latter-Day Women Saints” to talk about. How to choose several from among all of the amazing women who have paved our way? Ultimately, I decided on four women for this segment: Edith Stein, Dorothy Day, Sr. Thea Bowman and Elizabeth Ann Seton.

There are many striking things about each of these women. One of the things that I found interesting is learning the different circumstances that helped form their spiritual development. For Edith, depression led her to pick up the autobiography of Teresa of Avala, a book that was life-changing for her and that ultimately led her to convert from Judaism to Catholicism. For Thea, who ultimately became a Franciscan Sister of Perpetual Adoration, the poor quality of public schools in Mississippi in the 1940s (especially for blacks) led her parents to enroll her in a Catholic school staffed by these Franciscan Sisters, who were sent from Wisconsin to Mississippi. For Elizabeth Ann Seton spending time with a Catholic family in Italy following the death of her husband led to her conversion from the Episcopal faith in which she was raised to Catholicism.

Dorothy Day is interesting in a different way. Many people who have turned away from God find their way back to God because of some tragedy in their lives. For Day, it was a joyful event that turned her to God – the birth of her daughter, Tamar. Day wrote:

No human creature would receive or contain so vast a flood of love and joy as I often felt after the birth of my child. With this came the need to worship and adore…It was because of this, through a whole love, both physical and spiritual, I came to know God.

Whatever their story, these women and so many more, model for us ways of working with God to provide change in the world. We walk in all of their footsteps.

The Call of Matthew

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the Feast of St. Matthew, one of the four Evangelists. Our Gospel reading for the day is his account of Jesus’ call to him.

This passage from Matthew is one that I have prayed with frequently, both on retreat and in my own daily prayer. I have often been struck both by the personal nature of Jesus’ call to Matthew – a call echoed to each of us – and by Matthew’s response – his ability and willingness to drop everything and follow Jesus. I both cherish the sense that God calls each of us – not just those who seem holy or special, but each and every one of us – and I pray to have Matthew’s ability to leave everything to follow Jesus. So simple: “He got up and followed him.”

After calling Matthew, Jesus joins him at his home for a meal, which the Pharisees find objectionable. How can Jesus eat with tax collectors and sinners? Jesus responds: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

With Jesus, no one gets written off. No one is unclean and gets left out or put aside. Jesus looks at Matthew the tax collector, and says, this is one of those who I call, who I invite to follow me. And His statement that He desires mercy, not sacrifice, says to the Pharisees: and this one that I have called is one of those to whom you are to have mercy, to whom you are to relate with love.

This is a message Jesus repeats over and over again – when he asks the Samaritan woman to give him a drink of water; when he allows the woman who has sinned to wash his feet with her tears and dry them with her hair; when he invites Zaccheus, who has cheated so many people, to come down from the tree because Jesus wants to go to his house for dinner; when he promises the thief, as he hangs suffering on the cross, that he will join him this day in Paradise. Over and over Jesus says: these are among those I have called, and as I have loved each of these, so should you.