Be It Done Unto Me

For your reflection on this feast of the Annunciation, here is an excerpt from Caryll Houselander’s poem, The Reed

She is a reed,
straight and simple,
growing by a lake
in Nazareth:

a reed that is empty,
until the Breath of God
fills it with infinite music:

and the breath of the Spirit of Love
utters the Word of God
through an empty reed.

The Word of God
is infinite music
in a little reed:

it is the sound of a Virgin’s heart,
beating in the solitude of adoration;
it is a girl’s voice
speaking to an angel,
answering for the whole world;

it is the sound of the heart of Christ,
beating within the Virgin’s heart;
it is the pulse of God,
timed by the breath of a Child.

The circle of a girl’s arms
has changed the world–
the round and sorrowful world–
to a cradle for God….

Be hands that are rocking the world
to a kind rhythm of love;
that the incoherence of war
and the chaos of our unrest
be soothed to a lullaby;
and the round and sorrowful world,
in your hands,
the cradle of God.

Happy Feast of the Annunciation!

(This poem appears in Houselander’s The Flowering Tree)


How Did You Arise Today?

How did you arise to greet this day?  Was it:

With gratitude for life?

With amazement at God’s presence in every person and every thing?

With courage to meet what will be difficult?

With desire for continued transformation?

With grief still settled in your spirit?

With longing for ever greater inner freedom?

With conviction to do what is lifegiving?

With a willingness to help those who will need your care?

With hesitation as you think of pain that may come?

With hope?  despair?  confidence? anxiety?  happiness? sadness?

However you arose, take a few moments today to share that with God.  To let God know what is lifting you up, or what is weighing you down.  And, equally importantly, give God a chance to respond.


Ashes and the Message They Convey

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. On this day, Catholics will “get their ashes” – we will all go to Mass or another service at which our foreheads will be marked with a cross made with ashes. As the cross is being made, we will hear the priest or other minister distributing ashes say to us either: “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return” or “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.”

Why do we hear these words?

The words “Remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return,” come from the book of Genesis; they are part of the words uttered by God to Adam and Eve after the fall. In the words of Pope John Paul II during one of his Ash Wednesday homilies, “Original sin and original sentence. By the act of the first Adam, death entered the world and every descendant of Adam bears the sign of death within him. All generations of humanity share in this inheritance.”

So we hear these words to remind us of death. But it is the alternative words that accompany our receipt of ashes that remind us of what it is that overcomes death. “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” These are the works in the Gospel of Mark with which Jesus begins his public ministry: “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.”

Although we hear only one of these two formulations when we get our ashes, it is only together that they provide a complete message. It is true that we are sinners and that – left to our own devices we share in the inheritance of death. But we are loved sinners. And because of God’s love for us, God offers a path out of death – a path to new life, life everlasting. And Christ is that path.

May you have a blessed Lent.


Lent as Invitation to Metanoia

Tomorrow is the beginning of Lent.  We typically think of Lent as a time of repentance, a term that we think of in terms of being sorry for our sins and resolving to refrain from committing them again.  And that is certainly a worthwhile practice.

In a reflection in Give Us This Day, James Martin invites us to a broader understanding of what that word means.  He suggests that the word the Gospels use for repentance means something a bit different, writing that in the Gospels, “both John the Baptist and Jesus call us to embrace a metanoia.  This Greek word means a complete change of mind and heart.  So it’s not simply a regretting of sins; it’s a complete reorientation of one’s life.”

What will you do this Lent to further that metanoia?  Martin suggests asking God to help you become aware of the parts of your life where you are, not only sinful, but unfree.

Ask yourself: What are the areas of unfreedom that lead you to act in unskillful ways?  And what is the grace you need from God to become free?

These are harder questions than simply giving up chocolate or some equivalent.  But, as Martin suggests in his reflection “‘turning over a new leaf’ can be both profoundly freeing and profoundly joyful.”


A Prayer to the Holy Spirit

I’m going through some papers in my office and came across this prayer to Holy Spirit.  It seemed to me a prayer we could all use at this time.  (My handwritten note indicates “anonynous” author; if you have a source for it, I’d be grateful to know it.)

Come, Holy Spirit,
Replace the tension within with a holy relaxation.
Replace the turbulence within with a sacred calm.
Replace the anxiety within with a quiet confidence.
Replace the fear within with a strong faith.
Replace the bitterness within with the sweetness of grace.
Replace the darkness within with a gentle light.
Replace the coldness within with a loving warmth.
Replace the night within with your day.
Replace the winter within with your spring.
Straighten my crookedness.
Fill my emptiness.
Blunt the edges of my pride.
Sharpen the edge of my humility.
Light the fires of love;
Quench the flames of lust.
Let me see myself as You see me.
That I may see You as You have promised,
and be blessed according to Your word;

Blessings on your day!

Update: With gratitude to my friend Gerry, the source of the prayer appears to be Rev. Mother Rosalee Hill, R.S.C.J., although some attribute it to Anonymous and others to Father Moriarty.

Happy Valentines Day

When I was a child, we made Valentines Day cards for everyone – our parents, our siblings, our cousins, our teachers, our friends.  In some, but not all years, the recipients may have included someone we had a crush on.   And, up until well into my adulthood, my father gave candy on Valentines Day, not only to my mother, but to each of his four children ( his son as well as his three daughters).  No doubt that contributed to  to my sense that “Happy Valentines Day” was a greeting appropriately conveyed to anyone who meant something in my life.

So on this Valentines Day, let me say thank you and I love you to…

…those who have encouraged me and helped me to grow;

…those who have loved me even when I’m not being very lovable;

…those who have helped me look my demons in the face;

…those who have gone out of their way to be kind and caring;

…those who have given when I’ve been unwilling to ask;

…those who inspire me by their example;

…those who have quietly supported me, even when they haven’t understood the direction I was taking;

…those who have been willing to put an arm around me when I needed to be consoled and kick my behind when I’ve needed to be pushed;

…and all those who have enriched my life by their presence and by being who they are.

To all of you I say: Happy Valentines Day. Thank you and I love you.

[adapted from a post I made some years ago]

A Tactic of Love

Thomas Merton has often been a source of wisdom and reflection for me.  I thought these words of his from Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander were useful for all of us in these fractious times.

The tactic of nonviolence is a tactic of love that seeks the
salvation and redemption of the opponent, not [our opponent’s] castigation,
humiliation, and defeat.  A pretended nonviolence that seeks to
defeat and humiliate the  adversary by spiritual instead of physical attack is little more
than a  confession of weakness.  True nonviolence is totally different
from this, and  much more difficult.  It strives to operate without hatred, without
hostility, and without resentment.  It works without aggression, taking the  side of the good that it is able to find already present in the adversary.  This may be easy to talk about in theory.  It is not easy in practice,  especially when the adversary is aroused to a bitter and violent  defense of  an injustice which [the adversary] believes to be just.  We must therefore be careful how we talk about our opponents, and still more careful
how we  regulate our differences with our collaborators.  It is possible for the  bitterest arguments, the most virulent hatreds, to arise among those who are  supposed to be working together for the noblest of causes.