Abandoned

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Abandoned….as I sat in the church after the altar was stripped that word echoed in my head.  The invitation from the priest had been to sit for a bit in the bareness of the sanctuary and consider how Christ felt after his disciples abandoned him.  Even the word felt heavy. His closest, most trusted people were afraid, bewildered, and confused at what happened in the garden.  They were expecting something different.

Earlier this week, I had a video chat with a friend who is mourning a significant loss in her life.  I told her that grief changes your address book–a quote from a book by Stephanie Ericsson.  We humans do not do well with accompanying people through the darkness as we struggle with our own disillusionment and despair. As I sat in the near empty church, I thought of the handful of people I feel abandoned by in my illness.  There are not many but there are some significant ones. I do not really know how to approach them again.  I have tried before without success.  As time is slipping away I feel sadness at the distance and silence.  And yes, as I sat there last night, the sense of abandonment seemed to resonate.

I flipped the coin and know many people feel abandoned by me too at this time.   I simply do not have the energy to call people like I used to.  I read all the messages I get but returning them seems onerous.  Where do I start when I am days behind? I keep trying to find a balance of needing to rest and wanting to be with my people.  I am not always successful.   I practice self-compassion when I miss birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and other significant celebrations. I wish people knew that in my heart I want to send a card, flowers, or a care package but cannot seem to pull it off anymore. I would love to send a thousand thank you cards for the kindnesses with which I am showered.  I ask forgiveness for the many times I have abandoned my usual rituals and you, as a friend, in these past three years. I can only assure you that once I get to heaven and have renewed energy that I will sing praises to God for you and your forbearance of my seemingly lack of gratitude and remembrance of our friendships.

Good Friday Christ was still abandoned by most of his followers, his inner circle.  Only the Marys stood by him in the Gospel reading today. I feel the cloud of witnesses sustaining me.  I recognize the awkwardness from those who are devastated by what is to come. In a chance encounter this week, I ran into someone whose life I changed through the power of Christ.  This person started to cry as she told me I had saved her life.  She was on a path of destruction but God wanted to use her and her story for glory and I was to be the instrument to draw her to the Trinity. This person did not hold back and I appreciated that.  The sacredness of our sharing was not without emotion but the honesty was beautiful. We were women standing at the foot of the cross together.

I pray we can all stand at the foot of the cross I am bearing together.  I hope my heart can be large enough for everyone.  My desire is to be inclusive, as much as I am able, while at the same time, trying to take care of myself.  We may be bewildered and confused together but I trust that God will make a straight path for us.  As I look to my model, Jesus, I know he did not hold it against anyone who abandoned him and that will be my goal too. I ask for the grace to do this.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Who do you feel abandoned by?

Who have you abandoned?

Prayer

Christ-Alone, how did you feel? Watching everyone scatter? Observing the betrayal of a word with a kiss and the silence of the protester who promised to be with you in the end?  The cock crows in all our lives.  Help us, Jesus, to break beyond our fears, trusting that you will be with us.  We are no different than any of the followers.  One moment we deny you and the next we stand at the foot of your cross. Do not let us be lukewarm any more. Let us claim you as the Christ and receive your mercy for our transgressions.  Amen.

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Day of Command

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Maundy Thursday begins the Triduum, the holiest celebration in the Catholic church.  Many people do not know this.  The Triduum begins with the footwashing where Jesus shows by example how we are to love one another, moves to the crucifixion where he shows us again how to love one another, and culminates with Easter and the resurrection when Love is revealed anew.  These are holy days and I have loved them since my young adult days. I am grateful to those who introduced me to the richness of these rituals and celebrations.

Maundy is from the Latin mandatum which means commandment.  Tonight in John’s Gospel as he gives them a humble example of service, Jesus will ask the disciples to love one another by doing the same. In the synoptic gospels he shares the last supper with them, breaking bread and drinking wine, foreshadowing the Eucharist.

How much do we love those around us? How do we show it?  I have been overwhelmed these past few years with expressions of love, manifesting the love of the Trinity.  I am not completely sure how to understand it or reconcile that I feel so unworthy sometimes.  God’s ways are not our ways though.  Turning the world on its head is something God is an expert at.  We are not able to predict so much because we do not look at the situation through the eyes of the Divine.

I watched the movie Paul yesterday and the ending was shocking to me.  (Spoiler Alert!)  After Paul’s beheading, he is welcomed joyfully into heaven by those he persecuted.  When I imagine those who will greet me, it is the ones I have loved and who have loved me.  In the film, the unexpected happens which is so like God.  What if the first people to welcome me to Heaven were those that I had hurt or ignored?  Tonight Jesus will invite us to a new way to love and asks us to do as he does. May we pay attention to his command.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

Can you accept Jesus’ command to do as he did?

What can you do to show in humble service how to love people?

Prayer

Kneeling before us, you, Footwasher, invite us to love one another humbly, in service, and without ego.  You hold what is dirty and make it clean.  You accept the crooked, the worn, and the tired into your hands.  We may protest but you proceed. You show us a new way. May we learn to embrace such love both by extending it and receiving it.  Amen.

 

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Sharing Stories

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What happens when we take a risk and share something vulnerable with another person? Oftentimes a sacred encounter occurs.  I have experienced this sacredness many times over the decades. Whether the conversation happens one-on-one or in a small group. the honesty and beauty of the story is long remembered.

Even before I became sick, I had conversations with people that were intense and honest.  I was involved with ministries that required me to develop strong listening skills–healing ministry, prison ministry and spiritual direction.  I often walked away from those times of ministry sensing I had encountered the Divine. I have also been blessed with friends who open up to me and who receive my stories well.  Somewhere I learned to be vulnerable and because of that my circle of close friends is quite large.

I have continued to have conversations with the inmate at prison when I visit.  He is opening up lots.  When I first started the lifers would often let one another rotate among themselves to talk with me.  Those conversations were revealing and helped me to understand what some people went through in life.  The brokenness is sometimes hard to heal.  I learned not to judge harshly.  We never know what people have survived.  Some hold their stories close without ever sharing.  My observation is that creates a lack of trust and healing never really happens for these folks as fear holds them back from fully living.

Currently I am grateful for those who walk the path of reality with me.  There are no words sometimes.  Stories do not need to be made up of verbal speech. There can be tears and silence.  I find it hard to accept all the accolades that are bestowed upon me but I can also tell when my life choices do affect people profoundly.  These are the life-giving people who accompany me as I feel my energy ebbing away from my body.  They are the ones I want around me in my final days to give life as life leaves my body.  To make my end days sacred.  The ones who know me and I them because we have shared life journeys.

My agenda book is dotted with visitors.  I need to find a balance of my physical and social needs.  Messages, texts, cards, and emails from faraway people I will not see bring me joy.  Sometimes I initiate these and am blessed in receiving a response.  I value the remember when stories. Often a visit or piece of correspondence spark these for me.  It is as if I load up the VCR and watch an old movie.  A smile forms and I appreciate anew the relationship I have had with a particular person.

Some days I feel overwhelmed by the number of people who I want to see or who want to see me.  Despite it all I feel blessed to have not stayed safely in my shy, introverted space.  I have allowed myself to be vulnerable and I have gained rich treasures in relationships that sustain me now.  What a joy!

Peace,

Suzanne

 

 

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Only Imagine

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We all do it at some point. We lose our way, fear gets the best of us, temptation seemingly cannot be overcome.  We betray the Beloved.  I have done it. I still do it some days.  I probably will until I take my last breath.  Does that mean I won’t get into heaven?  As you can imagine I have pondered this question before–not just when I became ill, but twenty years ago when I first took the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The time I spent exploring the question then has prepared me for now.  The loving God that I know will not hold my petty sins against me. This is my belief.

When I first heard the song I Can Only Imagine,  I was struck by the lyrics and wondered what exactly I would do when I came face-to-face with God. The song worked itself into my core being and whenever I listened to it, I found myself curious how the reunion would play out.  I think I could go either way–dance or be still, throw my arms around God or kneel before the Divine and worship.  I can only imagine what that moment will be like but I know that there will be no fear–just joy, love and peace.

Tonight friends and I saw the movie by the same name.  It is a compelling, honest look at redemption and how if we open our hearts, healing is possible.  God lets even one-time monsters into heaven. The father-son story is painful–the damage visited upon the next generation because of sin is heart-wrenching. The masks we wear to hide our childhood trauma or other suffering do not redeem us.  The only way to a new place is to face the old ghosts head on. When we are finally ready to acknowledge that we are not living fully because of what holds us back,  we can modify our life course. If we want to alter our lives, we need to lay our burdens on the altar. This film shows it is possible.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What beliefs do you have about heaven?

Are there ghosts holding you hostage when you desire to be free?

Prayer

I can only imagine what it will be like on that glorious day when I see you face-to-face. Whatever scenario I create, I know that joy, love and peace await me.  Thank you, Beloved, for waiting to welcome this wayward women Home.  Amen.

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For You, Anything

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These are strange and wonderful times where some people can say what they need to say clearly. I love that.  I have pondered so much in my heart lately.  I am full.  Today’s Gospel reading is the Prodigal Son.  I almost understand better how overwhelmed and humbled he must have felt. I believe I am already being offered a feast shared with the most amazing guests.

I had to ask a friend a really hard question the other day.  I have been asking people to be involved in my prayer vigil and funeral which are drafted out.  I knew this would be a particularly hard ask. She responded with a yes but no, not really.  She did not want to do it.  She followed that up with some words that others have said:  For you, Suzanne, anything.  I got a bit teary.  I feel so undeserving of the generosity sometimes and yet this prodigal daughter shows up and keeps asking for more.  Kind hearts keep responding. If humans can be this lavish, how much more can God be?

Earlier this week I gathered with some folks from a community I used to worship with and a couple of the people from my support circle for some prayer and song. At the end of the precious evening, I felt a great peace had settled upon the room.  It remained with me as I returned home.  These gracious people opened their home and hearts to me, feeding my soul.  I will long be grateful for such acts of kindness.

I often wonder how the Prodigal Son did in the weeks after the feast.  Sometimes in prayer, especially when I do the Examen, I am moved to tears by the mercy shown me. I remember all those acts of goodness bestowed upon me and pray for the givers.  I recall those who are praying for me, including a large number of strangers around the world who have heard about my situation through prayer chains or requests.  Did the Prodigal ever stop to pinch himself, awestruck by the life he has been regifted? I know that sometimes I do. Even in the knowing that the end is coming, I am ever in love with this life and those who uphold me.  I will miss it dearly when I transition to the other side.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

When have people reached out to you when you needed it most?

What makes you pinch yourself and wonder how your life ever got this blessed?

Prayer

You-Who-Welcome-Us-Home, you ask no questions, seek no apologies.  You simply lavishly bestow us with more than we can ask or imagine. For you, beloved child, anything, I hear you whisper in my ear as You welcome me each time I come to you.  I am so grateful.  Amen.

 

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God’s Test

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I always feel a bit odd when I read about God testing the people.  Tonight I read at mass.  I hobbled up to the pulpit and took a breath.  This first reading from Genesis 22 is one of the most challenging to understand and as a spiritual director, I have seen numerous retreatants struggle with the content in the context of a loving God.  God tested Abraham, I began. Thus begins the story of Abraham needing to trust God with everything beloved.

Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him as a burnt offering….Such a request is inconceivable.  Abraham obeys though. He builds an altar, lays the wood, binds his only beloved son, and takes up the knife to kill Isaac.  He passes the test and the angel of the Lord stays his hand, provides a ram for the sacrifice, and blesses him on the Lord’s behalf. These are hard images to accept.  Which of us would want to kill what we love?

I do not believe for a moment that the cancer that is slowly taking my life is a test from God.    I do think that God is using me in so many ways that I do not even know that God is using the disease for a purpose. I think of all the people I have met and been blessed by because of this cancer.  Equally, many have been inspired by my tenacity and faith. Abraham and Isaac went up that mountain together.  Did they have heavy hearts? Probably.  I am going up my mountain with a great cloud of witnesses singing me there. Is my heart sad some days?  Of course.  I have loved my wild and beautiful life more than I can ever express.  I am starting to see with eyes anew–how could I have lived in this place for one and a half years and never noticed until the other night how the moon smiles out my kitchen window?  I have watched sunset after sunset standing at my sink but as I turned out the lights and caught the Cheshire moon laughing at me, I was stopped in my tracks.  The other night friends and I went out to the symphony–Spanish music–and I was transported back to Barcelona with memories running like a slide show of my time there with my dear friend from Germany.  The first bite of spaghetti that a friend had dropped off sent me into ecstasy.  Who knew spaghetti could taste so amazing? I have tried to live with a grateful heart for decades but lately I am overwhelmed by all the mysteries here on this side of the veil.

I look forward to what awaits me on the other side and I do trust God with everything I hold dear.  This week, after really considering a conversation with my Circle of Support, I am slowly letting go of the worry I have for those who will remain here after me.  I see dimly how God is laying ground work that will allow for people to grieve and move beyond missing me.  My work is now about climbing my mountain and trusting what awaits me.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What mountain must you climb?

What do you think about God testing you?

Prayer

You who gave your only Son know what it is like to give up what is most beloved.  You know how each story begins and ends.  You ask us to trust the plan.  I do.  Help me to climb the mountain with joy and sorrow in balance, knowing that you await me. Amen.

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When Bad Things Happen…

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In the Ignatian Lay Volunteer (ILV) group that I belong to we are reading God, You’re Breaking My Heart by Jesuit Brian Grogan.  It is not a comfortable read but it is timely.  The subtitle is What is God’s response to suffering and evil?  I find my soul weighted down with the sadness of what is happening in our world. This was how I went to the meeting the other night. Broken systems, shattered hearts, and destroyed lives — it all seems so senseless.

I facilitated the evening and as we progressed through the sharing, I felt myself being buoyed up by this group of faithful followers.  Earlier on someone mentioned this adage: When bad things happen, look for good people.  I had never heard that before but it resonated with me. We need to not let the darkness defeat us but rather focus on those who are creating change, standing up, and speaking out.  In daily life, we encounter people who are willing to be a balm for all wounds. This takes courage and can go unnoticed. We must not only look for these people, we must strive to be those people.

The chapter we were discussing that night used as an example Etty Hillesum, a Jewish woman, who wrote while in the hellish surroundings of a death camp: Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning. On a train to Auschwitz, she tossed out a postcard, later found by farmers with these words: We left the camp singing.  Such a profound depth of spirit!  Etty knew that pain and suffering co-exist with joy and beauty.  She somehow found a balance in order to discover that peace that surpasses understanding.  She found that she needed to safeguard that little piece of God that lives within each of us and allows us to move beyond the sorrow and anger to being healers.

By the end of the circle rounds, most of us had our hope restored as we talked about the gift of our own ministries and reflected upon the readings.  Tonight watching the news which announced the non-guilty verdict in the trial of a 15-year-old Indigenous girl who was murdered and dumped like garbage into the river here in my hometown, the sadness crept up again.  Look for the good people, I whispered to myself and there it was: the great aunt who had raised Tina was the voice of reason, asking for peace and not violence.  Despite, and probably because of, her own heartache, she sent a message requesting calm. I will be looking for good people in these hard days ahead as we look with shame upon our nation who has failed Indigenous people again.  We need people  who are willing to be a balm for the wounds.  Despite the tragedies that want to drag us down, life still has beauty. I for one want to leave my earthly tent singing when it is time for me to go Home, hoping that I have safeguarded that little piece of God within me and reached beyond despair to be a healer.

Peace,

Suzanne

Reflection Questions

What do you do with the sorrow that can be overwhelming in our world?

Think of an example where something bad has happened but someone good showed the way to beauty and joy.

Prayer

Balm-for-My-Heart, may I always seek the little pieces of God manifesting themselves in our world when bad things happen. Let us learn to co-exist with the sorrow and pain rather than allow it to defeat us. Strengthen our spirits in these troubling times and help us to be good people too. Amen.

 

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