Monday, December 27, 2010

A Thought for the Quiet Period

Since I am reduced to silence for what would appear to be a few weeks, I would like to invite followers to guest post. Just send me a post (elizabeth.mahlou@gmail.com), introducing yourself, your blog if you have one (and a link if you would like), and post about something you would to share. You can re-post something from your blog or talk about something new -- whatever tickles your fancy. Let others get to know you. I think it will be fun for readers to discover who is behind the pictures under the follower list.

Here Yesterday, Gone Today, Back after Several Tomorrows

Just as I took vacation time to work on my next book, my computer died. This is called Leaver luck; it has happened to us on so many occasions that I was not surprised. You see, Murphy's home is on a cloud right about our house, and whenever we start to feel comfortable with life as it is, he drops some raindrops, hail, blizzard flakes, and the like. The computer repair shop said that the computer was too dead for emergency CPR, so they have to send it to a hospital far away to see if it can be resurrected (perhaps not). That is going to take "weeks," they assured us. How many, they cannot say. Happily, the computer is under extended warranty. I am glad I had the foresight to purchase that. So, if it cannot be resurrected, I will be sent a brand new baby.

In the meanwhile, Donnie has loaned me his very old, but functional Macintosh laptop. I used to know how to use Mac; I am re-learning. The problem is that the computer is so old, it cannot handle even my Word files, and every single document I want to use, Donnie has to convert on his machine. Internet is difficult. I seem to be able to get onto blogger and publish comments, so please feel free to explore and comment on old posts. What is difficult to do is write new ones because I have no access to my graphics, no way to upload graphics, no way to handle large files, etc.

So, it looks like I am out of commission for some weeks. I can get online to read your blogs, and I will continue to do that. Posting on my own blogs, though, is, unfortunately, on hold until my electronic life returns to normal.

I am indeed still working on my next book. Donnie was able to convert the book file, but all my notes are not available. :( Well, I thought of those ideas, they will come back, or God will plant some new thoughts. I actually ended up drastically revising the table of contents while waiting for Donnie to convert the old document on his desktop computer, put it on disk, and pass it along to me in a format that the laptop will recognize. I also changed the title of the book: A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God. I seemed to be getting more inspiration coming my way now that nearly all I can do computer-wise is work on that book. (I am also getting more family and friend time, which is not all that bad, either.)

As for posting anything on my blogs, I am afraid I will have to wait until I am past the computer crisis and my electronic life is back to normal, which looks like nearly the end of January -- right after the book is due. Interesting, how dates and tasks work out that way!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Few Brief Steps Away

As this goes up (automatically), I should be on a plane for Hawaii, where I have some end-of-year business to conclude. After that, on Saturday, I will fly back home, just in time for the Christmas season to descend in full tempo. This year, though, Christmas cards will have to wait until February (January if I can manage a trip to Korea and card writing). We have no tree -- our cat Intrepid eats all plants, including artificial ones, and nearly died from the latter a few years ago so we have given up on a tree -- therefore I will not be distracted with tree decorating. Some holiday activities will, of course, take place as they should and as we want them to. However, I will be stepping back a bit from my normal kinds of blogging posts and the normal tempo of my blogs.

I have taken some days off from work to do a second edition/sequel of my book, Blest Atheist. Unfortunately, over the past two years, the title has been snagged for a variety of odd things, none of them having to do with the remarkable kindness of God, which is what the book is about at its core. Even a furniture store has taken it, along with an atheist reading group! In fact, although it is a spiritual book, essentially Christian, most bookstores carry it in the atheism section. (I guess no one reads books before categorizing them!) That has caused some angry, even rude, reviews from atheists who got a conversion story, rather than a confirmation of their atheism -- which must have been quite a surprise for them. (Christian readers and believers belonging to other religions generally review the book well.) So, the book needs a new title, which I am working on, and since time has passed and my spiritual experiences have continued on a path of deepening conversion, I plan to revise the book dramatically, as well as include those new conversion experiences.

For publication and marketing purposes, I need to turn in the manuscript no later than December 30, so I will reserve most of my writing effort for the book. Monday Morning Meditations will continue, and I will post excerpts from the book as I go along on Mahlou Musings. So, for the next 15 days, my posts may be sparse in spite of having prepared a few backups in case of situations like this.

I will indeed take time to enjoy the Christmas season. San Ignatio, as you can see from the pictures above and below, goes all out for Christmas. (Note: the placard under each lighted wreath/halo is the story of a saint important to this town: St Francis for it was founded by the Franciscans, St. John the Baptist after whom it was named, the real name of this town being San Juan Bautista -- I used San Ignatio as a pseudonym in my book and so I have continued to use it in this blog.) If this town has a year-round sacred feel to it, at Christmas that feel intensifies, beginning with the lighting of the streets, intensified by the daily performances of La Virgen de Teyepac (Our Lady of Guadalupe) by our local El Teatro Campesino, and concluding with our midnight Mass, which usually really is at or near midnight, depending on how you count the caroling.

So, please forgive my moments away. I will catch you when the book muse takes a recess and will be back on full-time blog duty in January.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Please Help Us Choose

For years now, after our children grew up and became adults, rather than spending money on gifts that are neither needed nor particularly wanted, we have taken a family collection of the money we would have spent on each other and have instead spent it on things that others both need and want. For example, last year we gave visa cards to all the staff (cooks, janitors, librarians, handymen, monks, etc.) at the St. Francis Retreat Center, who do much to make sure that retreatants are able to devote their time exclusively to spiritual matters.

Each year we select a charity that has some special meaning to us. The retreat center is a place where both Donnie, my husband, and I have spent time that has contributed to our spiritual growth. Years ago, floods in India destroyed the homes of relatives of Appu, the college roommate of my daughter, Lizzie. When we were living in Jordan, we gave the money to the only animal shelter there, one which took in more than two dozen cats that I rescued from the streets of Amman. And so on and so forth. Family members nominate various options, and we all vote on which we would like to support in a particular year.

This year we have four "charities" from which we are choosing. Before we take a family vote, I thought it might be interesting to hear what readers thing. Here are the options we are considering:

(1) Afghans for Afghanis (see the link in the right sidebar under Ways to Help). Having spent time earlier this year in Afghanistan, I have developed a soft spot for this very impoverished nation. While factions in the leadership may have been working toward mutual extinction for decades, if not centuries, the everyday man is the one doing the greatest suffering. From the little I could see, by Western standards they have very little, even considering that their desires, values, and concepts of what a "normal" life looks like is quite different from those same concepts in the USA.

(2) Adopt a Box. Our parish has collected Christmas gifts for troops in Afghanistan. Ah, there's that Afghanistan soft spot again! The amount of gifts collected has far exceeded what the parish member who headed the drive anticipated. She was prepared to pay for the mailing of the gifts, assuming that if the collection can were entirely filled, it would cost her about $100 in postage. Well, our parish donated not a can-full but a truckload of gifts, and the postage will be about $1200. So, our pastor has asked that individuals offer to adopt a box of gifts for mailing. As a family, we could adopt a number of boxes. (There is an additional option, as well. I have told the parish member that I would use God's credit card for any orphan boxes.)

(3) Bennie's Homeless. Our friend, Bennie, works with the homeless in a nearby city, providing them with blankets, clothes, food, and personal articles, thanks to the generosity of his friends and neighbors. In return, the homeless work to clean up the local river along which they live. Thanks to their efforts, the salmon, which had nearly disappeared, are now returning "home" to spawn.

(4) Hope. Doah works for Hope, which gives work to the handicapped, who do janitorial and other kinds of simple tasks that they are capable of handling. Doah mentioned that Hope is short of money this year, so it seems that this is a charity that truly "touches" home.

We will take a family vote very soon. In the interim, I would love to hear readers' opinions: which would you choose if you were a member of our family? (I will let you know the result from all the blogs and from our family's vote.)

Monday, December 13, 2010

Voice IX

In one of my earlier posts, I related the story of a friend who did not understand why she could not (or was not allowed to) feel God's presence in the same way I have sensed, felt, and known the Presence. God to me is the Presence; the Presence is God. Like Br. Lawrence (Practicing the Presence of God), if I do not palpably know that God is with me it is because I, unlike Br. Lawrence, have chosen for the moment to focus my attention away from God. Otherwise, I do feel the Presence nearly all my waking hours, and I find the Presence not only comforting but also increasingly necessary and thirstily desired. Therefore, of course, I wanted my friend to have this same kind of experience and relationship, and I pestered God about it. After much pestering, I received another of those locutions that startled me. "She is fragile," I was told.

Huh? Fragile? What was that supposed to mean? Well, when I told her, I found out what it meant: fragile personality disorder. More details are given in the earlier post: Voice IV.

This friend later came to visit me, spending a week here. Every day she accompanied me to the Old Mission, where I had made a habit of an early evening walk, basking in the Presence of God, sometimes listening, sometimes talking, but mostly just being together with God, which is usually enough for me.

My friend immediately began to have the same experiences I did, but, fragile personality disorder or not, they did not frighten her. Rather, she began to look forward to our long evening walks, and she often sat on a bench in one of the rose gardens, just being with God, as I love to do although, being a very kinesthetic person, I prefer to walk with God, rather than to sit.

My friend had experienced a traumatic childhood. Without going into details, I will say only that the result of this difficult and horrendous childhood had led to years of regular psychotherapy as an adult with very slow and extremely incremental progress. After her week's stay with me, she returned home more comfortable with herself and accepting of her past as being in the past, more filled with genuine forgiveness for those who had either harmed or failed her, and met with her psychologist for their routine session. My friend reported that her psychologist was amazed by how she had changed, saying that such changes either take many more years of psychotherapy than she had had or come about as a result of Divine intervention. It is remarkable what communing with God can do! (And, I suppose, that fragile personality is now a bit less fragile, thanks to God.)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Miracles

Last Friday, I had lunch with Fr. Terry who had come to town for that purpose, bless his heart. I had not seen him in months, and it was wonderful to catch up and share thoughts. He had not known about the spontaneous healing of my torn rotator cuff during Mass. I don't know why that particular event came up during lunch, but it did.

Afterward, I got to thinking about miracles. Why do I seem to get so many of them? Then I wondered if I really did get a disproportionate share of them, or have I just learned to recognize them. My conclusion? I think miracles happen more often than people know (or recognize).

On a related topic, there has been some lively discussion on some blogs recently of distractions during prayer. This is, of course, not a recent or uncommon discussion. It's been a problem throughout the centuries, and I, of course, do experience such distractions. I try to follow the advice to ignore them and return to contemplation, but sometimes these distractions take on a life of their own.

Similarly, but with a happier result, sometimes while I am in the midst of work, particularly boring but important meetings, I become intensely aware of God's presence in the room. The result is that I become quite distracted from the business of hand, sometimes embarrassingly so. Nonetheless, if you had the choice of being present to your colleagues and supervisors or present to God, which would you choose? Is there a choice?

Perhaps God would talk more often to all of us if we took the time to listen more often, more intently, more openly. The signals are sometimes so slight that it is easy to miss them if we are not tuned in, don't pay close attention, or just dismiss the unusual as a curiosity. I might have dismissed the blue light that ran through my body while driving to the doctor for a pre-surgical examination had he not found upon arrival that I no longer needed surgery. I had temporarily stored the experience of the light as unusual, and only the doctor's near-immediate finding helped me to put two and two together. Similarly, the light touch on my torn-rotator-cuff shoulder during Mass might have seemed to be a figment of my imagination had not Doah, my mentally retarded son, not been with me and said "we no alone" and had not I been able to immediately move in all directions an until-then immovable arm (healing confirmed by MRI a few days later). And the warm hands and image of a male figure in sandals and robe I would have attributed to a dream except that I was wide awake, fell asleep only AFTER the warm hands lulled me to sleep, and found the urine infection that had been torturing me into the wee hours of the morning totally gone when I woke up. (See earlier post on these events, Healings, and other miracles in my life, Miracles in Real Life.)

I wonder how many miracles we miss through inattention, let alone through disbelief. I wonder why God would keep sending them to us when we treat them so cavalierly...

Double-posted on Modern Mysticism and 100th Lamb.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Darkness II

Indeed, it has been quite a while since I have posted on this site. It is not for lack of time (although I have had relatively little). It is not for lack of subject matter, interest, or awareness that time was passing without posting. No, it was for a very different reason, a first experience for me. It was for lack of a sense of that spirituality that underpins the posts on this blog.

For more than three weeks, until a few days ago, I have been experiencing what St. John of the Cross referred to as the dark night of the soul. Actually, and fortunately, I had a foretaste of this several years ago not long after my conversion. (That story, in detail, I shared earlier in this post: see here.)

The foretaste came when my friend, Tom, went through a dark night, and I ended up in more than 20 hours of prayer with and/or for him. At one point, I made the stupid request to feel what he was feeling in order to understand him better. That request was granted, thankfully, only briefly for part of an evening, during which I begged to be released from my request and the next morning, when all was back to normal, I begged never to go through that experience.

That latter request, I guess, God considered not in my best interest because that is precisely what I have just gone through and not for two weeks, like Tom, but for three weeks. What kept me going was knowing that Mother Theresa had gone through a dark night for YEARS. Why? That is a question that only God can answer.

Until this period, God had been spoiling me, to use the words of one of my Sufi friends. God has never let me down, never failed to answer a prayer, always filled my life with miracles, and always, always let me feel a Divine Presence wherever I happened to be if I just was still a bit and even, often, if I was not. For me, there were two parts to religion: spirituality and faith. A few people live with spirituality; many live with faith. I always thought that if I were required to live by faith alone, I would not be able to do it.

And now, here I was: no sense of God's presence for day after day. It would have been easy to think that all my previous experience with the Presence of God had been imagined. That's the way our human minds work at times. The past is gone, the present is where we live, the future we look forward to if we don't like the present. I realized somewhere in the early part of this experience that I really had a choice. I could choose to believe in spite of the absence of any spiritual sensations. I guess that is what faith is: choosing to believe.

Interestingly, during this period I came back into contact with Fr. Terry, who had been my de facto spiritual advisor but who had been transferred to another town more than an hour away last February. We began an old-fashioned letter-writing correspondence, and since we began with reminiscing, some of the spiritual experiences that I had had earlier but not shared served as the initial content. In writing of these things, I reinforced my choice to believe. I wonder if God handed me this cane for leaning on and for feeling my way through the dark period, for strengthening my walk in darkness, depending on God's support even though I could not sense that Divine Presence that I had come to, well, honestly speaking, take for granted.

I now understand much better what St. John of the Cross meant when he said that the dark night is a positive thing, an opportunity to grow spiritually, a cleansing and purification. Now that the Presence is palpably back in my life, I don't think I will ever again take it for granted. More than that, though, I know that I do have faith, and if it seems weak, I can choose to believe and to ask God to increase my faith, and God will do it.

As much as I do not want to go through another dark night, I am now grateful to God that I was gifted with it. Now, too, I will not fear another dark night should God want to so gift me again.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I am taking the day off from blogging to attend morning Mass and then help out all afternoon at Old Mission's community dinner -- open to all, regardless of SES or church affiliation. I will also take some time during the day and evening to drop in to followers' blogs with Thanksgiving greetings.

Wishing you all a happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Music

On many occasions, I have felt that God was reaching out to me through music. I am not talking so much about the rhythm or sound of the music although certainly those aspects, depending upon what they are, can lift the soul or plunge emotions into depression as many celebratory hymns, upbeat rhythms of country music, and soulful melodies of blues can attest. I am talking about the words of the music, words that speak unexpectedly to a specific issue or question. I wonder if others have had this experience or sensation, as well. Let me give you just a couple of examples.

The first example I mentioned in an earlier post in which I seemed to be tasked to take on Goliath. The morning before a difficult meeting with Goliath and others, I was concerned about having to reveal having received related locutions. For some reason that morning, the choir director gave us the wrong page number, and we all ending up singing "Be not afraid, I go before you always."

The second example occurred before I headed off to Afghanistan. The original plan, later nixed by GEN Petraeus, was to send me to some villages where my safety could not be guaranteed. While I stepped up to the assignment publicly, publicly I fretted about the possible consequences until, again at a Mass, while I was fretting, the song that had been selected for the congregation to sing was "Shepherd me, oh God, beyond my fears, from death unto life." Although it was written for a different purpose, it certainly was apropos for where I was going. Well, I did not hear "don't go," but that was later taken care of by the good general, and I ended up going to places that were somewhat safer although not completely safe. Still, I felt no fear during any time that I was there. In fact, the only emotion I did feel was sadness: the people of Afghanistan have so little and we have so much still to do to help them achieve even a modest level of comfort and security. I am ready to go back in a few months to help in the way that I can: by helping build cultural bridges. This time I don't need any encouragement or reassurance.

I often play the piano for our prayer group so that we can start out our meetings with music. I am not the only one that music draws to God. Music is clearly one of God's languages.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Blessings

We are headed out this weekend to visit Padre Julio. This is obviously not a picture of him. I will come back and post a picture of him after we return this weekend. I was astonished to find that I had none, given the amount of time we have spent together, but let me go on and tell the story, which begins, like most stories, with a starting point, typically written as "once upon a time."

Once upon a time, a couple of years ago, actually, God sent me a special blessing. At the time, I did not realize what this blessing was. Over time, I became more and more aware. Over time, the blessing became blessings.

Once upon a time, a couple of years ago, actually, I attended the Spanish Mass at Old Mission for the first time. The Spanish Mass is now the usual Mass I attend on Sundays. The first time I attended that Mass, a young priest from Colombia was celebrating the Mass. Charismatic, dedicated, spiritual, and drawn to people, he found many people drawn to him. Attendance at his Masses left no sitting room; no one minded standing for there was much interaction in His Masses, which ended all too quickly.

More than building a congregation, Padre Julio had a very special goal: to intervene in the lives of the children of his home area of Palomar, Colombia who were being pulled into violence by insurgents mainly because they had few alternatives. He wanted Americans to experience the blessing of helping him help the children, and many did. He gathered sponsors for a host of children in the towns. He planned to build a school on a self-sustaining farm, which he also planned to build. He had a start: two tractors donated by the local rotary club.

No voice told me to help Padre, but somehow I understood that I was supposed to help him. I offered to help, but we had a problem. He avoided English speakers because he could not speak English. My spoken Spanish is weak, but I can write in Spanish. So, we began a correspondence, and after a while, he gathered the courage to talk to me, with him speaking in Spanish and me speaking in English, communicating quite well. (He has told people that I do speak Spanish but choose not to. That is not exactly true. I do understand everything I read and most of what I hear. I can also say almost anything I want to say, but I do it haltingly, and that makes conversations awkward. When there is no choice, such as with Padre Julio's mother who came to visit and with gatherings at the home of the president of the non-profit that Padre founded, I do speak Spanish, but when time matters and the other person understands English, we tend to have the same bilingual conversations that I had with Padre.)

At the time, he had limited means to advertise and fundraise. I pointed out that he needed a website. He knew this and had someone working on it, but he was paying a high fee for someone with limited skills. That person had taken his money and not delivered on it. He did not know how to deal with the person, so he turned the problem over to me. I got the person to finish the website, but it looked messy, busy, and unprofessional. So, I gathered my family together, along with a bilingual friend from Colombia who is a professional translator. I translated all the Spanish website documents from Padre from Spanish into English, and then I wrote a website around them. My friend translated all of the website, including localization of the codes, into Spanish. Donnie, my husband, put the website together, doing the design (on which we have received many compliments) and the graphics. My son, Shane, who is a computer guru, did the html, and my son, Blaine, who was living in Illinois at the time and working as a webmaster and commercial web designer, flew home to put on the finishing flourishes that were beyond the amateur skills of Donnie and Shane. We had a website! It brought in money and let people follow the progress of Padre's projects. It also shared letters from the children and encouraged more people to become sponsors.

Then Noelle's shunt for hydrocephalus stopped working, and she had to be emergency evacuated to Stanford University Hospital for brain surgery. Padre drove all the way up there (more than an hour away) to pray for her before the surgery. Already, he was becoming part of our family. Already this was a blessing.

Then, he told me about a predicament he was facing. The bishop had reassigned him from the Spanish Mass in our little town to the English Mass in a nearby town (where Shane and Lemony live). He spoke no English, but the bilingual bishop felt that it was time for him to learn. Padre asked for advice on what school to attend. Since I have been a trainer of ESL teachers and know all the programs in this area, I knew that no school would provide him what he needed. Moreover, they would charge him while giving him little in return. I could give him much more for free. Now, I knew why I had been "pushed" to help him. Anyone could have done a website, although not anyone had offered to donate the required time and expertise as my family had. I had the precise set of skills needed to help Padre. So, I took Santa Biblia and the Bible, side by side, and each week worked through the Gospel reading for Sunday with him. We would start by listening over and over to a homily on that Gospel reading; I typed up the written version so that Padre could listen, then read and listen, then read and get the full meaning. After that, he would read the Gospel passage to me, and I would correct his pronunciation. Then, we would spend 2-3 hours working on grammar and vocabulary connected with the passage. I would make him tell it to me in the past, present, future, and hypothetical. If it was negative, I asked him to give me the positive and vice versus. If it were a series of statements, I asked him to turn them into questions and vice versus. We did that two evenings a week. Then, Friday evening we worked on preparing his homily. Soon, Fridays were also spent on language per se, and he would email his homily to me after he had written it. Then, he did not need to have his homily checked; he had it under control. We continued the language lessons, however, until he returned to Colombia at the end of 2008. By the end, he could listen to someone else's homily once and understand it all without any need for repetition or written crutch. To see that blossoming of his English language was rewarding. Another blessing.

When we were not studying at my house, Padre would be meeting with members of the Por Amor a Los Ninos de Colombia organization he founded. They met at the home of the president in Salts. I was often asked to come. (I was a bit of a celebrity among them thanks to having donated the website.) From time to time, the meetings included a Mass for one reason or another. Celebrating Mass with a highly spiritual priest like Padre in a small group in an intimate home was another one of those blessings that God seems to like to shower on me for reasons, as the expression goes, God only knows.

Then, his mother came to visit. She so wanted me to come to Colombia, but my boss would not let me go there (long story). I became close to her, too, and I could tell that she liked me, most likely because Padre had already become part of my family. She is remarkable lady, having raised seven sons, three of whom are priests. (I have met two of Padre's brothers, one of whom is also a priest.) She told someone at the last Mass of Padre's before he returned to Colombia that she would miss me because I was like the daughter she never had. She commented that I even called her Mama. (Well, yeah, because Padre never told me her name!) So, what does one say upon hearing such feelings toward oneself? Another blessing.

Throughout 2009 and 2010 Padre would Skype me from his mother's house, and they both would talk to me, Padre in English and Mama in Spanish. While there, Padre finished building the self-sustaining farm and the school. Classes started in the fall of 2009, and Padre taught the children English! My friend, the interpreter, sent computers for the school. This fall the children started their second year. It was such a happy outcome for this major effort. The story of Padre in my life seemed to have moved to one of correspondence.

Then, surprisingly, the obispo (bishop) in Colombia freed Padre to return to the USA, and he has now landed at a parish in San Diego. Upon arrival, he contacted me. "Please come to San Diego," he begged in still-good English. "I miss you. I need you."

So, Donnie and I are heading to San Diego this weekend. As if facilitated by fortune, at the last minute, I was able to get prime seats for free on a non-stop, good-time-of-day flight. I never would have expected that level of luck. However, nothing associated with Padre is luck. It is all one blessing after another.

No, helping Padre was not a tasking from God. It was an ever-growing gift from God.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Confusion

Just when I begin to think that I understand just a small slice of God's grace, I find myself back at the beginning -- in a state of confusion. (See my conversion story for a description of the two-week period of total confusion that ultimately resulted in belief.) Physical things happen to me that I do not understand. Mystical things happen to me that I do not understand. Where are these experiences supposed to lead me? Or, am I supposed to sit tight and let their transforming power affect me alone? I just don't know. So, at times (many times), confusion reigns.

While I am grateful to God for the three unexpected, undeserved, unexplainable-by-doctors healings I have received in the past four years, more than anything else they have left me in a state of confusion. Why would God intervene in my fate in this way? Am I supposed to be doing something as a result of them? If the latter, I am not doing a very good job of it. When I talk about what happened, I am met with skepticism although two cases are documented in my medical records (which, of course, I do not carry around with me, thrusting under the eyes of the skeptics). So, I end up confused.

When it comes to mystical experiences, i.e. God's direct involvement in my spiritual development, I find myself even more confused. Are these personal, intimate gifts for maintaining in a private relationship or are they joy and knowledge to be shared with others? If the latter, then I do such a poor job that I have to think that any other person would be a better choice as recipient of such gifts. Again, when I speak of such things, with the exception of a few people who are highly spiritual, I meet with sheer incredulity. So, again, I am back at the beginning in the state of confusion.

Perhaps I should simply accept such grace as an unconditional gift of love from God, nothing more and nothing less, a gift that God gives to sinners and righteous alike, to believer and to unbelievers, even if human logic has difficulty "computing" that and human morality demands that only those who have "earned" God's love receive it. Perhaps I should accept grace as it is -- given not earned, undeserved, and unconditional -- because, in reality, there is nothing else I can do.

Perhaps I should accept my state of confusion as a gift, as well, and stop searching for clarity based on a human understanding of motivation. Perhaps I should not worry whether people consider me sane. My state of confusion in a way I cannot explain (right, I was going to stop trying to explain and clarify) brings me closer to God. Should that not be enough? After all, my life is not about me and the importance of my understanding clearly rather than "seeing through a glass darkly;" it is about God. That much is clear. I shall try, then, to value and love my state of confusion for it has been given to me by God.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Where in the World Is Elizabeth?

I just thought of an interesting little competition. While I am gone tripping, please leave a comment, guessing where you think I am and why. And since I will not have access to the Internet, no one will see anyone's answers until I return so there will be no influence one upon another!

I will send a surprise gift to everyone who guesses correctly.

This will be fun, no?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Touch III

Something odd – a cascade of metanoias -- happened on my way from atheism to believer to more fully converted believer, conversion, of course, being something that never ends, which is what, I guess, those cascading metanoias have all been about. I wonder where the ripples will carry me next.

Recently, in reading Things Hidden (Rohr), a most excellent book, some things hidden became a little clearer, revealing where ripples from metanoic experiences have already taken me without my being aware of them. One case in point is my children who were born with birth defects. I gave birth to two, took in a third, and am grandmother to two more.

As an atheist, I accepted the condition of my children. I never asked “why me?” I suppose that thinking there is no force in the universe that can provide assistance or change matters leads atheists more readily to acceptance (if I am any example). Bad genetic combinations happen. That is life; no one is to blame. It may be a poor hand that my husband and I were dealt, but we would make the most of it. And life went on. And on.

There came the day, though, when I came into the Presence of God through a hierophanic conversion experience, and then things changed. Given the existence of a Greater Power, I had some questions of that Power, and those questions were directly related to my progeny and their birth defects. I demanded to know why God had not intervened to protect them, and I was told to read Job. I did. Five times. (See my post on Job, excerpted from my book, Blest Atheist, for more details of how I came to read Job and the delineation of the “reasoning” I went through and the ultimate understanding I came to.) During the fifth reading, I finally understood that love for God and the bad things that might happen to us are separate things. One is not dependent upon the other.

Then, I moved beyond simply understanding and forgave God. It may sound presumptuous, but I don’t think it is so. If Jesus could forgive those who murdered Him, certainly I can forgive God for choosing not to make my children physically and mentally perfect.

I suppose that forgiveness brought me back in some ways to the starting point, i.e. to the state of acceptance I had lived in as an atheist. There was an emotional sea change, though. My acceptance of life’s challenges as an atheist I often referred to as living in the Land of Splat! (See posts on Splat! for a definition and description.) I met the challenges and fought the battles for my challenged children because the alternative, in my opinion, was unthinkable. After all, I reasoned and would tell others, we do what we have to do, we do what is put before us to do, we take a bad hand and play it as well as we can, bluffing where we need to in order to win. At least, that has been the way I had lived my life, without giving much conscious thought as to why.

My post-conversion acceptance was quite different. Not only did it have an element of forgiveness, but that forgiveness was also wrapped in loving awe, then, with the next metanoic ripple, in deep gratitude (evinced by praise), and now (I don’t say “finally” because I don’t know when, if ever, the ripples will end in this fascinating process of continuous conversion) in a humbling sense of unworthiness.
The awe came when, after reading Job (five times!), I inventoried my life and saw how God had turned every challenge to good use. Learning to care for my first handicapped child (Noelle), along with Russian language proficiency I gained in parallel thanks to various jobs I held, gave me the skills I needed to rescue another child, a talented artist from the frozen steppe of Siberia. For every challenge, I could point out a positive outcome, for every bad a resultant good. My complaint quickly turned to praise for in my initial reaction I had missed the obvious. That praise has deepened as my conversion has deepened, as my love of God has deepened.

As I tallied up all the good that has come from what looked like bad things, the knowledge (medicine, education, psychology, parenting) I would not have otherwise acquired, the knowledge – and more important, compassion and sibling love and active support – that my children developed, the ways in which I have been able to help others, the love my challenged children and grandchildren have brought out in others, and even the transference of many of my parenting experiences to the workplace that has had as much to do with my rise as a leader as a leader in my field as traditional training in the field, the next metanoic ripple carried me into a pool of gratitude. For all the things I have listed and much more, I am eternally grateful. I am especially grateful for my children just the way they are. They are not burdens; they are gifts.

As my gratitude has deepened, yet another metanoic ripple has carried me onward to a humbling sense of unworthiness, which is where I find myself swimming now: in a pond of trust, filled by God, where I wonder if I deserve to be. God has entrusted me with some very special challenges. He has trusted me to meet those challenges, and most important He has trusted me with raising His rainbow-makers. I want to be worthy of such trust, yet I fear (well, honestly speaking, I know) I am not. I have just done the best I could and have trusted God, in return, to take care of the rest. I still do as I wait for the next metanoic ripple to help me better understand redemptive suffering that God so values that He took it upon Himself.

As I was reading Rohr’s book and thinking all these things, I felt a nearly-imperceptible-but-clearly-loving, whispy touch. I have felt that touch before. When I feel that touch, I know I have gotten something right. (I wish I would feel it more often, especially in cases where I am trying to discern something.) Just what it is I have right, I am not one hundred percent certain, but I am pretty sure it has something to do with God wanting me to have these experiences out of love for me, God trusting me to meet the challenges and learn from the experiences, and God wanting me to rely on Him to help me with all challenges -- the ones I have described, the ones I have not described, and the ones yet to come.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Contemplation V

Long before I knew anything about God, during my prime days of atheism, I learned how to empty myself in ways that would one day open me up for being filled by God through infused contemplation. What caused this learning to happen? Migraines! Seriously!


In 1980, I broke my back. How that occurred was far from exotic, in fact, about as mundane a happening as it could possibly be: while hurrying to get a pair of socks for my three-year-old son Shane in order to get him dressed and to day care on time, I fell down a flight of stairs. The drama of getting to the hospital instead of going to work that day would take an entire post or maybe even more than one installment so I shall leave that information for another day and another venue. Instead, I will explain what happened afterward.

Once I was out of the body brace and back to work, I found myself plagued my migraines. Debilitating headaches, usually preceded by an aura of approaching illness that I could not avoid, they forced me into bed sometimes for more than a day. With four children, a job, and graduate school, not to mention my volunteer activities as an outdoors counselor for the Girl Scouts, I simply could not afford this much time away from life. Yet, the more I forced myself to move beyond them, the more they pulled me back.

I sought help from a doctor who was surprised, given my history of motion sickness stemming from infancy, that I had not experienced migraines much earlier. The onset of the migraines at this time he considered to be post-traumatic; they were intensified, I found through monitoring my daily behavior, by one of my favorite self-rewards, a chocolate bar. I gave up chocolate, which would nearly immediately produce a migraine and still does, but the migraines continued to plague me. Chocolate simply made them appear for certain. The doctor came up with some medicine that was supposed to be effective post-aura. However, I suddenly did not need it.
Before taking in the prescription, I had a few more mirgraines and noticed something peculiar about them. The more I tried to ignore them, the stronger they became. The more I thought about them, the stronger they became. The more I tried to work through and past them, the stronger they became. On the other hand, the more I gave in to them, embraced them, accepted them, and stopped thinking about anything at all, just relaxing into the migraine, the weaker they became. Perhaps “relaxing” is not the precise word any more than it is the most appropriate word to describe “relaxing” into labor pains or the pain that accompanies root canals without anesthesia. But you get the picture – one goes with the pain in these cases, not against it.

As one migraine came after another, the time I needed to give in to each became shorter. I noticed that as I was giving into the pain, I was not thinking about much of anything. I was simply in a state of being; the pain was around me, I was in it and part of it but not doing much about it. Eventually, quickly actually, I learned how to put myself into that being, not-doing, not-thinking state instantly upon the first threat of an aura; I did not have to wait for the migraine to appear. Within seconds, the aura would disappear and the migraine would not come. The doctor called it biofeedback. I called it emptying my mind. Shutting down my thinking and just being in the moment has given me 30 migraine-free years. The momentary shutdown is never noticed by anyone I am with at the time because it literally requires less than two seconds to rebalance my system – I am no doctor but I have studied the research available on migraines and believe that what is happening is that normal blood flow is restored by my autonomous system during those couple seconds.
Similarly, I stumbled upon a wonderful application of this ability to empty my mind to contemplation. When my mind is empty, there is room for God to enter completely, fully, infusively. I cannot meditate; I have tried. Meditation fills my mind, and no sooner than I start trying to fill it than I feel removed from God. So, my soul, which seems at times to operate independently of my brain, takes over and shuts down my mind, allowing me to enter that non-thinking, non-acting, just-being state where I can simply “relax” into God and God can “relax” into me. There is no pain in this kind of relaxing into another state, just peace and comfort. I think this is what the mystics have labeled contemplation. At least, it is what happens when I take time out for contemplation.

Contemplation is a special kind of mind emptying for me. I suppose it is nigh onto sacrilegious to compare contemplation with migraine-reduction, but the experience of one did give me an understanding of the experience of the other. For that reason, I hope God will forgive me my dollop of sacrilege. With the migraine-related mind emptying, I experience only emptiness and after a few seconds re-emerge into a state of action, i.e. my daily life, which is more attractive than the empty state. In periods of contemplation, I experience fullness and even after many minutes, and, where I have the luxury of time, an hour or more, I avoid re-emergence into a state of action, which is less attractive than the empty-but-filled-and-fulfilled state. The first kind of emptying brings me relief, and every experience is reliably the same; the second kind of emptying brings bliss and its nature (and even sometimes its occurrence) is dependent on God and not upon me and differs each time.

I feel the insufficiency of my words to concretize the attributes of an extraordinary state that defies ordinary description. The mystics have tried and have certainly done a better job than I, but still when one talks with friends ab out contemplation, those who set aside daily time for contemplation, there is something so unique about each incident that the telling of it is different.

Jesus told his disciples not to tell of some of the out-of-the-ordinary things they experienced. I think the agreement by Biblical scholars is that if they told, they would not be understood and moreover they might misinterpret the experience. I worry about that whenever I write down the word, contemplation, whenever I consider preparing a post on that topic. I am past the point of concern that others might consider me insane, but I doubt that I will ever be past the point of concern that writing down my experience somehow vulgarizes and trivializes it. I write for my own sanity and recall and because, like David, I simply must sing God's praises in the only way I know how, using the gift He has given me: the written word.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sad News

I have mentioned Fr. Thomas Dubay's publications a number of times on this blog, and they are in my recommended reading list. For me, his works have been my sanity checks and mainstay when it comes to dealing with the mystical experiences that have come my way. About two years ago, after a string of locutions and having just finished his book, Authenticity, I wrote to Fr. Thomas to tell him how helpful I had found that book (probably not one of his most popular because it is directed to those people who have experienced sound, voice, touch, and, as I have found over the past four years, they are not found in every pew in the church). I also told him of some of my experiences, of the details of my quest to determine their authenticity, and of some of my questions and concerns. I did not ask for a response and did not expect one. Nonetheless, a few weeks later, I received handwritten comments on my letter from Fr. Thomas, who apologized for the format but said that he had just arrived from another trip, was tired, and wanted nonetheless to respond to my note immediately. He told me that he thought that my experiences, as described, were likely authentic and why, commented on my comments, and suggested some answers to my questions. His letter gave me greater confidence in moving more deeply into contemplation and not pulling away from God at the most intimate moments.

Fr. Thomas passed away this weekend, and his passing feels like a personal loss. I will now treasure those handwritten notes even more. If you have not read Fr. Thomas's books, please find some time to do so. They are, for me, second only to The Cloud of Unknowing/The Book of Privy Counseling on my list of books to which I am addicted.

The following is from the Little Sisters of the Poor in Washington, D.C., who cared for Father Dubay during his final days; I have blatantly "stolen" (borrowed?) this information from his publisher and am certain that the publisher will be happy to have the word spread.
Rev Thomas Dubay, SM
RIP September 26, 2010

From Washington, DC:
This morning at 4:45, the Lord welcomed into His Kingdom Rev Thomas Dubay, SM, after suffering kidney failure and massive bleeding in the brain. Father’s frail health had been declining ever since his admission to the Little Sisters of the Poor home in Washington more than a year ago, but his suffering was even more noticeable in recent months. Despite this fact, Fr Dubay was just as witty as ever.

When Father’s superior, Fr. Bruce Lery, SM, called the Little Sisters on Sunday morning to tell them, he said, "We have a saint in heaven" –how true! Fr. Dubay was hospitalized about a month ago and then transferred to a rehabilitation facility for specialized treatments but his health was steadily declining. Yesterday he was re-admitted to the hospital with bleeding in the brain, and he was put in coronary intensive care. Although the ventilator was removed, he continued to breathe on his own.

Although he suffered from his loss of independence, he was happy to concelebrate Mass almost every day in the chapel of the Little Sisters Home in the shadow of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in our nation’s capital.

The Marist priests and brothers visited him almost daily, and Father depended very much on his superior, Fr. Bruce, who was always there for him. In a few words, Fr. Dubay literally practiced what he preached! Father was happy to give weekly classes to the Little Sister postulants –classes which he enjoyed as much as they! From his room, Father continued his spiritual direction with many persons who called on him and this also was extended to letter writing.

We can render prayers of thanksgiving for the wonderful support Father gave to religious communities spending a good part of his life giving conferences and retreats. Although his preaching and spiritual direction was delivered to contemplative communities, his teaching was not for them alone. Religious the world over benefitted of his spiritual wisdom and guidance for years. He will be sorely missed. May he rest in peace after leading so many souls to true spiritual peace during his lifetime! The opening prayer of today’s liturgy says it all: “Help us hurry toward the Eternal Life you promise and come to share in the joys of your kingdom”.

For more about Fr. Dubay's writings and work, see his author page at Ignatius Insight.
My note: Many have said that Fr. Thomas Dubay is one of the greatest spiritual directors and writers of our day. I believe it.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Love

My mind boggles over the ways in which God can grow a loving relationship. I think I will never know or be able to understand the depths of God's love or anticipate new directions in which God will sometimes lead, sometimes push me tomorrow or the next day, whether those be directions of action or directions of emotion. Waking up this morning in God's embrace, I realized just how paltry are the understandings and set of emotions which I have developed over a lifetime, just how limited I am in the Presence of a limitless God, and just how wonderful it is to be loved by God. Well, maybe I don't yet know just wonderful that is because every waking with Him is more wonderful than the one before.

Every time that I fall sleep in contemplative union (or near union), always have asked for Presence during any dreams I might have (a petition that has recently replaced my earlier petition for Him to protect me from attacks of Evil, which in my early post-conversion days twice attacked me and from which I fled to God's protection), I do experience God's Presence in my dreams (at least, those I can remember in part when I wake up -- those I cannot remember, I assume have not been filled with Evil attacks, i.e. were not nightmares, because I did not wake up during the night and did not wake up disturbed but refreshed, which only the Presence of God could bring about). Something more happens on the mornings that follow the nights when I fall asleep still in contemplative union, which I have mentioned briefly in an earlier post: I wake up still embraced, as I did this morning, in an indescribably unbearable love.

That love is indescribable for it has no counterpart in my experience. It is the love for my children, spouse, parents, spouse, pets, friends, even self, all of which are different kinds of love, rolled up into one. And more. It is deeper, sweeter, and gentler than any love I have known or am able to give. It is a kind of special love for which human language (at least, the 17 human languages I know) have no words.

That love is unbearable because it is undeserved. I can think of dozens of ways in which I don't deserve that love, yet I deeply, deeply want this intimacy that goes beyond anything I have experienced on a human level, an intimacy that unnerves me for we react to human situations and feel greater or lesser comfort with them in accordance with cumulative experiences; those experiences prepare us for new variations on old themes. This intimacy, this level of love, this kind of love, though, is a new theme, not a variation on an old theme, and so I feel as confused as would a child encountering alone a new experience for the first time. Even though the occurrence of waking up wrapped in God's love has been becoming more frequent, each experience is still as the first time, so special is that love.

As a result, I strive to remain in that love; I will do anything for that love (perhaps that is why I get tasked sometimes, that and the fact that I often, perhaps because of my travels, am in the right place at the right time to provide the right help to the right person/people and just happen to be wiling to do that).

I am occasionally late to work (just by a few minutes) because it is so difficult to break away from such extraordinary. I do know that if I lock my office door and spend some time sitting with God at work, the love will be there again; really, it is with me constantly but all too often I am too preocuppied with being busy to notice it. So, knowing what lies ahead for the day, I sometimes selfishly take a few extra moments to stay embraced by God in the early morning before stepping out of bed and risk the consequences of arriving at work five or ten minutes late. Fortunately, no one has ever asked me why I am late. I am not sure how my explanation would be received!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Relationship II

I recently posted "Goodnight, God" on 100th Lamb and am relating some of that post here as an example of an interesting, sincere, and very pure relationship with God. In that post, I told how Doah had been sleeping on our couch while we were waiting to find a new group home for him. (Thank God, it did not take long, and he is now situated in a wonderful home, which is owned and run by a father and daughter team from Russia; once I get settled back in from my trip to Korea, we plan to get together for lunch or dinner and swap stories of our experiences of Russia, they as natives and I as someone who has spent a considerable amount of time there, especially in my university years when I completed my PhD at Pushkin Institute in Moscow and attended graduated courses at the University of Moscow.)

In that post, I described how I spent time one weekend night on the couch beside Doah, perseverating on computer work until the wee hours of the morning, unlike on the weekday nights when I usually tumbled into bed before Doah went to sleep because I have to get up early and go to work -- and, of course, at that time, he did not.

It had been years since I have watched Doah go to sleep. As a child, he would make a nest of blankets under my desk and sleep there. As a mentally challenged child, he did not think of the world in the same terms as those around him, and I always wondered what his teachers thought of us as parents if he told them that he slept in a nest!

Since Doah was right beside me, I could see him drifting off to sleep as his breathing slowed and became regular. Right before he totally zonked out, I heard him whisper, "Good night, God." Then he was unwakeably asleep for the rest of the night.

Once he no longer slept in a nest, I no longer observed him falling asleep -- and it has been years since his nesting days. So, I was unaware that he always says goodnight to God.

As I watched him, I realized how much we can learn from the simplicity of mentally challenged individuals. It is as if he has a direct link to God; there is no barrier evident -- you know, the kinds of barriers we throw up between ourselves and God so that we can avoid getting too close. Close is okay. Too close is nervous-making. Right?

So many times Doah will say, "God told me this, or God told me that." I take it at face value. I do not know how otherwise to react to it. When the nurse told him very solemnly at his post-rape medical examination, "the most important thing is to remember that it is not your fault," he responded equally sincerely, "I know; God tell me it not my fault, I no blame." I believe that this is the source of his ability to rebound from what is a highly personal violation from which more mentally complex individuals often have difficulty recovering.

I remember Doah's reaction when I first moved to San Ignatio, where one feels that the town itself is holy. (One of my Russian Orthodox friends, a very devout believer, turned to me on her first visit as we were walking around town and said, "Beth, eto mesto namolein," the closest translation of which would be "this town is soaked in prayer.") Doah stood at my stoop, looked around, turned around a time or two, then faced me, and announced, "God here."

In all our efforts of prayer, our attempts to live with God, to live as God would have us live, to open ourselves to union, to spend time in contemplation, and to spend time in reading theology (whether meant for theologians or for lay readers), I wonder if we ever consider that developing a relationship with God might be as simple as Doah sees it -- just allowing oneself to be together with God as one would be together with a friend, noticing that "God here," and remembering to say "good night, God."

I now say "good night, God" every night when I feel myself drifting off to sleep, following a period of contemplative prayer. As important, every morning upon rising, my first words now are "Good morning, God."

It does make a difference. After all, how can we grow in our relationship with anyone -- God, friends, family -- if we persevere in our daily activities without acknowledging the presence that is with us? Those activities, while we often must do them, become more enjoyable and meaningful when shared with God in the doing of them.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Humility VI

After all the animals were created, many decisions had to be made. One of these decisions involved who would be entrusted with carrying an amazing substance called 'honey'. The animals started to argue amongst each other, each trying to prove why it should be selected for this special task. The angels arranged for a competition to resolve this dispute.

First, the elephant stepped forward. "I am clearly the most qualified. Not only do I have an enormous belly where all the honey can be kept, but I also have a trunk that is perfectly designed for the task of inserting the honey into containers."

Next came the lion. He roared a few times and then said: "Honey needs to be protected and who is more qualified to protect it than the king of the jungle?"

Then the horse stepped forward:

"Honey", the horse proclaimed, "needs to be transported quickly and reliably. There is no one more qualified for this task than me".

As the animals were arguing their cases, one of the angels noticed that the bee was flying away from the scene. The angel inquired:

"Where are you going? Aren't you going to participate in the competition?"
The bee responded: "You must be kidding, how can I possibly participate in such a competition? I am completely and utterly unqualified to carry such an amazing substance. I am nothing but an insignificant insect".

At that very moment the decision was made: "Honey will be entrusted to the bee because it posses the most important quality of all. Not a large container. Not strength. Not speed. Humility."

-----------------------
The above story is excerpted from a book, Metaphors of Islamic Humanism, by my dear friend, Dr. Omar Imady, copyright 2005. I find the Sufism of Omar to be very close to Catholic mysticism, in some ways closer than mainstream Catholic thought and practice. Considering the interest in the previous posts on humility, I thought, as I posted this particular excerpt from Omar's book to Mahlou Musings, that the story, which comes from a Sufi cleric, would be particularly fitting to the continuation of the discussions from those posts.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Presence II

I had planned to write this post right before Doah ran smack into his current tribulation, so it got shelved in the wake of that trauma. We are now coming back to life, and so I thought it was time to share this rather unique experience, unique for me, anyway. The experience is a couple of weeks old now, had never happened to me before, and is still as fresh in my memory as if it happened only last night. As for the meaning, reason, or purpose of what happened, I have absolutely no idea. I will let you judge that. Personally, I think it was just a gift. At least, I accepted it as a gift because it was such an especially pleasant experience.

A couple of weeks ago, Donnie and I decided to go to the theater -- a very infrequent activity for us -- to watch the raved-about Inception, which did turn out to be an interesting and entertaining movie. Donnie bought the typical snack foods; I picked up a hot dog because I had not had a chance to eat earlier that day. I added to that order an icee. That was my nourishment for the day -- perhaps not the best, but at least not the worst that I could have chosen.

We settled into our seats, which were the best in the house. That was not a surprise since there were only a handful of people there, an unfortunate sign of our difficult economic times. The trailers of upcoming movies played through, and Inception started. By then, I had already finished my meal. I had been hungry enough to gulp down the icee and finish the hot dogs in three bites. I put down the empty containers and prepared to watch the movie.

As the movie progressed, I realized that I was only half-watching. For some reason, the longer I sat there, the stronger the presence of God became until, in spite of all the ambient noise around me, the movie by that time fuzzing out and turning into semi-ambient noise although I was following the plot. It seemed like we had a third person in the theater with us, and it remained that way throughout. It was the loveliest, most comforting feeling.

Although movies of this type usually get my adrenaline rushing, as they are meant to do, I felt nothing of the sort with this one. The longer I sat there together with God, the calmer I became even as the suspense and action in the movie was reaching a crescendo.

When we left the theater, I was very relaxed and calm, almost in a stupor. Like in the case of contemplative prayer, with which this experience had much in common, I did not want to leave, but, of course, I had to. The emotion of the experience remains with me, though. It was as if I was in two places at the same time, doing two things at the same time. It was contemplation (this sitting together with God) and action (the thrills of the movie) at the same time.

For me, the experience underscored that God is always with me; just sometimes I can sense God's presence more than other times. Perhaps it was meant to be a lesson to always have that in mind and now that even in the busiest moment I can communicate with God if I want to. Or perhaps it was simply a gift. I like to think that God just wants to give me a present of Himself upon occasion.

What do you think? Have you had similar experiences?

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Quandering

I ask the indulgence and prayers of readers of all my blogs. Other than for an occasional, already-written post or the Monday Morning Meditation (I never miss an "appointment" with God and right now that is especially important to me), I will be taking a week or so off to quander (ponder a quandary).

Donnie received a shocking call today from the work place of Doah, our youngest son, who lives in a group home from the mentally challenged, and immediately called me: Doah had been raped. I immediately left work, and we headed north. We met with the sheriff's department, the folks from Doah's workplace in whom Doah had confided, doctors and nurses, an advocate for victims of violent crimes, and Doah himself. Doah went through five hours of medical tests and over an hour of interrogation from the sheriff's department. The medical staff said that Doah inspired them with his obviously deep faith that gave him an extraordinary resilience. The deputy told Doah that he was the best crime victim he had ever met -- Doah was straightforward and explicit, got the details right, and did not back down from uncomfortable truth. By the time the evening was over, the deputies had tracked down the rapist, an illegal alien without documents who seemed to have disappeared according to everyone who knew him, and had him behind bars. Impressive! So was the orderly procedure and all the help made available to us.

Nonetheless, this event has thrown our lives out of kilter, and I need some time to put things back together. We have brought Doah home with us until we can find another group home for him. We have to decide on any legal action we wish to take against the group home -- a difficult decision because I am suit-averse by nature. There is also more testing to do and results of testing to receive: hepatitis, gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, HIV/AIDS. The latter is very frightening and very possible. I am asking all our friends to pray that Doah passes through this terrible experience without contracting HIV/AIDS as a permanent reminder and life-threatening consequence.

Thank you for your understanding and any prayers you are willing to say for Doah (or candles you are willing to light). God bless you until I am up and running regularly again.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Humility V

God gifted me when he conked me on the head, a conk that resulted in my conversion. From that moment, God has often allowed me to see how He uses me and even tasks me. There is joy in the knowing that God flows good, help, justice, and mercy to others through me. At the same time, I realized that He had always done that, had often used me even as an atheist. Because He is God, he can use anyone, good or bad, for His good. And perhaps He used me in the old days because using an imperfect, flawed person (that part has not changed much) who is unaware of His presence makes His presence more obvious to those who are receiving His support. That realization resulted in my writing Blest Atheist.

For a long while after conversion, I begged to continue being used. There is incredible, unbounded joy in being God's instrument, and the knowing of it has truly been a gift. But, as I have matured in faith, as slowly as that may have been or may be, I have come to understand the value and wonder of not knowing. Now I ask God to use me as He wills and can, without the need for me to know what or how He may be using me, just to let His love, mercy, aid, and justice flow through me like water through the cracks of a broken vessel. If there is deep, boundless joy in knowing that God has bent down and picked me up to use as an instrument of His great or small endeavors, then there is far greater joy in not knowing this, joy that is securely bounded by the unbreakable bond of God's love for man, for His creation.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Sabbath #2

Fr. Christian Mathis (Blessed Is the Kingdom) has made the suggestion that we "rest" on the Sabbath by taking a break from our normal blogging and sharing an older post of which we are particularly fond. Rest? Gladly! I don't get to do that very often, but now, thanks to Fr. Christian, I get to do it at least once a week -- and it gives me more time to spend with God, which is a wonderful gift.

For this week, I went back to the second post of this blog, Awe. It seemed fitting because, insha Allah, I will post a follow-up of sorts (an experience I had this past week) in the next few days.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Discipline

Sometimes (frequently, actually), I wonder why God pushed me in the door of the Catholic church as opposed to a mosque (I was living in the Middle East just weeks before my conversion), a synagogue (well, there is that ethnic thing), the Orthodox church (the only church in which I had spent any time due to the spiritual events in the lives of the scads of friends, colleagues, and employees in my world who are Russian Orthodox), or a Protestant church (considering that I was born into and grew up in an exclusively WASP community).

Over time, I have learned that God is pretty smart. He knew exactly what I needed: mystic spirituality and spiritual discipline. Both are pervasive attributes of the Catholic church that I have come to appreciate.

Only with increasing experience have I learned how blessed I was that my beloved Fr. Barry, then-director of our local St. Francis Retreat Center, was simultaneously serving as the interim priest at Old Mission church when I began RCIA. The combination of Franciscan spirituality and 50 years of priesthood gave him the perspective needed to help me accept and begin to understand my repeated mystical experiences. (Full understanding is not likely ever to come, not as long as God remains a mystery, and I am willing to accept that.)

The second attribute, discipline, has turned out to be equally important for this free-spirit product of the '60s. First, there is a centuries-old history of exegesis, mysticism, spirituality, and role-modeling of the walk with God. Although we may rebel against the catechesis of the church where it does not match our own precepts or makes us uncomfortable about some aspects of our lives (e.g., see my post on Anne Rice, Recooked on 100th Lamb), but we cannot but admit that they are carefully considered tenets, worked out by many faithful believers over many centuries and based on the principles that Jesus gave us at the beginning of the Common Era, the years of which those of schooled before the 21st century counted as anno domini. Over time, the Catholic church has put an order to the days and to the hours of our spiritual lives that I find refreshing and comforting. It is indeed a healthy discipline. Would that I could find time to allow myself to be disciplined more often!

One of the great blessings of Catholic discipline for me has been the daily Mass. Although I am always greedy for as much time as possible with God since I missed out on so many decades, I cannot attend every day. Work requirements preclude that. I do attend whenever I have a day off from work, and I mark Wednesday and Friday noon hours, the days that Mass is celebrated at a chapel near my office, as "do not schedule" on my calendar. My admin assistant tries carefully to keep those times sacred. She succeeds 80% of the time, and my afternoons on those days have a special feel to them as I bring the Presence that is in the Host and after the Eucharist within me back to the office.

Yes, indeed, God knew what He was doing when He pushed me in the door of the Catholic church. I am and eternally will be grateful.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Humility IV

I have posted on humility before. It is a subject that intrigues me, in part because I have a widespread reputation for being humble, yet I know that I am far from exhibiting the kind of humility that Mike Mansfield evidenced, let alone the kind of humility that Jesus modeled for us. It sometimes seems like an impossibly deep and difficult conversion, and it does not help when people praise me for having reached a state of humility when I know that there are layers of pride still to peel away. (I do not believe that humility is something that one achieves through effort or that one reaches as the goal of a journey. It is something different, at least in my experience of it. It is rather a state of being, one that comes from an ongoing conversion process.)

I suppose I have been thinking about humility a lot recently because of one of my most talented employees who has encountered jealousy and hostility from the people who work with him. Those emotions have taken him by surprise, and his response has swung between the poles of ignoring his peers and continuing to produce exceptional work that grabs the attention of my superiors, bringing him kudos and further irritating his peers, and becoming highly self-defensive and jousting with them over one idea or another or one project or another. I recently counseled him about his own behavior. He considers me a mentor, so the fact that I lay some of the responsibility for the fragmented team atmosphere in his unit on him made him uncomfortable. He also felt it was unfair because the others were "picking on" him and not vice versus. I tried to explain to him that it did not matter who started it. It did not matter who was right. As a member of the team, he needed to be able to forgive them if he truly felt that they had wounded him and continue to work for the common good. He told me that he could not do that yet, so I asked him to stay in my office (I had plenty of computer work to do) until he felt that he could at least try to forgive them. He stayed, and after twenty minutes, he announced that he was ready to forgive them. The peace lasted a few days, and then war broke out again. While humility is perhaps a rather strange thing to discuss with an employee (although perhaps no more strange than the topic of forgiveness), I pointed out that his problem seemed to be one of lack of humility. He immediately launched into a litany of all the ways in which he exhibited low self-esteem and did not consider himself the equal of his peers. That was rather insightful but not in the way he thought. He thought that by citing low self-esteem he was describing his own humility, but I don't think so. I think he was simply describing, if true, his sense of insecurity that has led to ego protection that others look at as arrogance. Humility requires healthy self-esteem, not low self-esteem. Low self-esteem is an ego problem. Healthy self-esteem is not. Nor is it egotistical. Although I am no psychologist, I have mentored hundreds of future managers, and self-esteem issues are often the reason for dysfunctional teams. So, I did not hesitate to share my thinking with this employee. Well, within a couple of days he sent me a note, describing his plan for developing humility. He listed several steps that he was going to take to achieve it and how he was going to measure it himself. Again, I talked to him, this time about the fact that he would not be able to measure his own "progress" in "achieving" humility, that others must measure us and provide honest feedback on their perceptions of us. Really, only God knows our hearts, but I have not gotten that far into the discussion with him yet (another discussion that would be unusual in the work place). From what I can see (and I may well be wrong), we convert to a growing deeper state of humility through the grace God imparts to us when we put God first, others second, and ourselves outside the importance meter.

This must be the week for thinking about humility because yesterday afternoon another employee, this one from our training unit came to me, frustrated because one of our managers was sending a couple of trainers from a different division to our Korean branch to do something that this trainer felt was her turf. I explained that we don't have turf, that the other division is a pure training division whereas we just have a few trainers assigned to one of our centers, and that being territorial is often the antithesis of being professional. She agreed with me in principle but said that the trainers from the other division, which maintains a mild rivalry with our division (this is from their side only -- I don't do rivalry for it is counterproductive), taunted her about not being as good as they are. It took quite a long discussion to help her reach the point that she could dismiss their taunts. Once again, it was pride, insecurity, and the wrong kind of self-esteem that threatened to turn her from a confident, contributing employee to a jealous and dysfunctional one. Once again, we were dancing around the issue of humility.

As for me, well, as much as I might mentor, counsel, guide, advise, help (choose the word you like) others, I am no exemplary role model. I yearn to experience a state of untainted humility, the kind of humility exhibited by Mike Mansfield, by St. Francis, by Jesus. (If anyone wants to read a great book, try Ilia Delio's The Humility of God -- think about the ways in which God has always put His creations first and the ways in which He has forgiven them their prideful maltreatment of Him.) Many are the times I think to take greater steps toward reaching greater humility when it hits me that there is nothing that I can do. There is no achievement to reach and no journey to take. Rather, it is for God to peel away my layers of pride; I can do no more than let Him. It is the letting of Him that is the most difficult and yet the most necessary and desired.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Sabbath

Fr. Christian Mathis (Blessed Is the Kingdom) has made the suggestion that we "rest" on the Sabbath by taking a break from our normal blogging and sharing an older post of which we are particularly fond. Rest? Gladly! I don't get to do that very often, but now, thanks to Fr. Christian, I get to do it at least once a week -- and it gives me more time to spend with God, which is a wonderful gift.

I have been observing the Sabbath on all my blogs, but I have not actually posted that information and and old post anywhere else except on 100th Lamb. However, it seems like perhaps a good idea to share that thought -- of taking the Sabbath off for God -- on all my blogs. Herewith, I am attaching an older post, in fact my very first past, on Modern Mysticism: Contemplation. Reading it, the sense of how hesitant I was to address a centuries old theme, along with aspects of theophanies and hierophanies, is clear. The readers of this blog, in sharing their own thoughts and experiences, have made me a bit braver in the sharing of these special experiences. In several cases, they have also helped me to understand them better and even to accept them with less trepidation and greater gratitude.

Have a restful and peaceful Sabbath!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Tasked III

Ever since coming to faith and seeing my past in a new light as someone who had unknowingly been an instrument of God on a number of occasions (details galore can be found in my book, Blest Atheist), I have been grappling with the question, why would God use an atheist. And why would I, the least knowledgeable Catholic around (I peer into the depths of my lack of knowledge every time I teach a catechism class) be tasked to do anything, represent anything, or share my thinking on anything? As I stumble around in the “cloud of unknowing,” a place where I am increasingly comfortable and from where I do not want to leave, people, especially writers I encounter, shine inspired rays here and there into my tucha (Russian: a dark rain cloud, through which the sun cannot penetrate), momentarily turning the expanse immediately before me into an oblako (Russian: a light cloud, through which the sun does shine). Two such rays have illuminated my question as to why God would use an atheist for His purposes.

The first ray came from The Book of Privy Counseling. The answer there was quite simple: God uses atheists and flawed people in general “because He can.” I loved that explanation. It allowed me to accept not knowing and to keep on accepting new tasks, the latter having already become a habitualized response but the former having been earlier disquieting.

Recently, though, in reading Fr. Richard Rohr’s Things Hidden, I came across a suggestion, the second ray, that seemed to explain even better the possible reason for my sundry taskings. “Usually, in fact,” writes Fr. Richard, “they [those tasked or used as instruments] are quite flawed or at least ordinary people, so it is clear that their power is not their own.” Now that makes a lot of sense to me, at last in my current stage of spiritual undevelopment. Certainly, the events that led to saving the life of Shura, a talented child artist from Siberia, about whom I have posted on both 100th Lamb and Clan of Mahlou, were well beyond my own power,

I think there may be another reason, too. If an atheist like I was could be used so extensively that some called me “God’s agent in Jordan” (only to become highly confused when they found out I was an atheist), anyone can be used. Perhaps that is an underlying message: God can and will use anyone and everyone if they just permit it. After all, in spite of how the situation confused so many, I probably was God’s agent in Jordan. The message speaks volumes about the power, love, and creativity of God, who can and will achieve divine ends to help His people (all people being His) through anyone, even an outspoken atheist.

Hah! I made my own ray of illumination here! The actual situation, though, is that I still don’t know a definitive answer. These are just my ruminations of today. Maybe I will be given to know more and maybe not. Whether or not I ever learn more no longer matters to me here in my “Cloud of Unknowing” comfort zone, where I am a part of the droplets that form its endless expanse and they are part of me. I feel that I am loved. Knowledge beyond that is unessential.

Double-posted on 100th Lamb and Modern Mysticism.