Saturday, March 27, 2010

Away from Blogging for a Week

With the beginning of Holy Week, I will be taking a week off from blogging so as to spend as much time as possible in prayer, which, in reality, will be considerably less than usual and certainly far less than I would like.

Unfortunately, I cannot take a week off from traveling and am sad that I will be on a plane between Ohio and Texas Thursday evening, which means that I will miss Maundy Thursday Mass, which is one of my favorites. (The year that Fr. Greg, a priest assigned to our parish on an interim basis, was here, 2007, I was one of the 12 whose feet he washed; then he asked the 12 of us to wash the feet of everyone in the church -- it took a long time, but it was a very good experience for everyone.)

I even have to work on Good Friday this year. Usually I can manage my schedule so that I can get off work. Fortunately, the senior manager I am traveling with is also Catholic, and I have charged him with finding us a Mass in San Antonio. I hear that there is a wonderful cathedral near the Alamo. (He is reliable; we have attended Mass together during our required travels in Korea and in Germany at churches that he has tracked down.) I have told our San Antonio branch that once we know the time of Mass, they will have to work my meetings around that time. I will be back early Saturday afternoon, in time for Easter vigil at Old Mission, which is where I really prefer to be -- in my little town which one visitor once called "namolein" (Russian: "saturated in prayer").

While I am gone, I recommend reading scripture (of course) and those blogs that I routinely read and will be reading for inspiration and reflection this week; they seem especially appropriate for Holy Week:
Blessed Is the Kingdom (Fr. Christian Mathis)
A Concord Pastor Comments (Fr. Austin Fleming)
A Minor Friar (Br. Charles)
Bear Witness to the Light (Fr. John Sullivan)
Catholic Spiritual Direction (Fr. John Bartunek)
Glory to God for All Things (Father Stephen)
Portiuncula: The Little Portion (Fra Chris Dickson)
Praise and Bless (Br. Charles; yes, he also writes A Minor Friar)

I will be back after Easter, and I wish all of you a wonderful, blessed week and as much time as you want to spend with God.


Thursday, March 18, 2010


Prior to my conversion, I considered death definitely not okay. Not that I feared death. I did not, and the older I became and the more full my life became, for full, indeed, it did become, the less I gave death any thought at all. When one has led a life rich in experiences of all sorts, one does not experience a desperate attempt to cling to life in order to get everything in that one wants to do. I have, as you might have guessed, no bucket list. I am grateful for the experiences I have had, and they are sufficient. Whatever ones are to come will also be sufficient. So, death is no threat. Still, death is not something that ever seemed okay. Ill people, children with birth defects, perfectly healthy people getting in accidents – all these life endings were, in my mind, simply not okay.

Not that I did not defy death. I did. I was a risk-taker par excellence. (I still am, but these days I am perhaps a little more judicious about choosing the cliffs off which I take a flying leap with but a prayer and half-a parachute for protection.) As a child, I climbed apple trees (in a skirt, no less, since girls were not allowed to wear pants in those days in rural New England), taunted and pummeled boys who quickly learned that I was tomboy eager and ready to grow up on the boys’ side of the playground, and took on the causes of the underdog, whatever that required – words, fists, or a helping hand.

As a teenager, I fought back at home. Fighting to stay alive would not be an understatement when parental physical abuse threatened to main or kill my siblings and me and when sexual abuse threatened to murder trust and free spirit.

I continued to take on underdog causes with enthusiasm. I remember, for example, the English teacher, Mrs. D., who gave boys who played sports lower grades than other students for the same level of effort and scholarship. I rallied to their cause, conspiring to put an end to this favoritism with the help of Bobby, captain of the football and basketball teams and my pal and scrapping partner since toddler days. (In fact, the story of how I flattened Bobby into the sidewalk when we were both two years ago because I had shared my ice cream but he would not subsequently share his candy bar is still told with great gusto by the older residents of the neighborhood where we both grew up.) Toward the end of our junior year, Bobby, one of the tallest boys in our class, sat right behind me, one of the shortest girls, seats of our own choosing at the beginning of the school year. That made it easy for Bobby to see my answers on tests if I did not cover them up, but Bobby never cheated. Not until the day that we hatched the grand plan for entrapping Mrs. D. in a web of favoritism.

Our plan came to fruition on the day of our next major test. We were both prepared for the test. I know that Bobby was as prepared as I was because I prepared him. Always an A student in English, my help was enlisted by many other students, including nearly all members of the football and basketball teams. I would check their homework and quiz them before class. We were always more or less equally ready, but the ball-playing boys would get a D and I would get an A on the same test. Mrs. D considered “jocks” dumb. We all knew that. Bobby and I were convinced that her attitude, not our relative levels of knowledge, was the essential reason for the difference in our grades, and we set out to prove it. Mrs. D handed out the papers, and we all proceeded to answer the questions. Bobby, looking over my shoulder, easily ensured that his answers matched mine. On the one essay question, he changed a few words, replacing some of my words with synonyms but essentially keeping the content. We finished at the same time, of course, but I walked up first and placed my paper on Mrs. D’s desk so that it ultimately was much lower in the stack than Bobby’s. That way, the likeness between our answers would not be obvious. Sure enough, Bobby got a D, and I got an A. We carefully compared our answers and found no essential differences. After class, we hurried down to the principal’s office, gloating about how effectively we had trapped Mrs. D. Then the enormity of what we had really done hit me. With my hand on the knob, I turned to Bobby and said, “we cheated.” He immediately realized that, depending upon the principal’s whim, we might be the ones punished, not her. (In those days in rural New England, children, especially teens, were always wrong; that probably explains as well as anything else how my parents could get away with sending their eight children to school day after day with marks all over their bodies from physical abuse.) And so our grand plan had petered-out ending. We did not go into the office, nor did we confront Mrs. D. (Obviously, there was a limit to my risk-taking.) I did, though, talk to Bobby’s mother and also to the mother of Jimmy, another friend who captained the basketball team after Bobby and I graduated. I begged them not to punish their sons for bad grades because the teacher was unfair to them. I don’t know whether they ever believed me; they never checked out my opinion, and Bobby and I made a pact never to tell the story, and we were well into our 40s before I ever did.

After high school and college, I joined the U. S. Army, another risk-taking step. For the next eight years, I spent my time jumping into and out of helicopters, firing submachine guns (although given my small size, they often fired me, whumping me up and down on the ground from reverberation), and learning combat maneuvers. At one point, I was one of only two women in the United States assigned to combat intelligence, and I was the only enlisted woman to stand a commissioning board in maternity clothes, becoming the first pregnant officer. (It is small claims to fame that I have garnered through my risk-taking, nothing of any great glory, but nonetheless I consider them personal triumphs of some sort.)

After my Army stint, I took on more sedate employment: university professor, and my rough-and-tumble activities moved into the household. It was I, not Donnie, who taught our boys to wrestle. Finding a mother rolling around on the floor with her elementary-school sons in a contest of who could pin whom first would probably have flabbergasted traditional parents and even likely traditional psychologists. (Fortunately, I had friends who became psychologists, and they seemed to think that we were a well-functioning, highly bonded family in spite of my quirks. That is indeed one of the many miracles with which God has spoiled me.) My more traditional role, though, did not change my view of death. I did not fear it, and I did not worry about not having completed what I wanted to do with life. I accepted death as an ending to life and nothing more. But still it was definitely not okay. I much preferred to live, thank you.

Post-conversion, I find that I look upon death quite differently, still with no fear but, and, this astounds me at times, with a growing sense that death is okay. I define death differently now, too. I view it not simply as an ending but as the end of a specific state, which is a fear-free thought (at least, for me).

I realized the deep change in my attitude while reading Abandonment to Divine Providence (Jean-Pierre de Caussade). De Caussade writes, “Your will is enough, and I am willing to live and die as it decrees.” I recognized with some surprise my own post-conversion sentiments in de Caussade’s words. I am not only willing, but happy, to live and die as God wishes. I have found that willingness to be freeing. I no longer need to fight. Those struggles for survival are comfortably in the past now. I now say simply, “God, You choose for me, and I will be pleased with the choice.” Yes, death is okay if it is God’s choice. How liberating!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Voice VI

Months passed before I heard the Voice again. When I did, I was quite startled both by the hearing of it and by the content. It often seems to come out of the blue and when I am engaged in doing something that requires concentration, such as driving or reading, pulling me instantly from the task at hand although when driving I cannot always just stop as I can when reading.

In the case that I am about to relate, I had been doing some consultation for the Ministry of Education in Bahrain. That particular day I had finished early and was reading in my hotel room. The sun does not set until quite late during the hot days of early fall in Bahrain, and at 4:00 in the afternoon, the sun was at full throttle, providing me with lots of natural light for enjoying the book I had brought with me.

As I was reading, seated at the window, I heard four distinct words that pulled me instantly from my book: "Bring him to Me."

Simultaneously, I saw the image of an employee who worked for me. Or, more accurately, who worked for a supervisor three rungs in the ladder below me. I, however, did know the employee and knew that he was a devout Catholic of the Chaldean persuasion.

"He is with you," I responded instinctively. My talking-back trait that drove my mother to fury has not changed, no matter who the partner in conversation is. I am relieved that God does not have the same response as my mother!

No, no fury. All I got was a soft, short comment: "Not enough."

Oh, my! This tasking was going to be complicated. How on earth was I going to approach this employee? Write to him and tell him what I had been told? He would think I was bonkers!

Nonetheless, I clearly had to "bring him" to God even though I knew (thought) that he was devout. Goodness! I took a deep breath, turned on my computer, hooked up to the Internet, and sent a brief note of query: "Is everything all right with you?"

Days and nights occurring at different times in the Middle East and the USA, it was the next day before I got his response. Indeed, he said, everything was not only all right but going swimmingly well. He went on to talk about his children's recent accomplishments at school, his success at work, and even his wife's success at her job. He was not making this easy for me at all. Feeling rather foolish but nonetheless mission-compelled, I typed back five words: "I mean with your soul." What a strange thing to write to an employee!

I waited impatiently for the next day to arrive, wondering how he would interpret this highly personal intrusion into his life -- and from his boss's boss's boss's boss. This was not the typical topic of discussion between people so far apart in a hierarchy. (On the other hand, I have worked diligently and successfully to flatten our hierarchy.)

The answer came. It was perplexingly ambiguous. Had it been a voice conversation, I would have labeled his response dissembling. As it was written, I can only say that he did not answer the question directly. Although he claimed that all was fine with his soul, he made unclear references to future concerns about issues that might or might not come up but that he felt on top of. I had no idea what he was talking about or even how to respond to what seemed to me to be gibberish.

I did not have to wait long, however, for a fuller understanding. In the middle of the next night (it was a Thursday; I remember that because Thursdays and Fridays in Bahrain are the weekend, and I mistakenly thought I was going to get a good night's sleep because I did not have to get up early the next day), I received an urgent phone call from the immediate supervisor of this employee, whom I shall call M. It turned out that the husband of another employee, a Muslim, had called him and threatened to sue our organization because his wife was having an affair with M. Ah, hah! Now the "bring him to Me" made a lot of sense!

I explained to the first-line supervisor, who was quite new in the position, that he did not need to worry about the angry husband. The husband could not sue the organization. We had not required his wife to have an affair with a co-worker, nor had anything taken place at work premises. We talked a bit about why the husband would feel like he could and should contact the supervisor, the differences between Muslim and non-Muslim marriages, and the marital fidelity that is required especially on the part of the wife by Shariya law. I was a bit concerned for the female employee and not without reason. Fortunately, others in her community stepped up to protect her.

The first-line supervisor was calmed. After sending me additional information by email and being fully reassured, again, by me that there was nothing to worry about, he could go on with business as usual. I, however, could not. I still had not completed the tasking of "bring him to Me."

There being nothing more that I could do from a distance, I filed away all the e-notes just in case I were to need them (I still have them because they are evidence of the remarkability of what transpired), then completed my consult in Bahrain.

As soon as I arrived back in California, I called the employee into my office at the end of the work day for what turned out to be a two-hour conversation. While his having an affair was really none of my business, it clearly had been made my business. I told M I knew about the affair and asked why he had told me that all was well with his soul when this was going on. He said nothing. Then I told him about the voice and being told "bring him to Me." At that point, M broke down, stuttered that he knew he had a great wife (I reinforced that notion because I had met her and knew that to be true) and felt remorseful. I suggested that he tell her before someone else did, our community being small. He demnurred; I asked him to consider this strongly and to get guidance from his priest. "Oh, no," he said. "There is no way I am going to confess this to my priest; he knows my whole family." Well, he should have thought about that ahead of time. He begged me to find someone who did not know him. I refused, but I did take him to Old Mission to pray together with him about this.

During that first meeting, he told me how worried he was for the safety of the female employee, with whom he had severed relations once with the husband had found out. He said that she had been forced to write a suicide note by her husband. She had told the local police, but they did not understand Muslim tradition, especially honor killings, and pooh-poohed any need for concern. M wanted to absolve himself of any need to act on her behalf because he did not want any of his acquaintances to learn about his unfaithfulness, but I insisted that he tell her adult daughter everything he knew because she would understand and know what to do. I tried to impress upon him his responsibility to do everything possible to ensure her safety regardless of his reputation. He wavered, but he did do it.

We had a second meeting a short while after our late-evening prayer on the mission grounds. He told me that he had talked to the woman's daughter and to an elder couple in the Muslim community, and the latter had given shelter to the woman to protect her until her husband got over his anger and realized that US law prohibited him from harming his wife. That realization took a couple of months, and ultimately the couple divorced. M told me that he had also talked to his own wife, realizing that I was right. Were she to find out from someone else -- and everyone had begun talking about this -- it would hurt her far more than his coming to her in remorse. She forgave him. He also had been able, with more than a little effort, to put aside his pride, go to confession, and achieve reconciliation with the help of his own priest.

So, all is well, I guess, that ends well. I am not sure quite how to rate the ending. I am also not sure how to rate my performance. I tried the best I knew, not having been given any further instructions or any explicit guidance, to accomplish the "bring him to Me" task. Was bringing him to Old Mission in prayer enough?

Of course, the age-old question nagged: why me? God only knows! Yeah, that would be right. God does know; I don't, and I suppose I don't need to know.

Did I do what was expected of me? I don't know that, either, since I was having to come up with my own response. I can only assume that having been given the tasking, had I marched off in a wrong direction, I would have been either pulled back to the right path overtly or gently nudged back there without my noticing it. The former did not happen. If the latter happened, I would not even know.

I am getting much better these days at accepting the not knowing of it all. Not knowing why people and things get put in my path. Not knowing what exactly is expected of me. Not knowing if how I respond meets with God's approval. None of that matters much to me any more. I know that God loves me. I know that I honestly try my best to do as I am asked. If I need to know more than that, I will be given to know it. In the interim, I am happy to serve God in whatever way I can, even if it is imperfectly.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010


Those who have read any portion of my Blest Atheist book or blog by the same name are well aware of the immense abuse suffered during our childhood by me and my seven siblings, monikered "the 8-pack" by Rollie, one of my younger brothers. Although my sister Katrina never planned on growing up, certain that she would be killed by my mother sometime before achieving adulthood, we did indeed all survive extensive physical abuse (e.g., being stabbed, thrown into walls, kicked into unconsciousness, and the like), emotional abuse (e.g., being sat on a staircase and listening to my mother, who held a can of kerosene and a book of matches in her hands, tell us how she was going to set us on fire), and sexual abuse (various male relatives had their way with both the boys and the girls on a regular, nearly weekly, basis). We had each other for support: the 8-pack was very important to all of us in an age when neighbors and teachers looked the other way. As an atheist, I assumed that I, as the oldest, needed to stand up to Ma and the other abusers in our lives in order to encourage the younger kids. My brother, Rollie, says that for him and the others I was the real father in the house. It was not easy; as an atheist, I had only my own internal fortitude for personal support -- and, of course, the courage that springs almost unbidden when one must fight for people one loves, whether those be children, friends, employees, or, in this case, siblings. Remarkably, contrary to what most of today's doctors or psychologists would expect, we all reached adulthood not only in one piece but without any long-lasting evidence of physical abuse or any significant emotional scars.

After coming to faith, I commented to God, “If only I had had You with me during those earlier, difficult days, how much easier it would have been.” To that, the quiet but impressive Voice that to this day startles me when I hear it, responded “I was with you.” Had I only known...

Telling this one day to my sister, Danielle, I also remarked that I found it unfathomable as to why we would be so protected by God, especially since clearly not everyone is. Why should we receive special treatment? She looked at me curiously and said, "I thought you knew."

"Knew what?" I asked.

"What the boys [our younger brothers] knew. What all the rest of us kids knew."


"The very first thing I remember in my entire life -- perhaps I was only two or three years old -- was realizing what a predicament we were in, and I said a prayer: "Dear God, Dad is gone all the time, and Ma is a child. So, would you please raise us?"

I have since wondered if the answer to my question about why we grew up intact, why we seemed to have been protected (no infections from some very deep stabs, no improper healing of broken bones, no low self-esteem), why we all grew up to be be extremely ethical and moral (even, in my case, as an atheist), could be that simple. Could the explanation simply be that God chose to answer the prayer of a precocious three-year-old?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Voice V

The next time I heard the Voice, it came with imagery and a very tall order. As I was driving to work one morning, I was startled (I don’t think I will ever not be startled) by the Voice saying to me, “I gave you the gift of words. Use them for me, and on the basis of what you write, speak.”

Now here was something I was certain I was not qualified to do. I argued, “I don’t write those kinds of books. I write textbooks and cultural stuff. I would not know how to write something about You or for You.” Why God puts up with my argumentativeness and does not simply wipe me out with the swat of a thought or give up on me, I do not know, but I am grateful for His patience.

The response to my argument was immediate. Against the clouds, I saw a pink-covered book with a moving black pen. “I will guide your pen,” came the response.

Well, here was an interesting dilemma. First, what on earth was I supposed to write? There was not much direction in what I had heard. Second, when on earth was I supposed to do it? I had a job that often required me to put in as many as 60-70 hours a week, a job, I might mention, that God insisted I take and keep. Third, by the time I got to work I was wondering had I really heard what I heard.

It would have been easy perhaps to ignore the vision and Voice, but somehow I could not. I fussed about it for four months, trying to figure out what to do about the tasking and wondering if it was authentic. This was the first time that I felt a definite need for a priest’s interpretation, yet I really did not want to be written off as hopelessly psychotic. I tried to turn to Fr. Barry, at the time just completing an assignment as our interim parish priest at the time (double-hatting with directing the St. Francis Retreat Center). I took RCIA classes with him and over time he has become my de facto spiritual advisor and informal confessor although I generally go to regular confession at Old Mission with one of our parish priests (English-speaking, Spanish-speaking, or Latin Mass -- for a small town, we are rich in that respect). Each time I ran into Fr. Barry, however, when I tried to bring up the topic, but my tongue just would not work. Finally, I sent him the following letter:

Fr. Barry, for some weeks, I have wanted to relate an overwhelming event because I trust your insights and experience. Each time I have tried, however, I have lost my courage. I think the only way around this barrier is to seize a brave moment and describe it in writing. To wit, I spend my 90-minute (roundtrip) daily commute in communication with God, enjoying His presence. Well, one morning I heard, “I gave you the gift of words. Use them for Me.” I argued that I don’t know how to do this kind of writing. In answer, against the clouds I saw a book and a moving quill pen. The Voice said, “I will guide your pen.” I have not known what to make of this. I am not anyone special to entrust with such a task, yet this is not something I would be likely to fantasize since I do not consider myself capable of writing this sort of book, my job does not allow time to write, and logic dominates my thinking. (The latter trait is probably why for 56 years I remained an atheist. My coming to faith is a testament to the remarkable power and loving willingness of God to touch both mind and body.) Since “no” turned out to be an unacceptable response, I have now written 100 pages. My pen has indeed been guided, and this incident, along with others, has introduced me to the concept of submission.

Having learned that such experiences are not typical for all believers, I have told nearly no one. My support has come singularly from God through hours of prayer. I stumbled across St. Thérèse d’Avile’s journals; they have helped me to understand the voice. The medieval mystics’ works also ring true for me, but I am left to my own interpretations.

Do you have insight into this and time to talk to me about it or know someone who does? I am not sure what I need—perhaps confirmation of my sanity or, if I am misinterpreting something, correction. I yearn to know more about such experiences and how to achieve the self-effacing submission that God seems to want. I know there are people who need support just to get through their daily lives and my need is minor, so if there is no help except through what God chooses to tell me, I will cope, confident that in time I will be led to understand what it is that God wants me to understand and the rest is unimportant.

Thank you for reading this, Fr. Barry. I feel better having shared it. Since only sane folk question their sanity, I pray that you will not think I have taken leave of my senses—as I sometimes ask myself.

Fr. Barry called me immediately and grilled me for nearly half an hour. Later, as I became more familiar with Catholic literature, I realized that much of his questioning came straight out of the journals of St. Theresa of Avila. They were the kinds of questions she posed to herself to determine the authenticity of what she had heard. Fr. Barry concluded that the Voice (and tasking) was likely authentic and that I should try to follow through and see what happened. (He also suggested that I not share widely the experience. "It might be best to keep this to yourself," he said. "I don't think you're crazy, but others might." Of course, this has been my concern for quite some time -- until recently when Fr. Kevin from San Jose, with whom I am taking a yearlong contemplative prayer seminar, said that everyone is called to the seventh mansion described by St. Theresa of Avila (which I have not reached and may never reach although I find it desirable, attractive, fascinating, etc.). With those words, Fr. Kevin allayed my fears, and I am starting to feel quite normal now. Yes! :)

As for the tasking, along the way, when I asked for help, as I did on several occasions, the book title popped into my head: Blest Atheist. All along the way, from the day he first told me to treat the tasking as real, Fr. Barry has been available to help, reading my drafts, giving me feedback, encouraging me. Of course, I gave him the very first copy of the book, following publication. (Oddly enough, the color of the book cover is essentially pink.)

And now Blest Atheist has become a blog. That blog led to other blogs, including to this one. Perhaps blogging is more important than the book itself. However, the next book is underway (if I can stop blogging long enough to finish it).

These days I try hard to use my words for God because I know that any talent with words that I might have comes from God and therefore my words belong to Him. Not only am I writing, but the rest of the message -- "on the basis of what you write, speak" -- has started to occur in and of itself. I have been asked to speak at organizations, at chapel sessions, and, surprisingly to my family and friends, have become a catechist.

Fr. Barry told me to write and "see where it takes you." Clearly, it is taking me.

Saturday, March 6, 2010


One day my friend, Tom, who works near where I do rushed into my office at the end of the day. With wide eyes and rushed breath, he exclaimed, "Beth, I think the Evil One is after me!"

He went on to explain that he found himself doing things, bad things, that he would never accept from others and had never thought he would even be tempted to do, for example, hitting on women in whom he had no real interest and in spite of the fact that he had a beautiful and loving wife whom he loved and admired. Yet, he was doing these things and could not seem to stop. He also talked about nightmares and feeling alone. To my response as to whether he had prayed for help, he said, "I have not been able to pray for weeks. The words just don't come, and I don't feel like praying, anyway. I guess prayer is simply now something in my past, not in my present or future."

He really was in a lot of trouble! So, although it was difficult for him, I would not let him leave my office until we had prayed together about this problem. Once we started, the words came to him just fine, and we spent nearly a half-hour in heartfelt prayer. When he left, I could see that he was relieved but at the same time still troubled, worried that what he called "the Evil One" was waiting outside my door to pounce on him.

I was a recent convert at the time and had no idea what I was getting into or what to do about it. After Tom left, I asked God to help me understand what was happening to Tom. "Please let me feel what he feels," I begged. "If possible, give me his struggle for I am stronger."

How naive that request was! How arrogant to think I could "handle" it! Immediately, that Presence, which I had begun to take for granted as it had been with me day and night since my conversion, disappeared. If what I had been sensing all around me for months on a 24/7 basis was the Presence of God, then what I was feeling now was the Absence of God. It was a cold, lonely, empty feeling. It was highly disconcerting, and it created incredible yearning. No matter how much I yearned, no matter how much I prayed, no matter how much I begged, the only thing that came to me was Absence. Black, dark, cold, impersonal Absence. Absence in the office. Absence in the hallway. Absence in the parking lot. Absence in the car. Absence at home. Absence!

That night, I fell into bed and immediately nodded off to sleep. Fortunately, I can always fall asleep; that is how I have treated my inability to take painkiller throughout my life: go to sleep in the dentist's chair during no-painkiller root canals, go to sleep during grin-and-bear it biopsies, go to sleep during childbirth. So, in the tormenting presence of the Absence, I fell asleep.

In the morning, I awoke to the Presence again. Yes!

"Where were you last night?" I demanded to know. (Sometimes I wonder why God puts up with me.)

"You asked to feel what Tom was feeling," came the response.

I admitted that I had overestimated my strength. "Please don't ever do that again," I begged. "Don't ever go away. I don't want to be without You." So far, that request has been honored.

A few days later, I happened across a copy of St. John of the Cross's The dark Night of the Soul and read every word eagerly, finding many parallels in this experience but not a complete fit. Nonetheless, I have to wonder if that is what was happening to my friend or if instead he was indeed in the clutches of something evil. I suppose I will never know. I just know two things:

(1) After 20 hours of prayer, together and separately, Tom emerged back into a life dedicated to God; and, most important,

(2) I want the Presence, not the Absence, every day of the rest of my life!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Voice IV

Not long after I started to receive verbal taskings, I began to have some doubts, mostly put into my head when others started questioning me about these experiences. In the early days after my conversion, I shared these experiences openly, thinking that all believers have them.

One of the people who questioned what I was telling him suggested that I ask for a sign that the Voice was indeed divine. About the same time, the Voice had become quieter in speaking to me, not that it ever was very loud, ebbing into more of a whisper then a voice. So, the next time I heard it, I said, “I cannot hear You,” and the message was repeated more audibly (to my ear, anyway).

“How do I know this is You?” I asked. “Please give me a sign that it is Your voice that I am hearing.”

“I will not give you a sign,” the Voice responded. “Trust that it is My voice the way you trusted me to heal your employee.” (That incident is recounted in my conversion story, and it was indeed a moment of pure trust.)

After that I have trusted although I have upon occasion sought the advice of priests. Thank God for Fr. Barry, the 82-year-old priest who has seen so much that whatever I tell him neither overwhelms nor underwhelms him.

About this same time, I learned that not all believers interact with God in this way. In fact, most tell me that they have never heard this Voice. With time, I began to feel that something might be wrong with me —- until I was invited to the prayer group at our mission, which I now co-lead, and learned that I was not alone.

Truly, I do not understand why God chooses to interact with different people differently. I can suppose that it is because we are different, but only God really knows why.

Nor do I understand why God chose to reach out, grab me, and thrust me into a cosmic nutcracker or give me verbal taskings, but I could guess that it may be because I can be what Russians call “tugodum” (thick-headed). Subtle things I don't always pick up on.

But, again, only God really knows why. I accept that this is the why God has chosen to communicate with me, take the incoming messages to a priest if I feel the need for confirmation, and march off in the direction in which I have been sent, hoping and praying that I won’t screw up too much of what I have been asked to do. As Jean-Pierre Caussade wrote in Abandonment to Divine Providence, “Perfection consists in doing the will of God, not in understanding His designs.” Over time (and not without moments of regression), I have given up my intense need to understand, and in doing that I have achieved an immense level of peace.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


The first time it happened, I felt like a pet dog. "It" was a gentle stroking down the right side of my head, like someone petting hair much as one would pet the hair of an animal. Since that first time over three years ago, I have frequently felt that stroking, far more frequently, in fact, than I have seen images or heard a Voice. I wondered about it at first. Could this be real? Then, I read Authenticity (Fr. Thomas Dubay), a wonderfully written, highly insightful, impressively knowledgeable book that has been extremely helpful to me in understanding the kind of relationship that God seems to be after. (I would recommend it to one and all.)

I suppose I may have inadvertently prompted this touch by a somewhat related request. Since I can become quite intently involved in any task at hand and fully ignore God even when His presence is nigh onto palpable, I asked Him to squeeze my shoulder if I were to wander away from Him in that manner. Indeed, at times, I have felt that squeeze. I wish I would feel it more strongly and more often because there have been a number of times I have marched off confidently on my own only to have to backtrack because I had not been listening.

The petting, though, was nothing I ever asked for or would possibly have contemplated asking for. It just happened one day, startling me in the same way the Voice does. Over time, though, I have come to find it comforting. Maybe I would make a good pet, after all.

Have any of you felt something similar? What was your reaction?