Learning to Trust

You did not consult me when You numbered the stars
You did not ask permission when You sprinkled the darkness with them
You did not ask me before You built the mountains and traced the sea coasts
You did not make me the conductor of the wind
Or the orchestrator of the birds
You did not ask me permission before You built hearts to need other hearts
You never asked me God and yet You did it anyway!
There is so much in my life that I don’t understand.

Yet, it only takes one walk on the beach, one starry night with someone I love, one birth;
 it only takes one naked moment to realize that I am glad you did not ask me permission.
The greatest joys in my life I wouldn’t have chosen.

Dear God,
I ask not for certainty but faith
Not proof but trust
I ask not for control but for a current to guide me
And at the end of my life, just as at the end of each day, to have but one prayer:
Thank you.

Photo Credit: http://patcegan.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/old-man-face.jpg

equal change under God

Crisp color changes and the crunch of Autumn’s evolving paths can lead us to deeper God-consciousness.  Let’s slow down and open our eyes and minds to the width and depth of God’s amazing love. We may harvest and celebrate our abundance.  We may pray and hope for a peaceful winter.  No matter the season, the God-given change is lined with lessons.

Here’s one that I’ve been pondering: All of nature is impacted equally by the happenings of the weather.  No creature is untouched by change.

Us humans have a lot to learn from nature’s way of gracefully bending to change and cooperation with biodiversity. No matter who we are, how we deal with or accept changes matters. We all get to play a part in God’s mysterious and phenomenal creation. None of us are bigger or better and all of our discipleship is special and significant–especially those acts that may seem small and silent. Sometimes our submission to God’s greatness is enough to help things move the right way.

A simple pro-life part of the Christmas story reminds us to stay open to the graces and goodness available in all kinds of changes.

 

Give to the Most High as he has given to you,
generously, according to your means.
For he is a God who always repays
and will give back to you sevenfold.
But offer no bribes; these he does not accept!
Do not trust in sacrifice of the fruits of extortion,
For he is a God of justice,
who shows no partiality.
He shows no partiality to the weak
but hears the grievance of the oppressed. 
– Sirach 35: 12-16
 

How could you give all you have gotten from God back to God today?

How can you spread appreciation to all parts of God’s creation–even those who are ignored, unliked, or on the margins?

How can you imitate Mary and Jesus’ teachings?

Merry Christmas!

 

Saying yes to God

At times, discipleship feels a bit like this:

Big trucks and death beds tend to get our attention. We wake up and listen to the Truth when tragedies and power struggles shake us alert. God gives us grace and growth and then we learn. We really aren’t meant to be independent after all; we’re trying to be God when we cling to control and try to go through life on our own.

Today is World Food Day, a particular day when discipleship offers opportunities: we are called to advocate for those who are hungry, to be stewards of our blessings, and to fast and pray for the type of world that works according to God’s designs. (I suggest participating in some of the actions of Catholic Relief Services, Oxfam or Bread for the World.)

At times, we might rather just ignore disturbing facts — like every day about 30,000 children die throughout the world from preventable causes. Meanwhile, the United States throws away enough food to fill an entire stadium.

Food Waste

We’d rather not think about such things. That way we can keep enjoying our gourmet food guilt-free. Systemic change is tough stuff when the suffering feels too far away from us, or the facts are totally depressing.

But we’re disciples of Jesus, the greatest advocate for those who are hungry and poor. We try to follow Jesus’ ways, even if it means letting go of our comfort and entering into what’s ugly and disturbing.

When we pray “thy will be done” are we asking for God’s will to be done only in the ways we like and are comfortable with? Or, do we expect God’s will to be as we imagine it?

Being human means being in relationship. Relational living insists on our need to rely on others. In order to really trust one another and follow Jesus  we must let go and remain open to mystery. This isn’t easy when the mystery is really, really uncomfortable or unlike what we’re used to. Praying for openness can help, I’ve learned.

I keep wondering, though, if we make it harder or easier on ourselves when we pray to be open to changes. Is it inevitable that we’ll  carry our ugly stubbornness and assumptions around and then weigh down our walking with Jesus? Is there a certain amount of resistance and struggle that is appropriate, necessary and natural?  Do these dynamics make us human, and ultimately cause us to grow?

Maybe risk-taking and leaps of faith are God’s ways of getting us in shape for the real labor of following. Because, the act of saying yes to trusting God can open us to change.

God is clever.  Leaning into God’s trustworthiness gets us places. Somehow we end up submitting and give up our ideas and agendas when we must.

"sunset in New Mexico" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“sunset in New Mexico” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

This saying is trustworthy:

If we have died with him we shall also live with him;

if we persevere we shall also reign with him.

But if we deny him he will deny us.

If we are unfaithful he remains faithful,

for he cannot deny himself.

-2 Timothy 2: 11-13

Jesus and the Mommy Wars

I am a conscientious objector to the Mommy Wars.

If you’ve never heard of the Mommy Wars, then you (mercifully) missed last year’s media frenzy surrounding a Time magazine cover that featured a mom breastfeeding her four-year-old son. The accompanying article, provocatively titled “Are You Mom Enough?,” spawned a vitriolic nation-wide debate that was sadly emblematic of the Mommy Wars.

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For a glimpse of the battles being waged daily, just visit an internet message board for expectant mothers. I’ve seen a discussion thread about the use of pacifiers devolve into a veritable combat zone, with pro-paci factions launching caustic condemnations at those who refuse to give their babies pacifiers (and vice versa).

Water birth or epidural? Cry-it-out or attachment parenting? Career- or stay-at-home mom/dad? For every parenting decision we make, there is an “expert” eager to explain exactly how that decision will cause irreversible damage in our children. Once, distraught by contradictory parenting books, I called my mom in a panic. “How do I know which one is right?!”

“Nicole,” she replied with wise bemusement, “there are a million right ways to raise a child.”

What a revelation! I’ve carried that advice with me even—and especially—as I’ve waded through judgment from others and the temptation to judge others. I do, of course, have strong opinions about what’s right for my family, and I have unfortunately witnessed some very wrong ways to raise a child. But, for the most part, I respect others’ parenting choices and operate under the assumption that they’re doing what’s right for them. I think most of us can agree that deeming a woman “Mom Enough” based upon her use or disuse of the pacifier is rather absurd … but, then again, welcome to the Mommy Wars!

Some would say that the Mommy Wars are yet another symptom of our fundamental brokenness. I, however, am a bit more optimistic. I believe the Mommy Wars are a reflection, albeit misguided, of our commitment to live out our parental vocations as best we can. We understand that the decisions we make in raising our children are tremendously important—perhaps more important than any other in our lives. Add in the surplus of “expert” opinions, and suddenly even minor decisions (like using a pacifier) take on an almost-mythical magnitude. Our earnest desire to do it right fuels both passion and insecurity, and we become hyper defensive of our choices. The ultimate result: the Mommy Wars.

There is a temptation, I think, to become defensive whenever we know we are doing something of profound significance. In this matter, as in so many others, our faith tradition can be instructive. Our primary vocation as Christians is to live out our baptismal calling: to bind ourselves in perfect love to God and one another. And here too, when faced with the knowledge that what we are doing really matters, we become rightfully passionate and deeply insecure. Look in the editorial section of your local diocesan publication for the latest version of “If the way you’re Catholic is different from the way I’m Catholic, then you must be wrong.”

Yet our Church belies this perspective. Joan of Arc was a warrior; Dorothy Day was a pacifist. Francis of Assisi spurned material wealth; Thomas More lived in opulence. Thérèse of Lisieux prayed in a cloistered convent; Francis Xavier was a missionary evangelist.

Clearly, our Church prescribes no single right way to be a saint. Jesus himself called fishermen, a tax collector and a zealot to be among his apostles. The diversity of the saints and apostles tells us that we can be united in mission and purpose while living out our vocation in vastly different ways. What’s saintly for one person may not translate into holiness in another. I apply the same principle to parenting: the best decision for me as a mother might be impossible or imprudent for another mom, but it has nothing to do with either of us being “Mom Enough.”

Being a mom is sufficiently difficult without the snarky comments or disapproving stares of others. We parents need to be able to turn to each other for advice, encouragement and empathy without fear of judgment from those who are doing it differently (especially because, when it comes down to it, I’m convinced we’re all basically winging it anyway).

I’m pretty sure Jesus couldn’t care less whether we give our babies a pacifier. He would—and we should—be far more concerned with whether we are giving one another love and support as we stumble along the path of parenthood. In fact, I think Jesus would take one look at those vicious mommy message boards and declare a holy ceasefire in the Mommy Wars. Let us do the same!

This week’s guest blogger, Nicole Steele Wooldridge, is a friend of Sister Julia’s. She’s a mom to a two-year-old and a two-month-old, and she really wishes her baby would take a pacifier.

Power, politics and Pope Francis

It’s St. Francis day and we have a Pope Francis!

St. Francis, Pope Francis

Thanks be to God, Pope Francis is really using his time in leadership to make big changes and redefine roles.  Basically Pope Francis is doing a great job of honoring his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi.  This is really good news for Franciscans like me who take seriously what Christ said to St. Francis: “rebuild my Church.”

Pope Francis keeps emphasizing that Gospel living is messy.  (Some people have asked me if he reads this blog! Ha!)

Eight-hundred yeas ago, the life of St. Francis was a testament that Church re-building is messy activity.  Truly, discipleship is about conversion.  And, change tends to be chaotic, causing all sorts of commotion. Through Pope Francis’ leadership we are seeing how graced, Christ-guided changes can grab our hearts’ attention.

A quick study of the news exposes glaring information: democracy is failing. The government isn’t working and doesn’t have much power.  It’s not a surprise those things are breaking, they’re things of human invention.  Real people-power comes from God, not human-made institutions, systems or wealth and privilege.

Eight-hundred years ago St. Francis (and St. Clare) reformed religious life with insistence for freedom from having to own anything (called the privilege of poverty.)  Their radical reforms made big waves during their day because back then  monasteries were associated with wealth and might but they wanted to own nothing!  The radical insistence of St. Francis and St. Clare on the right stuff of Gospel living– poverty, humility, mutuality, joy, and prayerful peacemaking— rocked the Church with tension and reforms.

Today,  lessons about the privilege of poverty are being revealed in Pope Francis’ activities and what seems to be another insistence that the Church change and not be about power, privilege, wealth and might.  We’re wowed and the world keeps buzzing, a bit blown with wonder.  What would a Church be like that lives out the privilege of poverty?

St Francis got it– and now Pope Francis is showing us–  true transformations come from inclusive and peacemaking communities who are united and prayerfully protecting the privilege of poverty.  Good Gospel freedom comes from humility and not having.

Then and now, the plates of privilege and poverty are colliding. Paradigms of power structures are shifting. Coming up from the cracks, we see new creations.

We find ourselves in strange peaks and valleys and realize God is calling us forward. It’s time for us to let God show us how to remake our institutions and expectations, right with our habits and social systems.

A new type of people-power is happening. Something awesome and Christ-centered is coming!  Let’s party and celebrate as we move into new ways of being.

Happy St. Francis Day!!

Being a beautiful mess

By Guest Blogger: Sarah Hennessey FSPA

 

Usually when people find out I’m a Catholic sister there follows some basic assumptions. Some people wonder where I’ve put my “black get-up” or habit, my wooden ruler and my stern look. More stereotypes than assumptions, I’m still surprised how often these come up. Behind these images are the ideas that I must be a teacher, I probably pray all day and I most certainly could lead the rosary at a drop of a hat. Actually, I work in a parish, my day integrates prayer, ministry and social time and, as a convert, the first time I was asked to lead the rosary I immediately Googled “how to pray the rosary.”

Catholic sisters do not (and maybe never have) fit the narrow boxes that popular culture wants to put us in. I’m sure this is true for most people and whatever stereotype clings to them. Individuals are always gloriously unique and rarely fit neatly into categories. One assumption about Catholic sisters remains most insistent: that in some way I live a holier than average life and enjoy a special intimacy with God.

The recently published, lengthy interview that Pope Francis gave intrigued me in many ways, no more strongly than in his first few sentences. They appear in the Sept. 30 issue of America magazine and the article “A Big Heart Open to God” by author Antonio Spadaro, S.J. He describes the beginning of his interview: “I ask Pope Francis point-blank: ‘Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?’ He stares at me in silence. I ask him if I may ask him this question. He nods and replies: ‘I do not know what might be the most fitting description…. I am a sinner. This is the most accurate definition. It is not a figure of speech, a literary genre. I am a sinner.’”

It’s not false humility or a way to avoid answering the question. I am a sinner. That’s how I know myself most intimately and raw, honest and real. That’s how God knows me and loves me still. God loves me in my most broken places and that is true holiness.

Sarah Hart, a Catholic singer-songwriter from Nashville, performed a concert at our church this weekend. It wasn’t a distant, stiff performance; instead, she shared her life and faith so honestly she made us stretch beyond our comfort zones. We couldn’t sit back and observe. We were changed.

Better Than a Hallelujah, one of the songs she wrote, (recorded by Amy Grant and nominated for a GRAMMY award), shows this truth of God meeting us in our brokenness. As Sarah sang, “Beautiful, the mess we are.”

God loves a lulluby
In a mother’s tears in the dead of night
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

God loves the drunkard’s cry
The soldier’s plea not to let him die
Better than a Hallelujah sometimes

Refrain
We pour out our miseries
God just hears a melody
Beautiful, the mess we are
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

The woman holding on for life
The dying man giving up the fight
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

The tears of shame for what’s been done
The silence when the words won’t come
Are better than a Hallelujah sometimes

Refrain

Better than a church bell ringing
Better than a choir singing out, singing out

Refrain

(Better than a Hallelujah sometimes)
Better than a Hallelujah
(Better than a Hallelujah sometimes)

I know I find God when I am at my worst. Sarah Hart’s song reminds me that God doesn’t view me through my own lens of fear and shame. God knows I am a sinner. And God’s mercy still reigns. “Better than a Hallelujah sometimes.”