In Its Time

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Eccl 3:11)

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Image courtesy of freeimages.com

I am sorry to disappoint everyone but this beautiful passage, spoken ages ago, passing the test of time to get here today, was written just for me. I am sure of it. For the past few years, I’ve been a student of journeys. I’ve walked with others, and I’ve certainly been on my own. You learn a few things when you’re the witness of some deep suffering and exalted joys.

1: You can often feel bipolar because huge climactic changes can happen in the flip of a switch. These moments cause you to reflect on the moment before and freeze that emotion, whether it was calm, peaceful and excited, or moody, dark, and anxious.

2: There is an immediate reactionary building period to those changes. It’s where you set your resolve, your personal priorities and rudimentary boundaries. This event might change you as a person and you want to make sure you have the inherent qualities you like about yourself.

3: In between those moments of change come big expansive times of anxious doubt (Why hasn’t anything good happened in a while? Am I chasing the wrong dream?) and envious comparison (Everyone seems to be happy and have their desires. Sigh).

4: Peppered in that anxious doubt are moments of excited clarity. I can feel something is about to happen, but what? How do I prepare for this?

5: And then BOOM another change, another moment, and you start the process all over again.

It’s exciting stuff, change. Life. And the older I get, the more I appreciate the unfolding of it. Six years ago I started my awareness of infertility. Three years ago I was suddenly notified of my impending divorce. Since then I’ve been focused on healthy healing and patient waiting with quiet, such quiet anxious hopes. It’s so hard to trust. It is. But I can firmly say that I have definitely tried my best at it. And wouldn’t you know? I’m getting married this Saturday.

Indeed, He has made everything beautiful, in its own time.

Praying to Slow so Silence may Swallow

In the time of now-and-not-yet tangled together, I pray that my final days of Advent anticipation shall slow down and seem more sacred.

I pray that my waiting will fill with what matters most, as is meditated on in this mini-movie:

Silence swallows by Julia Walsh, FSPA

Silence swallows

me. Holy is this

invasion. Enter

mystery. Evasion

impossible. Listening

lines lift up signs:

Wait. Surrender. 

Forward frosty Light.

Now and not yet makes

me: more free. Hushed. Be.

Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
Photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

Street violence and holy darkness

This past Monday one of my former students was shot and killed on the streets of Chicago.

Advent is a time of darkness.  Sometimes it is obvious to us that there’s a such thing as holy darkness. And, sometimes the darkness is so cold and heavy that it seems to swallow our hope.

During Advent we are called to open up our lives to the hope that our heartaches make us hungry for.  No matter how overwhelmed or ugly things may seem, we try to resituate our habits and hearts and create time and spaces so Love may arrive and change us.

When the darkness that corrupts our anticipation is because of ugly injustice, we can become tempted to turn away from Truth.  The Truth is that many powerful promises are packed into the waiting within Mary’s womb.

How do we not give into the temptations so that we remain faithful to our trust in Love?  The nativity story teaches us that we can only do this through community.  Together we know that even when life flings the worst at us we need to allow openings as wide as canyons for Christ’s coming.  No chaos ought to cause us to close our minds or hearts to the changes that come from Christ’s presence.  Really wide openings of anticipation and healing hope emerge when we collect as communities and pray, cry, vigil, and serve together.

Only when we’re bonded together can Christ’s peace crack through the din of despair.  That’s why good Advent activity happens in community.

Mensa’s death on Monday was another moment of senseless street violence. No one should ever be killed by another person, but when the victim is a young man full of great energy it’s especially awful. I knew Mensa  from when I served at the now-closed St. Gregory the Great High School in 2008-2009. Then, he was an ordinary teenage boy who was very kind, smiley, helpful and humble– certainly someone who could have helped create more peace on the streets.

Before my former colleagues reached me with the news about Mensa, another sister and I had spent some of Monday night hanging up Christmas decorations. We giggled, climbed on furniture and hung lights and bows in open spaces around the house as cheery Christmas carols blared from the stereo. I had the special privilege of setting up the simple nativity scene on the commode in our dining room.  The nativity scene is the centerpiece of all our decorations, so I tried to arrange it with great care.

In the creche, Mary, Joseph, an angel, and a couple of animals all are focusing their attention on an empty trough.  When Baby Jesus shows up on Christmas Eve, he’ll get tucked right into the little bed that they’re focused on.  Although Mary and Joseph are technically just figurines in the scene, their posture is a great reminder for me of how to wait in holy darkness.

"Advent Nativity" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“Advent Nativity” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

They’re together. They’re quiet. They’re very still.  They could get tired from being faithful to allowing an open space for God to be between them.  Yet, they boldly believe that Love will arrive, so they continue to wait.

We all are waiting for Love to arrive and feed our hungry, hurting hearts.  We are together, trying to be quiet and still, no matter the commotion.  We may get tired and overwhelmed by the injustices and suffering, yet we’re trying to allow signs of hope to be seen in the darkness. We’ll light candles and vigil on street corners, we’ll fast outside government buildings and we’ll pray through the night. As we do, we’ll create openings for quiet so Christ can come tell us of light, peace, and joy.

The holy darkness gets cold, especially when someone like Mensa dies.  Yet we’ll keep waiting in silent expectation because we still believe. Even in the darkness, healing happens and hope can arrive. Amen!

Advent is drawing to a close

By guest blogger: Amy Nee

Advent is drawing to a close, Christmas is almost upon us.  Once again, I feel that the days have passed all too quickly.  I seem to have been too busy to attend to advent. Now Christmas Day is around the corner and I have this uneasy feeling that I’ve missed something, that I’m not ready yet.

How often this is the case!  I imagine that having a time for waiting is equivocal to having extra time.  So much time that it’s common to talk casually about “killing” or “wasting” it.  Then, as I do verbal violence to time I wound all that lives within it; killing and wasting the potential waiting to be born in every moment.  Momentous events that were meant to come as presents become a presentiment for which I am un or under prepared.

But it’s not too late!  Advent is not over yet!  And really, is advent about waiting through a patch of time or practicing a way of being, practicing and paying attention, learning to listen.  I am beginning to think of advent being akin to waiting on a table.  An active stance, attending to a particular table and to its place in a larger room; listening, watching, anticipating, understanding, acting according to what has been seen and heard.

Advent being a time of waiting that precedes Christmas gives context for the attention, a framework, a particular story, instead of a particular table, and how that story stands in the context of time, historical and present. This story reveals Mary, minding her own business, surprised by an angel who tells her not to fear, an angel to whom she responds with acquiescent boldness, “May it be done unto me according to your word.”  Joseph too is taken by surprise, no doubt.  Before any angelic intervention he discovers that his betrothed is with child (and it is evidently not his).  Analyzing the situation, channeling conviction, and perhaps affection, into a generous, socially acceptable action, “unwilling to put [Mary] to shame, [Joseph] resolved to divorce her quietly.”1

And this could very well have been the last we hear of Joseph.  Indeed, we may not ever have heard of Joseph accept that, though he had “resolved” in his mind the action he would take, he was waiting.  Despite his logical, even loving resolve, “he considered these things.”  Joseph too heard the voice of an angel, speaking to him in a dream, saying “do not fear to take Mary as your wife,” he paid attention, overcame the constraints of his anxieties and in so doing entered a new life.

“Do not fear,” continually accompanies the angelic announcements.  Indeed, it would require a love that casts out fear to hear, receive and act on the words these angels delivered.  Had God’s messenger not intervened, had Joseph been preoccupied, he may have inadvertently been excluded from being a key player in God’s remarkable plan. What God desired of Joseph was not that he follow the law of the land (which would have allowed Joseph to divorce Mary publicly), nor to be politely philanthropic (to show continued care and preserve Mary’s life and some shred of dignity).  He was being invited as Mary was (dare I say, as we are?) to move from memory to imagination, to enlarge reason with faith, to take a counter-cultural stand, to stand with God.

The invitation is to participation in Incarnation, an it is an invitation continually extended, even today.  That is what the waiting is for and it is not just about a baby born in Bethlehem (but oh what a beautiful image of vulnerability and interdependence – what tender, bold risk!), it is happening everyday; God with us, in us, around us. To receive and respond to such an invitation we need to listen and allow the spirit to supplement and surprise our intellect with the impossible possibilities of God; we need courage.

Advent is almost over, but it is ultimately a reminder, and one that does not lose its relevance with the changing of the season.  The waiting is not wrapped up once Christmas arrives, nor is it an indication of empty time standing in the way of a day that is grander than that which is present.  The waiting is a reminder to attend to this moment, to recognize Emmanuel, “God with us.”

So I am learning to listen to God who is always with us, not only on a particular day or in a particular place, but on every day, in every place.  And to listen to my heart, attending to its quakes and whimpers. What voices are countering the echoing instruction, “do not fear”?  What inhibitions obstruct from taking part in God’s extraordinary vision?  Where am I blinded by lack of imagination?  What sights and sounds are keeping me so distracted that I’ve no longer eyes to see and ears to hear?

This is the time. Wait, be still, listen.

Footnote: 1. Scripture references from Matthew 1:19-20, ESV.

in stillness we wait

Guest blogger: Sarah Hennessey, FSPA

We have entered the holy time of the O Antiphons.  Like a mysterious extra holiday something is special and different today.  Expectation is heightened.  The glory is near.

For you, O lord, my soul in stillness waits.

My soul may be still, but the world is not.  The chaos only seems to grow.  A parishioner shared this morning that it is hard to enter the joy of Christmas with so much sorrow and tragedy in the world.

I am holding an image in my heart that speaks to me of persistent hope in this darkness—freshly washed hair neatly combed and a crisp clean dress.

I returned yesterday from 10 days in a rural province in Bolivia.  With several of my FSPA sisters I went to present a retreat on Franciscan love and humility to 24 Bolivian and Austrian sisters.  My heart was stretched and the world became wider as I entered into their rhythm of life in the Bolivian jungle.  Every night we gathered in the church for mass.   Twenty-two altar servers assisted the priest in perfect precision.  Teenagers played the violin and guitar and drums with great joy.  And everywhere there were children.   This is the Bolivian daily mass where children come with consistency to practice their faith.

Bolivian village. photo by Jean Moore, FSPA
Bolivian village. photo by Jean Moore, FSPA

Every child was prepared for church.  Every head of hair was freshly cleaned and smoothly combed.  Every face scrubbed and every shirt clean and pressed.  I noticed it even more because it was 95 degrees out, hot and sticky, and I felt like a mess.    Sr. Janeira pointed out to me that many of the children have no running water in their homes and no washing machine except for the river.  The chaos of daily life in a remote village in the jungle could not stop them from preparing to be in the presence of Jesus.

This is the indomitable Advent spirit.  Jesus is the good news and we are getting ready!

the power of paradox

Our world is a mess and in need of redemption.  Christ is coming to save us.  Yet, Christ the Light has already come to save us and we are redeemed now. The Kingdom of God is now and not yet.  There’s a power in the paradox that teaches us how to hold out hope.

Yesterday I was attempting to explain the spirituality of paradox to my advanced sophomores as we lit the third candle on our classroom Advent wreathe.  Since we are all about Gaudete this week, things shift a bit. I told the students that we continue to prepare for the coming of Light into the world, yet rejoice over the fact that Christ is with us now.  How can two things that seem contradictory both fit together so well?  With God it works this way, since with God all things are possible.

To help my students grapple with the power of paradox, I found myself on a tangent about light years.  We calculated the actual distance of a light year and became overwhelmed with our smallness.  It is possible, I told them, to see starlight from a star that is actually already dead right now.  How is that possible?  Science and spiritual paradox tell us a lot about the Truth of God’s Light.

It’s advent, the hope season. Good news and good actions help us gain hope in humanity and the coming of Christ.  Even though it’s not yet Christmas, we can celebrate how Light keeps glowing despite death and darkness.

True, there’s a litany of injustice, oppression, sin and suffering that is wider than the world we know.  We know wars are raging and Earth is crying and people are dying. Economic inequality is ridiculous. (Did you know that if you earn more than $34,000 a year you are the global 1%!?)  It doesn’t take much for us to be overwhelmed and want to give up and just face the doom.  We’re responsible for making a difference, but how can we?  It’s a big job to be good like God made us.

Fortunately, with God, all things are possible.  We know that the rich and powerful nations and individuals have a big influence.  Globally and economically speaking, the ways that we consume creates systems and structures that influence lives elsewhere. All we do matters and has power to share hope.  These days, people know that there are problems, they’re talking about the problems and structures are improving.  Our world is changing and things are getting better, because God is already here.  We can celebrate the Light of increased awareness and converted conversations which permit joyous transformation and systemic change.

To really believe–to really have hope– we sometimes need to hear a story.  Have you heard of how the Dodd-Frank act has influenced people in Congo?  It’s wild and wonderful.  The major Wall Street reforms that became law in the summer of 2010 had a tiny stipulation that said that the minerals in the electronics of Americans can no longer be mined in a conflict. In other words, the minerals used to manufacture our cell phones and laptops now have to be certified conflict-free.  A story on The World impressed me.  Evidently this new American law is challenging the government in Congo to become more just about their labor practices so that they can again trade their mined minerals with manufacturers in the U.S.A.  Fewer children are being forced to work in the mines at gun-point because some good social awareness influenced trade practices and ultimately shifted an economic paradigm.  It’s a great response to the discouraged questions of “can I really make a difference? Can we really have hope?”

Yes you CAN make a difference and you do!  You are part of a global community.  You are a child of God, you are the Light of the world.  God is with you, using you as an instrument in your ordinary acts of life.  We are instruments of Word and action.  In word, we tell good news. I am sure you know your own stories about the goodness of God at work in us now. Good news holds hope out to the despairing.  Get ready for Christmas: tell the good news, let light shine on the hopeful happenings in humanity.  In action, you can be the good news and therefore a beacon of hope.  Make Advent choices that empower others. Thoughtfully give gifts, serve, create, or be generous.   As you hold out hope to others through word and deed, you truly help prepare the way of the Lord!

Christ who is coming and Christ who is here now is the Light. Bright beams glow through the darkness.  With this Light all things are possible, even glory out of our sinful lives.  Gaudete!


Pregnant with hope

Guest blogger: Amy Nee – entry originally published at http://www.catholicsoncall.org/pregnant-hope

Scripture Reflection for the Third Sunday of Advent (December 11, 2011)

Scripture Readings:
Isaiah 61:1-2a, 10-11
Luke 1:46-48, 49-50, 53-54
1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
John 1:6-8, 19-28

When truth is spoken it illuminates more than just the person. The light stretches its filamented fingers, lacing them through history and pointing toward what is to be. Mary, a young unwed woman, accepts the impossible announcement that she will carry not only a child, but the Christ-child. Affirmed by her cousin, Elizabeth, that this strange pregnancy is an act of God, Mary goes beyond the exultation of trusting that her own reputation will be restored and indicates another restoration: the “mighty are brought down from their thrones…the hungry filled with good things…the rich sent empty away.” She joyously reveals God’s plan for a transformed social order.

Was Mary aware of how closely her words echoed those of the prophet Isaiah? Or was this spontaneous outpouring of the spirit, of joy, simply an irrepressible desire to magnify the God who desires good for all even, perhaps especially, the oppressed. How often the prophets speak of “glad tidings to the poor,” and “release to the prisoner,” of freedom from captivity and healing. I cannot believe that they were only announcing metaphors. These words reveal the vision of God, the image of a Kingdom in which we are called to be co-creators.

A consciousness of this Kingdom is shaped in Mary, as Jesus, the one who would embody it, takes shape in her womb. As Mary, Joseph and Jesus faced the hardships of poverty, heard the news of innocents slaughtered, met the continual challenges of daily life, the joy present when Mary proclaimed the Magnificat was likely not so readily felt. The promise that this little boy was the messiah even as he had to be fed and changed, that the hungry would be filled even as stomachs rumbled, that the mighty would be brought down from their thrones even as they abused their power with as much might as ever, are promises that could not have been easy to believe. Mary no doubt had to draw on the prophecies and experiences that she had treasured up; carrying within her the truths of the Kingdom just as she had carried within her the one who would reveal them.

If advent is a time of preparation, how do we, like John, “prepare the way” in keeping with God’s revealed intention for a world of justice, peace and joy, more a Kin-dom, than a Kingdom, where the disparity between the powerful and the oppressed is leveled? How do we, like Mary, say “let it be with me as you have said” and trust that by the power of the Holy Spirit we are being filled, made whole and holy – spirit, soul and body? As Christians we are called not only to carry, but to become the Body of Christ. What an incredible mystery! Recognition of this compels us toward Paul’s seemingly impossible directives to “rejoice always,” “pray without ceasing,” and “in all circumstance give thanks.” (This from a man who was jailed and persecuted continually; – how keenly he must have felt the hope of liberation!) Such mystery awakes the need to “test everything,” using the tools of prayer, action, honest communication – continually “experimenting with truth,” as Gandhi called it. Taking care to refrain from making assumptions as to what is good and to always be surprised, to always resist evil, even when it seems to seep into everything around us – including us. Rabbi and philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel writes, “An individual dies when they cease to be surprised. I am surprised every morning when I see the sunshine again. When I see an act of evil I don’t accommodate, I don’t accommodate myself to the violence that goes on everywhere. I am still so surprised! That is why I am against it. We must learn to be surprised.”

In a world that seems so fixed in cycles of violence, it can be difficult to believe that the promised Kin-dom is coming, let alone that it already is. When we see that drone bombs are dropped on children, that dumpsters overflow with food while millions go hungry, and houses stand empty while millions are homeless; when we cut each other apart with our words, and pollute the earth with careless or even intentional consumption – how difficult indeed to hope for healing, for liberation, for full stomachs and joyful hearts! It is difficult to face all this and believe that we can live in a way that challenges the corruption and mends the brokenness that surrounds us; that we can embody a transforming way that sets not only the oppressed but the oppressors free. It seems very difficult, impossible even to enter into Kin-dom living. Yet, we wait for Christ to be revealed. As we wait we create communities of faith where we can challenge one another to affirm God’s vision, spoken by the prophets, incarnate in Jesus, and just possibly, in us. As we live amidst the tension of the Everlasting Not Yet we are offered this hope: God has already accomplished things beyond belief, God is with us; with God, nothing is impossible.

advent waiting room

An eagerness for an improvement lives deep within the groans of our society, our culture, our selves.  We don’t feel as well as we would like.  We have a sense that something is wrong and someone might know the answer.  We wonder who to turn to. We suppose that God might show us a New Way, but we aren’t really sure what it would take from us.

We set an appointment with a sage, a doctor, an advisor, a Christ. We cancel other events and open up space, our minds, our hearts, our lives. We want a new consciousness so we can know what we need to do to feel well.  We gather up what we think belongs to us: our time, our knowledge, our strength, our pride. In short, we cling to our possessions and carry them with us.

We move out the door and to bus stops, cars, trains.  Fear knows we’re up to something important so the journey is rough.  Spies track our routes across stormy seas, down winding roads, along steep cliffs.  Yet, we get to where we think we need to be.  We arrive together.

It turns out that they’re not ready for us.  We have to wait in rooms full of books and news magazines.  Some of us have to wait in chapels and others wait where it is wild with nature.  In separate places, we are united together.

Although we are together, we are different. Others are confused about what we’re doing here and there. Some are even angry because they don’t understand.  Still, we remain confident that we’re in the right place.  They tease us and ask us silly questions.  We declare we have an appointment and our time is soon.

We insist on sticking around.  Really, we are so desperate to feel better that we are willing to keep waiting at all costs. We are willing: we’ll give up our jobs, we’ll fast, we’ll protest, we’ll go to jail if we must.  As we wait we study the Bible and remember recent history. We pray ancient psalms and poetry.  We are not leaving.

We keep believing that soon we’ll have our time.  We have hope that the consciousness is coming. Hope is our mantra and our message. We know there’s a Way.

We’re waiting in a room full of hope. We believe and trust in God.  We’re excited and we’re happy.  We wait in Love.

Do not ignore this one fact, beloved,
that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years
and a thousand years like one day.
The Lord does not delay his promise, as some regard “delay,”
but he is patient with you,
not wishing that any should perish
but that all should come to repentance.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief,
and then the heavens will pass away with a mighty roar
and the elements will be dissolved by fire,
and the earth and everything done on it will be found out.

Since everything is to be dissolved in this way,
what sort of persons ought you to be,
conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion,
waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God,
because of which the heavens will be dissolved in flames
and the elements melted by fire.
But according to his promise
we await new heavens and a new earth
in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you await these things,
be eager to be found without spot or blemish before him, at peace. –2 Peter 3:8-14


all watch

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Be watchful! Be alert!
You do not know when the time will come.
It is like a man traveling abroad.
He leaves home and places his servants in charge,
each with his own work,
and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch.
Watch, therefore;
you do not know when the Lord of the house is coming,
whether in the evening, or at midnight,
or at cockcrow, or in the morning.
May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping.
What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!'”   -Mark 13:33-37

With wonder, I gaze at a horizon hoping for a Light that fills me in a whole new way.  This time, may Christ come closer to me in my service, my teaching, my loving, my prayer.

May I stay awake and be alert.  May I pay attention and know what is mine to do, and then have the strength to do it.  May my heart and mind be open so Christ can find a home in me.  May I be quiet and calm so I can recognize Peace when it reigns on Earth.

This Advent, may we all watch for the ways we are to be ready.  To really be watchful, we must slow down and look and listen.  We must look and listen in and around.

May we be attentive to Christ’s invitations to be united through acts of service, generosity, celebration and prayer. Let’s all watch.

Advent has arrived.