Friday, March 28, 2014

Faith, the Holy Spirit, and the Absurd

Don't look now, guys, but Laetare Sunday is this weekend! WHAT. I know, right? That means we are almost through with Lent! Pretty hard to believe...this Lent has gone by fast! Ha. Fast. Get it? Um, wow...yeah. Anyways...

So it's time to do a check in with ourselves and our Lenten promises. This year I gave up Facebook and alcohol. I'm almost surprised by how little I miss both of them (though I did sign on FB for the Solemnity of St Joseph and the Feast of the Annunciation. I was accused of being "that Catholic" which I think was meant to insinuate that I was "using" the feast days, but that was not the case at all! I was genuinely psyched about each feast and wanted to acknowledge them throughout the respective days. Oh, okay, and I suppose also wanted to share a few statuses and pictures ;)

 March 25: Feast of the Annunciation and 9 more months 'til Christmas! Gah!
March 19: the great Foster Father of Jesus, St. Joseph. I started a month long novena to him on his feast which should end around Easter! Pumped!

I also committed to making "acts of faith" each day this Lent ie- moments and situations that I stop and offer up to God. This was inspired by the Therese book my prayer group was reading (mentioned in my previous posts). My spiritual director did question how I was going to keep track of this or gauge how I was doing with the commitment, so we decided I should also try to make an examen each night to think of the moments in which I did or did not hand over as an act of faith to God. I'm mostly conscious of this commitment, but I think Laetare Sunday is going to have to be a reminder to kick it into gear before Holy Week.

I'm sure I've mentioned this before, but I love when the unit that I teach on Exodus falls during Lent. The story of Exodus is such a good parallel and reminder of the Paschal Mystery (and coincidentally the other course I teach :). Today we were discussing the Exodus itself- Pharaoh finally releasing the people and then changing his mind to come after the Israelites. The Israelites were so overjoyed and amazed at the salvation of the Passover and finally being released from slavery (or bondage as the Charlton Heston classic "The 10 Commandments" uses repeatedly and for some reason the way they say it makes me giggle). But then they immediately begin to distrust when they've been in the desert for a while and the Pharaoh comes after them. My students and I today were talking particularly about the trust it must have took to cross the Red Sea- not knowing if at any minute the water would cease to be parted and crush them or if the Egyptians would reach them.

I am always struck and humbled by how we are like the Israelites- on board with God when things are going well, but then quick to turn on Him when things don't go our way. In my Paschal Mystery course, we talk about what it means to be "poor in spirit" and the textbook defines it as "poverty of heart" or "recognizing our great need for God."

These stories of Exodus and moments or acts of faith in our lives constantly show our "great need for God." The Passover and the Paschal Mystery (suffering, death, Resurrection and Ascension) are such amazing stories of salvation. I am particularly struck today for our need of salvation and in gratitude for the beautiful mercy and salvation God provides.

In finishing up our Therese book for women's group, I found this quote which I brought to prayer and our group this week: "Another attitude that purifies our heart thoroughly is gratitude. That is because it prevents us from getting tangled up in discouragement, sadness, withdrawal into ourselves, bitterness, dissatisfaction, discontent, etc.” Philippe, pg 112

I remember going to Confession once and my penance being to be grateful and make prayers of gratitude because all of my sins had been so selfish. We do withdraw into ourselves when we focus on what we are lacking rather what we have, and so gratitude can save us from ourselves.

I am particularly grateful for the stories and gift of Salvation mentioned in the salvific stories of our faith above. And I'm so grateful for my friends. My friends pull me out of myself and as I was looking around my women's group this week I was noting...they are all so NICE! All of my friends- in my prayer group or not- are all so giving and generous and I wonder sometimes what they possibly see in me, but they must see something! Or that just goes to show how nice they really are!

I got to spend a day in VA beach recently with a friend from high school who is seriously the nicest person on the planet. She just constantly giggles and smiles and loves. I have no idea how we became such good friends, but I'm grateful that she appreciates my sass and sarcasm and we balance each other out!

In addition to gratitude, my spiritual director in our last meeting reminded me again to call upon the Holy Spirit in this time of Lent. We don't often think about the Spirit until after Easter (50 days to be exact!) but it makes sense to call upon the Holy Spirit in times of doubt- in times where we need to make an act of faith.

Jesus gave the apostles the Holy Spirit in a time of great uncertainty for them. He had just ascended into heaven - aka left them to fend for themselves after three years of ministry- and the Holy Spirit was their gift and guide to help them. We, too, should call on the Holy Spirit in our times of doubt and uncertainty- that is what it is there for!

The Holy Spirit has certainly been there for me in some of my more confusing times. Pentecost is a special feast for me. And I've recently realized something else that has been there for me in times of uncertainty and this is much more....abstract (omg, I am SO SORRY for the puns this post!!!)


Specifically abstract art, I guess! I told you all I had signed up for an art class to keep myself sane this winter. Well, I've found it really helpful and necessary in my life right now for whatever reason, and I realized this is not the first time that the absurd in art has actually given me assurance. Remember The Special Place in St. Louis? One of my co-postulants at the time and I would go there and just encounter the absurd abstract art hanging out in the woods at that park close to the convent. I suppose the uncertainty of the time in my life and uncertainty of the art together made sense!

I believe I'm at another crossroads in my life right now that is uncertain and so art has once again proven itself a means of clarity and catharsis. I'm grateful for the opportunity to take these classes and for the support of my teacher and friends who don't think I'm crazy :)

I've been struggling my whole life with control- I think a lot of people do. Writing and art and music, well the arts in general, allow us to let go and be vulnerable in a safe, therapeutic way and I'm grateful for these gifts!

So that's my check in: Acts of Faith, Gratitude, the Holy Spirit, and my absurd art :) I will be carrying these things with me as I journey towards Easter. I hope and pray that you are also having a blessed Lent!

Oh, and I went on a hike in Northern VA the other day (when it wasn't actually 20 degrees) and the usually lush landscape of the VA hills looked like this:

That is seriously a picture I took the other day. VA or desert wasteland?! You decide. I suppose it is Lent appropriate...I just can't wait for Spring!


Monday, March 3, 2014

The Goal of Faith aka Do Not Be Discouraged aka Lent 2014

It is almost here! Lent 2014. I can't define how I feel about it. I really want to enter into Lent this year, and I'm looking forward to the opportunity it presents. but I wouldn't say I'm pumped about is never really *pumped* about 40+ days of repentance and sacrifice are they?

For some reason, rocks always say "Lent" to me. Perhaps because the devil tempts Jesus to turn them into bread in the Scripture reading we always begin the Lenten season with. (Matthew 4:1-11. A good Lenten meditation could be: what are the "rocks" in our lives that we are tempted to trade in and just get rid of quickly rather than wait and embrace to see what they reveal? Oooo...that's a good one for me right now in my life!)

When I went to search for "rock" images, this picture above entitled "Colorful Rocks" popped up. Hmmm..are they really all that colorful?!? Apparently, whomever posted this pic is much more of an optimist than I. And that's what this blogpost is about!

The devil is a sneaky, sneaky terrible evil, evil thing. I really can't emphasize sneaky and terribly evil enough. I have been talking to my friends about depression which is something that many of us (myself included) have struggled with at some point in our lives. Depression is a thing that I am convinced is of the devil. He takes our lives and makes us think that they are worthless or pointless and he does this at the most inopportune moments of our lives- often when there is no reason for us to feel depressed or when things are actually really JUST FINE. (The author of Hyperbole and a Half writes a really hilariously accurate depiction of depression in her blog. Warning: there is some "language" but if you have ever experienced depression, these posts can be comic relief. Here is post 1 and her later post 2).

I have been reading this book with my women's prayer group and continue to find great lights in it, even though I have read many of Fr. Philippe's books and books about St. Therese before. Today, paired with the readings of the day, I found a great insight about Trust vs Discouragement.

The author asserts that the root of our discouragement is when we put trust in ourselves, rather than in God. This was, for whatever reason, I real revelation for me this morning even though I'm sure I've realized it before. Similarly, the first reading from Peter's letter also challenged me in regards to the genuineness of our faith:

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who in his great mercy gave us a new birth to a living hope
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead...

In this you rejoice, although now for a little while
you may have to suffer through various trials,
so that the genuineness of your faith,
more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire,
may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor
at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Although you have not seen him you love him;
even though you do not see him now yet you believe in him,
you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy,
as you attain the goal of faith, the salvation of your souls." - 1 Peter 1:3-9

How often do we think of our trials as proof of the glory and honor of the revelation of Jesus?! And the "goal of our faith" as the salvation of our souls?

As Lent approaches, there is a temptation (once again- stupid devil!!) to use Lent as a time of "self improvement" instead of what the readings tell us today: to honor the revelation of Jesus Christ. We will only be discouraged, as Father Philippe notes, if we try to put trust in ourselves this Lent, rather than on Christ. 

The root of Adam and Eve's and now our Original Sin is that they focused on themselves instead of trusting God. And that sin has been haunting and plaguing us ever since. Fr. Philippe brings up another prominent hindrance for us in our effort to trust God: shame. As I mentioned already, the devil loooovvvessss to use this on us, like he did Adam and Eve (remember the whole clothing themselves and being embarrassed of their bodies suddenly??) 

Our tendency to become discouraged and ashamed keeps us from not only trusting God but from attaining the "goal of our faith" which is purity of heart and true love of God. Not only do we get discouraged but then we want to run and hide ourselves rather than just confidently approaching God and saying we are sorry! GAH! I really, really hate this guy and the havoc we allow him to cause:

So this Lent, I'm going to try to not be discouraged and focus less on myself and more on God (which is no revelation, but more just the purpose of Lent anyways); to honor HIS sacrifice and not think about ours. 

I'm doing the what has become somewhat common place thing now of giving up Facebook, but mainly because this is a major source of discouragement for me lately.

I am, however, keeping up a commitment I made with a friend to "100 days of Happy" where we post one pic for a 100 days of things that make us happy in order to deter these tendencies of discouragement with gratitude. I will be posting these on Instagram, which may seem like I'm substituting one social network for another, but I think both commitments will be good for me....ah! I mean...for the glory of God!!! See? It just sneaks up on us!

What I'd REALLY like to give up this Lent, however, is this terrible snow and winter, but do not be discouraged, right?? Spring is coming :)

Blessed Lent!