Thursday, March 03, 2016

A Rock, A Cross, A Transformation

This Lenten season is the first in a long while where I have actually had the time to spend thinking about Lent, what it means, and what it means to me. It has been a time of reflection and healing.

One thing that helped was to participate in a Guided Month of Prayer. A group of us met on the first day, were assigned our prayer guides, given handouts to help us begin our prayer journey, promised to try to pray for at least 20 minutes per day and then we would meet once each week with the prayer guide.  

Time – what a funny thing it is. Twenty minutes seems like hours; one week flies by as though it has a turbo booster attached. The past four weeks have flown by. Did I pray for 20 minutes each day? Yes…one minute here, another minute there, five minutes in another…yes, I can say I prayed a minimum twenty minutes each day. But did I sit still? Hardly.

Nonetheless, it was a fruitful time simply for the reason that I thought about it. Rather than subconsciously or even randomly, I thought about prayer a lot. Much of the time spent thinking about it was actually trying to think of ways to sit, be still, pray, but it started a pattern, regardless of my success or not. So, this is what this moment now is, actually. It is a time of reflection.

Another tool, for these are tools, is a simple rock. The day after Ash Wednesday, I walked into the Parish Hall where we hold the Pantry and I saw a black river stone sitting on the window ledge. I put it in my pocket thinking that I would put it up somewhere. Here I am, nearing the end of the third week of Lent and the stone is still in my pocket. At some point, I realized that each time I touched it, I thought of God. When I thought of God, I thought, oh, I need to pray. Rather than asking for anything, I just said, Thank you, God, for all my blessings. That little river stone has become a blessing to me.

A healing moment came last week when I met with the bishop of this diocese. He didn’t realize my need for reconciliation, but I did. He was gracious enough to sit with me and listen. I told him of the pain and the angst that the ordination process had caused within me. I told him of the resentment of my screwed up committee, of the priest who ran it, even of his own part as bishop. He told me that he knew it must have been painful but no, he didn’t realize all the other parts. But the idea of my sharing with him, my seeking reconciliation, made it all the sweeter. I walked in there with the idea that maybe he and I would talk about the process and how it might be that I could be ordained. Yet, as I sat there talking with him, I realized that it didn’t really matter. Regardless of how I feel I am called, I am doing what God is calling me to do. I don’t need a collar to be in ministry. I left, knowing that I was going to be just fine.

At my home parish, St. Paul’s Carondelet, we have had a book study and soup supper each Wednesday during Lent. The book is The Passion and the Cross by Ronald Rolheiser. It, of course, talks about suffering: the suffering of Jesus as he prayed for God to take the cup from him; the suffering as he was beaten, shamed, even brutalized; the suffering as he died on the cross. Yet in the midst of all the suffering, Rolheiser reminds the reader that the Gospel writers do not really delve into the gory details of the suffering. We just know a few things. They did not belabor the finer points. The point, as I understand, is that God is a God of redemption, not rescue. The gory details would be a distraction.

That can be a harsh realization as we struggle with our trials and tribulations. Job loss, insecurity, addiction, disease, death – rescue is much closer to our heart’s desire than redemption, at least in the moment.

My grandmother (and other’s, I am sure) would often say, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” And that is basically the same point that this book is making. The suffering can harden our hearts and turn us inward. Or it can soften our hearts and make us see that we are but one of many in this world of hurt. We can isolate ourselves in what we think is a self-protecting cocoon or we can live our lives in the midst of community, realizing that we are not alone and that there is great strength and love in that understanding. Basically, the suffering, the vulnerability hold a great power within it. Crumpled in a corner, or under the covers, we do nothing for anyone. Standing in the midst of community with the understanding that God is with us always, just as God was with Jesus always, so our hearts are softened and love radiates from our being. In that love, we conquer fear and hate. What more power could we possibly ask?

One other part of this book that really charged me was the idea of the veil being torn in half as Jesus died. I, like the author, had always entertained the visual that the veil tearing was a bad thing, a sign of the heart-rending sorrow of Jesus’ death. But he offered another thought. In the temple, the veil hid the Holy of Holies, that which only the priests could see. No mere human could see or be behind the veil. When Jesus died, the veil was torn in two. The torn veil revealed the Holy of Holies, the heart of God, Jesus on the cross.

I have worn a cross around my neck for as long as I can remember. I have had my reasons for wearing the cross, like most folks. But it will never be the same. Now, when I put my cross around my neck, I know the heart of God, I see the heart of God, I feel the heart of God beating next to mine.

I told a friend yesterday that there have been so many points of transformation in my life. Sometimes, I wonder how anyone from my past could possibly recognize me. Each transformation has altered my very being. These do not have to be mountain top experiences; these moments can come in a few seconds or seen from a hindsight point of view. Regardless of how small or large, life as we know it changes. I am transformed forever.

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love.