Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pulling Back the Veil

I'm home from Elverson, and admit with some regret that a part of my heart is still there. Walking in the door at St. Mary of Providence again was like coming back to a second home. As soon as I got into the conference room where we spend most of our time, I was overcome with emotions--sadness, fear and heartache from the weeks surrounding last fall's retreat, and then, overwhelming joy. Peace. Hope. Expectation. It didn't surprise me when one of my friends who was on retreat for the first time began spontaneously dancing around the room. "This place is magical," she told me, and I knew what she meant. The grandeur yet incredible peace that hits you on the grounds is tangible. You might even say it's the very Presence of God.

There were a lot of little moments, beautiful things that were emotionally moving--among them my very first Stations of the Cross and the traditional burning of our prayer intentions outside, this time as part of a Eucharistic procession.

What really struck me, as I said to a friend I suspected it would, was my holy hour. Earlier in the day, we had a "quiet hour" of individual reflection. I had gone to Confession just before that hour, and spent time wandering the grounds as I did last year before I headed to "my spot", the church outside the mansion. There, in front of the tabernacle with my voice magnified by the incredible acoustics in the sanctuary, I poured out my heart to Him about everything I've felt (or really, not felt) this winter. Tears came quickly, but I noticed a marked difference in my usual behavior. I wasn't having a tantrum, rather just expressing my pain and working things out with Him maturely. By the end of the hour my knees were aching, but I was singing for the Easter joy that's coming.

Father told me during Confession that if the darkness should come over me during Adoration, to passively acknowledge it and then let it go instead of dwelling or forcing it away. The doubt did come during my midnight vigil alone, and I reconfirmed my belief that God was listening before picking up my Bible and running my finger down the pages. "What do You want to say to me?" I asked him, and opened to a random page.

This is my beloved Son, with Whom I am well pleased. --Isaiah 42:1

"Well, that was creepy," I told the exposed Sacrament, unnerved. "But it was probably a coincidence." Shutting my Bible, I sat in silence for a few moments before offering him a challenge: "If You really are speaking to me, You'll do it twice. Want to play this game again?" Allowing my Bible to fall open on the floor where I sat, I was staring at Psalm 27, titled in my Bible as "Trust in God."

Um. Okay. Slowly, I began to read aloud:

The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom do I fear? The LORD is my life's refuge; of whom am I afraid?

When evildoers come at me to devour my flesh, These my enemies and foes themselves stumble and fall.

Though an army encamp against me, my heart does not fear; Though war be waged against me, even then do I trust.

One thing I ask of the LORD; this I seek: To dwell in the LORD'S house all the days of my life, To gaze on the LORD'S beauty, to visit his temple.

For God will hide me in his shelter in time of trouble, Will conceal me in the cover of his tent; and set me high upon a rock.

Even now my head is held high above my enemies on every side! I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and chant praise to the LORD.

Hear my voice, LORD, when I call; have mercy on me and answer me.

"Come," says my heart, "seek God's face"; your face, LORD, do I seek!

Do not hide your face from me; do not repel your servant in anger. You are my help; do not cast me off; do not forsake me, God my savior!

Even if my father and mother forsake me, the LORD will take me in.

LORD, show me your way; lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

Do not abandon me to the will of my foes; malicious and lying witnesses have risen against me.

But I believe I shall enjoy the LORD'S goodness in the land of the living.

Wait for the LORD, take courage; be stouthearted, wait for the LORD!

Excuse me. I think I just swallowed my tongue. Anyone who has been reading this blog for even a month will recognize how this psalm spoke over and over (and over) again about my deepest fears and struggles. In the chapel alone, I began to laugh--I'd been beaten. I believed without doubt for the first time in nearly a year. Desolation came back in time for Palm Sunday Mass a few hours later, but I saw it for what it was--an illusion from the enemy who wanted to steal my new light of hope.

This perseverance continued into yesterday, where I acted as lector for Mass back on campus. "A reading from the book of the prophet Isaiah: 'This is my beloved Son, in Whom I am well pleased...'"

I was reeling, but had to keep going. First reading finished, I continued onto the responsorial psalm. About four verses in, I felt physically struck by the awe of what was happening; it was psalm 27! The readings for Monday's Mass were given to me the day before without any foreknowledge on my part.

Coincidence? Hardly!

God is alive. Typing that is difficult still, but I have seen Him move in so many powerful ways this weekend. It's definitely hard for even this jaded skeptic to deny these days.

As we enter Holy Week, the whole world will hold its breath in anticipation of the King. And I'm delighted to say that at long last, perhaps only temporarily, I am anticipating Him as well.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Awaiting the New Springtime

I don't want to say I'm getting better. If I do, I might jinx myself. All the fragile hope and joy I've begun to build might come crashing down on me.

Maybe it's just the weather, or maybe it's not. Perhaps it's a bit symbolic: in the fullness of time, the dark and barren bleakness of winter pulls away into springtime and life can emerge again at long last.

Unfortunately, I can't say the worries and doctrinal struggles I've been plagued with since Christmas have gone away. Nor can I say that the emptiness has ebbed. It's more that I think I'm rerouting my personal spirituality in order to cope with these new challenges. Once all about frills, tradition and mystery, I've since stripped my faith down to the bare minimum. After all, the bare minimum is all I can bring myself to accept, and even that comes at the price of doubt that threatens to cripple me on bad days.

The good news is that the amount of bad days I'm having appears to be tapering off. All I can do in my vulnerability is hold my breath and pray that maybe I'm almost out of the woods. I feel almost guilty writing this post--there are people that have suffered greater physical and spiritual pain than I've ever experienced, and when laid beside that, this little darkness of the senses is nothing, so many ways I'm still a neophyte, despite growing up in the Church. This last couple of months have been excruciating, especially given the joy I knew ebefore. It feels so far away now, and my heart breaks for that.

But as far away as it may be, I'm pretty sure I'm better than I used to be. I've learned to surrender myself with a very humble trust. I don't pray much anymore (my chaplain recommended I use my "talking" time with God to reflect instead), and for now, the writings of the saints have been laid aside for the Psalms and C.S. Lewis. Even my beads have failed to see the light of day--at my best, all I can handle is the smallest "Jesus, I trust in You."

It's a start, and I'll take it. Tomorrow, I leave for retreat to Pennsylvania with my university Catholic Campus Ministry. (Those of you that read Abide With Us over the fall will remember that I blogged and photographed my first trip there at length.) I'm thrilled at knowing this weekend has come now, and I'll be there with some of my closest new friends. At the same time, though, I worry about how the trip will affect me. I'm barely hanging on. What will happen when I'm forced to face Him and Him alone for three days? Will the despair return? Will it tear me apart? The last trip sure did, and that was when my spiritual life was healthy.

Regardless, I'm ready to receive whatever He wants to give me with an open heart. Pain is better than feeling nothing at all...

And when I return, we make the long last journey home, to Easter. I only hope that my faith will return in full with it.

Please pray for the success of our retreat in my absence! There are 18 of us. :D


Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tenth Avenue North to Release New Album!

It's a happy day! A few weeks ago, I was ecstatic upon hearing the news that breakout new Christian rock artists Tenth Avenue North are finally releasing their sophomore album. The record, "The Light Meets the Dark," comes on the tail of their 2008 debut, "Over and Underneath," that claimed them Best New Artist of the Year at the Gospel Music Association's Dove Awards. I introduced my readers to them at that time, and you can check it out here.

I'm super excited to bring you the first single off the new album. It's called "Healing Begins," and it's just as good as their first songs! You can buy the single now, or wait for the full album to release on May 11. Sounds like it's going to be awesome!

Winds of Change

This week, a sudden blast of warm air has brought the consolation of spring to my area, and what a balm it's been for me. For the first time in a long, long time, I'm beginning to feel like myself.

Though, with the warm weather comes a host of other problems. The sudden surge of light and warmth into the world after such a long stretch of darkness stirs something deep within me, and suddenly, my zeal comes alive.

It's not always how I hope, either. I'm a terribly passionate soul, and have a reputation for being a bit...consuming and hurricane-like. It's not a bad thing, but at times that side of me (or really, that core) is way too close to my old ways. It tastes of magic. Around this time of year, the aching is deep in my bones. But that's a yearning I can't sate anymore.

Or can I?

God and I have an odd relationship, and it's usually in some sort of flux. I don't pull punches and I make no effort to cover myself up before Him. If I'm angry, He knows it in no uncertain terms. And when things are at their best? When I'm full of that passion and joy?

It's fire.

It's something I both fear and rejoice in. When my words fall short, He speaks to me and turns me upside down. It's transforming, raw, and perhaps most of all, healing in nature.

Time and again I've been known to cry at Mass or Adoration without cause. It's the Spirit's way of helping me to pour out myself, to decrease, I think.

I usually feel better afterward. Then again, I often feel better all around during this time of year.

Ostara is coming. Spring is coming. And with it, Easter. Our greatest hope.

Bring it on!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Live Life Now

The more I try to work through the truth of death, and the seemingly inevitable crisis of faith that has accompanied it, I've learned two very important things.

God is always with us, the connection to Him just changes with time and circumstances.

And no matter how much we fear death, the unknown, and the afterlife, there is one very important truth here: we can't stop it. Worrying will not get us a free pass. Fear won't prevent it. It only prevents us from truly embracing the beauty of this life to the full.

The way I see it, those who live their lives with a sincere and heartfelt desire to follow after God will spend eternity in peace with Him. And if I'm wrong? If this life just ends in death?

There are worse things, I suppose. It's probably like sleeping. I like sleeping. Heh.

Either way, whatever happens shouldn't keep us from truly enjoying life while we've got it. We've got one chance to do well, to foster love and change the lives of those around us for the better. Duty to humankind is something that spans well beyond religion.

We shouldn't worry about it, because we can't control it! And that's so freeing in a way for me. It brings me peace...almost. And considering how bad my phobia has been since my childhood, I'm willing to consider this marked progress! Thank God! The peace is overwhelming.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Suprised by Joy

Sometimes, if we read Sacred Scripture or things like the Catechism by themselves, they can seem very rigid. Legalistic. Unforgiving.

To the untrained eye, it can seem as f there is no room for grey areas in this Faith, no room for mercy. You know Him, and follow all of His commands to the letter, or you don't. You are saved, or you are damned. No wiggle room.

...Or is there?

Make no mistake, God does have a sense of justice and will employ it fairly. In no way am I saying that we should bank on His mercy and generosity, crossing our fingers and hoping we get off easy.

But what I'm beginning to learn, untying the knots of a lack of formation, is simple: Yes, God made the rules and gave us guidelines to lead us to Him. We, as finite creations and servants, are bound to them. But God, who transcends all things, is not.

In short: God can save whoever the heck He wants. ;) Even if that includes terrorists who never claimed to know Him. In the end, He is the one who decides.

Inspired by this truth, coupled with my firm belief that Jesus far prefers His role as the Divine Mercy to that of just judge, I have faith. I trust that His Mercy is far greater than our fallible judgments and tendency to condemn. And I believe in the power of intercession, fervent prayer, and redemptive suffering--things that make me grateful to be Catholic. They are gifts!

Knowing what I know of God, we're likely in for some big surprises at the end of things. :)

So if you are like I was, relax. Have faith. All manner of things will be well.