Archive for the ‘Psalms’ Category

Reading between the lines regarding detachment

Monday, June 27th, 2011

I have just begun a book that will mostly likely be my summer companion. It’s called Fire Within by Thomas Dubay, SM. It’s a thick volume with densely packed type on an intense subject: contemplative prayer, based upon the writings and lives of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross. Happily this book was also available as an eBook which I promptly downloaded onto my ipod. Because I can adjust the size of the type, somehow the book seems less intimidating. :-)

The need for contemplative prayer

I could not have read this book even 6 months ago. Contemplative prayer demands a surrendered life and had God not prepared me with The Prayer of Mary: Leading a Surrendered Life, I could not have handled this book. It was recommended to me by a confessor (thank you Fr. Moe!) after he listened to me talk about the fear that permeated my life. He knew I needed to surrender my life and tap into the power of contemplative prayer.

Learning to detach

I haven’t even gotten into the “guts” of the book yet but I know I’m going to have to learn how to detach. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I’ll detach from my possessions, from money, from the desire to have my own way, ” etc., etc. But I’m finding it’s more than that. I have to detach from my family, my friends, my interests, ambitions, desires, and especially my feelings. For example, I’ve known for a while that I need to detach from my grown children. A reminder today from my daughter and her “I really want to strike out on my own and not be tied to my parents all the time” attitude told me to back off and give her the space she wants until this time passes. I remember feeling that way at her age and it does pass eventually. She’s an adult now and I must let her go.

Feelings can do you in

Then there are those feelings that come up over matters so trivial yet they can have a profound affect on my attitude. My weakness is aggravation and the Enemy knows it. I have a wicked temper and he knows just how to set it off. Until recently I used to believe it didn’t matter if I spouted off when I got angry so long as I did it privately but I learned from God that in fact this was not so (see previous post, The Value of Self Control). It builds a thick barrier between myself and the Spirit, and I find it hard to pray or to love, and it sure snuffs out joy and patience!

So what got me so mad? Ever tried vacuuming a pool? We have an above-ground pool and the vacuum consists of the head (which does the scrubbing and vacuuming), a long pole that the head is connected to, and a very long hose that is connected to the pump. When vacuuming goes smoothly, I rather enjoy it as I love doing anything with water. BUT, when it goes wrong as it did yesterday, it can be an extremely frustrating task. That vacuum thought of every way to possible to malfunction in the form of detaching the hose from the pump, or the head from the pole, or the hose from the head. It must have happened in one shape or form about a dozen times and I was beside myself with aggravation by the time the job was done. Needless to say, my self control went right out the window!

The anger grows . . .

Anger like that lasts and builds on itself. Later on in the day while preparing dinner for my son and his new girlfriend, the microwave kept tripping the circuit breaker. Somehow I got the potatoes to cook but not without a lot of aggravation.

Prayer to the rescue!

When this cycle continued into this morning I knew I was under attack from the Enemy. This is actually the first time that I’ve ever recognized an extended period of aggravation as an attack and I applied the one foolproof defense against it: prayer. I prayed the rosary this morning to try and prepare my heart to hear the scriptures, and then listened to the readings of the day. The first reading from Genesis, chapter 18, verses 16-33 recounted Abraham’s petitioning to the Lord to not exact punishment on Sodom and Gomorrah if there were just a handful of innocent people. The psalm’s response, “The Lord is kind and merciful,” summed it up perfectly. And in reflecting on that thought of being kind and merciful, how could I possibly be either with all this anger inside, especially over such stupid stuff?

I entered into a quiet space with the Lord and relayed my desire to let go of this anger and knock down the barrier it created. I found myself sitting next to Jesus on a dock, and my ankle had a chain around it. The chain was connected to a large barge. With Jesus’ help, I unlocked the chain and we both pushed the barge away with our feet and watched it slowly sail down the river and out of sight. Just as slowly my peace returned and I felt the anger dissipate. And I am happy to report, the attack has ended.

I can see that I have much to learn about detachment!  As in all things in the Christian life, there is so much more in between the lines.

A prayer of surrender

Here’s a wonderful prayer of surrender courtesy of The Catholic Spiritual Direction blog:

Loving Father,

I surrender to you today with all my heart and soul. Please come into my heart in a deeper way. I say, “Yes” to you today. I open all the secret places of my heart to you and say, “Come on in.” Jesus, you are the Lord of my whole life. I believe in you and receive you as my Lord and Savior. I hold nothing back.

Holy Spirit, bring me to a deeper conversion to the person of Jesus Christ. I surrender all to you: my time, my treasures, my talents, my health, my family, my resources, my work, relationships, time management, successes and failures. I release it and let it go.

I surrender my understanding of how things ‘ought’ to be, my choices and my will. I surrender to you the promises I have kept and the promises I have failed to keep. I surrender my weaknesses and strengths to you. I surrender my emotions, my fears, my insecurities, my sexuality. I especially surrender ______ (Here mention other areas of surrender as the Holy Spirit reveals them to you.)

Lord, I surrender my whole life to you, the past, the present, and the future. In sickness and in health, in life and in death, I belong to you. (Remain the Lord in a spirit of silence through your thoughts, a heart song, or simply staying in His presence and listening for His voice.)

I encourage you to read more on this wonderful site – the  Catholic Spiritual Direction Blog.

The tortoise really can win!

Monday, June 20th, 2011

I have often lamented the fact that I am a painfully slow reader. I will reread sections, and read every word. Otherwise, I feel like I’ve missed something.

I follow a delightful blog called A Room of One’s Own by a college lit student. She ‘s plunged into reading the classics after having only read current commercial fiction, and she’s keeping a literary journal as she reads. She has read an amazing number of books (and given me a tremendous reference to turn to as I slowly plod through different classics). She wrote a wonderfully thoughtful post wondering whether it was better to read quickly as she does, or read more slowly, like I do.

I have no choice, I have to read slowly, but I envied my friend’s speed reading skills. Until now.

Yesterday at Divine Liturgy, I heard the priest preach about a section in John 14, verse 15 where Jesus states, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” Fr. Paul proceeded to explain that following the commandments is not just following a set of rules and then feeling good that you’ve done it. It’s so much more. He used Psalm 1, verse 2 as the example: But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.” He focused on the word “meditates,” explaining that the word “murmurs” is a closer translation of the original text.

Murmuring, of course, involves speaking; in many cases, reading out loud. Students often use this method when studying; people who wish to memorize will also use this tact. Murmuring most definitely slows down the reading process. It also helps one to absorb the material.

While I haven’t actually employed murmuring before in meditating upon the scriptures, I have used note taking as a means of unlocking hidden treasures in books. Often it has involved reading a chapter or section twice to get down all the thoughts I had. Using this method, I spent 3-1/2 months reading a 187 page book! Seems absurd, but I unlocked countless treasures by outlining the chapters and the guts of the book (The Prayer of Mary: Leading a Surrendered Life) really sunk in.

Yet, I ‘d like to try murmuring. I have tried murmuring repeatedly the Jesus Prayer, and even have 3 different versions of it set to music so I can “murmur” by singing. Singing is a wonderful way to murmur.

The art of Lectio Divina invites such murmuring as it requires one to read and then pray on a particular scripture, repeating a line or lines over and over. This moves you into meditation and then divine contemplation (John Michael Talbot’s newest album, Worship and Bow Down, has a song by that title that beautifully lays out how to use Lectio Divina to pray the scriptures. Listen to a clip of the song here – track 17).

I felt a real affirmation yesterday at liturgy from the Lord as Fr. Paul described the art of murmuring. It’s okay to be slow. In fact, it’s good to be slow. As the lyrics to Talbot’s song say, “Prayerfully read the Word of God, prayerfully read, take your time . . .”

I am a tortoise who loves to read, and would like to read like the hare. However, as a tortoise, while I probably won’t be able to read everything I have on my list, I will read what I can very well. A slower approach will facilitate the unlocking of many a treasure in scripture and beyond. Sounds like a win-win to me!

Prayer leads to insight, even on the little things

Friday, February 25th, 2011

Readings for February 25, 2011
Sirach 6:5-17; Psalm 119:12,16,18,27,34-35, Mark 10:1-12

Couples who have been married for a long time will relate to this. My husband and I were quarreling over an issue that has dogged us throughout our entire relationship. We’ve known each other since we were 16 and have been married 32 years. That’s a long time to be habitually quarreling over one issue!

Because of the long history, we were  tired of talking about it. We had both long ago hit brick walls trying to understand each other. What used to be hot and noisy fights has now turned into silence and getting the cold shoulder. And then stewing and steaming . . . It wasn’t a quarrel that would cause a split, but it did cause misery.

One tactic that my husband and I have adopted when we need to have one of those “difficult discussions” is to use email. Email has a way of creating some emotional distance thus creating a more objective view; it also allows each of us to express ourselves fully and thoughtfully without interruption. We used this tactic today.

At first it didn’t go well. I started out feeling very conflicted and despaired of an honest discussion – that grew into open anger. Praying was extremely difficult with that wall of anger separating me from my husband, and ultimately from God.

At noontime, my iTouch alerted me that it was time to pray the Angelus. I sighed and prayed it, admitting to God that my heart was not in it, and asking for direction, insight and guidance. Within the hour, He answered my prayer.

Through our discussion, my husband revealed the true nature of the problem. He had actually told me many times before what the nature of the problem was, but I never could see it. I started a prayer journal a few weeks ago (on my iTouch using the Pauline Media app called Healing Prayers) and added that intention on my list, asking for understanding and insight. Today, because of those prayers and by praying the Angelus, I received the insight I was looking for.

After a frank discussion with my husband, I was able to offer a solution that made him very happy. The language softened right up and we started discussing happier things, such as going to Boston tomorrow night to see the Beatles tribute band, Rain (a last minute decision :-) ).

Not that I needed direct proof, but I received it anyway that prayer leads to insight, even on the smallest issues, and even on those stubborn ones that occur again and again. Truly, nothing is impossible withe God!

So what does this have to do with today’s readings? At first I didn’t think there was a link, but my deacon friend pointed it out while we chatted online by quoting today’s responsorial psalm – Guide me, Lord, in the way of your commands.

How true! It also affirmed something. I recently took up the habit of listening to the Invitatory Psalm of the Divine Office on DivineOffice.org, the daily readings from the iMissal app, and the podcast of the day from the Pray As You Go podcast. I’m half asleep when I listen to these things and wondered if they were having any impact at all. This morning I was convinced it was a useless exercise. The things that happened today tell me otherwise. It’s possible that subconsciously I did absorb the readings. After all, I did ask the Lord to guide me in the way of His commands.

It really goes to show in the end that faithfulness to the smallest things is the key to the spiritual life. Right now as I write this, I have a growing and profound sense of gratitude.

Thank you, Lord.

Spiritual Prosperity – reflections on readings for December 10, 2010

Friday, December 10th, 2010

Here are today’s readings
Isaiah 48:17-19; Psalm 1:1-4,6; Matthew 11:16-19

Today’s responsorial psalm struck me today (bold italics are my emphasis):

Blessed the man who follows not
the counsel of the wicked
Nor walks in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the company of the insolent,
But delights in the law of the LORD
and meditates on his law day and night.

He is like a tree
planted near running water,

That yields its fruit in due season,
and whose leaves never fade.
Whatever he does, prospers.

I stopped when I read it because it rang so true. Being on the same page with Jesus guarantees prosperity. Not prosperity such as the world understands it (money, power, fame, etc.), but a different kind of prosperity – peace, joy, love:  the fruits of the Spirit, which cannot be contained within and shine out as a beacon of light, the light of Christ.

Lately I have found people asking me for prayer. And I’ve had people tell me that I have blessed them. I know it’s not anything I am deliberately doing, except perhaps the act of trying to remain in God’s presence at all times. That constant clinging to God, running to His side, keeping an ear open for His soft voice, feeling that longing in my heart for Him – these things drive me to Him and I’m guessing that because of that, the light of Christ is somehow getting past me and getting out for the world to see. It’s certainly not because of any good that I purport to do.

My thoughts again drift to Mary who because of her oneness with God, produced the greatest fruit of all – the baby Jesus. Talk about prosperity!

I saw this cool section in a book I am reading (again) called The Prayer of Mary by Keith Fournier. In the preface he writes:

” . . . He [Christ] took up residence in a womb [Mary's], making it a tabernacle of flesh. The work of redemption began in utero . . . Mary was the first evangelist, bearing witness of Christ’s incarnation to her cousin Elizabeth. She won the first convert in utero, in the person of John the Baptist . . .”

Remember the votive candle post from a few days ago and how the light of Christ was within the womb of Mary? Mary was following today’s responsorial psalm, delighting in the Lord and staying close to Him and because of that, she prospered. And because she prospered, the light of Christ within her could not be contained and the babe in Elizabeth’s womb sensed it and leapt for joy!

This kind of prosperity is the one kind we can take with us when we depart this earth. As long as we work for it and deeply desire it, we can never lose the treasure of Christ’s light within us. And because we prosper, we light the way for others to follow along with us.

And believe me when I say that the world’s prosperity (money, fame, power, etc.) cannot even begin to match the benefits of spiritual prosperity. Having experienced both to a degree, I am so glad I am here now and would never go back.

Where the Lord Wants to Lead Me (Reflection on readings for Nov. 10, 2010)

Wednesday, November 10th, 2010

Readings for today
Titus 3:1-7; Psalm 23:1-6; Luke 17:11-19

Sometimes I think I would have done quite well in the era of oral tradition. While I like to read, listening to someone else read often makes words or phrases stand out that otherwise wouldn’t. That’s what happened today.

I often listen to the daily scripture readings at the Verbum Domini site. There’s no commentary, just a simple rendering of the daily readings. Because the USCCB site is the only place authorized to use the New American Bible, Verbum Domini uses the Revised Standard version and today I’m glad they did.

The ever familiar Psalm 23 was the responsorial psalm today. As I listened to it, these first lines stood out:

The LORD is my shepherd;
I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul;

Still waters. I thought about what that looked like, like a sea of smooth glass reflecting the sky, the trees, whatever happens to be around. There is much that lurks beneath still waters. Fish. Insects. Turtles. Plant life. The still waters contain many signs of vibrant life and yet they are quiet (New St. James version), restful (New American version), peaceful.

I thought back to the phrase, He makes me, in referring to “He makes me to lie down in green pastures” and it helped me to make sense of something I’ve been pondering for a while and even talked about with my spiritual mother last night.

I mentioned to her that I wondered sometimes why my life was so serene right now, restful with few worries and responsibilities. My creative life is blooming and I feel more alive than I have in many years. Yes, I did come from a long, drawn out battle that was my mother’s illness and passing, but I wonder about my life being so easy now. Somehow it doesn’t feel right (much as I enjoy it).

And my dear, wise friend told me to graciously accept this grace from God and not worry. There would be trials ahead but right now, accept, enjoy, and go along with it. Today’s psalm was an affirmation of her words: God wants me to lie down in the green grass next to the still waters.

The famous Ecclesiastes 3 (“To everything there is a season . . .”) really rings true for me today. This is my season to heal, my season of peace.

As the leper in today’s Gospel runs to Jesus, prostrates himself at His feet and thanks him for his healing, so I must do the same: accept the gift and be thankful for it and put away all worry. Live in the present moment and let the future take care of itself.

Thank you, Jesus.

Submit, obey, surrender – are these really bad words?

Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Here are the readings for today.
Ephesians 5:21-33; Psalm 128:1-5; Luke 13:18-21

Here is the Divine Office – click on Office of Readings.

Submit. Obey. Surrender. These words appeared again and again in both the daily readings and the Divine Office, Office of Readings. Here are some examples:

Antiphons from the Divine Office (from Psalm 37):

  • Surrender to God, and he will do everything for you.
  • Turn away from evil, learn to do God’s will; the Lord will strengthen you if you obey him.
  • Wait for the Lord to lead, then follow in his way.

And today’s first reading from Ephesians is the famous (or infamous) passage about submission and specifically, wives submitting to their husbands:

Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord.
For the husband is head of his wife
just as Christ is head of the Church,
he himself the savior of the Body.
As the Church is subordinate to Christ,
so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.

Words like submit, obey and surrender are considered dirty words, especially in American society where rugged individualism, acquiring wealth and power, and making it to the top no matter what are of primary importance to so many. For women especially, these are fighting words (understandable since women have known oppression all over the world for so long, and so many still do).

What’s often missed, however,  is verse 21 which comes just before that section:

Brothers and sisters:
Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.

This here is the key. Submit, obey and surrender don’t have the same meanings when applied to God. As is so common in the Christian life, things are not as they appear. In the world these words bring to mind slavery, captivity, restraint, limitation, imprisonment or subjection. In the eyes of God, submit, obey and surrender actually mean true freedom.

If I am to be subordinate to the Lord, I must learn to trust Him. Trust is not learned overnight, especially if your trust has been betrayed by those you love. I need to be intimate relationship with God and pursue Him constantly. As that relationship grows, I find that my desire to be subordinate grows too because I learn to trust Him.

A few years ago, anxiety over our finances ruled my life. I would wake up at 4am and worry myself sick until it was time to get up. I would make myself physically sick because of worry. I also disrupted the lives of my family members because of that worry.

I pursued a relationship with God but did not understand at the time about subordinating myself to Him. He in his graciousness showed me how even when I didn’t directly ask for it. Slowly He transformed me and in time, I learned to let go of my worries; I stopped trying to control every aspect of my life. In return, I found a deep and lasting peace – freedom from my worry -  which I wouldn’t trade for the world.

When I had my worry replaced by His peace, my relationships with family members improved, especially with my husband. I began to learn what sacrificial love was and desired to practice it. We became subordinate to each other our of our love for Christ.

Submit, obey and surrender are no longer dirty words to me. God has transformed their meaning for me into something beautiful and very desirable.

“Remove from me the way of falsehood . . .” Reflection on daily readings for September 22

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

Here are today’s readings
Proverbs 30:5-9; Psalm 119:29,72,89,101,104,163; Luke 9:1-6

The scripture from Proverbs and the psalm from today’s daily readings washed over me like a wave. Its strong themes regarding deception and falsehood were a firm affirmation of something the Lord had shown me throughout this week: I had been exposed as a deceiver.

Who was I deceiving? Myself. How? Through pride.

My prayer life has been growing. I’ve enjoyed wonderful spiritual nourishment from a dear older friend who is an example of holiness to me. I’ve felt more connected with the Lord and with others. And I took pride in all that. That pride was deceiving me into thinking I was holy, in fact, holier than thou, if you know what I mean. Recently I was with a group of friends and found myself judging them. As the evening progressed, God was making it very clear to me that I needed to look more deeply at myself instead. Later that night, the examination of conscience was pretty intense.

I read the readings this morning and it reinforced the issue. It was obvious the Lord meant to teach me more. Just before I started writing this post, I talked to my brother on the phone and realized I had been judging him too about something without even bothering to consider all the facts!

What was scary to me was how easily I was deceived. It happened in such a subtle way that it took a while to see it. It reminded me how skillful satan is at deception (and yes, I mean to make the “s” in satan lower case), and how easily he can take something holy and pervert it.

Jesus was so right – you have to be constantly on alert, awake and ready. I need Jesus beside me every minute because satan never stops trying to separate us by my sin. The fortunate thing is Jesus’ love never ends. He will always offer His forgiveness and grace if I just ask for it.

I echo the thoughts of the writer of this verse from Proverbs:

. . . I ask of you,
deny them not to me before I die:
Put falsehood and lying far from me . . .
Proverbs 30:8

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner . . .