Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

At The Edge of the Enclosure

March 4, 2013

Dear Readers,

At The Edge of the Enclosure –
Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat

I’m putting my meditation blog on the actual “retreat” page so you won’t have to go to two different sites for each Sunday’s meditations.
(You can subscribe to Soulwork Toward Sunday,  on the upper left hand side of the home page, and receive a weekly reminder of the coming week’s posts. My contact information is also available.)

See you At The Edge of the Enclosure !



On Not Clinging to the Light

January 21, 2013

Please see:
Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Epiphany 3 (year C), January 27, 2013
“The Light of the Spirit’s Initiation”

There is no radiance greater than the light
of the spirit’s initiation;
no wisdom on earth possesses comparable power.
It cannot be measured on the scales
against pearls or precious gems;
no priceless thing can be compared to it;
nothing approaches its inner beauty;
all other beautiful things fail in comparison.
It is more desirable than anything on earth,
and its beauty can even lead the world
captive in desire,
seducing angels and humans alike.

-Narsai of Edessa *

How many [insert your denomination/ parish/ organization/ or your own name HERE] does it take to change a light bulb? Five. One to change it, and four to stand around talking about how much better the old one was.


David praying, French Miniaturist, Bible of Haidenburg, 1300-20

One temptation of a life of prayer is to enshrine the “soul’s initiation.” Instead of realizing the experience of conversion nudges you into the long, deep, wide journey of the soul, you want to access that one energy over and over like grabbing brass rings on a carousel. So you go in circles instead of moving forward. And you wonder why God has “abandoned” you! The Spirit has moved on, waiting for you to move on, too. (I go before you to prepare a place for you… so that where I am, you may be also. -John 14:2-3)

Church folks cling to decaying buildings, the arrangement of pews bolted to the floor, even broken metal chairs rusting in the parish hall closet. So it is with the soul. How much spiritual debris can I cling to? What do I want with those rusty chairs and brass rings?

A spiritual experience can gain clarity in retrospect. Time offers a perspective that reveals the miraculous behind the mundane in the moment. Israel wakens to the luminous holy time in the desert generations after the actual event. Gratitude sanctifies memory. But, after all, Israel left Mount Sinai and entered Canaan. God says to David,”DON’T build me a house!” (In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have not not built me a house of cedar? -2 Sam7:7)

One of the functions of the season of Epiphany is to push the initiate onward toward Lent – the next place of purgation, a cleansing ‘night of the soul’. Lent purifies the initiate for the Easter mysteries – requiring careful preparation. The Easter mysteries unfold the reason why we are initiates in the first place. The initiate must leave this light and into the next darkness to enter the next and purer light.

So let’s GO. We can help each other on the journey toward New Life and union with the Beloved.

God is always coming to you the the Sacrament of the Present Moment. Meet and receive Him there with gratitude in that sacrament. – Evelyn Underhill.

 * -Narsai of Edessa ca.399-ca.502 from The Book of Mystical Chapters translated and introduced by John Anthony McGuckin

Any Day

December 31, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Epiphany Day, January 6, 2012
“mine and thine”

detail from Magi, Ferrari

detail from Magi, Ferrari

When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. -Matthew 2:9-11

Just as the shepherds represent my instinctual self, the magi represent my reason. I’m much stronger in reason than instinct.

I understand the Magi occupying themselves with maps and charts and esoteric scrolls and interpreting books and cyphers and symbols. Unlike the shepherds who saw the sky dissolve right over them,  the magi prepared themselves like athletes for the moment of grace. It’s a wonder they ever looked up from their desks to catch the Star blazing from the heavens.

But they did. And they prepared for every hardship of the journey across deserts, mountains, and plains, for the occasional caravansary or watering site, for weakness, fatigue, boredom, and hardness of heart. It takes a wise person to know enough to go the distance, pace by pace, keeping perspective.

While I need to learn what the shepherds have to teach me about being present to the moment, I cultivate the friendship of the Magi, too, because their wisdom and poise can guide me through many an unlikely landscape toward my destination. I don’t need to wait for the sky to open in front of me. On any day, I can wake up and journey toward God.

‘The Little Way’ of Love

October 28, 2012

Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 26 (year B), November 4, 2012
“The Great Commandment”

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” -Mark 12:28-31

As you can see from the website, the first thing I had to do was pull apart what I thought I meant by God, neighbor, and self. Whenever I manage to complicate spiritual life too much, I turn back to Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897) and her “Little Way.”

Therese, a 19th century cloistered teenage nun with intelligence, creativity and passion, burned with spiritual ambition. She wrote that she longed to be an apostle, a martyr, a missionary, a priest, a warrior for God. But even if she had lived outside her strict (and, to be honest, very dysfunctional monastic community) her gifts would have been thwarted in late 19th century France. After years of frustration and fantasy she had a revelation about her own limitations, both those imposed upon her by her surroundings and those of her own character. Her insight? “Love is my vocation!” To simply love. She most craved love herself and love was the one thing she knew she could give.

Furthermore, Therese realized that her childishness was a weakness she could use as a portal to a mature faith. And so, with childlike trust, she sought to bring love to every annoying, tragic, pitiful, petty act and encounter for the rest of her life. She brought this love and an intensely hard-earned spiritual maturity into her harrowing experience of dying of tuberculosis. After unconscionable and unnecessary suffering, death came mercifully to her at the age of 24.

Ironically, the publication of her short autobiography made her a best selling author, theologian, doctor of the church, and deep influence on millions of people who love her, including me. (Which, honestly, I could not have done without the interpretive lens of feminists like Dorothy Day and Monica Furlong.)

The following paragraph is from Monica Furlong’s biography of Therese.

The Little Way meant trying to get on with life as it actually was, living it with kindness, unselfishness, detailed care – ‘always doing the tiniest thing right, and doing it for love’. It was, in some curious way, the reversal of everything she had been taught, the inflated form of Christianity with its dreams of sanctity and martyrdom. Now she saw that all you were asked to do was to follow the will of God, whatever it might be, and to give yourself unreservedly to that life and to no other. In a moment of revelation she realized that instead of trying to be something she was not – a crusader or an Apostle – she was now free to be Therese with all her little problems, including the babyishness which she had begun to recognize in herself as a kind of permanent imprint. It was as if she had scraped away years of nonsense and found a fundamental truth which had eluded her by its very simplicity. ‘It’s love I ask for, love is all the skill I have.’ It struck her that her very poverty of gifts and of opportunities might make her a kind of representative of all who were poor and inadequate in the world, but who strove to love God. ‘I implore you’, she says to Jesus, ‘to look down in mercy on a whole multitude of souls that share my littleness.’ Praying for those souls, working out the ‘Little Way’ in her own life were, she saw now, her true vocation, and it was one that filled her with joy. She no longer dreamed of dreadful martyrdoms because she saw that, in the present, without manipulations on her part, her life was already a ‘burnt offering’ for a purpose she could only dimly understand but knew that she had chosen.

-Monica Furlong
Therese of Lisieux p.96-7

Have an inspiring All Saints Day (November 1). May love inspire you in the way of sanctity!

Changing Clothes: A Spiritual Excercise

October 22, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 25 (year B), October 28, 2012
“Blind Bartimaeus”

detail, Crucifixion, Van Eyck

In the first chapter of Gordon W. Lathrop’s Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology, he discusses the story of Bartimaeus, Son of Timaeus. Here is an interesting line of thought in which clothing plays a part:

Bartimaeus throws off his cloak and follows Jesus “on the way” to the passion in Jerusalem. (Mark 10:46-52)

A young man slips out of his garment and runs away naked as a soldier grabs at him in the Garden of Gethsemane. (Mark 14:51)

A young man dressed in white (baptismal clothes?) witnesses to the resurrection of Christ at the sepulcher. (Mark16:5)

Lathrop writes, “These latter two figures have been linked in recent exegesis of Mark, and the single ‘young man’ has been seen as a type of the newly baptized, of those who are immersed in the death of Jesus in order to be clothed in his life and made witnesses of the resurrection.”

Here’s a suggestion for meditation this week.
Imagine four scenarios.

First. What does your cloak represent? You call out to the Beloved. The Beloved responds with an invitation. You know instinctively to throw off your cloak and whatever your cloak represents.

Second. The Beloved is taken away. You are left, naked, vulnerable, in danger, in utter not-knowing.

Third. What does the white garment represent? And the empty tomb? What are you doing there?

To bring the exercise to completion follow through to the inevitable next scene. Christian life truly begins after folding the white robe. (Perhaps saving your baptismal gown for grave clothes as many Christians do, symbolic of birth into heaven) and putting on work clothes.

The Christian life matures through seasons of penance and purgation, of illumination and nights of the soul, of union and being sent out. Not only does the Christian evoke this life ritually in the liturgical year, but cultivates this movement in a transformative inner life.

-Have fun,

To Cheat Oneself Out Of Love

October 1, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 22 (year B), October 7, 2012
“against hardness of heart”

Before I became cripplingly challenged by high school math I hadn’t noticed that students in my high school were tracked into vocational streams – those going to college rarely had classes with those slated for going into a trade. After struggling beyond my level of competency, I was put into a remedial algebra class with the ‘hoods’, that is, students who generally wore black clothes, faux-leather jackets, short skirts, heavy eye-makeup, teased hair, and who always seemed to me a bit threatening.

I wore black too, but my artistic black represented a different expression of identity than ‘hoody’ black. One of my teachers used to call out to me in the hall while classes were changing, “Brighter colors, Suzanne!” I was nervous among these other slow math students. But not for long. These kids were sweet, welcoming, interesting, and, yes, smart, although challenged in math like me, bored and resistant to learning as I was. I felt loved by the ‘hoods’ and I loved them and couldn’t figure out why we hadn’t been friends all along. I realized I’d been carrying around a really stupid prejudice I hadn’t even known I had. The friendship landscape opened up, and so did my heart.

I’ve caught myself in scores of prejudices since, both elevating people above some imaginary status line and dismissing others below it and with much more serious implications than what style of black I’m wearing. I love the security of my prejudices. Hardness of heart keeps me perversely organized. But can I really count on such organization while following a man who said, “the last shall be first”?

Hardness of heart keeps me safe in my place. But that’s another irritant of Christianity. Do you really have a ‘place’ when you follow the man who said, “foxes have holes and birds have nests but the son of man has nowhere to lay his head?” If Christians have a ‘place’ it must be on the prophetic margins of discomfort in empathy with the marginalized.

And I know that my worst prejudices are still the ones I don’t know I have, still blinding me to truth, still hardening my heart in embarrassing ways for a supposedly open-hearted liberal striving for universal compassion. HA!

But broken prejudices, however humiliating, have always opened me to new people and ideas, and a wider sense of compassion, understanding, and wisdom. Kierkegaard said, “To cheat oneself out of love is the most terrible deception. It is an eternal loss for which there is no reparation, either in time or eternity.”

Every small hardness of heart cheats me of the love within which I was born to thrive. And surely love is more desirable than temporal security or status.


not worthy to gather up the crumbs

September 3, 2012

Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 18 (year B), September 9, 2012

detail, Canaanite Woman, Jean Colombe, 1485-89, Tres Riches Heures du Duc de Berry

He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”   -Mark 7:27-28

It’s not fashionable to cower before the Divine Presence. That’s good in one way. For generations, cowering I’m not worthily became an excuse for not taking risks on behalf of the Gospel and acting on behalf of justice and peace in the world.

On the other hand, there’s a kind of arrogance in current cultural Christianity that postures, ‘I’m forgiven once and for all’ so my exploitation of others in search of my abundance and personal salvation doesn’t count. I’m not talking about Catholic Workers. You know what I mean.

Both Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross suggest that the closer you come to mystical union, the more is at stake with sin and temptation. The closer you come to mystical union, the wider the sphere of love of God and neighbor. And, while Divine Presence may be more profoundly intimate, the concept of God may be more profoundly remote and incomprehensible.

I grew up with the “prayer of humble access” from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer which imprinted on my soul an allusion to the Canaanite woman. “We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under Thy table.” I loved this prayer as a child, an adolescent, a young woman. And while I deeply appreciate the liturgical reform that erased it from the communion service, I hope I still approach the table once in a while with awe and fear of God.

The Canaanite woman shatters Jesus exclusionary mindset. But she also appreciates what she was asking for. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (Mark 7:27-28)

She did not cower before Jesus. Nevertheless, I know that from time to time I am not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from beneath the table. I hope I am continuing to learn when to repent quietly alone and when to act boldly in the world.

Here is the whole prayer, said just before taking communion.

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

hidden deep within her palace

August 13, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 15 (year B), August 19, 2012
“turn in here”

Courtesan, Byzantine Floor Mosaic, 500-550 A.D.m Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
To him who is without sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Leave simpleness, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.” Proverbs 9:4-6

While reading about Wisdom this week, and how she beckons the simple to come to her house, I thought of this parable from the Zohar. Torah reveals herself, then hides, luring her lover into deeper and higher understandings of the Divine hidden behind the text. “How good and pleasant and precious and high are words of Torah!”

A parable.
To what can this be compared?
To a lovely princess,
beautiful in every way and hidden deep within her palace.
She has one lover, unknown to anyone; he is hidden too.
Out of his love for her, this lover passes by her gate constantly,
lifting his eyes to every side.
She knows that her lover is hovering about her gate constantly.
What does she do?
She opens a little window in her hidden palace
and reveals her face to her lover,
then swiftly withdraws, concealing herself.
No one near the lover sees or reflects,
only the lover,
and his heart and his soul and everything within him
flow out to her.
And he knows that out of love for him
she revealed herself for that one moment
to awaken love in him.

So it is with a word of Torah:
She reveals herself to no one but her lover.
Torah knows that he who is wise of heart
hovers about her gate every day.
What does she do?
She reveals her face to him from the palace
and beckons him with a hint,
Then swiftly withdraws to her hiding place.
No one who is there knows or reflects;
he alone does,
and his heart and his soul and everything within him
flows out to her.
That is why Torah reveals and conceals herself.
With love she approaches her lover
to arouse love with him.

trans. Daniel Matt, Paulist Press, p.123-4

Under the appearance of…

August 6, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 14 (year B), August 12, 2012
“under the appearance of…”


Because of a death in the family I have not prepared a blog/meditation. But here’s the intro to the self-guided retreat on the website. -sg

I’ve sat inside a monastery rotunda to good profit in my soul, contemplating a golden starburst monstrance enclosing a pale host. Sacramental objects teach me to see sacramentally. Sacristans, altar guild members, priests, handle chalices and fair linens as an almost remedial lesson in caring for ordinary things. Architects create beautiful orderly spaces of worship to open people’s hearts to beauty in an unorderly world. Devout men and women eat the bread of Holy Communion in order to help awaken their consciousness to recognizing the bread of life everywhere.

If God lived in a tabernacle in a church only, I would never leave church. Liturgy lets me linger with the thought of Presence, then pushes me out the door with the insistent dismissal to seek and recognize God elsewhere, that is, in the places most difficult to perceive Divine Love. When I’m weary, I come back to renew the process, each Eucharist giving me, hopefully, a deeper and wider insight into the next adventure. -Suzanne

Eucharist in Fruit Wreath, De Heem, 1648


without fear of death

June 18, 2012

See Soulwork Toward Sunday: self-guided retreat
Proper 7 (year B), June 24, 2012
“world’s strand, sway of sea”

Christ stills the storm, German Master, 11th century illumination

I hear this story differently in the season after Pentecost than I would, say, in Epiphany. Easter/ Ascension / Pentecost teaches me that Christ is enthroned, not far away in heaven, but in my heart. I’m called to draw upon the resources within myself to find Christ there, stilling the storm from within while I cope with the dangers surrounding me.

If I skim the surface of the Gospel stories, taking them out of context, I find that I want Jesus to be a miracle worker, a magician, always rescuing me from tempests real or imagined. The church year makes me go deeper. So does Mark’s Gospel for that matter, as Alexander J. Shaia points out in The Hidden Power of the Gospels:

However, the progression of the crossing stories demonstrates a much greater message. Although Jesus continued to use his power to still storms, in each crossing Mark recounts that Jesus grew increasingly impatient with the presumption of his disciples that he would simply perform a divine act and in every instance relieve them of their fear. They seemed to completely ignore that they also had responsibilities. They had an obligation to endure and to find inner calm through faith. By the final crossing, Jesus was totally exasperated and demanded to know if his disciples had yet learned anything whatsoever. (p.117-18)

[Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? Mark 8:17-18]

After Pentecost, although we may be sent to the “ends of the earth,”nothing separates us from the love of Christ. Not “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword.” (Romans 8:35) The yearly re-living and ritual enactment of the Paschal Mystery, Jesus’ resurrection appearances, the Ascension on the Mount of Olives, and the anointing of the Holy Spirit, mean to prepare us for whatever tribulations come, in a divine reign in which death is not the end nor a determiner of value. After Pentecost we say with Paul “If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.” (Romans 14:8-9)

So with boldness, without fear of death, I’m meant to attend to the mission at hand. As for Jesus saving me in my swamping boat of fear, rather than shouting “Do you not care that I am drowning?” I try to hear, “You will do works greater than these.” (John 14:12)