An End in Itself

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As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us… John 17:21

One measure of a healthy life of prayer is that it never seeks a sign.  Prayer should never be an effort to control or manipulate how God acts in our lives. It is not a means to an end but an end in itself.

from The Little Way of Lent by Gary Caster (emphasis my own)

Prayer is the deliberate and steadfast action of the soul. It is true and enduring, and full of grace. Prayer fastens the soul to God and makes it one with His will.

from Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich

Beloved, pray for us.

1 Thessalonians 5:25 (The Life with God Bible NRSV)

Exhale and Lean

I read a very interesting post from Laura Droege this morning. She says ‘I’ve… found that the more open I am about the illness, the less it defines me.’ Laura writes about her battle with mental illness with a tender honesty. There is a real strength in her writing – one that only comes through endurance. It’s a fascinating post, please do click the link.

As for me, I refused for years to admit that there was anything wrong, because as far as I was concerned it was my life that was the problem, not me. Over time, God brought me to a place where I had to face up to the fact that I was not well. I have been on medication for over a year and for the first time in my adult life I am not depressed. As I told my psychologist with whom I’ve just begun therapy, the stupid thing is that I never knew I was depressed until I began taking anti-depressants! I just thought that that was normal because I couldn’t remember life not being horrible. Praise God for medication (and even more for my patient, loving husband) o_O

As I thought more about Laura’s post, I recalled a time, years ago, when I was a teenager. I was receiving treatment at a private hospital that specialised in rehabilitation after serious head injury. One day in the summer, my nurse and I were standing by a window looking at the garden, green and vibrant with colour as only an English garden can be. A butterfly fluttered into view and settled onto the purple flowers. I remember the purple and the green, but I don’t recall what plants they were. Just behind the butterfly was a young man in a motorised wheelchair. We realised he must be paralysed from the neck down because he was controlling the chair with his head. My nurse sighed and tutted as she saw this young man, “Oh,” she exclaimed, “don’t you feel sorry for him!” This was a statement, not a question.

I looked at the man and frowned. “I don’t.” I replied.

My nurse turned towards me, aghast, “You don’t feel sorry for him?!”

“No.” I said, but I couldn’t explain why.

20-something years later and I think that what I instinctively grasped was that people must be endlessly pitying this young man – and to pity him continually deprived him of dignity; instead it somehow defined him by his injuries, rather than as a human being. Christ never saw people as defined by their brokenness, in whatever way that was manifest. On the contrary:

‘Some men came carrying a paralysed man on a bed, and they tried to carry him into the house and put him in front of Jesus. Because of the crowd, however, they could find no way to take him in. So they carried him up on the roof, made an opening in the tiles, and let him down on his bed into the middle of the group in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw how much faith they had, he said to the man, “Your sins are forgiven, my friend.”

The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees began to say to themselves, “Who is this man who speaks such blasphemy! God is the only one who can forgive sins!”

Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Why do you think such things? Is it easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’? I will prove to you, then, that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, pick up your bed, and go home!”

At once the man got up in front of them all, took the bed he had been lying on, and went home, praising God.

Luke 5:18-25 (GNT)

This is also why the debate around the abortion of disabled foetuses is frightening, whatever your views on abortion in general. My son has autism. There is no pre-birth diagnosis for autism. If there were, would women choose (and in some cases, be encouraged by medical professionals) to abort their child, like they do with Down’s Syndrome? Is a disabled child ‘worth’ less than another child? Is their individuality defined by their disability, or by their humanity? What if we could diagnose susceptibility to mental ill health, short-sightedness, asthma or dyslexia? I’m loathe to say it (because often references to these things are made when a person has run out of other arguments) but didn’t the Nazis promote the same thing when they tried to ‘exterminate’ the disabled and the mentally ill? Eugenics: alive and well in the 21st century, disguised as ‘informed choice’.

My son is not autism. He is a fearfully and wonderfully made human being. He is a soul. And in reality we are all broken, in one way or another. Many people spend their whole lives trying to ‘make up’ for their brokenness: think of the cult of celebrity, for example. Many, many people think being ‘famous’ will make them happy, or being famous will make them ‘better’. Wealth is another way people try to fix their brokenness, sometimes they choose to pursue power. None of these things actually work. They may appear to, but all they can ever do is paper over the cracks. They don’t fix the structure. They’re just houses built on sand.

I don’t know if any of us are ever truly ‘fixed’, but we each have a God-given dignity that, when we put our trust in Him, when we recognise the grace given in this blessing of dignity, we are set free from all the lies the world (or our own heads) would have us believe. We don’t have to struggle to fix ourselves. We just have to exhale, and to lean on Him.

‘So Jesus said… If you abide in My word [hold fast to My teachings and live in accordance with them], you are truly My disciples.

And you will know the Truth, and the Truth will set you free.

They answered Him, We… have never been in bondage to anybody. What do You mean by saying, You will be set free?

Jesus answered them, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, Whoever commits and practices sin is the slave of sin.

Now a slave does not remain in a household permanently (forever); the son [of the house] does remain forever.

So if the Son liberates you [makes you free men], then you are really and unquestionably free.’

John 8:31-36 (Amplified)

I wrote about a similar theme in my post ‘Why I am Not a Survivor’. The link is to the right of this page. Thank you for reading. Do you have any thoughts on the subject?

Reblog: The Obligation of Spiritual Childhood

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Spiritual childhood – as I understand it – is what is meant by the letting go of all the things we have striven for and fought for and clung to as we grew up, all the things the world told us we had to do. It’s not that those things are unnecessary (some of them are, but not all) but that we must let go of self and self-determination in the same way as a tiny child relies on Mummy and Daddy for every part of life. It is a surrendering, but at the same time a sublimation, a transformation, into something new and unexpectedly beautiful.

But it does take time (a lifetime?) so instead of worrying about the times we don’t get it ‘right’, we can let go and humbly begin again. And, in time, the changes on the inside begin to show themselves on the outside, and we wonder how it happened, because we know we couldn’t do it without Him.

Contemplative in the Mud

MagdeleineSpiritual childhood has become an obligation ever since our Lord took a little child by the hand, put him in the midst of the grown men who were arguing over who would have the first place and who were dreaming of an earthly kingdom, telling them, “If you do not become like little children, you will never enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 18:3).

Little Sister Magdeleine (1898–1989)

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Reblog: Little and Nothing

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I think this is why broken people seem to respond to God in a way that others can’t. Whether their brokenness is self-inflicted (by which I mean they have made poor choices) or whether life has just been too cruel, when you’re brought so low that there’s nothing left, you realise how much you need God and how you can’t even stand up without Him. This is why Jesus’ words in the beatitudes are so wonderfully true, although they seem counter-intuitive.

I’m sitting typing with my new Open University textbooks beside me, just about to begin the next module in statistics and probability. The more I learn of statistics, the more I realise how little statisticians actually *know*. But I still fall in love more and more with the numbers and the ‘truths’ they demonstrate. In a way, this mirrors my spiritual life. I’m making no sense(!) but I thank God for all that I have been through because it’s only in darkness that you can see the light. I don’t ask for more suffering and I don’t desire more suffering, but I know that without the suffering I wouldn’t know God and I know that my deepest desire has always been to know Him.

Lord, You are everything. Fill my nothing.

‘You will guard him and keep him in perfect and constant peace whose mind [both its inclination and its character] is stayed on You, because he commits himself to You, leans on You, and hopes confidently in You.

Isaiah 26:3 (Amp)

Contemplative in the Mud

Jerónimos Monastery in Lisbon, Portugal

To be little in his sight is not enough; we must be nothing – this is the foundation upon which he would build… The greater our annihilation, the loftier the building he erects thereon.
Saint Jane Frances de Chantal

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Watch and Pray

‘When it was evening, Jesus and the twelve disciples sat down to eat. During the meal Jesus said, “I tell you, one of you will betray me.”

The disciples were very upset and began to ask him, one after the other, “Surely, Lord, you don’t mean me?”

Jesus answered, “One who dips his bread in the dish with me will betray me. The Son of Man will die as the Scriptures say he will, but how terrible for that man who will betray the Son of Man! It would have been better for that man if he had never been born!”

Judas, the traitor, spoke up. “Surely, Teacher, you don’t mean me?” he asked.

Jesus answered, “So you say.”

Matthew 26:20-25 (GNT)

He had always loved those in the world who were his own, and he loved them to the very end.

John 13:1b (GNT)

We follow Jesus as he washes the feet of the disciples – even Judas. We follow him as he walks to the garden. We follow him as he falls to his knees and cries out in anguish to his Father. Like the disciples who fell asleep when they were meant to be keeping watch, we too (despite ourselves) fall asleep, become distracted, confused, weary. Like the disciples, it’s not that we don’t love, but that we’re scared. We’re human. But:

‘Betrayal isn’t the end of the story; man’s salvation is.’

From The Little Way of Lent

by Fr. Gary Caster

Forgive me, Lord, for all the times I fall asleep when I should be leaning on you with every inch of my being. Forgive me for all the times my frailty lets you down. I am nothing without you. Thank you for the gift of the Eucharist, for the gift of yourself. Stay with me. Remain here with me, Father, for you are the ground of all my beseeching.

Amen

Vengeance is Mine, Says the Lord

Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”

Romans 12:17-19 (The Message)

For we know Him Who said, Vengeance is Mine [retribution and the meting out of full justice rest with Me]; I will repay [I will exact the compensation], says the Lord. And again, The Lord will judge and determine and solve and settle the cause and cases of His people.

Hebrews 10:30 (Amplified)

 

Jesus wants those who follow him to be clear about why he came… In our celebration of the [Easter] mystery, we not only recall [the reasons Jesus came] but also witness the vengeance [such as that which] Jeremiah longed to see. God does not pick up rocks to stone the wicked: he picks up flesh and blood… and casts his only begotten Son on the earth, not to injure or destroy it, but to bring it life.

Jesus is the vengeance God takes on the wicked.

From The Little Way of Lent

by Fr. Gary Caster

Why do we miss this, as followers of Christ? Isn’t this the most important thing that one could ever learn? God’s justice is not the same as ours. The wages of sin is death, i.e. when I choose sin I choose death not because God condemns me but because sin and death are the separation from God. And if all sin separates me from God what hope have I of ever becoming perfect (perfect meaning without sin)? The answer is: none. Yet if I only take hold of this offering of love to me (surely any offering should be the other way round?) I will live the life God made me to live. Hallelujah! Such a simple thing – if only we realised how much God loves each one of us, instead of listening to the lies and confusion of the enemy, what a life we could lead, what a blessing we would be in the world.

Wow. I never expected any of this when I began my Lenten journey. This is beyond spectacular. I am in awe. That single line encapsulates the entire nature and function of grace: Jesus is the vengeance God takes on the wicked.

The Economy of Salvation

The economy of salvation has love as its capital – a love that can never be exhausted. Forgiveness of sins depends upon our willingness to accept the currency of God [we must deal with God on his terms]…What Jesus… share[s] on that precious height [the cross] dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy; it casts out hatred, brings us peace and humbles earthly pride.

The earthly household should be managed as the heavenly household is. Just as Jesus and the Father are one, so must we be one with Christ. When Jesus talks about the importance of giving… he isn’t talking about surplus change, but rather about giving  that which is truly sacrificial. What we have freely received, we must freely share.

Precisely because my heart is capable of suffering, I want it to give Jesus everything possible.

From The Little Way of Lent

by Fr. Gary Caster

I think my head exploded when I read these words as part of today’s Lent reading. Wow. The Kingdom of God truly is the Upside Down Kingdom! God doesn’t give to us in the way the world gives to us. God will never haggle or cheat or even work in exchange for money. God’s ‘currency’ is love – and love alone. And that is… beyond mind-blowing.

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another… 

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also… 

“I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you… you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you… Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them… 

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” 

John 13:34-35; John 14:6,7, 18,20, 23, 27 (NRSVA)

Heavenly Father, small as I am, may the world always know me by your currency. Instill in me your wisdom. Fill me to overflowing with kindness and compassion, by your grace.

Amen

‘And the Word was God’

‘[Christ’s] words are solemn

but not sombre
for they

raise us up

when we have

fallen

and

support us

as we follow Him.’

From The Little Way of Lent
by Fr. Gary Caster

 

Language is powerful. It can build up and tear down civilizations. It is one of the things that makes us human, and it is one of the things that defines us as ‘made in His image’. First comes the breath, then comes the life. First the word, then the act. Language itself is a miracle. We must choose our words with care.

Lord, may my words be always pleasing to you. May I never use them to dictate, or to deceive, or to puff myself up with pride. May my voice always reflect your voice. 

Amen

Abundance and Forgiveness

We have moved house a lot over the past few years, for one reason or another. This has meant a change of schools, too. When we moved in 2012 the local education authority took nearly two months to put Prince into school. Apparently they had to decide that he needed a special school (despite his previously having been in a special school since Year 1). Initially they even suggested I go and look round the local secondary school(!). Four months after Prince started school, Frank’s job fell through and we realised we had to move. It was good timing and God timing because we moved closer to Frank’s parents and within a month or two Frank’s dad began the cycle of hospital admissions and discharges, and we had to arrange care for Frank’s mum, whose dementia was severe enough to warrant 24-hour supervision. So we moved here, which meant another school change for poor Prince. This was a very difficult thing for him to do. People with autism find change difficult to cope with and he spent the next 11 months detesting his new special school and trying to think of ways to leave. This included, he confessed, trying to be so naughty that he would be permanently excluded. Being autistic, his idea of ‘very naughty’ was actually very mild, bless him, and as I was going through yesterday’s reading from The Little Way of Lent I recalled what Prince had said.

I wonder if sometimes we too do the same as young Prince, especially when we’re hurting or damaged by life? Do we push the boundaries to get God’s attention?

Why is my life so awful if you really love me, God?

Do you love me now, even after I’ve done that?

I’ve been there. I even did my own version of Prince’s ‘trying to do something very bad’ because I had such little sense of self-worth and didn’t believe I was worthy of love. In hindsight, it wasn’t ‘very bad’, it was probably something which happens fairly regularly, fallen as we all are, but I thought at the time that it was dreadful. I saw myself as the same as Peter, denying knowledge of Christ when he’d sworn his love just hours before.

I think this is probably a similar thought process to self-harming, in whichever medium that manifests itself. I know from Celebrate Recovery that self-harm occurs in as many different ways as there are different people. There’s the obvious physical act of cutting or hurting oneself, and then there are addictions and alcoholism, but hurting oneself can also present as bad relationships (or a string of them), eating too much, eating too little, self-sabotage (wanting to achieve something but doing things that prevent you from achieving it), even poor hygiene. We can become so distressed that the reasons we do things are not clear even to ourselves and we continue the destructive cycles that make us miserable. Sometimes we hurt those around us too, either deliberately or as a non-intentional effect. Sometimes, when we have been badly hurt, we even push people away, never letting anyone close. We push them away before they get the chance to hurt us, or we deliberately hurt them because we are confirming how horrible we are and how unworthy of love. Sometimes it’s all so complex that we don’t know where the pain begins and we end, or the other way round. It’s like that quote, attributed to Einstein, ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results’. The cycle of pain and hurting is insanity.

But there can be different results. Healing can and does take place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m rather wary of those who claim to have been ‘healed from addiction’ instantaneously, as addiction is much more complicated than just the physicality of it (although I have never met anyone who claims to have been healed in this way). For the vast majority of us, healing takes time. Years. Decades. Maybe we never fully reach the place of healing until we reach heaven? I don’t know. But I do know that if we’re prepared to be open to God, He can and will use the years of destruction and change our ashes into beauty, give us resurrection joy in place of suffering and death. It takes courage – more courage than anyone who has not been through it can imagine. The courage to get out of bed in the morning and put one foot in front of the other is enormous.

Then there’s forgiveness. What if you, like me, know that you could never and will never do anything anywhere near as awful as that which has been done to you? I mean, we know that all sin separates us from God, don’t we? But what if what you have experienced has been so, so awful that you don’t know how you can ever get over it, or how to even begin to forgive?

It has taken me years to get my head around this, because I thought that God ought to keep a tally card or something… Doesn’t justice mean that ‘bad people’ get punished? I grew up being taught that the criminal justice system was there to protect the ‘goodies’ from the ‘baddies’ and that if someone was guilty of a crime they would be sent to prison. But it doesn’t mean that. ‘Not guilty’ is not the same as ‘innocent’. There are so many, many victims of crime, like me, who will never see earthly justice. But is our earthly justice the same as God’s justice?

Is this grace?

The answer, if I’m not afraid of looking at the truth, is no. Horrible things happen every day to people who never deserved them and there are no straightforward answers. No easy answers. No answers at all, really, just choices; choices we make every day, step by step. My choice – only by grace – has been to seek healing, to live in a manner which searches for God in all things, and to share His abundant grace. This is the narrow road. It ain’t easy.  I make mistakes. I fall. God picks me up. Forgiveness is something I have to do repeatedly. Each time I ask God to take care of it because the hurt is too big. I cling to Him like I’d cling to a lifebelt in a stormy sea. Crumbs those waves are big! Without Him I might drown. So I cling all the harder. And, with Jesus, I’m ok. I hope you can say the same. As I write I pray for those who are finding it hard to find the value in anything any more. Maybe you feel like you want to give up. Maybe you’re so, so angry at all the injustice – all the pain, all the hurt, all the fighting, all the tears. I won’t tell you ‘if you just trust Jesus everything will be fine’. I won’t because that’s a lie. But, one step at a time, you can learn to walk again. He will be your guide for each step. He will be a light in the darkness. He will be your hope.

 

‘Of everything Jesus taught, the admonition to “forgive your brother from your heart” is perhaps the most complex. The pain of injustice and the feelings evoked by being wronged touch the depths of our humanity… Feeding resentment makes forgiveness difficult…

‘When God’s mercy reigns in us we can acknowledge wrongdoing for what it is without becoming a slave to its effects. Forgiveness from the heart does not overlook accountability and it does not require that I let someone who has wronged me back into my life. Jesus doesn’t expect me to open myself to repeated injury or ongoing injustices, but He does ask that I forgive, that I pray for those who hurt me… Forgiveness from the heart is freeing because the pain of the wrong no longer controls my life and no longer suffocates my relationship with God and neighbour.’

‘Humility and hunger for God are synonymous.’

From The Little Way of Lent

by Fr. Gary Caster

‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
Lead me in your truth, and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all day long.’

Psalm 25:4-5 (NRSVA)

 

From the Desert to the Moon

Negev desert, Israel

 

Sometimes when my mind is in such great aridity [dry as a desert] that it is impossible to draw forth one single thought to unite me to God, I very slowly recite an ‘Our Father’ [The Lord’s Prayer].

From The Little Way of Lent

by Fr. Gary Caster

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
    and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
    giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
    it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
    and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Isaiah 55:10-12 (NRSVA)

Spring blooms in the Negev

The book of Isaiah uses the water cycle as a metaphor for God’s will, and followers of Jesus believe this was later embodied in Him:

All things came into being through him,

and without him not one thing came into being,

in him was life…’

John 1:3-4a (NRSVA)

‘Jesus… cried out, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, “Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.”’

John 7:37-38 (NRSVA)

Scientists searching for planets capable of holding life search for signs of water. It is said that life cannot exist without water. In the same way as life is said to need water, and is brought into being with water, the bible tells us that God sends Jesus as living water, creating all things, running through all things. Intriguing.