This sounds like one of those philosophical mind puzzles like theorizing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, doesn’t it?

Daniel Berrigan, S.J, poet, peace activist, and Jesuit priest was once asked this question, whether faith resided in the mind or the heart. He replied that faith is rarely where your head is and rarely where your heart is. Rather, he claimed, “Faith is where your ‘ass’ is at.”

What he meant by that answer is that it is really where we put our bodies and actions, not what we think and feel, that reveals our faith. You might substitute “gut” for “ass” in this quote… Have you ever just “known” something deep in your gut, even if it defied rational logic or scared you half to death?

My experience of my initial call to religious life was a bit like that. There I was, finishing up my Master’s degree, in a pretty serious relationship, only half kiddingly telling people my long term goal was to be Chairman of General Motors (gee, I’m sure glad that plan never came to fruition…) So when a simple question from a friend about religious life caused me to go weak in the knees, it drew me up short.

My mind told me, “But I’m an engineer, Steve and I have been talking about marriage, this doesn’t make sense!” My heart told me, “Yikes! What do you really want from me, God? The nun thing can’t really be what you want me to do – it’s too scary, and besides – I like to party and be on the wild side!” But deep inside, once I stopped rationalizing and running, I KNEW that this was what God was inviting me to. And it was my faith, that faith in my gut, that drove me to do what I knew I had to do, despite all the logical and emotional arguments I had lobbed at the very idea of a call to religious life. Yes, I did put my ass on the line, and it wasn’t my head or heart that led me to do it.

That was such a foundational experience for me, and the memory of it has served me well in similar moments of desperation or confusion, like realizing I had a problem with alcohol, or facing the truth about my sexual orientation. And every time I am willing to trust my gut, that place where God says to me, “Stay with me. I love you,” it leads me to a place of deeper integration and truth , often through chaos and pain, but isn’t that what the Paschal Mystery is all about?

Like C. S. Lewis said (from my previous post), “God’s compulsion is our liberation.”

One of my Facebook friends and a fellow Gesu parishioner reminded me of another point Ron Rolheiser made on Monday night. Basically he was saying that the true measure of quality of life is not whether or not one is happy, but whether or not one finds meaning in life. I have to think about that a little more before I get completely on board with that.

I suppose it comes down to what one means by happiness… If it means the emotion I experience when I am with someone I love, or when a student finally gets a difficult concept, or when I see a beautiful sunset, then I agree with Ron. The warm, fuzzy feelings come and go, and so how I am feeling at some particular moment in time really misses the forest for the trees, I think.

I’m probably a bit more inclined to define true happiness as being in touch with a deep conviction that my life as God’s beloved has meaning and in the long run, no matter what happens, all shall be well. This means that despite hard times when I struggle with depression, illness, broken relationships, and all manner of hardship, I can still be “happy” at a deeper level if I can find meaning in my relationship with God and what I am experiencing. I think this could also be called “faith.” What do you think?

So, are you finding meaning in your life?

God’s compulsion

How’s that post title grab you?

I attended a talk by Fr. Ron Rolheiser, OMI tonight called “The struggle for a more mature discipleship.” I had an experience of deep recognition of how God works in my own life in listening to this man. So, for the next few days/weeks, you are going to have put up with several of my reflections on various things Ron said tonight, and what he will say in another talk tomorrow night. I hope you will join me with your own reflections. (If you are reading this on my Facebook page, I encourage you to leave your comments over on my blog so as to widen the conversation: https://nunsuch.wordpress.com.)

To explain the title of this post, here’s the scriptural context:

USCCB – NAB – John 6:53-68

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Unlike your ancestors who ate and still died, whoever eats this bread will live forever.” These things he said while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?”

Since Jesus knew that his disciples were murmuring about this, he said to them, “Does this shock you? What if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?  It is the spirit that gives life, while the flesh is of no avail. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” Jesus knew from the beginning the ones who would not believe and the one who would betray him.

And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by my Father.” As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Ron said that behind Peter’s answer was probably an overwhelming desire to cut and run. The idea of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood must have seemed repugnant on both an intellectual and an emotional level. And yet, Peter’s faith that Jesus could be trusted, that he had the words of eternal life, won the day. Ron gave us a quote by C.S. Lewis, who despite his reluctance, converted to Christianity, writing that he had come to know that “the harshness of God is kinder than the softness of man and God’s compulsion is our liberation.”

Think about that…God has a compulsion to liberate us! And there’s no doubt…365 times in the Bible, we are told, “Fear not” or “Don’t be afraid,” etc. We are to be free from fear. A religion that compels its adherents to do or refrain from doing under threat of consequences may produce results in terms of behavior, but does it nurture an alive and mature faith that does the right thing out of love for God and neighbor?

Yes, things were much tidier in those days when faithful Catholics were afraid to miss Mass on Sunday for fear of dying with an unconfessed mortal sin on their souls. And it is true that we do not always carry our freedom well, often forgetting the responsibility that comes with it. Things get very messy as we struggle to come to a more mature way of wearing this freedom that God is compelled pour out on us. The question is how we can love each other through those growing pains of coming to a mature adult faith, with compassion, not judgement.

I don’t know about you, but God’s not finished with me yet. I’m still a “work-in-progress.”

First, Happy Feast Day to all who celebrate the Feast of St. Ignatius!

The last several days have been a bit unusual for me. I’ve been spending a lot of time with a friend who has been and continues to be a spiritual guide for many people and groups. She’s had some very serious health issues over the past year or so, and it seems that it’s just one thing after another…very difficult to see such frailty in a loved one. Anyway, on my retreat, I spent a little time with one of the documents written by the Jesuit who brought our first 6 sisters together to found the Sisters of St. Joseph. And the last few days staying with my friend during a few acute episodes have brought to mind the following maxim…I’ll have to share it with her to see if it resonates with her… Anyway, please keep B. in your prayers.

The Maxims of Perfection (Jean-Pierre Medaille)

Maxim 5:2
Sufferings accepted well
are like the wood
which serves to kindle the fire of love.
To the extent that you endure faithfully
and make good use of your crosses, you will see
the sacred fire of love grow in your heart.
Souls who have this great love
are usually led through great sufferings.
Grasp this truth and profit from it.
A great fire cannot keep burning unless someone continues to throw wood on it.
Likewise, to sustain a great love of God throughout life
it is necessary to endure great sufferings.

Greetings, all!

I just returned from my annual retreat today, and thought I’d quickly touch base with you rather than wait until I get unpacked and all that busy stuff that would keep me from you any longer…

This year, I made a kind of private retreat (as opposed to the directed retreats I usually do), but with some other kindred spirits…we gathered in the evenings to share the graces of each day, and formed a little community for the week, holding each other in prayer. I chose to spend most of the rest of the time in silence, just spending time with God without any set agenda. It was wonderful to tend to that “virgin point” deep within myself, as described by Thomas Merton here:

At the center of our being is a point of nothingness which is untouched by sin and by illusion, a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God, which is never at our disposal, from which God disposes of our lives, which is inaccessible to the fantasies of our own mind or the brutalities of our own will. This little point of nothingness and of absolute poverty is the pure glory of God in us. It is so to speak his name written in us … like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.

One of the gifts of retreat was the spontaneous prayer of music…I came into the chapel one day as another sister was playing her guitar…I picked up my native flute, and we began to play together without any verbal planning. A third sister came in, and I handed the flute over to her, while I switched to a frame drum. We prayed together that way for a bit…few words were necessary – something profound happens for me in those kinds of settings. It’s like a oneness in heart, mind and spirit, all encountering the same ultimate mystery that I call God.

May you experience your own sacred moments these days!

In between…

So sorry…it has been woefully long since my last post, and I must confess that it will be more than a week until my next one… You see, I’ve had quite a lot on my plate of late, between jubilee celebrations, moving, a trip last week to Washington DC for the CLC Assembly, and now leaving tomorrow on my way to retreat in Manhasset, NY. And this week, I managed to get almost zero work done…felt like a slug all week…everything feels achy, I feel a need to sleep a lot…etc…so I gave myself permission to do just that. After a week of retreat, if I’m still feeling this way, I’ll make an appointment with my doc.

In the meantime, please don’t give up on me…I am not shutting down the blog…just taking a little break so I can come back to it with something worthwhile to share with you all. I’m still open to having guest bloggers, so if you’d like to author a reflection/conversation starter for our little blog community to talk about, please send it my way, and I’ll get it up as soon as I can…probably after retreat….

Peace and blessings to all!

Palin out!

Very surprising news…I wonder what is really going on… Can’t imagine that quitting like this would bode well for a future in elected office…I bet she ends up on talk radio or Fox News…

Alaska’s Palin is leaving office this month – Kansas City Star

Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska rattled the political world Friday by abruptly announcing that she will resign from office at the end of the month.

However, Palin — a Republican — left open the possibility she would seek a run for the White House in 2012.