Love, the driving force: a journey of discernment

Chronicling my formation with the Loretto Sisters (IBVM)


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A Litany of Thanks

It’s my final day in New York City. At least for now. I hope to come back someday soon.

The past three months have been a dream come true. Even more than a dream come true, really, because I had no idea what these three months could hold. I’ve titled this post A Litany of Thanks because the overwhelming emotion that I feel right now is gratitude. I thank the IBVM for recognizing my personal and professional interests and for letting me explore them at the UN in such a meaningful way. I thank Cecilia, our IBVM representative at the UN, for hosting me and for giving me freedom to engage in the UN system and to contribute to the work of our NGO and other NGO committees. I thank Libby for bringing a bit of Australia to New York City and for sharing her wisdom and humour and making us all laugh at the right moment.

I thank God for guiding me along the way and for being with me here in New York and at the UN in a way that I had not yet experienced in my life. For the first time, I have felt a total unity between what I would consider my professional life and my private life – I have truly experienced God in all things. In all places and people and in all moments. I haven’t experienced this kind of unity before. Previously, I had felt a huge divide between my work life and my private life, especially my involvement in my parish. A big gap between the secular and spiritual. But now everything is spiritual, everything belongs to God and is of God. Divine life is everywhere!

I thank the UN (inasmuch as I can thank an institution) for the spaces and opportunities to join with other people to dialogue and debate, to learn and to grow, to listen and to be moved. It is a great privilege to be here and to be exposed to so many of the world’s struggles and achievements and, most of all, to witness incredible resiliency and determination to make the world a better place for all. At times, I have been caught up in a swell of optimism and idealism, and other times I have been brought low by realism or even pessimism. But it’s all part and parcel of the onward movement of humanity. In a moment of frustration, I once joked to Cecilia and Libby that we are at the intersection of dysfunction here at the UN. We experience the dysfunction of the various NGO committees, the dysfunction of Member States, and the dysfunction of the UN system itself. Not to mention our own personal dysfunction and NGO dysfunction. We’re in the middle of a vortex. So no wonder things are tediously slow and disorganized at times! But even in the midst of all kinds of dysfunction, I know that I love this work and I believe in it with all of my being.

And last, but definitely not least, I thank New York City for giving me a home and a playground to explore for the past three months. The first week I was here, I was bit shocked by the noise and wondered if I would ever find a quiet space. But then all of a sudden, I didn’t hear the noise and it didn’t bother me again (except for the occasional late night siren or slamming door in the hall that disturbed my sleep!). The noise became the hum of life. The energy of the city gave me energy and really brought me to life. I’ve gone out to do and see so much.

I’ve volunteered on weekends at the 91st Street Community Garden and with Franciscans Deliver, a food pantry outreach at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Midtown. I’ve traversed the length and width of this island many times, discovering its neighbourhoods, parks, museums, and churches. I’ve been to concerts and plays, a comedy club, a late show taping, and taken a tour of the NBC studios at Rockefeller Centre. I’ve hunted down landmarks that have special meaning for me, places that Madeleine L’Engle, Helene Hanff, Thomas Merton, and Dorothy Day brought life to. I’ve encountered the most unusual people walking down the street (an old man in pink lingerie riding a scooter, as one example) and of course, I have also witnessed the most shocking poverty and neglect in the homeless people I’ve encountered on every street. With visiting friends, I’ve laughed until my stomach has ached and I’ve cried desperate tears. I’ve celebrated Canada Day and the Fourth of July with equal gusto. I’ve gotten to taste an amazing slice of life in this city and I devoured it with great delight.

For the past three months and all they have contained, I say: thank you.


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NYC on the Inside

This immersion had been incredible for so many reasons. Already on my blog I’ve written about some of my experiences at the UN and out in the city – sightseeing, volunteering, and getting a sense of community life here. But since this immersion is part of my novitiate, there has also been a lot of other stuff going on too, stuff that isn’t so visible. Living in New York and being at the UN has really stirred up my spiritual life and has given a depth and richness to my discernment. I feel a very strong sense of mission and identity forming within me, and perhaps even a fledgling understanding of a personal theology. I’ve been trying to think for a little while how to share this on my blog but I struggled to find words that were adequate. Going through my prayer journal, I realized that I already had the words. Below, then, are some excerpts from my prayer journal to give you a sense of how I am experiencing God during this time.

May 9

This time in New York is a mystery to me. I had only been kind of looking forward to it (even as I was excited about the immersion in theory) but since I have been here, I have felt so full of life, so happy, and like I am truly on an adventure. I am learning and growing, I feel like a flower blossoming in the springtime sun. I am happy here even though I am more alone than I was in Toronto. Somehow, I feel more connected and alive. Your hand is on all of this, on me, in this moment, at all moments. You give so much beauty. I am so grateful to you. You give me so much. I receive it all with gratitude, knowing that I am undeserving. I receive it and I give you my love.

May 14

I think of the resurrection this morning and I can only smile and refer to the resurrection I feel within myself. Being here in this city, the renewed contact with the policy world of international relations, having the freedom to go out and explore and try new things, I feel so happy and renewed in my being. I feel alive and so grateful.
      I know it is the grace of God that gives me these daily gifts. There is nothing I did or can do to compel this joy. It just is. And it is from God. The newness opens me, I don’t feel frightened. It feels good and right to be here now and to be doing all of the things I am doing.
     I think the disciples must have felt a dramatic renewal after the resurrection. They lived as witnesses to you. My joy is my witness to you, my gratitude is my witness to you, my freedom is my witness to you, my love is my witness to you.

May 24

These days are packed. I am surprised by how much I am enjoying the Forum on Financing on Development. It brings me back to my days studying international relations and learning about development economics. I am delighted to be here.
       More and more, I feel certain that this work, whether at the UN, or through the IBVM network, or through an NGO – however it works out – is what I am called to do, is what I deeply desire to do. To work for the common good, to proclaim the common good, and to work for justice (your justice, not retribution). This is manifested in many ways – advocacy, raising awareness, listening to those particularly affected by injustice, and helping to make space for those voices, standing together with love, in solidarity. It’s manifested in writing and speaking, in opening myself up and making myself as vulnerable as the ones I love and desire to fight for.
      And all of this comes from my life, has its roots there deep below – even from the pain of Mom’s alcoholism and my own healing and growth. But I see it more clearly from my experiences in Dubai, from working at the Inn from the Cold and at Shepherds of Good Hope, from my ministry in parishes, undoubtedly from my time with my boys at Sarnelli, and of course, from my professional life. All of it reaching out, listening, and connecting with those in need of something, some kind of justice.
       This desire was there, too, in the seed of the call to religious life I received when I saw on television the church gathered for John Paul II’s funeral – the world was gathered there. And it was there when the call to religious life was burning within me when I watched the Catholicism series and I saw how beautiful the church is in its diversity – I love the world represented in the church – but I feel sure that my mission goes beyond the confines of the institutional church.
        I see this incredible gift you’ve given me, Lord, in the path of my life, the journey that has felt so haphazard and unclear so often. And yet it is working for a purpose beyond me, I am sure of it. In my limitedness I see so little of it, and I struggle to see how it’s not all about me, but I know that it’s about so much more even if I can’t see it. My life is a gift beyond compare. My God, you must love me so much to give me a gift such as this.
        I turn the gem and I see its 70 faces – all the experiences of my life – all these gifts – all this making me who I am and giving me the mission I am embarking on. It’s all here, Lord, inside my life, inside of me. Let me live it for you and with you.

May 26

“As you go about your day and you face the usual sorts of annoyances and grievances, pay attention to what it’s doing to you. Remind yourself that all things are yours. [reference to 1 Cor 3:21-23] Imagine yourself rooted and established in love. When you find yourself engaging with people who come from vastly different background and perspectives, be the first to celebrate whatever is good and true and beautiful in your midst, regardless of where it comes from or who says it or how it arrived there.”
– Rob Bell, “What is the Bible?”

May 30

“The creative operation of God
does not simply mold us like soft clay.
It is a Fire that animates all it touches,
a spirit that gives life.
So it is in living
that we should give ourselves to that creative action,
imitate it, and
identify with it.”
–   Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

I come back to the desire to express something about the way I feel  – my sense of vocation is wrapped up in this – it is not merely a profession or way of looking at the world.
        It’s the participation in the world order, a sense of moving, working with the Spirit at a global level (because I cannot seem to go higher than that). It’s a sense of the sacred in this work, in the relationships, in the principles of the UN Declaration of Human Rights, in the sense of cooperation that is fostered and encouraged, in the dramatic struggles, in the unified sense of humanity that I find here. It’s in the history, in the present moment, and in the hope we have for the future. It’s expressed (even in the dullest and driest terms) in resolutions, declarations, convenants, conventions. It’s in the language that is spoken at the UN and other multilateral organizations. It may not sound at all religious, it may not align with all religious beliefs or practices, but it is still spiritual. It is the essence of humanity – what we need to live well and fully – expressed in words written and spoken.
        It is God present, whether invoked or not, in all of the minutiae of details and all of the global planning and perspective.
       I am so drawn to it. It gives me life and it fascinates me. I am drawn to the beauty of cooperation, the idealistic workings, as well as the deeply flawed workings. Humanity, at its best and at its worst, is present and represented here. It is not perfect but it is beautiful and it will be what we make it.
      It is not a replacement for church or faith – I do not have faith in it as I do in God – but it is a way for humanity to work together, to struggle together, to stumble along together towards common good, towards full life for all.

“The sense of the Earth
opening and exploding upwards into God;
and the sense of God taking root
and finding nourishment downwards into Earth.”
– Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

May 31

It gives me great joy, Lord, to discuss social justice/development/international relations – whatever we want to call it. I love it. It fills me with energy – it has for a long time – it’s a recurring passion. I desire to fuse it with faith, not so much as a moral theology, but as a way to view the world with fullness/wholeness that comes from you and is expressed in how we live in the world and how we interact with one another at the global level. Part of it is a fascination with the diversity of humanity, of creation, that is easier to see at a higher level. It instills in me an awe and a reverence for creation – all of creation – and especially the Creator. I love you more and more, my God, as I do this work and live in New York and spend time at the UN. I love you in the complexity of all of the different issues we grapple with in the world and the complexity of all of the voices that need to share their stories. My God, I love you in the simplicity of a quiet moment (rarely found) and in your presence in the jumble of the city.
          We are together in the small actions of each day – the meetings, the emails, the conversations, the walks to and from the office and to and from the UN. We are together walking the streets of New York, loving each other and loving creation.


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In between

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The city surrounds me

I’m home now, back in Toronto with the IBVM (Loretto) community in Canada. I’ve been home for 3 weeks now and yet in some ways I still don’t feel like I’m fully home. I’m in a limbo space at the moment, also known as a liminal space – that threshold between the old and the new.

It’s odd that after spending a year in a country that felt so foreign to me for so long, my old, familiar surroundings have taken on that foreign feeling.

Mind you, my life is no longer quite the same as when I left Canada in 2015. I am no longer working at my job in the federal government. I have started part-time theology studies and I am living in a new community of sisters at Loretto College. And I am no longer the same person I was when I began the novitiate. I have been stretched and I have grown in ways that I will become more aware of as I settle back into being home.

In the liminal space there is both comfort and discomfort, both mourning and joyful celebration.

It has been so good to come home, to be back in the familiar. My body, for one, is grateful for it. I could feel my body physically relax as I stepped out of the airport upon my arrival in Toronto and I felt the cool winter air. Home. My body finally feels comfortable again. The dramatic change in temperature from the Philippines winter to the Canadian winter didn’t feel very dramatic to me. It was a relief. I can feel my body operating at a higher capacity than it was able to in the Philippines and I am enjoying that.

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Snow! A beautiful sight when I arrived home.

Aside from the physical comfort, there has also been much joy in coming home. I was so happy to reconnect with my beautiful sisters at Loretto Abbey, to hear their stories of the past year, and to share my own with them. I was surprised (shocked, to be honest) to hear that the community followed my blog posts so faithfully and that the sisters were so interested in and attentive to what was happening in our novitiate community (for example, it has been noted that I have not yet written about the vow of obedience! Stay tuned for that…). It was actually very humbling to discover how faithfully the community had been praying for me and the novitiate community.

I have moved from the Abbey now to Loretto College and am getting my bearings here. I have gone from one extreme to another in the course of a year – from the simple living conditions of our novitiate house in Manila to the very generous and comfortable environment of the College, where I am living in a larger institutional setting.

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Being welcomed by my new community

I am in school now, too. Navigating two theology courses – scripture and Christology – trying to wrap my mind around new terminology and concepts and opening my mind and heart to new ways of understanding and thinking about God.

In this liminal space, I have not yet fully made the transition from my experience(s) in the Philippines to this familiar yet new environment I am living in and the new mission of studies and ministry I am undertaking.

I find that I miss things about the Philippines more than I thought I would. Of course, I miss my companions a lot (which I had anticipated, and thank goodness for instant messaging and skype to keep us connected!) but I also miss the relaxed culture of the Philippines. I was really struck, especially upon moving to downtown Toronto, by the pace of life at home. People walk quickly, are so focused on getting to their destinations, and are often talking on or looking at their phones. It seems weird to me even though I was very much a part of that lifestyle not so long ago. But now it feels too quick and impersonal.

Another jarring experience has been, or I should say, continues to be, the sight of homeless men sitting on street corners. It makes me feel deeply uneasy. I notice them immediately and I also notice how people pass them by without even glancing at them. After my experience of witnessing poverty in the Philippines, I am really bothered by the sight of poverty in Canada. Poverty is widespread in the Philippines. It’s a very poor country and there is a shocking level of corruption that prevents social issues from being adequately addressed. But Canada is rich. Way richer than I had realized before. And we don’t have the same problems with government corruption. So what the heck is going on in our country that we allow people to live in such poverty and dire conditions?

In this liminal space, on the threshold of the old and the new, I am asking myself many questions. If I have truly experienced the inner transformation that I have claimed to have had last year, how am I going to live differently now that I am home? What am I going to do about injustice? Am I going to listen and respond when my best friend tells me to act?

 


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Falling in love

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Helping with homework at Sarnelli Center for Street Children (Note: for safety reasons I am unable to post photos of the boys’ faces.)

A week ago I returned from a 10-day immersion experience with street children in Lipa, Batangas province. I haven’t been the same since. I have symptoms of withdrawal. I feel fidgety and restless. I check my watch often and I ask myself “What are they doing now?” My heart aches. I really miss my boys.

For 10 days I lived with 8 other novices (5 women, 3 men) and 20 boys aged 9 to 15 years. I would get up with the boys in the mornings and help them get ready for school, eat meals with them, assist them with homework, play with them, pray with them, and care for them like an older sister.

After a couple of days of getting to know them, I began to feel close to them. And then I fell in love with them. Being in love taught me a lot about love.

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Praying The Examen for Children.

Love bridges any cultural or linguistic divide.

I can’t speak Tagalog very well. Or at all, really. At dinner on the first night with the boys, I rattled off the list of Tagalog words I know (basically limited to please and thank you and terms about riding on a jeepney), and made them laugh when I said para po, which means stop, please. They took it upon themselves to beef up my vocabulary and so slowly I learned the words for fork and knife, bowl and cup, rice and fish, and being full (busog). I delighted in learning from them and they delighted in teaching me. I was also schooled in the proper way to use a fork and spoon to eat (do not try to use the spoon as a knife unless you want to be ridiculed!), and I learned to eat rice twice a day (three times proved to be too much), mixing it together with the meat and broth to make a tasty little stew. Each of my successes at mealtimes brought me closer to the boys at my table and was a way for us to show that we cared about each other.

Love gives generously.

I think of all the little ways I gave and received love during those 10 days. I discovered that I can endure discomforts and inconveniences for the sake of love. Lack of sleep, unusual food (i.e. too much rice), and occasional emotional discomfort (being stretched) seemed like nothing because I just wanted to spend time with the boys. I discovered that loving others motivates me to go beyond myself in a way that I find difficult to do when I am focused on myself. For those beautiful boys I felt like I would have done anything.

They loved me in their individual ways too. Often it was through material gifts. One boy gave me a little candy or a packet of biscuits every day from his pocket money. He receives only 10 pesos a day to buy a morning snack at school yet he saved a bit of it for me every day. The boys’ love also took the form of playing together after school each day (badminton championships – Canada vs. Philippines!) and reading together every night. At the end of the immersion, I received several little notes and beautiful works of origami expressing their love and appreciation – treasures from the heart.

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Getting ready for the next badminton match.

Love is not bound by distance.

I was heartbroken when I had to say goodbye to the boys last week. Due to unfortunate circumstances we had a very abrupt goodbye and I am still recovering from the experience. I actually feel pain to be separated from them. But I know that I must continue with my formation and they must continue with their lives too. Even though we are separated now, a piece of my heart will always be with them and a piece of theirs will always be with me. I pray for them and think of them every day and I will continue to do so when I return to Canada. Their love has forever shaped me.

Love is the root of vocation.

During those 10 days, I received significant consolation from God. I felt confirmed in my vocation to religious life and I know that I am called to love those who are neglected or abandoned by society. Throughout my discernment, and at times during this year of formation, I have struggled off and on wondering whether religious life is a selfish way of life. I would think of the job I had in Ottawa and my house and the fact that I could give a child a very good life. I’ve wondered whether I should adopt a child instead and focus my life on giving a child in need a good and loving home. But during the immersion, I really felt a confirmation that God is calling me to religious life and to a freedom to love as many people in need as possible. It does mean that I will not raise a child or devote myself solely to the well-being of one person (or family) but I will be available to love as many people as possible as deeply as I am able.

In the midst of both rejoicing and mourning my experience with the boys, I feel a sense of gratitude for the gift I have been given. And I know that like the 30-day retreat I made in April, the fruits of this experience will only deepen and grow over time.

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My group of novices during the immersion experience.


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Poverty (II) – Free to Give and to Receive

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Living the vow of poverty is an invitation to live in interdependence – mutual giving and receiving. It sounds fairly simple and straightforward but in practice it isn’t all that easy. Growing in interdependence is appealing to me but also makes me apprehensive. Up to this point in my life, I have been growing in independence – going from living at home to studying at university to embarking on a career to becoming financially successful and being totally responsible for myself. It sometimes feels scary to think that I am actively working on giving up security and control over my life.

When I left my job in the federal government last year, I was making a six-figure salary. I had never dreamed that I would earn a salary like that, and yet, there I was, in my mid-thirties as a single woman, earning more than some families do with two incomes. I had a house, a car, and a dog. I thought I was set. But now all of that is getting turned on its head. My life aspirations have changed dramatically over the last few years and now I’m in the process of formation for a lifestyle that will see me hand over any future paychecks to the IBVM and be reliant on the community to have my needs met. This really is a process of growth, not something that happens all at once. I am being stretched to see my life very differently and I’m being challenged to both let go and to embrace.

Letting Go of Stuff

When I first entered the IBVM as a candidate two years ago, I was quite concerned about my stuff. I had put my house up for rent and I had a storage unit full of the furniture and accessories of my former life. In the process of moving, I gave away several things to friends and mailed sentimental items home to my family, and yet I still managed to bring a lot of stuff with me to Toronto (two carloads full!). Stuff I thought was really important (perhaps even essential) to my well-being and happiness (for example, my collection of Wes Anderson films on DVD). Some of the things I brought with me have been useful and have made my new home feel like home, but at the same time, some of the things that I brought with me were about making me feel secure in my new environment.

Living in the Philippines is giving me a broader perspective on stuff. When I arrived in January, I brought the maximum weight allowance possible with me – two suitcases full of clothes, books, various medicines, etc. – just in case I needed something important and couldn’t find it here. I’ve since discovered that while most of things I brought have been useful, some definitely have not and could have been left at home.

And actually, the less stuff I have, the more free I feel inside. Less to keep track of or be distracted by. I’ve discovered how little I truly need to be happy and content. (I think the popularity of current minimalist movements demonstrate a desire people have to be free of too many cumbersome possessions.)

Of course, interdependence is not only about having less stuff, but for me, having less gives me greater interior freedom which I believe leads to greater generosity.

Letting Go of Social Status

Another area in which I am growing towards interdependence is my shifting perception of social status – moving away from thinking of myself (and others) based on occupation, income, societal power, etc. I feel kind of conditioned to think this way but the vow of poverty invites me to let go of valuing my work based on the income it earns, or its associated prestige, and to let go of valuing myself based on what I earn or do.

I admit that working for the government had a certain element of prestige to it and made me feel special. Working to support the government in power and the people of Canada made me feel good about the work I did. I was fortunate to travel internationally a few times to participate in meetings and I met some well-regarded and important government officials. I don’t yet know what the future holds for me in terms of employment or ministry work but it probably won’t involve hobnobbing with government officials or big decision-makers.

So I am being called to embrace any kind of work for the glory of God and to value myself and others for who they are and not what they do.

Letting Go of Financial Control

Another way that I am moving towards interdependence and learning to live the vow of poverty is letting go of control of my personal finances. When I joined the IBVM I had a house, RRSPs, a pension plan with the federal government, insurance policies, bank accounts, etc. I still have these things actually but I’ve entrusted them to my father during my novitiate. Before I make my first vows, I will need to take the next step and sell my house and convert my financial assets into a patrimony.

My patrimony will consist of the assets I acquired before entering religious life. It will be set aside for the duration that I live in religious life. I won’t be able to access any money from it but it will be there if one day I discern that religious life is not where God is calling me to be. Basically, I am letting go of control of my own financial security and learning to trust that I will be taken care of by the community. And I am committing to taking care of others with what I contribute.

Embracing Interdependence

The point of all of this letting go, of course, is to embrace interdependence. By letting go of independence (in mostly financial and material ways at present), I am opening myself up to receive what is offered by the mutual giving and receiving that occurs in community. It really mirrors my relationship with God and the journey I have been on during this year of novitiate: emptying myself to be able to receive what God wants to give me and to be able to give myself freely to God. Growing in generosity as well as in vulnerability.

I think our Constitutions (Vol. II) express this so well:

4.16     We live the vow with liberality and gratitude,
supporting and encouraging one another
to distinguish between needs and wants.
We strive to be free from acquisitiveness
that we may give;
free from self-centredness that we may readily share,
free from self-sufficiency that we may receive.

 


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Sit and do nothing

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Shema Israel adonai elohenu, adonai ehad…Shema Israel adonai elohenu, adonai ehad…

The first line of the Shema, a foundational prayer of Judaism that I am learning in my Prophets class, repeats in my head, over and over again. Darn it, I say to myself, now is not the time. I breathe deeply and try to push the almost hypnotic phrase away, out of my mind. My eyes are closed. I am sitting on the floor of our chapel, cross-legged. I become aware of a dull ache in my right hip. I feel it slowly travel down my thigh and to my knee. I shift and straighten my legs. Now my lower back begins to ache. I sigh. Back to centre, I remind myself, push away distractions. I gasp and choke. I cough. I realize that in my attempt to push away distractions, I have been holding my breath. Now my breathing is staccato and unnatural. Why can’t I breathe properly? Are my 15 minutes over yet??

***

Welcome to the joys of centering prayer. Or rather, the amateurish antics of one who is trying to practice centering prayer.

In a novices’ module a couple of weeks ago, we were introduced to the ancient practice of centering prayer. The instructions passed on to us were simple: sit and do nothing. Twenty minutes twice a day. Sit and do nothing? Sounds easy, I thought, I do that all the time. Then the instructor made us sit for 10 minutes and I discovered how wrong I was. I realized that even though I tend to sit in silence during my personal prayer, my mind is always active, talking to God (especially when I pray using the Ignantian contemplation method). In centering prayer, however, the point is to sit in silence and to be silent, in mind and body.

The newness of this form of prayer (as in, new to me) and the challenge of it is attractive to me. I admit that I am not practicing it for twenty minutes twice a day, but I am incorporating 15 minutes of centering prayer at the beginning of my personal prayer. It’s really hard. Each day, I struggle with random thoughts and muscle tension/discomfort and, occasionally, with holding my breath during prayer. But even with all of the challenges, I am finding that beginning in silence has added a depth and richness to the prayer that follows. In the silence, God is centering me in his presence.

 

 


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In search of a prophet

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The Prophet Elijah by Sieger Koder

“To us a single act of injustice – cheating in business, exploitation of the poor – is slight; to the prophets, a disaster. To us injustice is injurious to the welfare of the people; to the prophets it is a deathblow to existence: to us, an episode; to them, a catastrophe, a threat to world.

Their breathless impatience with injustice may strike us as hysteria. We ourselves witness continually acts of injustice, manifestations of hypocrisy, falsehood, outrage, misery, but we rarely grow indignant or overly excited. To the prophets even a minor injustice assumes cosmic proportions.”

“The words of the prophet are stern, sour, stinging. But behind his austerity is love and compassion for mankind…Almost every prophet brings consolation, promise, and the hope of reconciliation along with censure and castigation. He begins with a message of doom; he concludes with a message of hope.”

“The prophet does not judge the people by timeless norms, but from the point of view of God. Prophecy proclaims what happened to God as well as what will happen to the people. In judging human affairs, it unfolds a divine situation.”

Therefore, the prophetic speeches are not factual pronouncements. What we hear is not objective criticism or the cold proclamation of doom. The style of legal, objective utterance is alien to the prophet. He dwells upon God’s inner motives, not only upon His historical decisions. He discloses a divine pathos, not just divine judgment. The pages of the prophetic writings are filled with echoes of divine love and disappointment, mercy and indignation. The God of Israel is never impersonal.”

     – Excerpts from The Prophets, Abraham J. Heschel, 1962.

 

I’ve got prophets on the mind. Thinking about prophets, the act of prophecy, and what it means in the world today. I’m taking a course at a local theology school on the prophets, taught by Sr. Helen Graham, a Maryknoll Sister, who delights and challenges me in every lecture.

I have limited knowledge of scripture (i.e. almost none). A few bible study programs at my former parish and that’s about it. I approached this course with a bit of trepidation, wondering if I would even ‘get’ what was being taught. So far, each class has only served to whet my appetite to learn more. After each class I make my way to the library and I stroll through the stacks of books and make lists of which I will borrow and which I will look for upon my return to Canada. I am restricted to borrowing one book at a time, which is a huge disappointment when all I want to do is peruse page after page.

But…back to the prophets. I am drawn to them right now because I am drawn to world events, and to events in the Philippines, that disturb me. I am angered by acts of violence and by the indifference to these acts that I encounter. I guess I am also angered by my own feelings of helplessness in the face of indifference. I am searching for the prophet who will bring society to its senses.

The prophet sees the world around him or her and is so moved by injustice as to feel God’s own response within, compelling them to speak out. In the Old Testament the prophets railed against Israel for being faithless and for falling away from God. Redemption was possible but there was a cost – to turn away from sinfulness and greed.

Where are the prophets today? Can we hear them? Our world is in chaos. Atrocities occur every day and become commonplace. We become used to reading about bombings and terrorist attacks. We see images of poverty and war and environmental degradation. We become mired in our own infighting. Sometimes we respond to global injustice by posting messages of love and solidarity on social media. Sometimes we reprimand our governments and urge them to do things differently. Are we all prophets when we act in this manner? Or does a prophet do something more?

I don’t have a complete answer to this yet. I’m still learning. Sometimes I like to think of myself as a prophet, pointing out injustice. But maybe I’m just a complainer. I’ve been complaining about life since I learned to speak. It’s a craft I have honed over many years. But surely prophecy is more than complaining.

A great part of that more is contained in the prophet’s union with God, in the expression of God’s response to a situation. I look at myself and I know that I am not there (yet?). One of the biggest gifts I have received this year is the freedom to see myself clearly (or at least with growing clarity). And what do I see when I look at myself? I see a hypocrite. I see someone with mixed motives. I see someone who is trying to be more concerned about others around her than she is about herself but she’s not quite there yet. I can see that I am more of a false prophet than a true prophet. My complaining is more about my own desire than about God’s.

So the true prophet, I think, is someone who has a certain freedom of motive (i.e. not acting based on his or her own interests), and therefore is open to union with God and seeing through God’s eyes. However, the passion aroused in the prophet comes from within the prophet and is a personal response at the same time as being a response from God.

It’s tricky to articulate this clearly and I’m probably not doing a good job. Perhaps I’ll get further along in my course and come away with a different perspective on the prophet – who knows. But what I do know right now is that the world needs prophets. In every age, and in this very moment, we need people who can see the world through the eyes of God and speak the truth to us.