Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gifts of Visitation in the Night

I have the best Godbabies ever. These three women are lovely, amazing, smart, and full of heart. One of my Godbabies sent me a wonderful and unexpected gift . See, I'd been praying. I don't know why when I pray something in secret I'm still surprised to get exactly what I asked for. God knew that I want to be a woman of prayer. I've tried and enjoy many forms of prayer, but when I lose my way, and the way is not altogether clear at all, I always fall back on the Liturgy of Hours to find my feet.

Phyllis Tickle's delightful The Divine Hours has meant the world to me. It's been with me for many seasons. But I'm feeling I should pass it on now to another lovey. I've been desiring to try something new. One of my bffs has Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of Hours single volume. I've wanted to try it for awhile, but it is pricey! And when so much is needed, a prayer book has to wait.

Or not.

I really wanted it. Knew it wasn't possible to get it. Finally, I asked the Lord very casually to please provide me with a Christian Prayer: TLOH. This was only last night, lovies. Sometimes I just want, but don't pray. But other times I'm deliberate. I prayed for a Breviary I could share in union with my Church, and today, the means to get one fell right into my hands. God be praised. And I've got mad love for my Godbaby, too.

You know I'd spoken lately about the poor, and the work that I want to do for Jesus with them. My sister Carly has the same desire. A Rosh Hoshana gift for her has been a lovely dream where God spoke tenderly to her. I wanted the Lord to speak to me, too. But I didn't want to ask him for a dream, specifically, as she did. I just wanted to be with Him in prayer and let Him visit how it pleased Him. But I have a cold, and was sniffly and tired before I dropped off to sleep, with my own spontaneous prayers whispered in the dark. Then, I woke up at 3 am and did a little reading before I prayed Matins with my brand spanking new prayer book.

Matins is the Office of Readings, and so I quietly absorbed the selected Psalms. At the end of the readings there is a Psalm-prayer. I wanted to share it with you because it's such a lovely visitation from God. What moved me most--what a good God we serve, so personal!--is that He drew me to my life's verse, "Blessed are the poor in spirit" in this reading. Here's the Office of Readings Psalm-prayer for today that touched me so. I felt it was there just for me!

"You proclaimed the poor to be blessed, Lord Jesus, for the kingdom of heaven is given to them. Fill us generously with your gifts. Teach us to put our trust in the Father and to seek his kingdom first of all rather than imitate the powerful and envy the rich.

Teach me goodness and holy wisdom.
For I have put my trust in your guidance."

Wow. Love that!
And love you!

Monday, September 29, 2008

L'Shana Tova (Happy New Year)

This past weekend my sissy Carly told me about Rosh Hashanah. She was pretty excited about the high holy days ahead.

Me, I'm Roman Catholic. And Orthodox (yes, I feel like both, so there!). We have more holy days and feasts than you can shake a stick at. My mom used to say that, 'shake a stick at' when we were talking unmanageable quantities.

I have to admit, Carly's enthusiasm moved me. She goes to a kind of a Messianic Jewish congregation. I think. It's very informal, but God knows it's been a healing place for her. So, now she loves Jesus and celebrates Jewish holy days. And you know what? After years of church abuse, I'm happy she's found her peace and safety.

This week, they are reflecting and repenting. She told me they'll be going to water, to cast their pebbles on it. The pebbles represent sins. I loved that image. I'm a big fan of the sacrament of reconciliation. I've never confessed my sins and not found it remarkably healing, but I like the physicality and symbolism of this act of faith Carly will participate in, this casting away sins she could touch with her hands into very wet, real waters to be forgotten.

Carly also said, this time of year was a time for God to visit. I told her that's what I was waiting for, a visit, because I sure do need to see my Lovely right about now. The pebbles in my hand are too many. Dark, cold, little compacted stones that look like my heart so much of the time. I don't want a heart of stone. I want a vibrant, juicy, red and living heart, blood pumping and flowing in and out of it. I want a heart full of passion! Full of life! Joy! And despite the fact that my birthday was the on the first, not even a month ago, already I crave for a new year. A year of the sweetness of apples and honey.

Today, I will work, in soul and in vocation. I will write on the book, which oddly begin to really hit stride this morning. Carly said I could expect God to visit this week, and that creativity would flow. I'd forgotten about that, until this morning at around 5 am, when my fingers flew across my keyboard. Then I remembered Carly said, beginning Monday, it will all begin to change. And I will do the important soul work. Listen for the sound of the shofar in my soul. Remember the Water which brought me salvation. Wait for Love.

Things really are changing. I feel the stirrings. Maybe because Carly said so, and I trust her with my whole heart. Or maybe because a beloved friend did a three day fast for me. I couldn't see the results. My sins seemed so at the surface that I thought, "Man, I totally suck! My girlfriend wasted her fast on me." But maybe right at the surface, highly visible and distressing, is the best place for sins to be. So you can deal with them. Rush to the Water. Dump them in fistfuls away from you.

Be made whole.
Begin again.

I don't know what it is, what changed things this joyful Monday, when Rosh Hashana will arrive with the evening. I suspect it has a lot to do with G-d, who loves us, and does so wants to cleanse us.

I believe, and surely this is so, that the whole thing is about love. God visits. Shares bread and wine and water. Takes stones away on great and holy waves. Immanuel. He is with us. And because He is present, we'll live.

May you find your sweetness. L'Shana Tova.

p.s. Happy Feast of the Archangels, Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael today. Love them!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Just Dreaming...

I used to dream of a home for the soul, a beautiful house full of lovely things that I love which nourish me. Now I dream of a home for souls. Maybe it won't as beautiful as the other, but I think, God help me, beautiful things can happen there.

I am dreaming of opening a hospice, but maybe not. Maybe it's not a hospice. Maybe it's a home, but for the dying poor, and many of the dying poor with AIDS. I certainly don't think I my age I'm going to go to medical school and become an expert on palliative medicine. I want to be able to sit beside people, listen to their stories, their regrets. Wipe their brows, or do whatever else they need. I have experience with this. I worked in a group home, and changed many a diaper on adults. It wasn't nearly as bad as I thought, and they were just my lovies, not the poor Christ! At least I didn't see them that way then.

I am dreaming of writing lovely, quiet books about spirituality. If God wills it. I always say I want to be like a girl Brennan Manning, or Henri Nouwen, but now that I've discovered so women writers who move me like they do, I am asking if I write at all, that I do so as the person who God made me to be, and that, I assure you, is not Manning, Merton, or Nouwen.

I am dreaming of going to jail for peace. I will probably do this with Lisa Samson, as she is good at getting me in trouble and radically changing my life (she may deny this. Do not believe her.)

I am dreaming of speaking for Christ. I'm glad I haven't had any real success as a speaker. I think I would have been too much about me. I'm tired of me. I want to share the Beatitudes. The Gospel. I think I'm an evangelist. Note I used a little "e". That's important. We all should be evangelists, but I'm really seeing it differently than when I was a fiery teen preacher, and of course, for a season, I abandoned that call all together. It all seems to be coming into focus now, but how it will all happen I don't know.

I am dreaming of being faithful to what is mine to do.

I am dreaming of friends to join me in the work.

I read that on the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Dorothy Day went to the National Shrine and prayed, "some way would be open for me to work with the poor and the oppressed." I am dreaming that prayer flying on the wings of my great desire, all the way to God's heart.

When Dorothy returned home, Peter Maurin, a man who changed her life, and planted the seed of the Catholic Worker Newspaper in her soul, was waiting for her in her apartment. I'm dreaming that my Peter Maurin is waiting for me. And that St. Raphael, the Archangel and saint of happy meetings, is leading me to my friend, and my friend to me, and that they are dreaming also of me.

And now it is three am. And I must sleep, and dream the other way.


What Is Mine To Do

It's late. I'm notoriously unreliable late at night. I'm pretty tired. I've been working very hard on The Exorsistah 2, and it demands more of me that it feels like I have to give it. But I do what I have to do. If I only end up with five pages, I'll take it. I used to blaze through hundreds of pages in weeks. Not anymore. The well is drying up, or so it seems.

Tonight I'm thinking about St. Francis, as he lay dying. There are so many deaths around me. Not so much in body--thank God! But careers are dying, dreams are dying. The flowers in the yard--I had brown-eyed susans this year, and hostas, flowering with elegant purple blooms--all dying now. The leaves change color. A coolness invades the fading summer heat. Winter is coming, and I feel the change as my mood shifts with the bowing out of fall. Winter is always a death for me.

Some of Francis' last words were to his brothers, gathered around the beloved holy man to love him, even unto the end. And their father, the little poor man, said to them, "I have done what was mine to do. May Christ show you what is yours to do." That is one of my favorite sayings of the saint.

I feel like I'm being torn, a violent process, between vocations: advocate for the poor, writer. I and my vocations as wife and mother. Lovies, mair-francis is often found wanting as wife and mother. Have mercy, Jesus!

What's a girl who wants to be a saint when she grows up to do?

In times like these, I'm reminded of St. Therese, the little flower. She deeply influenced my new holy crush, Dorothy Day. She also influenced Mother Theresa. But Therese led a completely different life. She didn't serve the poor for more than fifty years. She didn't rescue the dying from Calcutta stress. She lived as a cloistered nun, and died at a mere twenty-four-years-old. But she knew the little way. Small things with great love. And nothing was too small to do in love, for Jesus.

How does the little way play out in my life? Right now?

It plays when I am doing the dishes. I don't like doing them. I don't like housework at all--I'm terrible at it. Always have been, but doing it with love makes it holy ordinary. It helps that I use the Palmolive with Lavender--but not much.

It plays in getting up, and doing what I don't like to do, and doing it for love, something like
praying for jobs for everybody in the whole world who doesn't have one. Dear God, there are more of us than I thought! The news has astounded me. The crisis that wasn't a crisis--so some pontificated last week--seems to be a crisis now, indeed. And that's just in America. People are losing their homes in mass. People who had homes to lose. I don't like that I don't have a job. That I'm behind in my rent, not mortage! I'd rather be prospering than praying, but praying makes me better than I'd be if I were prospering. I'm grateful for this hard time. But make no mistake about it. It's hard. So, I pray. I pray when I don't see results. I pray because it is small, but I can do it. And it makes me a better lover.

It plays in my writing. Being published confused me. I don't have to tell you that. I believed I was expected to be one of those Christian "personalities". I have way too much personality for anything in my life to feed that beast. It scared me. It made me forget something basic. When I stand before Jesus, He won't want to know so much about my "personality" or awards, or sales numbers, or the next Amanda Bell Brown mystery. He'll want to know if I were faithful to Him in His distressing disguises. He will want to know, if He mentions the writing at all--if it made me a better lover. And if the work inspired others to love.

I'm on my eight book. One more Exorsistah book when it's done. I may never write another novel. I don't think I'll grieve it much. I wasn't very good at it. I tried. God was good to me. And that's that.

Reading about Dorothy Day really startled me. I realized what a wonderful writer she was. She had a column for many years in the Catholic Worker Newspaper called "On Pilgrimage" where she simply wrote her pilgrim journey. She wrote what she saw, experienced, read. It was very much like a blog. And I asked myself, if stripped to the studs, would I stop writing all together? I don't think so. It's something of a compulsion in me. I realized in my absence from raga-d how much I like coming here. Sharing with you. Not being a writer. Being a pilgrim! A sinner, saved by grace. And that's a process. It wasn't an event.

I ranted here, rambled, but I always tried to point you to the Jesus I couldn't keep my eyes off. You've been part of my "pilgrimage." Isn't that enough writing?

What is mine to do? I ask myself that every day. Take care of the family, yes. But how do I take care of the poor Christ? No easy answers there. It's a real mystery. Something to keep praying about.

What else is mine to do? Write? Write what? Nobody promised me book contracts. So, here we are. You and me. You're here to read my pilgrimage. And I show up (occassionally) to share it with you. We're here because really, neither of us wants to go at it alone.

I'm glad Jesus gave us each other, even though I don't have much to offer in this rambling post at 2 am. I guess I'm just clutching at grace. Glad to bump against another hand in the night.

May Christ grant you peace, and show you what is yours to do.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Waking From Loving in Dreams

I'm going to tell you a story, and I've probably told this story to you before. I'll tell it again because, frankly, you'll let me get away with being repetitive. If this were not true, you'd have been gone a long time ago.

And by the way, thanks for hanging around.

When I was in Swaziland, I met the poor crucified Christ. He was a starving woman whose family had thrown her away. She landed in the hospital, by some good grace, but she was completely emaciated. I saw Christ across the room, and I wanted to go to her but I didn't know if I was allowed. Finally, a woman, a pastors wife there watching her daughter languish, suffer, and die, gave me permission.

Andrea and I went over to the woman, Christ. She stank. She looked scary. Her cross was her body wasted away to a skeleton covered with a thin veneer of living flesh. Her bread and milk, carelessly sat on a bedside table next to her, was not reachable. She had no strength to raise herself up to get it.

My friend and I picked up the ant infested milk and bread. I was afraid to give her the bread because I didn't know if her stomach would tolerate it. Andrea apologized because she had to pick the ants out of the milk with her fingers.

I had some Clorex wipes with me. We kept things like that on hand because, lovies, we weren't in Kansas anymore. I tried to sanitize the parts of the cup that Christ's mouth would touch. This was the filthiest hospital I'd ever encountered. There was nothing in my frame of reference to compare it to, not in this century. And I'm wiping--an exercise in absurdity--while the horror of it all descended on me, weighty and dreadful, a suffocating thing.

I held her, while Andrea gave her tiny sips. She drooled all over my arm. And what was I doing? In this hospital--if you could call it that--way across the world, trying to feed a person who looked as if she were already dead. It was so small. It was nothing.

And then we had to go.

When I got back from Africa, despite the terrible suffering I saw in so many children, it was she who haunted me the most. This disposable person, whose own family abandoned her to starve to death on the street. Oh, Lord. She was the poor Christ. Her body was the cross. Starvation crucified her. And all I could do for her was hold her, rub her hair, and pray while Andrea gave her milk. Such a small thing. Not dramatic. Nobody got saved. She's probably dead. But...

She's still with me.

Today I have a cold. I languished in bed, sniffly and achy, in and out of a benadryl induced sleep. At some point I felt well enough to at least watch a movie. I chose Entertaining Angels, a biopic about the life of Dorothy Day. If you think around my birthday last year I was feeling mad St. Francis love, this birthday season I am smitten by Dorothy Day.

I watched this woman, so much like me. A writer who prayed, "I write, but it isn't enough." A mother. A woman of many hungers, and no idea how to be filled to satisfaction. She had no clue how to change the world. Neither do I. I just know that this need to meet the poor Christ burns inside of me. Sometimes it flares and flames. Other times I am indeed a smoldering wick. But the Word says He doesn't extinguish us.

I left Africa dreaming of a hospice, so people would not have to die like that woman was, devoid of dignity. Six months later I learned that right here at home, black Americans have the same staggering high incidence of HIV. Same as in Swaziland! Which poor Christ am I gonna serve? Do I need to pray about a hospice on the East side of Detroit.

I don't know. Right now Christ is dying without me. I feel stuck in my own damned neediness. Angry at myself for not being able to do what I think I'm supposed to, even though it seems small and useless anyway.

And that brings me to another Africa story. This one about Gerry and Robin. They run an orphange. Let me tell you, they didn't set out to run an orphanage. They didn't have secret dreams of that work all their lives. Gerry worked in the sugar industry. Robin was a mom. She realized kids were hungry in a dump, foraging food out of garbage, and she took them peanut butter sandwiches. That's all.

She said she's just an ordinary person. Peanut butter sandwiches don't dazzle. But it turned into taking babies in, nursing them to health sometimes, watching them die at other times. She thinks she's ordinary, but to me, she's a hero.

And now, back to Dorothy and me. I am praying our prayer, "I write, but it isn't enough." I am waiting to hear what God will say, if He says anything at all. Sometimes His silence is maddening.

A scene from the Entertaining Angels stays with me. It was after a woman had comitted suicide in the house. Everyone was upset. They took a vote. Things were gonna be different. They had to be! They were tired of the drunks, and hookers, and thieves, and lice, and bed bugs. The vote was unmanimous. Dorothy stormed out of the house and back to God. "Where are you!" She shouted. She had it out with Him. Told Him if He were in the poor, he was smelly, and ugly, and awful." Then she went to look for a job! But I guess she figured out what her job was. Loving smelly, ugly, and awful Christs. This brilliant, vibrant woman. This writer. Haunted by God.

And I cried as I watched. Feeling so lost. Wondering how I will ever relieve His suffering when I can't even keep us Burney's from suffering. Wondering how it's all going to unfold. Dorothy said to her defectors, when she returned home from fighting with God, "The paper [the Catholic Worker] is never going to be what we wish it would be, but God is not going to ask us how we changed the world. He's going to ask us if we were faithful to His poor."

I'm never gonna be what I wish I could be, but God, at least let me do something, no matter how small, to take Your suffering away, even if I do it with a dumb Clorox wipe and a prayer. If that's what you want, who needs literary fame.

One of Dorothy's favorite quotes was from Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. It's from Fr. Zossima, "Love in practice is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams." So far, I feel love has been stuck in my head. Poured out in my writing. Cerebral and emotional, but with no hands or feet to touch and walk to Christ. And that's okay for spiritual preschool, but it's time for me to grow up and be about my Father's business.

A rambling post, I know. Blame it on movie magic and cold medicine. I just feel like I'm ready for love--the harsh and dreadful kind. I'd like trade my loving in dreams in for a more incarnational model. But even this kind of loving--fierce and fearful--Dorothy did with with what she called "the duty of delight." Quite the paradox, isn't it? I guess I'll have to live it to fully understand it.

From Dorothy:

Little Miracles

We live from day to day, and by the little miracles
God performs in His bounty. If we ask our Father for bread will He give us a stone? But ours is happiness, ours is joy, for Christ comes to us each day, not only at Christmas, but each time we look at the face of our brother, who is poor.

Pray for me.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

It Came From God; You Didn't Earn It

I had a conversation with one of my best girlfriends. She's been one of the biggest encouragements in my life. And we're a lot alike. I can trace some very painful moments in my life, and there she was on the other end of the phone, crying with me like my pain was hers. And it was.

And her pain is mine. Yesterday she told me how hurt she is. Like so many people I love, she is suffering. Like so many others I love, she's concerned she will lose her home, she can't afford gas--who can!--she feels that she's failed in some fundamental way.

I felt so sorry for her. I wished I could send her a check like a few of my friends have sent me. But I'm out of money. I gave her the only thing I have. A little bit of faith. I told her that God remembers her. He loves her, and He'll be her provision. I believe it with all my heart. I know He'll do it, because He keeps doing it for me. He loves me, too.

I talked to another very close soul sister tonight. It was she who encouraged me this time. I was discouraged at the reviews for Wounded. Feeling very misunderstood, and a little persecuted. I realized, we really know so little about God, all of us. And who am I to write "Christian" books? That's a heckuva question for a Christian fiction writer to ask herself. Maybe I'm not a Christian fiction writer anymore.

And I don't know what the answer is.

But I've been brave. I've tried to tell the truth. I've followed Jesus wherever He was taking me. I know Him. His voice is familiar now. I followed Him, often blind, sometimes running, sometimes crawling, sometimes weeping and sometimes cussing, but I went. I went when people didn't understand why I was going. When people thought I was deceived, confused, or just plain wrong. But it's painful to be misunderstood. I told my friend that maybe I've been presumptuous. What makes me think God speaks to people just because He speaks to me? What if God doesn't speak to me, and I'm completely out of my head. Only, I believe He speaks to me. But because I can't acutally see God, I thought maybe I shouldn't write anything about faith, just do what I am certain Jesus wants: works of mercy. I told her I wanted to live like she does. A life of social justice, making a difference. I want to be the merciful hands and feet of Jesus. A Motown Mother Teresa, so to speak. What do I really do? Nothing, I said.

She corrected me. She told me that I live out faith despite tremendous obstacles. There was this part of me that wanted to argue that I do not, but you know, I do have faith. I've learned to pray--and I am by no means an expert. I'm a pre-school level pray-er, but I pray because people are hurting, and God loves them, and He cares. He will take care of them. They/we need prayers.

Where did that come from? I don't know. God knows I can be the flakiest in the box of Frosted Flakes. It's a little embarrassing the extremes I'm willing to go to in my hot pursuit of my Lover Jesus. Yes, He's my lover, and after the bad reviews of Wounded, I don't give a damn any more if people don't understand that. But I digress. I don't know where faith comes from, but for some reason, despite my many failings, I have a little. And only a mustard seed will do. Just one, single, very small mustard seed.

It's not the boastful faith I thought I was entitled to when I was a Word Faither. It's something quiet. Not in the earthquake, and not in the fire. It's the whisper that won't go away even though my body is wracked with pain, I have no job, the bills are piled up, the car is gone, there are scars on my wrists, and some of my readers wonder if I'm still a Christian and worship Mary. But it remains. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. That He is God incarnate. He came to save sinners, of which I am the chief, and He cares about us human beings, who are not God, who need jobs, and house notes paid, and gas money. It's the only thing I can offer: believing with them, maybe, sometimes, for them. And it doesn't come from anything I did, unless you want to count suffering and being a fool. My faith--that tiny mustard seed--came from God. I didn't earn it.

You have it, too. I mean, really. Why else would you be here? With the likes of me?

Yesterday, I went to the Sacrament of Reconciliation. I felt burdened by my sins. So much doubt. So much pain. So much struggle. So much actin' a fool! I just wanted to tell it all to Jesus, and hear those beautiful words, "Go in peace. Your sins are forgiven." And I unloaded all I could think of. Feeling so bad about choices I've made in desperation. There's always that part of me that dreads confessing sin. And when I overcome my ridiculous pride, I never fail to be surprised by the grace that meets me in that space. I told God, in the presence of a priest, all the awful things I've done and thougth, and instead of being condemned and rebuked, I was surprised by mercy, and made brand new again.

What am I trying to say here? I guess what I'm trying to say is that God really does love us in these awful, desperate times. Why I'm certain of it is completely beyond me. It's a gift. I'll take it, mostly because He gave it. I'm asking you to gaze at that mustard seed you have--or else you wouldn't be here--and marvel because that teensy gift of faith will move your mountains.

I don't know why we suffer. I don't know why so many of us have our backs against the wall with a Mac Truck about to barrel into us. I don't know why people who love and believe in God are having such a hard time, but there is that thing that God gives us. That wee bit of faith. It's a little bit of a mystery. I'm not even going to try to figure it out. I guess it's like Peter's revelation. Flesh and blood didn't reveal it.

Thank you, Holy Spirit.

I'm believing God will provide for my friend. I'm praying for her every day. Like a gift, when I checked the Liturgy of Hours yesterday, after sharing this awful burden with my sissy, a Psalm was there with her name on it, which just goes to show you, Jesus will let us know He's listening, if only we have ears to hear him. I'm going to post it for any of you hurting right now to take courage from. If you've read this far, take a moment to pray these with me:


O God, come to my aid.
O Lord, make haste to help me.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
Amen. Alleluia.

Psalm 85 (86)
A poor man's prayer in time of trouble
Turn your ear to me, Lord, and hear me,
for I am poor and destitute.
Keep my life safe, for I am faithful;
O God, save your servant, who trusts in you.
Take pity upon me, O Lord,
for I call to you all the day long.
Make your servant’s heart glad,
for to you, O Lord, I have raised it.
For you, Lord, are gentle and mild:
you are kind to all those who call on you.
Let your ears hear my prayer, O Lord!
Turn to the voice of my pleading!
In my time of trouble I call on you,
for you, O Lord, will hear me.
No other god is like you, O Lord,
and nothing compares with your works.
All people – all nations you made –
will come and worship before you;
they will give glory to your name.
For you are great, you work wonders:
you alone are God.
O Lord, teach me your paths,
and I will come to your truth.
Make my heart simple and guileless,
so that it honours your name.
I will proclaim you, Lord my God,
and give you praise with all my heart.
I will give glory to your name for ever,
for your great kindness is upon me:
you have rescued me from the deepest depths.
O God, the proud rise against me,
in the meetings of the powerful they seek my life:
they do not keep you in their sight.
And you, Lord, are a God of compassion,
full of mercies, patient and true.
Look upon me, have mercy upon me,
give your strength and protection to your servant
your servant, the child of your handmaid.
Give me a sign of your goodness,
let my enemies see it and be confounded;
because you, O Lord, have helped me and given me comfort.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.

Psalm 97 (98)
The Lord has brought salvation
Sing a new song to the Lord,
for he has worked wonders.
His right hand, his holy arm,
have brought him victory.
The Lord has shown his saving power,
and before all nations he has shown his justice.
He has remembered to show his kindness
and his faithfulness to the house of Israel.
The farthest ends of the earth
have seen the saving power of our God.
Rejoice in God, all the earth.
Break forth in triumph and song!
Sing to the Lord on the lyre,
with the lyre and with music.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn,
sound jubilation to the Lord, our king.
Let the sea resound in its fulness,
all the earth and all its inhabitants.
The rivers will clap their hands,
and the mountains will exult at the presence of the Lord,
for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge all the world in justice,
and the peoples with fairness.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
Short reading
Job 1:21 - 2:10

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked I shall return. The Lord gave, the Lord has taken back. Blessed be the name of the Lord! If we take happiness from God’s hand, must we not take sorrow too?
The Messiah and his forerunner
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, for he has come to his people and brought about their redemption.
He has raised up the sign of salvation in the house of his servant David,
as he promised through the mouth of the holy ones, his prophets through the ages:
to rescue us from our enemies and all who hate us, to take pity on our fathers,
to remember his holy covenant and the oath he swore to Abraham our father,
that he would give himself to us, that we could serve him without fear – freed from the hands of our enemies –
in uprightness and holiness before him, for all of our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High: for you will go before the face of the Lord to prepare his path,
to let his people know their salvation, so that their sins may be forgiven.
Through the bottomless mercy of our God, one born on high will visit us
to give light to those who walk in darkness, who live in the shadow of death;
to lead our feet in the path of peace.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
Prayers and Intercessions

Christ feeds and cares for the Church, for which he gave his very self. And so we pray:
– Lord, look after your Church.
Blessed are you, shepherd of your Church, because today you give us light and life:
make us truly grateful for such wonderful gifts.
– Lord, look after your Church.
Look kindly on the flock you have gathered in your name:
let no-one perish from the flock your Father has given you.
– Lord, look after your Church.
Lead your Church along the path of your commandments:
may the Holy Spirit keep her faithful to you.
– Lord, look after your Church.
By the feast of bread and the Word, give life to your Church:
nourish her and give her the strength to follow you with joy.
– Lord, look after your Church.
Our Father, who art in Heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those that trespass against us,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Lord, in your kindness fill our deepest being with your holy light,
so that we may be steadfast in our devotion to you:
for your wisdom created us and your providence guides us.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
God for ever and ever.
May the Lord bless us and keep us from all harm; and may he lead us to eternal life.

And finally yesterday's Gospel reading, also with her name on it.

Luke 6:20 - 26

Fixing his eyes on his disciples Jesus said:
‘How happy are you who are poor: yours is the kingdom of God.
Happy you who are hungry now: you shall be satisfied.
Happy you who weep now: you shall laugh.
Happy are you when people hate you, drive you out, abuse you, denounce your name as criminal, on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice when that day comes and dance for joy, for then your reward will be great in heaven. This was the way their ancestors treated the prophets.
‘But alas for you who are rich: you are having your consolation now.
Alas for you who have your fill now: you shall go hungry.
Alas for you who laugh now: you shall mourn and weep.
‘Alas for you when the world speaks well of you! This was the way their ancestors treated the false prophets.

May God grant y'all peace.

mustard seed image from worldmag. www.worldmag.com

Monday, September 01, 2008

The Year of The Tobit Journey

"Courage daughter. May the Lord of heaven turn your grief to joy! Courage daughter." Tobit 7:16, NJB

A few days ago I discovered the book of Tobit. I missed Tobit in my early years of Christian formation. It wasn't in any of my Protestant Bibles. But I've got all kind of Bibles now, lovies, and three of them had Tobit (or in older Bibles, Tobias) right where it's supposed to be.

I decided to read it because I'm working on the Exorsistah 2, and a priest that I happen to be watching on television said it had an angel and an exorcism. Gotta check that out!

I haven't fallen in such big, juicy literary love in a long time. Tobit is a novel in the Bible, and lemme tell you, I LOVE that. We novelist take more than a few hits for the way we tell the "truth." I've heard fiction described as "the lie that tells the truth." But I believe a good story can touch you on many levels. Jesus knew this, and I bless Him for that.

So, let me tell you about Tobit. It's a story about good people suffering terrible losses. Tobit is a righteous man, much like Job, who does immeasurable good works, though he lives in exile. Exile alone is a dry place of lamentation, all of his riches were taken away, but Tobit is faithful. He has a wife named Anna, and a son, Tobias. They are all people of great faith despite their difficulties.

After doing yet another good deed, Tobit is afflicted, and goes blind shortly thereafter. His wife has to work, and when she's given a young goat as a bonus for her service, Tobit doesn't believe her. He thinks she stole it so they could eat. It's bad when you've had so many hard things happen that you stop seeing even the possibility of some extraordinary goodness. Many of us have been there. Poor Tobit becomes so discouraged he prays for death to take him.

Meanwhile, at the same time, in a far off place, Sarah, too, is suffering. She is young, beautiful, and an only child. Seven times her father has found her a suitable husband. Seven times said husbands died on their wedding night. Now, I don't know about you, but I've got problems. But I'll tell you what, I sure wouldn't want hers. See, a demon wanted her for himself. And Lord, I know more than a few of us have a demon lover in our pasts. Heaven help us. Sarah was accused of murder, ridiculed and cursed. She, too, prayed for death.

But God heard both their prayers, only He didn't send death to take their last breaths. Our good God, Who is still present even when we can't see our way, Who is present when our hopes die again and again, He sent an angel, and I mean one of the big boys, the Archangel Raphael to help. Raphael, who's name means, "God heals."

There is a journey, when Tobit sends his son Tobias to retrieve riches that rightfully belong to them. Oh, my friends, you may have riches that are yours, but they may be far away, and you have to go fetch them. And it's a journey--one that could have it's on perils. Tobias is attacked by a big fish that wants to eat his foot! But he has an archangel on his side, who totally told him what to do. And speaking of what to do, if he did it, he'd have the means to cast out devils and heal the blind, which was so gonna come in handy. And they journeyed on.

There is the promise of love that overcomes even death. Raphael, acting as an undercover brother, calls himself, Azaria, which lovies, means, "God helps." If you are discouraged, read Tobit. Recall that God heals, and God helps. The angel in disguise tells Tobias that he can marry fair Sarah, to which Tobias says something like:

"That chick with the seven dead grooms? Dude! I'm an only child. I don't think so."

Did I mention it has comedy?

This is what Raphael says to Tobias:

"Do not be afraid; she was destined for you from the beginning, and you are the one to save her."

My dear friends in Christ. We really do have a destiny, and it's a good one. I'm so moved that there is love and salvation for all of us. There is hope.

The scriptures say that at Raphaels words "Tobias fell so deeply in love with her that he could no longer call his heart his own." This wasn't love at first sight. He hadn't seen her yet! This was embracing what the journey was about in the first place, getting the riches that belong to you, no matter what kind of riches they are. And love is rich! I believe that.

I won't tell you the whole story. I insist that you read all 14 chapters for yourself. But I will give you the highlights.****spoilers***** Tobias does get to Sarah, and asks her father for her hand. Her father is frank with him. Tells him, "Uh, there's a little problem with my baby girl." But Tobias believes now. He cannot be swayed.

And Sarah, she of many losses, she too, believes.

One of my favorite parts of the story is after the marriage contract has been drawn, how Sarah's mother Edna prepares the room for them. And mama is wiping her tears as she does it. Can you imagine the hope warring with dread within her? She couldn't bear to see her daughter's heart broken again, and yet, she could not deny her the hope that something lovely and amazing is possible. Through her own tears, and her own fears, she says, "Courage daughter. May the Lord of heaven turn your grief to joy! Courage daughter."

That, my friends, is my slogan for the Year of the Tobit Journey.

Sarah's father dug a grave for Tobias. Ha! But he filled it the next morning with dirt, and not Tobias! There was a lot of Blessing God, and each other, and all kinds of folks, and everyone got happy endings, because God did heal. And He did help.

Tobit is not a book for cynics, or people who don't believe that the magical can happen. It's not a book that will appeal to those who have not suffered. But if you are having trouble seeing what God is doing, if you have buried dream after dream, and are ashamed of what your life has become, read Tobit. You can find it online if it isn't in the Bible you have. Let Tobias journey speak to you of your own.

So many times in that book did I read of the need to be courageous. I've taken so many hits that I think I stopped believing that there'd be a day when I will think of these hard times, "I can't remember the last time I thought of those sad days." Today is my birthday. I'm 44 years old. I've lived in exile far too long. I'm going on a journey to recover what is mine but has slipped away from me. This is my Year of the Tobit Journey.

I will walk with angels.
I will cast out demons.
I will experience love that is stronger than death.
I will take courage.
God will heal me.
In His love and mercy He will help me.

May He do the same for you.

Image of Tobit by Rembrandt