Tuesday, October 27, 2009
The Canticle of the Lamb
I have a confession to make. When I'm sad, I eat. A lot. I wish I were one of those people who lose their appetites when they're depressed. Maybe I am. If so, I push past this natural instinct and eat, usually until I'm sick.
I have another confession to make. I'm sad more than I like to admit. I'm good at hiding it. Or maybe I'm not. The problem is, I'm pretty good at fooling myself, too. But sometimes God, who truly loves me, breaks through my wall of sorrow. It doesn't matter that I've virtually ignored Him for weeks. Or that I've been disobedient when I hear His whispers calling me to come to Him. Maybe He is merciful because He knows I'm sad. Even in the center of this amazing new life, melancholy lays on my shoulders like a dark, heavy mantle. That makes me even sadder.
Was it me that wrote all those books? I asked myself lying in bed at 3 a.m. How in the world did I do it? I feel like such a failure now, weeks past two deadlines. Every night, especially at night, my body is on fire with pain. My injured foot is throbbing. My stomach, after two bowls of potato chips (and that icky tummy trouble I told you about) aches and burns. I haven't sleep well in days. Was it me who wrote about a sick, sad woman who found Jesus in the night, in her bed of affliction, so to speak? And she asked Him to share with her His pain. "Share with me Jesus," Gina Dolores, queen of sorrows, would say.
I did not ask Him to share with me tonight. I lay there hurting and sad, and wishing I knew what it will take to feel better and feeling a little hopeless. The last thing I wanted was to carry a cross, even His. Definitely not my own.
And then I had to pee.
I got up and and for a moment I tried a little positive self talk. "Claudia," I said, because apparently when I'm very sad I am not Mair. LOL. I was thinking about weight loss. My ridiculously failed diets slash fasts slash new life plans slash and whatever else that was weighing, no pun intended, on me. "You can do this," I lied. "You can get back on a program and lose this weight. You can..." Then I sighed. "I can't do it," I said in a moment of complete honesty. I have no will power or discipline.
I'm weak. I am needy. I'm a ragamuffin. Seriously.
I'm not sure why, but for some reason in that moment I thought about St. Francis DeSales. Then again, of course I know why. God planted that thought. He's one of my more quiet patron saints. Not the guy you'd want at the party, like St. Francis of Assisi, but I "heart" him, just the same. He's the guy, this patron saint of writers, that I'd want to write a letter to, especially if I were feeling like a big, fat (literally) failure and sad writer. Or maybe get a letter from.
"Send me a little help," I said, and whether it was to God, or St. Francis DeSales, I'm not sure. "St. Francis De Sales, pray for me," I asked, because I feel guilty if I ask the saints for anything other than their prayers. But I had bigger problems (like the size of my butt). So I trusted the Holy Spirit would get him the message. Despite how I felt tonight, I really do believe in the communion of saints. I believe they pray for us if they do nothing else. I was counting on it.
On the way to the bathroom I remembered my dear, dear lovie Gina gave me a book of letters St. Francis DeSales wrote. He was a fine spiritual director, and reading and writing letters is how he walked in friendship with many people. I haven't shared much about my new monastic life, but one of the things Lisa and I are committing to is writing letters. Don't be surprised if you get one, one of these days! Anyway, I hadn't read this book yet, but I hoped I'd find some nugget in it that would give me some measure of peace. I found it in my library, which is waaaay in the back of the Little House, near Bun Bun's cage. I had to feed him first because he started thumping his little bunny feet as soon as I got close, and then I had to look, in the dark, for the book. The light blew weeks ago, and with these cathedral ceilings, forget about changing it.
I finally found it, came back to bed and turned to a random page. But there is no random when you believe God loves you, even when you feel crappy. There are gifts, and if you are watching carefully, if you are listening with your broken heart, you may be given the grace to discover them. I did, in a letter St. Francis wrote to a woman. The header said, "Practice the Mortifications That Are Given You."
We post-modern followers of Christ don't think much about mortifications. We're far too selfish, and that idea is a tad Medieval. But mortifications can be as simple as the very basic, needful denials you take upon yourself for the good of your soul. And more than my body is obese, my soul is starving for a very specific healing, one that God promised He was already granting. It's in process, though it sure hasn't felt like it lately.
I need some body mortifications. My overeating, for whatever reason I do it, is a mortal sin. It's killing me in more ways than one. And if I don't deal with the sadness, I'm never going to stop. Lord, have mercy.
Anyway, Bro. Francis jumped write into the letter with wisdom. It's as if his words were written for me. And of course, in that mysterious way God does things, they were.
"Do not worry yourself; no, believe me, practice serving our Lord with a gentleness full of strength and zeal. That is the true method of this service. Wish not to do all, but only something, and without doubt you will do much."
Wonderful isn't it, but there's more. He said to practice the mortifications that most often present themselves. For me, that would be not numbing myself with food like it's a drug, but instead listening to what my heart is whispering beneath seventy pounds (at least) of excess weight. "This is what we must do first; after that we will do others." And then he said something so beautiful and heartbreaking. "Often kiss in the spirit the crosses that our Lord Himself placed on your shoulders. Do not look whether they are of a precious or fragrant wood; they are truer crosses when they are made of wood that is vile, abject, and even stinking. It is remarkable that this always comes back to my mind, and that I know only this song. Without a doubt, my dear sister, it is the canticle of the Lamb. This song is a little sad, but it is harmonious and beautiful. "My Father, be it not as I will, but as Thou wilt."
Oh, Lord. How this speaks to me. My cross of pain and weakness--my cross of the sin of gluttony, so stinking and awful to me, are like His conductor's baton He uses as He directs the circumstances of my life into the sweet music of the canticle of the Lamb. It's a song I know by heart, but somehow, I stopped paying attention to it. I disregarded it like the easy listening music playing in the background at the grocery store. I forgot how lovely it sounds, and how meaningful the lyrics are. I failed to remember the canticle of the Lamb is me and my Beloved's "song".
The grace doesn't stop there. St. Francis mentions Mary Magdalen seeing the risen Christ. She was look for a glorious savior, but what she saw was a wholly ordinary looking man in gardener's clothes. She didn't recognize Him He was so plain, St. Francis said, until He said to her, "Mary."
Many of you know that Mair is a derivative of my true soul name--a name I'm still growing into: Mary. St. Francis, in this letter written centuries ago, practically called me by name. "My dear sister," he wrote, "it is our Lord in gardener's dress that you meet here and there and every day in the occasions of ordinary mortifications that present themselves to you. You would like for Him to offer you other and finer mortifications. Oh, God. The finest are not the best. Do you know think He says, 'Mary, Mary.' No before you see Him in His glory, He wishes to plant in your garden many flowers, little and lowly, but to His liking. That is why He is dressed so."
Seriously, you're are not going to believe this, but maybe you will, because God is good. Tonight, a little after midnight, I finished rewriting a chapter in the St. Teresa of Avila book, God Alone Is Enough. It was one of the chapters about her analogy of the interior garden--the soul garden we all have within us. We are gardeners along with Christ, and there, in our souls, He meets us. He is the Master Garden, and sometimes, He waters our gardens with no help from us at all. This is what I wrote about tonight.
It is prayer that waters our gardens. I can't help but believe this letter, talking about Christ in gardener's clothing, was yet another urging of my Beloved for me to come into His arms; to simply pray; be with Him; rest in the garden. I so need it. And I believe He is saying "one simple thing at a time, Mary Francis. Listen to your sad heart instead of eating." It's one small thing I'm certain He gave me the grace to do. One itsy bitsy baby step. Just one. I can only do it, because I believe He will help me.
I'm going to go to bed now. It's after 5 a.m. But before I lay me down to sleep, I'll pray a simple Our Father, and dream of a garden that my Beloved delights in. I can almost smell the flowers (virtues) that He in His goodness will help me grow. The sweet song I think I've always known, the canticle of the Lamb, will be my lullaby. And I feel hopeful. This "soul music" is the only thing that gives me any modicum of relief this morning.
I love y'all. And I've missed you!
mair (mary) francis
music garden image from http://www.oisinmcgann.com/artwork/gallery/musicgarden.html