Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Alleluia! He is risen!
I really had meant to write more here during Holy Week, but it just didn't end up happening that way. I had taken a day off from work to give me 5 entire days off, and I ended up sleeping for 2 of those days, and then the rest of the time, my heart was full and focused on the Lord, alone. What a blessing, what a way of life! Coming back to one of my jobs this week has been a shock to the system, as it were, and of course next week, both jobs will be in force, so I'm a little nervous about how my system will respond. Silence, stillness, quiet adoration and prayer... these are the ways that let me thrive.

The Lord has showered me with blessings and new insights and understandings that have taken deep root, and they are in essence over shadowing and pushing out the old weeds of fear, anxiety and pride. Slowly, He works in my heart and mind and spirit to show me that I am precious to Him, that my life has meaning beyond what I can see in the immediate present, and that in everything, I am to trust Him. So my prayer in adversity has become "Yeshua, I trust you! Help me to trust." I feel as if He's taught me this prayer Himself, because it is the quickest way to turn from the anxiety and despair that threatens at every turn. 

In fact, I am convinced that I am no different from anyone else in experiencing anxiety and despair. The  only difference is in intensity and in how people choose to deal with those "demons," if you will. It's easy to escape from anxiety and stress by becoming absorbed into the things of the world, even the things which are of themselves perfectly harmless, but which can nonetheless lure us away from His Heart, the true source of help, comfort, and transformation.

I'm into transformation. And it's Resurrection season, y'all, so it's a good time to talk about transformation. I am coming to understand, in some small way, that it is WE who are "transubstantiated" into union with Christ. That's the point of it all, I believe. Being good people and being kind to one another, being generous and forgiving - YES. But it's more than just good works; we are meant to be one with Messiah and with each other, as He said in his final discourse before the Crucifixion in John 14: 15-21 (NRSVCE) 

15 “If you love me, you will keep[f] my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate,[g] to be with you forever. 17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in[h] you.18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you. 19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.” 
And in John 15: 4-5, He tells us:
Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (NRSVCE)
Jesus/Yeshua invites us into oneness, to follow Him not just in our actions (externally) but in our hearts (interiorly). As I've discovered all to painfully well (and yet continuously let go of and have to rediscover), I can do nothing without Him; in other words, I fall again and again and only by clinging to Him am I able to get up, keep on going, and do better when the bell rings in the next round.

In this Easter Octave, I am going to Mass every morning, in the hopes that once the insanity kicks in full swing next week, I'll have a morning routine to follow. I dread the exhaustion that comes from working 10 hours a day, driving 1.5 hours and getting home after 9:00, but once again, if I ask Jesus to be with me, to share in my fatigue and experience, I know the time will be blessed for me and for those whom I serve.

I completely identify with the disciples who Jesus met on the Road to Emmaus, who we read about in today's Gospel. They didn't understand that Jesus had to die and rise again to fulfill the Father's will. In deed, they were thinking with "human logic," that it was good while it lasted, but the prophet wasn't, couldn't have been, the Messiah, because he was crucified - a most shameful, hideous death. Jesus walked with them, and they didn't recognize Him, because their minds were focused on the natural, that is to say, the "possible." It was only when He broke bread with them that they recognized Him - in the Eucharist - and believed. Believing in the supernatural isn't something we do easily. Believing that God became a human, lived with us, then died to our collective and individual sins, then rose again to bring us to God's glory... yeah, it's a stretch! Unless you ask to be made strong in your faith. "Jesus, I trust You. Help me to trust!" (Lord, I believe, help my unbelief!) 

He is with us always, as He promised, transforming us and our lives. He has risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Riding it out: earthquakes, powerlessness, and God

If you've looked at the news in the last two weeks, besides Putin, Syria, Obamacare's deadline, the missing Malaysian jet and ocean full of garbage, the horrific mudslide in Washington, the Twitter campaign for #CancelColbert, and other important items, you may have noticed that California's earthquake "drought" is over. If only it were the water drought that's over. In all fairness, it's better to have several smaller earthquakes to release pressure than to have it all pop at once. Even so...

I'm sure there's some post-modern theory as to why
humans created a theme park ride about "The Big One."
(Universal Studios "Earthquake!" ride)

The three moderate earthquakes of the last 2 weeks are more than enough for yours truly. There is something surreal and wrong about the earth and the building you're in moving under your feet. The violent shaking, creaking, swinging, rumbling is the most horrific experience of my life, other than my own parents' deaths. I'm not exaggerating. I know these quakes have been relatively small, compared to the Northridge temblor and other more devastating quakes, but it seems that I am an earthquake wimp. 

Dude. Why do I live in SoCal?

Oh yeah, it's cause the Spirit led me here, I cannot tolerate cold, and I love having spring in February. Also, palm trees, mountains, ocean, sunshine, absence of salt damage on my car. 

But as always, I look at the events of life through a lens that asks "What can I learn from this?" 

Apart from my roommate and I getting serious about creating an earthquake kit (she's from Toronto, so she understands this panic-stricken response), there is another word that describes my immediate reaction to an earthquake in progress: Powerlessness.

I actually went on that Earthquake ride back in '91 at Universal Studios, Fla. I hated every second. I had a massive panic attack, the likes of which I'd never known. I literally had to close my eyes and focus on breathing until it was over. Then, outside in the humid Orlando sun, I told my friends I just needed to sit for a good 30 minutes to recover. They thought I was nuts.

In the real thing, I'm almost as panicked. My palms go sweaty, the blood drains (to where, I have no idea), the breaths become short, the knees turn to water.

What's happening is a classic panic response. Why? Because 1.) This is really a new thing for me and my brain doesn't know how to process it, and 2.) I, and everyone else affected, am totally powerless to do anything but ride it out (no pun intended).

In an earthquake, you are literally trapped by the earth. You cannot escape. You cannot make it stop. You have no idea when it will end. You have no idea if it will get stronger before it stops. You. Are. Powerless.

Isn't this really a metaphor for our lives? Yes, we can certainly take measures to do what we're supposed to do -- stock up on water, flashlights, and food/drop and cover/get a job/get married/make informed decisions based on the information at hand -- but we really have no idea what's coming, and when it hits, we feel like we have no recourse. A spouse leaves, a parent dies, a lay off happens, a debilitating accident happens... on and on; you can fill in the blanks, can't you?

So what do we do when things surprise us, bad things, horrific things? I don't have all the answers. The only answer I have is to cling to the One who can help me sort it out, make the best of it, and who ultimately has me in His Hand. I pray mightily to trust God, and I ask Him to help me through the aftermath.

During Lent, we're asked to go inward, to examine our consciences, repent, deny certain aspects of the outward life that may be distracting us from what's calling to us deep inside - the pure Love of God. Giving our powerlessness to Him, as Jesus did on the cross, is not only "good" for us, but it is a mark of our deep, abiding love for Him. It's a gift, in other words. God thirsts for our love, for our trust. 

In the moments of powerlessness, Jesus gives us opportunities to lean on Him, trust Him, and love Him. By riding through the dark nights, trusting that He has never and will never abandon us, we will grow in love, and with grace, we will be able to share that love with His people, our brothers and sisters who are also suffering in their powerlessness.

Monday, March 24, 2014

A New View

The weekend with the Carmelites was restful, but at the same time, intensive (as discernment often is). I went into the weekend hoping to "learn" and "more deeply understand" my vocation. I was disappointed in these expectations. Which is to say, I got out of the weekend exactly what I needed to!


My focus right now needs to be on the here and now. Is God calling me to Carmel? He very well might be. But right now I can't enter. It's not time, I have stuff to do, and I also have to build relationship with the Carmel I hope to enter. So many things are accomplished at once: I work, pay off debt, serve the Kingdom, build relationships with the Sisters, allow them to know me and me to know them, and of course I continue writing and above all, deepening my prayer and spiritual life.

At first, I felt like I came away from the weekend with more question marks, but then I realized that I'd been driving 110 mph with my hand white-knuckling the steering wheel while I demanded through clenched teeth, "Jesus, show me where I'm going!"
Jesus: "Um. It doesn't work that way..." 
Me:  "Whaddyamean it doesn't work this way. Look, I'm driving, you tell me where to go. It's that simple!  Right?  We're doing this, right?"
(hits speed bump going 110 mph) 
Jesus: "Move over."

In other news... I've adopted a new domain for this blog. Soon, very soon, "Fredinthecan" will be no more. You can find this blog at  Please share with friends and family!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sad commentary, call to write

I'm at school right now, subbing for a religion class of Senior girls. I decided to conduct a little informal research in the form of an oral questionnaire. There are 34 girls in this class today, and of those 34, only one had heard of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Then I explained to them what the image was, and most of then nodded as if they'd seen the image before. I asked them if they knew anything about it. Only this one girl could respond. Here's what she said:
Oh, isn't that where there is blood and water coming out? The water is because wasn't he given nasty water to drink? And the blood.... symbolizes something else.
I asked them where they had seen this image. Almost unanimously, they reported that they'd seen it at their grandmother's home. Many of these girls are being raised by their grandmothers, in fact, so it only shows that religious art and symbols, while present, may mean nothing to them.

I didn't lecture them on the Sacred Heart of Jesus, but I encouraged them to ask their grandmothers about this devotion.

I am saddened, but I am also emboldened in my desire to write a book that renews the devotion of the Sacred Heart of Jesus for young women. I have already 58 pages written, but these pages need some significant work, by far. 

Perhaps this is where my gift of writing needs to be focused, rather than fiction and tales of the imagination. There's plenty of fiction and tales of the imagination in the world. As far as my research has shown, there is not much in the way of Catholic devotion aimed specifically at teenage/20s girls/women that isn't focused on Purity.

I talked to a publishing rep at the L.A. Congress last weekend, and she expressed some interest in this project. Perhaps God's been telling me all along where He wants my gifts to be placed. I've just been too distracted by my own imagination to hear Him.


This weekend, I will be staying with the Carmelites of San Diego for my third visit. I am still feeling this calling, but I also hear other "voices"... should I be a teacher? how much should I invest in having a writing career? I am not even sure what kind of writing it is I feel most drawn to. Whatever it is I write, I want to build the Kingdom of God, not serve my own myopic purposes. This is a time of clarifying and refining, and I need your prayers, so if you're the praying kind, please give a shout out for me, 'kay?

Church of the Carmelite monastery in San Diego
My only prayer is that God's will be done in and through me. Feeling joy with what I'm doing is an indication that I am fulfilling part of my purpose here (as it is with everyone!). I feel like I can teach and write m'okay fine. But the thing that really makes me want to get up and go is prayer. Most people think of prayer as kneeling with hands poised in prayer position, eyes to heaven, reciting a rosary. It can be that, of course. But in a very real way, prayer can be every moment, every thought, every action of our lives, whether taking a shower, watering the plants, delivering a lecture, tutoring a student with a research paper. You get the idea.

However, I also believe in intercessory prayer, and I believe it is the #1 Gift God has given me, above the gifts of writing and teaching. If this is true, Carmel may be the home for me. I've started devouring news articles and I constantly am looking for ways and times and people to pray for.  I have a leather-bound journal that houses an on-going list of people and situations I've been asked or feel moved to pray for. But what about my other gifts? The gifts of teaching and writing can be expressed in hundreds of ways, too, so I am aware that these gifts would certainly not be thrown away were I to enter Carmel. And that addresses a point that has been raised by several people along the way - wouldn't you be throwing away your degrees/abilities to do these things? In short, the answer is 'no, I wouldn't!'

Nevertheless, I am still in the process, on the journey, of discerning what God is truly calling me to. He's led me this far, and He continues to lead me. This weekend, I hope to hear and discern more clearly.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Religious Education Congress 2014

This year's theme was 'Hope: A World Afire!'

I'm winding down the weekend after an intense two days at the Religious Education Congress (Friday and Saturday). I only went for two of the three days, mainly because I needed my one day to stay home and gear up for the coming week. I day tripped to Anaheim for the event, which was more of a challenge with Friday traffic both going and coming home, but I definitely feel the 'conference high' even with the commuting and not making it for the last day (which was today). 

The sessions I chose back in December and got into (I had to choose my top 3 for each period) seemed to interlock with an ever-unfolding message of forgiveness, reconciliation and God's Love. In fact, it would appear that this Lent, the journey I'm taking with Yeshua is one of forgiveness. 


I arrived frazzled from rush hour and Disneyland traffic (the Anaheim Convention Center is across the street from California Adventure Park), then hit the crowd of 25,000 Catholics registering and picking up their name tags. I wondered if this is how it felt in Jerusalem on Passover in the time of Yeshua.

The view from the third floor balcony of the Anaheim Convention Center

First Period Session:  Temptation, Suffering, and Forgiveness. Dr. Greer Gordon spoke on the need for letting go of resentment, and the relationship between resentment and suffering. She challenged us to give our resentment up to the Holy Spirit to heal, to acknowledge where we are stuck, and she pinned down those self-righteous Catholics who seem to resent the poor and/or the commandment Yeshua and our current Pontiff give us to take care of our brothers and sisters. I think she was a little harsh with that, but I know the social justice movement is very passionate about that issue, and I could tell it came from a very good place. This was the perfect "getting my feet wet" session, and right off I was faced with the notion of acknowledging resentments and forgiving those I resent. So who do you suppose I resent more than anyone?

Second Period Session:  Was supposed to be held by Fr. Richard Fragomeni, but he was apparently too ill to travel, so Dr. Paul Ford graciously took his place. The title of the session was Divination: The invitation of the Eucharist to Communion of Life and Love with God. Dr. Ford took us on a journey through the Mass itself, pointing out how time is fluid as we pass from present to past (reading the Word) to future (Eucharist - the Wedding Supper in heaven) and back to present. In his talk, he was witty and surprised me with his candid invitation for us to come "dressed up" to Mass so that we can "take it all off" at Communion. Of course he was speaking metaphorically, but the idea of the veil being lifted to be united with Christ in Communion is nothing new under the sun. Eucharist is about Union. 

At the time of transubstantiation in the Mass, we the congregation are being offered to the Father as a living sacrfice in union with the Son, and it is through this union that we are, in a sense, transubstantiated - divinized. Further, Dr. Ford made the connection that in our daily lives, every flat surface is an altar where we can offer ourselves as living sacrifices to the Father - our desk, tub, bed, keyboard, dashboard, etc., and offer ourselves for everyone. This is about transformation of our daily lives into the Kingdom of God. 

He also encouraged us after Communion to recognize that Yeshua (Jesus) is beside us, like the Bridegroom next to the bride at the wedding (in mystical theology, the soul is feminine, the bride, as in Song of Songs). So there you are, sitting with God. Talk to Him. Listen to Him.

After that invigorating talk, I had a lovely lunch with my colleagues at the high school where I teach. Tuna sandwiches, chips, cookies, fruit, water, all on the sunroof of the Hilton.

Then came the highlight of the entire day.

Third Period Session:  Praying with Scripture by Fr. James Martin. Fr. Martin is a well-known Jesuit priest and theologian with a flair for social media. He's written scores of books, including his latest Jesus: A Pilgrimage and the Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. He is also the official chaplain of the Colbert Report. Fr. Martin led us through two Ignatian forms of prayer: lectio divina and a type of imaginative prayer where you imagine yourself IN a scene from scripture, letting the Holy Spirit lead your senses and interactions within the scene. 

The passage he chose for us to place ourselves in was the scene of the loaves and fishes, where Yeshua multiplies the fish and bread for thousands to eat. Since I pray like this often, I had no trouble entering into the scene myself, but the results of the prayer floored me completely. 

I ended up with a "two parter" meditation, first as myself in the scene, and then as Philip. I knew immediately what this was about: His calling me to Himself in a religious vocation, and His gentle chiding about my worries concerning student loan debt holding me back from this vocation. I won't get into a lot of detail here, but it's sufficient to say that this meditation was a very strong message of AFFIRMATION and a call to simply do what He asks, giving what I have to give, and trusting that he will do the rest. Amen!

After the session with Fr. Martin, I more or less made a beeline to where he was to be signing books. I didn't drag my heels, but I also didn't knock anyone over getting down there. I waited in a moderately short line and had my few moments with the man, himself to sign my book. I even told him briefly of my mediation. He was warm and thanked me for sharing my little story. Whatta guy.

Fr. Jim Martin and yours truly with his new book
When I left, the line snaked around and around toward the doors to the Exhibition Hall! From there I tweeted and emailed this photo to a few people, then I grabbed some dinner before everything shut down at 5:00. I should've stayed for one of the several Masses that were being said at 5:15, but I was feeling antsy about getting on the road before the worst of the rush hour was in full force, so I headed home.


Much less traffic on a Saturday morning, but a huge line getting into the parking structure. I flipped on the radio just to ease my jitters, and the song that came on was one I'd never heard before. The lyrics blew me away, considering the themes that were flowering throughout the conference in my own heart. The song is called "Make Me Lonely," by the Sidewalk Prophets. I was going to write more about it here, but I will wait for a separate blog post. For now it's enough to say that this song is all about recognizing that the suffering God allows us to experience is a kind of refining fire that draws us back to Him. Again with the refining fire motif this Lent.


Fourth Period Session: Scandalous Love: You can't get away from a love that won't let you go by Rev. Terry Hershey. Hershey is an amazingly down to earth, funny, insightful speaker. Oh, and he's Episcopalian, a fact which I love because he may as well be Catholic, which infers that we are all one Church despite our divisions. Oh, and a nod to my friends at St. Jude's in Burbank - I got his narthex joke because of my time spent at an Anglican church. Anyway, his impassioned presentation centered around that scandalous scene in Luke's Gospel where the sinful woman crashes a pharisee's party to weep at Yeshua's feet, wash them with her tears, dry them with her hair, then kiss and anoint them with perfume. This was an unbelievable act of intimacy and vulnerability. Yeshua rebukes the pharisee, Simon, who of course is bent out of shape about her presence, her actions, and Yeshua's seeming ignorance of "what kind of woman she is." But more than that, Yeshua invites us to be that woman - no shame, no walls, only love poured out for Love. 

Rev. Hershey had us move into pairs or groups of 3 or 4 to discuss what labels we use for ourselves that keep us from experiencing the Love of Messiah, and also to explore how grace is poured out to us continually in an invitation to experience this love. His thesis was that most of us don't even recognize or see that grace when it is poured out on us, because we use our labels to keep ourselves shut off.

The woman I was paired with, Darlene from Arizona, turned to me and immediately told me that in her culture (Native American) everyone is constantly affirmed by elders from birth through death with the phrase "shiwah shiyazhe" which loosely translated means "my child." She said it with such purpose, looking into my eyes, that I knew this WAS grace immediately flowing from God through her to me, a blessing. God telling me "you are my child, you are mine." 

This is part of my journey - the journey of forgiveness of myself, the affirmation that not only has He called me for a special purpose (as God does EVERY person on the planet), but that I do not need to feel ashamed for anything I've done in the past, because I am His child. His playful little child.

Fountains in front of the Convention Center
Fifth Period Session: Attuning Ourselves to the Fire, the Heartbeat of Christ: Exploring a Rich Mystical Image. As you can imagine from the title, this session is right up my alley. Rev. Ronald Rolheiser is another prolific author and theologian, but unlike Fr. Martin, his public persona is much more subdued. Nevertheless, I took the most notes during his talk. It was almost like being in graduate school again. I wondered if my cartridge fountain pen would run out of ink by the middle of the presentation. 

Rev. Rolheiser spoke about the Gospel of John, the mystical Gospel, in which the beloved disciple lays his head on the breast of Messiah after the supper. There is so much imagery, symbolism and meaning embedded in the gesture that it's impossible to delve into it all here in this limited format. The main idea, though, in reading the Gospel of John is that WE are invited to be that beloved disciple. Rolheiser also spoke about Mary of Magdala as the bride from the Song of Songs, seeking her Beloved, and finding Him on Easter morning, and how again we are invited to be as she is. So there are multiple ways to enter into the text and experience the depths of the mystical text. And yes, if it all sounds erotic, it most definitely is (as the Song of Songs most certainly is). As Rev. Rolheiser said, "mystics love eros."

To examine how to live out this Gospel, Rolheiser zeroed in on the two questions of the Gospel: In the first chapter, the would-be disciples of Messiah ask "Where do you live?" and instead of answering, Jesus answers "Come and see," and leads them on the journey of his ministry and their becoming. At the end of the Gospel, when Mary of Magdala sees Him in the garden (here Rolheiser reminds us what gardens are... places where lovers meet), she doesn't recognize him and thinks him to be the gardner.  He asks here "What are you looking for?" She answers that if he's taken the body of her Master, to please give it to her. Then he says her name, "Mary." She now knows who He is and who she is: she is His. 

And so, we are meant to go through our lives letting Yeshua show us where God lives (in ourselves, in others, in situations, in sunsets, in tears...) and then we are to show Yeshua were we live - where we hurt, where we need to be healed. In other words, to be vulnerable.  When we do, we allow Him to enter in and free us from the mourning and loss of sin. Because we are already forgiven, now the healing must happen, and when we realize we are resurrected WITH HIM, we live a new life.

Oh, there was a LOT more to his talk, but I need to be brief. After I finish Fr. Martin's book, I will be picking up Rev. Rolheiser's new book, Sacred Fire - A Vision for a Deeper Human and Christian Maturity, in which he writes among other things about John's Gospel and Mary of Magdala. When I went up to him to ask him if he had a book upon which the talk was based, he appeared almost shy, and said the talk was really cobbled together from many shorter pieces he'd written, but then almost as an after-thought he suggested his book. 

At that point in the afternoon, I was filled to capacity. I needed to take some down time, so I skipped the sixth period and instead went to the Sacred Space chapel and sat with the Blessed Sacrament for awhile. It was an incredible experience to feel the love in that room - people's love for God, and God's love for us. It was almost tangible. One of the most memorable few moments of the entire weekend.

After that I finally had a chance to check out the Exhibit Hall. It was absolutely teeming, so I had to put aside my East Coast "jammer" through the crowd mode (to use a roller derby reference) and just go with the flow. I spoke with a few people I knew, including my spiritual director who was there with her order, the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master. Finally, I wound down and headed outside for some needed fresh air. I decided to go to the Contemplative Mass at 5:15, and it was perfection.

I had in mind the parts of the Mass and the "time travel" that Dr. Ford had elucidated in his talk, which deepened the experience. Mind you, this was a Mass for hundreds of people in one space (maybe more - I'm a poor evaluator of these kinds of things). What a blessing it was to worship with so many brothers and sisters. And my Communion Meditation was clear (the time I spent sitting next to the Bridegroom, again to borrow Dr. Ford's image)...

The "Big Picture"

I have been moving through these last two years awash in God's untamed Love, but unable to truly receive all He is giving me - the thousands of blessings large and small - because deep inside there is a feeling of not being worthy of the Gift. The person I needed to forgive, the person I resented, was myself. My mistakes. My errors. The past. All being exploited to keep me from recognizing grace where it lives in my life. 

The labels I've used for myself have most definitely been preventing me from receiving the Gifts in full. This is how and why I tend to see past the multitude of amazing things in front of me to focus on the dark smudge on the horizon that may or may not be bad news coming. This is how I feel God in prayer and know Him in my heart, and yet often fail to see Him in the loving touch, voice, generosity and laughter of my community of friends and loved ones, of opportunities and situations that allow them to touch me, and me to touch them. I am grateful for these things and people, but I don't necessarily see them as being GOD'S GRACE calling me deeper into the Body of Christ. And consequently, I can't see MYSELF as God's grace in other people's lives.

I've lived most of my life feeling isolated and shut off from others, which might surprise some people, but perhaps it shouldn't surprise them too much. It's a thing I do. I've always done it. But with the healing of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of Yeshua, I am coming more and more fully into Communion.

This experience at Congress was more than just learning new stuff and chatting with famous theologians. Early this morning, I woke up to an email from my dear former roommate, who having chatted with me last week during her stay about my travails and concerns, suggested that I wasn't seeing the "big picture" of what God has been and is doing in my life. She was 100% correct, and her comments helped me to put it all together, that is, everything that came to me throughout the weekend in the talks, the quiet moments, the music, even the impromptu meet-ups with some of my nun and sister friends. I am feeling refreshed and revivified, and I am feeling hopeful. A hope fueled by grace and love, not wishes or wanting. A hope because I am Resurrected with Messiah. I am Loved despite what I've done, what I do, what I will do, and I am called to be His no matter what - that's my identity. That's grace.

Hope: A World Afire!

And that, my friends, is one long blog post. If you made it to the end, congratulations. And thank you for being God's grace in my life. I hope something here has inspired you - read one of the books or authors I've mentioned, and please open yourself to the journey that God is calling you on this Lent.

Bella luna over Anaheim

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Not preaching to the choir: A response to the film “Son of God”

“Son of God,” produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnett and directed by Christopher Spencer, was an enormous disappointment. Despite some strong performances, including Darwin Shaw (Peter) and Sebastian Knapp (John the Evangelist), it wasn’t even close to being the greatest Jesus movie of all time, and in fact, it wasn’t even a good movie. Not only was it shallow, disconnected, and self-important, it neglected to show a crucial aspect of Jesus’ saving ministry: relationship. Jesus had and has relationships with us, and with the Father, and he invites us into his intimate relationship with the Father. Nowhere did this crucial element of his life and teaching appear in this film. 

The-who-what-where-in-the-what-now? (Trying to make sense of this movie)
The episodes of Jesus’ ministry were never connected with who Jesus was as a person, and characters were drawn with neither depth nor passion. They came and went with no explanation and with no real connection to him or to each other. Several characters were introduced and then abruptly dropped (Martha and Lazarus) or mentioned without us having seen them (John the Baptist), such that we didn’t know and didn’t care about them at all. Mary Magdalene was apparently combined/conflated with Mary of Bethany, which reveals poor attention to detail and scripture (not to mention lazy writing).

The Jesus of the New Testament spent his time teaching, healing, ministering, and offering mercy to those that his culture considered ‘undesireable.’ As he, himself, said, “But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners" (Matt 9:13). Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to see Jesus among the ‘undesirables’ except for one scene when he calls Levi/Matthew the tax collector to follow him, but this was a one-off scene. Jesus teaching and living at the fringe of acceptable behavior and institutions was merely suggested, not shown in a way that lets the audience understand his purpose. Thus the figure of Jesus comes off as two-dimensional. Many of Jesus’ words from the Gospels are even put into the mouths of interchangeable disciple characters, and the delivery is so flat that they don’t carry any weight.

Morgado offered us a charismatic screen presence, and as such was adequate as Jesus, but he could have been stunning with the right script and direction. As to the critique that he’s a “too sexy” Jesus, that’s only one aspect of what bothers me about this film. There's an excellent commentary on that issue here. For me the issue is more that he’s a “too white” Jesus. Not Morgado’s fault that he’s white, obviously; the blame for this casting falls squarely on the shoulders of the producers. 

Co-producer Roma Downey as Mary the Mother of Jesus was simply the wrong woman for the job. She doesn’t pull off the illusion for a moment; it is impossible to suspend disbelief. (I had an easier time with Harvey Kietel as Judas in “Last Temptation of Christ,” and I actually appreciate that film.) Her presence in “Son of God” was distracting at best, and at worst, it detracted from any potential emotional on-screen resonance between Jesus and his mother. The producer who stars in her own film with so many close ups smacks of trying to jump start a career, not honoring the Mother of God.

The disjointedness of scenes was undeniably a huge problem with this movie. Structurally, it felt like the writers took a bunch of stories from the Gospels and threw darts to decide which ones to include. The editing felt amateurish in places, with jump cuts and poor continuity. Perhaps they didn’t have a script supervisor, or didn’t get enough coverage, or maybe they just didn’t care. Pacing was uneven, and some of the cutaways left the audience hanging at what could’ve been emotionally impactful moments. Many of these problems can be traced to the fact that the film was edited down from a much longer made-for-TV movie, which also indicates multiple layers of decision making. This is never the best environment for filmmaking, so once again, we need to turn to the producers.

Ah, the producers…
The producers’ promotional machine for “Son of God” was a grass roots juggernaut that pushed opening weekend sales up to $9.4 mil, past The Lego Movie, to capture the #2 spot for the weekend. Church groups bought up and continue to buy up bundles of tickets, which has helped these numbers considerably. Some would say this is a major victory for Christians in media/Hollywood/pop culture. There is some room for this argument, to be sure. Getting something noticed on the big screen that’s of a spiritual bent and not about guns, sexual violence, or dick-and-fart jokes really is something to be excited about. And the (purchasing) power of organized grassroots efforts cannot be denied; film marketing ain’t what it used to be. Yet the question must be asked: is this image of the non-relational Jesus actually who the producers and supporters of the film believe in? Furthermore, we need to inquire into their agenda for presenting this “plastic” image of Messiah.

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." [greed/debasing material wealth] (Matt 6:24)

One might ask whether the movie was positioned as nothing more than a cash cow for the producers after the success of their TV mini-series based on the Bible. Did they really pay attention to how they were depicting their Savior? How much attention was there to the script and direction that controlled this image? Or were they just drumming up as much expectation and ticket sales as possible without attention to the film they were producing? It’s big, it’s epic, it has familiar names and places if you are a Christian or know anything about Christianity. But does it really tell the story, does it really help the individual to know who Jesus is/was on Earth? And what about those who don’t believe? They see this film, they scoff at Roma Downey’s obvious placement, they get lost in the editing of unconnected vignettes, and they see Jesus’ hair blowing in the wind. What kind of Messiah are they being presented with?

Where’s my Jesus?
I don’t pretend to know Downey and Burnett’s motivations or intentions, but I do call them into question. All I can say for sure is that I find their film to be devoid of anyone truly resembling the Messiah, the Anointed One of God who came to set us free from the shackles of our limited understanding of self and other, to give us eternal Life, freeing us from the wages of sin.

Where did “their” Messiah eat with the sinners, explaining to real people in a context they could understand what the Kingdom of Heaven really is? How did their Messiah create relationships with people who most of his society discarded as sub-human? He had his little band of followers, and he preached to crowds, but where is the Son of Man who defended and rejoiced and cried and laughed with his fellow human beings as he taught them how to love by being love? I didn’t see that Messiah at all. In this film, I saw a plastic Jesus, smiling and healing, moving through crowds of people, but not connecting with them. I saw nothing that would encourage his followers today to touch the lives of others and participate in the Kingdom right now, right here.

"Who are all these people?"
Evangelizing can be a beautiful thing, but there is more to it than proclamation. There is the doing and the praying and the being. Jesus is the perfection of what we call “contemplative in action,” but we don’t get to see this aspect of him: the part of Jesus that needed to rest, to commune with the Father. In fact, I can’t recall him really talking about his relationship with the Father much at all, except for the Crucifixion dialogue and the Garden of Gethsemane (and let’s face it, Ted Neeley did that better).

Which brings me back to my very first point: this film doesn’t show Jesus living in relationship with the Father or with others, nor does it present his invitation to us to participate directly and intimately in relationship with each other and with the Trinity.

Red Alert
The most notably disturbing scene of “Son of God” is near the end, with Peter suddenly having his own personal epiphany about the Resurrection and then “instituting” the Eucharist on the spur of the moment. The problem isn’t that this scene is extra-Biblical. Rather, the danger is its suggestion that individuals cannot have a relationship with Messiah without a pastor or priest as the intermediary.

Priests and pastors have a necessary function, of course, but this scene clearly posits Peter as the only one who “gets it,” running the show while everyone else just sits around like passive stumps (even though Mary Magdalene has already seen the Risen Lord and everyone thought she was nuts, hello!).

I get that it was supposed to be Eucharistic, but we don’t need to see Peter doing this action because Jesus Messiah already did it! What we needed was to see Peter struggling to forgive himself, then being forgiven by the Resurrected Jesus, and then being told “Feed my lambs...tend my sheep…feed my sheep.” The priest or pastor is to be a caretaker of the flock, not the middle man/woman between them and God.

A friend of mine also pointed out that this scene smacked of “magical thinking,” which is that if we do this particular thing, God will do what we demand because of that action. Peter breaks bread and drinks wine, and visually, we’re told that it’s only because of that performance that Jesus shows up, instead of unexpectedly in their midst at a time of his own choosing as the Gospel presents it. The Eucharist as practiced by Catholics is made as an offering to God, not a magical ritual that demands God’s presence. God’s will is his own and is not dependent upon actions we take or demands we make, and in his wisdom, he knows when to “show up” and how best to help us in the moment! This scene, to me, borders on heretical for these reasons. I know, strong words. But my point stands.

Dang, girl, did you like anything about this movie? Well, yes, there were a few things.
  • Jesus meekly taking the cross, kissing it, lying on it without being forced to ~ like a lamb to the slaughter. The Lamb of God. Accepting his cross because of his love for us.
  • Cross-cutting the Passover lamb being slaughtered with his Passion.
  • Cross-cutting Jesus praying in the Garden, priests praying in the Temple, Romans praying to their gods – although as with most other things in the film, the meaning was lost because it was so disconnected. (Sorry, this is supposed to be the list of what I liked.)
  • Jesus being surprised at the visions and flashes of insight, especially the scene after the Last Supper where Peter says he’ll die for Jesus. Jesus embraces him, feeling relieved and supported that his friend is going to stick by him, until he has the vision of Peter denying him three times. Then, when Peter does deny him, they are both knocked to the ground by the Roman guards, and there is the eye contact – Jesus still loving Peter, Peter realizing what he’s just done to his Rabbi.  But again, more could’ve been done with this aspect of Jesus’ human/divine love.
  • Pilate’s wife having the dream about Jesus and begging Pilate not to kill him.
  • Jesus getting into Peter’s boat at the beginning, paired with the later scene of Jesus asking Peter to step out of the boat to walk on water with him.
  • John the Evangelist telling the story, and the bit of Revelation at the end. But if we see John, it should be The Gospel of John, which it most definitely wasn’t.
  • Everyone had dirty fingernails. Realistic detail.
  • I liked that Mary Magdalene was there the entire time, close by Jesus, and that there was no talk of her having been a prostitute (though her earrings and deep red costume colors were suggestive). However, I was highly irritated that she had nothing to do or say that was worthwhile, other than her expression of faith when the other disciples were squabbling, but again, that was never rounded out or connected to her vision of the Risen Messiah, which would’ve been powerful. Instead, it ended up as a throw-away line.
  • Morgado’s ability to be gentle yet powerful in the few scenes that allowed him to do something meaningful.

…and…that’s all I got
I really wanted to like this film, but the inaccuracies, poor story telling, "candied" Jesus with only a few sparkling moments thanks to the charisma of Morgado, and Roma Downey’s conceited casting of herself put this at the bottom of my list of films, Christian or otherwise, that I would ever recommend to anyone. In fact, it’s not even on the list. I call into question their motivations for releasing such a poorly made film with such problematic theology and Christology.

Given this fact, I am troubled that a sizable group of Christian moviegoers are taking this in and spitting it out with two thumbs up, uncritically acclaiming it. Are they accepting this plastic Messiah figure as their own, one who doesn’t challenge them to be the more, to be in relationship? That’s a sobering thought. Another troubling aspect of this is that for Christian h8ers, the film and its fawning fans only seem to bolster the ‘dumb Creationists who can’t think for themselves’ stereotype that does not represent Catholicism or Christianity as a whole, and certainly not how God leads us to understand the world in which we live or the creations of humankind (that is to say, with our emotional and intellectual intelligence). 

I leave off with a little prayer that God will bring good things out of this film, despite its many shortcomings, and/or that it’ll be a flash in the pan, soon forgotten. Heaven knows, we have more important things to be focused on in this world.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

40 Days

The ashes for Ash Wednesday
are from last year's  Palm Sunday
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, marking the beginning of Lent for Catholics and certain other Christian denominations. Traditionally, people will offer prayer, fasting, and works of love during this season leading up to Easter. Most people identify this as "what I'm giving up for Lent." The idea, though, is that the money you theoretically save from not buying the stuff you're giving up (including meat on Fridays) will be donated to the poor. And your acts of love and service will take the place of time you would be wasting with something inane or Facebook, for instance.

I did consider the idea of giving up coffee, but then I figured Facebook was more insidious than coffee, and therefore harder to abstain from. I only drink two cups of coffee per day (okay, maybe three), whereas Facebook calls to me every moment I'm awake. Interestingly, since making this decision, my intake of coffee seems to have diminished on its own.

Yay, Lent! 

The month of March has already proven to be busy busy with my birthday celebrations over the weekend, and a visit from my former roommate, Sarah, who arrives tomorrow for a few days. 

Two weekends from now, I'll be attending the Religious Education Congress in Anaheim (thanks to the high school I work for). I am blessed to have gotten into both of Fr. James Martin's sessions, as well as Fr. Ronald Rolheiser's session, "Attuning Ourselves to the Fire, the Heartbeat of Christ: Exploring a Rich Mystical Image." I'll be sure to blog about my experiences after the conference.

The weekend after that, I will visit with the San Diego Carmel, where I am discerning my vocation. I am now "canonically free," meaning that my marriage has been annulled. I continue to pray and work and hope in the Lord that my educational debt can be dealt with so that I may enter, if they should have me. 

Throughout the Lenten season, I'll try to post here regularly. Working six days a week doesn't leave a lot of time for blogging, but now that I'll be off of Facebook for several weeks, it should be easier. I'll make it part of my Lenten practice.

Stay tuned for my critique of the "Son of God" movie that came out last weekend. I swear, I've never spent so much time writing a film review before in my life. It's important, because so many people are either seeing this film or reading about it, and the truth is that... well, you'll just have read my review later this week.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Personal suffering: Is it really good for the soul?

It's been quite a week. Had the flu last week, missed a lot, had to catch up. This week had its own challenges, and I found myself again tossed and rolled in the rapids. I don't mean to sound like a drama queen, but the only word for how I was reacting to the events of the week was "suffering." I've been praying for months to learn how to suffer. Because we know that this world is not perfect, we know that we can expect a certain amount of suffering. But what do we do with that suffering? Do we simply bitch and moan? Cause that's what I usually do! Admit many of us complain, whine, have a couple drinks at the end of the day because "today was too much" or "my life sucks" or "why is this (insert bad thing) happening to me?"

The human condition, right? Doesn't matter who you are, how much you own, who is in your family, where you live, what language you speak, who you pray to (or if you pray), or how much you plan. This is the human condition. Period.

As a Catholic, I grew up learning that suffering can be a holy experience. Yeah, right!

More recently, I've been focusing on this. There's got to be something to this teaching about suffering. I started praying about it, reading excerpts from St. Therese and St. Faustina and other spiritual giants.  I know that recognizing our suffering helps us to be compassionate to others' suffering (and Christianity certainly doesn't have the corner on that very wise truth!). Nevertheless, as soon as something unfortunate would come up, I'd immediately go to my whiny place.

I'd cry and thrash and there would be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then after some time, I'd calm down and pray, and then feel the Peace of Messiah in my heart. What a gift, what a grace, that He would allow me to have a temper tantrum like a child, then gather me into His arms and console me. I certainly didn't deserve such sweetness, yet over and over, He would calm me and bring me to Himself.

As awesome as this is, I also knew in my heart that I was still missing an incredibly blessed opportunity whenever the causes of suffering arose for me. I begged God to show me how to suffer well.

And He did. When suffering arises for any reason - grief, sadness, anger, feelings of abandonment, frustration - I look to Yeshua. I look to Him in my heart. It's actually a kind of looking...turning my attention, my soul's eyes to Him. And I feel/know that He is actually participating in and experiencing MY SUFFERING that very moment. And in that moment, I understand deeply that I am experiencing and participating in HIS PASSION. This exchange is one of True Love. And immediately, the cutting, slicing edges of my pain are dissolved. I'm with Him. And I hear and know that the Father is taking care of me, the situation, the outcome. I have nothing to fear. This is my experience of union with Messiah.

I don't know if it is exactly what St. Teresa or St. John of the Cross wrote about, but it is revolutionary in my life. I can't claim that I can do this every single time I am faced with suffering, but I have been able to do it, with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Most certainly, this is a "work in progress." I know from St. Teresa that once this kind of movement begins in our hearts, God will continue to heal and move the heart until it is how we experience every moment of our lives.

This movement is starting to manifest in a specific way. I have historically been ruffled and resistant to being told what to do or how to do it. I want to do things my way, and I overlay my definitions of idealistic perfection onto situations and people. And yeah, I cause a lot of my own suffering in this way! But lately, I've noticed that I am more able to recognize when I do this, and then I can ask God to soften my edges, allow me to experience the moment as it is and share it with Him. This is a form of obedience and love. And it is freedom.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I'm on a Train

Kind of like the commercials with the buff dude who says "I'm on a horse," only I'm not buff, nor a dude, and the metaphor I'm working with is locomotive, not equestrian. I'll get around to explaining this, don't worry.

Time to get real:  I've been having a hard time in the last few weeks. I've been feeling pretty ragged, emotionally, spiritually, physically. I'm working two jobs, driving 200 miles a week to and from said jobs, and trying to coax all the moving parts of my life to work in harmony (financial parts, discernment parts, writing parts, teaching parts, etc.). It's a lot. And I miss my sweet little Spaz kitteh, who's been gone almost two months, now.  I'm better off than I was last year, because I'm doing things that I love, but I've still been obsessed with the gaping maw of "what am I really doing with my life?" It is, after all, a journey of discernment.

And it's a sacred journey, as the subtitle of this blog indicates. Sacred because all I have, all I do, and all I am is from and for God. That last subset is the key: all I am. Discovering who I am... not what I'm here to do, is what true discernment is about. I'd been asking the wrong question: "What am I here to do?" The question is really "Who am I?" Lest this tilt into the realm of existentialism, I will qualify that question:  "Who am I in Christ?"

Coming to the realization that I'd been asking the wrong question and realizing the true question involved with discernment was a major move forward this week. The other forward movement came from having dinner with one of my close friends here in L.A. Her name is TL, and she is the person who helped me find a place to live here. She's been one of my closest and staunchest supporters from the time I decided to move to L.A. up and through the present time.

So TL and I had dinner last night at our favorite Thai restaurant in Toluca Lake, and she turned me onto something else very important in this discernment process: seeing myself as God sees me. That is to say, seeing the gifts that God has blessed me with, EVEN IF those aren't the gifts that our world/society/culture deem important. I recognized that I have set up benchmarks for myself that perhaps aren't so important after all. By that I am not referring to the stereotypical "house, car, kids, job" expectations against which professed non-comforists like to pit themselves, but rather something more subtle.
olden but golden ICHC
The gifts that God has blessed me with are intangible, yet they make an impact on this world in all its dreariness. Yes, I'm striving to become a published author, and that's great. But what's more important is that I've already been about the business of the Father without realizing it: Teaching. Mentoring. Supporting former students of mine when they get to L.A. Teaching teenage girls about literature and critical thinking, and giving them a place of safety to be themselves (something I didn't really have when I was 16).

The truth opened up inside me:  I already AM doing God's work in the world, fulfilling His will for my life. I've trusted Him, and He's led me to the places where I teach and tutor now, places where I can touch lives every day. And not just student lives, but also colleagues' as well. And... they touch my life.

And then this morning I saw this image while I was standing in my kitchen waiting for the tea water to boil. I've been living my life as if I'm on a train on one track, and parallel to me is another track with another train. I've been on this train, looking at the other train, waiting for the right moment to jump over to the roof of that one, like an action movie hero. "This" train being my current life. "That" train being consecrated life (or what I perceive to be consecrated life - a "better" life).

Then the image of the two trains vanished, and instead I saw ONE train. The only train. This train is my current life, and as I move forward in time and space, other cars will be added - perhaps the car of consecrated life behind the engine, perhaps not. Many cars make up this train - my life.

My entire life IS the will of God. There is no separating "now" from "then" or "will be." Compartmentalizing a life into these pieces is ultimately destructive. The attempt at controlling these illusory compartments of a life will ultimately lead to self-destruction.

And so... my discernment continues, but in the context of lived life in Christ, rather than thoughts and worries of a life not yet lived.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Theology of Love

On the wave of exactly the same theme of my last few days, I found this quote on my Facebook feed this morning from Fr. James Martin:
"For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self."  -- Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton was an American monk, mystic, poet, artist, teacher, and inter-religious dialoguer before it was a cool thing to do. Today would've been his 99th birthday. 

I haven't spent an enormous amount of time reading the 20th century greats of theology and spiritual writing (Merton and de Chardin, mainly), though I've read smatterings of both. One of the ideas that resurfaces in both of their work seems to be this notion of living into the self that God made each of us to be. That requires discernment, self-knowledge, and humility. This is really the process I've stepped into  these last couple of years, led by the Holy Spirit. I've extricated myself from situations and environments that were not conducive to me being my best self, the person God sees when God sees me. 

I suppose it is this "best self" that is able to engage with the evil of the world and be the Body of Christ in the face of darkness. We are the light of the world, as Yeshua tells us. And St. Teresa of Avila (Carmelite saint and reformer, 1515 - 1582) echoes this: 

Christ Has No Body (St. Teresa of Avila)

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lesson learned this week

Yesterday, I had a minor meltdown. It really did feel like the devil was having a swipe at my faith. To avoid boring you with details about my anxious mind on safari, I will simply state what I gleaned from the experience:
  • We're all on unique paths to wholeness and the fullest expression of God's gifts manifested in our lives. Avoid comparing your path with anyone else's, or to the cultural "norm" that literally means nothing. Doing so will only lead to hopelessness and a broken spirit.
  • God alone suffices (St. Teresa of Avila)
  • I really AM cherished and nourished by God! How about that?
  • I cherish the life God is giving me now, and I release my attachment to any notion of 'future' that takes me away from living that life to the fullest in Christ Jesus. 
  • I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Baptism of the Messiah

I've asked the question "Why did Yeshua have to be baptized?" We know He was sinless, so John (Yochanan) the Baptist's call for sinners to repent and be baptized doesn't seem like it would apply to the Messiah, right? 

Did this moment when God's echo "You are my son, the beloved; in you I am well pleased" (Mark 1:11 NRSVCE) merely function as a formal green light to begin His ministry? 

I have come to the belief that Yeshua, too, needed to be ushered onto his journey just like we do. It was time to leave the comfort of the world He knew - the world of family, work and daily routines - to begin His real mission. And maybe He didn't fully understand the purpose or the pattern of that mission until the Holy Spirit descended upon Him. It was right after that that the Spirit led Him into the desert to be tested - tempted by fear to grasp at power, just as we are tempted every moment of our lives. And He passed that test, thus inaugurating His ministry. 

John Nava "Baptism of Christ"
I very much appreciate the image to the right here by John Nava. Yeshua is kneeling, his head bowed, practically naked. Humility. His "yes" to the Father, just as His human mother had to say "yes" to the Father. This is what we must do in our hearts, and in so doing, we reclaim our birthright as human beings: to live in love and dignity in Him. We are God's beloved daughters and sons! That is who we are, our true identity as human beings, the way He wants us and created us to live.

Here is an additional insightful response, from Fr. John Kavanaugh, S.J. (my highlight)
Christ has come not only to reveal the divinity to us; he has come to reveal us to ourselves. Not only is he truly God. He is truly human. And he is truly human precisely because he does not sin. All of our sin is nothing other than the rejection of the truth of our humanity. Jesus’ utter acceptance of our humanity, his drinking of our cup fully, his sharing of our wounded condition, reverses our sinful rejection of our creatureliness.