Tag Archives: listening

10 May : From Fear to Love

church door cc

In love there is no room for fear, but perfect love drives out fear [1 John 4.18]

Fear is disabling. It makes us shrink from the risk of trust. It closes us off from relationship. Fear binds us in a narrow life. The work of God’s Spirit is to lead us from fear to love. But how can we co-operate with the Spirit and overcome those fears that hold us back from wideness of heart?

Name your fear

When I was a small child I was afraid of the dark. I couldn’t sleep. I imagined I could make out the shadowy outline of a gorilla in the darkest corner of the bedroom – not the best inducement to sleep! Then one night inspiration came: I named my gorilla ‘Charlie’. Somehow I wasn’t afraid of ‘Charlie’ in the same way as my looming, nameless gorilla- shaped terror. Sleep came more easily, and in time Charlie no longer seemed to be around. It helps to pin down just what it is you fear so that you can see it for what it is. For example, ‘if I try something new I will inevitably fail’. Naming your fear helps in beginning to address it: ‘I own I am afraid of this, but I don’t have to be held by this fear’.

Share your fear: Fear becomes magnified in size when we seek to hide it from others. Share your fear with someone you trust.

Look at where your actions take you

The inner voice of fear bids us be ‘safe’ but this safety is often illusory. Choosing the safe can lead us to be more trapped than ever. The pattern often repeats itself – so be aware of it. There are other responses we can make that will help us in the longer run to be happier, less constrained and more confident in our ability.

Don’t listen to discouragement:

In his advice to spiritual guides Ignatius Loyola notes how when we seek to overcome our fears and move to a greater trust in God, what is damaged and closed to the Spirit within us will ‘harass, afflict with anxieties’ and ‘put up false obstacles’. On the other hand the voice of the Spirit within is heard in ‘every interior joy that calls and attracts’ us towards wholeness, freedom and generous self-gift. Fear drives us, whilst the Love that is God invites.

One exercise that may be helpful is to divide a piece of paper into two columns. In the left column write down what the inner ‘voice’ of fear says. In the right column write down in answer what, in better moments, you have sensed God saying to you…’you are worthy, capable…there is a future for you…’

Act your way into a new way of thinking

If we wait until we feel total trust and freedom before we step out of a fearful pattern of behaviour we may wait a long time! But if we dare to step out when Love calls, ignoring the voice of fear, then trust and self-belief will grow.

Stay in the moment, for ‘now’ is where God is.

The rule is jam tomorrow and jam yesterday – but never jam today’

[The Red Queen in Lewis Carroll’s: Through the Looking Glass]

Fear usually concerns what has happened in the past or what might happen in the future. All our capacity to be gratefully present to the gift of ‘now’ and to work creatively within it is stripped away. Yet ‘now’ is where God is. Even if the worst we can imagine did happen, God would be within that ‘now’. Jesus invites his worrying disciples to ‘consider the ravens…consider the lilies, how they grow’. It’s impossible to ‘consider’ what is before us if we’re somewhere in the past or future. Jesus advises: be present to what is. Spend a minute or two giving all your attention to the sounds you can hear – voices in the street, rain against the window – listen to the texture of these sounds rather than getting tangled up in what they might signify. Or, absorb yourself in what you can see – the lines on the desk in front of you, the movement of clouds in the sky. Slowly you will find your heartbeat slowing. In this breathing space, God ‘is’.

Go with the flow

The movement from fear into love is a movement of the Spirit. It is like a stream we launch our boat into and then the current takes it along. It takes effort and courage and persistence to go with this flow. But the flow is love, and this love is life.

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8 May: In the place of God’s presence

ruined abbey

Surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it

…this is the house of God, the gate of heaven.

Genesis 28: 16-17

Every place is the house of God, the gate of heaven. Often, when pushed and pulled by noise and movement, it seems God is nowhere – but break the word open and you have the truth: God is now – here.

How do we become awake and receptive to this presence? We might try two things:

The first: To find or create a physical space in our home or environment where we purposefully [and regularly] go to be open to God.

This is likely to be somewhere where we feel at home or comfortable. It could be a corner of a room in the house, where a chair waits, a candle just sitting there invites you to light it and a bible rests ready to restore your soul. Such a space works in a similar way that a church building does. A church is made of bricks and mortar like so many other buildings but you know when you enter why you are going there. Walking in, sitting down, you become open to God who is in that place. The dedicated space in your home becomes your ‘church’; through daily practice you have only to go there to begin the act of prayer.

Your ‘holy’ place could also be a garden shed, a bench in the park where you sit in your lunchbreak, or a place where you regularly walk. What helps is to make your going to whatever space you choose intentional, in just the same way that you choose to visit a friend or family member.

The second: Each day to purposefully seek God in a place that up to now we have found uncomfortable and that seems to work against any sense of God’s presence.

I can think of a few: For example, I rarely enjoy walking along Borough High Street, near London Bridge, where I sometimes work. There is no green of tree or plant to soften the concrete. The pavements are thronged with people walking against the flow of wherever it is I want to get to. The traffic is noisy. Why even try to seek God here? Because God is here and now. So as I walk along I breathe out my hurry and worry, and breathe in God with me. I pause long enough to see the faces that pass me, the cars moving by, the sky framed by the buildings and ask the Lord to help me see well, with an open mind and heart. Perhaps I will hold the line of a psalm as I walk along, dodging those who cannot see because their eyes are trained on the screen of their mobiles.

Where is such a place for you – somewhere that is a regular part of your life? Or perhaps it will be a time of day more than a physical place: perhaps the time when you first get in from work and all the emails are awaiting you, or the commute home on a busy train.

Seek God there, and you will find. It may not be anything dramatic or immediate. God inhabits the ordinary, and moves within the waiting heart.

CC.

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29 April: Prudence VI, Shrewdness.

 

carvingwomanchich

In the virtue of prudence shrewdness complements teachability and limits it.  (Summa Theologica  II. II. 49:4) ‘It is a disposition to acquire a right estimate by oneself’, says St. Thomas.  In other words, after you have listened to the advice of those who are older and wiser, the obligation to arrive at a decision about what to do still rests on oneself.  Others cannot and should not decide for us.  The weight of the final decision is still a burden we must carry alone.  One can be running to this or that person forever, unable to come to a decision and rest in it.  Shrewdness knows when one has listened enough and found the answer; shrewdness accepts that the answer in this case might always contain some ambiguity, realises that a certain amount of risk and uncertainty must be borne, but that the issue is now as clear as it will ever be, and the time has come to act.  Saint Thomas will even go so far as to say that in deliberation we may take as much time as needed, but a considered act must be performed swiftly (Summa Theologica  II.II. 47:9).  There comes a time, and we must simply get on with it!

It is important to remember that prudence isn’t about being indefinitely watchful and careful.  Its most important act, for Saint Thomas, is the command.  Prudence answers a question: “What is the best course of action in this situation?”  When it discovers this answer, it commands, “Do it.”  Prudence is a “directive knowledge”, for Saint Thomas.

SJC

Carving, Chichester Cathedral. MMB

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28 April: Prudence V, Docility.

 

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Somehow the concept of docility has received a rather bad press.  It seems to denote a quality of weakness, of wishy-washy meekness.  It’s not strong or dynamic enough, we might think.  But this is to misunderstand the word.  Another word for docility is teachability, and it’s vital for the growth of prudence.

Saint Thomas says (Summa Theologica , II. II:49:3) that prudence is concerned with matters of ‘infinite variety,’ and no one can consider them all sufficiently, nor can this be done with the speed we sometimes need in life.

Hence in matters of prudence man stands in very great need of being taught by others,

especially by those of sufficient age and with enough life-experience to have acquired a ‘sane understanding’ of what is really important.  He drives the point home by saying that a person’s own efforts are vital here.  We must ‘carefully, frequently and reverently’ apply our minds to the teachings of those who are truly wise and learned, ‘neither neglecting them through laziness, nor despising them through pride.’

People might comment that “so and so only learns the hard way.”  She won’t listen to anyone, she just goes off hard-headedly, and makes a mess of things.  Only then does she learn – when much damage has already been done.  While this may well be a stage that many of us go through in adolescence, Thomas would say that it’s not really a necessary stage in the journey to individuation.  Through our capacity to learn from others, it is possible to make important decisions that both affirm our independence and are the result of our teachability.  We do not have to learn the hard way in order to mature and attain the virtue of prudence.

SJC

 Picture by CD.

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April 19, Easter Wednesday: They gave him what they had.

Easter Wednesday

Image from: https://www.lds.org/bible-videos/videos/peter-and-john-heal-a-man-crippled-since-birth?lang=eng

Acts 3: 1- 10; Luke 24: 13 – 35.

In today’s Gospel reading, we see two of Jesus’ disciples running away in fear and disappointment. Even when Jesus met them on the way, out of fear, they did not recognize him until the breaking of bread. In our lives when we face disappointment, do we run away in fear like these two disciples on their way to Emmaus or do we face our disappointment with courage, seeking the face of God through prayer?

In the first reading, Peter and John, filled with the power of the Resurrection, were going to the Temple to pray. They were met with a challenging situation at the Beautiful Gate. But they did not run away or ignore the man who was begging and, who “turned to them expectantly, hoping to get something from them”.   They looked at him with mercy and said, by the power that raised Jesus from the dead, “stand and walk”. This man received the best gift ever in his life. He was walking around praising God.

How do I respond to people on my way who look to me expectantly with the hope of receiving something from me or who ask me questions? We may not heal as Peter and John did, but we can offer a kind word, a listening ear, a kind smile. We all are poor in our own way and God has given us all something to offer to each other.. So, let us not walk away in fear from the poor person on the street.

May God fill us with the power of His Resurrection. Amen.

 

FMSL

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1 April: “Is Christianity Dead?”- Our Response to BBB: VII – the Human and Christian Vocation.

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Dear BBB,

I’m sure you’ll feel your questions have not been answered this week. Do the crowds on the street, as here in Warsaw, no longer believe? Is the faith dying? Are we looking in or looking out? I was wondering if the Synod preparation document would acknowledge the vast majority of us who are not priests or nuns or ‘official’ Catholics, but trying to live our lives with God.

Well, it does. And it encourages us to look out.

Many Catholic teachers are involved as witnesses in universities and schools in every grade and level. Many are also ardently and competently involved in the workplace. Still other believers are engaged in civil life, attempting to be the leaven for a more just society. Many engaged in volunteer work in society devote their time for the common good and the care of creation. A great many are enthusiastically and generously involved in free-time activities and sports. All of these people bear witness to the human and Christian vocation which is accepted and lived with faithfulness and dedication, arousing in those who see them a desire to do likewise. Consequently, responding generously to one’s proper vocation is the primary way of performing pastoral vocational work.

We must also acknowledge that other people bear witness to the human vocation with faithfulness and dedication. This afternoon I met a group of volunteers clearing rubbish from a path. One is a professed atheist, two never darken the doors of a church, the fourth represents a political party I could never vote for.

And there entered a thought into them, which of them should be greater. But Jesus seeing the thoughts of their heart, took a child and set him by him, And said to them: Whosoever shall receive this child in my name, receiveth me; and whosoever shall receive me, receiveth him that sent me. For he that is the lesser among you all, he is the greater.

And John, answering, said: Master, we saw a certain man casting out devils in thy name, and we forbade him, because he followeth not with us. And Jesus said to him: Forbid him not; for he that is not against you, is for you.

Luke 9:46-50

We are not greater than others because we call ourselves Christian but we have to take care of how we witness the Gospel in our lives. Preaching in the workplace is likely to be a breach of contract as well as annoying and counter-productive, but hiding our Christian faith is not necessary for survival, as it was not so long ago in much of Europe.

If our pastors are not inspiring us to call others to Christ through living our own vocation, through devoting time to the common good and the (Franciscan)  care of creation, they are letting us down and emptying the pews. Without vision the people perish.

Vision is for the whole people, not just for me or you who may have received it. We hope some of what we share in Agnellus’ Mirror reflects a true Christian vision. And we are not afraid, deep down, of what changes the future may bring to God’s church.

RoodEngMartyrsCamb (495x700)

This is my Son, Listen to him.

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27 March: “Is Christianity Dead?”- Our Response to BBB: II, Look up!

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Dear BBB,

Will continues our reply to your lament.

Today I’ll start with your question: I couldn’t help but ask myself, as I looked around and saw several dozen teenage boys counting the ceiling tiles, looking as though they wanted to die…is our faith on life support?

My faith is on life support all the time. It’s called Grace. God’s breath within me. As Doug was describing yesterday, Grace cannot be defeated.

But as for the lads looking at the ceiling: I too sometimes switch off, especially from ‘cut and paste’ sermons, and compose my own thoughts. Not that that’s needed with Franciscan sermons!

I feel it’s a shame if all there is on the ceiling is tiles. Our ancestors decorated churches in more or less good taste, but there was always something to look at! I read this morning that one of the gifts the Church has given the world is colour. Maybe our ceilings should be colourful so that drifting eyes have something to look upon; the one above is from Zakopane in Poland.

Christopher M. Graney, professor of physics and astronomy  in Louisville Kentucky reminds us: It is funny how we learn about our surroundings when we start looking carefully for something.  Scientists have this experience a lot. He’s right, of course, but he would agree that Christians should look and learn about the beauty that surrounds us.

Seeing, noticing, beauty is part of Laudato Si’ – Pope Francis’s letter named after Saint Francis’s hymn of praise – bringing Creation into our prayer. Pictures are concrete prayer. Better to have something good to look at than bare ceilings and walls. We are body and soul: the body is called to worship by standing, kneeling, signing with the Cross, but also by receiving God’s gifts.

We should have something for each sense. A sermon and hymns for the ears, but please go easy on piped music when the Church is quiet; some of us like quiet. A handshake of welcome as well as the sign of peace for touch; an open and a warm building if it can possibly be afforded. Eye-to-eye contact at the welcome; the readers, Eucharistic ministers and priest looking at the people they are addressing. For taste: a genuine welcome to approach the altar, and communion under both kinds; then refreshments after Mass – we have a tradition of English mince pies and mulled wine after Midnight Mass. Maybe even some incense for the nose, but flowers make a difference too – and so does their absence in Lent.

karins-flowers

All this is part of the welcome. But I have been in Catholic churches where I would hesitate to bring any non-churched friend to what I know would be a less than joyful and welcoming gathering. As Catholic Christians we are not called to worship in an 18th Century Lecture theatre, and not with our minds only.

Zakopane Ceiling by MMB; flowers by Karin.

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28 February: Shrove Tuesday: Dad Dancing.

e-d-dancing

We played the flute for you

and you did not dance

Matthew 11; 17

I have begun to dance more, drawn by the space in our kitchen and the bounce of the painted floorboards. For beholders it is a startling example of dad dancing in all its glory, a creative freestyle that fails to win the plaudits of the judging panel. But I dance on, moved by Elvis or Ella Fitzgerald or whatever music has the rhythm to speak to my feet.

Why now?’ I wonder [and perhaps those who witness the spectacle cry].

Perhaps it is a form of repentance: a turning from my tired, self-determined ways of thinking and being, and allowing the Spirit to stir my soul. Dancing is a release from worry, from self-absorption and from taking myself too seriously. Dancing is a movement to the moment: there is no space for the past or the future as the feet twist and twirl. Everything is about the music and how it works on the soul [and the soles!].

Even when I am on my own the dance is never solitary: it is always a response to the music. Someone is summoning me to move, not determining the shape of that movement but inviting me to answer as only I can answer. Slow and swift, through pain and joy, the music weaves through our days. Those who respond listen to the beat; there is stillness at the heart of their dancing. Freedom comes not from walking our own steps but dancing to the music of the Giver of Life. Would there be such violence in the world if we dared to so dance?

So for Lent I resolve to repent. It is time to leave the seats at the side of the room, move away from the drinks table and take to the floor.

CC

Not Dad Dancing but god-daughter dancing; much more graceful! MB.

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27 February: Full Stop.

trees-reflection-chris

Full stop,

where my sentence ends.

I have run out of words again.

Again my sentence ends

at a full stop.

Will you not take my waiting pen

at this full stop?

Then you and I shall write again.

But all I can give you

is my full stop,

and my waiting pen.

Sometimes life seems to come to a full stop. Something ends and we don’t know what comes next. Or perhaps we just recognise the need for a pause before we set out again

In something written – as with this piece – a full stop marks the end of one line of thought. If we are reading aloud, a full stop allows a breath – a pause – before we begin again. Full stops might seem to oppose the natural flow, but we need that breath. When writing it gives space to consider what it is we want to communicate and the ways we might do so. When reading we gain the time to take in what we have read: what is being said and what is its significance?

Like a piece of writing our life with God will have plenty of full stops. They exist not to impede our activity but to empower it. Some are like the ending of a chapter. We retire or change jobs, or move home, or experience the difficult ending of a relationship. Or perhaps the full stop feels more as if it is inside us: we sense it’s time to stop something that has been significant in our life. It’s time to move on. But to what? The pause invites us to let God in. We might be tempted to rush on to the next sentence – any old sentence – to avoid this uncomfortable halt in progress. But that would be a mistake. We need a deep breath of God; it will help us see where we have been going and where the road might now lead us.

Some full stops are smaller: not the end of a chapter or even a paragraph but a break within the activity of reading or writing. ‘Sometimes’ Etty Hillesum wrote in her journal, ‘the most important thing in our whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths or the turning aside in prayer for five minutes.’ These full stops are the intentional way we abide in Christ and draw life from Christ’s abiding in us. We have space to listen to the events of our day and what has been happening within us. We remember that we move forward together. As on the written page the stops are small but frequent. They help rather than hinder the flow of our activity, giving meaning and shape to what we do.

So as you write, or read, or live this day, put in the necessary punctuation.

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30 January: A week with Rabindranath Tagore: II

grow.wild (800x664)

Listen, my heart,

to the whispers of the world

with which it makes love to you.

 

Stray Birds XIII, Collected Poems and Plays p288.

And love the world in return, the people in it but love also our common home, Laudato Si’!

MMB.

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