Why did we never get that the suffering on the cross was not the biggest deal, no matter how much it was?

St. Catherine of Siena
St. Catherine of Siena

My longing for humankind was infinite, but the actual deed of bearing pain and torment was finite and could never show all the love I had. This is why I wanted you to see my inmost heart, so that you would see that I loved you more than finite suffering could show.

When we have spent so many hours on the passion (not that we shouldn’t); when we have spent so many hours on the cross (never enough); when we have said the stations and Alphonsus’ amazing meditations – why did we never get that the suffering on the cross was not the biggest deal, no matter how much it was? That the love could not be contained in even the concept of redemption?

— St. Catherine of Siena, in Dialogues

on healing, the holy spirit, and wtf

Twice in recent weeks, I have been the recipient of a moment of instantaneous, unexpected healing.  It’s not like I don’t believe God can miraculously heal people, but, like, well… does God really work that way today?  I mean, really really?

The first healing was from a wound inflected by a bishop who abruptly abandoned her flock, leaving people I love bereft, confused, hurt, and angry.  These were people who had been damaged by the church, and this abandonment harmed them one more time.  It’s one thing to hurt me, but it’s something entirely different when you hurt people I care about, especially people I know to be wounded and broken and utterly precious.  But this bishop is in Scotland, and I am in the States, and I had no access to her.  Instead, I projected my own hurt and anger onto the priest of my home parish here in Virginia.  And since I don’t have good role models for appropriately expressing anger, I just distanced myself from the parish and from our priest.

But that morning several weeks ago, I sat in the adult discussion forum where we discussed Psalm 23 and the approach that Catechesis of the Good Shepherd takes to presenting it to children, and this wound was suddenly and instantly healed.  The burden of anger and hurt was gone, and I joined my parish family at the Table with joy and not merely obligation.

The second happened this morning, during the Eucharistic Prayer, when it came to me that I am still a Dominican, that I will always be a Dominican, that Dominican spirituality is the home and resting place for my heart.  Baffled, I turned to Kristin and said, “I think… I think I will be wearing my habit to church next week.”  When I told the priest, he laughed as I stomped my foot and said “Stupid God! This is not what I expected! This is not the path I thought I was on!”

This wound was more complicated, and it was bound up in my own misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the direction of my life for the last year.  The wound had to do with leadership within the Order, my disagreement with the direction in which that leadership was moving, my participation in the leadership Council, and my sense that my contribution to that Council was being misconstrued to my Brothers and Sisters in the Order.  Thankfully, I was not elected into leadership at last year’s Chapter, so this would not continue to chafe and frustrate me.

With that frustration came two new parts of my journey that took most of my energy over the last year.  Kristin began to publicly identify as a woman, to come out to our congregation and to dress and act as a woman everywhere she went.  I had to learn what it meant to be publicly married to her as a woman, to think about things like restroom safety and perceptions of us as a couple.  And I was promoted to my first position as a manager of other people, leading a small team of analysts at my job.  It is something I’d wanted since I started my career… but when it happened, I was humbled, awed, and terrified at the responsibility.  I’ve had to lean what it means to be a manager, not just what I picked up in B-school (for the second masters degree that I started but never finished) but what it means for real people with the skin on.  These two things have been huge in my life, but they are settling down, being integrated into who I am, and the time of sometimes-uncomfortable growth has become more relaxed.

And so I wrote to the Master of the Order this afternoon, when we got home from church, to ask about the status of the dispensation of my life vows that I had requested a year ago.  See, when you ask to be dispensed from life vows, what happens is that you have a trial separation – just like when you get divorced.  There was a period of no less than one year for prayer and discernment, to determine whether I really am called to separate from the Dominicans.

A couple weeks ago, I applied for a training program in spiritual direction, for which I had to write eight essay responses plus a journey story.  In one of those essay responses, I said I had come to peace with having such a deep love and admiration for monastic spirituality, knowing that I should live under a rule of life, but not finding a monastic community that is just right.  But the thing is, the Anglican Dominicans are just right.  Dominican spirituality is very practical, very adaptable.  And I will always be on the bleeding edge, pushing against authority, especially when that authority is very authoritative and hierarchical.  I am a Meister Eckhart Dominican, a Matthew Fox Dominican.  I’m the kind of Dominican who makes trouble for the institution because Christ’s love is so scandalously huge and powerful that it breaks all the rules.  I’m the kind of Dominican who gets silenced, excommunicated… and then beatified and sainted.

So I’m intrigued and bemused.  I’m irritated at the Holy Spirit for sticking her nose in and messing up all my plans.  I’m amused at my own frustration.  And just like every other time I sense that God has work for me to do, I’m sitting here with a whole pile of WTF.

change of plans: working from home

I got up this morning, happy that it’s Friday, happy that it’s payday.  And as I started my car, I saw an unexpected message: LOW TIRE PRESSURE.  I said a bad word, released the parking brake to see if the car had more helpful information for me, then set the brake and turned off the engine.  I said another bad word.

I may as well see if I can spot it, I thought, so I checked the driver’s side.  No, those tires looked fine.  Walked around the back and sure enough, it’s the right rear tire: flat.  I sighed.  Then I opened my trunk to empty it out, since I’d need to get to the spare, and went inside to tell Kristin.

“Just take my car,” she said.

“Oh.” I replied.  “I hadn’t even thought of that.”

Still flustered – but happy, because now my plan to hit the Starbucks drive-through was back on! – I went out to get into her car.  I walked up the side of the van and then stopped and screamed.

It was a spider.  A gigantic1,terrifying,threatening spider, right at chest level.  Its web stretched from the fence to the passenger door of the van, and I was frozen on the spot.

I reminded myself to breathe.  “Okay. The spiderweb is attached to the sliding door. All I have to do is go around the back of the van and hopefully I can get in the driver’s door without the spider knowing.”

Breathing again, I tried it.  I stepped on something in the grass in front of the van – Aah! a snake? no, just a bit of hose someone threw over the fence – and came around the front corner.  Then I stopped dead in my tracks again.

I could not see the spider.

I couldn’t make out the web at all.

How the hell was I going to be able to get safely into the van if I couldn’t even tell where the terrifying monstrous beast was?!  I let out another little scream and then fled back the way I’d come.

I stood at the rear corner of the van for a moment, hand to my heart.  My hand was shaking.  I lifted my other hand, and it was shaking, too.  My heart was racing, and I was breathing quickly.  Okay, I said to myself. Maybe I can get Kristin to get rid of the spider.  I took a breath, then looked up to go back inside.

And there was another spider.

This one was between branches of a tree, but it was even giganticer2 and terrifyinger and threateninger and monstrousierthan the first!  The only thing good about it was that I couldn’t reach it, which was a good thing, because I had already passed directly under it.  TWICE.

I ran inside.

“I’m sorry,” I started.  I apologized about six times, and not just because I’m married to a Canadian.

“I’m sorry, I can’t take your car.”

“What’s wrong?”

“A SPIDER! THERE’S A SPIDER AT THE DOOR!”

Kristin was relieved. I didn’t realize she’d think something might have broken in the van.

“I can’t.  I just can’t.  And there was another spider, in the tree, and the first one, its web was between the fence and the van, and I just couldn’t. I can’t. I’m sorry.  I’m sorry.”

I looked at the clock, and it was just after 8, and I thought, “Well, crap. At this point, I should just get on the clock.”

So here I am, still shaking a little.  My Brave Hero Warrior Woman has not gone out to slay the mighty beast for me.  Yet.  (I hope.)  And I’m on the clock, ready to whip out some specs.

Happy Friday!  I pray that your weekend will be flat-tire-free and devoid of gigantic, terrifying, threatening, monstrous, scary, awful spiders.

1  Gigantic = about an inch in diameter
2  Giganticer = about an inch and a quarter in diameter

generosity and the good shepherd

A couple times a week, I receive an email from MoodNudges. Each email has a little story and a tip for nudging the mood up just a little bit.  They are powerful pieces, and I smile when I see the familiar name in my Inbox.  The nudge I received this morning was about generosity:

Do you need to be well-heeled to be generous? Actually, I reckon money has precious little to do with it.

You can be generous with your praise.

A Mum, Dad and their four young children sat at the next table to me at breakfast one morning. The youngest occupied a high chair, all were impeccably behaved, so I complimented the parents as I got up to leave. Although it was no more than a few words from me, a total stranger, Mum and Dad looked momentarily surprised, then beamed in pride.

He continues by offering other intangibles as ways we can be generous: with our time, with our attention, with our love.

This reminded me very powerfully of work that children do in the Atrium, as a part of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd Atrium is for children roughly aged three to six, where they encounter, befriend, and fall in love with Jesus the Good Shepherd.  Where these persons are on their spiritual journey, they don’t understand the concept of sacrifice.  So instead of saying “Jesus sacrifices his life for the sheep,” we use the language of gifts instead.  The Good Shepherd gives us all his love, all his attention, all his time, all his life.  We have all experienced an earthly parent or teacher or sibling who didn’t have time or attention for us, at least once. There’s that day Mom is on the phone, and we want something, and she snaps at us to leave her alone.  But the Good Shepherd – he never does this.  He gives us all of his time, all of his attention, all of his love.

It was humbling to receive this lesson in our training as Catechists, to think of all those times we failed to be generous with our time and attention and love. But then there is Maundy Thursday, when Jesus gives us the new commandment – the five new words added to the central commandment: love one another as I have loved you.  We are commanded to give the same generosity that is described in today’s MoodNudge – to be generous with our time, with our attention, with our praise, with our love – because that is how the Good Shepherd loves us.

I confess that I prefer to reflect on the Good Shepherd and his gifts, rather than the sacrifice. This may even better reflect the gifts and grace of our infinite God, who never runs out of life to give, who never runs out of love and time and attention for us.  And while we may run out of time and have limits on our attention, Jesus the Good Shepherd makes sure that we never run out of love.  It is the one thing there is where when you pour it out for others, you are filled to a capacity even larger than you had before.

There is no food I could eat that would be more poisonous to my overall well-being than the chronic stress and anxiety, or social isolation that too often comes with feeling crazy around food.

What if we considered our mental health and happiness as fully in our decision making process around food as we did its physical outcomes? What if we looked at health from a truly holistic perspective, wherein our physical health supports our aliveness, rather than the other way around?

– Isabel Foxen Duke, in this week’s post Is “health,” not weight, the obsession?

the best place to find grace

The best place to find grace, preached the Reverend Doctor James Hutton this morning, is in an ordinary, ordinary life.

An ordinary, ordinary life.

This one statement sang to me so loudly that I had to write it down.  Father preached that God is all around us, within us, outside of us – everywhere. God can be found in nature, and God can be found in things God’s people have made, and God can be found in plants and rocks and streams and animals, and God can even be found in people.  Not just good people, like you and me, mind you.  God is found in all people.  Even the assholes.

Isn’t it funny how it can be easier to see Saddam Hussein or Adolf Hitler in heaven than to see that jerk that cut you off in traffic that day you were already late to work?  I can see Jesus with his arm around Osama bin Laden’s shoulders more easily than I can imagine him welcoming that entitled asshat who parked half in the handicapped space and half in the “normal” space next to it, straddling the line with his orange it’s-too-bad-about-your-penis Mercedes SUV.

Their lives are ordinary, after all.  Ordinary, ordinary lives.  They are neither Mother Therese nor Josef Stalin.  Their names will appear in the newspaper when they are born, when they marry, and when they die.  God is in their lives.  God is in their meager hearts and stubborn minds and ugly hair and middle-finger-upthrust hands.  Grace is in their ordinary, ordinary lives.

Which means we’re supposed to love them, like Jesus said. We have to love our enemies; we have to pray for the assholes; we have to treat them with loving-kindness and compassion and respect, those jerks with their ordinary, ordinary lives.

Because the truth of the matter is this: there aren’t “good people like you and me” and “other assholes.”  The truth is that we are all assholes. We are all living our ordinary, ordinary lives, trying to do our best and failing miserably. We are impatient and fearful and angry and mean. We cut people off in traffic, and we park poorly, and we forget to hold the door open, and we judge each other harshly, and we flip each other the bird, and we swear and drink and dance and carouse, and we carry around a thousand petty grievances.  We suck.

But there is Good News!  The Good News is something inexplicably wonderful, something true and worthy of acceptance, even to the darkest depths of our ungrateful hearts: Christ Jesus came into the world to save assholes.  Jesus came to save assholes like the guy with the orange Mercedes SUV.  Jesus came to save assholes like you and me.

We suck. We’re assholes, trying to be worthy as we live our ordinary, ordinary lives.

And Jesus came to save… us.  That is the very definition of grace: God’s favor – impossible to earn, impossible to achieve, impossible to ever deserve.

Grace.  Found in our ordinary, ordinary lives.

is it safe to assume that you will understand this?

I got to work this morning, logged into Slack (which is wonderful, by the way), and reviewed the late-night activity on a pressing project deadline.  An urgent task had been assigned to one of my peepz, and I did not see a response from him in the chat channel yet.

“Is it safe to assume,” I wrote, “that you are working on this task?”

I saw “peep is typing” and then that disappeared.  Then again, “peep is typing” and it disappeared.

So I looked at my question again.  Is it safe to assume that you are working on this?  And I remembered that this peep is in Ukraine, and not a native speaker of English.  With new eyes, I realized: This is a strange construction!  It is fairly clear what “you are working on this” means, but the first few words? Bizarre!

I reworded the question.  His response was immediate.

I wonder this morning: is it safe to assume anything?