Sunday, January 18, 2015

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Friday, January 2, 2015

Word-of-the-Year 2015: REST

I’ve known for a couple of weeks what my word-of-the-year needed to be about but actually landing on the precise word has been difficult. The idea I wanted to convey with this linguistic focal point for the year was the attitude of open-handed trust in God; a letting go of striving, willfulness, driveness as I surrendered all outcomes of my life and work to God. I couldn’t quite land on a word until I processed it with my spiritual director and he suggested the word “rest.”

My immediate reaction when I heard the word “rest” was one of dread and resistance. That kind of response is often a sign of exactly where I need to pay attention and open myself more fully to God. In the world of spiritual direction, we understand that interior resistance, the reaction of discomfort and stubbornness, is often fertile ground for the work of the Spirit. I laughed out loud when Jim presented “rest” as a word to prayerfully consider, noting my resistance and admitting that I wished I hadn’t asked for his help.

Why rest? I had really wanted a word that captured the idea of planting and waiting for harvest; initiating and leaving the results to God. The truth is planting and initiating are native to my personality. I am a doer, goal-setter, hard worker and perseverer.  What I struggle most with is living open-handedly toward the outcome of my work and initiative. I want to get in there and help God out; control the process or assist God in the work and results. Resting is exactly the posture I need to cultivate.

For me to choose this word rest is not to suggest that this next year will be a year-long holiday. Rather, I’m eager for this word to become my interior posture of “holy indifference,” a phrase used by St. Ignatius to describe an attitude where I leave all consequences of my life to God and trust the Faithfull One with the harvest. Here’s a parable of Jesus, in my own paraphrase, that captures the way in which I hope to live this out. 

“Here is what the kingdom of God is like: a woman who throws seeds onto the earth. Day and night, as she works and as she rests, the seeds sprout and climb out into the light, even though she doesn’t understand how it works.  It’s as though the soil itself produced the grain somehow—from a sprouted stalk to ripened fruit.  But however it happens, when she sees that the grain has grown and ripened, she gets her sickle and begins to cut it because the harvest has come.” (The Voice) Mark 4:26-29

The sower in this case does what she can, planting and then resting, trusting the nature of soil, sun, rain and atmosphere to do its generative work. This next year as my new book Starting Something New: Spiritual Direction for Your God-given Dream is released and I begin a tour of retreats on the book, I have clear instructions from God that I am to “rest” in him and resist the temptation to strive for results. Even as I pray the word “rest,” it resonates deeply and with rightness in me in terms of where I am these days and where God is shaping me. 

How about you? Have you found the word for 2015 that could be your North Star? A word that will help navigate what God is inviting you to be, do or grow toward? Happy New Year as you orient yourself to that star and set sail into this new year!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

This I Believe: Hiddenness is the Way toward Interior Freedom

I've known for some time that the best description I can give for my spiritual quest right now is the desire for interior freedom. Below is an excerpt from a book called Fire of Mercy and edited by my husband. As I read it this morning, it resonated so deeply with me and what I know to be true about my spiritual journey. I offer it as a meditation,  hoping that it will speak to you of invitation and intimacy.

"Left to our instincts, we will never be anything but pretenders, especially in the realm of religion. 

Jesus, for his part, prescribes the way to the heart, which begins with withdrawal from finding approval in the world around us. 

And so he says, "Go into your storeroom, lock your door, pray to your Father."


My own feet must come back into my house. My own hand must lock the door. My own heart must pray in secret. Once I have entered this inner chamber, I can go out to find God everywhere, but not before, because in fact the God I encountered deep in my interior silence will show me his presence in the cosmos. Until then I will be seeing only reflections of my own desires and hearing echoes of my own inner noise.

In that way, no one else’s experience of God can be imitated so as to become my own.

The true God abides in hiddenness.

Inside comes before outside, center before periphery, hiddenness before manifestation, since all of the latter are “generated” by the former.

One of God’s truest names is, *“the One who sees in hidden places.” In a way we could say that God only sees in hidden places, that consequently the actions and attitudes of pretenders in public places are not seen by God because they are not real. 

Hiddenness is here a crucial criterion for genuineness, for reality, for being in fact. How horrible not to be seen by God, to live in such a way that our lives are mere fleeting ghosts before him! Our vanity and all our chasing the wind are not so much evils as they are insubstantial: to the point of rendering God blind to them.

Hiddenness, solitude, and silence have the effect, so to speak, of gathering up the scattered: atoms of our being and kneading them into an image recognizable in the eyes of God.

The Father has made me a steward over myself, and interiority is the space where I do the work assigned me. 

Now, the deepest part of the work assigned me is to seek for the Face of God even as he himself is forever seeking my face, my true-identity.

In actuality, God has already found me, but I cannot find him until I come home into myself.

No other human work can be successful unless it can be traced back to this essential activity that is purely interior: seeking the Face of God so as to abide in its presence with the deepest part of my being. 

The call to do this constitutes human identity."


Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word: Meditations on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew: Vol. 1 by Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis

*This is the name Hagar gave to God when she encountered him in the wilderness. The image is of Hagar with her son, Ishmael.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Foreshadowing: What I discovered I wrote to David in his Senior High School Year Book

Tonight is our 40th High School Class Reunion. I realize that by admitting that I’m also admitting my age. Oh, well. Times like these make me thoughtful and reflective of my life; of things past that with a single prompt become a flood of once-buried memories. 

David just came downstairs with his Southport High School Anchor 1974 Yearbook. He opened it to the back, to the page I had signed and what I wrote to him in the spring of 1974. He made me read it out loud to him as we ate breakfast. Keep in mind, we were only friends. Well, not “only.” He kissed me once in high school. Only once. We had a sweet and significant friendship. But we never really dated in high school. 

Here’s a snippet of what I wrote:                                    
"David Lee,
Well, David, we’ve come a long way from 9th grade Christmas dances to serious walks in the park and a real understanding of each other. Our closeness is different, you know. It’s kind of a mutual smile that means I care and a kind of feeling you get when love is near. You know you’re the one person I’m not worried about not seeing after school is out. I feel like our togetherness is for eternity."

"Maybe I should be more realistic, but I don’t want to ever be without you. I need you. I guess I can feel like since we’re both going to IU, we will still have each other. But what’s after that? I can feel dependent and confident with you around. I hope I give you the same feeling of security. Dave Lee, remember band, Garfield Park, Pizza’s, orchestra, the dance, being at my home talking, and memories like that. What I remember more, though, is your face; especially your smile."

"I don’t feel like I’m saying what I want to say. Maybe that’s another thing about close friends. They can’t really say what they feel. So how’s this: My thoughts are with you. My thoughts are deep and close and loving and warm and tender when you’re in my head and you’re in my head a lot. Did you know that? You’re smile, I’ll remember always."

                "Take care, my friend. Remember, the Lord is coming. 
                Love in Christ, Beth Ann McLaughlin"

When I read these words out loud, David called them “prescient.” They read to me like foreshadowing; as though God, through the experience of me grappling with words to express my feelings, was telling me something I knew in my heart—but didn’t know. I read them today with amazement and gratitude for God’s overwhelming grace in our marriage; in David and me finding one another, choosing one another, and continuing to choose and prefer each other for more than 35 years. God’s grace is the only word that explains what we’ve had together.  

As we celebrate with old friends and a few current friends tonight, I have a mixture of nervousness and eager anticipation. I hope and pray for meaningful connections with people who were part of such a formative time in my life. I pray for moments of Llight like this one. 

And by the way, I should add what I wrote as a P.S. in David’s Yearbook: “In case of rapture, see you up there!! Maranatha!” A signature obviously influenced by Hal Lindsey—a big sensation in those days :).


Saturday, August 30, 2014

What Happens within the Heart of God when we Cry?

Richard Sibbes (1577–1635)

How we think of God, how we envision God’s disposition toward us is said to be the most important thing about us. A puritan by the name of Richard Sibbes was known for his vision of God as a life-giving, generative, warming sun. And in like kind, Sibbes was known to emanate the same disposition. He likened God’s love and goodness, his stance toward us, as “the breast that loves to ease itself of milk.” 

What an interesting and curious—unconventional—image. When I read this description, I was instantly transported to memories of being a nursing mother. I loved nursing my babies. It was a sweet and tender time. I remember that deep and profound satisfaction of being able to provide nourishment for them; the incredible sensation of my milk “letting down” at the sound of their cry or the moment they began to “root” for the breast. 

And it didn’t happen only with my babies. I could be in a grocery store minding my own business and hear an infant start to whimper. More than likely his or her mother was hurrying, trying to get the shopping done so that she could leave before she had to stop and nurse her little one. I would hear the sound of that baby, someone else’s baby, and it was not unusual to feel my milk begin to let down. Arms pressed tightly across my chest, I would move along, as quickly as possible, hoping not to leak milk. 

As I read Sibbes description of the compassion and goodness of God as a “breast that loves to ease itself of milk,” it occurred to me that that is what happens within the heart of God when I cry; when you cry. His heart is moved with compassion and desire; his milk “lets down”; his desire to respond to our needs is aroused.

So why is it that far too often when we cry out for God, for relief to have our needs met it doesn’t appear that God comes running? I’ve heard half-a-dozen stories in the last ten days of people who are there. Right there. Praying, asking God to show up, to help them know he’s there with them in the darkness of their lives? 

I’ve been there before, too—many times—times when I desperately needed and wanted God to alleviate the pain of my life or the ache in my heart. I wonder during those times how I can imagine the heart of God easing itself of the milk of love and desire for me while my circumstances or emotional experience or spiritual sense remains unaltered. 

What I notice as I reflect is the “gap time” between my crying out and God’s intervening; his milk letting down. Sometimes the gap feels like eternity. Often it takes longer than I’d like. I want instant gratification, like an infant who wants what he/she wants when he/she wants it! I notice that God allows time to intensify my desire, ache, hunger. And I also notice that I’ve never starved to death. 

In due time, like a mother moved by her baby’s cry, I have experienced the nurturing love of God fill my empty heart with love and warmth and care. So, for me, this image of a nursing mother is compelling and a hopeful way to think of God and what happens within God’s heart when I cry. 

If you, like the individuals I have been with and stories I’ve heard the last ten days, are feeling as though you are in the dark, groping about and crying out to a God who seems indifferent, try contemplating God in this way. Know that God meets you only within your lived experience--within the reality of your life situation and your need for him. Imagine God’s heart letting down with love and desire for you. That IS his disposition toward you—not a waning mood or fleeting impulse. God is compassionate and responsive to you. What you are experiencing is the “gap time” before his milk comes.