Advent day 9

God was speaking to me today of fear and trust.

The first reading for mass today was from Isaiah. The verse that particularly struck me was “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, fear not!'” (35. 4). I think my anxiety boils down to having a fearful heart. I fear that I’m not teaching my children well enough, that my confirmation class won’t learn what they need to, that I won’t touch their hearts. And why do I fear? Because I’m relying on my own strength, not God’s. I have to empty myself of self, stop relying on myself and my abilities, and completely surrender to God.

Then in The Noonday Devil I read that “Holiness consists of such a state of poverty that at every moment one is obliged to ask everything of the Holy Spirit, one is dependent on him, convinced that without his grace one can do nothing” (p.177). In my mind I know this to be true, but I seldom put it in to practice. It’s not me who is going to get anything done or teach anyone or plant any seeds. It’s God.

This brings me back to the spiritual childhood that I’ve studied and tried to implement. Since I am human and not divine, I’ll never “graduate” in love or perfection. I’ll never “attain” in this life. I have to remember, every moment beginning again. Conversion of heart, day after day, minute after minute. Even in heaven, Bl. Newman says, we will be in this state of spiritual childhood: “and so on for eternity I shall ever be a little child beginning to be taught the rudiments of Thy infinite divine nature” (Lead, Kindly Light p.120).

Lord, remind me that I am Your child. That I always will be. I’ll never graduate or complete a level. Remind me to begin again each day, each moment. Help me to trust Your strength, Your knowledge, Your power.

 

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Grain of wheat

The kids and I have started doing lectio divina together during Morning Time for school (apparently it’s a thing, too bad I didn’t realize it till they were considerably older). It’s basically what I do on my own, except for the sake of time–highschoolers do a LOT of work–we only read the daily gospel.

Today’s gospel veered off from the Matthew path since it’s the feast day of St. Lawrence.

Now, I’ve read this passage about a million times, but what struck me today was the word ‘alone.’ Typically it is my very favorite word, besides ‘book’, but in this context it’s not a pleasant thing. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12. 24, emphasis mine).

I like to be alone. I like quiet. I like to read and think and breathe. It’s hard to do those things when surrounded by others. But I don’t want to remain alone. There is a time to be solitary but even more, a time to be with others. We were created for community. Community with our fellow humans, community with our God. In order to attain this, I must die.

I don’t like the thought of dying, especially dying to self. It means I can’t have what I want, when I want it. For a human being, that’s a rum thought. (Sorry, been reading P.G. Wodehouse). But if I don’t die to self, I’ll find myself alone, barren. Like wheat, fig trees, vines, I am to ‘bear fruit’, to give of myself, not to hoard all things to myself. Paradoxically, it is when I give of myself that I receive more than I could grasp if I live only for myself.

Part of the way I ‘die’ is by letting go of an exciting life, an extraordinary life and embracing the ordinary, the dullness, the routine. Life has been pretty boring at our house lately. With four sick kids, a sick husband and ghastly humid and hot weather (I’m from New England, 85 is hot), I find myself longing for something new, something exciting to change life up. Maybe a new book? A new project? New running shoes? A camping trip? Two hours on Facebook? No, I need to ‘die,’ to pour myself out in the mundane and bear fruit here and now. To love the ordinary and to the find the holiness in it.

 

 

Feeding the Soul

I’ve been re-watching Star Trek: Enterprise on Netflix. One of the episodes this week was “Breaking the Ice” from season 1. In it, Trip grabs a piece of pecan pie in the officer’s mess and sits down with T’Pol, who criticizes his choice, stating that the dessert is mostly sugar and will not be beneficial to his body. “It might not be good for the body… But it sure is good for the soul,” Trip replies. Oh how right he is. Food not only nourishes our bodies; it nourishes our souls as well.

No journey to holiness would be complete without food. The human body needs food not only to survive but to thrive. And not just any kind of food. Good food, delicious food, beautiful food. Prince Myshkin in Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, states that “beauty will save the world.” One of the simplest ways I can bring beauty into my world is through the simple act of preparing food for my family. Like so many other aspects of my life, I have often treated food in a purely utilitarian manner–we need nourishment, it doesn’t matter how it comes. At one point, I was even a proponent of being able to get all my nutrition from pills! With the grace of God, the advice of a good priest, and issues of Bon Appétit magazine, I set out to bring beauty to this barren part of my domestic life. So from time to time I will post photos of some of my better dishes. Especially on Sundays, I try to put more effort into the meal. What better day to throw my heart and soul into cooking? I’ve just been fed by my Savior from His precious Body and Blood. Now I go into the kitchen to carry on that work of feeding souls in my capacity as wife and mother.

Here are some shots from three different dishes from three different days.

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This is butter basted salmon with hazelnut relish from the June 2014 issue of Bon Appétit.

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Asparagus with bacon and hard boiled eggs (Bon Appétit July 2014). Should have plated this one differently.

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Cucumber fennel salad with herbed yogurt (Food & Wine Aug. 2013). Was supposed to be goat yogurt, but I couldn’t find any.

“A man of cheerful and good heart will give heed to the food he eats” (Sir. 30.25).

The Best Laid Plans

Most mornings at 5, you’d find me drinking tea, doing my spiritual reading (St. Faustina’s Diary and Searching for and Maintaining Peace) and lectio divina. Or getting ready to go for a swim, but let’s not get too complicated.  

June 19, 5 a.m. This is what greets me.  

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Yes, it is the morning of my youngest son’s birthday. Nothing is wrapped. The quandary: Attend to my spiritual duties or to my temporal? Enter: the cup of tea. 

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Earl Grey Creme. With…creme. Yes, and the stovetop needs to be cleaned. 

Back to my quandary. It’s going to be a busy day. Do I wrap the presents now and skip the spiritual or do the spiritual and try to rush getting a special breakfast done and presents wrapped after Mass? A few weeks ago, I read Holiness for Housewives, by Dom van Zeller.  In it, he said that we please God most when we do the duty that He gives us at the moment. Pile of dirty dishes in the sink? Crying babies and laundry strewn throughout the house? Maybe He’s calling me to stay home, tend to my children and house instead of piously praying the Mass. If that is the case, lovingly scrubbing the dishes can be more pleasing to God that any amount of Holy Communions. Sometimes we use holy things as an excuse to run away from our earthly concerns. Yes, God wants us to run to Him. Just not always literally. At times, the “running” that we do can only be in our hearts as we dust the shelves, change the 500th diaper, or do the dishes for the sixth time. Before lunchtime. 

Is my case a good example? Uh, probably not, since I really could have done the present-wrapping every day for the week prior. But! It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? And I did pray for my son as I wrapped those gifts. That he would be a good, holy and obedient child. That he would learn to hear God’s whisper. That he would pick up these toys so I wouldn’t have to immediately give them to Goodwill. That his day would be joyful and a source of good memories to fall back on in hard times.