A Relaxed and Joyful Heart

Pope Francis was asked by a journalist a couple of years ago if he was just trying to make the Church look good.  He said he was trying to make God look good!  Unfortunately, so many people have turned away from the Church, all churches, because the people involved in it didn’t make God look very good.

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make God look good in my own corner of the world.  When I see people who are suspicious of the church and those involved in it, how do I showcase it as a field hospital and not a museum as Pope Francis asks us to?  I stumbled across a quote by my favorite Father Rohlheiser that goes like this:

“Becoming like Jesus is as much about having a relaxed and joyful heart as it is about believing and doing the right thing; as much about proper energy as about proper truth.”

Perhaps being relaxed and joyful, unafraid, loving, giving and enjoying the company of other people in the present moment will help to “make God look good.” Because He is.

Visio Divina

There are a number of ways to pray.  For a long time, I thought words were the only way.  Lectio Divina.  Meditating over sacred scripture.  I was introduced later to Visio Divina–sacred images.  I saw this one and wanted to burst into tears.  The artist (Kerolos Safwat) has included other ethnicities with this image to personalize it for the person gazing on it.  Sometimes I think I am Franciscan in my spirituality–nature, air, water, birds, all of it speaks of the glory of God.  But this one–so powerful!  Art had never stirred me quite like this.  When I was living a secular life, certain man-made creations stirred me, but it was mostly darker paintings, feeding the despair I felt.  I saw beauty, but felt disconnected from it, like it was something I could never understand.  Knowing that God dwells within me, and within the artist who created something like this, makes me realize we all have this connection with each other.  Visio Divina:  a way of praying by meditating on the image, and seeing what is stirred up in our depths.  Sometimes we have to move past the words.

A life of listening…

Thomas Merton, the monk from the Gethsemane monastery in Kentucky, is still speaking to me, although he’s been dead 50 years.  I stumbled across a poem of his: “The Quickening of John the Baptist” in Father Rohr’s blog, and I keep thinking about this.  Here is a brief excerpt of this magnificent work of Merton:

“Night is our diocese and silence is our ministry

Poverty our charity, and helplessness our tongue-tied sermon.

Beyond the scope of sight of sound we dwell upon the air

Seeking the world’s gain in an unthinkable experience.

We are exiles in the far end of solitude, living as listeners

With hearts attending to the skies we cannot understand:

Waiting upon the first far drums of Christ the Conqueror,

Planted like sentinels upon the world’s frontier.

–Thomas Merton (1915-1968)


“Living a life of listening….”  this almost makes my heart somersault with the beauty of it.  When we listen to another human being, another child of God, we see glimpses of the Divine.  This culture isn’t dialed in to listening to one another, is it.  People who choose to listen to others, really listen, are on the edges of solitude, of society–sentinels, as Merton describes.

The highest compliment I believe, is to make another human being feel like they are the only ones in the world, cherished, loved and listened to.



Violence to Self

I came across a quotation in my studies of spiritual direction that I can’t stop thinking about. It’s from Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk who died unfortunately early by accidental electrocution in the 1960’s while visiting Thailand. I love all of his writing, but this quote is from “Conjecture of a Guilty Bystander.”

“To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence.”

I had to catch my breath after that. After a lifetime of trying to do everything for everyone, getting my own needs met through serving others, not thinking myself worth anything unless I was needed by someone, this helped me look at the concept of personal boundaries. If we violate our own self-boundaries, it is violence. This is a shocking revelation for me! We don’t have to perform for other people to be worthwhile human beings in the eyes of God. We breathe. We’re loved. It is enough! Who are we if we are not needed? Beloved sons and daughters, that’s who.

I refuse to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, and I refuse to commit myself to too many projects. I cannot help everyone in everything.  More love.  More gentleness.  And no more violence.


I haven’t been here in a while. Part of it was fatigue, and being overwhelmed about various things.  But I’m in a life transition right now–either in between jobs, or maybe I just finished my last job.  Here is my favorite poem (that I found on a greeting card) that sums up how this feels right now:

“The Art of Disappearing”

When they say Don’t I know you?
say no.

When they invite you to the party
remember what parties are like
before answering.
Someone is telling you in a loud voice
they once wrote a poem.
Greasy sausage balls on a paper plate.
Then reply.

If they say We should get together
say why?

It’s not that you don’t love them anymore.
You’re trying to remember something
too important to forget.
Trees. The monastery bell at twilight.
Tell them you have a new project.
It will never be finished.

When someone recognizes you in a grocery store
nod briefly and become a cabbage.
When someone you haven’t seen in ten years
appears at the door,
don’t start singing him all your new songs.
You will never catch up.

Walk around feeling like a leaf.
Know you could tumble any second.
Then decide what to do with your time.

Naomi Shihab Nye, from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems (Far Corner Books, 1995)


The Boy of a Thousand Days

This past Christmas we got to spend time with our 3 year old grandson and his parents.  They live in the northern midwest, so we don’t get to see them nearly as often as I like.  Generally, this little boy is moving at the speed just under light, and has a destructive streak a mile wide.  A little tornado of energy.  One afternoon however out of the blue, I saw the clouds roll in on his little world as he declared “Mommy, I’m sad.”  Quiet tears rolled down his cheeks and his mother rocked him, and held him until his inner turmoil passed.  He was subdued for about 15 minutes.  His parents tell me he does this every so often…

Sometimes I’m too tired to read and too tired to sleep.  That night, I heard a podcast from my favorite author, Father Ron Rohlheiser.  He spoke about this sadness we have within each of us.  We all came from God and will all return to God.  Every human heart is imprinted with this longing for beauty, truth and goodness, and we all innately recognize this as human beings.  This emptiness, this sadness we all carry with us, is a longing for things not of this world. A longing for God.  We fill this longing with worldly things, like addictions, and endless pointless activities, anything to fill this God-shaped hole in our lives.   Perhaps this child, with his little tears, is remembering this time when he saw God’s face. Perhaps this little boy, only a thousand days old, is closer to his Creator than I am.

Gloriously Unhurried

Like many of us, I’ve lived my life making lists, setting goals, crossing them off, and setting the next goal.  I would alternate this with ruminating about the past.  With my re-conversion a few years ago, the truth that I had been forgiven of all things and I only had to ask for this forgiveness, freed me from the constant analyzing and reanalyzing of the past.

But I still have an issue with living in the future:  “If this happens, then that can occur.”  I never really enjoy the present moment, because my attention is turned to the next thing.  Always on a time table of some sort.

I’ve been introduced to the concept of living contemplatively.  Contemplation is described as a “long, loving look at the Real” (Fr Walter Burghardt).  It is more than mindfulness because it is a nod to the God of the Cosmos who grants our every breath, counts every hair on our heads, and loves us beyond measure. What if it also means also to live “gloriously unhurried?”  What if it meant putting the to do list aside and enjoying every sip of a perfectly extracted latte instead of slamming it down, hoping its enough caffeine to get you through the next couple of exhausting hours?

I’m going to try it, really try living in this present moment.  Just for today.  Tomorrow will likely be here soon enough.