Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It will be all right...

Our short lives on earth are sowing time. If there were no resurrection of the dead, everything we live on earth would come to nothing. How can we believe in a God who loves us unconditionally if all the joys and pains of our lives are in vain, vanishing in the earth with our mortal flesh and bones? Because God loves us unconditionally, from eternity to eternity, God cannot allow our bodies - the same as that in which Jesus, his Son and our savior, appeared to us - to be lost in final destruction.

No, life on earth is the time when the seeds of the risen body are planted. Paul says: "What is sown is perishable, but what is raised is imperishable; what is sown is contemptible but what is raised is glorious; what is sown is weak, but what is raised is powerful; what is sown is a natural body, and what is raised is a spiritual body" (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). This wonderful knowledge that nothing we live in our bodies is lived in vain holds a call for us to live every moment as a seed of eternity.

The wonderful knowledge, that nothing we live in our body is lived in vain, holds a call for us to live every moment as a seed of eternity.
Henri Nouwen

When I was young, I used to be plagued by this sense of wrongness, that all that I might ever do, make, write would in the end come down to a thread of dust in a dead universe - that all human love, natural beauty, joy, longing, would end the same way. Sometimes my heart would feel as though it could not contain the grief of that.

I remember, very shortly after coming to be a Christian, poring over Paul's letters on a long train journey, and realising that it was just as Paul says: nothing is lost - all we are, all we have loved, dreamed, made or seen will be raised as it should be, glorious and imperishable, unfallen. I felt a joy and, yes, a relief, that must somehow be a foretaste of waking up in the Resurrection, and realising that God's promise has come true at last. Remembering, it comes back, like yesterday. It will be all right, all of it, forever:

God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away.
(Revelation 21.3b-4)

Even so, come, Lord Jesus...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Signs of glory…

The resurrection of Jesus is the basis of our faith in the resurrection of our bodies.  Often we hear the suggestion that our bodies are the prisons of our souls and that the spiritual life is the way out of these prisons.  But by our faith in the resurrection of the body we proclaim that the spiritual life and the life in the body cannot be separated.  Our bodies, as Paul says, are temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19) and, therefore, sacred.  The resurrection of the body means that what we have lived in the body will not go to waste but will be lifted in our eternal life with God.  As Christ bears the marks of his suffering in his risen body, our bodies in the resurrection will bear the marks of our suffering.  Our wounds will become signs of glory in the resurrection…

In so many ways we use and abuse our bodies.  Jesus’ coming to us in the body and his being lifted with his body in the glory of God call us to treat our bodies and the bodies of others with great reverence and respect.

God, through Jesus, has made our bodies sacred places where God has chosen to dwell.  Our faith in the resurrection of the body, therefore, calls us to care for our own and one another's bodies with love.  When we bind one another’s wounds and work for the healing of one another’s bodies, we witness to the sacredness of the human body, a body destined for eternal life.

Henri Nouwen

Perhaps it’s odd to be speaking of Easter at the opening of Advent; and yet our hope, the hope of judgement, the hope of justice, the hope of healing, is only found in the Cross. Without the Cross, Advent and Christmas are a children’s tale, a pool of light and warmth against the utter cold and appalling distances of deep space.

Advent is a double waiting. We wait for news from the angel; for the appearance of a bright star. And yet all that happened long ago, in Nazareth, in Bethlehem of Judea. We wait for another coming, for other news.

This time, it will be very different. “Come, thou long expected Jesus,” we sing. He will come.

This time, there will be no star in the East, no Annunciation. “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.” (Luke 17.24) Yet in this judgement, nothing is wasted. All that we have suffered will be transformed, renewed; and so will all that all creation has suffered.

Jesus cries out, “Behold! I make all things new!” And, in the light of his wounds, it will be accomplished.

A Prayer for Advent

Lord, still us this today and in this Advent Season – keep us wide awake in these days of waiting. Take from us our anxieties and our preoccupations, our distractions and our despair. Let us be empty in this time before, awaiting your coming with empty hands, and open hearts…

Lord, prepare us for your coming. Fill us with the hope of your judgement, and a longing for your justice. Let our hope and our prayer be always for this broken creation of which we are part. Have mercy on all who suffer, human or animal. Help us to bring the good news of your coming, the comfort of hope, the joy of this new kind of waiting…



Peace Made Flesh—courtesy of Green Patches, here are some superb Franciscan resources for Advent from the Franciscan Friars of the Holy Name.

More thoughts later, I hope—it’s nearly time to leave for church…

Almighty God,
give us grace to cast off the works of darkness
and put on the armour of light,
now in the time of this mortal life,
in which your Son Jesus Christ came to us in great humility;
so that when he shall come again in his glorious majesty
we may rise to the life immortal;
through him who lives and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit
one God now and for ever.

(with thanks to Liturgy—Worship that Works, where you can find more excellent Advent material)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Praying with St. Francis…

St. Francis passed on to us many prayers of praise. He went through his life finding new things for which to praise God at every turn: the little things, nature, the creatures, suffering, his brothers—for whatever is happening, he praises God.

Francis is never trying to earn God's love; he is celebrating it! He continually enjoys God's love in everything he sees and experiences. Mature prayer always breaks into gratitude and praise.

Prayer is sitting in the silence until it silences us, choosing gratitude until we are grateful, praising God until we ourselves are a constant act of praise.

Richard Rohr, from Radical Grace: Daily Meditations

I can’t think of anything to add to this that wouldn’t detract from its beauty…

Sleepy Griffin…


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

“At the still point of the turning world…”

Ministry is acting in the Name of Jesus.  When all our actions are in the Name, they will bear fruit for eternal life.  To act in the Name of Jesus, however, doesn't mean to act as a representative of Jesus or his spokesperson.  It means to act in an intimate communion with him.  The Name is like a house, a tent, a dwelling.  To act in the Name of Jesus, therefore, means to act from the place where we are united with Jesus in love.  To the question “Where are you?” we should be able to answer, “I am in the Name.”  Then, whatever we do cannot be other than ministry because it will always be Jesus himself who acts in and through us.  The final question for all who minister is “Are you in the Name of Jesus?”  When we can say yes to that, all of our lives will be ministry.

Henri Nouwen

I think this quality of living in the Name of Jesus “like a house, a tent, a dwelling…” (such beautiful words!) has a great deal to do with the practice of the Jesus Prayer. We can’t come to know Jesus this well, well enough “to act in an intimate communion with him,” without long commitment to prayer. But to seek to pray in the Name of Jesus simply by putting “in the name of Christ” on the end of our prayers is one thing, actually praying the Name continually, as the Jesus Prayer leads us to do, is something else again. For me, personally, there is nothing to replace it—praying the Prayer is the deepest kind of homecoming, the safest refuge, the warmest embrace, lying somehow on the threshold of eternity while the hours of this little life spin on their axis, “at the still point of the turning world.” (Eliot)

Friday, November 18, 2011

Falling into God’s mercy…

All of these words describe mystical moments: enlargement, connection or union, and emancipation. You may not use the same words, but on a practical level mysticism is experienced as a new capacity and a new desire to love. And you wonder where it comes from. Why do I have this new desire, this new capacity to love some new people, to love the old people better, maybe to enter into some kind of new love for the world? I even find my thoughts are more immediately loving. 

Clearly, you are participating in a love that’s being given to you. You are not creating this. You are not generating this. It is being generated through you and in you and for you. You are participating in something larger than yourself, and you are just allowing it and trusting it for the pure gift that it is…

After the first levels of enlargement, connection or union, and some degree of emancipation, mystical experiences lead to a kind of foundational optimism or hope. It catches you by surprise, especially in the middle of all these terrible things that are happening in the world. Hope is not logical, but a participation in the very life of God (just like faith and love).

Mystical experiences also lead to a sense of safety. Anybody who has ever loved you well or has felt loved by you always feels safe. If you can’t feel safe with a person, you can’t feel loved by them. You can’t trust their love. If, in the presence of God, you don’t feel safe, then I don’t think it’s God—it’s something else. It’s the god that is not God. It’s probably what Meister Eckhart is referring to when he says, “I pray God to free me from God.” He means that the God we all begin with is necessarily a partial God, an imitation God, a word for God, a “try on” God. But as you go deeper into the journey, I promise you, it will always be safer and more spacious. If you still feel a finger wagging at you, you’re not going deeper. You’re going backwards…

Most of us were taught that God would love us if and when we change. In fact, God loves you so that you can change. What empowers change, what makes you desirous of change is the experience of love. It is that inherent experience of love that becomes the engine of change. If the mystics say that one way, they say it a thousand ways. But because most of our common religion has not been at the mystical level, we’ve been given an inferior message—that God loves me when I change (moralism). What that does is put it back on you. You’re back to “navel-gazing,” and you never succeed at that level. You are never holy enough, pure enough, refined enough, or loving enough. Whereas, when you fall into God’s mercy, when you fall into God’s great generosity, you find, seemingly from nowhere, this capacity to change. No one is more surprised than you are. You know it is a gift.

Richard Rohr, from Following the Mystics through the Narrow Gate ...
Seeing God in All Things
(CD, DVD, MP3)

It’s just this falling into God’s mercy that underlies the practice of the Jesus Prayer. I know there are many other ways, but for me the directness and simplicity of the Prayer is like nothing else—the words, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” sum up my own complete inability to do it for myself. I cannot even choose to “fall into God”. There is no place from which to fall, unless God puts one there.

(A word of explanation: though naturally anyone can recite the words of the Jesus Prayer, I honestly believe it is a kind of vocation in itself. It may not do anything for you. That’s OK—it’s no reflection either on you or on the Prayer. There will be another way—you just have to make the space for God to show you what it is. But if somehow the words just come alive in your heart, then you may need to take this further. Father Seraphim, at the Nazareth House Apostolate, has some wise words, and an excellent reading list, here.)

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Listen, I will tell you a mystery!

Living a spiritual life makes our little, fearful hearts as wide as the universe, because the Spirit of Jesus dwelling within us embraces the whole of creation. Jesus is the Word, through whom the universe has been created. As Paul says: “In him were created all things in heaven and on earth: everything visible and everything invisible—all things were created through him and for him—in him all things hold together “ (Colossians 1.16-17). Therefore when Jesus lives within us through his Spirit, our hearts embrace not only all people but all of creation. Love casts out all fear and gathers in all that belongs to God.

Prayer, which is breathing with the Spirit of Jesus, leads us to this immense knowledge.

Henri Nouwen

Nouwen uses the word “knowledge” here, where I’d be tempted to use vision, or intuition. The largely unintended opening of the heart to all creation that seems to occur in prayer, contemplative prayer particularly, is not much like the knowledge we associate with academic study, or even with experience in the world. Actually it’s quite hard to find the right word at all to describe it: it is not something we do ourselves at all, nor is it exactly done to us, and so our language, based as it is in either intentionality or passivity, falters and warps…

The traditional language of contemplative prayer speaks of “acquired” and “infused” contemplation, and yet this essentially intercessory dimension of love for “all that is made” (Julian of Norwich) is something that as far as I can see is different from either, at least in the senses described by St. Teresa of Avila or St. Francis de Sales.

The closest description I can find in the literature is one I have quoted before, from St. Isaac of Nineveh (7th Century):

An elder was once asked, “What is a merciful heart?”

He replied: “It is a heart on fire for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the animals, for demons, and for all that exists. By the recollection of them the eyes of a merciful person pour forth tears in abundance. By the strong and vehement mercy that grips such a person’s heart, and by such great compassion, the heart is humbled and one cannot bear to hear or to see any injury or slight sorrow in any in creation.

For this reason, such a person offers up tearful prayer continually even for irrational beasts, for the enemies of the truth, and for those who harm her or him, that they be protected and receive mercy. And in like manner such a person prays for the family of reptiles because of the great compassion that burns with without measure in a heart that is in the likeness of God.”

St. Isaac doesn’t explain how the heart was set on fire, though; the best I can do is hazard that it is in turning continually to Christ in faith, trusting in his mercy, the frail scraps of mercy and compassion that naturally remain even in the fallen human heart are somehow caught up in Christ’s mercy, in his utterly boundless love for all that was made through him in the beginning. This can only happen in our willing surrender to Christ in prayer, hence it is intentional; yet it can only happen to us (as our Lady said, “let it be with me according to your word…”) by the action of the Spirit.

This is in the truest sense of the word a mystery, and exploring it will take as many days as are left to me, and I hope, many more, if such can be called days!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Sacred Wounds?

Pain teaches a most counterintuitive thing—that we must go down before we even know what up is. Suffering of some sort seems to be the only thing strong enough to destabilize our arrogance and our ignorance. I would define suffering very simply as “whenever you are not in control.”

All healthy religion shows you what to do with your pain. If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.

If we cannot find a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds, we invariably become negative or bitter. If there isn’t some way to find some deeper meaning to our suffering, to find that God is somehow in it, and can even use it for good, we will normally close up and close down.

Richard Rohr, adapted from Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality, p. 191

It’s strange that I have found, over the years, that the practice of the Jesus Prayer cuts both ways with this matter of pain.

Firstly, it most assuredly does form “a way to make our wounds into sacred wounds,” more deeply and powerfully that any other way that I have found—at least for those called to the Prayer rather than any contemplative other form. As Irma Zalesk says, in Living the Jesus Prayer (p.63), “…the essential thing is to keep that deep, central space of our being that we call the heart wide open and turned towards [Christ]. The Jesus Prayer leads us into that space, and allows us to live there unceasingly.” If that will not transform our pain, I don’t know what will.

But there is another side to living so closely in the presence of Christ, in the “deep central space” of the heart. The Christ who said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light...” (Matthew 11.28-30) is the same Jesus who said, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16.24-25)

The practice of the Jesus Prayer leads us deep and deeper into loving our fellow-creatures (human and otherwise) and so into opening our hearts to their pain. I said the other day that I could understand the impulse of those called to contemplative sorts of prayer either to gather in enclosed communities, or to live as solitaries. This life makes one so vulnerable, so thin-skinned, that it is all but impossible sometimes to live a “normal” life among people who will often have no idea what is the matter with us. Living with a heart open to the pain of the poor, the unjustly accused, the victims of war, rape, violence; to the pain of desperately mistreated animals in fur farms, the fear of the hunted fox, the grief of the abandoned kitten—these are not things that will leave us unmarked, unruffled.

But the wounds we bear in prayer for others are sacred wounds. In their very little way they are like the wounds of Christ. (A very few contemplatives, like St. Francis, have kept it up to the point where they are physically wounded in prayer.) These wounds, sacred though they are, transformative though they are both for ourselves and for those whom we bear in our hearts in prayer, are real wounds. St. Francis bled: try as he might, he could not conceal his wounds from his brothers; those of us who have not travelled so far as our Brother Francis will still bear the marks of our prayer in tears, in vulnerabilities, in “sensitivities” that some will not understand.

If we cannot conceal these marks that prayer leaves on us, what are we to do with them? How are we to live in the world? As Tertiaries, we are to live according to the Principles of the Third Order which state: “When Saint Francis encouraged the formation of The Third Order he recognised that many are called to serve God in the spirit of Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience in everyday life (rather than in a literal acceptance of these principles as in the vows of the Brothers and Sisters of the First and Second Orders). The Rule of The Third Order is intended to enable the duties and conditions of daily living to be carried out in this spirit.”

I don’t know the answer to this. Perhaps one of the tasks of my remaining years may be, if it doesn't sound too vaulting an ambition, to try and work it out; and maybe this blog is at least the beginning of a place to share that process, if God allows.

Pray for me!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance Day

As we see so many people die at a young age, through wars, starvation, AIDS, street violence, and physical and emotional neglect, we often wonder what the value of their short lives is.  It seems that their journeys have been cut off before they could reach any of their goals, realise any of their dreams, or accomplish any of their tasks.   But, short as their lives may have been, they belong to that immense communion of saints, from all times and all places, who stand around the throne of the Lamb dressed in white robes proclaiming the victory of the crucified Christ (see Revelation 7:9).

The story of the innocent children murdered by King Herod in his attempt to destroy Jesus (see Matthew 2:13-18), reminds us that saintliness is not just for those who lived long and hardworking lives.  These children, and many who died young, are as much witnesses to Jesus as those who accomplished heroic deeds…

Through baptism we become part of a family much larger than our biological family. It is a family of people “set apart” by God to be light in the darkness. These set-apart people are called saints. Although we tend to think about saints as holy and pious, and picture them with halos above their heads and ecstatic gazes, true saints are much more accessible. They are men and women like us, who live ordinary lives and struggle with ordinary problems. What makes them saints is their clear and unwavering focus on God and God's people. Some of their lives may look quite different, but most of their lives are remarkably similar to our own.

The saints are our brothers and sisters, calling us to become like them.

Henri Nouwen

On this Remembrance Day, as we remember the young lives cut short in their brightest of days by war, and all the tangled and compromised politics of war, it is more than well worth remembering that death is not the end; that these dear people who have died are still our family, our friends, our lovers… One day, our praise with blend with theirs before the throne of mercy.

It is not true
that this world and its people
are doomed to die and be lost.

This is true:
God so loved the world
that he gave his only begotten Son,
that whosoever believes in him,
shall not perish but have everlasting life.

It is not true
that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination,
hunger and poverty, death and destruction.

This is true:
I have come that they may have life,
and that abundantly.

It is not true
that violence and hatred should have the last word,
and that war and destruction have come to stay forever.

This is true:
Unto us a child is born,
and unto us a Son is given,
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God,
the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.

Allan Boesak

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Hidden with Christ in God…

When we pray the Jesus Prayer, we stand empty-handed, having nothing to offer, and expecting everything from God… Everything we have to offer, everything we call “I” is so poor, so infinitesimally small in comparison to what we are receiving, that we hardly dare to offer it at all…

The fundamental aloneness of the human before the face of God is very difficult for many of us to accept. We often associate it with loneliness, with lack of love and rejection, even with death. We are disappointed and filled with anxiety when we realise that even in our closest human relationships, in our moments of deepest love, we can never really dissolve the boundaries that separate us from others… We are never still. We forget, or perhaps we have never learned, that although we can never break down the walls of our aloneness ourselves, God certainly can. Our aloneness—our separateness—is not a prison in which we must remain forever, but a door to communion with God, but also with the whole universe. For God brings with him every human being who has ever lived.

Praying the Jesus Prayer can become such a door for us. By praying it simply, standing alone and totally open and real before the face of Christ, we become aware of the great silence—the holy silence—at the heart of our being…

Irma Zaleski, Living the Jesus Prayer, Canterbury Press, 2011

I have been finding myself in some unusual places recently, just because of this aloneness before God. It’s hard, sometimes, to be fair to the people around, to relatives who phone at odd times, to dear friends who would understand, only I don’t somehow think to include them.

I have often thought that I understand very well the impulse of those called to contemplative sorts of prayer either to gather in enclosed communities, or to live as solitaries. Sometimes it’s difficult to live a so-called normal life, when part of one is “hidden with Christ in God” as Paul so wonderfully put it in Colossians 3.3, and one’s “social self” is missing several layers of skin.

The Jesus Prayer, of course, is not only the means for getting people like me in this kind of mess, but is also our refuge from the mess itself, and healing for the wounds it brings. After all, whether they look like it or not, they are the wounds of love, the love the prayer brings with it, for the whole of creation in its brokenness, its pain, its incompleteness. After all,

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death… For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8.1-2; 38-39

Monday, November 07, 2011

On not needing to know…

Because we cannot ever “see the heart” as God sees, we cannot really know what is good for us, and especially what is good for others. We don’t know what their true needs are, what is the best solution to their problems, what would assuage their pain. But we don’t need to know. The Jesus Prayer can become for us a powerful way of intercession, of praying for others. By praying the Holy Name over them, by embracing them in our thoughts and our hearts, we surrender each one of them to God’s mercy and love and we trust that God will do what is best for them.

When we intercede for others in this way, when we bring them all to the mercy of Christ—the good and the bad, those whom we love and those whom we cannot love, those who love us and those who hate us—we do what the Lord has told us to do and what he himself did on the cross. This is the great way of love to which he has called us, and is also our work, the only work that truly matters, the work of love.

Irma Zaleski, Living the Jesus Prayer, Canterbury Press, 2011

I’ve written about this intercessory aspect of the Jesus Prayer elsewhere; I have often been troubled by our propensity to analyse problems and tell God what he should do about them—as if we could know! What God calls us to is nothing more nor less than love: simply to care enough carry in our hearts before him our sisters and brothers in creation, human or otherwise; to rejoice with their joys, weep for their pain, cry out with them in their bafflement and their loss…

The first two verses of Psalm 131 read:

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up,
   my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
   too great and too marvellous for me.

This is the very spirit of praying intercession in the Jesus Prayer. Sophrony Sakharov wrote:

The Jesus Prayer will incline us to find each human being unique, the one for whom Christ was crucified. Where there is great love the heart necessarily suffers and feels pity for every creature, in particular for man; but our inner peace remains secure, even when all is in confusion in the world outside...

It has fallen to our lot to be born into the world in an appallingly disturbed period. We are not only passive spectators but to a certain extent participants in the mighty conflict between belief and unbelief, between hope and despair, between the dream of developing mankind into a single universal whole and the blind tendency towards dissolution into thousands of irreconcilable national, racial, class or political ideologies. Christ manifested to us the divine majesty of man, son of God, and we withal are stifled by the spectacle of the dignity of man being sadistically mocked and trampled underfoot. Our most effective contribution to the victory of good is to pray for our enemies, for the whole world. We do not only believe in - we know the power of true prayer...

His Life Is Mine, pp. 127-128

(Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov lived through the years of the Russian Revolution, World War II, and the Cold War. A Russian, he prayed in community at Mount Athos, and later helped found The Monastery of St. John the Baptist at Tolleshunt Knights, Essex, England. Fr. Sophrony wrote, and taught, on the practice of the Jesus Prayer, and it was to this practice that his life was given.)

One of the most beautiful aspects of the Jesus Prayer is the universality of its calling: anyone, ordained or lay, secular or religious, learned or otherwise, can pray this prayer. It requires no qualifications. Its use is not limited to any one denomination. It is prayed, and taught, from the Orthodox Church, through the Roman Catholic Church, the Lutheran, the Anglican, and Methodist churches to the Vineyard. (Who knows how many others are involved…) If any of us senses God calling us to this way of prayer, there is nothing to prevent us from just starting—it may turn out to be the answer years of misgivings and difficulties in prayer…

Sunday, November 06, 2011

A Bright Sadness…

I’ve been reading Irma Zaleski’s just-published book Living the Jesus Prayer, which I would encourage anyone interested in this way of praying to read.

She says (pp.44-45):

The Jesus Prayer, because it is a path of reality, is a way of learning and accepting the tremendous truth, too often forgotten, that “only God is good.” (Matthew 19:17) We cannot be good, because we do not really know what good is. We can never comprehend the nature of God’s infinite goodness and love. We cannot be, strictly speaking, like God. No effort of our own can make us so…

I think it is true to say that as we walk the way of prayer, as we become more open to God, as we grow closer to him, we become more and more aware of how great an abyss separates us from God…

This longing, this sense of separation from God, is the heart of all true repentance. It is often a source of sadness for us, at times even of tears, that we seem to be so far away from what we have been called to be, so disappointing to ourselves and God. The Fathers often called it “bright sadness,” and considered it a great gift to receive, for it brings us always before the face of God. It teaches us the meaning of mercy and fills us with joy.

These word’s of Zaleski’s say what I have been wanting so much to say here, and have been quite unable to describe in my own words.

These last few weeks have been a strangely painful time, and yet good also. Irma Zaleski says, in the previous chapter:

The way of the Jesus prayer has been called “white martyrdom.” It is the way of the Cross, because there is no greater pain than to stand in the total poverty of our human weakness,to see clearly our misery, our inability to be good. The temptation to judge ourselves, to hate ourselves, would be irresistible if we did not know and had not experienced the merciful, healing power of Jesus.

I think that what has happened has been that this year, with the pilgrimages both to Walsingham and to Medjugorje, I have come so close to the presence of God that I have really not been able to bear the sight of myself in that mirror of glory. It has taken a long while, and much—though perhaps not enough—prayer to come to the point where I can write these words.

God knows where we go from here. I do know that the call (back) to the Jesus Prayer has been growing stronger and stronger since our return from Medjugorje. (The arrival of Living the Jesus Prayer in the post from Amazon, where I had pre-ordered it months ago and then forgotten all about, was one of those striking “coincidences” that God loves so much.)

I will try to be less sporadic in documenting this odd journey, in case it might help anyone reading this blog. It’s often hard, as I said above, to find words for this kind of thing; perhaps Irma Zaleski has given me a lever to crack the door of speechlessness a little ajar…