God Says “No” And He Knows It Hurts

Recently I wrote a poem about a fish and a dragonfly. They both start their life in a fishbowl, but the dragonfly will eventually fly away. The fish, on the other hand, is a little stuck. The fish says, “somehow I will find a river.” Since writing this poem, my prayer has often been, “Jesus, be my river.” He has since said to me, “Let me be your river.” I want Him to carry me to freedom, and He will, but sometimes, His idea of freedom, and mine aren’t the same.

Freedom, to the average American woman my age probably looks like a decent paycheck, a livable apartment, a reliable car, and the ability to go where she wants, when she wants. A few days ago in prayer, the Lord brought to my mind when He says, “You have to lose your life for My sake to find it.” I’ve had this idea in my head that I never had much of a life to lose in the first place; I never had many choices to begin with.

Last week was tough for me. I’ve been struggling with this, but on Monday, He reminded me that I chose Carmel. I have obligations because of that, and I could have said “no.” I could have decided these obligations were too much. Even before that, I could have chosen to leave the Catholic Church when I heard about the abuse crisis. He reminded me that I chose to stay for Him. Before that, I could have chosen not to chase Him in the first place. I could have chosen to stay a rebel. I could have decided that His morals and rules were not worth what He offered.

When I asked Him to be my river, I was asking Him to get me out of my boring daily routine. I was asking Him to help me find a way to experience more. He agreed to be my river; He agreed to help me find freedom. I finished my morning prayer today, and looked out the bathroom window at a Blue Diamond Sky, and somehow it just came to me. Freedom isn’t experiencing everything. Freedom is the willingness of a heart to listen, know His voice, know His will, and do it.

As a Secular Carmelite, I’m expected to pray Morning and Evening Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s part of the official Liturgy of the Church. At the end of each, there are written-in intercessions, but when I’m doing it on my own, I can add my own, and I always pray for the wisdom, courage, and desire to always know and do God’s will. That might not sound like freedom, but it occurred to me that if I’m not serving God, I, or anyone else, is serving someone, or something else. That’s just a fact. That something else might simply be one’s own cravings, but in the end, they won’t lead to happiness. The things we want on a strictly human level, even if those things are good, are limited. If we serve our desire to have an adrenaline rush, for example, we’ll never be satisfied because there are only so many crazy things to do, we only have so much money in our accounts, and only so much time.

God, on the other hand, can satisfy because He is not limited, and the things He wants us to do are good for us, even if they’re not always especially interesting. That’s the thing; sometimes the things God asks of us aren’t especially exciting. I don’t always especially want to pray the Rosary, but I do because He asked me to. Last night I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries again, and it hit me: Jesus knows what it feels like when God says “no.” I’ve asked Him to at least take away my epilepsy, and He’s refused. In Gethsemane, Jesus said, “If it be your will, take this cup from me.” His Father; my Father said, “no.”

God the Father didn’t want Jesus to suffer and die. He let it happen, but that doesn’t mean He didn’t care. He allowed it to happen because He knew He could bring about a greater good, namely, human redemption and salvation. I’ve written about this before, but when God created the universe, He created things like physics and thermodynamics. He voluntarily gave up His power over some things, and because of sin, things like bad genes came into the mix. I got some of those bad genes. He could just miraculously “fix” it, but He’s chosen not to.

My river to freedom won’t take me to city living, a nice apartment, singing in a band, and volunteering a lot. The river is taking me somewhere else. I was reminded last night that some of the people I admire most are nuns, and by most estimates, they are not “free.” They actually did give up their lives. My freedom is still in choices; my freedom is in choosing what to do with what I’m stuck with and what I’ve been given.

God says “No,” and He knows it hurts. Jesus said that He would not leave us orphans. He said He would be with us until the end of the world. He doesn’t abandon anyone. He knows how to comfort every single person, and for me, that meant making sure I’d hear the song “One Eyed Cat” yesterday.

Weird Love

My brother spent two nights this week making a stuffed-animal spider for his girlfriend because apparently she likes spiders. Friday is a good day for Valentine’s Day. I imagine they have something planned for tonight. This afternoon I listened to the Stations of the Cross, and though I couldn’t physically “attend,” I watched daily Mass online. In one of His revelations to Saint Faustina, Jesus promised that He would give great graces to whoever would reflect on His Passion in the 3:00 hour. All this week, I’ve been trying to figure out what to do for Him today, but honestly, what do you do for the God of the Universe?

I’ve had more seizures than usual this week. It’s more annoying than anything because if it happens around when I go to bed, it completely knocks me out, and then four hours later–so around 4:OO AM–I wake up and can’t get back to sleep for at least a couple of hours. I woke up this morning before the sun, tried in vain for a few minutes to go back to sleep, accepted defeat, and decided to pray the Rosary. Since it was already Friday, I prayed the Sorrowful Mysteries.

My mom and I went to a Mexican place for lunch today, and the sky was cloudless as we drove there and to a bakery to get a cake for later. It seems so simple, but the sky is probably my favorite thing that God has created. Sometimes it seems like He speaks to me in His sky. It must have been a couple summers ago now that I saw, for the first time, a blue diamond in the sky. I was in my driveway, starting out on, or coming back from a “wander,” and a white cloud formation came into my vision. It was shaped exactly like that: a blue diamond. Since then, a beautiful blue sky, with or without clouds, has been dubbed a “Blue Diamond Sky.”

Recently it occurred to me that I’ve occasionally been disappointed if I don’t get my blue diamonds, so I made up a game. Every day, God gives me a sky because until the end of the world, there will be one. Every day, I give that sky a name–blue or no blue–clouds or no clouds, but a blue sky is always a Blue Diamond. Usually, if I can’t think of a unique name for a gray sky, it’s a Glory Sky because blue or gray, the sky still speaks of God’s glory.

The Gospel reading today was from Mark. Jesus healed a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment. Sometimes I have an automatic reaction to these healing stories. He hasn’t healed me–at least not physically. Today I looked at myself and thought, “Lord, you can be glorified in this.” Saint Francis of Assisi is probably best known for once saying, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.” I was introduced to my Lord by fellow students in College, and no one outright “preached” to me. If a gray sky can speak God’s glory, then so can my wheels or my weird brain.

Interestingly enough, among others, there are several Saint Valentine’s who are considered patrons of epilepsy. Saint Paul is also one of these. In fact, it’s speculated that Saint Paul had epilepsy, and this is what he called the “thorn in his side.” He says, “I asked the Lord to take it away,” but the Lord didn’t. The Lord told him, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Jesus accepted weakness. God chose human weakness even to the point of the worst kind of death, and in fact, God the Father rose Him from the dead.

One of the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary is the Crowning With Thorns. I confess that Jesus Christ is my King. This is the crown my King wears. I love language, and though my medication prevents me from having really nasty seizures, I do have various symptoms. One of those symptoms is that I lose the ability to use or understand language. If Jesus is the Word of God, it means that for a short time, God was silenced. After that, though, He was glorified; He conquered the grave, and 2,000 years later, little people like me won’t shut up about it. His power is made perfect in weakness. I don’t know what that means for me, but I know that I am weak, I know that He answers my prayers, and I know that He loves me in a way that doesn’t even make sense.

Friends In High Places

I’d like to preface this by saying that if you’re not Catholic and/or don’t understand devotion to Mary, you should read my previous post first.

This is prayed at the end of the Rosary. It took me a while to memorize it, but I’m glad I did. It’s a comforting prayer.

“Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope; to thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; to thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious Advocate thine eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the Blessed Fruit of Thy womb Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary, pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

The monthly meeting of our Carmelite community was this past weekend, and our reading was very focused on Marian devotion in our Order. The first Carmelites saw Mary as a Mother, yes, but also as a Sister; someone to model in their devotion to the Lord. This is encouraged in the Church in general, but I think it’s easier said than done. Realistically, she’s not mentioned a whole lot in the Gospels, and she doesn’t say much. I think maybe that’s the point, though. She watched Jesus, and her last words in Scripture were “Do whatever he tells you.”

God is a Trinity–Three in One–oriented to and as Love. He is also an all-knowing Creator. He created humanity not because He had to, but because He wanted to. He modeled humans after Himself, which meant that we are not solitary beings; we need community. This comes in various forms, but the most natural form is that of a family. Parents and siblings are the first community anyone ever experiences. I grew up in a pretty cookie-cutter family; a mom and dad who love each other, and one brother who I get along with, and I’m really grateful for that.

Of course not every family is like that, and not all family is blood. There are plenty of men and women I call “Uncle” or “Aunt” who I’m not actually related to. At Baptism, every child is given a Godmother and Godfather who are entrusted with the spiritual nurturing of their Godchild, along with the parents. Also, at Baptism, we are made no longer orphans, but children of God. We have a Divine Father, and in Jesus, a Divine Brother. God doesn’t stop there, though. While we don’t have a Divine Mother, we do have a spiritual Mother. Because we are God’s Children, because Mary is Jesus’ mother, and because Jesus is God, she is our mother, too. Without Jesus, we are orphaned sinners, but because of Him, we have a Father, and a Mother.

Honestly, I’m totally a “daddy’s girl.” In a lot of ways I’m a more feminine clone of my dad, and devotion to Mary took some getting used to. It seemed like a distraction. Thinking about my own family, though, we’re a complete disaster without my mom. The fact of the matter is, Mary played a part in making Jesus who He is, at least on a human level. She guided His growth, learning, and maturity, and she was always involved in His life. Since our goal in life is ultimately to be like Him, and to be with Him, and since she is our spiritual Mother, she can have that motherly influence on us, spiritually. In a similar way, I am not my Godson’s natural mother, but I can help him grow and mature on a spiritual level.

I think looking to Mary as a model is helpful because simply looking to Jesus all the time can sometimes be terrifying, exhausting, and perplexing. I mean that in all sincerity. Sometimes when reading the Gospels, I find myself thinking, “Why would you do that?” Jesus does and says things that from a flawed human perspective often don’t make a whole lot of sense. Looking to Mary can be helpful because I can say to her, “What is He doing?” And as a patient mother, she says, “Just trust Him. You don’t have to have it all figured out. You don’t have to have Him figured out. Just follow Him. I’ll help you.”

Even as His mother, Mary didn’t have Him figured out. When He went missing for three days in the Temple, she asked Him, “Why would you do this?” I don’t think it was accusatory. I think she was asking the same question as me: “What are you doing?” I like the “Hail Holy Queen” prayer because sometimes Jesus’ answers to prayers is “no” when I ask for healing for myself or for someone else. Sometimes bad things happen and despite the fact that I know He can turn evil into a greater good, I don’t have the strength or the hope to stubbornly praise Him anyway. Instead, I can go to Mary and say, “I don’t have it in me, so pray for me; praise Him for me; carry me ’cause I can’t follow Him on my own.”

A lot of times, if I’m in a bad spot, I’ll ask Jesus to “be my River,” and to “carry me,” but I mean it in a different sense. In this metaphor, I imagine Jesus as the River that will get me out of said “bad spot,” and ultimately to Heaven, but Mary is a boat. I’m a good swimmer; I naturally float, but after a while, I do get tired. Obviously it’s not a perfect metaphor because when I fall, the Lord stops, cleans me up, and helps me get going again. If I’m upset about something, He’ll stop and help me through it. He’s a good friend. At the same time, He is trying to carry me Home, and sometimes, He’s not as gentle as I’d like. It may be cliche, but it’s true that the Lord loves me just as I am, but He loves me too much to let me stay this way; He’ll comfort me, but He won’t coddle me. That’s why it’s helpful sometimes to have friends in Heaven to lean on, especially a Mother.

Queen Mother

This past summer, I did a personal retreat in preparation to consecrate myself to Our Lady of Mount Carmel. If you’re not Catholic, that will probably have sounded like gibberish. The Virgin Mary has a lot of titles in the Catholic Church. One of those is “Our Lady of Mount Carmel.” The first Carmelites put themselves under Her protection, along with, it goes without saying, the protection of the Lord. The Carmelite Order originated in the Middle Ages in the context of a European feudal system. The way a feudal system worked was that a person would put himself under the patronage of a lord or lady. The man would serve his lord or lady and the patron or patroness would protect his or her servant.

During the crusades, when warriors went east from Europe, doctors and spiritual leaders went with them as support. a group of men decided to stay in the Holy Land and settle on Mount Carmel, living largely as hermits. Eventually, due to invasion by Arabic groups, they were forced to leave the Holy Land and return to Europe where they continued their way of life under the Rule of Saint Albert, who was the Bishop of Jerusalem at the time the Order got started in the mid 13th Century. While looking at the date, one might wonder when devotion to Mary got started. Mention of Mary in Christian worship started as early as the 3rd Century, just about 100 years after the Gospels were written

It should be noted that in ancient times, in various cultures, including ancient Israel, the queen was not the wife of the king: she was his mother. Often, the queen-mother would be sort of an advocate for the people to the king. In the Catholic Church, Mary is seen as this Queen Mother, and our Advocate. If Jesus is the King of the Universe, it makes sense, given His culture, that His Mother would be our Queen. A lot of people outside the Catholic Church ask why we pray to Mary and the Saints. We believe that our life on this Earth is a journey and a sort of challenge to authentically grow a loving relationship with God. We don’t come into the world perfect. We’re tainted by original sin, so we have to, with His help, strive for perfection. To be clear, it’s the Lord who gets us to Heaven, but our striving matters because it makes us truly His.

Our striving may end when we get to Heaven, but our life doesn’t. We’re still ourselves, and we still have relationships with people who are still on the journey. When we pray to Mary or Saint Peter or Paul, or someone else, we’re just talking. Often, when we pray to someone in Heaven, it’s to ask them to pray for us. It’s no different than asking a living friend or family member, except that we know the Saints in Heaven to be very holy people; we know that they are close to God. Being His Mother, we know that Mary is very close to God.

Still, many wonder if Catholic devotion to Mary is a little “over the top.” I get it; I thought this way for a long time. There is, however, Scriptural support for devotion to Mary. First, consider the wedding at Cana. The party ran out of wine. Mary noticed, and mentioned it to Jesus. Given that Jesus Himself was devoted to His mother, He changed the water into wine. If you need more evidence that Jesus was devoted to His mother, however, just consider the incident when He got lost in the Temple in Jerusalem. After He was found, He went home with His parents and, as Scripture says, “was obedient to them.” Even as He is dying on the cross, He makes sure that His mother would be cared for by John. He also makes a point to say that she is meant to be John’s Mother. John does not use his name in the way he writes his Gospel. He uses the name “the beloved disciple.” in the Catholic Church, this is interpreted to mean anyone who follows the Lord. Therefore, it is understood that, at the cross, Jesus had me in mind as His beloved disciple, and gave his mother, not only to John, but also to me, and the whole Church. This makes sense because the Church is the Body of Christ.

There are also references to Mary in the Old Testament, and elsewhere in the New Testament. By way of a few examples, Mary is prefigured by several Old Testament women. First, Mary is considered the new Eve, as Jesus is considered the new Adam. Eve is considered the mother of all the living, and she was unfaithful to God. Mary is considered our spiritual mother in God’s New Covenant, which He established through Jesus’ sacrifice, and she is faithful and trusting. Next, God promises descendants, and ultimately, a dynasty to Abraham. While He makes this promise to Abraham, it can only come to fruition through Sarah. Similarly, Jesus cannot come to live and die for us as a Man, except through a human mother, so while God’s promise of salvation isn’t achieved by Mary, she does participate in it. Finally, Bathsheba, the mother of the wise king Solomon is an advocate for him, and also rules alongside him as queen-mother, mirroring Mary’s role as she rules alongside her Son. There are many more examples, some more obvious than others, including the woman described in the book of Revelation.

All of this really is to say that Mary matters. St. Louis De Montfort makes the bold claim that devotion to Mary is the “surest, easiest, shortest, and most perfect” way of becoming a saint; in other words, of getting to Heaven and being close to the Lord. This is because if we let her do what a mother does–take care of Her children–she can teach us and help us to be like Jesus. She doesn’t do anything on her own. She is just as human as I am. Anything miraculous she does, she does by the power of the Holy Spirit. This isn’t completely unexpected since Jesus’ disciples performed miracles in the Gospels. When she asked the angel Gabriel how she was to conceive Jesus since she was a virgin, he explained to her that the Holy Spirit would “overshadow” her. This was a marital act, and Mary is considered to be the spouse of the Holy Spirit, so by her faith, and by His grace, she’s able to do a lot.

This leads me back to my first point. Back in July I consecrated myself to Mary. This hearkens back to the idea of putting myself under her protection as the first Carmelites did in the context of a feudal system. I dedicated myself to her because she can walk with me and guide me as I walk with Jesus, and chase Him to Heaven. I wrote out my consecration as follows:

I, Katie Curtis, a repentant sinner and servant of my Lord, Jesus Christ, entrust myself to you, Mary, my Lady of Mount Carmel. I ratify in your hands my baptismal vows, and resolve, with your help, to follow Jesus more closely and perfectly than ever before. I give you my heart. Keep me in your heart, and help me be attentive to Jesus’ thirst for love and for souls. Help me to love Him with your purity, and the crazy love that He deserves.

I give you my everything; my body, my soul, my goods, both interior and exterior, the value of my good actions; whatever you ask of me, that I may be brought closer to my Love, and my Lord. Help me to always trust Him, and always know and do His will. I entrust myself to you, as Jesus did, and I give you permission to do your work in, through, and around me, to make me a saint.

The simple version of that is, “Mom, I’m gonna trust you to teach me how to be like my Divine Brother.” I can trust her with that because she raised Him, and when He got older, she observed everything He said and did, and “pondered it in her heart.”

Just a couple of weeks ago, I took up the Rosary again. I had picked it up a few years ago for a few reasons, but then my devotion petered out. I picked it up again simply because I felt prompted to by the Holy Spirit. The Rosary might seem like a mindless recitation of repetitive prayers, and done wrong, it can be. Done right, though, the repetition of the “Hail Mary” isn’t the point. The point is to focus on the mysteries. I was prompted to focus on the “Sorrowful” mysteries that day, which walk you through the Lord’s Passion: The Agony in the Garden, the Whipping at the Pillar, The Crowning with Thorns, the Carrying of the Cross, and the Lord’s Death on the Cross. The Rosary’s repetitive prayers themselves are mostly there as a time keeper, but the Rosary itself helps one view the Mysteries of the Lord’s life through a Mother, or at least a beloved family member’s eyes.

In fact, the “Hail Mary” prayer is Scriptural. The angel Gabriel, on his appearance to Mary says, “Hail, favored one, the Lord is with you!” and when Mary appears to Elizabeth, Elizabeth says, “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” The complete Hail Mary prayer is this: “Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” What we’re saying by praying this is, “Mary, you’re a holy woman; you’re the mother of Jesus. Please pray for me.” By praying the full Rosary, I’m saying, “Jesus really matters to me. You were there; you witnessed His life. Help me to understand His life and how to love Him best.”

Some might argue that focusing on Mary takes the focus away from Jesus. In some sense, yeah, that’s kind of true. In the same way, however, you could say that admiring, talking to, hanging out with, and seeking advice or prayers from your friend, pastor, or whoever, who you think is a very holy person takes your focus away from Jesus. Ultimately, however, if you’re trying to be a holy person, in modeling yourself after someone you admire (a friend, a church leader, a canonized saint, or Mary), you’re still focusing on Jesus because you’re still trying to be like Him and get closer to Him, as they are.