Songs And Silver Things

Yesterday I tried at writing a song, but writing what’s on my mind and in my heart as lyrics is difficult. Last night I listened to an episode of a podcast by Father Mike Schmitz that was released around Christmas time. It was about the events surrounding Mary and Jesus’ early childhood. She had agreed to be the mother of the Messiah, but had been given no details about what would ensue following his birth. Joseph initially thought she had been unfaithful; when Jesus was to be born, they had no comfortable place to deliver Him; they had to flee into Egypt because Herod wanted Him killed; when they presented Him in the temple, Mary was told that a sword would pierce her heart, and that her Son would be a sign of contradiction; when He was twelve, he was lost for three days.

Father Mike noted that these last two events are two of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary because we know what they mean in retrospect, but it wouldn’t have been joyful for Mary and Joseph at the time they were living through it. Fr Mike said that as humans, we like certainty. We like telling stories about past Christmases or birthdays or camping trips because they will not and cannot change. They are certain. Within the past few years I’ve had to really internalize the Lord’s teaching: let tomorrow worry about itself. Tomorrow is not certain, but two things are: the past, and God.

Yesterday I tried writing lyrics about giving your heart away and how that can be dangerous. Everyone gives their heart to someone or some thing. We are created in God’s likeness. God is love and love is always given. We can’t help it. Who or what we love is important, but that could be a topic for entirely different blog post. I realized yesterday that even giving your heart to God is dangerous. A few days ago, I realized that I was tempted to stop caring; to stop caring about other peoples’ suffering, and to stop caring that I can’t receive the Sacraments. If I did that, if I let my heart get hard, it wouldn’t hurt any more.

The week before Mass was suspended everywhere, I named the sky “Faithfulness” because God is faithful. Last night I saw an amazing sunset through our kitchen window. I hadn’t payed attention to the sky in quite a while since it’s been cold here and I haven’t left the house except for a handful of times. As when I prayed on Easter Sunday and Jesus really seemed to hold my hand, that sky seemed to say to me, “I’m still here.”

As silly as it is, I’ve adopted one of Columbus’s rules from Zombie Land: Enjoy the little things. These days we can’t take anything for granted. My mom has started ordering groceries for delivery. The problem is, so has everyone else, and trying to get an order through is incredibly time consuming. Within the past two weeks I’ve started eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. There’s nothing extraordinary about that except that I hadn’t eaten a PBJ probably since elementary school, and I have a renewed appreciation for melting chunky peanut butter on a piece of toast.

It’s the little things–the way my bird smells, the taste of strawberries, that irrefutable sunset–that remind me that God is still here, if I pay attention. I had online formation with two members of my Carmelite community this past weekend, and we talked about Saint John of the Cross’s Dark Night. Our formation leader said that the darkness is sometimes how we experience God’s presence because what we usually consider “light” is what we understand, while the “dark,” is what we don’t. Sometimes God draws very near and since there’s so much of Him that we don’t understand, it can feel like an experience of “darkness.” Scripture attests to the fact that the Lord is close to those who suffer: “Blessed are they who mourn for they will be comforted.” This is one of many examples.

For the most part, my friends and family have been unaffected by the Corona virus, at least when it comes to our physical health. That was until very recently and members of my Carmelite community started requesting prayers for people they knew. That was actually a little bit scary because it started seeming a little more “personal.” I worry for those who don’t know the Lord and who are very sick, and I worry for those who have to go to the hospital for some other reason and end up getting the virus.

Honestly, I worry a lot for people who don’t know the Lord, partly for their souls, but also simply because knowing Jesus makes any kind of suffering so much easier. He truly is the Light of the World; He is the Light of Hope. Without even considering “final destinations,” He’s someone to look to when things are scary. Even if He doesn’t immediately get rid of the problem, He is faithful, patient, and compassionate, He comforts me, and He makes it worth it. Trusting Him through the chaos makes us stronger and deepens our love, for Him and for each other.

While it was going on, Mary didn’t understand why things were happening the way they were, but she trusted. She trusted all the way to Calvary, and despite the heartache of her Son’s death, she still trusted. Her trust was rewarded on the first Easter. It can be tempting to stop caring, but don’t. Trust the Lord. He knows heartache. He saw the suffering of people around Him and did something about it because it affected Him. That was precisely why He performed His miracles. He saw the death of His friend Lazarus and He knew He could and would bring him back, but the death of a friend still caused Him to weep. In Gethsemane He took on our own heartache because He didn’t want us to go through it alone.

Jesus is not bound by the Sacraments, and He can work miracles and mercy however He wants. Part of why He gave us the Sacraments is so we can experience His presence through our senses. This is a difficult time because right now we can’t do that. We still have things like music and Sacramentals, though.

When I’m desperate I can listen to a man sing “God when you choose to leave mountains unmovable/ Give me the strength to be able to sing it is well with my soul,” and know that I’m not alone. When I’m desperate I look at the things I wear around my neck that remind me of who He is and who I am. Among those things is a small silver Crucifix. That, maybe more than anything silently says to me, “I’m still here.”

Love Carries Me

On Saturday, the Lord made a mark on me that can’t be unmade. Saturday was the monthly meeting of our Carmelite Community, but it wasn’t like any other we’ve had this year. On Saturday I received the Brown Scapular of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, and was officially admitted into formation. This signifies that I am officially part of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, I am consecrated to Our Lady of Mount Carmel (and through her, in a particular way, Our Lord), and I am dedicated to imitating Mary in humility, chastity, and prayer; contemplating our Lord. On Saturday, the Lord made me more His own than I already was.

Last week was a little chaotic. Nothing especially crazy happened, at least on a basic level; I was just busy, so I didn’t get to my reading for Saturday’s formation until Friday. Along with the reading were some reflection questions, and one of those questions was simple and to the point; why do you want to be a Carmelite? I knew my answer almost immediately; I want to know Him more, and be more His.

With mixed emotions I sometimes remember when I daydreamed about what my wedding might have looked like. For various reasons, I know that marriage is not in the cards for me. The Lord has other plans, and that’s just fine. After my clothing ceremony on Saturday, which I had with one other woman, several others made their First Promises (which for nuns/friars would be like temporary vows), and one made his Final Promises (which would be like perpetual vows), and I found myself thinking about that like a wedding ceremony.

For me, Final Promises is five years away, and I have so much to learn, but I want that. I find that the closer I get to the Lord, the more I want Him. That seems counter intuitive, but I think it makes sense given that He is infinite Love, and I’m finite. I think I’m finally beginning to understand really that He is my only satisfaction. Every good thing that exists has a limit. Every beautiful, fun, hilarious, heartbreaking, glorious story has an end; eventually the coffee in the cup runs out; my favorite songs fade to silence; one day I will have to return my bird to the Lord. God’s Goodness, and everything that comes with that; His Beauty; Mysteriousness; Faithfulness; Compassion; these have no limit, and my thirst for Him can never really be quenched.

The Scapular I received on Saturday is meant to be an outward sign of an inner change. I don’t feel different per se, but I know that I am different. I’ve changed a lot in the past year, and it wasn’t like I was hit with a lightning bolt on Saturday, but it was like hearing the Lord say, “I see the choices you’ve made for Me. Thank you.” I recently came across an explanation of what it means when Jesus says “Deny yourself, take up your cross daily, and follow Me.” To deny yourself means to choose what God wants when what you want is something else. I realized that this past year, I’ve done that. I’ve changed things about my life that if the Lord hadn’t called me to Carmel, I probably would not have.

Promises, to me at least, seem very much like wedding vows. I had a thought the other day that I can love the Lord in a particular way precisely because I’m a woman. Obviously men love the Lord, too, but I imagine it’s a love of deep friendship and loyalty. Of course I have these same feelings, but I think because I’m a woman, I can love Him in a kind of romantic sense. There’s so much language in Scripture about the Lord’s relationship with His people being like that of a lover and His beloved. In fact, the Church, is often referred to with feminine language. When the Lord finally comes, there is language in Scripture of a wedding feast.

For a long time, I was wary of this kind of language. I wondered if I was allowed to love the Lord in this way. The fact of the matter is, though, I think I’m kind of supposed to. It’s not a the same as a “normal” or “usual” romance (for lack of a better word) between a man and a woman, but it is a kind of romance. Increasingly, there’s this ache in me because I want so badly to physically feel Him and audibly hear His voice. I want to sit somewhere with Him, and maybe not even talk about anything, but physically see Him with my eyes. Simply put, I want Him.

I’ve been a member of our Carmelite Community for a year now. I invited the priest who suggested I check this out in the first place (Father Patrick), and he came and concelebrated (was a copilot for) the Mass, and I invited my Godfather who came all the way from Maine. I hadn’t wanted to make a big deal of this, but my Community did. I was buried in really wonderful gifts from everyone. People didn’t just give me cards, but people had put thought into the things they gave me, and the things they wrote.

After October’s meeting I had a meeting with the leaders of our community who asked if I definitely wanted to continue my formation. I immediately said “yes” because I’ve enjoyed our meetings and I’ve been interested in what we’ve been learning about, and certainly, I’ve grown closer to the Lord through prayer. For a month, at different times I had taken it as a given that I would continue; at other times I was sincerely excited. For a week before Saturday, I had different feelings.

I had the feeling that it was wrong, and I grew increasingly nervous, but I also had the suspicion that these feelings were not natural. I ended up talking to Father Patrick on Wednesday, and he agreed with me that the devil was messing with my head. I mention this because I was incredibly nervous before the ceremony on Saturday, but I knew for sure that it was natural, and after the ceremony, I was, and still am insanely happy.

I think for the first time really, it feels like I know where I’m going. For a long time, that wasn’t the case. If life is a journey, though, I know where I want to get to, I know where I don’t want to go, and now it kind of feels like I finally have a spiritual road map. The crazy thing is, I’ve only been a Christian, let alone a Catholic for seven years or so. What the Lord can do in less than a decade is kind of insane. The beautiful thing is that I know that it’s been love that has carried me to where I am today. At times that’s been the love of learning things, at other times it’s been the blind leap of faith to chase the Lord, and at times, it has literally been Love Himself picking me up and carrying me because there have been times when I’ve needed Him to.