Attempting the impossible: describing my longing for God

How can I describe a longing for God? The scriptures describe it as a deer “panting” for streams of water (Psalm 42). The dictionary defines panting as a longing with breathless or intense eagerness; to yearn. Synonyms for panting include an ache, a craving, a desire. Hunger. Thirst.

Longing has equivalents in music: The sound of an oboe playing the “Going Home” theme from the second movement of Dvorak’s New World Symphony. A trumpet playing taps over a grave. Monks chanting, their voices in perfect unison stretching out the notes like a violin, back and forth, the voices swelling and then pulling back. The final note sung, hanging in mid air until it fades away.

Hernán Piñera Thanks for the music, mysterious form of time Flickr Creative Commons

Longing can be a pleasant feeling as it is for something good. My longing increases when God grants me the ability to sense and feel His presence; it is pure gift. It’s like the glow after a glass of wine. It’s the lightheaded peace I feel when swimming, moving slowly through the water and then floating, letting my body go limp. It’s that leftover warmth I feel when I visit my special friend after we have shared laughter, hopes and dreams, thoughts about God and our lives, occasional tears, and the Eucharist.

Longing can also hurt. It pulls inside of me causing a painful sensation. It is loneliness when the wall between God and myself becomes hard and thick due to apathy, pride and sin. It’s a constant sensation, often in the background but lately, more in the forefront. There is no concrete feeling or thought associated with my longing that can be sufficiently expressed in words; I only know that I yearn for God’s presence.

Sometimes God is so close to me that I cannot perceive him. I feel empty inside, alone and afraid. Frequently I wake in the middle of the night and try to reach out to him and feel no consolation. Yet my scant knowledge of God reminds me that He is near. Often that has to be enough, just to believe.

A seed was planted this summer after the silent weekend retreat with the Trappist Monks at St. Joseph’s Abbey. A tiny seed of longing. The seed has not yet matured enough to poke through the ground so it needs a great deal of care. My Catholic faith has supplied me with what I need to nourish it: prayers, hymns, the Word, the liturgy, the Eucharist and the community. And new tools and reminders: Gregorian chant, looking up at the sky, and swimming at the local health club. Beautiful, simple and concrete reminders of that which is beyond words to describe.

Winam Morning Swim Flickr Creative Commons

Perhaps the psalmist says it best:

As an antelope pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When may I come and appear in God’s presence?

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

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A Special Bouquet for Carmen

Pure creativity is such a sacred time – love this post by my friend Brunhilde Luken.

Brunhilde Luken, artist and writer

It was an exciting wonderful summer day. My thoughts went back to the time when my children were little. Now they are all grown up with children and some grandchildren of their own. For a second, time stood still. In my mind I watched them play and giggle and laugh. They were so happy. Thankful to our Lord for being able to remember it all. I thought, “Today is a good day to paint a special bouquet.” As I started to play-paint, I truly felt this was my playtime.

I put a first layer on and washed it off, this was a perfect background. As I started to paint, I could picture this in my daughter Carmen’s kitchen. With so much love in my heart, my brushes moved over the canvas with such ease creating this beautiful bouquet of flowers. I knew God gave me this special gift for my…

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Groanings too deep for words

Note: This is my June, 2018 column for the Catholic Free Press.

Recently I brought the Eucharist to a loved in the hospital. It was hardly the quiet and reflective moment that we had hoped for with doctors and nurses buzzing around us. But we were both certain that Jesus was with us in body, blood, soul, and divinity. It turns out he was closer to us than we ever could have imagined.

Feeling full

All I know is that on the way home I felt full. I still cannot find the words to describe it. All I could think of was that scripture passage from Romans 8:26, “the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” The best that I could muster was to just lose myself in thought, contemplating what had happened at my loved one’s hospital bed.

Holy moment

On the surface it was nothing extraordinary; no one would have ever guessed what was truly going on. A few prayers were said in haste so that my loved one could partake of the Eucharist before the medicine she had taken kicked in. It was hardly the holy moment that we desired.

In the middle of it all

Yet later in the car God made it plain that in fact it had been a holy moment as evidenced by my “groanings.” Jesus, incarnate, present in the plain, thin wafer was in the room, so close to us that we could not perceive him. It reminded me of a line in a song by Amy Grant called “Ask Me How I Know;” it describes it perfectly:

 

He’s in the middle of her pain …
Mercy brings life
He’s in the middle
Mercy in the middle

Shared experience

When I got home I mentioned to my husband what had happened and I was surprised to hear that he had gone through the same thing just a few days earlier after he had taken communion to a priest in the hospital. His description of the encounter was quite unremarkable, just like mine. And yet, he had the exact same experience of the groanings too deep for words.

Beyond proof

I realize now that these times of such groanings are wonderful and blessed gifts that cause us to transcend our earth-bound lives and enter into the mystery of God. We are lifted up beyond the need of empirical proof. We don’t need facts and figures and logical arguments; it is enough that the heart knows that something extraordinary is happening. We don’t need words because they are quite inadequate to describe the width, height, length and depth of God’s love (Ephesians 3:18).

A gift of grace

I even wondered how I could craft a column about this experience given the inadequacy of words. I am grateful that I could even get this rough description down on paper for as I write, I can relive that amazing moment of grace. And, better yet, I was afforded the opportunity to experience such grace with my loved one in the hospital and with my beloved at home.

Grace is not a moment we can manufacture; we can only recognize that God is about to bestow a gift. It requires having an open heart, ready to receive at any moment. It may mean doing something unexpected, or giving up something we desire. It could take us out of our comfort zone. It cannot happen if we rely on ourselves rather than him.

O Lord, may I be ever ready to receive your gift of grace!

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Speaking to confirmation students as they make final preparations

I was very pleased to speak to our confirmation candidates on April 8 about practical ways to deepen their faith. Each year I help out with the confirmation retreats — the team gives two each year, scheduled during the Christmas rush. Although it can be difficult to take time away during December, the confirmation retreat is a wonderful reminder of why we love and serve the Lord. I am always so grateful for the time I get to spend with these wonderful kids.

Debbie Ziegler, who promotes our parish activities via social media and email, was kind enough to share with me the article she wrote about the talk. I understand from her that a good discussion ensued with her students after the talk. Thanks Debbie!

photo by Debbie Ziegler for St. Luke the Evangelist Parish, Westborough, MA

At their final class before receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation, Sue Bailey; musician, author, member of the Confirmation retreat team and St. Luke’s music ministry; addresses the students, sharing wisdom and experiences with stories, analogies and music. Sue provided excellent and useful advice and resources to help youth on their continuing path of discovery and faith in the Catholic church.

Sue answers the question, “Where Do I Go From Here?” by showing how she was able to recognize, then trust, the call of God; and that in doing so she was led to some unexpected and wonderful new places.

 The students enjoyed her presentation, which concluded with her song, “Will You Teach Me” and contemplation of the lyrics:
Oh, will You teach me to be loved
And will you teach me to receive
The bounty of Your endless grace
You gave me reason to believe
There’s something greater than me

Sue Bailey’s song “Will You Teach Me”:

The power of spiritual music: reflecting on the movie “I Can Only Imagine”

This is my most recent column in the Catholic Free Press and Catholicmom.com.

What happens when you blend an iconic song with a powerful story of grace and forgiveness? You have “I Can Only Imagine,” the new movie directed by the Erwin brothers and starring J. Michael Finley as MercyMe front man and songwriter Bart Millard. The song “I Can Only Imagine” is the most played Christian song of all time; Millard wrote it after experiencing the graces of transformation and reconciliation regarding his abusive father, played by Dennis Quaid.

The gist of this reflection beyond reviewing this fine movie is how much it saddens me to think how many people lock sacred music away in the church building when it is here at our disposal through the wonders of technology. But more than that, it is available in our memories, to sing anytime we wish to our Lord.

Here is the link to the complete article on Catholicmom.

Thank you Lord

Thank you Lord, for all you’ve done for me.

Why is fasting so difficult? Looking for answers.

Note: This is my latest column for the Catholic Free Press. I also invite you to read my feature article in found on the Catholic Free Press website: St. Gabriel Lenten project to spread peace and joy

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lent is upon us. In our household this means an extended period of fasting. My husband is a deacon in the Eastern Catholic Church (Melkite) and thus is required to fast for the entire season. That means that as his wife and support, I must too.

Fasting challenge

Fasting in the Eastern Church is rigorous — no meat, no dairy; fish is limited to shell fish. If we were in our twenties with no health issues this would still be difficult to follow. In our early sixties, we both observe diets that benefit our health. This diet eliminates most starch from our meals (pasta, beans, rice, etc.). Watching our cholesterol precludes eating shell fish regularly. There is not much left to eat, especially if you are not a good cook.

Heather Cheese straws Flickr Creative Commons

Even as I write this it sounds like a pathetic lament. But I confess that I find fasting very difficult. The reason is because after doing this for several years, it is still an empty obligation. I have yet to find the spiritual benefit from the fast.

Body as well as spirit

I am well aware of the arguments. Bishop Kallistos Ware of the Orthodox faith has written a helpful pamphlet, “When You Fast” which I have read many times and annotated. He says never to treat fasting in a legalistic way, as an end in itself. At the same time, fasting reminds us that man is both body and spirit; St. Paul states that, “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit,” (1 Corinthians 6:19) urging us to glorify God with our bodies. Bishop Kallistos writes of our willingness to fast in order to lose weight; “cannot we as Christians do as much for the sake of the heavenly Kingdom?” That pricked at my conscience as one who fasts year round to keep my weight in check. I admit that it’s easier to do that because I get the instant gratification of stepping on the scale and seeing that I am successful. Lenten fasting lacks such earthly reward.

Getting beneath the surface

I know that the purpose of fasting is not for payback. But I long for it to be something more than counting down the days until it is finished. It is painful to admit that the sameness of the meals and the added complications when it comes to shopping bother me a great deal. How I wish I had some inner understanding of why all of this is good and necessary for me to draw closer to God.

The arguments for fasting

Intellectually I am aware of the arguments for fasting. Bishop Kallistos writes that, “The primary aim of fasting is to make us conscious of our dependence upon God.” Our discomfort (hunger pangs, tiredness) reminds us of our “inward brokenness and contrition; to bring us … to the point where we appreciate the full force of Christ’s statement ‘Without Me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5)”

Leading to prayer

Fasting is supposed to lead to prayer but for me it is still an empty exercise. How can I make my knowledge of fasting penetrate my stone cold heart?

Oméga * Femme priant – Woman praying Flickr Creative Commons

In one sense it is leading me to a simple prayer: “Lord, please show me how to fast such that it makes me more aware of You.” Remembering from St. Paul that we are to pray always, this will be my consistent daily prayer.

What is your experience?

I’d now like to ask: What does fasting mean to you? How do you make it work? What spiritual lessons have you learned from your fasting? Please share your experience in a comment. Perhaps through our community I and others like me can figure out the mystery of fasting through our mutual sharing.

In the meantime let us keep each other in prayer that we may fast in a more worthy manner.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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A novel gift idea this Christmas: just let each other BE

Note: this is my Catholic Free Press column for December; it is also running on Catholicmom.com.

Here’s an except:

Pressure!

By Eric Mueller (2003) via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

There is a lot of pressure applied to people during the holiday season to conform to some artificial standard. Society tells us to behave in one way while the opposite is preached by our Church. Newlyweds are expected to be present at all the family gatherings despite the impossible logistics. The financially strapped are supposed to spend, spend, spend. The domestically challenged must entertain and cook up a storm. Those still licking wounds from Christmases past are supposed to act like they were never wounded. The lonely should not be lonely and the grieving should stop mourning and put it behind them.

So how can we be of help? And what if we fit one of these categories — can we be kind to ourselves?

Read on …

Continue reading “A novel gift idea this Christmas: just let each other BE”

When faith is tested: He’s got this.

My monthly Catholic Free Press/Catholic mom column.

When I awoke to the news of the massacre in Las Vegas, I felt numb inside. It was all too much. First the hurricanes in Texas and Florida. Then the devastation in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. And now this. (And after initially writing this, the fires in Northern California). I had not been directly affected by any of these events and yet a heavy sense of dread lay on my heart as I began to pray for those who had been affected. In reciting words that praised God and spoke of his protection, I felt a thud inside my heart saying, “no, they had not been protected.”

Where is God?

Later in the day I had a short conversation with a good friend on Twitter. She had written, “Las Vegas makes us ask God: where are you? The answer: God is here, asking the same question of us: ‘Where are you?’ Seek and let him find you.” I answered, “Got to admit, this one is shaking my faith a bit. I will never abandon my faith and I will always love God, but it did give me pause.” She answered, “I understand. What God permits is always jarring, but He sees the whole picture. That doesn’t make it any easier to trust Him.”

She thought her reply had not helped but in fact, it did. I felt the burden lift just a bit at the thought of God alone knowing the whole picture. I answered, “Actually, in a way, it does. He’s got this. Thank you; your words brought me comfort.”

He’s got this.

It’s not for me or for any of us to know the entire picture. He sees the world in its entirety from the beginning until the end of time. I don’t know why that comforts me, but it does. It is not within my ability to be omnipotent and therefore, not my responsibility to know it all. I am only asked to know enough to offer prayers and supplication, to lend a hand, to offer some words of comfort.

All I ever have to be …

This all reminds me of a song written by Gary Chapman and sung by Amy Grant,

“And all I ever have to be is what
You’ve made me
Any more or less would be a step out of Your plan
As you daily recreate me help me always keep in mind
That I only have to do what I can find
… all I ever have to be is what You made me.”

One day at a time

It’s the same idea. None of us were made with the capacity to carry the whole world on our shoulders. And that is a comfort to me. Somebody Else is in charge of that. All I have to do each day is to do what I am supposed to do. I can’t physically be in Houston or the Keys or San Juan or Las Vegas. But I can pray. I can carry these people in my thoughts and in my heart. I can choose a favorite charity and donate. I can give blood even though it may not be of help in Las Vegas; it will, however, help someone in my own backyard.

The suffering in our world is overwhelming; it’s impossible for me to wrap my head around it. Thankfully I am not asked to do that. I can leave it to the Lord; He’s got this.

A prayer

“Lord, guide me in your wisdom to those little things I can do to help ease some of the suffering of this world. Chase away my dread and those nagging doubts and show me what I can do in this moment to be of help. And please, keep reminding me that all I ever have to be what is You made me.”

Listen to Amy Grant singing the song:

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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Book Recommendation: Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God

Note: I was sent an advance copy by the author for review purposes.

I am so pleased to recommend the debut book by a blogger whom I have come to regard as a friend – Lori Erickson’s Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God.

Erickson describes herself as a seeker and a pilgrim:

In my search for the holy, I’ve wandered down many paths. I’ve been a Lutheran, a Wiccan, a Unitarian Universalist, a Buddhist, an Episcopalian, and an admirer of Native American traditions. I’ve been spiritual-but-not-religious and religious-but-not-spiritual. I can read tarot cards and balance chakras. My spirit animal is a bear, which is a great relief because for years I thought it was a raccoon, an animal that while perfectly fine lacks a certain gravitas.

After many years of spiritual wandering, I’m now a committed Christian, but one who frequently flirts with other religious traditions.

Nature of the spiritual journey

The way to God is always a crooked path; it’s up to us to approach that path with an open mind: with eyes ready for new vision; with ears that will hear a something different and absorb it; and with a heart ready to accept, listening to the prompting of God’s Holy Spirit to help us understand. This is how I see my spiritual journey; I recognize that same spirit of pilgrimage in Holy Rover.

Pilgrimages across the globe

I discovered Erickson’s blog right around the time I created Be as One. She wrote the way I wished to write, creating a sense of longing for God while at times evoking strong emotions. She and her husband Bob are experienced world travelers, having taken numerous pilgrimages and documenting them in words and pictures.

Sharing her travels

I am a decided homebody, being most happy in familiar territory. There are times however when I know I need to emerge from the cocoon. Lori’s writing about her pilgrimages have enabled me to where I would never have normally gone; exotic places that have been home to saints and spiritual guides from all over. I found myself frequently engaging in discussion on her blog with both her and her readers, all of whom struck me as fellow travelers.

Now I have all that beauty and wisdom packed away in a lovely book (complete with an autographed name plate, thank you!). It is something I can turn to when I need to “get out of the house” whether it be my physical home or just out of myself. When I find the need to expand my horizons, I can turn to Holy Rover and never be disappointed.

Lori Erickson writes with refreshing honesty about the spiritual journey, free from judgment and dogma. Whether your wanderings take you around the world or into your backyard, far from the religion of your youth or just a few steps away, you will find a fascinating, wise and compassionate guide in Lori. I have. Thank you, Lori.

You can read a sample from the book here.

Order Holy Rover: Journeys in Search of Mystery, Miracles and God from Amazon.

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Susan’s latest CD, “Mater Dei” is now available!
Purchase here.

Many people find coloring to be a wonderful way to relax and experience harmony in their lives. Is that you? Join my Email List to subscribe to this blog and receive your free Harmony coloring book (and more).

River of Grace Audio book with soundtrack music available now on Bandcamp. Listen to the preface of the book, and all the songs.

Susan Bailey, Author, Speaker, Musician on Facebook and Twitter
Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion

 

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