Saturday, September 28, 2013

Brother Lawrence - Naming Our Possessions

Let us get acquainted with this simple uneducated man, Brother Lawrence who was born Nicolas Herman, in 1614 near the region of Lorraine in eastern France. At the age of 18 he had a watershed experience that forever changed the path his life took: 
"In the winter, seeing a tree stripped of its leaves, and considering that within a little time the leaves would be renewed, and after that the flowers and fruit appear, he received a high view of the providence and power of God, which has never since been effaced from his soul." He said "that this view had perfectly set him loose from the world, and kindled in him such a love for God that he could not tell whether it had increased during the more than forty years he had [since] lived."
It would be 6 years after this experience, during which he fought in the Thirty Years' War and then worked as a simple valet, before entering the Discalced or Barefoot Carmelite Order. He was received in and immediately assigned to menial work that included kitchen detail. Nonetheless his sense of inner peace was so profound that others were drawn to him for spiritual direction. He never grew tried of sharing his efforts to stay riveted on God so to be filled with peace and joy.

Following Brother Lawrence's death, M. Beaufort authored a book in which he recorded the many conversations he had with Brother Lawrence, including letters by Brother Lawrence. The title of this book is Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence  and it is one of the books that you will find on everyone's list of classical works of spirituality.

The book is filled with remarkable quotes, but I just want to focus on a few here. 
“The time of business for me does not differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess GOD in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament.”
I would like to draw out a couple imagines. First notice how he describes what we normally think of as two differing states of being or 'presence' - one is a rushing about and the other is of prayer. The former is caused by what we might say is our lack of possession thus our grasping for something or someone and the other is a result of being in possession of God. 

As a student of René Girard and mimetic theory I would like to bring out a second insight from this quote by Brother Lawrence and that is our notion of this term possession*. A word of caution here, we must not be fooled by a difference in our language: traditionally we refer to 'spirits' possessing people and usually this has a negative connotation. In turn when we refer to the Holy Spirit indwelling, or inhabiting the person we view this as a positive association. Please note however, the movement of relationship is the same in both cases. The difference is in our valuation of the quality of the "spirit" that is doing the moving. So in our reflection on Brother Lawrence's quote we note his allusion to how divisions of time/activity can in one moment cause us to fall out of God's indwelling only to be possessed by a spirit of distraction, fragmenting or separating us from peace - disconnecting us from God.

Brother Lawrence directs us saying that union with God is a surrender to the 'indwelling' or possession of God in each moment and for all activities. From his watershed experience at the age of 18 he came to know his calling, or it might otherwise be said, he was awaken to a particular state of indwelling, a deep sense of God's love for him, which throughout his life manifested itself in a difficult yet disciplined prayer life. 
"As often as I could, I placed myself as a worshiper before him, fixing my mind upon his holy presence, recalling it when I found it wandering from him. This proved to be an exercise frequently painful, yet I persisted through all difficulties." 
Gerald May wrote in his book, The Awakening Heart, that... "It is said of Brother Lawrence that when something had taken his mind away from love's presence he would receive 'a reminder from God' that so moved his soul that he 'cried out, singing and dancing violently like a madman.' You will note that the reminders came from God and were not his own doing."

Though Brother Lawrence glimpsed this 'high view of the providence and power of God' at 18, only when he reconciled himself to this lifelong struggle of surrender, that had at its heart to be only God's desire - God's possession, was he to realize the importance of prayer - not as an activity that he did but rather what God was doing through him.

* concept borrowed from Jesus, The Forgiving Victim with James Alison

The Spiritual Journey is a Shared Journey

Shared Journey by Morgan Burton Johnson
Whether we allow ourselves to be fully embraced by this fact or not we must contend with the reality that our lives are shared and inter-connected. Most of us shrug our shoulders and say okay no big deal and to others they go rushing around hugging everyone. But what does it mean to be inter-connected? We generally agree that grace is poured out for one and all yet the reality check comes when we own up to the fact that we each are essential to one another - those we get along with and especially those who rub us the wrong way. And it is here where the spiritual journal begins. In a way the spiritual journey is a paradox - a going forth and a coming home. And most importantly, it is a shared journey that we never go it alone.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

It is the Model from which our memories are interpreted that give us a clue as to who we are

The Gift of 9-11 
(from The Magnificat and Traces)

On September 11, 2001, 29-year-old Tiffiny Gulla, a successful facilities manager in downtown Manhattan, stood on a corner facing the Twin Towers when events that would change the course of her life transpired. She shares with Traces her life’s journey over the past ten years: “This disease has put Him front and center.”

Every time I have gone to the doctor over this time it is something new—losing my fingertips or feeling the hardening of my left lung… I am not thinking about all this while it is happening. I did not even realize how changed I was physically until 2006 when I saw a picture of myself and I said, "Wow, I am deformed!" 

My life, although successful, was chaotic. My mother, in the throes of her second bout with cancer, had just moved in with me—with my brother, so we could take care of her. I had a greater desire for meaning and was ready for any change. So, on the suggestion of a friend, I went on an interview for this job with royal blue financial corp. (now Fidessa) in 2000. I was hired not necessarily for my resume but, oddly enough, because I was on an amateur national golf circuit, and my would-be boss loved golf! I thought, “Maybe Providence is at work here!” As a facilities manager, I did everything from running around with a real estate broker, dealing with lawyers, to finally renting the office space; I would then design, manage, and upkeep the offices and data centers. Two months into the job, I discovered that there was a chapel 50 feet from my office, Our Lady of the Rosary, the Mother Seton shrine, and I made that my second home. This was an answer to my prayer, which by then was becoming, “Lord, I want You to be my full focus.” Because I was working there, I was downtown on September 11th. And that brought this disease, which has put Him front and center, as I had asked. It was almost a relief to know I would have to depend on Him now. 

God had to take each one of my gifts and talents away one by one for me to see what the real Gift is. My life is no longer who I know, all my contacts, what I can do—because I can no longer do what I was able to do physically. Now my life is just Him, on whom I fully depend. I still work in finance, designing office spaces. I can’t play music anymore but I still have my voice and I am composing music with the help of friends. I have to give everything to everyone because I am so dependent. But if I had not already been in a relationship of dependence on Christ, accepting so much help would be unbearable. Instead, my friends are signs of Him for me. I was even given a phenomenal doctor and friend ... named Franz. He has saved me physically more than once—and has helped me emotionally and spiritually as well. 

I know a lot of pain, and getting through the day is truly trying, but I cannot emphasize enough that God is there every minute. How can I not accept all this as a gift?!