To Be A Living Invocation
I have never thought of myself as being an epiclesis, or even a pneumatophor for that matter. In truth, I usually have trouble pronouncing these words. But maybe, that is what all of us are called to be.
By Rule, we as Carmelites not only work and pray and sometimes play, and try to grow in charity, but we also have an opportunity each day to spend time in spiritual reading. Often, and somewhat spontaneously, we share with one another what we have read. There is an added benefit to all of this. We not only come in direct contact with the inspiration of the original author but, in addition, we are enriched by each other's reflection on the reading. Thus, the good word goes forward and lives on and reshapes the situation at hand. In connection with this, I often think of the psalmist who prays: Your word, Oh Lord, is a lamp to my feet and a light unto my path. (Ps.119:105) It occurs to me that God may well be saying the same thing to us: Your words, O faithful one, as simple and unimportant as they may seem, are a lamp and a light for Me as I walk your world. As a very young person, I learned that, for every written or spoken word, fifty words are thought by the one who reads or listens. It seems important then, to pay attention to these fifty words. Maybe, that is what is meant by being a pneumatophor," a bearer of the Spirit." Recently, we had such a sharing on an article published in the Cistercian Studies Quarterly.1 Since then, I have been wondering just how a person becomes an epiclesis, a living invocation of the Spirit. First of all, it would seem that one listens to the ever on-going gentle prayer in one's heart. What a sublime calling, to be a living invocation! All we need to do is call. It also occurs to me that the word, invocation, contains within it the word, vocation.
However, there is a bit of paradox in all of this, in view of the fact that the Spirit is with us even before we ask. Perhaps, it is more apt to think of the invocation as being a cry of the soul asking the Spirit to first gently open our hearts that we may become aware of that same Spirit awakening within. I have a friend who speaks of wanting to be a doorway for the Reign of God. Another friend speaks of offering her whole life as a "Come" to the Spirit of God. In his Spiritual Canticle, St. John of the Cross invokes the Spirit saying, "Come, South Wind blow into my garden."2 Come, dispel winter's chill. And, in the midst of summer, we in the Midwest ask "God on our side" to be our "grateful coolness in the heat," as described so beautifully in the Pentecost Sequence. We ask the Spirit to come, not only upon ourselves, but upon the Church, the world, our community, our families and all the other areas that come to mind when we pray.
It is comforting to note that the Spirit we ask for is very attracted to our weaknesses, our upsets, our anxieties, our doubts and our fears. Pentecosts can happen anytime and any day, regardless of the season. The Spirit comes and brings about a union of our weakness and our doubts and fears with the power of God. In a way, our weakness and neediness become an invocation and an expression of God's desire for God within us.
Let our hearts yearn, then, for the Spirit and all that the Spirit brings. In a letter to one of the Carmelite Sisters, St. John of the Cross expresses it well. He writes tenderly: During these days, let your heart be taken up with wanting the Holy Spirit to come. You owe it to your heart to give it this peace and stillness, since your heart is a place where the Spirit is pleased to dwell.3
1Enzo Bianchi, "The Holy Spirit in the Monastic Life," Cistercian Studies Quarterly (Huntsville, Utah: Abbey of Our Lady of the Holy Trinity, Volume 37.2, 2002); p.154ff.
2St. John of the Cross, The Collected Works of St. John of the Cross, Kieran Kavanagh, OCD, Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, ( Washington D.C.: ICS Publications, Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1979), p.412.
3Letter 20, to a Carmelite nun, Pentecost (date unknown.) Footnote in Mount Carmel, Vol.50 No.2, (Boars Hill, Oxford: Carmelite Priory, April-June, 2002,) p.8.
Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.
Where Is Galilee?
It can happen to us, anytime. Sometimes, it comes with a disappointment. At other times, it happens when we are talking to a friend or reading a book. It can also happen on a very ordinary Monday, when we are walking along and see a violet growing in the crack of a sidewalk. Joseph Campbell refers to this as the call to adventure. From time to time, Life naturally awakens the hero, or heroine, in all of us. Often, this call leads to bliss and our own Easter.
Although we can always say no, the call returns again and again in a different guise. How kind on the part of God, or Life, or even the angels, to keep on doing this!
If we say yes, we will be led to the threshold of adventure, where stands the guardians of the doorway. Their task is to remind us that we are about to embark on a very serious journey. We may also be met by friends, whose task it is to encourage us. These friends may give us their own personal sacramentals to strengthen us for the hard days ahead.
As we enter this strange and unknown land, we meet both friendly and hostile forces. The hostile forces try to hold us back from going farther. The kindly forces encourage us and give us strength, reminding us that there is a prize up ahead, maybe just around the bend.
Finally, we come to the most important moment in the inward journey. Campbell refers to this as the terrible ordeal. St. John of the Cross expresses it much the same way.
If we stay with the struggle, the grace and the prize are ours. But, this is not the end. There is the struggle of return. The hostile forces try to deter us from seeing the sun, again. The friendly forces urge us on. When we do see the sun, it is Easter! Furthermore, when we reflect on what happened in the dark, the venture may indeed seem unreal. In addition, we learn that the prize is not really ours until we give it away. In other words, the prize is for others.
All along the way, we thought we were making this journey by ourselves, relying on our own native strength. In reality, it was not the hero, or the heroine, who had the courage and the self-giving to go ahead, but in some mysterious way, the Divine was struggling with us.
The Easter liturgy repeatedly has the Risen Jesus saying, "I will go before you to Galilee. There you will see me." The story and our prayer continue. In the quiet of our hearts, we experience ourselves wondering, "Where is Galilee?"
Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.
Always There, Every Morning
As Caroline Myss puts it: "We all want to know why we are here." In the introduction to her latest book, Caroline also quotes a former president of India as saying that the reason we were born is to become united to the Divine. It is comforting to know that Nature is in no hurry. If we miss the clues along the way, Nature, like the Divine, eventually catches up with us and helps us out.*
All of us have had the experience of doing the same activity day after day, even reverently, and then one day, unexpectedly, something is different. We see the activity differently. The Divine catches up with us. For example, I cannot count the number of times I have heard the greeting, "Lift up your hearts," at Eucharist. The other day, I began to ponder the root meaning of this expression. Actually, a more accurate translation would be: "Let your heart arise." This is so because the heart naturally rises, if we give it a chance.
It seems like the pre-Easter, pre-Spring, season is a good time to ponder what helps the heart arise and what hinders its natural spontaneous movement. Often the heart is weighed down because it has not had a chance to grieve its loses, even the small ones. Usually, we are conscious of the big ones. The least anyone can do for the heart is to articulate these loses, list them, and cry over them if need be. Along this line, there is a belief that seems to be Irish in origin. It goes something like this: If we lose something or someone very precious, that person or that something sends back a gift and a blessing to take the place of the loss. This is a very everyday understanding of the Paschal Mystery. At any rate, it behooves us to look for the gift.
One of the best tonics for a healthy heart is to embrace a life of non-worry. While some concerns are to be addressed, in many other cases, we are called to name the worry, own it, and then let it go. Sometimes, we prevent the heart from rising because we do not allow it to do what it wants to do naturally, in the good sense of the term. Goethe says: "Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has a genius in it." The heart needs to be allowed to take that first step. Courage, as well as Divine Providence, will follow.
Lastly, the heart rises most nobly when it reaches out to other people who feel weighed down by life's burdens. How does one help another heart to rise? Initially, the heart takes on the sadness of the other. And then, it speaks a word of hope and encouragement into the desolation, while, at the same time, suggesting a different way of looking at the situation. Finding a natural home in the heart, hope believes that a benefit has already taken place. Furthermore, we would not hope at all, if what we hoped for were far away. Charles Peguy refers to hope as a little sister who rises with us each morning. She is always there, and never stops singing.
*Caroline Myss, Sacred Contracts, Awakening Your Divine Potential, New York: Harmony Books, 2001, p.1.
Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.
The Love Who Comes
There seems to be one big question that lies beneath all our other wonderings and ponderings: "Am I significant in God's eyes?" Sebastian Moore puts it another way when he says that we all desire to be desired by the one we desire. We certainly know this to be the case in human relationships. Although the Christian message is resplendent with the message to love one another, there is a deeper sense of meaning and completeness, when we detect that we are attractive to the one whom we find attractive.
All of this has to do with being significant to our origin. Although randomness and chance are all part of our world, we so want to believe that once a bird, or flower, or human person have made an appearance, that flower and that bird and that human being are known by their Maker and are not only important, but very precious.
It seems like the season of Christmas addresses this deep human hungering. At least for a while, differences dwindle, and people open up and reach out to other people. At this time, it is difficult keeping spontaneous love from showing. Through each other, God tells us that we are indeed significant and that this world, God's and ours," would not be the same without us.
My sense is that when people say, "Merry Christmas and Happy New Year," they really do want this to be the case for the other person. Truly, the Love who comes enkindles all our other loves and makes them visible.
Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.