Monday, March 14, 2005

Things I lack, things God offers

Tenderness, holiness and stillness.

Strength, used in Christ's manner.

Gifts given for giving.

Those things have to do with the first Taizé meeting I've ever been to. God willing, (since I'm certainly more than willing!), it will not be my last. Providence University offers an hour of Taizé prayer the second Monday night of every month. It was truly awesome, truly awe-some. It was not awesome in a way that I can or should rave about. It was too serene and unassuming for a novice’s rave review. Taizé is in fact the antithesis of raving. Although I didn’t know each and every word we sang in Chinese, I knew enough of the original Latin to keep my bearings. As the time wrapped up, I reflected on the three things I began this post with. How did I come to see those things I lack? First a detour.

I met with Sr. Regina today, a USAmerican nun of the Sisters of Providence. She's been in Taiwan for 26 years and who is now my godmother. We plan to meet two Mondays a month, while Fr. Ramon and I will meet on the two alternate Mondays of each month. It was so nice being able to open up to her, in my mother tongue. She asked me what "area of specialty" I might want to grow in, a question which fairly stymied me. Me, having an area of spiritual expertise? How funny! What she meant, of course, was if there were anything "on my heart" I especially wanted to be discipled in. I was surprised how quickly the ideas of stillness, depth, tenderness and patience came to mind.

Even more pressing, upon further reflection, was my aching desire for holiness. By holiness I do not mean moral goodness, although I do long for that. Rather, I mean a sort of transcendent guilelessness which enables, and in fact presses, me to touch and receive all thing s with pure hands of unflinching love and transparent humility. How cracked and dry is my soul! How hard is my heart! One of the clearest sources of inspiration my patron saint, Francis de Sales, has given me is the desire for a tender heart. I often ask him to pray God would make my heart tender, as tender as I gather St. Francis's heart was. I am also inspired by St. Ignatius of Loyola's stillness in the midst of his tumultuous, unrelenting self-offering. God calls me to be in the world but not of the world. I, however, am usually in and of the world in almost equal measure.

Finally, I am constantly inspired by the Blessed Virgin's immaculate holiness, a holiness which was given to her so she could nurse, cleanse, comfort, carry and discipline the Son of God, the Savior of all mankind. Her immaculate womb bore the Savior her equally immaculate hands enabled her to receive all things with unflinching love and transparent humility. And now, those same immaculate hands, raised into glory in intimate union just below her Son, reach out to us to nurse us just as tenderly and unflinchingly with the balm of heavenly prayer. I need the tenderness of St. Francis, the stillness of St. Ignatius and the holiness of Our Lady. In short, I need the things God offers. Those three blessed saints are simply supreme expressions for me of gifts God still offers me.

End of detour.

So there I knelt on the carpet, surrounded by candles and few remaining contemplatives. I offered myself to God once again, asking him to consume me as surely as the flames around me would consume paper. And there I asked God for his strength, strength to make it through each day, strength to keep pressing on. But then God called me short and reminded he does not offer me sheer strength as such. He offers me the strength of Christ. He offers me strength which demands I use it in a Christlike manner. The technical term for such strength is meekness: power under the reins of holy love. I have a great deal of innate energy, but so often it is a carnal strength, angry, exasperated and nervous. But God offers me strength precisely in order for me to be like Christ, and for nothing else! God grant me only the strength necessary to be like Christ. If more energy should propel past his model, weaken me. If less strength should drag me behind his pace, strengthen me, O Lord.

Finally, this very humbling insight about the quality, rather than the quantity, of my strength led me to consider all my gifts: intellect, health, means, faith, wisdom, and so forth. Why does God give me such gifts? Why do I want more gifts? The orthodox answer is so that I may give them to others. I have gifts and want more of them; but God wants me to use my gifts precisely as gifts to be given, and then he will grace me further.

Aside form all this deep work of the Spirit in my heart, I'm happy to report our first Bible study of the semester went very well. Four students, Isaiah 65:17-21. God wants to make all tings new. But what does that mean? And why does he want that? The east answer to the first question is that the new world will be much this world, only better. There will be food, wine, homes, families, babies, the sky and the ground -- in short, a new heavens *and earth*.

Fair enough, but why does God want to make things new? This, Jean's question, led me to a helpful analogy. Imagine you are a parent and you have prepared a meal for you and your children to eat in joyful, wholesome unity. Alas, your kids reject your food and your company. There they sit, for days, not eating, never warming up to you. What happens to the children? They wither, they languish, they grow ill. What, then, is the response of a loving parent? What is the response of love Himself? Make a new meal -- which means tossing the old, rotten food out. Why? Because you love your children. Because you want to see them healthy, strong and happy, together with you and each other.

The food, you see -- like all creation itself -- is but the means of unity at the table of love. The new meal -- like the new creation -- is but the mode of the new meal, crowded by repentant children, dimmed perhaps only by the absence of unrepentant eternally starving, eternally dying, children. In time they forget the table, if for not other reason than their hunger consumes their vision. Such is sin: an all-consuming obsession that clouds our minds from the one, obvious, loving solution just across the table. At any rate, I impressed upon my students the fact that while God will indeed transform everything on one final day, He begins the new world now. He begins the newness right now, in and through each one of us. Do we want the old world or will we relinquish its ashes and follow God in Christ by the Spirit into his new world. The Eucharist, of course, is the feat of love on earth as the new world forms around us.

Lastly, I'm also happy to report my first German lesson at Prov. U. went very well. I will be teaching students basic conversational German in preparation for their trip to World Youth Day in Köln, Germany n August. How I wish I could go too! We’ll see. As I reviewed my whole day on my ride back home tonight, it dawned on me: what do I lack to say, in truth, I have a wonderful life? What else do I need? I am loved by God. I am entering full communion with His Church. I am able to use my skills every day in intellectual and relational ways. I am gainfully employed. I am seeing the world. I am healthy. The only twinge of longing I sense is for people in my life -- friends and family -- enjoy my wholeness with me.

For now, I need to receive the gifts God offers.

Good night.

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