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A Comfort Before the Wilderness

“No Bigger Than a Hazelnut”

Revelations of Divine Love

At the same time as I saw this sight of the head bleeding, our good Lord showed a spiritual sight of his familiar love. I saw that he is to us everything which is good and comforting for our help. He is our clothing who wraps and enfolds us for love, embraces us and shelters us, surrounds us for his love which is so tender that he may never desert us. And so in this sight I saw that he is everything which is good, as I understand.

And in this he showed me something small, no bigger than a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand, as it seemed to me, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought: What can this be?  I was amazed  that it could last, for I thought that because of its littleness, it would suddenly have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and it always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has being through the love of God.

In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it. But what did I see in it? It is that God is the Creator and the protector and the lover. For until I am substantially united to him, I can never have perfect rest or true happiness, until, that is, I am so attached to him that there can be no created thing between my God and me.

And also our good Lord revealed that it is very greatly pleasing to him that a simple soul should come naked, openly and familiarly. And lovingly I pray to thee O’ God, by your goodness give me yourself, for you are enough for me.

~ from Revelations of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich,

in Devotional Classics: Selected Readings,

ed. Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith

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Getting Ready for Lent

“Hardship in Prayer”

Meditation is sometimes quite difficult. If we bear with hardship in prayer and wait patiently for the time of grace, we may well discover that meditation and prayer are very joyful experiences. We should not, however, judge the value of our meditation by “how we feel.” A hard and apparently fruitless meditation may in fact be much more valuable than one that is easy, happy, enlightened, and apparently a big success.

There is a “movement” of meditation, expressing the basic “paschal” rhythm of the Christian life, the passage from death to life in Christ. Sometimes prayer, meditation, and contemplation are “death”–a kind of descent into our own nothingness, a recognition of helplessness, frustration, infidelity, confusion, ignorance. Note how common this theme is in the Psalms (see Ps. 39, 56).

Any effort and sacrifice should be made in order to enter the kingdom of God. Such sacrifices are amply compensated for by the results even when the results are not clear and evident to us. But effort is necessary, enlightened, well-directed, and sustained.

~ from Contemplative Prayer, by Thomas Merton,

in Devotional Classics: Selected Readings,

ed. Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith

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A Conversion Story

“Why Not Now?”Confessions (World's Classics)

I probed the hidden depths of my soul and wrung its pitiful secrets from it, and when I mustered them all before the eyes of my heart, a great storm broke within me. Somehow I flung myself down beneath a fig tree and gave way to the tears which now streamed from my eyes. For I felt that I was still the captive of my sins, and in misery I kept crying, “How long shall I go on saying, ‘Tomorrow, tomorrow’? Why not now? Why not make an end of my ugly sins at this moment?”

I was asking myself these questions, weeping all the while with the most bitter sorrow in my heart, when all at once I heard the singing of a child in a nearby house. Whether it was the voice of a boy or a girl I cannot say, but again and again it repeated the refrain, “Take it and read, take it and read.”

…I stemmed my flood of tears and stood up, telling myself that this could only be a divine command to open my book of Scripture and read…so I hurried back to the place where I had put down the book containing Paul’s epistles. I seized it and opened it, and in silence I read…“Not in revelling and drunkenness, not in lust and wantonness, not in quarrels and rivalries. Rather, arm yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ; spend no more thought on nature and nature’s appetites” (Rom 13:13-14).

…In an instant, as I came to the end of the sentence, it was as though the light of confidence flooded into my heart and all the darkness of doubt was dispelled…You converted me to Yourself, so that I no longer placed any hope in this world but stood firmly upon the rule of faith.

~ from Confessions, by St. Augustine of Hippo,

in Devotional Classics: Selected Readings,

ed. Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith

Remembering St. Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day.

It’s interesting to me which saints’ days have become adopted for our American secular holidays. For instance, St. Valentinus, a third-century Roman priest, has become an opportunity in mid-February to celebrate love; alternatively, St. Patrick, a fourth- and fifth-century missionary to Ireland, has become an opportunity in mid-March to celebrate green beer. I, for one, find it unfortunate (and shocking!), that we don’t celebrate St. Lawrence Day (August 10): St. Lawrence, the second-century martyr, was roasted on a spit by Roman authorities, and became the patron saint of barbecue. How did we miss that one?

Sheldon Cooper, from "The Big Bang Theory," offering a more appropriate celebration of St. Valentine.

Sheldon Cooper, from “The Big Bang Theory,” offering a more appropriate celebration of St. Valentine.

Thankfully, today’s celebrations of Valentine’s Day have nothing to do with a priest’s violent death; regrettably, they also have little to do with why Valentine was martyred: for performing forbidden marriages in the name of Christ’s love for us. It’s hard to see in our socially accepted and expected ways of celebrating Valentine’s Day: flowers, chocolates, strawberries, hearts, Cupid, etc. anything more than yet another outlet for our cultural consumerism. I’ll admit, I bought my wife flowers, and chocolates, and earned points as a husband, and I also followed the social conventions of romantic gift-buying and date-planning. And I have loved all of it! There’s something deeply satisfying about being able to participate in romantic gestures, and know that they’re appreciated.

What are other ways we can celebrate Valentine’s Day? How can I celebrate my marriage in a way that really celebrates Christ’s love for us, in drawing us to himself and uniting us to each other as partners in discipleship? How can my sometimes-clumsy gestures of love for my wife really be equally-clumsy (if not more so) gestures of gratitude to God for his love for us?

For several years, my mom crafted a grand occasion on Valentine’s Day: a feast (complete with individual heart-shaped meatloafs and sparkling cider), gifts, cards, the works. We all dressed up and shared time together to celebrate God’s love for all of us and our love for each other as a family. That meal, a true “love feast,” was a profound example to us of how Valentine’s Day is about more than the grandiose romantic cliches we learn from romantic comedies and sit-coms, or the hand-decorated bags full of fun-sized candies taped to cards with terrible puns that we got from our classmates at school, or the Pinterest storm of sinfully decadent desserts, or whatever else we make today about to distract us from a profound encounter with God’s love for us.

I find it profound that we celebrate Valentine’s Day in the midst of the liturgical season of Epiphany, a worship season committed to listening for and paying attention to those places where God reveals himself, particularly in Jesus Christ. John 2:1-11 might be an appropriate text for today:

On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.

At this wedding feast, Jesus Christ transforms an ordinary celebration of human love into an extraordinary demonstration of God’s love, by transforming the water for purification into “the good wine,” declaring himself to be the purification of human love and the source of delight and celebration within human love. May Jesus Christ, through the powerful (intoxicating?) presence of the Holy Spirit, transform our celebrations of love and romance and affection today into moments in which God himself might show up, and bless us with joy and delight in his good gifts.