15 January 2017

The Wilderness Call to Life: Creating the Heart of a Hermit

Well, my apologies for not getting a post up for this video. It took me places I hadn't planned on and I am still processing it ("Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?" was certainly an apt line in this song!). That was especially true regarding my prayer over the past week and a half or so. I have been living with a "new" definition of prayer I came to because of a Communion service I did for our daily Mass community during a time when our pastor had to be away. That service included our sixth grade class from St Perpetua's school.  The Gospel was from Luke and the pericope involved both began and ended with Jesus' prayer; whether referring to Jesus coming from the synagogue or going off aone to pray at the end of a day of active ministry, both implicitly and explicitly Luke portrays Jesus as a man of prayer. Moreover, according to Luke Jesus' ministry, his active and effective love for others focused on in the middle portion of the text was empowered by prayer and leads to prayer. Allowing God (Love-in-act) to be God in us invariably gives birth to, empowers, and shapes an impulse to go out to others. Because of this I came to think of prayer as a matter of  "allowing ourselves to be loved from the inside out"!

Now of itself that experience was not new to me of course. It is the reason I (or most anyone I know) sit in quiet prayer and give myself to God. I know that God desires to love me, God desires to be God for and with me, and I desire to allow God to do that and to be and do whatever flows from that.. But this last week the description, "Letting God love us from the inside out" as a definition for prayer was new, a more succinct way of thinking about the dynamic of prayer and ministry together, especially as prayer empowers ministry. Then on Sunday we sang "The Summons" which touched me and pulled everything together. While using this song both for meditation and in my usual practice of quiet prayer I became far more vividly  aware of God loving me from the inside out throughout the whole of my life. We sometimes hear that when a person faces death their entire life flashes before them. Well, the combination of contemplative prayer, meditation on "The Summons", and personal work for direction led me to experience something similar. For the first time, in series of images drawn from my entire life during each prayer period, I saw clearly how God had worked through my WHOLE life to create the heart of a hermit. The experience was repeated at each prayer period over a number of days; it was an amazing time of healing and integration empowering a fresh sense of my vocation.

Ordinarily I sit in quiet prayer for about an hour or so at a time a couple of times a day  ---  once at 4:00 am and again in the early evening. But last week the work I had been doing with my director coupled with my response to the song at Mass triggered an urgent hunger for quiet prayer in the mid-afternoon.  I responded by sitting for about two hours and then,  after a brief stretch and cup of tea, etc.,  I sat again for meditation, sometimes using headphones and listening to lines from "The Summons" in a repeating loop for about another hour and a half. (In using the headphones I would really only "hear" and be moved by one or two lines at a time while the rest of the song either went mainly "unheard." or I stopped the playback). Each line that struck me with fresh application and emotion during these times reminded me of various events in my life from very young childhood onwards in the aforementioned series of images. In response I began to cry both long, freely, and deeply --- sometimes in some sadness and grief, but mainly in joy and profound gratitude for the way I saw that God had been working in my life. And so it continued over a period of several days through a number of  longer-than-usual prayer periods. It was far and away one of the most powerful and graced experiences I have ever had.

What I experienced  in all of this and eventually came to see clearly was indication after indication that throughout the whole of my life God not only has called me by name to be but that he called me to be a hermit (or maybe I should say that at each point God prepared me in very specific and clearly identifiable ways to receive and live this call). He has created possibilities for me to follow him in Christ even when I was unaware there were such possibilities --- and even when I was consciously unaware of the God who was their source and ground! He has called me to allow myself to be loved unceasingly and without limit so that I could serve him and his people as one who truly knew (solitary) love --- even, and perhaps especially when it came to me in profound physical solitude and emotional isolation. As God does with each of us, He loved me from the inside out and fitted me for discipleship and ministry --- though, of course, in my case he fitted me for the very unlikely and unusual discipleship and ministry of a diocesan hermit. From a tangle of many beautiful but also sometimes seemingly inapt threads, ugly snags, and tightly formed and apparently fruitless knots, God has constantly and lovingly woven a grace-filled tapestry celebrating the solitary vocation to life and love --- and God continues to do so, if only I will continue to consent and commit myself in faith.

The summons John Ball wrote about in his song comes to us each and all in many ways but primarily it is an inner reality, something that calls us from our deepest core and, as we make innumerable choices for life, forms us into God's very own "members" who will love, touch and serve others: Will we "come and follow him"? Will we "go where we do not know and never be the same"? Will we "let his love be shown and his name (i.e., his powerful presence) be known"? Will we "let his life be grown in us and we in him"? This summons and these questions are what concerned Jesus, a man (as Hebrews affirms so clearly) like us in all things, a man of prayer who (as the author of Luke-Acts affirmed) grew in grace and stature. It is what empowered him to respond so exhaustively to the One he called "Abba" in an entirely unique way; it is what allowed him to become the unique mediator and Minister of God's love so that when people looked at Jesus they saw not only the face of authentic humanity but the very face of God and when they were touched by Jesus' humanity they were touched by the very hands and breath of God.

This summons, these questions must be what concern and empower us as well. They must shake and console, challenge and transform us so that we are able to love beyond what we believed was even remotely possible. This is what we are called to; it is the long, joyful, tear-stained and life-forming process we must embrace and let embrace us. Whether we are thinking of Luke or of Hebrews, this is what it means to be people of prayer, people who are truly imago Christi as Christ is singularly imago Dei, people who are loved from the inside out.