Monday, April 1, 2013

A Concluding, Easter Reflection

It's interesting to think back to forty+ days ago, when I began reflecting as my Lenten devotion. It seems as though I just began and simultaneously as though Lent has gone on and on and on. Throughout the Lenten season, my days have been clarified and fortified and centered by the daily Georgetown Lenten reflections and by my own reflections. Obviously there are days where I forgot or felt too stressed to actually post, but nearly every day I read the daily scriptures and took a deep breath in, reveling in God's power to calm me.

I'm still in a very similar place to where I began when Lent commenced: stressed, questioning my success as a teacher, wondering what the future will bring, disappointed at times about my failure to be as consistent in my faith. I feel as though I am searching and searching for something; perhaps it is a sense of home, a sense of belonging, a passion for my work, an abiding love for the daily life I live. I'm not sure what I want, exactly, but as the school year begins to wind down (10 weeks now) and I begin to form summer plans, I "commend my spirit" unto You, Oh, Lord. I want you to guide me and keep me in Your arms and mold me into Your being.

The future still intimidates me, whether it be this spring break which will undoubtedly fly by; the last few weeks until state testing that will probably drag by; my last unit about Shakespeare; finals; summer itself; the daunting second year of teaching; and the scramble to figure out next steps following teaching. Be with me, Lord, every step of the way.

Infuse me with joy and peace as I try to rest and relax this upcoming week. Please help me to find more and more joy in my daily life, even amidst stress and chaos. Center me in Your loving way.

A Little Catching Up to Do.

Holy Saturday 03.30.13

"Though the mountains leave their place
and the hills be shaken,
my love shall never leave you
nor my covenant of peace be shaken,
says the LORD, who has mercy on you."
- IS 54: 5-14

For I will take you away from among the nations,
gather you from all the foreign lands,
and bring you back to your own land.
- EZ 36:16-17A, 18-28

“Why do you seek the living one among the dead?"
- LK 24: 1-12

Saturday is a day rich in scripture and therefore overwhelming in nature. I am struck by the story of Abraham going to kill his beloved son Isaac. Without fail, I am reminded of Kierkegaard's argument that we must make a daily, momentary leap of faith again and again and again; we must never be complacent in our faith because God demands our true faith.

I think of God's promises, made time and again, to love His people and stand by their sides--through it all.

I am awed by the concept of God taking me to my "own land," when sometimes it feels like I have been wandering around for years, seeking that very thing.

I am struck by own inability to recognize and act upon the knowledge that Christ really has risen once more. It sounds trite at this point when in reality it is earth-shattering news that should awe me every time I think of it.

Keep my faith challenged and invigorated, Lord, so that I might follow you more fervently and steadily.

Good Friday 03.29.13

Yet it was our infirmities that he bore,
our sufferings that he endured,
while we thought of him as stricken,
as one smitten by God and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our offenses,
crushed for our sins;
upon him was the chastisement that makes us whole,
by his stripes we were healed.
We had all gone astray like sheep,
each following his own way;
but the LORD laid upon him
the guilt of us all.
- IS 52:13- 53:12

"Strayed Sheep" by William Holman Hunt

Good Friday is quite a misnomer, the priest at my church reflected this morning. Long Friday is another, perhaps more apt name, used around the world. I struggle to adequately realize the relationship between myself and that man, years and years ago, on a cross, suffering unjustly and greatly.

Today my cousins were watching "The Bible" on the History Channel and I had to get up and move away when it showed Christ being flayed, just like I had to avert my gaze when I watched The Crucifixion years ago. I struggle to watch someone suffer and be tortured, but I particularly struggle to watch my God being torn apart by the prejudices and sins of humankind. All of us struggle to comprehend our own relationships to Christ's death, I think. Yet, many of us seem to understand His power when we are in times of need. I often call His name in desperation and forget my part in His death.

His death isn't quite real and I don't know that it ever will be for me. I try and try and try again to understand what He must have felt in that moment, in that interminable day of suffering, in that bottomless pit of people you love actually betraying and destroying you. Even as I struggle to understand my role in His death--as in, come to terms with my own culpability--I know that as Isaiah notes, He guides us back and bore our sins. I picture a mom dashing after a young son running away. I picture a father picking up a sleeping daughter with tear stains on her cheeks from a tantrum. I imagine people fighting and teenagers making mistakes and individuals lost and alone. I picture the darkness in me and acknowledge it, and know that He is there, guiding me back with no judgment, no retribution, no need for anything beyond an embrace and humility.

Open me up to Your rescue, Lord. Let me be receptive to Your glory, even as I am the cause of Your agony.

Holy Thursday 03.28.13

Something about this day has always touched me. It is difficult to understand how humbling it is to have another wash your feet until you actually have someone wash your feet. I always feel humbled and calm, at peace and open at Holy Thursday services. This year, sadly I did not go due to class. Still, this gospel and service made me think about and reflect on why the washing of feet is such a significant act.

How often we take feet for granted. They are one of the hardest-working parts of the body, it seems to me, and I know that all too often mine are dirty, tired, sore, and unnoticed. And I continue to ask myself, what is it that touches me so about this gospel? About this particular loving act of Christ?

I think it is the simplicity of the gesture, for in its simplicity is achieves a stunning level of basic love. God doesn't need grand gestures or something extraordinary to touch us; He uses the simple basis of humanity--who we are, what we are--to remind of us why we are--His beloved children. It is humbling, inherently, to have another touch one's dirty feet, to have another hold and caress and soothe something that is unappreciated and unnoticed. It is surprisingly powerful to have someone acknowledge that the smallest part of who we are is worth another's attention and care. The suggestion, of course, is that all that we are is worth attention, grace, and love.

Could it be true? God gives me hope that it is.

Wednesday 03.27.13

"The Lord GOD has given me
a well-trained tongue,
That I might know how to speak to the weary
a word that will rouse them." - IS 50:4-9

There honestly could not have been a better reading for Wednesday in terms of my day. Behavior issues piled up and it felt as though what I really needed was a way to speak that was bigger and better than myself. Often as a teacher I feel inadequate in terms of having the words to reach and comfort and teach my students. I feel that way now and I reckon that I will always feel that way. Please give me some of Your wisdom, Lord, and use me to help others through You.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Monday, 03.25.13

Do everything calmly and peacefully. Do as much as you can as well as you can. Strive to see God in all things without exception, and consent to His will joyously. Do everything for God, uniting yourself to him in word and deed. Walk very simply with the Cross of the Lord and be at peace with yourself.
- St. Francis de Sales

"The Lord is my light and my salvation.
Though an army encamp against me,
my heart will not fear;
Though war be waged upon me,
even then will I trust."

- PS 27:1, 2, 3, 13-14

"Not where I breathe, but where I love, I live."
- Robert Southwell, SJ

I have been thinking about what it means to be unflappable lately. How could I actually become this calm fortress that will not lash back or cower or sink low or lose sight of my goals? Yes, I will slip; we all will. But how can I become a better friend, teacher, daughter, and twenty-something adult? I want to feel at peace and be less like a reed in the wind, bending to the moods of my students and the challenges and pitfalls of my days. I feel as though I feel strongest when God is with me and when I specifically hand over my needs to him. Allow me to be pliant to You, Lord, so that You can shape me into someone strong to help others.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Tuesday, 03.26.13

I feel sad today as I consider how I have not written an entry for almost a week--and of course, it is the last week of Lent. Therefore I feel a particularly strong connection to the disciples in today's gospel, with both Peter and Judas. I let myself down, time and again, as I make mistakes and don't go to the gym tonight or send that package on time this weekend or complete my whole-week lesson outline before the week commences. I didn't do enough. I let myself down. I may even have let someone else down. But ultimately, God is at the bottom, the top, the sides, the core of this sense of inadequacy. He says You are enough and You always will be for me, for "The LORD called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name" (IS 49: 1-6). He has been and He always will be with me, even at low points like the middle of the week of school right before Spring Break.

I'm tired, my students are tired, and we're all ready for break. Renew us, Lord, and help all of Your children to feel Your redeeming love. We're all like Judas, the ultimate symbol of humiliation and weakness, and thus of the full potential of Your forgiveness. If Judas, the person who betrayed his beloved messiah, could fall so low, and still, still Christ's forgiveness could extend to the person who killed Him, then we are all saved. For a long time, I looked down with contempt at Judas, and it was only last year in a phenomenal class at Georgetown that I finally realized that I am Judas. When it feels like I betray myself and my God, even if it is not as extreme as Judas's actions, I am not alone and I am loved.

Sustain me, ever more, O, Lord, my God.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wednesday, 03.20.13

Jesus said to those Jews who believed in him,
“If you remain in my word, you will truly be my disciples,
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
- JN 8:31-42

Interestingly enough, I immediately thought of Mumford and Sons when I read today's gospel. I feel called to this idea of being liberated by truth, but simultaneously the scholar in me questions if there is such a thing as truth in a world steeped in bias and subjectivity. I love this idea that God alone knows the truth because He is the only one outside of our reality and infused in every part of our reality.

Perhaps that is a philosophic start, but the second thing that struck me about this verse is that Jesus is talking to the Jews who already believe in Him. There seems to be a call not only to read "[his] word" but to know "[his] word." I am envisioning a resolute scholar poring over scripture again and again and again, relentlessly seeking the "truth." Then I visualize Mother Teresa living the scripture to the extent that she finds the truth of Christ in the eyes and words and actions of people. Isn't that true liberation through the Holy Spirit? Perhaps God will bless me with even glimmers of the truth in the midst of struggles to transcend my weaknesses and prejudices and selfishness.

Lord, help me to break through my stubbornness to be open to Your truth and to have the wisdom to act on Your truth.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Tuesday, 03.19.13

The most amazing thing happened today: I began to feel hopeful about next year. I wasn't super confident about today's lesson, but all of a sudden, I could think about ten different ways that my lesson was much stronger than it would have been at the beginning of the year. I saw progress in my planning and in my teaching; it was magically reflected in my students being very on-track today. For the first time in... a long time, perhaps even ever, I did not need to have one-on-one behavior conversations because overall everyone was for the most part meeting expectations in behavior and participation. I saw more hands and heard more voices, and as a result, I felt inspired.

Does this mean I suddenly LOVE teaching? that I am excited about my commitment to teach next year? No, this is still a very difficult career that I have not mastered. I just felt, somehow, that next year will be better than my darker months this year. I feel more comfortable in my teacher skin, and I think (hope) that will show in my classes.

In today's gospel, Joseph nobly and humbly accepts the challenge that God provides him with, and in the Georgetown Lenten reflection, a brilliant point is made that we, like Joseph, will fade into anonymity. Joseph briefly shines and then fades from the gospels, to the extent that we question how he spent the rest of his life. I reflected today that in many ways, I will probably be a brief phase in my students' lives so that years from now they might not even be able to describe me beyond saying, "Ya, she was my...English teacher I think, sometime in high school." It's amazing to think that as a teacher, my goal is always to increase my students' abilities and leadership and independence, so that they can think and work independently of the teacher. I hope that I can be humble like Joseph and find strength through God to do my very best for those I serve.

I'll conclude with the wonderful prayer from today's Georgetown Lenten reflection:

Loving and gracious God, source of gifts untold, thank You for all Your blessings. By the example of St. Joseph, may we learn the joys of serving You without expectation of praise or notice, laboring in shadows for righteousness. We long for this with humble hearts, and in Your name we pray, Amen.

Saturday-Monday, 03.17-9.13

The readings from Saturday, Sunday, and Monday are wonderfully rich with fruitful intersections. Jesus repeatedly defends himself against doubters; Susanna and the adulterous woman prompt us to question the wonderful yields of a trusting relationship with God; and the books of Jeremiah and Philippians challenge the reader to reflect in order to better understand our own choices and destiny.

I am struck by a common strength of spirit in these passages, for despite numerous obstacles, the followers of Christ and Christ himself persevere, only to find that in the process, the followers have been transformed into more spiritual and peaceful people. I find comfort in the idea that while the Lord is a "searcher of mind and heart" (JER 11:18-20), yet Christ also says that while "you judge by appearances...I do not judge anyone" (JN 8:12-20). How wonderful would it be to feel completely open and vulnerable to those we love and know that despite seeing the very, very worst and most shameful parts of ourselves, we are loved? It makes me think of one of my favorite Yeats quotes: "the tragedy of sexual intercourse is the perpetual virginity of the soul." While the sexual reference may initially distract us in a spiritual conversation, at the heart of this quote and these verses is a sense of yearning to be understood and fully known, then completely and utterly accepted. In fact, God uses the sexuality of Susanna and the adulterous woman to transform sexual sin and impurity--human weakness and corruption--into a gateway for a stronger relationship with Him; nothing can stand in God's way as He continues to build relationships with His children.

Rev. Stephen Spahn, S.J. writes in the Georgetown Lenten reflection for Sunday that the adulterous woman's decision to remain with Jesus after her persecutors have left is a remarkable act. She must have felt compelled and drawn towards Christ in some way--otherwise she most assuredly would have fled the scene of her near-death experience. I am awed by the strength of this woman and of Susanna to be publicly humiliated and judged, then held up and strengthened and cleansed by peace that comes only from God.

Please strengthen my spirit, Lord, and allow me to think and care less about the judgment of others. Let me work to make You, before all others, proud.