Making a Spiritual Retreat at home

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It never occurred to me that I could find Jesus at home. Not the flesh and blood but the spirit. My physical sense of longing has been active for years, searching in churches and temples, sacred spaces, parks, oceans and rivers for the God I loved and the God I let go of. There have been days I have found Him deeper in the waves of the ocean than on my knees in a church. In the rough terrain of spiritual travel, the inner divine sometimes gets caught up with the worldview of spirituality. With so many different ways to celebrate God, I have often become mired in the rules and opinions of others. The beauty of humans is their willingness to go to any length to find comfort in the seat of God’s lap, but the darkness creeps up in the judgment of where that lap is. God will always be God regardless of our thoughts or opinions. But the way we relate to God is similar to the way we relate to the world; a blade of grass that speaks to me may mean nothing to you while the sound of the highway may mean everything.

I have been bed bound for several days now and the kids and husband are away. Though the pain has been great, the clarity has been far-reaching. The depths of my heart have been crying out for a spiritual retreat, a time of silence, a time away. And although I have silently prayed for these things, almost an unconscious prayer if you will, I always thought it a bit selfish to ask God for a spiritual getaway. In any event, it would never happen. I have a job and three children, a husband and a full plate; that is until I was forced into bed by something I could not control. So when the family left for the weekend I was in pain and alone. It’s been ten years or so since the last time I ever remember being alone like this. Smack dab in the middle to end of Lent I found myself here, in a desert I prayed for but never saw coming. My first thought was to reluctantly give my pain up for someone who didn’t deserve it, my least favorite person, someone who had persecuted myself and many around me. I asked God to accept my pain as a sacrifice for this man’s salvation, his reconciliation with God and a second chance at mercy.

Heading into day two, the silence seemed uncomfortable. But I noticed the sunlight coming off the kitchen window, the beautiful color of the dark wood stairs and the sound of the highway that reminded me I was not far from the chaos of the world. I wanted to create a sacred space, get on my knees on a kneeler to Mary, look at an iconic picture and find myself surrounded by darkness and candlelight. But from a bed this was impossible, so I started to research retreats at home and found nothing. So I turned back to Jesus and his methodology and the idea of spiritual retreat.

Withdraw to deserted places to pray

I realized that it didn’t take a special set of prayers, or an icon or candles. I didn’t have to fall to my knees. The ocean didn’t have to be close and I didn’t have to sit amongst flowers in a perfectly manicured garden. The house was deserted, my heart was open and I simply had to be…

Many of us find ourselves in these situations. Hectic schedules, health problems, the inability to travel due to time or money constraints. We want bigger houses, bigger jobs and bigger lives.

But bathed in silence, the places that we are planted come to life. The light shines from the darkness

I am not saying that God may not move you, He may. But chances are the thing that you are searching for is right in front of you. We are missing the wood grain, the ray of sunlight, the sacred shrines in our hearts. What we are missing is silence…

I encourage you today to drop the thoughts in your head at the threshold, invite the Holy Spirit in, sit and do absolutely nothing. Like the magic of Beauty and the Beast, the things around you will suddenly start to come to life…

Not Just the Hands and Feet — It’s the Eyes!

earth beautifulHere we are in Lent. That’s a different thing for everyone. “Seasons”, Liturgical Seasons, are wondrous times, opportunities for the Holy Spirit to focus our interior eyes on a particular aspect of grace and our relationship with God. Such seasons as Lent, or Easter, or Advent, or Christmas, or the Pentecost… all allow us to concentrate our gaze on some facet of this “Crystal Rose” in our Garden of Prayer, the King of Kings. Generally speaking, the Lenten Season is somber, reserved, reflective, looking forward through the great trials and sufferings of Christ approaching the Crucifixion, as He draws to His climax in Jerusalem and the Cross.

What should Lent be like? Well, if the rhythm of this season resonates, the experience should be whatever the Holy Spirit calls for it to be for you in your own unique journey with Christ. For some, it is a time of recollection of our own need for grace; reminder of our frailty and fallenness, sense of responsibility for our wrong decisions, and awesome wonder at all the pain heaped upon our dear Lord in our place, in payment for our own regrettable actions and decisions. For others, it may be an intense awareness of Jesus’ passion, of His strength, courage, determination to do the will of the Father no matter the personal cost. Lent may generate the intense response of admiration and worship for so noble a Lord who struggled and overcame so much to honor the will of God.

There is no “right” way to experience Lent, and no “wrong” way, as long as the Holy Spirit is given free rein to prepare straight paths for the renewal of the Truth of the Resurrection, and the glory of Jesus’ triumph over Death itself on Easter. Traditions, customs, denominations, cultures, and eras are incredibly diverse in their observation of the Lenten Season. Across my own life, the experience has been tremendously different from one year to the next, one decade to the next.

So let me invite you, let me encourage you, to make way for the Holy Spirit to use this season to bless you. Let me invite you to enter into the Scriptural experience of these days approaching Easter, making straight paths for the Holy Spirit to show you whatever nurtures your relationship and awareness of the immediate and intimate presence of Christ in your life and spirit. Your experience doesn’t have to “look like” that of anyone else, as long as the focus is on Jesus the Christ, and the scriptural elements that so richly fill these days and these pages.

This one thing I would note in addition.

That there is no meaning to Lent, no meaning to the suffering, no meaning to even the “forgiveness of sin”, or the “payment for sin”, or the “satisfaction of God’s justice”, or even the “extension of grace and mercy to man”… if those are seen as merely “functions”. If those are seen as “things God did” or “things God does”… When we see these things as simple “extensions of God’s methodology”, we miss the point entirely.

All these things… ALL that we see of grace, of God’s workings…. is direct expression of His Infinite Love and nothing less.

Embrace the awareness, the sorrow, the contrition of knowing He took our own just punishment for our own willful and willing sin… yes. Don’t reject or resist that, if that is what the Spirit leads. Embrace the awareness of His suffering, His pain, His humility and obedience, His submissiveness to His destiny and the Father’s will, in the blood and the nails… yes. Don’t reject or resist that movement of your heart into His on the Cross, if that is what the Spirit leads. But in all of that, just don’t get so fixated on the blood, the scourge, the thorns, and the nails… that we neglect to look at His face, His eyes. They radiate with the reason for it all… His Infinite Love, Our Father’s Infinite Love, the Spirit’s Infinite love… for you, personally, individually… and every other child He has fashioned as well.

Let us not gaze upon the mysteries of Lent, these incredible 40 days, or Passion Week with its horrors, spectating like onlookers at the scene of a great train wreck. If we fixate, fascinated on the scourge, the thorns, the nails, and the blood, and we miss the wondrous theme playing just below that surface… we simply witness a deep drama of horror and cruelty.

Even in grief, we want to remember that undergirding all this… is unspeakable Infinite Love. That’s what all of this is about. This is the act, prepared before the foundations of the cosmos, that embraces all of creation in the arms of Infinite Love… by the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amazing, isn’t it? Amen.

Have you Fully Repented?

I’m not sure how widespread this Lenten hymn is beyond the churches of Rus, but for us it is the entrance hymn sung throughout Great Lent, and it comes with a strong message.

Boh predvicnyj
NOTE: The original source has a typo: in the third verse, near the end, it should read “Be my strength to repent”.

It’s called Beneath Your Cross, and the tone is dark, almost like a funeral song. It’s from a Christian, exhausted from the battle with evil, seeking the strength to continue the fight, asking the Lord for help. At the end of the hymn he asks the Lord for the strength to repent, but that is not the part I want to focus on today, rather it is the endgame.

I want to key in on an aspect of repentance that is rarely spoken about, yet is so vital to the process, for without this piece of the puzzle we will never fully experience what it means to repent from our sins – remorse.

In order to fully repent you need to first recognize that what you have done is a sin. In today’s world, with ever changing society morals, that can be confusing. Things considered immoral just a few decades ago (ex: abortion, homosexuality, fornication) are considered acceptable behaviors now, flouted in television and movies as normal activities. Even liberal churches are accepting these as proper activities, not only for the laity, but for their clergy as well.

You must then ask for forgiveness. Whether that, in your denomination, requires involvement of a confessor or not. Simply wanting forgiveness is not enough, you must ask for it, not just assume that you have been forgiven because you are a Christian.

In between there something is missing, and rarely even mentioned from the pulpit these days- you must feel remorse. If you are not deeply sorry for your sins, if you do not really feel sorry for having committed them, then how can you be forgiven? In the television series MASH Fr. Mulchay interacts with a scared soldier who has stolen the identity of one of his dead comrades so he can take his rotation out and go back to the states. Once there he will continue to live under the assumed identity. He asks Fr. Mulchay for absolution from this sin, but the good father tells the soldier that he cannot grant absolution for a sin he has no intention of stopping…he lacks true remorse. If we are truly remorseful for our sins, and intend to do our best to stop them, then God can grant his forgiveness. But, if we merely confess our sins, with no intent of stopping doing them, we lack true remorse, how can God forgive an offense we plan on repeating?

Now, God understands that we are weak, fallible, creatures. That despite our best efforts we will probably fall again (part of the work fall-ible), and He is ready to forgive us again. But we have to be ready to make a sincere effort to stop out sin. We have to feel truly remorseful and repent. And, when we are weary from the battle, as in the hymn, we have to be ready to admit our frailty and ask Jesus for His help.

Simple Christianity: Being our Most Authentic Selves

“This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless;
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.”

Isaiah 59:6-7

“Fasting is not genuine without reforming one’s way of life.” Note on Isaiah 58: 6-12, from the NAB Bible revised edition

I have found power in fasting. Giving up sustenance to hear God clearer. Helping me to become a better version of myself- in Christ. This Lent, the Lord has whispered to me about silence. So on the Holy Spirit’s nudging I have given up music. This has proved to be an extremely difficult, but needed abstinence for me.

You don’t have to be a Christian to fast and hear God. For those of you that are on your journey, I highly recommend it. But fasting is not a diet nor is it a New Year’s Resolution. No, fasting is so much more than that…

Recently, I have had the occasion to read a broad range of spiritual books. They all have contributed to my life’s journey, tossing me little pebbles along the way. But what I have found is that although many of the books I have read are fascinating, they are also complicated and verbose, and for those of you that know me I am complicated enough as it is…

I am finding that books that require me to carry a dictionary around are just not my thing. I am also noticing my lack of motivation in reading some recent books that I’ve acquired. So many over-philosophical thoughts on Jesus, rote prayer and too much concentration on the bad, and not the good. Many of the first halves of these books start out promising but half way through they fail me. I’ve held onto them because I am a firm believer in finishing what you start, but in the silence that God has provided me, I am seeing that is not the case.

When things are quiet, you can hear. “Not this way, not that way,” says the still small voice. Or louder yet, “Wrong way!” When we are open, when we have our minds set on things above, when we use these forty days to focus on ourselves and the God we serve, it is amazing what we can hear, in silence.

And God tells us what kinds of things He wants from us, if we are listening. We are not here to simply go through the motions- that is religion, not relationship.

We must find the thing that God is calling us to do this Lenten season. What is He calling us to give up? This answer should be simple and transformative, it does not need a theological dissertation. 

Through genuine fasting, we come to understand the meaning of sacrifice and of blessing. Yes tradition is beautiful and needed, but it means nothing if we are not committed to hearing God’s call…

This Lent, be committed to the simplicity of sacrifice, whatever that may be individually for each of you. Share it with a friend so that they can keep you accountable to the promise you have made to God. And as you repent and reform from the inside out this Lenten season, you will see God’s hand bolder and greater in your life than ever before!

Blessings-

Join Mary on her Lenten Journey at There’s Something About Mary

Are you following Jesus?

“Therefore choose life, so that both you and your offspring may live, and so that you may love the Lord your God, and obey his voice, and cling to him (for he is your life and the length of your days)…”

Deuteronomy 30:19(b)-20(a) CPDV

“It is good to hope in silence for the Lord’s deliverance.” Lamentations 3:26 (NAB Revised Edition)

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…

It is painful to find your life apart from the world. To be torn from the only life you know, the only way you know. We spend our lives searching for the truth and our purpose in this world. And for those of us that have found our way to Jesus, that truth is often times harsh. For in Him we find life. But He tells us as we make our way to him, “You’ve found me, now deny yourself and don’t look back. Come follow me and leave it all behind.”

And life as a Christian if you’re living it the Jesus way (not the world’s way or your church’s way) is not easy. At times you may find yourself asking, “Why am I doing this? Why am I walking this way?”  But the further you walk the more you come to realize that the world is simply desolate. The more you hear what Jesus has to say, the less the world satisfies you. The more you retreat inward, the more you see your neighbor through the eyes of a loving God. The more they hate you, the more you love them. The more despair around you, the more you frequent prayer. Your life, to most, does not make any sense, even to other Christians. And the more I’ve walked with Jesus, the more people do not understand me. But I don’t need them to understand me, I just need them to see that I am living in the way Jesus has taught me.

As we retreat inward in prayer, oftentimes it is our silence that makes for the greatest witness. Why has she gotten quiet? Why is she so deeply devout? What is it that’s different about her? I realize that at all times, it is my life that serves as a witness. I am the candle, and Jesus, He is the flame.

I choose not to post or write about my political affiliations or stances on the issues of the day. I give my opinion when asked, but do not offer it at will. I choose not to alienate people from the love of God. And although yes the gospel is offensive, I am the one who should be offended, I am the Christian, I am the one who should be living in this way. This is about me, my faith, my life, my witness, my love. I know now that turning inward makes for an outward Christian.

And I am not worrying anymore about other Christians, what they say or what they do. I know who I am, and I know where God has called me. I am learning to stay in my space and stop interfering with the work that God is doing in others. I am learning not to be offended. I am learning to shut my mouth. I am learning the gift of silence.

As I change and grow in Him, I pray that you may learn something too. Your words or posts may be alienating people from God. You may be turning outward, rather than inward. You may be pointing someone to darkness rather than light, even other Christians.

I pray that today you will meditate on the scriptures God has given us that I’ve listed above. The themes of being “in” Him, choosing life “in” Him and this idea of prayerful silence. I imagine you may find what I did, a long conversation with God, a refining of the flesh and a fresh perspective on your Christian life. There is so much to just being “in” Him. Let us choose Him this day and let Him lead, and let us reflect on which way we shall walk.

You can learn more about me and my journey as a Jewish follower of Christ and Catholic at There’s Something about Mary.