Posted in musings

do not grow weary

Every morning (more accurately, most mornings), I sing the invitatory psalm for the liturgy of hours. Even if I don’t manage to pray any of the actual hours, I have the invitatory memorized now so it is easy to fit in.

And every day I find myself pondering the human struggle – my own personal struggle – to live the life of faith with perseverance and endurance, as a journey of many years rather than a short climb to a plateau of spiritual accomplishment.

Today, listen to the voice of the Lord.
Do not grow stubborn, as your fathers did in the wilderness
When at Meribah and Massah
They challenged Me and provoked Me
Although they had seen all of My works.

Do not harden your hearts, reads the non-liturgical translation. It reminds me, every time I read it or sing it, of the apostle Paul’s injunction to the Galatians: Do not grow weary in doing good. (Probably because it gets quoted in the book of Hebrews in the context of the eternal rest to which God is leading His people.)

Do not grow weary, God says. Do not give up, do not abandon the faith for something else, do not forget all you have seen of Him and all He has done just because nothing spectacular is happening right now. Like the Israelites, sometimes we follow God through the desert, and our only sustenance is the daily bread He sends, and we don’t know how much longer it will be until the promised land or even the next oasis – and in those times the thought of just sitting now and not traveling any longer, or the possibility of following some other guide, can be so tempting.

Do not grow weary, do not grow stubborn, we sing each morning in reminder to ourselves. Do not lose heart, do not forget that God is working all things for good or that He is making all things new. My heart cries, “why is the road so long? why do You keep me waiting for the food and drink my soul needs so desperately?” But let me ever cry in childlike trust, knowing there is a purpose, believing it is good, not in the proud self-righteous judgment that led the Israelites to rebel against God at Meribah and Massah when they saw no water and thought that God would not be faithful.

Do not grow weary, the apostle reminds us, in doing what is right. Do not let boredom or fatigue or the worries and cares and pleasures of this life steal your will away from following God and doing His will. Do not spread yourself so thin that a hole tears through the center where God used to be. Do not let grudges and bitterness against other people build up in your soul and lessen your motivation to love and serve those around you.

For in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. - Gal. 6:9

Again he sets a certain day, "Today", saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted, 
"Today, when you hear his voice,
"do not harden your hearts."
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not speak later of another day.
So then, there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God; let us therefore strive to enter that rest. - Heb. 4:7-11

Let us lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter our fatih, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the same, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. - Heb. 12:1-2

I find that I need this, every day: that it is good for me to be reminded, each day anew, to look to Jesus, to endure, to run the race with endurance, to prepare myself for battle with the armor of God, to strive for the promised sabbath rest of joy with God and man – to not grow weary in this wilderness, to not harden my heart against the hope that is in Christ.

Posted in musings

for the feast of the presentation of the lord

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. – Luke 2:25-26

I wonder what it would have been like to live with that promise: to wake up each day to the brokenness of the world; to witness sin and sorrow and suffering and still not see the promised Savior; to wonder, in the back of his mind, if he’d actually received the promise from God. I imagine it would be a fiercely held hope, a belief clung to with claw-like fingers in the face of all the opposition doubt and despair could dredge up.

And because he had clung so fiercely to the promise, when the time came for it to be fulfilled, Simeon was ready: ready to drop whatever else he was doing, ready to act in faith without the choking chains of fear, ready to claim that which the God he knew to be faithful had promised him.

And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law, he took him up in his arms and blessed God. – Luke 2:27-28

I can just see him, standing the temple, watching the people drift in and out, surrounded by the sounds and smells of worship and sacrifice, wondering with each family his eyes passed over, “Where is he? Where is the coming Messiah?” And oh, the joy, the almost paralyzing thrill of of undeserved, unparalleled, ecstatic knowledge! For here was the child. Here was the fulfillment of the promise. However long and winding the journey of salvation, Simeon was content knowing he had seen this moment, knowing he had beheld with his own eyes the promised Redeemer of the world.

As we sing each night in the liturgy, remembering Simeon’s faith and the hope that Jesus brings,

Lord, now you let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled:
my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people:
a light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.
Posted in musings

depression and hope in psalm 88

The Psalm for Compline on Fridays (Psalm 88) is one of the darkest in Scripture. The author is in intense agony, holding onto his faith by his fingernails, clinging to a truth he can no longer feel or see clearly.

The exact conditions of his suffering are not revealed; all we know is that he is close to death and feels overwhelmed by the anger of God. “I am reckoned as one in the tomb: I have reached the end of my strength,” he writes, and “imprisoned, I cannot escape; my eyes are sunken with grief.” I have considered, for years, that this psalm of all the Psalms most accurately depicts the anguish of deep depression, as it aligns well with the interplay between faith and mental illness that I have experienced in certain seasons of my life.

Looking at the psalm now, however, I am noticing far more hope buried within it than I had seen before. Even as the psalmist feels alone, abandoned, and rejected – even as he claims that his “one companion is darkness” – still, he is in conversation with God. He has not succumbed to the silence of despair. He protests, he pleads, he questions, he presents a case: so at some level he still trusts God to hear him and to respond. The darkness of his circumstances and the pain within him to not cause him to give up his faith or to turn away from his God; instead, he brings his suffering to his God and proclaims implicitly, even through his complaints, the depth of his faith and the fierce fighting strength of his hope.

Make no mistake, it takes ferocity, determination, and endurance to be able to say with one breath, “Your fury has swept down upon me; your terrors have utterly destroyed me” and with another, “As for me, Lord, I call to you for help: in the morning my prayer comes before you.” It takes hope with deep roots to persist through that kind of suffering. And yet the psalmist holds fast. Even in the darkness, even in the overwhelming flood of his anguish, even though he cannot honestly say that he believes a better time will come and that God will give him the help he desires, he has the strength to continue to cry out to the Lord.

It does not make a person less of a Christian, less a follower of God, to be so surrounded by pain and darkness that they cannot visualize or verbalize the realization of their hope, or proclaim the promises of God in faith. What reveals the hard, true core of their faith is that they hope enough to continue to cry to Him even when it seems that no answer or succor will come.

Posted in musings, sqt

{sqt} – learning to pray (again) and celebrating a birthday

  1. One of my favorite short Harry Potter fan fictions, Sanctuary by Sheankelor, centers on a Severus Snape who is deeply, devotedly Catholic, and follows him through the war and its aftermath (Snape doesn’t die from the snakebite in this story) from the perspective of his parish priest and friend, who is also a wizard. The way faith is woven into the fabric of his life as he balances the demands of his dual role in the war – how it influences every decision he makes even as it remains hidden to protect his church community, how it is his source of strength when the strain of staying in Voldemort’s good favor is overwhelming (especially in the final year when even his former allies and fellow teachers are convinced he is against them), how it provides him with a pathway of repentance and renewal and lifelong conversion – it is simply beautiful, and utterly inspiring. If you like Harry Potter and aren’t averse to fan fiction I would definitely recommend it.
  2. Partly inspired by Sanctuary, and partly because trying to pray the liturgy of the hours on my phone proved to be too distracting, I used my birthday present from my Grandma to buy the one volume version of the liturgy of the hours, Christian Prayer. I think it is going to take a while for the structure of the prayer to become more natural, so that I can focus more on the substance of the prayer, but I love the ritual and beauty of it. I especially appreciate that the book contains not only musical settings for the recommended hymns (most of which I didn’t know and had to skip on the iBreviary app since I wasn’t raised Catholic!), but also has tonal settings for the antiphons, psalms, and canticles! It is so nice to be able to sing the psalms with a guide instead of making up something on my own and winging my way through it (especially since I am not particularly good at coming up with my own chant tones…). And I am hoping that I can make these prayers enough of a natural habit that I can begin to share them with my family, since they are ultimately designed to be prayed communally.
  3. In other news, Limerick turned five this week! It’s hard to believe he’s so old already when he’s still so small and snuggly sometimes – but on the other hand, it does make sense considering he can read fairly well and is comfortable with multiplication and division… but I suppose a bit of back and forth like that is to be expected in early to middle childhood. He’s expanding his interests a bit as he grows older, also: instead of just numbers, he’s now interested in numbers, the solar system, and climbing 🙂 One of his favorite games these days is to pretend he’s changing the size of the planet he’s on and acting like he’s experiencing the resulting changes in gravity.
  4. For his birthday, as he’d spent weeks resolutely proclaiming that he wanted no party, no presents, no people, and no cake, Paul and I took him to the Phoenix Rock Gym while my mom watched Rondel and Aubade. (While they don’t advertise this on their website, kids under 6 are only $5 for a day pass including gear rental, and it’s completely free to belay. So it was quite affordable for Limerick and I to take turns climbing with Paul as our alternate belayer!). He did so well, especially considering it was his first time doing that type of climbing. We spent about 2.5 hours climbing together – he would give a trail 3 tries and then take a break while I climbed one – and he got about twenty feet up several times but was a bit too nervous to climb higher. And he liked it enough to want to go back!
  5. Towards the end of our climb, another climber had a seizure and woke up extremely disoriented (he started fighting the EMTs and had to be restrained to go to the hospital 😦 ). It was really hard to watch. The man who was one of my closest mentors in junior high and high school was a rock climber, and passed away 9 years ago from brain cancer; needless to say, he had a lot of seizures along the way. So I was already in a place saturated with his memory, and then witnessed a reminder of the illness that left him vulnerable and hurting and ultimately took him away. And I felt so bad for the stranger suffering that day, and missed Mike so much at the same time, and thought about the man who represented strength and toughness and running the race of faith with endurance being so utterly helpless and out of control, and there was nothing I could do about any of it except to pray.
  6. It did leave me thinking about prayers for the dead. This is very much not a Protestant teaching, and it’s also not something I’ve spent a lot of time studying from a Catholic perspective. I understand praying to the saints – we know they are in heaven, we know God gives them the ability to hear us, intercede for us, and sometimes even respond to us. But most of the dead that we knew personally aren’t canonically recognized saints, although they very well could be in heaven rather than in purgatory – and that uncertainty makes me unsure of how to pray for them. At least I have the assurance, with Mike, that he was striving for Jesus and trusting his soul to the mercy of God. The pain of the death of a loved one without that knowledge must be so much sharper and more desolate.
  7. I suppose that in that case, as in the case of anything that seems hopeless or in the face of any call to despair, prayer is the only support we have left. It is the one unbroken thing in this broken world: because the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans that cannot be uttered when our own words fail; because Jesus Himself stands before the Father on our behalf when our sin leaves us again in need of His mercy; because through the cross there is always an open door for us to come as supplicants, as worshippers, as beloved children into the holy of holies where God Himself hears our weak and feeble voices with understanding and with love. Of course the Apostle Paul tells us to pray constantly, when prayer is such a gift!

Join me over at This Ain’t the Lyceum for the seven quick takes linkup this week – and if you have thoughts on prayer, please do comment with them; I would love to hear from you.