Monday, November 29, 2010

Advent: Holy Longing

"Let me seek you in desiring you, Lord,
let me desire you in seeking you"
~ St. Anslem

Journey of the Three Magi to Bethlehem
Leonert Bramer, New York Historical Society, Oil on panel, 1638-40

My walk with the Lord has always consisted primarily in a deep sense of longing. Longing to feel the Lord's love truly; longing to sense His presence in my life; longing to know the depths of His mercy; longing to experience His spirit in prayer. For a quite awhile, particularly in my late high school and college years, I experienced a very wrenching period of the dark night of the soul. Not only was my heart longing to feel the Lord's presence, but I felt empty and felt that He was ions away from me. Gradually the intensity of this spiritual dryness has given way to a more apparent consolation from the Lord; the newfound joy in prayer and my relationship with Christ, particularly over the past two years, has filled my heart with gratitude. But nonetheless, I still feel that the incessant longing, the constant restlessness in my heart defines much of my spiritual experience even now.

For a very long time I was frustrated that while people around me seemed to be receiving consolation in prayer and an attractive sense of contentment in life, I continued to be discontent. I felt like I kept begging Him to make His presence known to me, and my prayers fell on deaf ears.

Then in a very grace-filled moment during an All Saints Vigil a few years ago, one of the reflections listed the forms that holiness takes in people; one of the things listed was a burning desire for the Lord. For the first time in my restless walk, I realized that desire for God is a grace in itself; that holy longing is a form of prayer and devotion.

This realization gave me much hope, and renewed my spiritual life in a very dynamic way. I realized that God wasn't simply ignoring my prayers, He was gently feeding me, but at the same time also placing in me a hunger to go deeper.

Since that moment, I have been less frustrated with my "plight", but instead have really embraced meditations, words, and homilies that speak of the beauty and the gift that a longing heart is.

At Mass this week, our parish priest in my home town talked about how Advent is a season of holy longing. It is a time when we do not yet see the Christ-child, but we recognize in a deeper way our desire for our Savior. Advent is a season of eager anticipation, when we allow our longing for Christ to become all the stronger; the more we realize that we need desperately need Jesus, the more room in our hearts we make to welcome our King.

So during this Advent season, we not only need to recognize the reality that our hearts are restless until they rest in Christ, but we make this very yearning our prayer.

In closing, I would like to highlight a wonderful section of an article about Monastic Prayer and the prayer of desire, by Fr. Columban Heaney. If you have time, you really should read the whole article here.

"The idea of waiting is found in many of the psalms. For example, Psalm 39: "I waited, I waited for the Lord till he stooped down to me"; and Psalm 41: "Like the deer that yearns for running streams so my soul is yearning for you, my God". Listening, watching, yearning, longing, thirsting this is what prayer consists of. It does not involve complicated mental activities; it is a simple way of communicating with God. This is the way we communicate with people who are close to us; it is also the way we communicate with God who abides in our hearts. Words are totally inadequate when communicating with God. They are incapable of expressing the deep sentiments of the heart. Only simple but profound expressions of the heart like yearning and watching are able to sustain the depth and intensity of our silent, unspoken prayer.

St. Augustine has expressed this beautifully in the following passage from his Commentary on the Psalms: "All my longing is known to you". Not to men, who cannot see into the heart but to you, my God, is all my desire laid bare. Does your longing lie open to him? Then the Father, who sees in secret, will give you your heart's desire. This very longing is your prayer. Not for nothing did the Apostle tell us 'to pray without ceasing'. Did he mean that we were to be perpetually on our knees, or lying prostrate, or raising our hands? If that is our idea of prayer, I consider that unceasing prayer is beyond our capacity.

There is another kind of prayer, however, interior and continuous: the prayer of desire. Whatever else you are doing, if your desire is for the Sabbath rest, you do not cease to pray. So, then, if you do not wish your prayer to be interrupted, do not let your longing flag. Ceaseless longing will be your ceaseless cry. Let your love fail, and you will fall silent. Who are the people whose cry is silenced? Are they not those of whom it is said: 'Since iniquity has been at large, love has grown cold in the hearts of the majority of men'? Love grown cold means a heart become silent; burning love is the heart's cry. If your love is abiding, your cry will be continuous; a continuous cry is a sign of abiding desire, and abiding desire means that you are ever mindful of your heart's repose" (l9).

St. John Chrysostom teaches the same: "You should not think of prayer as being a matter of words. It is a desire for God, an indescribable devotion, not of human origin, but the gift of God's grace" (20)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Home for the holidays

Right now I am sitting at the computer screen, still in my pajamas, sipping my coffee as my mom finishes up her baking projects in the kitchen, and my two brothers, two sisters and dad are having a lively time playing Wii in the living room. It's so good to be home, even amidst all the commotion; the joking, the bantering, and the game playing is all part of a typical family holiday weekend...spending time with loved ones, back home in a cozy and familiar place. Ah. I wasn't going to come home for Thanksgiving because I didn't have enought time to drive up to Pittsburgh from Nashville, but when I realized that my break was actually longer than I had expected, I decided to hop in the car, hit the road, and journey 10 hours to be home for the holidays. I am very glad I made the trek.

I am not going to be ready to head back on my independent adventure tomorrow morning, But for now I will store up all the family togetherness to carr with me as I embark again on my journey once more.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On this Thanksgiving Day

flickr/by tejvanphotos

"People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea,
at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular
motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering... Now, let us
acknowledge the wonder of our physical incarnation— that we are here, in these
particular bodies, at this particular time, in these particular circumstances.
May we never take for granted the gift of our individuality."
— Saint Augustine of Hippo (354-430)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Thou has given so much to me... Give me one thing more— a grateful heart."
— George Herbert (1593-1633)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"In the deepest night of trouble and sorrow God gives us so much to be thankful
for that we need never cease our singing. With all our wisdom and foresight we can
take a lesson in gladness and gratitude from the happy bird that sings all night,
as if the day were not long enough to tell its joy."
— Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"Gratitude is born in hearts that take time to count up past mercies.
they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."
— Charles Edward Jefferson (1860-1937)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

"At times our light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us."
- Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

The best way to show our gratitude to God is to accept everything with joy.
- Mother Teresa (1910-1997)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
— G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936)

Monday, November 22, 2010

How it's going

I've been in Nashville for 10 days now, and it's been a roller coaster of being terrified, incredibly lonely and homesick, and excited and intrigued by the newness of it all. Whenever I begin to panic and think "what in the world am I doing here?" I take a deep breadth, and try to remember that the Lord has led me here, and He will take care of me, even though I often feel like a stranger in a strange land. With each passing day, though, I think that I begin to feel a little more comfortable, a little more myself.

I have been staying with a mutual friend, who is also a devoted Catholic young professional, and her hospitality has made a world of difference in helping me experience a smoother transition as I look for my own permanent apartment.

On my very first full day in Nashville, though, she had to work the whole day, and I was left alone in my little bedroom, surrounded by stuffed suitcases -- my life in boxes. My family and friends and everything familiar and dear to me far, far away. It was one of the most frightening, lonely days I have experienced. Suddenly everything became really real to me. Virtually no one knew me here, I knew virtually no one.

That feeling is enough to disorient you enough that you feel like you are lost in a vast, terrifying sea of unfamiliarity. I didn't know what to do, or how I could possibly begin to feel oriented.

I mean, at least when you start at college, you can rely on orientation programs to get acclimated and transition. There is no orientation program for moving to a new city.

I considered staying in the apartment and organizing my things a bit in my temporary abode, but something inside me told me that probably wasn't the best idea to spend the morning inside alone pondering my plight.

I knew what I needed was to find the things I loved doing; to orient myself by finding the things that brought me joy; the places where I most felt at home.

So, first things first, I embarked on a mission to find a cute coffee shop that served good breakfast fare. Thanks to Google I discovered the "The Ugly Mug", a coffeeshop in an up-and-coming area of Nashville known as "12South" which makes delicious breakfast sandwiches and features an array of creative espresso options. With a quaint interior buzzing with students and offering organic options and even Stevia for coffee sweetener, it definitely hit the spot.

Next, I went for a little stroll around the neighborhood to admire the pretty houses and the charming architecture of this historic part of town. If only I could afford to live there!

Then I went on and found the large Nashville Farmers Market, which still had an impressive number of vendors, considering that it was mid-November. I bought an array of beautiful produce, and enjoyed my exchanges with the Southern-accented farm vendors. It was good to be somewhere that I could experience the joy of buying fresh fruits and veggies; something I always enjoyed in more familiar places.

I also was able to stop at the Nashville Trader Joes, (TJ's was a very beloved spot in DC), which certainly helped me feel at home, to get much needed grocery items. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Nashville Trader Joes is probably the biggest TJ's that I have been to yet. How exciting.

As I can home from my day of exploration, I felt a little better. Somehow finding the places I loved helped things feel a little less discombobulated, and left me feeling a little more as if "I could like living here."

And so the past week and a half has rolled along, sometimes gracefully, sometimes shakily.

Much time I have spent exploring new places, finding new favorite spots, meeting new people and trying to carve out a new life here. But that's another story for another day.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Welcome (back)!

Dear readers,

I knew it couldn't be too long before I resumed my blogging endeavors! Writing has become such an integral part of my life that after a week into my new adventure in Nashville, away from my blogging, I knew it was time to start blogging again. I decided to start an entirely new blog (for those of you who are new, my old blog was Contemplative in the City, about my experiences as a young Catholic in Washington, D.C.) because although I am still very much seeking a contemplative spirit, I am no longer living in a city proper. I wanted to maintain the integrity of my old blog and keep it's character focused on the city life and my experiences and musings while I was living in the city. I will certainly keep it up and running for archival uses, so if you ever want to read any of the old posts you will be able to.

I decided to call this blog "Intimations of Grace", because I feel like much of my spiritual journey is led by my desire to find God in His simple manifestations of everyday life. I know that the more I become attuned to His still, small voice, the more I will become aware of His loving presence in my life, the lives of others, and the world around us. Many of the saints, particularly St. Terese of Lisieux, have taught us that this way of following God in the little things is the key to holiness.

Of course, a sub-theme of this blog will also feature some of my adventures in Nashville and the joy, excitement, and challenges that come with living in a new place.

Thanks for stopping by, and for joining with me in a new chapter of my life via the blogsphere!