Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Desert

Unless you gave up cake for Lent...
then you can't come to the party.
The start of the Lenten season marks the one year* anniversary of my spiritual dry spell.

*Church year, not calendar year.

To commemorate this momentous occasion, I'm going to have an anniversary party. You're all invited!


Unfortunately, I'm not quite to the partying part yet. I have gotten to the point where I've accepted this dry spell - whatever it means - but I haven't gotten to the point of rejoicing. Maybe someday I will go all St. Paul and learn how to rejoice in my suffering (2 Cor 12:10, Rom 5:3, Col 1:24, etc.), but until then, I'll have to save my cake-eating and happy-dancing for other occasions.

I suppose it is fitting that my dry spell began with Lent last year. I entered the desert with Christ, but for reasons known only to God, I didn't experience the joyous resurrection of coming out of the spiritual desert when Easter rolled around. While there have been brief periods of spiritual enlightenment, joy, and revelation, I haven't been able to leave that dry, arid desert for a year - at least, not yet.

Throughout the past year, I've had many people ask me what I mean by "spiritual dry spell" and to describe what it's like. This is not a question that offers an easy answer!

Jesus Ministered to by Angels, by James Tissot
Looking to Christ, we know a little about his 40 days in the desert. He ate nothing for 40 days, and when the days were over, he was hungry (that's the understatement of the year). We hear in this Sunday's Gospel that the angels ministered to him while he lived amongst the wild beasts.

Oh, and he was tempted by that pesky Devil. Over and over again. He was offered food, power, and riches - everything that someone in a weakened state could ever dream about - but Christ turned it all down.

While we have insight into what Jesus did in the desert through the Gospel accounts, we have no inkling of what his heart, mind, and soul were going through during that period in the spiritual wasteland.

Did he feel as if God had abandoned him?

Did he close his eyes to pray and see only darkness and emptiness?

Did his heart yearn for the closeness he once felt with the Father?

I don't have the answers as to what Christ went through. I think that perhaps he had to experience that in some way, since he was human in every way but sin. We all go through periods of spiritual dryness, and these times are even more noticeable when we go from an on-fire faith life to being thrown in the desert. Each person experiences this dryness in a different way.

I can say that for me, my dry spell is not necessarily characterized by feelings or temptations, but by the lack of something - anything - which makes it difficult to describe.

This picture lacks a presence.
When I close my eyes to pray, it's not that it is dark, as if the light has been turned off. It's as if it is entirely empty, like there was never a light there in the first place. Where I once felt God's presence guiding my prayers, I now do not sense any presence at all. It is like there is a void that was once full and over-flowing. Where I used to be able to sit in tranquil silence, waiting to listen to God, the silence is now more noted by a lack of thoughts than a peaceful presence. I used to desire to go to Mass every day - like a girl giddy with love - but I no longer have that intense longing to be in His presence. Where I used to find rest before, the past year has felt as if I've been carrying a heavy burden. No matter how much I try to sit at Christ's feet, I still feel as if I'm begging to be recognized. Most significantly, it doesn't feel as if I have been carrying a cross with Christ, but  all of this has felt as if I've been all alone.

In my heart, I know that God hasn't left me, and I know that I haven't been carrying this alone, but that doesn't make the sensation of feeling alone any less. I can read and reflect on the idea of suffering all I want, but that doesn't actually make the suffering go away. At the end of the day, I can accept it all while still wondering why I'm in this spiritual state, right here and right now.

I think one of the most significant things I have learned in this past year through a lot of reflection and even more spiritual direction is that God has a plan for all of this. He has led me to this dry spell - and kept me there -for reasons only known to Him. We even read in all of the Gospel accounts that it is the Holy Spirit that leads Jesus into the desert. Not the Devil. Not some shiny object. God Himself leads Christ into the desert. Scripture doesn't say why, but we know that there must be a good - and important - reason why God would not only allow this to happen, but also to actually lead His son into the dryness. If He had a reason for doing that for Christ, then He must have a reason for doing it for me, too.

All I know is that whatever is coming for me after all of this must be big. After all, Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert only to come out and begin his public ministry, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and calling all sinners to repent and believe in the Gospel. (Mk 1:12-15) While I don't see myself busting out of this dry spell standing on street corners yelling at people to repent - it's not really my style - I have come to trust over the past year that there is something big in the works. Someday, I will hopefully look back at this time in my life and think, "That's what it all was for." Until then, I just have to keep praying - begging is the more correct term - and wait. Just as Christ came out of the desert, I will someday too, still walking along beside Him.

Friday, February 17, 2012

7 Quick Takes Friday (#33)

Hosted by Betty Beguiles this week!

The beauty of the Catholic Church is that we always have a Prayer Army to call upon in our time of need! 
  1. I started a novena to St. Joseph this week. Will you keep my novena intention in your prayers?
  2. My youngest sister is getting confirmed in May, and has asked me to be her sponsor. Will you pray for her, especially as she is going on her retreat on Monday?
  3. A good friend has two very difficult exams today. Will you pray for the Holy Spirit to bring him calm and peace during this stressful time?
  4. Please keep one of my good friends from home in your prayers. I get the feeling that he is struggling a lot with his faith right now. Please pray that he will be led back to the Church, and pray that I can know how to better reach out to him with love and understanding.
  5. I have been asked to help lead a retreat for young adults. Will you pray for our retreat core leadership team as we work over the next six weeks to plan a powerful retreat experience for ourselves and those who join us for a weekend away?
  6. Let's pray for our priests! For the ones who always try to speak the truth. For the ones who speak the truth gently. For the ones who speak the truth forcefully. For the ones who cause people to leave the pews because they can't handle the truth. For the ones who no longer know the truth. For the ones who no longer care about the truth. Our priests are one of our most powerful weapons against the evils of this world, and we need them all fighting for Christ and his Church. St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle!
  7. I would be happy to pray for your intentions as well. Do you have any special intentions you would like me to remember in my prayers this week?
Here is a great recording of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy set to song. One of my friends found it this past week, and I've found comfort in it. I hope you enjoy it, too!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Some things are only proven over time

I believe that Audrey Assad described this song as a "love song", but when heard this song for the first time, all I could think about was my spiritual dry spell. How cold and dark and lonely it can be sometimes, but also the hope I have that so much good will come of it. 

I think my favorite part in this song is "What if the seasons help us realize?/Some things are only proven over time." Sometimes we don't understand God's reasoning or timing, but the different seasons we go through in our spiritual lives can bear so much fruit. I wanted to share this song with you all, and I hope you check out her latest album, Heart.

What if we find ourselves beneath the snow?
Our warmest words all frozen in our throats
And all we feel is left out in the cold
You and I

What if the days grow short and lose their light?
What if the coals burn black and the embers die?
And we can't find each other in the night?
You and I

Even the winter won't last forever
We'll see the morning; we'll feel the sun
We'll wake up in April ready and able
Holding the seeds and the soil
Of our love
Of our love

What if the ice we tread is just too thin?
What if we can't escape the squall we're in
What if our hearts of stone are permanent?
You and I
You and I

Even the winter won't last forever
We'll see the morning; we'll feel the sun
We'll wake up in April ready and able
Holding the seeds and the soil
Of our love
Of our love

What if the spring comes soon and we're surprised?
What if the seasons help us realize?
Some things are only proven over time

Even the winter won't last forever
We'll see the morning; we'll feel the sun
We'll wake up in April ready and able
Holding the seeds and the soil

Even the darkness cannot disarm us
We'll see the morning, we'll feel the sun
We'll break up the Earth 'cause we know that it's worth it
Sowing the seeds in the soil
Of our love
Of our love
Of our love
Of our love

- Even The Winter, Audrey Assad

* I don't own the rights to the lyrics or music.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Excuse Me While I Swoon

Check out the other great posts on "Literary Crushes and How They Shaped Our Hearts"!

Looking back on my literary crushes, I don't think I really knew why I fell for these fictional lads at the time. I just did.

It was when I started learning more about the Catholic faith, chastity, and the dignity of women that I could look back on my childhood - er, well, continuing past childhood - crushes and see that what I saw in them was what I did and still do long for in a real man

I don't mean what society tells us is a real man - the macho, beer-drinking, sports-watching, money-making, crude joke-cracking, sometimes jerk player kind of "man". 

I'm talking about a real, real man. All you ladies know what I'm talking about. He is masculine. He is respectful. He is patient. He is humble. He appreciates women. He is in control of his desires. He doesn't pressure women to be who they aren't. He loves his mama and looks up to his papa. He knows how to make money, but doesn't let that rule his world. He doesn't boast. He has a hilarious sense of humor, and loves the sound of your laugh. He knows how to make sacrifices... and makes them willingly. He knows who Love is, and strives to emulate Him by loving you.

That looks like me on the right, right?
Oh, and he's a handsome prince.


(Not really.)

I think one of the things I have learned most from my literary crushes is not that they have shaped my heart, but that they show me what is already imprinted on my heart.

Mr. Darcy

Excuse me. *Leaves the computer to swoon.* Thank you.

Is it really any surprise that Mr. Darcy makes the list? I know I'm not the only one to have fallen victim to Mr. Darcy's love spell. Actually, I think it has almost been scientifically proven that any woman who reads (or sees!) Pride and Prejudice falls in love with the brooding and mysterious male lead.
I find Mr. Darcy rather handsome. (Image credit)

It's certainly not because of that famous opening line: "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife." Sure, his $10,000 pounds a year is exciting to Mrs. Bennet, but it sure doesn't get my heart thumping.

I think a line from the movie really emulates why we all find Mr. Darcy... desirable:

You must know... surely, you must know it was all for you ... you have bewitched me, body and soul, and I love, I love, I love you. I never wish to be parted from you from this day on. 
Mr. Darcy sacrificed so much out of love for Lizzy, yet he never sought to make it known to her. What woman doesn't long to hear the words that a man has done everything he has for love of her, and her alone? What woman doesn't want to feel that kind of sacrificial love? We all seek this - even if we don't realize it. We seek this in a man, and we seek this with God - to be forever be bonded to him.

Prince Char

... *cricket cricket* ...

If Ella says no, I'll say yes!
Oh, sorry, I had to leave to go swoon again.

Sure, Ella Enchanted might be written for girls ages 8 and up, and yes, I may have read it for the millionth time in the past few months, but there is something that touched my 8 year old heart that still touches my 25 year old heart when I read about the friendship between Prince Char and Ella that eventually blossoms into love.

Plus, Prince Char is just a cute patootie. Sliding down stair rails in the castle? Sign me up! Learning to speak crazy Gnomic language? Hot! Rescuing the damsel in distress from hungry ogres? My hero!

I think what I have always loved most about Prince Char is how he views Ella. Others see Ella as odd, clumsy, awkward, spunky, quirky... the list goes on. I know that all of these words and many more have been used to describe me in the past. Yet, Prince Char sees all of these qualities not as setting Ella as an untouchable outsider, but for making her the unique woman that she is. He matches her quirky sense of humor, rescues her when she needs it, has the humility to need her too, exhibits patience in waiting for her to be ready for their relationship, and then doesn't give up when he knows that it's time for their life together to begin. Many children's book lads are portrayed as either following lasses around in a lovey dovey daze or pushing the ladies to their "awakening." Prince Char doesn't do either of these, but instead walks alongside Ella, seeing her as his equal and loving her for exactly who she is. I don't think I've ever met a woman who doesn't recognize that a man like that is a catch.


My boyfriend.
I know what you're thinking. Shakespeare isn't a literary character! You would be correct. I do, however, have a major crush on The Bard. Why, you ask? The man had a way with words, and he managed to create some of the most timeless, intricate, and swoon-worthy characters of all time.

Our love story began my freshmen year of high school. I can't explain to you why I first loved Shakespeare, but I can tell you that it was love at first sight. I became enticed by his words, and I felt a deep emotional connection to his works. Maybe it’s because he was secretly Catholic, but the man knew how to write the poetry of love.

I could go on and on with examples, so I'll try to only throw a few your way. How about this classic line from Romeo and Juliet?
But soft! What light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Sure, their love affair happened in a matter of a week, but that Romeo did it right. Juliet became the only light he needed. As my high school English teacher would say, he wooed her, wed her, and bed her. All while speaking in pretty poetry. Romance!

Romeo and Juliet is soooo over-rated, I hear you say. Fine then. I bet you've never read The Tempest. There we encounter Ferdinand, who has been stranded on an island with the eccentric Prospero and his daughter Miranda. Ferdinand admits that he has "known" many women, yet when he first sees Miranda, he recognizes the purity and beauty in her. To win her hand, Prospero sets menial tasks for Ferdinand to complete. A man who was just hoping to use Miranda for his own pleasure might mumble and grumble, but love has clearly changed Ferdinand:
I am, in my condition,
A prince, Miranda; I do think, a king, -
I would not so! - and would no more endure
This wooden slavery than to suffer
The flesh-fly blow by mouth. Hear my soul speak:
The very instant that I saw you, did
My heart fly to your service; there resides
To make me slave to it; and for your sake
Am I this patient log-man. 
Do you love me? 
O heaven, O earth, bear witness to this sound,
And crown what I profess with kind event,
If I speak true! if hollowly, invert
What best is boded me to mischief! I,
Beyond all limit of what else i' the world,
Do love, prize, honour you. (Act III, Scene i)
By becoming enslaved to her soul, he has been set free by love. He prizes and honors her for the true treasure that she is. What woman wouldn't swoon at these words?

This idea of having to work hard, make sacrifices, and yes, even suffer to find true love is echoed throughout Shakespeare's works. While none of us really desire suffering, we seek it in the sense that out of suffering emerges true love. Shakespeare said it well in A Midsummer Night's Dream:
The course of true love never did run smooth.
What wise words. Love always involves suffering, and requires willing sacrifices from those involved. Our hearts seek another who is willing to do anything and give anything to show his love for you, and my heart has always recognized this in the writings of The Bard.


Why do these literary crushes make me go weak in the knees? Because in my heart - in all of our hearts - our definition of true love doesn't change. What we seek in a man doesn't change, even if society tries to teach us otherwise.

While falling head over heels in love with an imaginary man isn’t encouraged, reflecting on just what it is that takes our breath away can teach us a thing or two about the desires of our heart. These literary crushes may not have shaped my heart, but they can reflect how my heart has been molded by God for Love.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

We found Love in a hopeless place

*Please, DO NOT watch the actual music video for the song in the title. It's not really appropriate.*

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