For the last three weeks, I’ve been holding a creative writing workshop in my apartment. This represents a new frontier–I’ve taught writing before, but not in my own home. Feelings of vulnerability, anxiety, awkwardness, fear arise as they do for me, and probably for many of us, when we foray into fresh territory.
These are all alleviated, as they always are (if at all), by the actual people–there are three of them, and they have all in this short amount of time become dear to me.
Last night, to kick off the class, I gave the following writing prompt: “Write your life story in five sentences.” I decided to participate, too.
So I hit the timer for ten minutes and these are the five sentences that immediately sprang to mind and heart: “Suffering. Suffering. Suffering. Suffering, Suffering.”
Suffering of course is not the WHOLE story. I managed to come up with a little narrative that included the suffering but also the joy, light, resurrection. And the students’ stories were each, in their way, killer.
Still, this morning in prayer I reflected upon that wellstream of pain that clearly lies deep within–or maybe not as deep as I’d thought, but rather just below the surface.
Then as I do every morning I read a page from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost For His Highest.
Oswald (1874-1917) was a Protestant Holiness Movement evangelical minister and he is always scolding about, among other things, how God doesn’t want our “service,” he wants us! All of us. He’ll figure out what to do with our talents and gifts. We allow God to “help himself” to us–as if we were a meal, or a pile of clothing, or a flower!
Which is actually sound spirituality and sound theology. So while ordinarily I would give someone of his description a wide berth, I have come to view Oswald as a dear Friend.
Anyway, his entry for February 27 reads in part:
“Have you been limiting, or impoverishing, the ministry of Jesus to the point that He is unable to work in your life? Suppose that you have a deep “well” of hurt and trouble inside your heart, and Jesus comes to you and says to you, “Let not your heart be troubled…” (John 14:1). Would your response be to shrug your shoulders and say, “But, Lord, the well is too deep, and even You can’t draw up quietness and comfort out of it.”…The thing that approaches the very limits of His power is the very thing we as disciples of Jesus ought to believe He will do.”
I thought of the initial five-sentence life story that had sprung immediately to mind the night before. I thought: Have I ever TRULY invited Christ in to the deepest well of my being to heal me? Do I believe he COULD heal that huge and hemorrhaging a wound?
Suddenly I thought of Lazarus, dead for three days in the tomb, wrapped in bandages, his wounds festering, his body already decomposing. His sisters Mary and Martha had asked Christ to come and for three days had been waiting for him, wringing their hands: Please, Jesus, come into even these wounds, the wounds of death and putrefaction. [John 11:1-44].
Lazarus is a metaphor for all of us: our humanity, the death sentence that’s imposed on us simply by virtue of being born, the hurts and twistings of our psyches that for many of us date back to childhood and that seem so impervious to change and healing.
I bowed my head and for a second, from the depths of my being, truly prayed: “Lord, please heal this wellspring of hurt”–that dates back before memory; that is in large part generational; that has in many ways ruled my life.
“Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.”
As often happens with sincere prayer, I wept.
And immediately, I felt, along with Mary and Martha: “Why didn’t you come sooner, Lord? Why did you wait so long?”
14 Replies to “A LAUNCH INTO LENT”
OMG! I thought that I was the only Catholic that used My Upmost for daily meditations. Such a beautiful book. Thanks for the great article.
I have read Oswald Chambers Utmost for His Highest for MANY years. A dear Methodist pastor gave me the copy. Even after all these years, I find something new to contemplate.
God bless you Heather. Thank you for your deep honesty and your faithfulness. Ingrid
I love your words and spirit and feel blessed to be at the table.
Heather, thank you for your openness. I am sure that many readers will be comforted by your sharing. Know that you are in my prayers.
Oh I am a total Oswald C nut, Fr. Matthew! My copy of My Utmost for His Highest is dog-eared and Post-It’ed to kingdom come. “Our Lord never worried and was never anxious, because His purpose was never to accomplish His own plans but to fulfill God’s plans. Fretting is wickedness for a child of God.” I just love this kind of bracing get-over-it thing, even if I very rarely get over ANYTHING, large or small. Do you have a parish? Where are you?…Thanks for reading!
God bless you Heather. I have been reading your contributions to Magnificat for years and every once in a while have visited this site. I believe this is going to be a very powerful Lenten season with our sovereign Lord helping us to discover things that maybe we never even thought about before so that he can bring the healing. That was the case for me yesterday and I’m so grateful. I just watched your Journey Home episode during my lunch hour. Very uplifting. Thank you for your honesty and transparency. Praying every blessing of love, joy and peace for you.
Thank you, Bonnie! A Catholic priest friend gave me my own copy of My Utmost For His Highest many years ago. The reflections are just the right length and meatiness for a daily reflection. Along with the Office and that day’s liturgy and a novena intention or two, a page from Hope for Today in Al-Anon, Prayer to the Holy Archangel Raphael, Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel, Prayer for Lapsed Catholics with a picture of Jesus with a lost lamb around his neck, ET CETERA, I wouldn’t think of starting my day without it. So glad to discover there are others out there who share my ardor for Oswald Chambers–
Oh Tom, the blessings are all on my end I feel! I’m so grateful for our little group, and I feel Paul and your own blessed mother as real Presences there as well…happy writing, many thanks, and see you soon!
Thank you, dear Ingrid! It is a rare and precious gift to be able to share some of my life here once in a while…blessed Lent to you–
Thank you so much, Tony, and yes, let’s continue to hold one another in prayer…I so appreciate your readership and support.
Sharon, thanks for weighing in…yes, I kind of feel that, too…a rich time to pull away from the computer screen, the news, the cacophony, the competing voices…to really pray for the purification of my own heart. Just simple, “little” things…I was at Mass this morning and had forgotten they were praying the Stations after the 8:15 Fridays during Lent–had (MANY) errands and a column to finish…so I was leaving and a woman who I often see at Mass but to whom I had never spoken looked at me and said, “Are you staying?” (As I often did during Lent last year). I said, “No, I can’t but (this on the spur of the moment and as soon as I said it I knew I had to follow through) I hope to come back at 5:30 (this afternoon, when they are praying them again).
The point being–we matter to each other. Even if that woman actually had never consciously seen me before, she was asking–Are you planning to be part of this community? Can you join us? Do you love Christ, too? In a thousand tiny ways each day, we need each other and we want each other. What if no-one came to Mass or stayed for the Stations? “Could you not sit with me for one hour?”…This is as real today as it was on the evening 2000 years ago when He wept tears of blood in the Garden at Gethsemane…
Praying every blessing of love, peace and joy to you as well–
HK: I am wicked jealous of those in your creative writing workshop, those who get to hang out in your home to learn and laugh and write, yea live on lexical delights in the realm of the King! But I accept life’s unfair, full stop, so I will remain content with breathing in your second hand smoke from afar. Love from the Neals o’ NOLA.
Tom! I just nabbed your CS Lewis quote from the other day and in the process pointed folks to your WONDERFUL SITE which has been helping sustain me and so many others for a while and especially during these how shall we say, INTERESTING times…a thousand thanks for the recent links to televised daily Masses and so much else…and “wicked jealous.”…I should know this but are you a fellow New Englander!? The writing workshop soldiers on, albeit in somewhat diluted numbers/form…it has been its own beautifully weird instance of creative love, I hope for all of us…and like Lewis said, if we’re going down, let’s do it playing a game of darts, or helping each other learn to write an essay…love to the Neals in NOLA! May we share another of those crazy delicious Cajun meals again! You have Austin among you (more or less, at least in LA) again…