Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Heroine, St. Teresa of Jesus

Today is the feast day of St. Teresa of  Jesus, also known as St. Teresa of Avila. She is my patron saint and the foundress of my order, the Order of Discalced Carmelites.

Before I became Catholic, I was researching to write a book about contemplative prayer. I read several books by and about famous contemplatives during that time, but the story that struck me the most was that of St. Teresa of Avila. Although she had spent her life as a nun, she did not have a "spiritual awakening," or what could be called a "spiritual conversion experience," until she was in her forties. I approached reading St. Teresa as a woman also in my forties who was disillusioned with life, directionless and wanting something more. 

In popular spirituality, which some refer to as "new age," much is often said about "union with God." Union with God can give unlimited power, bliss and wisdom, they say. Seems everyone has a path to get there, for the right price. Yes, I bought in to it. It's sad to me now that I once believed that good feelings, money and status and power could contribute at all to quality of life. They really don't.

St. Teresa had a similar realization, and wrote:

"I spent nearly 20 years on that stormy sea, often falling in this way and each time rising again, but to little purpose, as I would only fall once more... I can testify that this is one of the most grievous kinds of life which I think can be imagined, for I had neither any joy in God nor any pleasure in the world. When I was in the midst of worldly pleasures, I was distressed by the remembrance of what I owed to God; when I was with God, I grew restless because of worldly affections."

The confirmation saint I chose, when I became Catholic, was St. Teresa of Avila. This is before I even knew there was a Secular order of Discalced Carmelites. My sponsor had given me a book with the lives of the saints in it, and I had considered choosing another one. In the process, I read and became impressed with the lives of many saints, but still my main affection went to St. Teresa.

Only a month or two after my conversion, I met Terry Ianora, director of 1st Way in Eugene, Oregon, who is a Secular Carmelite. Immediately, I wanted to find out more about the order. I spent a year as an aspirant before being accepted into the order's formation program early last summer.

Thank you, St. Teresa, for showing me what life is really all about. It's all about Him. He is all that gives life breath and power and meaning. He gives all purpose and following His will provides all that is satisfying and worth living for.

St. Teresa of Jesus, pray for us.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Jesus loves us MOST where we are weak.

At the Secular Carmelite retreat I went to last weekend, I heard a message I didn't expect and it has changed the way I'm hearing scripture, liturgy and homilies. I have different ears somehow.

The topic of our retreat was, "Rediscovering the Riches of Divine Intimacy," with retreat master Father Robert Barcelos, OCD. I had been wondering how to grow in intimacy with God, pondering how it was that I had been feeling stuck for so long and even having a hard time following through on my prayer commitments. 

Father Robert said that Jesus loves us MOST where we are weak. He doesn't love us DESPITE when  we're weak, but loves us MOST when we are weak. It's his preference. Whenever Jesus picks a place of encounter, it is in a place where life is messy, shameful or overwhelming for us.

Where did Jesus choose to encounter mankind, face to face, in the flesh, for the first time? In a dank, smelly stable, in the middle of the night. He could have chosen any other place to meet us, but he chose there, a messy, unpleasant, uncomfortable place. When we follow Jesus through the scriptures, where does He meet us? He goes to where the tax collectors and prostitutes are. He is right there when the adulterous woman is to be stoned to death. He's there with the sick, hungry and grieving. He doesn't seek out places where He isn't needed or where people don't realize that they need Him, but He is, as Father Robert said, "a magnet for our affliction." He wants with all His heart to love us there.

The enemy also zones in on affliction. Like a shark smelling blood, he moves quickly for a kill. The greatest spiritual battles of our lives are around our wounded places and our weak places. The enemy will try to make you run from God in shame, but where do you go when you feel ashamed? Into the arms of the enemy instead. 

Spiritual Discernment Tip from Father Robert: Jesus will never want you to run away in shame as Adam and Eve did in the garden. They ran in shame because they were under the power of the enemy during that time. Jesus will correct us but He will also embrace us in His love. He treasures our trust and our repentance more than anything else.

Simple truth but powerful for me. I notice a lot now when I start to feel shame, pain, weak and overwhelmed, especially now that I'm moving. I remember Father Robert saying, "Jesus loves you MOST in your messiness." Before communion, we say, "Lord, I am not worthy that you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed." Honestly, I have always thought to myself that I am not worthy for anyone to come under my roof. I'm a mess. I don't want to invite anyone into that. But, apparently, Jesus is like a One Man clean-up crew. He's not a King we have to prepare the homes of our souls for, so they'll be good enough for Him to enter. He's the only one who CAN clean them, order them, straighten them out. When he knocks, we should say, "Thank the Lord he's here. he's the only one who can heal my soul," instead of running from Him in shame. 

I don't have to run from God anymore, which is what I have been doing when I skip my liturgy of the hours or my daily prayer time on occasion. I don't have to run away from love. He WANTS to live in me, and he loves me MOST when I'm a mess inside because he loves to do His work to order it.

So, lately at mass, I'm transfixed on what I hear. I go to daily mass, so honestly some days, I'm thinking, "blah, blah, blabbity blah." Now, I'm hearing mercy and grace and love and what God wants to do for me to help me carry out His will. Hey, I've heard this a zillion times but never really HEARD it before. I realize this will pass, but I'm not daydreaming. My mind isn't wandering. I'm right there... because I know He loves me there.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in weakness." -2 Corinthians 12:9

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Borderline is Brave.

"Individuals suffering from borderline personality disorder have often been treated as psychiatric lepers, with treating professionals approaching them armored with rigid boundaries, negative expectations and a poor prognosis. This does not need to be the case. Another alternative exists: to see the individual suffering from this disorder as courageous and full of creative potential."

- Laura Paxton, from Borderline and Beyond, The original edition 

 Just waking up every morning to face the day can be an act of courage for someone suffering from BPD. It is not self-pity or wallowing in turmoil that creates this difficulty. 

A person suffering from BPD continually encounters emotional over-stimulation and overwhelm, often beyond his or her capacity to cope. This is through no fault of their own, but through having a different threshold for stress. Other conditions have similar low thresholds at times, such as autism, PTSD and ADHD. 

However, in addition to this greater propensity to overwhelm, a person with BPD  must face a lifetime of learning basic skills that most others take for granted, such as distress tolerance and alternatives to self-harming behavior. 

Every day presents a challenge in facing fear and coping effectively. This can be exhausting for many. Sometimes, trauma from the past must be worked through in therapy. 

While it might be easier to turn to alcohol, drugs or cutting, a borderline in recovery works very hard to stand up to many fears. To be borderline and recovering is to be brave, and that is commendable and worthy of respect.