Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Satisfy My Soul

Every morning I ask God to love me, and I tell Him how much I love Him. I want to know the deep and abiding love of my Creator, so that my soul can be satisfied, and so that I can then be free to love others. How can we love others when our own souls are so hungry and unfulfilled? Our love would be selfish and grasping rather than generous and giving. It would be all about our need and our lack and we would never be able to truly give of ourselves because we would always be wanting from others only what God can give us - truly unconditional love and acceptance, and a deep sense of who we really are and our place in this world.

When we have found that love in God we can place Him in the centre of our lives and from a place of peace and contentment we can reach out to others with a genuine and generous love, knowing that even if we are not loved in return, even if we are hated or reviled, even if we should perish, God Himself is at work in and through our lives. What greater place is there to exist in and live from than the very love of God Himself, He who sustains the universe, and also satisfies my soul? Every morning I ask God to love me, and to satisfy my soul with His pure and unchanging love. Every morning I thank Him for the gift of life, for His love, and the privilege to live for Him.

If my soul is satisfied then the rest of me can learn to fall in line. In ordering things rightly, in allowing the soul to lead guided by the Spirit of God Himself, we will find our bodies, minds, intellects and wills following suit. All can and will be guided by God if we surrender to Him. One of my favourite prayers by St Ignatius of Loyola is "Take and Receive" :

"Take Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and thy grace, for this is sufficient for me."

At my 30 day retreat in Sydney, many days were spent contemplating the love of God, and responding to His unending love and the many gifts He continues to pour into my life. This prayer is a very natural response to a loving God who has held back nothing, given of Himself, given even His own Self, and continues to give through all of time... what better response is there to a loving God than to give all that I am back to Him? Everything is gift, and I love the Giver more than the gifts, I am happy to return everything to Him. Take all that I am, receive everything of me, only give me your love and your grace. I need nothing else. My soul is satisfied, God, in You.

Thanks for reading,


Monday, December 2, 2013

Blessed are the weak, the helpless, and the poor in body... for they shall need God.

Some say religion is for those who need a crutch. Others say God is created in the mind of the weak and the poor to justify their suffering and to give them something to look forward to after they escape their mortal bodies and enter into eternity. Whatever the reasons why we think of God or look to our Creator it certainly is the case that the weak, the helpless, those in pain and those who suffer find solace in Him and the idea of life in the hereafter.

What happens once our mortal bodies perish as they inevitably will some day, and what happens to the essence of who we truly are, our very souls? Some say there is no such thing as a soul and that death brings the ultimate end. I think that we do have souls that are the actual essence of ourselves, and in which is distilled everything that makes us who we are. I believe that God breathed into us something of Himself when He gave us life, and what our souls are at our death is what we have done with that God breathed life essence gifted to us.

Can a soul prosper and grow when the body that contains it is in pain and is suffering? Can the soul that houses our essence, our feelings, our emotions, our very selves, thrive when people live with chronic illness? Does the daily battle with illness eat away at the essence of who we are and leave us gnarled and joyless because life is difficult? Yes, illness can do that to a soul. It can take away happiness in so many ways and deprive us of all that is good in life. Illness can eat us up on the inside and leave us hollowed out and empty, cavernous and echoing with the silence of a dead soul. If we let it do that.

How can one try to live without dying slowly on the inside from whatever difficulties life offers us? Illness is but only one of many things that can devastate lives, break hearts, rob of us of our joy and leave us bleeding from wounds that never seem to heal. Chronic illness that never goes away but remains like an unwanted guest, or a dripping tap, sometimes quietly reminding you of its presence, other times screaming noisily like a jack hammer gone wild but always unwelcome, always an intruder, always a spanner in the works, ever the uninvited guest that one must learn to live with and stay sane.

My soul has survived 17 years of chronic illness. I was never sure I would or could learn to live with illness and stay sane. And yet that's just what I have managed to do somehow. And that's what lots of people do everyday with diabetes, heart problems, severe disability, mental challenges, and just about any chronic illness you can throw at them. How do people manage everyday for years and years? Why don't they just curl up in despair and give up hope? I think there are some things that can be helpful, at least they've helped me.

The first step is to accept what is happening to our bodies and to recognize that many things are simply beyond our control. We can't control our illnesses but only manage them to the best of our ability. With loss of control comes great frustration and even anger, and those are justified emotions. But what does one do with these feelings that tend to bring with them destructive negativity and can damage our souls and the lives of others around us? Some say expressing anger is a good way to deal with it. I think it is good to acknowledge the emotion but not to express it as such. Anger destroys. Frustration that is pent up and allowed to grow into anger can be very destructive. What does one do with the anger and frustration then?

People find help in different ways and all sorts of things can be useful. I've rediscovered recently that for me the only thing that works is to go to God. I spend time crying it all out to Him. I read the scriptures, I pray, I cry some more. I tell Him that I accept all things from Him, both good and bad. I don't blame Him for my illness, I see it as just one of those things that happened to me. I thank Him that it's been pretty manageable for now and I ask that I might continue to be fairly well for some time more. I even ask to be healed completely, but I am able to add, "Not my will, but Yours, Lord". I recognize what I am in my place in the universe. I am the creation not the Creator, I am the clay in the Potter's hands, the canvas the Artist paints on, the finely crafted sculpture of the Master Craftsman.  I am in awe of a loving God who created me, who loves me, and who wants to prosper my soul, even if my perishing body can't keep up.

I am weak, and helpless, and poor in body but I am rich in spirit because I am continually at the feet of Christ Himself worshiping and adoring and loving Him. My soul is revived daily and it doesn't matter what happens to my body any more. To live is Christ, to die is gain. I am happy to live with whatever befalls me, not in a fatalistic way, but simply because I love God so much I want only His will and not mine for my life. Is there more suffering and pain down the road? "Let this cup pass from me, O Lord" as Christ prayed, but He also said, "Not my will but Thy will" to His Father. And so it is with me and my heavenly Father. Every day I ask to be granted the strength and grace to accept His will, and to die to self. When we no longer live for ourselves then we are truly set free to live lives of freedom, and nothing can hurt our souls no matter what happens to our bodies.

If I love Christ and am His disciple then I can expect to suffer in life just as He did. It is the only way to truly allow my soul to grow. It's a strange truth, but the pain that my body naturally runs from is the only thing that is allowing my soul to grow more deeply in love with God and I look forward to the day when I shall be freed from this mortal casing that holds me, when my soul shall be set free to stand before God and dwell in His presence forever where no pain shall touch me ever again and no suffering shall reach out to me with cold fingers to choke the very joy of life from me. I shall dwell in the house of my God forever, and rest in eternity. How welcome will that eternal rest be some day. I am not afraid to die.

But before that time comes I must battle. Yes, everyday is a battle. Some days when the Crohn's flares it's a battle just to get out of bed because everything hurts, but always, no matter how my body feels, whether I am well or not, it's a battle for my very soul. Bitterness lurks like a hungry wolf desperate for a meal, frustration and anger threaten to engulf me in flames, self pity claws at me with sharp talons tearing me to shreds, sadness and sorrow try to steal away any joy I have... battles must be waged everyday so I can be what I truly am. And what am I?

I went away for a 30 day silent retreat in Sydney to find out who I really am. And I discovered that I am so deeply loved by God, fearfully and awesomely made, precious in His sight, a delight to God, and I have many gifts and talents given by Him. I thank Him everyday for His love, for all the gifts He has given me, but I remember to love the Giver more than the gifts. Even if I was to be given nothing more in my life I would still love God. And yet, God Himself was both Giver and Gift, when Christ died on the cross for me. Everyday I gaze upon Him on the cross, and everyday I give all my burdens to Him because He truly cares for me and wants to help me bear them. What greater gift can anyone give than to help another bear their burdens with such humility and gentleness as Christ offers? All anger and frustration, sadness and sorrow melt away in His presence. Truly, my soul has found its home in God.

My heart is revived by my time spent with Him, my soul enriched with a peace that is beyond anything anyone can offer me, my love for others, especially those in pain and those who suffer in this life, has deepened, and I feel alive on the inside...my body just needs to keep up. There was a time when my body dictated how I felt and  what I did, but now I look to my soul to direct me. I am the temple of the living God, and His Holy Spirit lives in me. Let my soul, in communion with God, speak to me and I will listen, and I will know when I am walking in His will or not. His is the still, small voice that I must wait and listen for, in solitude and in prayer, which in essence is a conversation with my Maker. On those days when I have not had that time with Him, I am frazzled, irritable, grouchy and just not at all good company. I know how badly my soul needs that conversation and time alone in quietness. I miss it so badly when I fail to meet with Him, and I walk away renewed and refreshed when I have communed with my Maker. It is a part of my life I cannot live without.

I don't know how I managed over the past 17 years that I have been ill. I think I turned to God many times when I was unwell, I often forgot God when I was better, and I even tottered on the edge of despair altogether and unbelief threatened to overwhelm me at times as I struggled to make sense of my life. Instead of seeking God to sustain me I relied a lot on others for help. But no one can help another soul grow. That is only God's work. Friends and family can help, they can try to ease your pain, but they suffer too when a loved one is ill... what could be better than going to the very source of life itself? I don't have all the answers but I am listening, and waiting and living for the moments when God's voice speaks to me of His great love for me. At every moment in time He is speaking to me, from nature, from my own heart, from those loved ones He has given to me as beautiful gifts. May the eyes of my soul be always watching for the gifts of His presence in my life, and the ears of my soul always listening for the softly whispered truths of His love for me. May my heart cherish every truth spoken from His word, and may my soul draw strength from His love for me. Truly nothing can separate us from the love of God.

At my retreat in Sydney, the key principle underlying the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius which I undertook over 30 days was this : "To want and choose only that which better leads to a deepening of God's life in me". I pray this everyday, so I can make wise choices, so my soul can stay alive and can keep growing, and so that I can live life fully, loving both God and mankind from a heart touched and changed by the love of God.

That's what works for me. Is religion or God a crutch for the weak, the poor, for those who suffer? It is often the invincible young who think so, on the cusp of adulthood, full of energy and vitality, never having suffered much in life and with no understanding of the difficulties life has in store for all of us. Yes, God is my crutch, in fact He is the very pillar upon which I stand, the cornerstone and foundation of my life. Cut it down and I would fall. It's a bleak, dark and lonely place from which I have been rescued. I do not wish to return there. I admit that I am indeed weak, poor in body and often helpless, and I know pain and suffering. I have lived a fair bit. I know the truth and it has set me free. Life is so much more bearable with Him walking beside me. My soul shall prosper, it is God's promise to me. Come what may and whatever the future holds, I will survive. In fact, I think I'm going to thrive. :) I just need to keep going back to Him everyday for the rest of my life.

Thanks for reading and God bless,