Smoking my way through the Ave’s.

Nun Smoking Cigarette --- Image by © Norbert Schaefer/Corbis

Walking into Mass late wearing a mantilla is never a good look – especially if you are the only one in your parish who wears one. Of course the perfect accessory to complete this look is a swath of misbehaving children and a lack of visible husband. I guess I’m the girl who has it all! 😀

The older kid’s tooth fell out in Mass and he went into mini hysterics as he bled everywhere – ’twas the “unbloody sacrifice” no longer. The middle one was having a strop because she “didn’t want to love God” and the youngest had escaped into the pew 2 rows in front. I feel resentful that my children are spoiling my time with Jesus at Mass and I feel like a failure of a Mother.

“Jesus help me!”

That night I listen to my Divine Office through the App on my phone while I clean the kitchen. I feel guilty about combining prayer with housework, but I know that if I sit down quietly to do it I will not make it through to the end because I will be asleep because I am so exhausted.

Tuesday morning I do Morning Office in the car on the school run. The older one is fighting with the middle one and I am swearing under my breath because we have been sitting in traffic for over 10 mins. We are going to be late for school – again. I am a 9/10 on the stress levels. I hear bits of the Office – intermittently interrupted with the 3 x table and complaints that the pencilcase that I bought last week is now either lost or broken or something.

On the way home I stop in my favourite supermarket car park (you heard me correctly – I have a favourite car park) play my Rosary App, and smoke my way through the Agony in the Garden and the Scourging at the Pillar. The guilt of smoking leaves me as I realise that my Blessed Mother is showing me through these two mysteries that Jesus knows what anxiety is like, and He also knows exhaustion.

I get to morning Mass and have a quiet time where I can be with Jesus alone. I take enormous comfort in the fact that He wants me to come to Him, and He wants to dwell within me, to be as close to me as possible while I take on the work He has given me – which most of the time I don’t think I can cope with.

I get home refreshed and begin listening to the 3rd and 4th Sorrowful Mysteries. My husband comes in. He is in a bad mood. We argue loudly with the Rosary playing in the background, and then I remember the Crowning with Thorns and summon up all my strength to finally hold my tongue. My husband goes into the other room and I try to contain myself while I listen to the Carrying of the Cross, because my marriage really feels like a cross right now.

As I pull myself together and begin work, I listen to the 5th Sorrowful Mystery – the Crucifixion. I remember to submit my will to God’s will, knowing that He is in control and there is a plan to all this madness, and His Mother is always there to hold my hand.

You see, I used to think that I needed to be quiet and holy to say my prayers. I couldn’t be more wrong. Jesus and His Mother want to be there with me in the dirt and stress and struggle of my ordinary daily life. What sort of fool would I be to keep them out?

“God is found in the pots and pans.” – St Teresa of Avila

When you feel used…

clan00001

I have experienced many negative emotions over the course of my life, but the one that leaves me with the most bitter taste in my mouth is that of feeling used. I am not a resource or an object to be utilised at the whim of the user. I am a human being, a child made in the image and likeness of God. And I deserve to be respected and treated as such.

Be it through disingenuousness, naivety or just plain old wishful thinking I believed I meant more to that person than I actually did. It hurts. It hurts a lot. And it makes me feel very, very angry and very stupid.

But I guess these things happen hey?

Never mind. Forgive and move on. But just before I do…

It is worth just reflecting on whether any other relationships I have are (in the words of Plato) utilitarian relationships – user relationships. After about 5 seconds reflection on this matter, to my horror, I discovered that most of the relationships I have in my life have some sort of utilitarian aspect to them. Either I am being used or I am the user. That was an unpleasant discovery.

Be it my kids, my husband, my parents, friends, whoever… there is always a risk that I could be using or allowing myself to be used. This is not to say of course that we should not be generous in our time or resources to each other, it is just when that delicate balance of giving and getting become, well, taken for granted I suppose.

A priest told me today how he always asks his marriage prep couples why they want to marry their fiance. 9 times out of 10 he said that the answers were “Because she makes me happy” “Because I feel comfortable with him” “Because he makes me feel ‘whole'”. It was all about what their fiance could do for them, rather than what they could do for their fiance. I’m sure I displayed this exact same utilitarian attitude 16 years ago when I got married. Ha! They’ll learn! Lol!

Peter_Paul_Rubens_138

St. Teresa of Avila

Remember that disastrous silent retreat I went on last June where the silence drove me to cigarettes? You know – the one where the fire alarm went off all night. Yeah – that one. Well, the one thing that I really remember from it was that Teresa of Avila teaches us that our ‘horizontal’ relationships are credible indicators of the ‘vertical’ relationship we have with God. She tells us that “we cannot know whether or not we love God, although there are strong indications for recognizing that we do love Him; but we can know whether we love our neighbor” – (5th Dwelling Place, Interior Castle).

So if pretty much all of my earthly relationships have a utilitarian element to them, then what does that say about my relationship with God?

Yeah.

Feeling small. Feeling bad.

I guess if I honestly examine my verbal prayer life, it is all “please can You” this and “please can You” that. I just want stuff. I want to feel better. I want so-and-so to be better. I want, I want, I want. My gosh it’s all about me. It reminds me very much of the relationship my children have with me. They are always asking me for stuff! Actually I was having a conversation with a seminarian today in which he told me how he was preparing himself for Fatherhood by getting used to the fact that being a priest, like being a parent, is usually a pretty thankless job with a bunch of ungrateful children. I felt sad about that, but I understood what he meant. It made me think about the last time I had thanked my priest for the wonderful job he does. Have I ever thanked him?

Coupled with that, I never realised how one-sided my relationship with God was. It’s probably because i’m a spoiled princess who expects everybody to adore her. The fact that I am very secure in the knowledge that God does actually adore me does add a little bit of confusion to the mix! But I guess the point is that I should be adoring Him as much as He adores me. He gave up His life for me, even though I didn’t deserve it.

I need to dwell on that fact more.

And the more I dwell on that divine generosity, and the more I let it penetrate every aspect of my being – and doing – the more I will allow it to transform me.

So from now on I will continue to give and not to count the cost (St Ignatius of Loyola) but perhaps I might be a little more discerning about my motives for giving, and the attitude of the receiver.

How Tinnitus Prepared me for Carmel.

Tinnitus

I was recently sent a rather snooty message by a diocesan priest who used to be a Trappist monk. He was telling me that it was basically impossible for me to live a contemplative life in the context of a family home. He told me my children would not find my ‘requirement’ for silence much fun. He also told me it was impossible to be a contemplative without silence. I decided not to reply. But I do hope he reads this blog post.

The Lord began preparing me for contemplative life at home 5 and a half years ago – two weeks before Annabel was born – by giving me Tinnitus.

It was nothing other than torture. It was 9 months before I began to have even brief periods of not noticing the noises. At its worst it was louder than the phone ringing. In my left ear I had (and sometimes still have) a Morse-code style beeping. In my right ear there was a high pitched whistle. In my head there was a low pitched rumbling, and every so often I would get a really loud pure-tone that would drown out ALL other outside noise. So I would go completely deaf for a few seconds which was absolutely terrifying.

The worst part was that my brain was registering the noise as an outside threat, which meant that I would experience high levels of anxiety during the day and insomnia at night. I would lie awake at night listening to the noise. I had a new baby which meant that when I did manage to fall asleep, I would soon get woken up again by the noise of a crying baby. Then I would feed her, in the silence of the night, all alone in my prison of noise. Then I would take sleeping pills to knock me out. In the morning I would wake up, and the noise was still there. It never went away.

My husband couldn’t hear the noises going on inside my ears. No-one could hear it except me. It was so loud. I was so alone. I am not over dramatising this – tragically, earlier this year a 47 year old woman chose Euthanasia because she was unable to cope with her Tinnitus.

It was too much. I knew I couldn’t die because I had kids to raise, so just accepted that the rest of my life would be filled with a cacophony of beeping and whistling and rumbling.

As I began to accept and improve, my tinnitus therapist kept asking me if my tinnitus was holding me back in any way in my life. After careful consideration I told her “No, I can still still do everything, but… I would like to be able to pray.” She suggested mindfullness. Initially I found this to be life-changingly helpful. It did help me accept the intense suffering I was experiencing in a calm way, but it soon became apparent that there was a fair bit of *wacky* stuff that accompanied it. So I dropped it. But it did lead me into how my own faith viewed suffering. I kept remembering a line I must have read years before, something about “Joy in suffering”. It took me back to the saint who had claimed me for her own 11 years previously – St Teresa of Avila. I didn’t know why she was making an appearance in my life once more, but all I can tell you is that I felt her with me very strongly throughout that time of noise.

As time passed and my life continued in a strange sort of way. I accepted the noise. I cried because of the noise. I masked the noise with the TV and radio and found relief from the noise in my crying baby and my raucous 3 year old son. I couldn’t pray – or so I thought. I cursed myself for wasting all those quiet moments I had previously. I cursed God for giving me tinnitus. I cried and screamed at Him because I was at my wits end and I couldn’t think because of the noise. I told Him I didn’t understand – that there was no point to this. It wasn’t achieving anything. I begged Him to take it away. But He didn’t.

Usually I feel God very close to me, but at that time it was like He was withdrawn to a distance. I felt as if God had abandoned me, like He was enjoying torturing me. I wanted to hate Him, but I loved Him too much to hate Him. I thought about all this a lot.

The removal of silence from my life changed me. I had to concentrate on not becoming overwhelmed by the noise. I got very good at this. It’s amazing what you can do when you are pushed to the brink. As my anxiety began to decrease I used to experiment by sitting down and facing my noise – instead of trying to run away from it. I would actually sit and listen to it – develop a relationship with it almost. But in hindsight what I was actually doing was finding the deeper silence within myself, the silence of my soul. Teresa was guiding me, I could feel that, but I didn’t quite know how.

No-one on the outside could hear my noise. In fact here were only 2 people who could hear my noise – me and God. And when I would sit and listen to my noise, God would be there too. I began to realise that there must be purpose in all of this, but I didn’t know what that was. I allowed Him to sit with me while I explored my noise, and the place inside it was directing me to. He was in that place. My noise had driven me into the desert. Only me and Him were in that place. I was at the core of who I was in Him, and I found peace there. Not audible peace, but spiritual peace.

I began experimenting with this ‘place’, this desert. I began going there more often. I was not afraid there because He was there. Pretty soon I was finding myself in this place all the time throughout the day. It became totally natural to be in this place of extreme calm and inner silence, while I carried on with looking after the children – with the noise was still ringing in my ears.

As I began to recover from the tinnitus I did begin to experience times of real silence once more – something I thought would never happen again. During these times of real silence I would sit and just listen to the silence. Beautiful silence. I would let the silence surround me and go in me and through me and touch my heart in a way I didn’t really understand. It was if the peaceful desert my tinnitus had lead me to was now on the outside too. I felt the silence, and God was there.

It was another 5 years before I had any indication whatsoever of why God put me through that period of suffering. But in hindsight it is now obvious to me that there was no better preparation for the life of a secular Carmelite than this. To be a ‘contemplative in the world’ meant I would most likely be surrounded by noise all the time – which I am. I have the noise of the hoover, the children, my husband, the car etc. Are these bad noises? No! They are beautiful noises – they are the sounds of my primary vocation. “Doesn’t it distract you?” No! How can they distract me – they are the point of my focus! “But when do you get time to pray?” I am praying all the time. I can be here in my kitchen making the dinner, and at the same time I am in my desert with my Lord and Creator. And when I do get quiet periods during the day I sit and enjoy the silence – perhaps in a way you cannot understand if you have not had tinnitus. You could be a Trappist monk for 50 years, but I don’t think you really understand or appreciate silence until it has been force-ably taken away from you. Teresa will tell you that.

Last month during our Carmelite studies, I laughed out loud when I discovered that during her life Teresa had tinnitus too!

St Teresa of Avila, pray for us.

St Paul, pray for us.

St Louis de Montfort, pray for us.

Today I was received into Carmelite formation – and no, I did NOT just become a nun!

20150221_1318101

Today I was received into Carmelite formation. Really – I couldn’t be happier! 🙂 It seems as if my whole life has lead me up to this point. Now I am part of a family where I will have the space and the resources to discover and develop a part of myself that has been screaming to get out for a very, very long time.

I have been asking people to pray for me on Facebook regarding this over the last few weeks and to my great amusement, there were quite  a large number of people who congratulated me on becoming a nun! This got even funnier when they realised I was married with 3 kids!

Let me explain…

In the Carmelite (ocds) order there are the First Order – the friars (who are active/contemplative), the Second Order – the nuns (who are cloistered) and the Third Order (or ‘Seculars’) – laypeople who continue to live in the world, and can be married or single, and diocesan priests. I am becoming a Third Order (secular) Carmelite.  The seculars are fully part of the Order, taking similar promises to friars and nuns but related to their lives as lay people.

The first part of my formation lasts 1-2 years. At the end of this time I will make my First Promise. Then there is a second period of formation lasting 4-5 years. At the end of this time I will make my Final (life long) Promise. After this I will become a fully fledged Carmelite.

The charism (or spiritual focus) of the Carmelite Order is contemplation. But a very important point is to understand that Carmelites understand contemplation and action to be complementary, not contradictory. This is a particularly important point to grasp because I am living the Carmelite charism within my vocation as a wife and a mother. The two actually fit together hand in hand beautifully, and is perfectly described in the famous quote for Teresa of Avila “God is found among the pots and pans.”

The Carmelite Order is considered by the Church to be under the special protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and has a strong Marian devotion. ‘Our Lady of Mount Carmel’ is the title given to the Blessed Virgin Mary in her role as patroness of the Carmelite Order.

We wear the Brown Scapular (which is basically a tiny habit!)

We say the Divine Office morning, evening and night prayer.

We follow the rule of St Albert.

Some famous Carmelite saints you may have heard of are Teresa of ÁvilaSaint Thérèse of Lisieux, Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), Saint John of the Cross, St. Simon Stock and many more…

It is a way of life. A spirituality focused on the interior life – prayer from the heart, relationship with God.

I am really just scratching the surface here! And lets not forget I’m just a beginner! But I hope this goes some way to explaining what I am doing in my life now and the fact that even though I have just been received into formation, I have not just become a nun!

download

 

Longing for the Supernatural – Ouija boards Christmas sales up 300%.

01CE8CDA000004B0-0-image-45_1417396062098

Ouija boards are flying off the shelves. Not in the super- natural sense — but the commercial one. The device, said to be a method of contacting the spirit world, is experiencing an unexpected renaissance. Google reports that sales of the board are up 300 per cent, and it is threatening to become a Christmas ‘must buy’.

To some, the Ouija board represents a harmless form of enjoyment, a pretend-scary rite of passage for teenagers in search of thrills on a stormy night. But to others, churchmen included, it is a danger to be avoided, a trigger for psychological harm — or something worse. ‘It’s like opening a shutter in one’s soul and letting in the supernatural,’ says Peter Irwin-Clark, a Church of England vicar who has witnessed the dark side of Ouija. ‘There are spiritual realities out there and they can be very negative.’ ‘I would hugely recommend people not to have anything to do with the occult,’ he says. ‘People find they are having strange dreams, strange things happening to them, even poltergeist activity.’

And the late Reverend Tom Willis practised as a Minister of Deliverance — jargon for an exorcist — for the Anglican Archdiocese of York for half a century, advising Archbishops on the occult. He, too, saw the board as a source of danger. ‘A lot more people are dabbling in the occult and having seances, and that is causing a lot of problems,’ he said in 2012. ‘In the Sixties, the Ouija board caused so many problems — people ending up in mental hospitals because of what they have experienced. An unseen force spelling out messages, he explained, may have sinister motives. ‘It may pretend to be your grandmother you’re in contact with, but it might be something more evil that suddenly gives you some bad advice.’ On one occasion, he remembered, he was contacted by three dockers from Hull who had used a Ouija board the previous evening. ‘They just sat there shaking,’ he said.

While of course I agree with the fact that people should not be going anywhere near Ouija boards or trying to contact ‘spirits’ at all, i do find this news to be somewhat encouraging (bear with me on this one…!). Does it not show a massive appetite for the supernatural, in a society that tells us that this sort of thing does not exist? Of course it does. It is of course leading people down the wrong path, but it shown the desire for more than this life is there, present in people – despite communist and secular attempts to eradicate God. It just shows that the desire and longing for the supernatural – for God – is something that is an essential component of every human being – especially at this time of year where people often feel their loneliness and longing for God intensify.

I can’t help but wonder here how atheist parents feel about buying their children presents of Ouija boards to celebrate Christmas?! (the irony…!) Is there not a pang of anxiety about the fact that people have reported it to be harmful? It seems to me that Atheists are generally much more confident in denying the existence of God than they are denying the existence of Satan. I suppose it is important to remember here that the greatest trick Satan ever pulled is to pretend that he doesn’t exist – until you find yourself meeting him face to face during a game of Ouija that is…

My point here is that this huge rise in sales of the Ouija board presents itself as a cry for help in terms of people looking for spiritual guidance. It is in fact a massive opportunity for evangelisation. An in-experienced teenage Ouija user is testing out the reality of the supernatural. He is testing out the reality of inter-dimensional communication (what we Catholics refer to as prayer). He wants to believe there is something more than this life.

If I ever did get the chance to talk to this guy it may come as quite a shock to him to realise that some of my closest friends I like to hang out with have been dead for several hundred years! Therese (Lisiuex) and I have become like sisters this year. We talk everyday. And my Mother Teresa (Avila) continues to guide my path, as she has done since I was 19.

But perhaps the most mind blowing statement I could make is that God exists, Satan exists, that Jesus is real – and I am having an emotional, spiritual AND physical relationship with Him. To highlight His physical presence in the Eucharist is something amazing, something completely supernatural. To invite this spiritually curious teenager to come and discover real prayer, to feel real holiness and to come face to face with Jesus in the Eucharist would be to offer him the chance of real spiritual satisfaction that he is obviously craving.

Eucharist-5

Would you be surprised if I told you that I believe the most talented undiscovered contemplatives of the future, are most likely the kids naively experimenting with Ouija boards right now? The heart often knows more than the head can express – this was certainly the case with me during my teenage years. I was told not to mess around with dangerous exciting things such as the Ouija board, and then as an alternative I got offered Kum-by-ya and cake sales for Africa. No wonder I was looking elsewhere to be spiritually satisfied.

Sources:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2855439/Sales-Ouija-boards-300-threatening-Christmas-buy-despite-Church-England-warning.html

God is in the Pots and Pans.

20140818_214840

“God is in the pots and pans.” – St. Teresa of Avila 

St. Teresa of Avila tells us that we are never closer to God than when we’re immersed in the ordinary moments of daily life. I love this part of the Carmelite spirituality because it plonks you right back down where you are supposed to be. 

There is a false notion that God is only found in church on Sundays. Wrong! Or that spirituality and holiness are these mysterious lofty ideals that can only be accessed by Priests and Nuns. Wrong! God calls each and everyone of us to holiness. That’s right – even YOU! Our job is to find God in the tiny moments of everyday normal life: Our journey to work, folding laundry, sitting at our desk, changing nappies, texting, cooking, moments of silence, the words we use… everything. Little acts of love, kindness, self sacrifice and beauty. 

If we remain mindful of this reality during the day, then it becomes apparent pretty quickly that God is present in everything we do each day. It also becomes apparent how we all rush around so busy busy busy, yet miss so much hidden within the finer details. 

After practising this for just a few days i have also become aware that the people God is calling me to evangelise are right in front of me. Just like charity, The New Evangelisation begins at home. We all have members of our family, close friends, work colleagues and neighbours we see regularly. These are the people God has put in your life for you to witness to. You have the opportunity to be the bridge of trust they need, to come to know and start a relationship with The God who loved them into existence and then died for them out of the same love, to give them the opportunity to spend eternity with Him. How is God moving in their lives at the moment? Can you recognise Him in them? Can they recognise Him in you? 

So as i cook for my husband and my kids tonight, i will pray for them. I’ll marvel at the fact that God has provided us with incredible foods that come out of the ground, and that He has given me the creative talent to turn these into dinner! I’ll thank God that we have a home to eat this food in, and i’ll remember all the mothers in Iraq who don’t have it as easy as i do at the moment. I’ll remain mindful that God is right here, in amongst the pots and pans.