Teresa Linda, ocds: my mother from Palestine

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds (Jordan 2018)

When I got home from our Holy Land pilgrimage, one of the first things I did was call Asima, a seventy-something year old Arab who was once one of my best friends.  I meant to call her before the pilgrimage to let her know that I would be visiting her homeland, but for some reason, I didn’t. I was hoping that calling her soon after the trip would suffice.

“So what is the news?” she asked, since I had rarely spoken to her since she moved out of the neighborhood five years ago.

“Asima, I visited Jordan!” I replied with excitement.

But rather than responding with joy, she asked with hurt in her voice, “Why didn’t you tell me?! Hmm?…I lived in Jordan. My daughter lives in Jordan. Hmm…Did you forget? Did you forget?!”

Asima was born in Jaffa Tel Aviv when it was called Palestine, but in 1948, when Israel was established as a state, she and her family, along with countless Palestinians, were forced to leave their homes and lands behind, and they moved to Jordan. She eventually came to the United States with her two unmarried sons due to the persecution of Christians.

We had a hidden friendship, one that was shared and experienced by just the two of us, and it began when she started taking care of my three-year old daughter. I belonged to an inter-denominational Women’s Bible Study that met weekly with the goal of going through all the books of the Old Testament in seven years.

About four years into our study, I could feel the exhaustion of motherhood and being away from my extended family weighing on me, and I turned to Asima for help. She led the Evening Women’s Bible Study for a small group of Arab women, but during the day, she took care of her grandson and helped with childcare at the church.  Providentially, she also lived in an apartment just two blocks from our house and the grandson she was taking care of was the same age as my daughter.

I would try to simply drop off my daughter, but true to Arabian hospitality, Asima would not let me leave unless I sat down with her and had tea and anise cookies, or pita and hummus sprinkled with olive oil.

(“We are a people of the desert,” our tour guide from Jordan once said. “You cannot enter a home without being offered everything that we are able to give you. That is our way.”)

And we could not sit down at the kitchen table without Asima talking about the way of Jesus and the Prophets, as they moved through her homeland, a terrain that was so unimaginable to me, but one that Asima knew through the many generations of blood and family before her who lived there.

Soon, she was also giving me extemporaneous Bible Study lessons when she passed by my house and found that I was home.

I would come along on her leisurely walk around the block and together we would talk about scripture, rescue lemons fallen from bushes, and pick apricots from the tree on the side of my yard. In early spring, she would come with scissors to cut the young grape leaves off our terrace.

In exchange for the harvest from our yard, Asima would return a few days later with dolmas made of grape leaves, tabouli sprinkled generously with lemon juice, or a small jar of apricot jam.

“Asima, I didn’t forget you. I thought about you the whole time I was in the Holy Land,” I tried to explain to her. Every bite of hummus, the scent of anise and sesame seeds, and parsley and lemon that pervaded the places we ate in –constantly reminded me of her.

And everywhere we went, I heard her voice, telling different stories from both the Old and New Testament.

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds (Petra Jordan 2018)

When we walked through Petra, the majestic city built in the red stone cliffs of Jordan by the Edomites, I heard Asima speaking. “Did you read the book of Obadiah? It’s only one chapter from the Old Testament. Obadiah spoke about Petra. The people who live in Petra, they were very proud because they are living inside the high mountains, and when the enemy comes, they must walk the narrow way. When the people of Petra see men coming to fight, what do they do?  They attack from the top of the mountains.

‘And who lived there before? Esau’s children. His brother is Jacob. Jacob used to live on the Palestine side, and Esau lived in the Jordan side. When the enemy comes to fight Jacob’s children, they asked Esau’s children if they can come around to their side, but they refused. They started to laugh. For this reason, Esau’s children do not get blessed by God.’

“Go to Obadiah verses two and eighteen. Read it.” I would then leaf through the Bible and find the scripture passage as fast as I could, while Asima would almost immediately open to the page. While I read, she ran her finger from right to left on her bible’s Arabic script.

Now I make you least among the nations; you are utterly contemptible. The pride of your heart has deceived you – you who dwell in mountain crevices, in your lofty home…The house of Jacob will be a fire, the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau a stubble…none will survive of the house of Esau, for the Lord has spoken,” I would read.

“You see,” she would exclaim. “To this day, Petra is empty except for tourists.”

Photo credit: The Speakroom (2018)

She would then share modern-day stories, those shared by word of mouth from one friend to another about the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria; the stories sounded too barbaric and unreal to me then, but they have today, become an accepted part of the news.

“But God is perfect and knows all. Jesus was born at exactly the right time. Go to Galatians, chapter 4, starting at verse three. What does Paul say?”

I would read, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to ransom those under the law, so that we might receive adoption. As proof that you are children, God sent the spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying out, “Abba! Father!”

“Why does Paul say ‘the fullness of time?’ After the Greek empire, the Romans came. And after the Romans came, they couldn’t change the language. The Greek language  spread. And what did the Romans do? They fixed the roads. ‘All roads go to Rome!’

‘Now look how God prepared the way. One language, and Paul knows the language. He speaks Greek, and he’s educated. He has a Roman passport, and the roads are open. Yanni, it helps Paul to go every place to talk about Jesus. For this reason, it says ‘the fullness of time.’”

Asima was one of the first people to visit me when my youngest child was born. She would smile at the baby in her arms, and fondly say, “Habibi!” Then she would sing to him, “My God is so big, so strong and so mighty, there’s nothing my God cannot do!”

Our times together dwindled when I had to return to work to support my husband through graduate school and my children through several private schools. The endless weekends of grading papers and prepping, and all the demands of being a mother of four children while working full-time, made times with Asima less possible, and it began to seem that the friendship was really not so important.

But everything about Asima and the intimacy of our friendship came rushing back at me when we visited the Holy Lands.  It wasn’t just the smells, the landscape, and the sound of her voice telling a story behind every holy site – our tour guide in Israel even ended up being part of her extended family!

(“Oh, I know Asima,” he nonchalantly told me. Then he pulled up a photo of a relative Asima introduced me to fifteen years ago, and his baby).

The Holy Spirit was constantly prompting me to remember because He didn’t want me to forget who Asima was to me — for Asima reminded me of who I was before the Lord.

“You are like my other daughter,” she would often tell me with gleam in her eyes. “And you are also God’s daughter.  For this reason, always, you are beautiful. He loves you so much  — He knows the number of the hairs on your head.”

I didn’t so much forget Asima, as much as I had forgotten who I was.

ADVENT PRAYER

O Mary, my Mother, be my model during this holy season. Christ was alive within thee during the first Advent. We want Him to be more alive within us than ever during this Advent. May we not merely possess our precious Catholic Faith-rather, may It take complete possession of us, so that wherever we go, whatever we do or say, it will be the Christ Child that inspires us.

Teresa Linda, ocds: The praise of glory of Lebanon

LEBANON

Between miles of half-constructed phantom buildings
Along steep-mountain climbs hugged by rocky cliffs and the Mediterranean Sea,
Lebanese men smoke from hookahs and drink Turkish coffee
Over a small table of friends – Where are the women?
One boy watches intently as our bus passes by
Soldiers, holding machine guns wave us on into Holy Christian sites.

A country torn by a history of wars and conflict
Multiple attempted annihilation of both Christians and Muslims.
A land artificially pieced together by neighboring Arab countries
A refuge for Palestinians, exiled from their countries,

As we pass by each building, each olive grove, each turn
The story of this land changes.
But one thing is certain.
She cries inside while smiling with radiant beauty.

“If there is anything that Lebanon does not have a shortage of, it’s rocks,’ says our guide to humor us as we round a sharp curve along a thick wall of limestone. It is past 6:00 pm, and the sun has already set, but our bus continues to make its way through a precipitous mountain climb downhill, with dangerous cliff drops just inches from our windows.

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds

I close my eyes and recall the majestic tranquility of our earlier walk through the forest of the Cedars of Lebanon in the Beqaa Valley. In ancient times, these trees once thrived in Mount Lebanon, and are called ‘Cedars of God’ because they are said to have been planted by God.

“The trees of the Lord are watered abundantly, the cedars of Lebanon that he planted,” says the psalmist (Psalm 104). Though we are far enough from what remains of the cedar forest, I inhale its woody evergreen scent in my imagination to keep myself calm.

The tour group is on our way to the Monastery of Saint Anthony the Great of Qozhaya in the Quadisha Valley. Finally, we pull up to what looks like a dead end, with a small number of seemingly abandoned cars parked alongside the street.

“What are we doing at this forgotten place at the bottom of a deep valley, in the pitch black night?” I wonder.

“Get out, get out the bus now,” our tour guide encourages us on.

And with very little to go by, we all walk toward a small gleam of light further ahead, which then opens up into a spectacular spiritual haven. Shadows of worshippers, walking with deep reverence, seem to come out from the walls.

“You must know, that to understand Lebanon, you must understand the conflict of our multiple confessions,” explained our guide earlier. “Lebanon consists of Muslim Shias and Sunnis. The country also has twelve Christian confessions: Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox, Syriac Catholic…” he continued to list them but I couldn’t keep up.

According to recent statistics, Lebanon is 54% Muslim, 41% Christian, and 5.5% Druze, along with a small number of other faiths. The most recent Civil War, from 1975-2000, mostly between Christian Maronites and Palestinian Muslims, involving shifting international alliances, has resulted in a Lebanese society whose faith lives have been tested and strengthened by the crucible of conflict and death.

Most Lebanese Christian families (as with Muslims) know someone who has died as a result of one war or another, or has fought in the Civil War. No wonder then that they cling to their faiths as young children who have been hurt clasp onto their mother’s hem – most with great love and forgiveness, but some with terrified hatred.

Almost immediately, I am drawn to the Grotto of Saint Anthony, a natural cave dedicated to the saint. At the altar in front of the cave, a young couple both hold onto a grey, oblong, smooth stone with a hole at each end. They are praying quietly, he in Arabic and she in French, their lowered dark lashes veiling their eyes, as the candle smoke cuts through the cave’s mustiness. They are probably praying for a child, as this grotto is known for such miracles.

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds

Countless supernatural phenomenon are attributed to Lebanese saints, most of whom are unknown to much of the world, like Saint Charbel, whose intercessions after death have healed many.

For me, the saint who most embodies the country of Lebanon itself is Saint Rafqa (1832-1914), a Maronite nun who, despite her intense share of Christ’s suffering through blindness and paralysis, continually gave praise to God, and maintained her peace and joy. And she used her hands, the only part of her body she could move, to weave beautiful patterns displayed throughout one museum.

Saint Rafqa is very much like Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity, whose feast day Carmelites celebrate today; she continued to sing in her heart and offer herself as God’s praise of glory through her painful death brought on by Addison’s disease.

“I think that in Heaven my mission will be to draw souls by helping them to go out of themselves in order to cling to God by a wholly simple and loving movement, and to keep them in this great silence within which will allow God to communicate Himself to them and to transform them into Himself,” said Saint Elizabeth.

That is the way of the Lebanese Christians I encountered. Their witness , I believe, is one of the most accurate modern day examples of faithfully living out the Carmelite spirit in the secular world.

Without a doubt, every Lebanese I saw, personally knew the pain of crucifixion in one way or another. Yet rather than giving visitors bitter gall, they offered – without cost – golden wax candles, scented frankincense oil, and incense of myrrh.

Lebanese saints with the Good Shepherd: Saints Nematala Al-Hardini, San Maron, Charbel, and Rafqa

Erin Foord, ocds: let nothing frighten you – trust in the Lord

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding (our interpretations and imaginings).  This is one of Scripture’s most frequent imperatives.

“In all your ways submit to him (Thy will be done), and he will make your paths straight.” (Prv.3:5) This is the Good News, the Gospel of Jesus Christ! How many times and in how many different ways does it need to be expressed before we embrace it with our whole heart, trusting with complete confidence that, “…all things work for good for those who love God”. (Rom.8:28) If we believe it from the bottom of our heart, what is there to fear?

Out of all the situations we face, are any of them legitimate for worry? Saint Matthew describes the Apostles on the brink of death. They cry out in terror, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” (Matt. 8:25)

Jesus had been asleep as the boat became overwhelmed by the wind and waves. His response is crucial to our understanding. Does he exclaim, “Close call, why did you wait so long?” Rather, He admonishes their fear calling out their lack of virtue. “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26)

I repeat the above scripture for emphasis, “Lean not on your own understanding!” With our faith, hope, and love securely grounded in Jesus Christ, “the way and the truth and the life” (Jn.14:6), we will never be threatened by loss, because we possess the real treasure. We will not be disturbed or fearful because nothing can separate us from what we truly care about, God Himself.

Saint Paul confirms, “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us.” (Rom.8:35,37)

By this line of her poem, “Let nothing frighten you”, Saint Teresa is encouraging us to grow in the theological virtues. Much of what we fear are mere shadows, figments of our imagination that will never be realized. They are self-created speculations stemming from some form of non-acceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to the present moment.

Usually it is not even the present moment that we fear, but a snap-shot of what was the present moment which has now become the past but we still cling to it. We have a propensity to avoid the present moment and dwell through memory and imagination. What could be more futile, or more insane, than to create inner resistance to something that already “IS”?

In the Chinese language the character for “crisis” is the same character for “opportunity”. It is all how you perceive a situation. That perception will derive from our faith, hope, and love or lack thereof. Most “problems” cannot survive in the reality of God and the present moment. When one of life’s situations goes awry we have an opportunity to demonstrate our faith, in an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God and our hope in his will for our future as we embrace what seems unacceptable with love, peace, and joy.

Fear is a poison that stunts and cripples our spiritual growth. The antidote is what the OCDS Provincial Statues advise, “strive to make prayer penetrate our entire existence, in order to walk in the presence of the living God, through the constant exercise of faith, hope and love….” We must learn to recognize God’s presence in the simple details of everyday life, for He is everywhere, manifest at every moment for those who desire him. He is ever whispering to our heart, “Do not fear nor be dismayed, for the LORD, your God, is with you wherever you go.” (Jos 1:9)

Elizabeth Barrett Browning expressed this reality in a most beautiful way in her poem Aurora Leigh.

Earth’s crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.

― Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Erin Foord, ocds: Let nothing disturb you – the present moment

Anybody can believe in God, even demons believe He exists. It is trusting in God that takes faith. Faith is based on the knowledge that the Creator of the universe, possesses a power beyond our imagining, as well as an intelligence that we cannot begin to comprehend or fathom, and a love that surpasses all knowledge (cf. Eph.3:17).

When an attachment overpowers our virtues causing them to waver, we succumb to fear. In this way fear is very much a temptation. It arises from doubts in our heart that oppose the corresponding virtue. We are tempted against faith that God exists at all, or against hope that He is powerful enough to grant our desire, or wise enough to know what is actually best for us, or tempted against charity that He is loving enough to care.

To assuage our doubts, Saint Paul reminds us that, “Ever since the creation of the world [God’s] invisible nature of eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” (Rom. 1:20)

God is all powerful, all knowing, and all good and loving. The Archangel assures us, “Nothing is impossible for God.” (cf. Lk.1:37) Our faith based on this knowledge establishes trust and our trust gives way to surrender, “Thy will be done.” (Mt.6:10)

It is essential that we recognize and have full confidence in God’s will as our greatest good. This is what Jesus taught and what we request every time we pray the “Our Father”. We must also realize the importance of the “present moment” as the expression of God’s will for us (permissive if not perfect).

It is in this context that Saint Teresa proclaimed, “To have courage for whatever comes in life — everything lies in that.” We should always interpret life according to our faith. When we suffer loss in the present moment we should proclaim the words of our holy mother, “Our greatest gain is to lose the wealth that is of such brief duration and, by comparison with eternal things, of such little worth.” She is well acquainted with human nature and quickly adds the lament, “yet we get upset about it and our gain turns to loss.”  

Our being “upset” takes many forms: unease, anxiety, tension, distress, nervousness, boredom, doubt, worry, and despair. They are all forms of fear caused by compulsively interpreting the present moment through thoughts of a dismally imagined hopeless future – worst case scenario, or you could say Godless scenario.

When we succumb to this temptation, we allow fear to dominate our consciousness pondering over and over an imagined list of miseries. The present moment where God dwells, is distorted into a fearful situation that we need to flee and reject. In this way fear separates us from God and thus is a precursor to sin. Imprisoned in an imagined Godless future we act accordingly to obtain our desires.

The anatomy of a sin begins with desire, is exacerbated through fear of non-fulfillment, and culminates in pride; My will be done.

Over and over in the scripture God entreats us not to fear. The phrases “do not be afraid”, “be not afraid”, “do not fear”, and “fear not” appear over 110 times.

If we include God in our imagined future there should be no reason for fear. There are only situations that need to be dealt with or accepted. It is vital that we always embrace the present moment with absolute faith and hope in God’s love for us.

We need to be vigilant that fear is a temptation against our virtues as Jesus’ explains, “…do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” (Matt. 6:30)

Jesus’ instruction extends even to legitimate needs for bodily sustenance and clothing. The natural or ordinate desires that our without sin. He continues, “…your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well. (Matt. 6:30-33)

Do we believe this?

Erin Foord, ocds: St. Teresa – let nothing frighten you

All of us, to one degree or another, are spiritually broken, “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we acknowledge our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from every wrongdoing.” (1Jn.1:8-9)

When we use our fears to identify and acknowledge our attachments and weaknesses, then God cleanses the residual “stains” of “every wrong doing” on our spiritual faculties; of understanding, memory, and will that we discussed above.

The theological virtues heal and purify our spiritual faculties through the active dark night of spirit. They involve our own efforts supported by God’s grace. The spiritual faculty of human understanding, the assumptions and interpretations we derive, are purified by supernatural faith. Human memory, the storage of those perceptions, is purified by supernatural hope. And the human will which is our response to those perceptions is purified by supernatural charity.

An example will help to illustrate this idea. Imagine a beautiful spring morning, the sun is shining, the sky is blue as you drive down a street lined with majestic oak trees. You notice every tree as you pass under and are taken by the diversity. Each one is a little different – its shape or color or foliage, and each adds to the beauty of the overall tapestry. In awe of the splendor of the moment you effusively praise God as it unfolds before you.

This is the way we are meant to journey through life; acknowledging the grandeur of each moment and praising the glory of God.

Then something happens.

Out of the corner of your eye your attention is drawn to a car going the opposite direction. You look just as it has passed by and quickly notice from the back that it resembles your husband’s car. You were not able to make out the driver, but you know that the passenger was a woman.

Immediately, you begin to cling to that one moment, replaying it over and over in your head. Could that have been his car – isn’t he supposed to be at work? Why would he be with another woman? Fear begins to take over, “Is he cheating on me?” And anger, “I do so much for him and he is never grateful!”

Obviously, this is a silly exaggerated example, but let’s use it to examine what happened to the beautiful day and our communion with God. The beautiful day is still there and God is still with us, but we are no longer present. We have become blinded, clinging to a memory we created, trapped in the past by shackles forged from our own ego.

How would greater faith have changed our interpretation of this event? What really happened? The event itself was harmless and should not have sustained our attention. We saw the back of a car driving down a street. We could have chosen to stop following the distraction and returned our mind and heart to God. Everything beyond that point is our embellished interpretation of the event, which not only violates our faith in God, but also violates faith in our spouse.

We defy the virtue of hope when we refuse to let go of the event and begin making the worst assumptions and jumping to the worst conclusions. Our response undermines the virtue of charity when we take the event personally making it about ourselves. “…cheating on me”, “…I do so much for him”, “he is never grateful (to me)”.

Whenever we take something personally we are serving our ego not God. The same is true when we cling to the past or some imagined future, when we make uncharitable assumptions, judgements, and conclusions, and when we attempt to control others. These actions all deny God and build up our ego.

Erin Foord, ocds: St. Teresa – Let nothing frighten you

Let nothing frighten you:

When we are frightened it is all too often due to a defect or weakness in our possession and practice of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Provincial Statute I.2 expresses that, “Secular Carmelites are called to strive to make prayer penetrate their entire existence, in order to walk in the presence of the living God [cf. 1K 17:1], through the constant exercise of faith, hope and love….”

The theological virtues are dispositions infused by God into the souls of the faithful adapting them to participate in the divine nature. (2 Pet 1:4) These virtues nourish and enhance the human soul enabling it to embrace a loving relationship with the Holy Trinity as dear children and capable of inheriting eternal life. (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church #1812 – #1813)

Scripture confirms, “We are in fact God’s offspring.” (Acts 2:39) The divine essence that is within Jesus is also in us through Baptism, “For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily, and you share in this fullness in him.” (Col 2:9-10).

Saint Paul explains, “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Rom 8:14-16) Do we hear that cry, “Father!”, within our own heart? Or is it muted by the anguish of worldly fears?

The great commandment is proof that God’s desire is to be loved. He wants true love, authentic love, the type of “perfect love” that casts out all fear. “There is no fear in love …one who fears is not yet perfect in love.” (1Jn.4:18) The same is true of the theological virtues of faith and hope. There is no fear in the fullness of faith or in the fullness of hope.

When people and situations frighten us, they indicate wanting and misdirection of our virtues. Instead of our faith, hope, and love being committed entirely to God, they are invested in earthly things. Money in the bank is a good example. Doesn’t it feel good to have money in our savings account? It can make us feel safe and secure against the unexpected? It may be prudent to have a savings account, but how do we feel when the unexpected happens and the money is taken away?

If we feel vulnerable and insecure then there has been a shift in our heart’s desire from Thy will be done to My will be done. Two considerations we should know about fear is it is always based on an imagined future and is concerned with some perceived loss or not realizing a desired expectation (an attachment).

As we examine what frightens us we recognize that the threat is based upon a perceived separation or loss from people or things that we inordinately made the objects of our faith, hope, and love, rather than God.

In this way, just like with attachments, being aware of our fears can help identify to what degree we are children of God or children of the world. God is Spirit. His children are made in His image and will resemble His nature of Love.

Do we recognize our self as Spirit and know, “it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD?” (Deut. 8:3)

Or, do our fears betray hearts longing for what the world has to offer, “…sensual lust, enticement for the eyes, and a pretentious life?” (1Jn.2:17)

Erin Foord, ocds: St. Teresa’s bookmark – attachments

What are some of the attachments that disturb you? What are the situations that hinder you from being loving and respectful to others? Are you attached to personal ideas, to political views, to personal concepts about God, and how to serve Him? Are you attached to being “right” and find pleasure in pointing out how others are “wrong”? Do you get upset when things don’t go your way, revealing your desire for external power and control over people and situations?

What can we do? We must start by identifying the disordered attachments in our life, and address them through a practical plan of detachment. If we don’t break the attachment, we find ourselves endlessly repeating the same situation over and over again.

This kind of compulsive, addictive, behavior actually feeds a false, or phantom self which is the ego. Egoism and pride are deeply embedded in the human spirit and as Father Garrigou-LaGrange explains, “They must be purified from every human attachment to their judgment, to their excessively personal manner of seeing, willing, acting, from every human attachment to the good works to which they devote themselves.”

We can be so unconsciously identified with our ego that we don’t even know that we are its prisoner. This is why Jesus emphatically demands that, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk. 9:23) Saint Paul affirms that, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified their flesh with its passions and desires.” (Gal. 5:24)

Basilica grounds, Iria de Cova Fatima. Photo credit :thespeakroom.org

Once purified, we are able to experience a greater freedom and to be open to the gifts that God wishes to lavish on us. As Jesus promised, “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God.” (Mt.5:8)

The beginning line of Saint Teresa’s bookmark, “Let nothing disturb you” is advocating emotional detachment and a loving indifference, where we accept whatever happens in our lives with equanimity and an absolute trust in God and His will for us. This is expressed by St. John in his poem, Glosa a lo Divino:

“From creatures now my soul is free,

Detached from all created things;

Now she at last has taken wings

And lives her life delectably.

To God, and God alone, she clings.”

Copyright 2018, Erin Foord, ocds

About the author: Erin Foord has been a Secular Discalced Carmelite for 40 years.  He served as President of the California-Arizona Provincial Council from 2014-2017. He gave this conference as part of an Ongoing Formation class for the Santa Clara , CA OCDS community.

Erin Foord, ocds: St. Teresa’s bookmark – the present moment

With closer examination, we find that clinging to our disordered attachments actually resist God, and refuse His will for us. His will is represented by the present moment and what actually “IS”. This can be difficult to understand, but the only reality that exists, is the present moment.

God is only in the present moment and the only way we can embrace union with God is in and through the present moment. The concepts of past and future only exist in our heads as mental constructs. The illusion of a past based on memory and an imagined future have no reality of their own. Nothing ever happened in the past, it happens in the present. Nothing will ever happen in the future, it happens in the present.

We cannot affect change in the past—its gone. Nor in the future, it hasn’t happened yet. In actual fact, there is never a time when our life is not “this moment” and the only place where true action can occur is right now. This ever flowing, now, is always our only opportunity for interaction and communion with God!

So by its very nature, an attachment which is a clinging or preoccupation with some past event, is a serious detriment to our spiritual life. This is why the healing and purification of our memory is so important. The memory is the reason for our unwillingness to honor and acknowledge and embrace the present reality.

This resistance is always characterized by some form of negative judgment or complaint. To complain is always non-acceptance of what “IS” and signals an underlying disordered attachment. Don’t complain, either accept a situation or acknowledge that it exists and change it.

In serious cases the soul becomes trapped in its compulsion to deny the present reality and to live through memory and anticipation. This separation from our Divine Source will be experienced as guilt, regret, shame, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of unforgiveness.

These experiences are the fruit of clinging to a disordered past expectation that was unsuccessful, replaying it over and over in our head where we ignore the present reality – God, who essentially becomes an enemy that must be resisted or denied.

“No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.” (Mat.6:24)

(to be continued)

Copyright 2018, Erin Foord, ocds

About the author: Erin Foord has been a Secular Discalced Carmelite for 40 years.  He served as President of the California-Arizona Provincial Council from 2014-2017. He gave this conference as part of an Ongoing Formation class for the Santa Clara , CA OCDS community.

Teresa Linda, ocds: motherhood

Photo credit: The Speakroom, Toledo Spain 2015

During Holy Week, my mother, who is in her late seventies, had her sixth ischemic attack, her worse one yet. This time, rather than simply forgetting a conversation just five minutes beforehand, she could not recognize anyone in the family, not even my father.

Everyone thought that this would be her last battle. But one morning, she came to – repeating the words, “Everything is nothing, except God.” Saint John of the Cross, with his  doctrine ‘nada, nada, nada’ (nothing, nothing, nothing) must have been teaching her spirit.

As Mother’s Day approaches, after having almost lost my mother to an instant emptying of all her memories, I contemplate what these words mean for my own motherhood.

Mothers cannot help but cling to their children. How can we not?

My clearest memories are of those first moments after my children were born – the smell of their foreheads mixed with that of the hospital bed, the size of their toes next to my thumb nail, and the way each of them instinctively tightened their grip around my pinky, when I applied the slightest pressure against their small palms.

As I embraced each of them, with all their fingers wrapped around one of mine, I wanted the moment to last forever. But of course, it couldn’t.

I spent most of my motherhood believing that I was learning to let go of my children, but instead, I was finding ways to hold on to them as tightly as they held on to me when they were newborns.

Almost twenty years ago, my husband and I flew from Philadelphia to San Francisco on a one-way ticket. He had a new job, but that was it. We had no long-term housing, and all our belongings, except for what we carried in our suitcases – were in storage.

It felt liberating to finally leave what was then the crack-ridden streets of Philadelphia and the limited education options of an urban neighborhood that had just been red-lined – for the dreams and possibilities that were open to my husband and my children in California.

I knew I was walking away from a Pennsylvania teaching credential – something that required $30,000 in student loans and included seven years of being a tenured middle-school and high school teacher. I also turned down a teaching position in a Main Line Philadelphia private school. I thought that I was letting go of my own dreams – so that my husband and children could follow theirs.

It took me a long time to realize it, but what I was really doing was holding on even tighter, replacing the ambitions and expectations I had for myself – upon them. In those moments when I would see that anyone in my family might fall short, I did everything in my power to fill the gap – often times at great personal expense.

Of course, none of this was helpful to anyone.

For “whether it be a strong wire rope or a slender and delicate thread that holds the bird, it matters not, if it really holds it fast; for, until the cord be broken the bird cannot fly,” writes Saint John of the Cross.

Because ‘Everything is nothing, except God’ – then the best way to be a mother, or for that matter, for anyone to grow in holiness, is to let go of everyone and everything – except God.

How do we do this?

On the day of His resurrection, Jesus tells Mary Magdala, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to my God and your God” (John 20:17).

Our Lady is a Mother who knew how to let go of her son,  even through the terror of witnessing His crucifixion, so that God the Father could complete His work in Him, with Him, and through Him.

I’ve always wondered why, although our Lady was present as one among those who “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer” (Acts 1:14) after Jesus’ Ascension, she is not present with the disciples in any of the gospel accounts of His Easter resurrection. Where was she?

She must have been alone, pondering in her heart.

The most important conversations I have had with my children have been hidden behind closed doors. I picture Our Lady in a room with a closed door, being greeted with love beyond all-telling, by Jesus  in His glorified state, on the day of His resurrection. Their encounter is one of immense joy and intimacy, one deserving of a mother who gave her son over completely to the will of God the Father.

But she kept all these things in her heart.

I have always been ambitious for myself, my husband, and my children, but I know now that this is a clinging to straws.

As a mother, I have to be ambitious to be well-pleasing to God – and that’s it.

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you beautiful women who have and are raising children! May God grant you the grace to be ambitious to be well-pleasing to Him in your motherhood!

About the author: Teresa Linda is the Formation Director of the Santa Clara, CA Order of Secular Discalced Carmelites (OCDS). She has four children, ages 15-26, has been married for 28 years, and is a community college English professor.

Erin Foord, ocds: St. Teresa’s Bookmark-healing of our disordered desires

Photo credit: Lorelei Low, ocds

Stay in your own incarnation!

This means we take full responsibility for our feelings and for everything else that happens to us. We realize the futility of trying to control and manipulate the world of people and situations to fit our disordered desires and cravings.

And we refrain from blaming people and situations for our unfulfilled expectations. Rather, we thank God for everything that happens to us, the things we judge as wanted and the ones we judge as undesirable, trusting in faith “…that all things work for good for those who love God”. (Rom.8:28)

The spiritual person, seeks internal power and creates happiness and security by looking inward to identify the causes of unhappiness and insecurity and heal them. We can never be free or at peace until we learn to identify our disordered desires and heal their root causes.

Recognizing the various life situations that disturb and trigger us to feel upset, fearful, worried, anxious, resentful, uptight, angry, bored, etc. help identify what attachments and disordered desires we need to work on.

Using every uncomfortable emotion as an opportunity for spiritual growth, we examine the triggers underlying the emotions to understand and heal the desires and attachments that are disordered and incompatible with the love of God and neighbor.

The healing of our disordered desires comprise the active dark nights of sense and spirit. They involve our own efforts of self-denial, detachment, prayer, and growth in virtue supported by God’s grace. All the things we outwardly or secretly love and desire, which prevent us from setting our hearts completely on God, need to be put to rest, as if entering a dark night where they no longer hinder the soul from advancing towards the love of God and neighbor.

What you love is what you will become as Jesus confirms, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). So along with the imperfections of the lower faculties of sense, the spiritual faculties of the understanding, memory and will must also be healed.

Father Garrigou LaGrange explains, “The stains of the old man still remain in their spirit like rust that will disappear only under the action of a purifying fire”.

(to be continued)

Copyright 2018, Erin Foord, ocds

AAbout the author: Erin Foord has been a Secular Discalced Carmelite for 40 years.  He served as President of the California-Arizona Provincial Council from 2014-2017. He gave this conference as part of the Ongoing Formation class for the Santa Clara , CA OCDS community.