Holy Hands

“It is my wish, then, that in every place the men should pray,
lifting up holy hands, without anger or argument.” -1 Timothy 2:8

We express with our God-given bodies the very disposition of our hearts.

I remember watching a video all the way back in my college psychology class about how our body language not only conveys things to other people about who we are and how we are feeling, but to our own minds, as well. If we sit hunched over with our arms folded, that sends signals to our brain that we are unhappy or closed-off. If we stand up straight, that sends signals to our brain that we are confident and at ease.

What are we conveying to other people with our bodies? Do we use the hands and feet God has given us to serve others with compassion? Do we meet the gaze of people who need Christ’s love? Do we use our voices to bring God glory?

St. Paul tells us in the Letter to the Romans, “I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

We are not our own. We belong to God. So when it comes to prayer, too, how we express our love for God with our bodies makes a difference. Now, I’m not talking about a particular spirituality here, because I think our one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is sometimes too fragmented by the, “I’m this kind of Catholic” mentality. Let’s meet for coffee if you’d like to discuss that haha.

I will give you an example to describe what I am getting at: my spiritual director once told me, after a season of difficulty, that I needed to pray with open hands again. Without even realizing it, I had been praying with my hands over my heart out of fear, as if I was shielding myself from letting God in. Interiorly, I had walls of self-protection up, and exteriorly, it was manifesting in my expression of prayer.

God gave us our bodies to physically express our love for Him. Do we pray in a way with our bodies that tells God we are open? Prayer and worship are not about us, in the first place; it’s about giving God the glory He deserves with our whole heart, soul, mind, and being. God deserves all of us. And we have the awesome opportunity to offer our very beings as a sacrifice of praise to our almighty God. With an open physical expression, our disposition of heart is opened to God, like the centurion in today’s Gospel who said, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof” (Luke 7:6).

There is something so powerful about praying with an exterior posture of surrender. It expresses worship, surrender, trust, and vulnerability. It admits our own weakness. It declares our total dependence on our Heavenly Father. It changes things, takes us out of ourselves, and helps us focus totally on the Lord, body and soul aligned in love for Him. We get to give God all that we are, holding nothing back from Him.

Directing Our Steps

Jesus told his disciples a parable:
“Can a blind person guide a blind person?
Will not both fall into a pit?
No disciple is superior to the teacher;
but when fully trained,
every disciple will be like his teacher.”
—Luke 6:39–40

Jesus has entrusted each of us with free will, leaving us room to act as we choose. Knowing our weakness and tendency toward sin, this can seem a terrifying responsibility. Sometimes I would rather God just take the reins entirely instead of leaving any decisions up to me. But God does not want to control us; He wants a relationship with us. He does not want us to act out of fear or passive obedience but out of love. When I overthink a decision or think I can’t live up to what God is asking of me, I forget that God knows me better than I know myself and has already accounted for the fact that I will make mistakes. There is nothing He can’t handle.

When it comes to discerning where God is leading us, we can often feel blind to perceive the road ahead. We turn to advice from others, hoping that they can tell us where to go, but they too are only human, unable to see our path fully. So how do we make our way forward? Jesus tells us that as His disciples, we are to listen and follow His ways, training ourselves to become like Him, so that instead of stumbling along like the blind leading the blind, we can learn to walk in His footsteps.

Any good teacher knows that there is a learning curve, that students will make mistakes along the way before they can master any new skill. And when Jesus calls us, He is aware that we are stepping out blindly, not yet able to make out what lies ahead. But He also knows that we won’t learn how to orient our steps if He doesn’t give us a chance to move freely, stumbling a bit as we go.

God knows that our attempts to do good may go awry, but, in the words of Thomas Merton, our desire to please Him does in fact please Him. When we go off course, He can redirect our steps and bring good out of any situation, as long as we continue to invite Him in and give Him permission to act in our lives.

Though we cannot see further than one step ahead, He leaves it up to us to take that one step and then allow Him to illuminate the next. He will never force us; He guides us, if we accept His help, with a gentle hand. Learning to trust Him means believing that He can handle my weakness and that He invites me to follow just as I am.

Casting Nets with Jesus

Implementing change in the workplace can take a long time. I work in the construction industry, and contractors are tough people. They all seem to know everything, and their way is the best way, the right way, because it’s always been done that way. However, things change. Industry standards, safety measures, construction codes—these things change.

In today’s Gospel, Simon is at the shoreline cleaning off his nets; it had been a long night and he hadn’t caught any fish. Along comes Jesus, who gets into Simon’s boat and teaches from the water to the people on the shore. After he is done teaching, Jesus instructs Simon to lower his nets into the water, and behold, the nets are full of fishes.

Simon is a fisherman—he owns his fishing boat, owns his nets, he fishes for a living, it’s his profession. Simon is a professional fisherman. When Simon goes out to fish he isn’t doing a lazy, recreational activity. He is doing hard labor: lifting heavy nets, moving bait around, dealing with waves, being dirty and smelly. A fisherman by trade knows that there is a right way to fish and a wrong way to fish. A fisherman by trade knows that certain fish bait at certain times of the day—given the climate in Israel, hot and dry, the higher temperature of the water would force the fishes to dive deep below to be at a cooler temperature. At night, the water temperature would cool off and fishes would swim upwards, closer to the surface. Simon, a professional fisherman, knew all of this and thus went fishing at night. But even with all his knowledge and tactics, he didn’t catch any fish. Imagine Simon’s first reaction when he hears Jesus tell him to cast his nets into the water. I imagine his initial reaction to be a little bit of annoyance that a carpenter is telling a fisherman how to fish and to cast nets in the middle of the day. You hear a little bit of Simon’s hesitation when he says, “Master, we have worked hard all night and have caught nothing…”

How many times have you doubted that God would provide for you? How many times did you not listen to what Jesus had to say to you? Too often I’ve been like Simon at the beginning of the Gospel, doubting. I have even questioned God: “Really? Is this really how it’s supposed to be? Are you sure this is what you want me to do?”

Notice that the beginning of the Gospel begins with the people listening to the word of God. When we listen and are obedient to God’s word, we change. This change allows us to fully accept God’s grace. Simon changed when, in his obedience, he casted his nets into the deep waters: “but at your command I will lower the nets.” In that instance Simon became Simon Peter. This internal change in Simon Peter allowed him to see that Jesus was not only Master but Lord.

We need to let go of any hesitations. Let go of all doubt. Or at times we need to let go of the pride. Sitting at meetings with the subcontractors on my job always leaves me baffled. How can we finish a building without the plumber or without the electrician? We simply cannot; we need all the skilled workers. Likewise we cannot build our own homes without the foundation of Jesus Christ.

No matter what we do in our lives, what we are skilled at, how many times we have done something and succeeded or done something and failed—let’s give that up to Jesus. Let us always remain humble and listen to each other and listen to what God has to tell us. In our society we take our jobs and our volunteer positions as finite. Let us remember that we’re good at what we do because God deemed it that we’d be good at it. And our work needs to be fruitful in such a way that it glorifies God. Sometimes, we aren’t so good and we fail. That is all right. In this failure we are reminded to trust in God. When Simon couldn’t catch any fish, Jesus entered his boat and Simon Peter caught an overwhelming abundance of fish.

Allow Jesus to enter your own boat—make yourself open so he can walk into your life, and cast nets wherever he tells you to cast them.

Image Credit: The Miraculous Draught of Fishes by James Tissot [Public Domain]

Being the Beloved

Things can go wrong very quickly when we are not living from our belovedness.

That’s what happened to the Israelites in today’s first reading. At the first sight of trouble, they turned away from God and worshiped other gods. Even when the Lord mercifully sent judges to help them, they still turned away, and worse than their ancestors.

How often are we, too, like the Israelites? When things go wrong or even when things are going well, we can struggle with trusting in God. We put the armor of self-protection on and soldier on in our own way, while the Lord longingly cries out to us, “Let Me love you!”

It is so much easier to trust in the Lord, even in the darkest of storms, when we live from a place of being His beloved sons and daughters. When we know in the core of our very being that we are delighted in and loved, that changes everything. It frees us. Because we don’t have to restlessly strive to earn God’s love, protection, and peace. He loves us with reckless, wild abandon just because we are His.

So those fears? He’s got them. That conflict you’re in? He’s already conquered it. Your sins? His mercy is there. Your deepest insecurities and self-loathing? He sees it, knows it, and wants to help point you back to the truth of His love. He didn’t promise a life with Him would make all our problems go away, but He promised to be with us. And that’s more than we could ever ask for or need.

God wants to give good things to us. He wants to spoil us with His love, if only we would let Him, because we belong to Him. He is crazy about us. He can’t stop talking about us.

Today, let’s let the Lord scoop us up into His arms like His little children that we are and let Him bring us back to the place of being His beloved ones. We can renew our trust in Him with childlike freedom and joy. He is here. He is here, gazing at us with the utmost joy and delight. His gaze heals, frees, and captivates. We are fully known and truly loved in His sight. He. Is. Here.

Let God be Mighty

“For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome.” -Deuteronomy 10:17

Sometimes it’s hard to let God be God.

In some cases, we put Him in a box, restricting what God is able to do in light of our own human expectations. We put limits on our limitless God, putting finite restrictions on His infinite nature and love. We forget that He is outside of time, can move mountains in an instant, and is always working for our good.

In other cases, it is really hard to let go of control, especially when faced with a stressful or anxiety-inducing situation. Sometimes, we know deep-down what we need to do, and the only thing holding us back is the fear that when we take the leap, we will fall to our destruction rather than falling into His arms.

Sometimes, our big hearts swell with the desire to heal and fix problems and be everything to everyone. But we can’t: only God can be God. Jesus calls us to love like Him, knowing that we can’t be Him. And He doesn’t want us to or expect us to. Even in the most dire situations, He whispers, “Let Me be the Savior.”

Can we let God be mighty? Can we let Him surprise us with His love? Can we let Him rescue and save us, our families, and our friends, especially those closest to us who are hurting?

Today, let’s loosen our grip on control and fall to our knees with open hands, asking great things of our almighty God. He wants to do great things for us. He wants to save, heal, restore. And He can and will—we can’t. We are nothing without Him, but we have everything with Him.

Jesus, You are the almighty Savior, Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace. You are infinite love, mercy, and goodness. You can do all things. You are the way, the truth, and the life. We surrender all we have and all we are to Your almighty, all-powerful hands, trusting that You always have us and those we love in Your tender care. You are God, we are not, and we praise You for that. We let go of all we’ve been holding onto and fall into Your arms. Amen.

Sweet Surrender

Time and time again, God brings me back to a place of joyful and peaceful surrender. Not only am I a planner, but I sometimes desire to know exactly what’s going to happen in the future out of self-protection and fear. When the way ahead is uncertain, how I would love to have a cloud from the Lord like the Israelites in today’s first reading so I would know when, where, and how to move. Yet in the questioning and waiting, God gently whispers to my heart, “Just wait and see. Trust, my daughter.”

There are a lot of unknowns in my life right now, and I’m learning again and again to be okay with that. If God wanted me to know what He had in store for me, He would reveal that to my heart right now. But He hasn’t, and that is not for nothing, because God wastes nothing. He is teaching me how to trust in His goodness moment to moment, following in the footsteps of Our Lady’s mighty FIAT.

When we trust Him, we don’t need to have all the answers—because He does.

Sometimes, we’re just swimming in the currents of the river, getting tossed about by the waves and trying to stay focused on keeping our head above water. But God, in His infinite goodness for our life journeys, can always see the whole river. He knows what lies ahead and what lies behind. He knows the purpose, and He knows where He is leading us. And all at once, He is swimming with us through it all, leading us to the next right thing, leading us to a deeper communion with Him.

So I rise and greet the gift of a new day from God, with a courageous YES in my heart to whatever He has for me in the here and now, and with an even bigger YES to the things that lie ahead that are yet to be unveiled. What a journey it is.

Thank You, God, for the gift of unknowns. My unknowns are known to You, and I thank You for that. My unknowns are intimately held safe and sacred in Your hands. I praise You through it all.

Tea Bags

“I do it myself!” On our family vacation over the 4th of July, two-year-old Zippy is declaring her independence.

Her independence produces a lot of work, particularly for my brother Joe, who is a good and attentive father. “I do it myself!” she insists, as she puts on her pajamas, but her leg goes into the arm sleeve and so she is stuck until help arrives. “I do it myself!” she peels her own egg, and my brother must bring the “scary weapon” to vacuum the 98% of the shells that wind up on the floor. “I do it myself!” she jumps into the deep end of the pool, propelled to the surface by her “floaties” and the subtle assistance of an adult hand guiding her to shore.

As I delight in her growth, I muse on my own, and the mysterious interplay of freedom and dependence on God. I too, have a patient Father, teaching me both to step out in faith but also fall back in trust. I am learning, too, that the “doing” of Christianity is so often a matter of “being.” What does this mean?

Recently in prayer I was anguishing over something, the details of which I do not recall, but it was a matter requiring some degree of discernment and action. However, the image that persisted in prayer was tea bags. Just tea bags, steeping. I was jarred by the banality of it. I wanted something at least inspirational, if not instructive. But tea bags?

I am often asked about prayer, and my consistent advice is to begin by “making a space to be with God,” i.e. to begin by committing to a specific daily prayer time. For anyone who wishes to grow in the spiritual life, to have a relationship with Christ, daily prayer time is paramount. Nothing matters more. Just fifteen minutes a day, practiced with persistence and perseverance, will be life-changing.

In the beginning, it often helps to have some “props” for prayer—images or books to focus on, or Scriptures or other reading to guide our reflections. It is also of great help to invite the Holy Spirit to pray within us, and to ask Jesus to lead our prayer in whatever way He wishes. Many excellent books have been written on ways that can help beginners in prayer; some I will cover in future posts.

To pray is to “practice the presence of God.” It is “wasting time with God.” It is not something that we do, although in the beginning we have to work to open ourselves to God, to be quiet and still and truly present. It is to receive the love of God, and then to return it. “Prayer is not thinking much but loving much,” says Saint Teresa of Avila. (It is worth noting, that Teresa herself relied on books and images for help in prayer, especially in the early years).

Being present does not mean being passive. In the beginnings of prayer, in particular, we may need to fight—to work to be still, to fight for silence, to be recollected. Especially in today’s culture, times of quiet do not come easily.

Are we afraid of silence?

In the beginning, this silence and space for God can be disconcerting, or even frightening. “Just who am I?” the silence taunts us with its emptiness. But it is only in the presence of I AM that we are filled and given a more true answer.

In today’s first reading, God identifies Himself to Moses as “I AM.” It is fascinating to compare Him to the gods of other religions, who are numerous and named for what they do and/or control. The god of war, the goddess of the harvest or of fertility, the sun god, the river god. Our God, who has a far more impressive resume and who holds the whole world, does not identify Himself as “I do” but as “I AM.”

To pray is to be with this God.

Saint Teresa of Avila was named a Doctor of the Church for her works on prayer. But at one point, she herself gave up on prayer for over a year, when it became frustrating, and she mistakenly thought, fruitless. She learned that prayer is essential, that it depends on God, and she wrote beautiful works on growing in prayer.

She uses the image of prayer as a garden that is to be watered. In the beginning there is work to be done removing weeds etc. and cultivating growth; the garden must also be watered regularly.

In the beginning, the pray-er seems to be doing most of the work, but as she grows spiritually, the effort of the soul lessens and God’s work increases. In the early stages Teresa likens prayer to drawing water from a well—a lot of work, for a very little water. Later it may be like a pump—the pray-er is still “working” at prayer, but more efficiently and for more water. At a third stage God provides the water as through an irrigation system—the soul is more still, more dependent, more receptive. And in the final stages of prayer, it is like a garden watered by rain: the soul is completely receptive.

At each stage of prayer, we must give to God what we can, and let Him give to us what we cannot. It is us that He wants. He wants not just our actions, but our hearts, our desires—including our desire to be with Him. And sometimes, we must ask even for this desire! The desire to pray is itself a gift of God.

Prayer isn’t always pretty. We come with our hearts as they are—angry, broken, bruised by sin, filled with self—to give what we are, as we are, to the God of Being.

Sometimes in prayer we might have wonderful “experiences” of the presence of God. But other times, we are transformed more quietly, more subtly, in the way water receives from tea bags, simply by time and togetherness. It is in these moments that God works, and we receive, without even knowing what or how.

River for Prayer unsplash

Image credit:  Photo by Monika MG on Unsplash