Monthly Archives: March 2015

New beginnings…

With considerable apprehension, I slit open the packing carton with my Swiss army knife. Carefully removing the top layer of wadded up paper, I gazed for a moment upon the smaller boxes within before picking up one of them. I then selected the larger of the two and opened the top flap of the box.

“Hello,” I said.

There was no reply.

All day, I had known this moment would come. All day, I had felt on the verge of tears thinking about it. But now that the moment was here, I felt nothing but an odd sort of curiosity.

Reaching inside the box, I withdrew the new one and cradled it in my hands. I turned it this way and that, examining it carefully.

“You don’t feel my old camera,” I said, being perhaps a bit insensitive as I noted its textured grip.

Again, there was no response. What could the new one say?

I played with it for a few minutes, noting some of the similarities it had to my old friend, as well as some of the differences that puzzled me. I wanted to play longer but there were many other duties clamoring for my attention.

I put the new one back in its box and hid it for safe keeping. Someday soon we would have we would have to find time to get to know each other better.


Slipping back into the familiar darkness of her box, the new one felt puzzled. She had felt exhilarated when she first emerged into the bright world, anxious to begin capturing its sights and sounds.

She did not understand why she had been put away almost immediately. She had heard the mention of the “old camera” and these words stung a bit. Was she being rejected?

She had thought that she at least would be cherished enough to be placed in a nice camera bag in a prominent part of the house. Instead, she was put back in the box and hidden in a dark place where no one would see her. What was wrong?

It seemed forever before her person came for her again.

But finally, on a chilly Sunday filled with sunshine, she was brought out of her box again. She looked around, seeing the inside of the house she had just had a glimpse of before.

It was a fairly plain house, mostly beige actually, to her disappointment. But her lens, being naturally drawn to light and color, spotted a blossoming begonia plant resting in the sun by some sliding glass doors.

Click! In her excitement, she began taking pictures, hardly knowing what she was doing. She was so certain, if given a chance, that she and her person would get along famously…



More than a week had passed before I was able to get back to the new one. Finally, on a Sunday, it was bright and sunny – cool, but a good day for a first walk together.

Time was short and, while I would like to have walked in the neighborhood, I didn’t feel quite comfortable doing so yet. Would I just be advertising to a burglar that I had a new camera?

My back yard has often been a good place for unexpected delights, even in the most unfriendly of seasons. A fine place to begin.

Slipping out the sliding door, a barren rose bush caught our attention. We paused reverently, receiving an image of its thorns, remembering the Savior who once humbly wore them on His head.


 Next, my attention naturally moved to the “crime scene” now that the high banks of snow no longer concealed the place where it all began. The new one, unaware of the history, felt inexplicably drawn to three cinder blocks casting their shadows in an assymetrical row. Was there one missing?


Next, we walked over to the remains of last year’s garden, where stalks of old flowers barely held their heads up and dead leaves promised nourishment to their hidden seeds. Spotting a tiny bit of green emerging from the decay, we zoomed in. Ahhh… it is beginning…


Could there be any other signs of life in this barren world? Already I was getting cold and the air around us still carried the prickling chill of late winter. But there, something is trying to make its way to the surface, something tiny but growing…. again we zoomed in among the decomposing matter.


Before going back to the warmth of the house, I walked my new friend to the fence. The fence is often a place of fascination for all of its ordinariness. Especially in the months of death and dying, the remnants of all that clung to the fence and curled and twisted around it form a unique art that comes alive in the late afternoon light.


Back in the warmth of the house, my camera and I took a moment to savor the simple images that we received together. Apologizing this time, once again I hid her in a dark place where no one would find her.


The short walk in the brisk cool air had felt surprisingly satisfying to the new one. While she was waiting to be deployed, she had always imagined herself taking dramatic photos of majestic natural beauty or capturing special, heart-warming moments that occur only once in a family’s history.

This first assignment was so far from any of that that she would feel embarrassed to describe it to any of the others. At least she thought she would have been embarrassed. It was so…ordinary.

Yet she sensed a special connection as she rested in the hands of her person. It was not as though this person did not know what beauty was – but rather that she did. She had a different way of seeing that the new one had not been taught. She used her eyes, of course, but it was as though she saw with her heart.

Though no words were said aloud, the new one also became aware that her person experienced images as something she received, not something she “took” or “captured”. They were gifts. And these gifts were not manufactured by human hands but were outpourings of the Creator Himself.

As the new one pondered this, she realized something new and startling about herself: that it was through her that her person would receive these extraordinary gifts. They would receive them together in an intimate partnership that neither could fulfill alone.

She was struck with awe at this revelation.

Never at the factory had she or the others been prepared for anything like this. Theirs was a sacred mission. How had she not seen this before? Why had she not been told?

She heard her person softly apologizing to her as she stuffed her back into the dark place. She was grateful to still be holding her lens and not be in her box. Yet she wondered about the dark place and the apology. What could they mean? It was as though she was being hidden from someone or something…

In the dark place, the new one rested quietly, her memory drifting over all that had happened in her brief tenure with her person. Her surprise at being greeted when her box was opened. The painful comparison to the “old camera”. Being put back in the box so quickly. And now this short walk that seemed to create such a tender, deeply spiritual bond with her person in just a few minutes…

Suddenly, she understood. The new one did not know how she could have missed seeing it before. Her person had loved her old camera. Of course – she must have. If she and the old camera had walked many walks and received many images together, how deep their bonding must have been.

And something, she didn’t know what, had severed that bond. Her person must be hurting.

She now learned something else that no one had prepared her for at the factory: that she was being called to be an instrument of healing. She was being called upon to simply walk with her person, to be at her side, to receive with her whatever life gave her next.


[Epilogue. The new one and I have been invited on an adventure together! We are quite excited and look forward to sharing more with you at a later time. Many blessings.]

While the tears are still fresh…

I must write while the tears are still fresh. Although we seldom welcome them, tears can be sacred as, through them, our hearts are rent open, vulnerable and exposed to our God.

Reflecting recently on the experience of Lent, I recalled how through childhood and much of adulthood, I was called upon to give something up for the holy season. It might be a small denial of something I liked or it might be an effort to rid myself of a negative habit.

Also, especially as I got older, Lent became for me a time of more focused spiritual practice. I might take on some additional spiritual reading or attend liturgy or other religious programs more frequently for my benefit.

This year has been quite different.

It has not been about what I give up. It has been more about what has been taken from me.

There is, of course, the literal meaning in terms of the burglaries and what was stolen. But that started before Lent and the loss of a few material objects was, in itself, not such a great thing.

There has been another process going on, one that is hard to describe and perhaps even a bit too personal to write about. Yet it feels important to try.

It is as though layer after layer of what I thought I had has been taken away. Rationally, comparing it to the catastrophic losses that many people have endured, I know it doesn’t seem like much. But then another layer is taken and another…

I began the process being faithful. It’s OK. I can deal with this.

OK, some more happens. God is near. With God near, all will be well.

And then there is more. I look forward to the consolation of meeting with friends – and they cancel. And then a misunderstanding with another friend. And then another friend cancels. All legitimate and understandable, no harm intended.

Fatigue and eye strain take from me the ability to read the book I intend to read. Work and the distractions of repairing the house spill over into the time I thought might be there for church.

I keep talking to God and no longer feel Him close. I know He is here but I do not sense Him near me. How I want Him and long for Him. I pray that He breaks through and enters my stony heart.

And another friend cancels.

And then the dam breaks. I am alone. I cry and I cry and I cry.

I write while the tears are still fresh because I see that God has indeed answered my prayer. I needed to cry – not just a little eye-watering sniffle but deep sobs from the heart. It was the only way my heart would break open for Him.

It is His love that chastens me, that strips me down to nothing, so that I know that there is nowhere I can turn but to Him. It does not feel good. But I know it is good.

Like the prophet Jonah, I want to run from what is hard and what hurts. It is too scary, especially if I must do it alone. Let me go the other way and avoid all of that.

But I cannot go the other way. I can only go His way.

If I choose to give up something for Lent, there is no harm at all in that. But it is my will that I am following. When He takes from me, I am called to learn obedience and an ever-deepening trust.

He bids me to allow Him and Him alone to lead me – to have no will of my own. A priceless thing…

To Him be glory, for now and all eternity.

Weapons of war

(I had not thought I would write again so soon but I listen to the will of Another.)

Yesterday, I did not address at all the topic of how this spiritual war is to be fought. I think I surprised myself that I wrote about it at all.

Today I was talking with someone who was struggling with resentments and, knowing this person to be faithful, I suggested praying for those whose behavior was hurtful. As I kept talking, something deeper came out and I felt deeply peaceful as I spoke.

Thankfully, in my work as a psychologist, God often seems to direct what I say and do. This was one of those times, for certainly I had not planned to say what I did. I began speaking of compassion and how important it is that we cultivate in our hearts a desire for all people to receive whatever help they need to live well.

When we see someone behaving badly, in selfishness or sin or simply in ways that annoy us, it is not our natural inclination to respond with hopes that all be well for them. And yet to love our neighbor as our selves means to do just that.

The heart of compassion is to wish for each person, no matter how hurtful, hateful or immature he or she may be, to be given whatever is needed to live in a healthier and happier manner. Isn’t that what I would secretly wish for myself in those moments when I am truly honest with myself about my own faults and failings?

When I came home this evening, I opened up the Scripture for the day (Roman Catholic calendar) and read these words:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.” (Luke 6: 36-38)

The One who leads us in battle has given us His orders. Why am I surprised that His Spirit spoke in me these same instructions earlier today?

Compassion is only one of the weapons we are given to use in our fight against the enemy – but it is a very powerful one. How quickly and dramatically our personal lives and our world would change if we employed it regularly!

And it is for that very reason that our adversary tries to disrupt us from cultivating compassion and engaging it in our lives.

We strive to be compassionate to those who harm us and our thoughts will not let go of the ruminations and fantasies. Our efforts to behave compassionately are mocked or criticized by a world that believes only fools would return hurt with kindness.

Someone is trying to disarm us.

But we, you and I, we know who our Father is and we listen to His Word. May the Spirit bring us strength and comfort in this holy battle.

Spiritual warfare

As strange as it may seem, as recently as a year or two ago, I did not know we were at war.

Seeing things as I see them now, this is hard for me to explain. I was raised in a devout Catholic home, sent to Catholic schools and have practiced my faith all of my life. I was taught about sin, heaven and hell, good and evil. How could I not known that we were at war?

Without being aware of it, I was also shaped by modern culture, a culture which had infiltrated my Church as well. This “modern” perspective caused me to look askance at the idea of the devil, for example, associating our adversary with images of a creature with horns and a tail. My modern mind tended to dismiss him as little more than a fairy tale character like any other encountered in my childhood story books.

Then, as my career moved me toward social services and then psychology, unconsciously I began to increasingly view bad behaviors as the product of environmental deprivations and abuse rather than something called “evil”. It seemed unfair to use such a derogatory term when people were simply acting out pain that had been inflicted on them first, through no fault of their own.

I see now that this was all part of the plan.

What better way to wage war than to convince the opposing forces that there is no war going on at all? Put them all to sleep and they will not fight back. Shamefully, I look back and see that this is exactly what happened to me.

Also, if I am honest with myself, I think that in the past, I did not want to see that we are at war. It scared me too much. When I was 18 years old, the movie, The Exorcist, came out. I didn’t see it (quite purposely) but the things I heard about it disturbed me for years to come.

Though intellectually I believed God to be stronger than the devil, the fear fueled an alternate approach, “if there is a devil, I’m not going to think about him” (i.e. if I act like there is no enemy, he cannot hurt me and I do not have to fight him).

This too was part of the plan to keep me unaware. And I allowed it.

Others might argue, “But you had an active prayer life. You went to church regularly. You gave to the poor and served those in need.” All that is true. And many people can and do say the very same thing.

But I did all of this without knowing that we are at war and that is an incredibly important distinction to make.

I said and did all of these things from a place of safety, a place of comfort, even a place of pride. I did not know that I did, which is what makes the sin all the more insidious. Whether I am a Catholic maintaining all of the rules and practices of my tradition or a Protestant evangelical proclaiming myself “saved”, it can be a surprisingly dangerous place to be.

Though I risk offending by so stating, it is one of the more subtle temptations of the enemy to suggest that all we need do is believe that the Jesus has taken care of everything. All we have to do is be baptized, accept him as our personal Savior, be born again, etc. and we are saved. End of story. Nothing else is required.

It is subtle because it sounds so “right”. It is a temptation because it frees us from the need to be watchful, to engage in battle and risk all that we have and are for the sake of the Kingdom.

To know that we are at war is to know that there is evil alive in our world. Unrelenting evil that is always at work to lead us away from God. The tactics used by the enemy may be ingenious and not at all what we expect. Thus, we must guard our minds and our hearts continually.

As I have talked with others about such things, I have found myself saying surprising things. I have described discouragement as a great temptation. I would not have thought of it that way before – but it is. What better way to lead us away from God than to cause us to grow weary and hopeless so that we cease our efforts?

In the religious teaching of my childhood, good and bad were very clearly demarcated. Thus, I was led to believe that temptations were urges to break the commandments and could readily be identified as such and therefore defeated.

While it was important for me to learn to watch for these temptations, it perhaps left me feeling too safe if I managed to foil these more obvious allurements. I failed to learn just how many shades of grey there could be.

Temptations missed do not always lead to sin but they can most certainly lead to trouble. The temptation to feel sorry for myself. The temptation to stay home when there is some place I ought to go. The temptation to not call someone who needs to hear from me. The temptation to hold onto anger. The temptation to sleep too much (or too little) to escape things I do not want to face. The list is endless.

And, of course, the object is not to become obsessive, to start examining every inclination as a possible temptation to wrestle with. Rather, as St. Peter tells us, we must be “sober and vigilant” (1 Peter 5:8).

If we know we are at war, like any soldier in battle, we listen for directives from our commander to guide us. We know that we ourselves cannot see what to do in a battle of this scope nor can we trust our own inclinations – especially since it is in our inclinations that we are most vulnerable to attack.

In this spiritual warfare, we need stillness of heart so that we can hear the Lord whispering His words of truth to guide us.

Life does not get easier when we do this. Indeed, it may seem for a time to grow considerably more difficult. The enemy doesn’t want us to wake up.

And yet to repent, to believe, to truly know Christ, I must be fully awake. I cannot live any other way…