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Ink Slingers

Desolation: When God Seems Far Away

I’m in desolation. Maybe you are too. Or maybe you’re not. Maybe you’re in consolation, but you can still use this post to help prepare you for your next desolation.

Consolations and desolations are part of the spiritual journey. They go hand in hand, each preparing for the other. The graces we receive in consolation can only be tested and applied in desolation. Yet desolations humble us and cause us to cry out to God for more graces that we then receive in consolation. We need them both and the more we become aware of them, the greater we can profit from each.

Consolations are those times when God seems so close, His voice so clear, and there’s true peace and joy in our hearts. Then there are desolations. When God seems to be far away, silent, and there’s anxiety, sadness or fear. St. Ignatius of Loyola composed the spiritual exercises to help us navigate the consolations and desolations, and while I’m no expert, I’ll share what I’ve found helpful in applying them.

When in desolation, it’s hard to admit, but the desolation is often caused by our own doing. (Unless we’re like St. Mother Teresa and St. John of the Cross and other saints who experienced the dark night of the soul in which God purposefully withdrew Himself!) Desolation is usually caused by our own sinfulness that starts to creep in and then reaches a point in which we look away from God. It’s often a gradual process and I’ve recognized how it slowly develops in my life:

  1. First, it begins with losing an interest in prayer or becoming too busy to have time to pray. Then when I do pray, it’s dry and distracted. This makes it all the more harder to make time for it, so it slowly gets shorter and shallower.
  2. Second, is when I start doubting God’s closeness and care because I don’t have the deep prayer life to hear the loving voice of The Father. This leads to an inward focus, which starts to be expressed in selfishness and a criticizing spirit of others and eventually myself.
  3. Third, it’s losing a taste for spiritual things. Daily Mass feels more like a burden than a joy. All the while, worldly things take priority for attention, especially food.
  4. Fourth, is when there’s a lack of the sense of sin around us. That TV show isn’t that bad. That lie wasn’t that big. That comment wasn’t that inappropriate.
  5. Fifth, we sin ourselves.

Needless to say, desolation can lead to a dark place, to sin. So that’s why it’s important to recognize when we’re starting down the path of desolation. We know God will never try us beyond our strength, but we must also give desolation a good fight! Sometimes it can be as easy as doing a physical activity– a brisk walk, a bike ride, or a run to snap us out of desolation. Sometimes we need more:

  1. First, put more effort and love into prayer. Now is not the time to change your prayer routine, stick with it. If you can add more, perhaps a visit to the tabernacle or ejaculatory prayer of, “God help me to pass through this desolation without sinning!”
  2. Second, help another person. Choose a corporal work of mercy or volunteer at a soup kitchen. By doing so, we come out of ourselves.
  3. Third, make a sacrifice to curb the draw to worldly things. Fast from a dessert or coffee, or a TV show, or Facebook. By fasting we are praying with our bodies.
  4. Fourth, express more thanksgiving and praise to God. Recognizing everything we’re thankful for, even the desolation, lifts our heart to Heavenly things. Thanksgiving helps us regain God’s outlook on sin.
  5. Fifth, get to Confession. All that has bubbled up in the desolation is ready to be purified by the Blood of Christ. Hold nothing back from Him.

If we are attentive to the sins uprooted in each desolation, we truly are better off at the end of it. Better yet, the consolations will be all the more sweeter. It is then in those consolations we should begin praying for the grace to go through our next desolation. As we journey along the spiritual life, let us remember that we will become more sensitive to the change from consolation to desolation and vice versa.

So if you’re in desolation, be at peace. It will pass. Keep praying. Keep fighting. Keep going.

St. Ignatius of Loyola, pray for us!

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Amy M. Ink Slingers

Be Still

Be Still

           “Be still.” Really? I have so much to do, places to go. Again, “be still.”  Through a number of places and people, God has been telling me to “be still” this year.
           I am notorious for being late.  My family of origin is usually running late.  We joke that it is in our “genetic code” to not be on time.  Our friends joke that they have to give us an earlier time in order for us to be on time.  Growing up, I often heard, “you’re going to be late to your own wedding!” (I wasn’t, by the way!)  We even have one friend who decided to come up with a formula for “Johnsen-time.”

            It isn’t planned.  It isn’t because we feel we are more important and therefore, others can wait for us.  I’m sure it seems that way at times though.  After much analyzing, we simply put too much into a time frame.  The times I’m running the farthest behind usually start with me running early (It’s true!).  I look at the clock and think to myself that I have so much time before I need to leave.  Then, I think I can *quickly* do some little task.  Typically, that little task takes longer than planned, and suddenly I’m late rather than early.

            “Be still.” As the year began, my sister and I were talking about our tendency to cut things too closely.  Both of our significant others are meticulously on time.  By “on time,” I mean early.  It drives both of them crazy when we are consistently late.  By “late,” I unfortunately do not mean “on time.”  We were discussing WHY we have this tendency.  It really falls into the category of feeling like we must constantly be doing.  Once we get into that mode, we think we can do more than we can in the time available.  

            We need to change our perspective.  Yes, we have a to-do list a mile long.  Yes, we have too many errands to run or places to go.  However, running at breakneck speed all day long does not actually change either of those things.  It leaves us constantly running until we fall, exhausted into bed at the end of the night and leaves us without peace, not to mention how it affects those around us when we arrive late once again.  

            Lent is a season of repentance, of reflection.  In my mind, it is a slower period, without the secular rush of Christmas.  As I’ve grown into an adult, lent has become one of my favorite times of the year.  We slow down.  We simplify.  We turn once again to the Lord.  We take out the unnecessary.  In some ways, we become still.

           Again, it comes.  “Be still.”  Open the Word.  Hear what God is saying to us in this season.   We can’t hear Him through the rushing and filling of our days.  It’s time, once again, to be still, to sit with the Lord and just be.  Being still doesn’t mean lazy.  It means knowing where and Who fills me and knowing that in order to be filled, I must be still first.  

           Running early doesn’t mean “fill up the space with more activity.”  Running early means time to be still and listen to the Lord.

Categories
Ink Slingers Lent Liturgical Year Michelle Spiritual Growth

The Quietest Month in the Garden

quietest month in the garden

A while back I was looking for a quote to reflect the gloominess of winter. Life had been difficult, I had made some hard decisions, and to be honest, I just wanted to find a quote that would sum up the despair I was feeling.

I didn’t find what I was looking for, but I did find something that God knew I needed to read. It was a quote by Rosalie Muller Wright, the editor of Sunset Magazine, in January of 1999.

It read-

“January is the quietest month in the garden… But just because it looks quiet doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. The soil, open to the sky, absorbs the pure rainfall while the microorganisms convert tilled-under fodder into usable nutrients for the next crop of plants. The feasting earthworms tunnel along, aerating the soil and preparing it to welcome the seeds and bare roots to come.”

It seemed that God was trying to tell me that the gloominess which not only covered the skies outside, but my heart as well, served a greater purpose. Yes, it was dark and it seemed like everything was dead, but really there was a plethora of activity taking place just under the surface. The trials I was going through had the power to change me, if only I would allow them to.

I went into Lent still feeling overwhelmed by life. My heart downtrodden and sad, I wondered why we have to suffer so much. But then I remembered this quote and decided to incorporate it into my Lenten journey.

lent giving upYou see, during Lent we often focus on what we are giving up or even what we may be adding. We think about how difficult it is to abstain from meat on Fridays and we may even visit our church to walk the Via Dolorosa by participating in the Stations of the Cross. Most of us try our hardest to pray more and to connect with Christ. Sometimes we focus simply on “getting through” Lent.

What we often fail to recognize is that during this time our hearts, minds, and souls are like the soil in the garden. While we may grumble about how hard Lent is and it may appear as if nothing is happening on top of the surface, the sacrifices we are making, the changes we are adding, the prayers we are saying, and the quiet reflections we make are all aerating the soil of our hearts. They are preparing them to accept the new seeds of life and the bare roots that Christ will plant as He rises on Easter.

Many people dread the Lenten season. It’s a time where we are called to take a long hard look at how we are living our lives. We must admit where we are failing and we are called to make the changes necessary to live according to God’s commandments. This is hard. It’s giving up what we want and instead accepting what God wants. It goes against our sinful, human nature.

But it is necessary.

farmer scattering seedJust as a garden whose dirt is never tilled under or who has no earthworms aerating the soil and adding important nutrients to the earth, when we refuse to allow the changes to take place in our hearts and souls the garden that is planted will never bloom. Like the parable of the farmer scattering his seeds, if we don’t allow the seeds to be planted on fertile and well-tended ground our garden cannot grow. However, when our hearts and souls are fertile, then like the farmer in Jesus’ story, our harvest will far exceed our wildest dreams.

As we continue through this Lenten season I pray we each will allow our hearts and souls to become well-tended gardens waiting to receive the seeds of faith, hope, and love that only Christ can sow.

garden plant

Categories
Allison Homeschool Ink Slingers Motherhood Vocations

Marvelous Things

marvelous1I settled down in my worn out wingback chair in the thin winter sunlight with our fourteen-month old, who wanted to nurse himself to sleep. Usually, another child with “Mom’s nursing and can’t move” radar sidles up to me with a book to read, a math problem to solve, or some scientific phenomenon to report. This afternoon, however, I was curiously unapproached. Not wanting to draw attention to myself, I glanced around as nonchalantly as possible. All were happily occupied in various other corners. I sunk down into the chair with a (very quiet) sigh and looked down at the son in my lap.

He was big now, his chubby legs hanging over my own onto the arm rest. He still grasped my thumb just like his newborn days, though, and his eyelashes still glowed in golden half-moons on his round cheeks. I stared at the boy as I did in those magical first hours and days after his birth and marvelled at him. “Oh Joseph, I don’t stare at you nearly enough,” I whispered. He half-opened his eyes and looked sideways at me for a split second before the effort overtook him and he sank back into that drowsy, nursing oblivion so dear to mothers.

A smile caught in my throat and I was overcome with the desire to hug him tightly and rock back and forth while breathing in his smell and whispering to him of my love. He was sufficiently asleep at that point to withstand such a dance and remain dreaming.

Babies are wonderful. They sometimes make us stop doing important things like homeschool and housework, for a bit of time to do marvelous things like contemplate and connect. Hug and dance, too. Soon he would join his brothers and sisters in our home’s happy chaos, but for a few precious minutes we were tightly bonded again, with nothing else to do but be. Who knows what tomorrow will bring; right now we are here, being. And it is marvelous.

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Domestic Church Erika Faith Formation Prayer Sacred Scripture Spiritual Growth Testimonials

Transitions

I have been an avid horseman* for as long as I can remember. After turning her back on me for a moment as a toddler, my mother found me surrounded by half a dozen large horses in the pasture. Later, I got my own pony and eventually  transitioned to full sized horses. If I wasn’t riding, I was just with my horse(s). In inclement weather, I read about horses. Even my punishments growing up were related to horses: grounding from riding my pony or from reading my horse-related books. Even today, as a horseless-horse-enthusiast, I constantly use equine terms and practices in my daily life. My philosophe is that life follows the same rules as horsemanship: transitions are key.

My first pony

Transitions, in horsemanship, are changes in speed. The best of transitions look effortless, elegant, and graceful; horse and rider move seamlessly. To achieve smooth transitions, there are several steps communicated to the horse at exactly the right time. Failing to properly prepare the horse results in choppy, ugly, and bumpy transitions. In life, transitions are the changes we go through as we age and mature. Each transition must occur in order to live, but there are small steps that can ease them and ensure chaos doesn’t reign. Skipping these small steps can lead to disastrous consequences.

What’s around me?

My 4-H show pony

One of the first requirements for smooth transitions is awareness. Horses are very reactionary as flight animals. Every change in the environment, vocalization, weight shift, and mood can induce the horse to react. As a rider, awareness is essential to communicate effectively with the horse. Quietness is a prized trait in a horseman because it allows the horseman to prevent negative reactions from the horse. Great horsemen are said to have quiet hands guiding the horse, quiet legs moving the horse, and quiet minds focusing on the horse and the goal. In life, awareness of God is essential. God is not only in control, but also present and more than willing to bestow blessings if asked. However, distractions are everywhere concealing God’s presence and blessings. That’s why it is essential to actively seek God in everything–even distractions. Sometimes God hides His blessings in sadness and disasters, but He’s always present and waiting for signs of awareness. In quiet contemplation, God reveals Himself to those who seek Him.

What am I doing?

My home-bred riding and driving horse

Another key requirement for smooth transitions is a goal. As sensitive animals, horses are capable of easily detecting or abusing the rider’s intentions or confusion. A clear goal, even a simple “go from point A to point B”, gives the horse confidence and almost instantly yields greater harmony between horse and rider. At times, the horse seems to read the rider’s mind simply because the rider is focused on the horse and their combined goal. One of the most used clichés is “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him your plans.” Often, this cliché seems true as the best-laid human plans result in chaos and confusion. However, the error isn’t the plans; it is the exclusion of God from those plans. God has plans for each and every one of His creations. These plans are written in our hearts and revealed through quiet time with God, prayer, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Mass, and reading Scripture and Faith-filled writings.

Pause and think…

My pregnant with cancer driving horse

Smooth transitions are also preceded by a ‘half-halt’. Basically, a half-halt is a subtle cue from the rider for a minuscule pause from the horse. While it isn’t a specific cue for change, it distinctly alerts the horse to an upcoming change. Large transitions, like from a halt to a gallop or vice versa, may require several half-halts as preparation. They must be appropriately timed for the desired effect. Poor timing diminishes the effectiveness and the transition suffers. In life, the equivalent of half-halts are moments of prayer. Like a half-halt, prayer doesn’t have to be obvious or time consuming to be effective. Prayer prior to large changes in life, like marriage, buying a home, changing careers, etc, is infinitely more effective than prayerful supplication after these changes have taken place. A simple, “God, what do you want me to do with my life?” can suffice as long as there is an opening or slight pause to allow God to answer.

 

Let’s do this…

My borrowed driving horse and his friend

Following the half-halt is the actual cue for transition. Obviously, the cue is very important to the transition; without it, the transition wouldn’t exist. Since horseback riding is a dynamic relationship between horse and rider, change is constant and predictable. Like the half-halt, the cue must be timed very precisely, more precisely than the half-halt. In addition to precise timing, the cue must be proportionate to effectively communicate the command. A large transition or disobedience requires a strong cue; while a weak cue may not produce a transition at all. Similarly, life is a dynamic relationship with God, with God supplying the cues. Many times God’s cues are very subtle, while other times they’re like a 2-by-4. Subtle cues from God are best heard in the stillness after a half-halt of prayer. During trying times, God sometimes has to use a 2-by-4 to combat the inattention, disobedience, and lack of time given to Him. However, He always gives cues to those who ask Him for guidance.

Whew, that’s finished…

Sharing the love with my daughter

Once the transition occurs, the final step is praise. Depending on the rider’s effectiveness, praise can be subtle, almost undetectable to all but the horse or effusive. Since horseback riding is dynamic and training occurs every time the rider is with the horse, sometimes excellent preparation results in mediocre or even dismal transitions. An honest attempt, even without spectacular results should always be rewarded. God also deserves praise even through transitions that seem bad. After all, without God no transitions would even be possible. As the Author of our lives, God knows the plan, and provides ample guidance. For this, He deserves praise and gratitude. He will ultimately reward His Faithful with Heaven.

 

 

Life with horses has helped me live a better life with God. My transitions haven’t always been as smooth as I’d like, usually because what I want and what God wants differ. When I’ve followed the steps to graceful transitions, God has blessed me abundantly. I’ve given God free reign. You should too!
*I use the term horseman because I don’t need to feminize the term to preserve my femininity. I also use the term horseman synonymously with rider because that is the most common form of horsemanship. I based my description of transitions on the discipline of dressage (French for training) and is often the foundation of other disciplines.