Beating hearts in the Ruins

The most attractive, magnetic force a human can possess is a heart for Christ. It is this heart (or hunger) that causes others to wonder, “What do they have that I don’t? I want some of that.” Other traits that may induce this sensation in others might be termed “confidence” or “joy”…but the lasting draw of those who desire closeness with Christ is the most compelling illustration of an awakened human being.

I hypothesize that this mysterious, intangible trait cannot be taught. My intuition is that a heart for Christ is a power that is built only between Christ and the individual. But I do think there are ingredients and environments that aid in the cultivation of this heart. Those include religious leaders, mentors, WONDER and TIME.

This is fortunate, as it is the one thing I want for everyone I know, and yet, I have so little control over it seemingly. I observe those close to me who appear to be driven by both head and heart, as humans are, towards earthly goals and comforts and challenges and relationships. This isn’t wrong, of course. We exist now; we must accept our placement in time as a true situation and calling, despite our longing for eternity. Accepting this responsibility is good, but it is unbearably common for us to then remain steeped in the matters of the world: our jobs, our money, our politics, our recreational interests, our bodies, our consumerism… I know too many, myself included, where the idea of one hour per day in silence or prayer or reflection is considered unheard of and entirely unachievable. Given this, why is it a surprise to encounter so many Catholics and Christians whose hearts do not actually beat for Christ? If you watch and listen, anyone will show you who they are, what gets them out of bed in the morning, and what excites them the most. Look at calendars, wallets, and weekends to learn even more. Finally, in looking at our own situation, what will we find? Chasing, temporal comforts and pleasures, and very little in the bank with God. Given the inputs, how could we uncover a confident, impassioned heartbeat under it all?

All of this reflection isn’t to suggest judgment so much as it is to illustrate a loss many of us share. Who would not want a heart for Christ? Why do we tell ourselves that everything — every thing — is more important right now? When will we learn that this isn’t sustainable?

I write from a place of both frustration and sadness. I see that we are living in the Ruins, and I accept my place in time, but I do not like it. This is a lonely, strange place for people whose hearts do beat for Christ. I yearn for a renewed sense of hope despite the Ruins. I cannot turn to the mysterious joy of Christianity to sum this all up neatly and send myself on my way. The Ruins are getting to me for now.



Re-discovering the Rosary

For years, I have kept my favorite rosary underneath my pillow. I hold it and use it at least once a day; and yet, despite its proximity, I haven’t prayed the rosary in a very long time — until this week.

My rosary is one of my favorite possessions. It is one of the few belongings I have that I can never replace. It was given to me a few years ago by a friend whose faith I continue to admire. The white ‘Hail Mary’ beads are made out of an illegal material, found in Beijing, but that is another story. The reddish-pink ‘Our Father’ beads are coral, brought back from Hawaii. The in-between beads are garnet; a red-purple semi-precious stone.

When I received this rosary, it came with these words:

“I hope that when you have a bad night and all seems lost, you can reach under your pillow and find a weapon or even just a shield to grasp until the torrent subsides. I have never known a more powerful thing than my own rosary. May yours help you keep yourself and those you love safe forever.”

Up until now, that is what I have done. I’ve reached under my pillow countless times to simply rub the soft white beads, run my fingers around the coral beads, and trace the shape of the cross as I name my fears or ask God to protect me and my loved ones. I’ve become so familiar with the feel of the rosary, but I haven’t activated the power of the rosary as it was intended originally.

This week, as I described my anxieties and my faith experience to a friend, he recommended the power of praying the rosary. He told me of a few situations when praying the rosary unraveled answers for him in unexpected ways. After our meeting, I considered this advice for some time, wondering a bit why I hadn’t used the rosary in a traditional sense — I had hardly thought of doing so. I finally reached under my pillow for my rosary this week and began to pray until I fell asleep.

The next morning, on my way to work, I passed by the office of the friend who had given me my rosary. He saw me walking by, we waved, and I pulled the rosary out of my purse, held it high for him to see from the street below, and did my best to convey gratitude through a smile.

That same evening, as I was walking in the dark to my bus stop, I passed by Christ Our Hope – the Catholic church hidden in the midst of chaos and city life in downtown Seattle. I walked past the church and then turned around. I walked into the church, dipped my fingers in the baptismal font, took a seat in front of the crucifix on the altar, and picked up my rosary. I sat there for about 35 minutes and I prayed the whole rosary. I looked up at Christ on the cross intermittently, some ‘Hail Mary’s’ were more thoughtful than others, I lost track of time, my mind wandered to those I wanted to help the most, and I ended my time with a final prayer for a friend.

I am just beginning to re-discover the rosary and its power, but reflecting on it as a resource in my faith in the past few days alone has already provided value for my journey. As I’ve thought about the rosary this week, I’ve also come across countless testimonies from people who have relied on its power as a portal to God through Mary and through prayer. These accounts bolster my desire to surrender my human longing for control and give myself more deeply to prayer.

An Imagination for God

The function of imagination is not so much to make wonders facts as to make facts wonders. – G.K. Chesterton

Now, perhaps more than ever before, I long for closeness with God. I want to see the face of God, I want to rest in His security, I want to feel the strength of His presence. I want to be in love with God. But how can closeness with a silent, faceless, invisible being come to exist?

I have a tendency lately to create bad patterns where I think of one thing that causes me pain by default. To deal with this, I’ve set up a process through which I picture Jesus interacting with me anytime I begin to let the evil thoughts in. I imagine Christ with an expression of amusement, as though He is saying, “Why are you doing this again, little one?”

I have another image, of God the Father’s hand, large enough that I fit inside His palm, as though my physical body is a trinket inside a dish. I turn to this in times of weakness, stress, or loneliness.

The former image reminds me that I want friendship with Christ. I yearn for His companionship as I sort through my journey in the Shadowlands.

The latter image reminds me that even though I may feel overly capable in my human self at times, I have a natural need for God. This image reflects a father/child relationship and a type of security that only God could ever provide. No human person could create that sense of impenetrable safety and tenderness.

Closeness with God is something I constantly long for; a type of greed that I feel on a daily basis. A dear friend reminded me this week that this type of “rapture love” with God is a gift from Him, not an outcome of our own human work. Anytime I feel a poignant closeness with Him, it is a gift given out of His love that only He can provide. I possess no ability to control when I receive this gift. The only option is to approach love as a verb: keep working, keep praying, keep showing up, keep listening. Through this love in action, the gift of closeness with Him will be revealed, just as the greatest human love is received by giving of oneself.