Unknowing Worship

You have heard scientists extol the wonders of the cosmos, passionate about the laws of physics and discovered workings of bodies and the universe.  You have seen artists, brilliant in color, line, and texture, draw out the beauty of the natural world and the extraordinary in the ordinary.  You have watched dancers, and athletes, too, move in rhythm, strength, and agility with the fine mastery of muscle and nerve in the poetry of motion.

And, perhaps, none of these people ever speak about God.

But… don’t they?

They may be atheists, agnostics, or secular humanists, but their passion, brilliance, athleticism, and artistry are rooted in the Divine.  God is the Divine Maker, Shaper, and Mover… do they not participate in the divine life whenever they discover, express, and leap?

The Gospel, the Good News of God’s personal love and merciful gift, is written in words.  But, it is received, love, and lived in and through the heart.  Sometimes, the heart knows what the mind does not.

cross, night sky, wonder

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Favorite Things: A Quote from Pope Francis

This is the first in a serial feature (which you can expect to see a lot of this summer) that I am calling Favorite Things.  Featuring some of my favorite quotes, artwork, poetry, songs, etc., each post is meant for your reflection, without taking up too much of your time.  I hope you find them as beautiful and inspirational as I do!

Here is an exquisite thought…

Pope Francis tears

… how truly does this thought bring us to the heart of  loving Christ – and to the profound self-giving of Christ’s love for us on the Cross.  Through the tears of our heartbreaking love, we see Jesus face-to-face, heart to heart…

© 2016 Christina Chase

The Sacred Heart in Scripture and Strawberries

strawberries

June is the month devoted to the Sacred Heart of Jesus in the Catholic Church. You may ask, what is meant by the Sacred Heart of Jesus? Well, the Sacred Heart is Jesus. And devotion to the Sacred Heart is a devotion to the love of Jesus, devoting oneself to loving   Him entirely.  The heart is a symbol of love, of course, but also an ancient symbol for the core of one’s being, the sacred abode in which God dwells with the person… and more. I wrote more about the heart HERE, HERE, and HERE. For an article on the more scholarly particulars of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, please click HERE.

What does any of this have to do with strawberries? The answer to that is at the end, after a bit of reflective exploration…

Why Does Anything Exist?

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Making the Sign of the Cross

Living without the use of my arms is… well, odd. Because of my genetic muscle-wasting disease, there are things that I just can’t do anymore.  So many doors closed.  This post is not about the difficult, critical inabilities, like washing or feeding myself.  It’s about my powerlessness to do one simple and seemingly unnecessary act and how it awakened a deeper power and consciousness within me (the closing of one door and the opening of a holy other).

I’m referring to the classic Catholic custom of crossing oneself.

I used to be able to make the sign of the cross — right hand fingers touching forehead, then mid-torso, then the left shoulder, then over to the right shoulder — but became too physically weak to do so by my 20s.  Having been taught to cross myself at the beginning and close of every Mass, I did feel the growing lack over the years and it bothered me.  It bothered me at the time because I couldn’t do what everyone else was doing and I didn’t want to be even more conspicuous than I already was.  Going to Mass rarely, however, because I wasn’t a true believer at the time, meant that I didn’t have to worry about it much.

Not until later — after the bout with atheism and the recovery period exploring the religions of the world that brought me, finally, to choose and desire Christ — did crossing myself begin to mean something really important to me, as a prayerful ritual.  So, I would try to make the motions at Mass in faraway miniature with my thumb, as my hand rested upon the control stick of my power wheelchair.  In a crippled way, this took care of the outward sign.  But it did nothing for the inward reality.

It was in praying the Rosary that the difference was made. Lying on my bed on the couch, I could move my fingers where they rested next to my body, with similar distant, small motions. But, being alone, I felt less self-conscious and more desirous to enter into deep contemplation, so I began to really pray the Sign of the Cross.  What happened was, instead of the puny physical gesture, I began imagining the forming of a cross over my body while praying the words in my heart: “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.”  And, through my imagination, I was able to connect to the essential meaning of the act: a recollection of the first Sacrament that I received, when I was baptized in the name of the Holy Trinity.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches us of the act’s significance:
“The Christian begins his day, his prayers, and his activities with the Sign of the Cross: ‘in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.’ The baptized person dedicates the day to the glory of God and calls on the Savior’s grace which lets him act in the Spirit as a child of the Father. The sign of the cross strengthens us in temptations and difficulties.” [CCC #2157.]

Sometimes, however, when people cross themselves, it can look like superstition. Even the Catholic custom of blessing ourselves with holy water in the sign of the cross when entering a church can look like (and can often be) perfunctory habit.  We Catholics might cross ourselves when passing by a church or a cemetery, or at the sight of an accident or other crisis, or whenever someone is speaking of something terrible.  It can be an instinctive reaction and may look to others like we are trying to ward off evil, like tossing spilt salt over the shoulder.  Yet, the instinct to cross oneself is a good one — as long as the outward gestures are connected to our inner reality as baptized persons, as persons given new birth, dedicated “to the glory of God”, calling upon the grace of Christ Our Savior to help us heed the Holy Spirit in every moment of our lives and truly live as children of Our Heavenly Father.

But… how often do we think of that when our hands are busy performing the conditioned gestures?

I didn’t think of it. Not until the physical ability ceased.  It’s like that old saying: you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.  Opening up my imagination, I was better able to appreciate what the making of the Sign of the Cross really is.  Because of this, I think that I do it more often than I would if I made the obvious outward gestures.  I will “cross myself” at the usual times, but I also find myself doing it throughout the day, without a formal “prayer”.

I cross myself whenever I seek to remember that I am in God’s eternal presence and that everything that I think, say, and do is known to God. 

In the name of the Holy Trinity, I envision a cross over my body and I am centered… my thoughts better focused. Whenever I am given a small opportunity to make an act of will and choose not to just go along with whatever, but to be the person that God created me to be… I pray the Sign of the Cross.   I try to do it before I make a decision, any decision — and before starting a conversation with someone that I think will be a kind of burden or trial, because I know that the momentary encounter is also an opportunity for grace.  Also, I try to cross myself before I begin writing, because I want to be the writer that God created me to be, and this helps me to endeavor in His Name, for His Glory, by His Will, and for my eternal fulfillment.

For me, now, the Sign of the Cross is a reminder that everything that I do is in the name of God.  It’s like a summons… (or a slap upside the head)… or like a gateway.  In an imaginative and, also, a mystical way, the Sign of the Cross comes over me and I am transported to… connected to… the Divine — through, in, and with Christ… Christ on the Cross, where his Sacred Heart is opened for me and for all who want to enter into holiness, into true life.

It’s like stepping through an open portal to live in the infinite grace and love of God… ultimate reality.

© 2016 Christina Chase
reposting from the original
© 2014 Christina Chase

Seeking You

I seek You, Lord, in the wilderness,

in the shadows and the desert of night;
night desertI seek You, Lord, on the mountaintops,

in the meadows and the oceans of light.

mountain-meadow

For, in You, who are Christ, is Fullness of Life.

The Heart of Reality is Yours.

unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase

Ephemeral

Sometimes, I feel so small. The world is big and I am tiny, a mote at the mercy of the rough winds around me. I can’t control what will happen next. Mere chaff in a storm, hollowed and wanting, with no power of my own to stay. I could just blow away, far from you.

Sometimes, I feel too thin. Little and brittle, the strands of life, spun glass drawn out too long. Fine filament made for a light that burns so bright… using up its thread of time, then fades away. Nothing here can stay.

I seek hands to grab, muscles press into my flesh and hold me close to beating heart, strong, so that my heart may keep beating, too. But, no creature can hold onto me for long. For, ultimately, this isn’t where I belong.

The veil between the me of here and the me of there is but a sigh, a wisp of cloud – just a little slip, a split-second unretainable, and I’m through.

© 2015 Christina Chase

First Friday and the Will of St. Francis

In a shadowy recess of the Basilica of Ste. Anne de Beaupré, I caught sight of a dimly lit bas-relief and felt myself drawn to it… and even changed by it.

Before I get to that, shortly – below the carving is a small statue of St. Francis of Assisi taking the body of Jesus off of the Cross. Of course, it is historically inaccurate. But, great art depicts the truth within and beyond facts. The artwork is meant to convey the love and life of Francis, who was so utterly devoted to God-Incarnate suffering in this world that he even developed the Stigmata, signs of Christ’s wounds on his own body. Francis’s arms are therefore shown to be encircling the body of Christ as he is ready to lift up his beloved Savior and catch him in embrace.

St. Francis Jesus Cross Ste. Anne de Beaupré

Francis is on tippytoe in his innocent eagerness, gazing upward in adoration, his hand curved and held in gentle wonder.

And I ask myself: do I want to embrace Christ this much?

Am I eager to carry the weight of his beaten and bloody body? Do I hold him in wonder and affection close to my heart? I wasn’t there when they crucified my Lord, but I am here, now, when the dying are crying out in pain and loneliness, and the abused are losing hope that anyone will carry them to safety. Is my heart suffering with theirs in true compassion, ready to do whatever I can to help – not to hesitate, but to give generously in love? Whatever I do for the least, I do for Christ.

As I wrote in the beginning of this post, it was the bas-relief above the statue that most deeply moved me. I had to look up at it a long while before I could discern the figures and details. While realizing what I was seeing, I felt the cords of my heart being so sweetly touched that the exquisite song of joy spread all through me. Below is the image, the image which I am taking as my Faith Facilitator for this First Friday:

St. Francis bas-relief Ste. Anne de Beaupré

At first, I saw Jesus with his arms open wide, crucified. And Francis, in front of Jesus like a child, held his arms open wide in imitation, looking back and up at his Savior as though asking, “Like this?” Christ, the patient teacher, and Francis, the willing student. But, then… I saw that there were wings depicted behind Jesus, signifying Christ Resurrected, Christ Glorified and Ascended in Paradise. And I knew that Christ Jesus was teaching his beloved child… with open arms, a living Cross… how to fly….

Prayer:

Oh, my Lord and my God,

teach me to be little,

your little child,

so that I may grow big and strong like you.

Amen.

[This is part of the First Friday Faith Facilitator series, for the month of November 2014.]

© 2014 Christina Chase

In the Ordinary: A First Friday Observance

“To see a world in a grain of sand

And a heaven in a wildflower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,

and eternity in an hour.”

This is one of my favorite poems — even though I’m not entirely certain what it means. Good poetry is like that.  The words of William Blake may express some complex philosophy, for all I know, or their meaning may be simple and apparent: it is blessedness to see the extraordinary in the ordinary.

There is rich and awe-inspiring beauty in Creation. But, the transcendent experience of which William Blake speaks (I think) is more than marvelous delight in physical things.  We could simply be caught up in the wonder of a flower’s intricacy and how the forces of nature also bring forth bright, bursting blooms of stardust in galaxies near and far.  Knowing how vast and complex, how beyond our grasp, is the universe — and even a grain of sand — our minds may become overwhelmed and we may experience a rapturous feeling of awe.  All of the natural world is amazing — violets and pebbles, sand and oak trees, and all things and all of the energy that goes into their existence.  But… their existence… not the process, not the parameters, not the products, and not the pondering of these things — but, their existence… contemplating that is when the temporal can take us up to the transcendent.

“To see a heaven in a wild flower” and to hold “eternity in an hour” is more about mysticism than it is about the experience of awe we may feel in the exquisite beauty of what we know scientifically about the universe and the overwhelming vastness of what we don’t know yet.  The idea is not to relate the infinite to the finite or the eternal to the temporal.  I believe that the idea behind William Blake’s poem, the idea behind all sacred experiences of the transcendent, is to relate the finite to the infinite and the temporal to the eternal.  We are not to project our thoughts of the divine upon the mundane (like saying that God is Nature or the Universe) but, rather, project our thoughts beyond the mundane (even through the mundane) to the Divine.

The world is not for nothing. And I believe that matter matters to God.

There is heavenly delight — and then there is Heaven. There is the thrilling adventure of discovery, uncovering the secrets of processes and identities within — and then there is reality itself, existence itself.  To see the transcendent in the temporal is about something much more than how the brain reacts to ego-shattering greatness with a feeling of awe.  It’s about discovering what God wants to say to us personally in the daily living of our lives.

Eternity is not far off, like some experience that is distant from us. Eternity is now.  And now.  And now.  Infinity is not somewhere beyond our reach, impossible to be within.  Infinity is here.  And there.  And here.  And there.  Full and true transcendence is found in the opening of ourselves up to God, allowing God to reveal Divine realities and Mysteries to us.  Here and now.

This post is not meant to debate whether or not a personal God exists. Nor is it meant to further the discussion of whether or not even atheists can have experiences of the sacred.  I am simply reminding myself that the ways of God are visible everywhere — if I remember to look, not only with my eyes and other physical senses, but also with my heart, which is the core of my being, the interior space in which God and I dwell together alone.  So, as I ponder things with my brain, I must also — and, perhaps, first and foremost — ponder them in my heart.  Sometimes, the best explanations of things are not meant to explain, but, rather, to simply cause unutterable wonder — and gratitude — that there is something instead of nothing.  That I am.

The Infinite is. And, yet, so is your hand with its creased and fleshy palm.  The Eternal is.  And, yet, so are the several minutes of time during which you have read this post.  That is what truly amazes, inspires true wonder and true awe.  We have been brought into being by the Infinite/Eternal One!  With this epiphany, the mystics slip through portals of divine transcendence.  GOD’S INITIATIVE.  And God’s willingness to help us up to Him.

And so I take ordinary things as my faith facilitators on this First Friday of October.

Prayer

Oh, Uncreated Creator, oh, Uncaused Cause,

May I see the little lessons

that the ordinary things of every day can teach me

about myself, about life,

and about You.

May I be open to the Transcendent,

remembering always that you are immanent,

ever-present, with me always and everywhere,

revealing your love and Mysteries to me

in my heart.

Help me to see You.

Help me to hear You.

Amen.

[This has been part of the First Friday Facilitators series, to help me better celebrate the First Friday observation of the Consecration to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.]

© 2014 Christina Chase

Sitting in the Back and the Real Presence: for Corpus Christi

Communion Wafers

Most people who will read this are probably not Catholic – and I am very much aware that some Catholic beliefs seem strange, like superstitious nonsense.  Do we really believe that the consecrated bread and wine of Holy Communion has become the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ?  Yes, we do.  Not symbolically.  Really.  Truly.

We don’t believe that we are eating an ear or a foot or anything, yes, crazy like that.  Christ Jesus isn’t physically present, but he is substantially present.  Sacramentally present, you could say spiritually present – but this does not mean symbolically present.  We believe that we are eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the Son of Man, just like Jesus tells us through the Gospel of John, chapter 6, and through what the Apostles have handed down to us in Scripture and Tradition.  Now, this is a very difficult thing to believe – that the consecrated bread and wine is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ, God Incarnate.  And there are many Catholics who have to say, “Lord, I believe!  Help my unbelief!”  (Mark 9:24.)  I’m not quite sure if I would have even said to God that I believe (for God sees the truth of my heart better than I do) if it weren’t for one blessed day…

My journey as a new Christian, a born-again Catholic, if you will, was still young and I was just beginning to go to Mass every Sunday that I was physically able. (I was nearly 30.)  In fact, I had only begun attending Mass every week because our priest had just left due to personal difficulties and he had knelt down beside me on his last day and asked me to pray for him.  I can’t tell you how many times people have looked at me in my wheelchair and asked me to pray for them.  But, I knew he needed the prayers and so I made the decision to truly do something for this man.  I would push myself to go to church every Sunday.  On this particular Sunday, I had to sit in the very back of the church because the front pews were taken for First Communion recipients and their families. (I either have to sit in the very front, which I most always do, or in the very back because of my wheelchair.) So, when I returned to my place in the back after receiving Holy Communion, I was alone, with no one looking at me.

For once, I wasn’t self-conscious.  Too many times in my life have I been beset by self-consciousness.  But, that day, with the consecrated bread in my mouth, I was completely relaxed in the dim silence.  Just me… and… and I remember biting into the Host with my teeth and being completely struck with the awareness of the Real Presence.  Alone and silent, the core of my being took over and I was thinking of how God became human for me and how God Incarnate wanted me to “gnaw upon his flesh”. He wants to feed me with His very self, He wants to give Himself completely to me, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity…. My eyeteeth pierced through the Body of Christ as did the nails on the Cross and I was overwhelmed… I wept, unmindful of the tears.

God comes to me in the Most Blessed Sacrament so that I may consume Him… and in that moment, as I humbly received the Body of Christ into my own body, in wonder and awe, I was consumed by His love….

For almost a year afterward, I silently cried after receiving Christ in Holy Communion.  I would always be embarrassed, but I was willing for God to do with me whatsoever He willed.  And it was such a gift, those were such moments of grace, such blessings, for it is very rare when we experience a knowing of what we believe.  They didn’t last.  I knew they wouldn’t.  It is not God’s will for us to always feel Him, to regularly experience, with the fullness of our bodies, minds, and senses, His Divine Presence.  For, if we were forever in those deep and heightened moments of ecstasy, we could not function as creatures of this earth.

God put us here for a reason.  And the reason is not to feel good.  The reason is to be good.  “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  Jesus told this to Thomas because there is something more beautiful and powerful than physical experience or sure knowledge – and that is faith.  Perhaps I am not weeping in peace and joyful love every time that I receive Christ in the Eucharist… But I – my mind, heart, and soul – am leaping in faith.

© 2014 Christina Chase

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