Tag Archives: Peter

Caring for Souls: The Call and the Cost

I entertain myself by spying on the hidden mystery of how the Holy Spirit shapes, purifies, and refines souls for holy purposes. This work of caring for souls has been my focus for over thirty years. I figure I have spent several thousand hours listening to people tell me about their lives in God.

In some cases I have been privileged to walk with individuals for many years, observing periods of suffering, impasse, joy, and growth. Trained in the practice of spiritual direction, I offer my presence, love, and attention to those, who share with me the intimate and profound desires of their hearts.

I have learned a lot about the way of God in a person’s soul and the way of a human being as he or she struggles, resists, and seeks the One beyond his or her control or manipulation. I have seen the common traps and temptations, and the unfailing grace of Christ. I have learned to recognize  patterns of deepening spiritual maturity. What I have to give, which seems the most important at this point,  are my prayers and my faith.

In this poem I explore Jesus’ final words to Peter on the shore on the Sea of Tiberius (John 23)  and some of what I have experienced in feeding Christ’s sheep.

CHILDREN,  HAVE YOU ANY FISH?

Just after daybreak,  Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.  Jesus said to them,  “Children, you have no fish, have you?”  John 21:5

After breakfast –

did they push back the plates
brush away the crumbs
and leaning on their elbows
drain the last of the coffee?

when they had finished breaking
the fast
that knot that moored them
to the earth –

did they hear the crack
as lack was smashed
and denial strewn in shards
all round their dawn drenched faces
while Fullness rose before them,
a grinning fry-cook,
presiding at the flame?

So when they had completed that shattering
that breaking of self-imposed want
and self itself
and tasted, savored, chewed, digested
that Fish
who had eluded their nets all night

then Feast asked:

Do you love me?

Peter takes the bait
Yes, Lord.
Do fish swim? Is the sea wet?

 Feed my lambs.

 A second time Feast casts the net:

 Do you love me?

 Yes, Lord. You know.
Peter turns, twisting in the webbing.

Tend my sheep.

And then the charm:

 Do you love me?        

Flailing, inextricably caught
flesh straining, tormented –

I am putty in your hands.  You know me.
Why press me up against the edges of this love
to lie gasping, gills seared by sanctity
on the far shore of heaven?
You who have lured me here,
you know, you know.

Then quick
the deft Cleaver
a swift slash of blade
and he is flayed open
on his soft underside
from gullet to dorsal fin.

And it comes:

Feed my sheep.  Again.

O Peter, Peter
once you swam where you would
through silent green darkness
in and out of rotting keels among the stems
lying in wait for your supper
to enter your heart’s snare.
Now you are trawled
where you do not wish to go
where you will be filleted
in the bright morning sun
for someone else’s breakfast.
O Peter,  Peter there may still be time
run
run!

In some nook
you will lean across a table
called remember
and another’s hunger will tear out your entrails
and you will wash down your cheerios
with each other’s tears.

The line is forming, Peter.
Hear their cries.
See them coming,
heaving themselves out of the waters
like great sad whales
beached on this foreign strand.

Tend them, Peter. They are mine.
Be gentle with their wounds
the raw red
festering places
seeming so incurable.
Teach them to clean
to wrap
to bind up the hurt
with these stained winding cloths.

Give them a poultice
for drawing out the poison,
a potion for a contrite heart.

Wipe their tears.
Sing their lament.
Carry their ache in your heart
long after they leave
and wake to it when you rise.

You will not wish to meet such suffering.
You will look for ways to turn its tide
to swim back to your ancient watery grave
where life eased slowly into you once removed
through gossamer wings you wore waving on each side.

Now your lungs screech
as the air
the air
slams into you
immediate
as this picnic breakfast, Pete.

You have seen me
known me
loved me
now you will be food for them to eat.

                            Sheep

A woman stops on her porch at dusk.
Sifting through the branches
Grace greets her.
Dare she kneel?
What will the neighbors think to spy
her caught in prayer on the threshold?
Grocery sacks spill down the stair
crispy critters, wonder bread,
instant breakfast fill the air.

The man searching for peace
having lost his love
now paces through the word
hunting for the key.

Another flops over and over
trying to get her bearings.
Which way is up?

The shy awkward magician
in a dazzling burst of courage
pulls out the hidden emerald of her heart
and bows triumphant
while drums roll and rabbits scamper all around.

The one who never stops talking
weaves his fear in rambling fables.

The one, awakening, sings possibility and promise
and perches on the edge of wonder,
enchantment, waiting to be opened.

All beached, scarred, encrusted with barnacles
thrust up against each other in the hush of dawn,
gasping, lungs laboring, gulping at the Spirit.

Carried

 Most assuredly, I say to you, when you were younger, you girded yourself and walked where you wished; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish.”  This He spoke, signifying by what death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me.” (John 21: 18-19) NKJV

In accompanying others on their journey into the heart of God –
making our way together through the clotted underbrush
the heavy growth of jungle foliage
trekking across the endless stretches of barren tundra
waiting out the storms in bus depots
napping in the meadows –
what seems most apparent now
is the oneness
the mutuality of laughter shared
joy celebrated
and anguish felt.

I have seen myself hesitate on the frontier
holding back
keeping myself in reserve 

Let’s have a nice holy talk and then we can all go home.

But Jesus never was much on talk alone
and like some mother determined to get her children off to a good start
fries up some fish for breakfast
and sees we must take in,
consume redemption
carry it in our bellies,
eat the pain of one another
feel it ease into our blood and bone
and, tasting theirs, so we embrace our own.

Fish out of water,
our task is learning how to breathe in two worlds
to walk the treacherous path
that cuts an ever widening swath in our hearts,
the gorge of sorrows where compassion feeds.

You there singing in your prayer
weeping, screaming,
I do not know where the way leads
into what dark forests, what caves, what dizzy peaks.
I only know I go along
and where once I went alone,
swam girded solitary in the reeds,
charting a course myself
now am lifted
swept by this net of love
and carried
carried
even as I carry you in me,
carried into bright and alien lands
carried toward the One
who ever holds our breakfast
in his hands.

 Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of  Israel, who have been borne by me from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn grey I will carry you.  I have made, and I will bear;  I will carry and I will save.   Isaiah 46: 3-4

Reflection questions:

  • How do Jesus’ words to Peter in John relate to you as you care for the souls of family, friends, clients, and others Jesus sends to you, or sends you to?
  • What have you observed about how people develop their faith and love for God? What seems to be your role in that process? How do you feed Christ’s  sheep?

 

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Exploring Solitude: Meeting the Crucified One

God is simplicity and one-foldedness,
inaccessible height and fathomless depth,
incomprehensible breadth and eternal length,
 a dim silence and a wild desert.

So wrote John of Ruysbroeck in the 14th century.

God is also a man, whose name is Jesus,

born in a middle eastern city,

of a woman named Mary.

Firmly anchored in time and space,

he walked the paths of Nazareth,

ate,  and laughed,  and loved.

God is also this same man,

now beaten,  bleeding,  and dying,

executed on a cross.

For in Jesus

the Inaccessible Height and Fathomless Depth

had inserted

itself into

the messy specificity and limitation

of humanity,

and consented

to occupy

suffering,

injustice,

cruelty,

fear,

defeat,

and death.

So now,  all that suffers,  loses,  messes up,  and bleeds finds welcome in that dim silence and wild desert of the cross.  All that is lost or broken is gathered and folded into the height and depth and breadth and length of God. Every precious particle of God’s making  is held with infinite tenderness in the simplicity of love.

There are moments,  days,  even years for some,  where the work of solitude involves suffering.  Alone with God,  we are presented with painful truths. We are refined and purified.  We gradually learn to be present to God,  not on our terms,  but on God’s terms in the context of our own specificity.

This is the work of letting go and letting be. This is the journey of ever deepening faith and radical trust. This is the door that sets us loose to roam forever free.

During the observance of Holy Week,  the specificity of God made known in Jesus,  enters into the lonely anguish of surrender to the terms of his Father.  The one who has been surrounded by crowds and encircled by his chosen disciples,  makes the solitary journey into death to return to the heart of all being.

We find an account of this journey in the gospel of Mark.  Mark’s gospel is characterized by a simple,  direct,  unpretentious style.  The gospel has an urgency about it.  Mark’s  frequent use of the dramatic present tense contributes to the immediacy.  The emphasis is on the action – the deeds and words of Jesus – as he confronts and responds to the religious establishment,  the disciples,  and the crowds.  This action moves compellingly to the crucifixion.  The story unfolds in a hurry,  as though the very presence of Jesus has set in motion forces which lead inevitably to the cross.

Then at the cross,  in striking contrast to the preceding scenes,  Jesus becomes the receiver of the action in total surrender.  The syntax changes from active voice to passive voice,  as the Greek word,  paradidomai,  appears more and more frequently.  Paradidomai means handed over,  or to give into the hands of another,  to be given up to custody,  to be condemned,  to deliver up treacherously by betrayal.  This is the same word the gospels,  as well as St. Paul, use repeatedly to describe the crucifixion.

As the resurrected Jesus tells Peter on the lake shore,  there comes a time when we will be carried where we do not wish to go. (John 21: 18)  Then we find ourselves being handed over to our life circumstances,  the limits,  sins, injustices,  and frailties of human existence.

At the cross in Jesus the Limitless,  Inaccessible,  Unfathomable God makes things very plain, very simple:

Watch me. Trust me. Do it like this. All is forgiven. Surrender. Allow yourself to be carried into darkness. There is a place beyond your knowing or naming, where I am and you are. Follow me.

All transformation,  all redemption require moments such as these:

the passivity of the seed buried in the earth,

the passion of love poured out to the last dregs for the beloved,

the prostration of oneself in the dim silence and wild desert,

where all things are born anew.

The moral revival that certain people wish to impose will be much worse than the condition it is meant to cure.  If our present suffering ever leads to revival, this will not be brought about through slogans, but in silence and moral loneliness, through pain, misery and terror, in the profoundest depths of each person’s  spirit.      Simone Weil

 

Solitude Practice:

  • What do you need to surrender, let go of, or let be this week?
  • Not all, but much of our suffering may be tied to our defiant resistance to letting go and refusal to accept the suffering of self denial. Do you agree with Simone Weil that broad social change could be gained, not by imposition of morality, but through the struggle in the depths of individual souls?
  • What is it like for you to shift from being the prime mover and actor in your life story, to becoming the receiver of the action of others? How might God be handing you over this Holy Week?
  • Is there a relationship between your consent to being carried where you do not wish to go and experiences of healing and redemption in your life?

Next post in this series –  Exploring Solitude:  Leaving solitude, gone to Galilee.

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 News for Praying Life Readers!

I am leading a workshop in April here in Topeka, KS. Hope to see some of you there!

Look and See: Nurturing a Shining, Festive Life of Prayer

Saturday, April 21, 2012
8:30-12:00
$20.00
First Congregational Church
1701 SW Collins, Topeka, KS  

Please register early to assure a place by calling or emailing First Congregational UCC. 785-233-1786; info@embracethequestions.com

 

Day of Prayer

deer at dawn

I woke surrounded by warm pink light. Dawn filled the room like a rosy fog and drew me outside to look at the eastern sky. Banks of darker clouds, edged in gold, piled above the rose glow. Within minutes the sky darkened. Thunder rumbled. Rain fell gently throughout the morning and afternoon.

I spent the whole day chasing after that rosy suffusion which called me to awareness. But the light had flown to some other window, some other sleeper. I was left with a soft kiss, a sweet promise, and an ache in my heart that burned like a flame.  

This day my prayer was bare and to the point: I want you – not my way, my plans, my hopes, my dreams. Not peace on earth, healing for the suffering, hope for the broken hearted, or justice for the oppressed. I want YOU- giver of dawn and rain and this yearning in my heart for something unnamable, but ever compelling and true.

“The soul is not thought, nor is the will controlled by thought. It would be a great misfortune if it were. The soul’s profit then consists not in thinking much, but in loving much,” advised Teresa of Avila. I would rather think, connive, plan, strategize, manipulate, control – anything, but love this Author of our Being. But love is the way, says Teresa, as well as a whole company of others, including the Beatles.

Little renders us more vulnerable than love. A desire, a longing for someone, something beyond my grasp requires me to recognize my need and my limits. To love is to esteem the freedom of the Beloved and bear the pain of the essential separation of oneself from what is other than oneself. Love asks us to suffer the anguish of the reality that we may never fully possess what we love. Love asks us to be poor and naked in our need and our dependence upon the mercy of our Beloved.

No wonder we try to satisfy our longing for love by attachments to things which appear at first glance to deliver more and ask less of us than the uncompromising call of Christ. No wonder we attempt to extract from people, possessions, and work what only the Source of Love can give us. However, we soon find ourselves enslaved to and sucked dry by the insatiable demands of such false lovers.

Today I am sick, sin-sick, of my attachment to the world and my ego with its endless unappeasable needs.  I am weary and sore from the brutality and violence of a drive to succeed, ignoring my limits, and trying to do too much and be too much. Who can save me from myself, this body of death?

Only Love, Vulnerable Love entering into our misery as Christ Jesus, summoning us from our sleep, whispering, “Let go. Let go of it all. Follow me. I am all you will ever need.”  

So this day my prayer is a famished stumbling after Love. It is holding out my heart saying, “Here take it. I am yours.” It is Peter telling Jesus, with that desperate hope, “Lord, there is no one else that we can go to! Your words give eternal life. (John 6:68 CEV)  

Today my prayer is bearing the pain of this mystery, this rosy dawn which woos and embraces us all.  Amen.

 deer at dawn small

More about prayer –
www.fromholyground.org, www.theprayinglife.wordpress.com

Contact Loretta –
lross@fromholyground.org, www.fbook.me/sanctuary

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