Thursday, July 30, 2009

My First Real Encounter With Our Lady

Lovely Lady dressed in blue,
Teach me how to pray;
God was just your little boy,
Tell me what to say.

Did you lift Him up,
Gently on your knee?

Did you sing to Him
the way Mother does
to me?

Did you hold
His hand at night?

Did you ever try
Telling stories
of the world?

O! And did He cry?

Do you really think He cares
If I tell Him things-
Little things that happen?
And Do the Angels' wings
Make a noise?

And can He hear Me
if I speak low?

Does He understand me now?

Tell me, for you know.

Lovely Lady dressed in blue,
teach me how to pray;

God was just your little boy,
And you know the way.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Very Brief and More-Than-Slightly Confused Introduction to Mystical Theology

There are thousands of people throughout history who have experienced a taste of a world outside of what we think we understand to be reality. Some have simply blown off that taste as a figment of their imagination; many others took it seriously and sought another taste. A few along the way were able to get their experiences and their thoughts regarding these experiences down on paper.

Over the past several years, I've spent a lot of time studying the Christian Mystics--Julian of Norwich, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Anne Catherine Emmerich, Catherine of Siena, to name but a few. The mystics come from all walks of life. Some were from rich families, some from poor. Some could read four or five languages, some couldn't even read one. Some were avowed religious, some were not. Some of the mystics have founded orders; others have been declared doctors of the Church; still others have offered insight upon which dogma has been further understood and defined. Some have simply provided inspiration for those who have stumbled upon their work.

I guess I'm one of those "stumblers", having fallen into mystical theology while working at a Catholic book store. Interior Castle both fascinated and confused me. It's taken years for me to even begin to grasp what St. Teresa of Avila so clearly saw, and still light years lie between me and my full comprehension of those Castles she described.

In trying to understand what I first encountered in St. Teresa's masterpiece, I do a lot of stumbling along into various theologians, and more recently found this guy. I hope he gives you as much food for thought as he's given me.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Taking Risks

Right now my husband is getting the bike ready--checking the tires, loading the rain gear, giving all the mechanics a quick once-over before we take it out for the day. Oh, and one other thing, we're having the bike blessed at a local ceremony today. then we're riding up Rte. 11 to Lake Erie.

We met at a blessing of the bikes. Our priest (he was mine at the time) is a Harley rider, as are a few other priests in the diocese, and periodically they have motorcycle blessing ceremonies. I'll never forget Fr. Joe's homily that day. He talked about life being a celebration; about the need for taking risks. "Riding up Route 11 at 100 miles per hour might be overdoing it a bit, but if we don't take risks, how can we live the way God intended?"

Christianity today is the counterculture--though I think it's always been the counterculture. Even when it appeared that the Church was "in charge", it was really Church leaders willing to compromise their faith for the glory and riches of worldly power.

Look at the risks some of the saints took to uphold the true faith in the face of govenment powers: St. Thomas More; Maximillian Kolbe; the Jesuits of upstate New York; all but one of the first 34 Popes was killed by the Roman government.

More about this at a later date. We're going riding!

Friday, July 24, 2009


"Were we to fully realize what a priest is on earth, we would die: not of fright, but of love … Without the priest, the passion and death of our Lord would be of no avail. It is the priest who continues the work of redemption on earth … What use would be a house filled with gold, were there no one to open its door? The priest holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods … The priest is not a priest for himself, he is a priest for you”. --THE CURÉ OF ARS

“The future starts today, not tomorrow.” -John Paul II

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


"Those healed by Jesus were freed not only from sickness, sin, or evil, but more especially from the potential self-centeredness of the suffering. Often they became faithful disciples who ministered in turn to others. Mary Magdalene, witness to the death of Jesus and first public witness to the risen Christ, is a vivid example."

Magnificat Monthly, July 2009 p. 305-306

Any society loves its gossip. I think it's why Mary Magdalene is still at the center of controversy thousands of years after her death. Songs, books, films and folklore continue to spread rumors about the nature of the relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, using revisionist history and overly-assumptive scientific or sociological "analysis of evidence" to back up their truckloads of bull-hooey.

Here it is in a nutshell: Mary Magdalene wasn't some complex historical figure with a mysterious role in Jesus' inner circle. Mary was very simple. She was a woman who got caught up in sin and put her soul in a state of danger. Scripture tells us that Jesus cast seven demons from Mary Magdalene after he rescued her from being stoned to death. He gave her a whole new life apart from her former worldly station, and restored her full humanity. He saved her from herself: she got a second chance.

Jesus neither condemned nor enslaved her; Jesus freed her from all that she had done, from what she allowed herself to become. So why can't we seem to get past her past? When we even consider it possible that those assumptions society would have us believe regarding the nature of Jesus and Mary's relationship could be true, aren't we still chaining Mary to that worldly station from which Jesus long ago delivered her? We might as well be standing before her with a rock in our hand and our arm cocked back, ready to send her to her death.

"You who are without sin, cast the first stone."

From today's meditation in Magnificat Monthly:

...we can well say that [Mary Magdalene] loved Christ, that she loved him with all the force of her being. This love was wise and pure, it obeyed. What is more, all the saints have wished to die for Christ, which is a physical proof of love far more violent and convincing than any other. Mary Magdalene's love of Christ went to the bitter end and that is why it was pure.

Father Raymond-Leopold Bruckberger, O.P.

Magnificat Monthly, July 2009 p. 314

Mary followed the Lord with all her being, right up that hill to Calvary. In her great love and gratitude to the One who saved her from certain death, she courageously witnessed His greatest act of love that would save the rest of us from certain death and would give us all a second chance.

May we all abandon the enslavement of the world and live right there with Mary Magdalene in true freedom on the hill at Calvary.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Angels in the Architecture

Both Diana and I are huge fans of the Angels. We each have given our Guardian Angels a name. Mine's Cecil, after St. Cecilia, the patron of musicians. I gave him the masculine form because any Guardian Angel of mine must be one tough Angel, and let's face it, Cecilia is too feminine a name for such a tough creature. Both Diana and I have this running joke that our Guardian Angels hit the Heavenly Pub together to commiserate about what pains in the rear we both are to guard.

I for one have experienced my share of spiritual attacks. I don't like to speak for my blogging partner, but I'm positive Diana would tell you that she has as well (hence the running joke). A few days ago, she posted the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. She did this after I shared with her some of the difficulties I've faced as I prepare for an upcoming Cursillo weekend that I'm working. (THANK YOU, DIANA!)

This prayer has become my mantra. It sits on my desk so I can pray it all day as I go about my daily routine...and believe me, I do pray it.

St. Michael, the Prince of the Heavenly Host, wasn't created as the greatest of the Angels. That would be Lucifer; but Lucifer in his pride shattered his union with our Lord, and was cast out of heaven. He not only refused to serve, but suckered 1/3 of the angels into not serving right along with him. How does that saying go again---better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven? Pride is a dangerous sin.

The little bugger is still at it. He's constantly whispering in our ears to do things that deep down we know are wrong. None of us is immune, either. Our eternal enemy helps us rationalize, feeds our emotions, and twists the truth so that we'll fall prey and lose our souls to him, too.

It's why I turn to the Angels--especially to St. Michael the Archangel and to my Guardian Angel. We read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

St. Augustine says: "'Angel' is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is 'spirit'; if you seek the name of their office, it is 'angel': from what they are, 'spirit', from what they do, 'angel.' With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they "always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven" they are the "mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word".

As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness.

Christ is the center of the angelic world. They are his angels: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him." (CCC 329-331)

St. Michael the Archangel was not seduced by the lies of Lucifer, nor was my Guardian Angel. They have the capacity to defeat even the most beautiful, brilliant and powerful spirit of creation, because they rely on the Lord alone for their strength. They not only serve as our guardians and protectors, they serve as our example.

L'Angelo Custode, 1640
Giovanni Francesco Barbieri

Prayer to My Guardian Angel

Angel of God, my Guardian dear,
to whom His love commits me here,
ever this day be at my side,
to light and guard, to rule and guide.


Saturday, July 18, 2009

Getting Zapped and Loving It

With a loud zap! and a bright spark shooting off the outlet, my husband blew the breaker that powers roughly half of our house. He let out a "woo!" as he shook the feeling back into his hand, and then pulled the old outlet he was replacing from the wires sticking out of our garage wall, chuckling the whole time.

"What's the matter with you?!" I snipped. I clearly was not chuckling. "Why didn't you shut off the power? I THOUGHT YOU WERE SMARTER THAN THAT!"

He replied with his trademark giggle: "I like a challenge." Then he stuck his tongue out at me, and resumed working on the wiring.

I stood there stunned--and not because he stuck his tongue out at me. My husband is one of the most safety-conscious individuals I've ever known regarding electricity. None of our kitchen appliances ever stay plugged in, except for the microwave and the refrigerator. I got a 20-minute instructional lecture on how to properly turn on and off our air conditioners. If he sees my curling iron on the bathroom sink, he unplugs it and puts it away before I even have a chance to use it.

So you can certainly understand my surprise at my husband's behavior. "Edward (I always call him "Edward" when he ticks me off) You could have killed yourself!"

"Please. There's not enough juice coming out of that wire to kill me." He saw that I didn't believe him, so he stopped what he was doing to reassure me, warped though I thought his explanation was. "Look. Anybody can change an outlet after turning off the power. Where's the challenge in that? It wasn't going to kill me. It's not like I was going to stick my screwdriver right into the socket."

See, I don't know a whole lot about wiring. Even though I personally thought he was nuts, he did make a couple of interesting points. The most obvious is that challenges help us to grow. We are formed by the challenges we face, and by the obstacles we overcome.

As disciples, we are constantly bombarded with challenges: our jobs, our financial obligations, difficult people, attitudes of non-believers, temptations of all kinds, the constant desire to misplace ourselves as the center of our lives...this list could go on and on.

As we face each challenge, whether we succeed or fail, we learn about our true self. The more we learn about our true self, as St. Catherine of Siena has taught us, the better we understand the love and mercy of the Lord. Said the Eternal Father to Catherine: "Do you know, daughter, who you are and who I am? If you know these two things you will have beatitude within your grasp. You are she who is not, and I AM HE WHO IS." (from Life of Catherine of Siena by Raymond of Capua)

This brings me to the other point. Let's go back to my husband's wiring project. As I wrote this piece, I discovered on my bookshelf one of my husband's books, titled Audels Handy Book of Practical Electricity. He's read it. I haven't. Also, he works for a company that manufactures magnetic test equipment, a job requiring some basic electrical knowledge. One of his closest friends is an electrical engineer, as is his son. He's surrounded by people who have done wiring, and has done quite a lot of wiring himself.

He's been formed in this medium, and I haven't, yet I'm calling him crazy because he does something that I perceive as imprudent. Who's the real authority here, him or me? My husband knew that I had no idea what I was talking about. He didn't become combative with me when I jumped all over his case about shocking himself. He just dusted himself off and continued his work.

As disciples, ongoing formation should be one of our primary focuses. Through learning about what it means to be Christian is how we become strong in our faith. We shouldn't just read scripture, Church documents and other Christian literature, but use what we learn from those documents to better understand our Lord. We should surround ourselves with other Christians who can teach us in our walk with the Lord. We should not just attend Mass once a week (see Diana's post on the Mass), but enter into the Mystery of our Lord Jesus' great act of redemption.

Formation never ends. As we are continually strengthened in our faith, we won't shrink away or become combative. Rather, we will be able to jump right back in and continue our work with joy, even when we are questioned by those who don't know what they are talking about.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sowing Discord

"There are six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to him; Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood; A heart that plots wicked schemes, feet that run swiftly to evil, The false witness who utters lies, and he who sows discord among brothers."
Pr 6.16-19

How often have we encountered actions--often by well-meaning and most of the time kind, loving individuals--that appear to deliberately piss somebody off? If we're honest with ourselves (note the word "we", which by default includes me), we should all be able to admit that we have at least once done something just to cause another person aggravation.

Every once in a while, in our refusal to consider an opposing argument, we are dismissive, argumentative, arrogant, or--worst yet--patronizing. Sometimes we try to spin a discussion with tangent thoughts and ideas, or simply insult and dismiss our opposition, and doing so as a "right" or a "duty".

Discord is, simply put, lack of harmony. People in any communal gathering are going to experience some level of discord because people have different ideas and opinions about everything. Discord is natural, and in and of itself, is not a bad thing. It's through resolving natural discord that we achieve growth.

I take my cues on discord from music. Dissonance, a term for discord in music, can be beautiful in a work. Without killing you with too much music theory, there's something called a chord, which is a series of tones played together. These tones will sometimes clash a little in the ear. The more they clash, the more dissonance the chord contains. Some of the most beautiful chords are dissonant: suspended chords, major 7th chords, diminished chords, etc. For those of you non-musicians out there, think Crosby, Stills and Nash. Those harmonies don't just happen. They took lots of time rehearsing, discussing, trying and failing to achieve something that good.

This concept has a broader impact in music as well, when we look at musical styles and genres. Take fusion, for example, or genres of music that are blended together. Fusions are responsible for some really exciting musical compositions, revolutionizing music. Ska, rockabilly, reggae, salsation, funk-metal, jazz-punk, crossover country...the list is endless. Some of the most compelling music is by musicians coming together from genres that even I wouldn't dream could work together. You wouldn't believe how much of the music you love is technically fusion. Again, the time rehearsing, discussing, trying and failing results in new, unique sounds that inspire growth. Songs are more creative, musicians expand their abilities, and music suddenly becomes limitless.

There's another kind of discord in music as well, but it's got a very different motivation at its core. It's the kind of discord which lies outside the discipline of music itself, rooted in the heart of the musician. The accompanist, for example, noticeably hammering out a melody line for a singer during a performance, because he's simply unwilling to make time for the singer to rehearse; or an instrumentalist playing at a different tempo or volume because she thinks that's how it should be performed and doesn't bother to listen to the rest of the musicians around her; or a singer who just belts it out above the rest of the ensemble in order to be heard; or that guitarist who doesn't practice, and then rather than admitting his lack of dedication to the instrument, blames the equipment. The result of this kind of discord--a sown discord--is a diminished impression of the song, of the musicians, and of music and musicianship altogether.

Sown discord is one of those misunderstood sins, because it can be so easily disguised. It's never really about working through a process to achieve a resolution. It undermines, destroys, or hurts others, because the motivation is for the perceived good of the self, not for the actual good of others. Picking fights, spinning commentary, ignoring context, whispering behind the scenes, and generally encouraging poor behavior in others are only a handful of examples. Sometimes it's celebrated and encouraged, particularly within a group of like minds. We may even convince ourselves that we are justified or obligated to tear down another person, group or organization through less than fair means, because our own agendas become completely confused with that greater good toward which we are all trying to work.

Didn't Judas sow discord by betraying Jesus? Didn't the Pharisees sow discord before Pilate, before Herod, among the Jews in order to have Him arrested and executed? They all certainly believed they were doing the right thing. I can imagine the dread that must have shot through their hearts once they realized they put to death the very God who gave them that authority they so jealously lorded over Him. The hazards of sowing discord should be clear: our Church is weakened, friendships are destroyed, motives are questioned, and we become blinded.

Christ's commandment is to love one another, and overcoming natural discord is hard enough. It's part of the growing process, and the end result will be achieved goals, opened minds and expanded possibilities. People will AND SHOULD argue their point to its natural end when they don't agree. But there is a line, and whether you feel justified or think you're obligated to do so, just don't cross it. No end justifies these means.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

How Lovely Is...

Sometimes nothing can say what's in the heart quite like music.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Discipline In Prayer

Prayer is how we develop our relationship with the Lord. It's through a regular habit of prayer that we are able to hear the voice of God, and know his will for us.

About a week ago I was having a conversation with my friend Nicole regarding prayer. "I've had to set my rosary aside," she said, "because it's just not doing it right now."

I get what she means completely.

It's not that we don't love our Rosaries. Both of us have gained deeply moving inspiration through praying Rosaries. We've discovered a knowledge and a closeness with Christ that I don't think is quite possible with any other method of prayer.

So if it's so great, why do we find ourselves unable to glean anything from it every once in a while?

Because simply saying the words of the rosary prayers isn't enough: a rosary consists of reciting prayers, counting along on beads, and meditating on "mysteries", or specific moments of the Gospel in order to understand better the mind of Christ. Sometimes our daily burdens, our state of mind, or some other distraction thrown up in our faces makes the meditations impossible. It's during times like these, when we can't let ourselves go, that we get nothing out of a rosary.

There are a few things that I have found helpful during these times in my life:

* Try another devotion. Nicole started a Novena to the Little Flower. (a "novena" is nine consecutive time periods of the same prayer). I go with the 30-day St. Joseph's Prayer, or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. Focusing on another devotion alleviates the frustration of not being able to focus, and keeps us in a routine of daily prayer.

* Study Scripture. Particular focus on Scripture that corresponds with each mystery of the Rosary freshen them in our minds. The more intensely we study Scripture, the more easily we will persevere in our rosaries when we resume them.

* Find someone to pray it with you. Hearing someone praying aloud along with you helps to block out distractions and keep you focused. Plus, "wherever two or three are gathered in My name..."

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Truth In Love

"If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal." I Cor 13:1

"Because it is filled with truth, charity can be understood in the abundance of its values, it can be shared and communicated. Truth, in fact, is lógos which creates diá-logos, and hence communication and communion." Statements such as this from Benedict XVI's third encyclical letter, Caritas In Veritate, really get me thinking.

Truth, in fact, is lógos. Lógos is greek for thought or word. Don't our thoughts and words reflect what we hold true? At least they should, just like our actions--indelibly linked to the truth--reflect our thoughts and our words. Caritas, Latin for charity or love, is our action. As we continue to strive toward living in grace, we express with our lives the truth to which we hold.

I wish I could express how many times over the last month I've been in that unfortunate position of having to stand up for truth. As I continue to grow in my faith, I realize more and more just how hard it is to REALLY love. I know that loving someone doesn't necessarily mean sparing feelings, or catering to whims, or doing things to make others "happy". This is the unpleasant side of love. Love isn't just about doing "good" things; is also about doing the hard things.

Just look at our Lord. Talk about doing the hard things.

What a comfort to know that when we're doing those hard acts of love, when we're standing up for the truth, we're not standing alone. We're entering into the ultimate Truth through whom and from whom a powerful Love flows; a love far beyond our ability to even comprehend.

* * *

The following video contains a beautiful meditation by Fr. Larry Richards delivered at the 2005 Steubenville Youth Conference. I invite you to watch this clip when you have about 10 minutes of quiet time. I found it better with my eyes closed. You may too.

As you listen, allow it to lead you into a dialogue with the Lord. Can you hear his voice?

Monday, July 6, 2009


She told him no. She told him it was a sin. She told him she'd rather die than submit to him. It was July 5, 1902 when Maria Goretti, sewing alone, was approached and threatened by Alessandro Serenelli. When he failed, he first choked her, and then stabbed her 14 times. She died the next day. Maria was an 11-year-old girl.

Maria Goretti was chaste to the very end of her life. She was declared a martyr because she died for her faith in Christ--that following Christ meant not sinning, and that death is preferable to letting someone use her body.

Chastity isn't just "practicing abstinence". Let me back up for a second. One of the errors of modern thought (which isn't so modern, considering the number of virgin martyrs besides Maria Goretti venerated by the Chruch over the last two millennia) is that we should be free to use our bodies to satisfy our drives and desires. Such a terrible misuse of our bodies has led to a vast array of social ills throughout history (a discussion far too off this topic to get into right now); but society at large isn't the only victim.

Such a view of the human body also creates a great chasm within the self. The body is not supposed to be at the service of the will; it's at the service of God: "In the divine image he created them." Gn 1:27 It's the human will which is out of synch, and usurps the body for its own. I believe that on a very simple level, Maria Goretti understood this. Living a chaste life means understanding that our bodies are created for God's purpose. As such, we should have the highest respect for our own bodies.

"Young people, look at Maria Goretti, don’t be tempted by the tempting atmosphere of our permissive society, which declares, everything is possible. Look to Maria Goretti, love, live, defend your chastity." (Pope John Paul II, September 1, 1979) It's good advice for adults, too.

To really understand the human body and it's place in our faith, read The Theology of the Body by Pope John Paul II.

Saturday, July 4, 2009


"A man's country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle and patriotism is loyalty to that principle." George William Curtis, prolific writer of the 19th Century and president of the National Civil Service Reform League under President Grant, was absolutely right.

America is about an ideal: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Now that's what freedom is all about. What a great gift to live in a nation where everyone is as entitled to getting a life as I am. I've always believed that our founding fathers were way ahead of their time. As I was mixing the dry rub for the ribs that we're going to throw on the grill later, I wondered if they were even ahead of our time, if not ahead of all time.

I wondered this because the ideal is far from reality. Sure, it may be reality for some, but for so many Americans, the "American Dream" is out of reach, and appears to be slipping further and further away.

How can this be happening?

Our founding fathers recognized that nothing worth having comes easily. That's why they fought for their independence from England. They weren't just acting out of greed and power-mongering. There were fundamental beliefs growing very clear to these men who lived and worked for a power-hungry nation across the Atlantic---a nation who regarded these men as nothing more property to be exploited.

Fast forward. Present day. There is still inequality, injustice, poverty, infighting, exploitation, slavery, abuse, and a myriad of ills infecting our nation today. Some Americans--far too many for my taste--even suggest that our ideal has run its course, that it doesn't work, if it ever worked at all. Some Americans even suggest that we continue to relinquish our God-given liberty in exchange for that happiness we no longer have.

Perhaps the problem isn't the ideal itself; perhaps the problem is that we don't really understand what the ideal really is.

There are two elements at play in this ideal.

...that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights. ALL MEN. I remember learning long ago that my rights end where another's rights begin. When any person, group or organization--and this especially includes our elected officials--infringe upon these rights, they are contradicting the ideal upon which this nation was founded.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. The Pursuit of Happiness. THE PURSUIT. We have a right to life, a right to freedom, and a right to pursue those things that will make our lives what we want them to be. We don't, on the other hand, have the right to that end result.

When these two elements are combined, it becomes clear that American citizens are expected to automatically hold themselves to a higher standard. Also, in case you missed it, woven into our national ideal is GOD. Those who fear God understand this ideal at its very core: I have the right to the freedom to live righteously, and I must give my neighbor the freedom to do the same. Our national ideal is a call to live a life of virtue, and that within living that life of virtue we attain the happiness, which we have the God-given right to pursue. THAT'S the real "American Dream".

I already stated that our founding fathers penned an ideal that might be too lofty for humanity to achieve; but does that mean that we never try to attain it? Its the whole point of dreaming.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Crossing The Bridge

They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, hoping to achieve a different result.

I think I was coming home from shopping when I first moved in with my husband. I pulled into the driveway, heading for what would become my "usual spot", right in front of the garage. Now, our driveway needs some work, to say the least. Between the remnants of blacktop and a few odd patch jobs here and there, I thought my tire was caught in a low spot when my car stopped suddenly. I didn't appear to be close enough to the garage, so I backed up and went forward again. I stopped suddenly again. Determined to get over that hole or hump or chunk of driveway that I just assumed was in my way, I backed up and went forward once again.

The whole time, my husband, who was cutting the grass, began shouting from the yard, "HEY! HEY! HEY! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? STOP!! STO-O-O-O-O-P!!!!" It wasn't a hole in the driveway preventing me from moving forward. It was the garage door.

Eddie Ray must've thought he married a total nut job. Talk about misjudging! I not only misjudged what was preventing me from moving forward, I also misjudged the front end of my car (a car I've been driving for several years) and where I was supposed to be in our driveway. What makes this episode my husband's favorite among my many "DUH" moments is that I appeared to be so determined to drive that car right through our garage door. "You just kept backing up and going for it!"

Don't we do this sort of thing all the time? We hit a roadblock. We stop. We back up. We we try again, hitting what we think is another roadblock over and over---never considering that we just might be misjudging the situation.

My father gave me some words of wisdom many years ago: "Whenever you think you understand what you're looking at, take a giant step back and look at the bigger picture. It sure don't look the same on a larger scale, does it?" In other words, don't just assume that you're looking at something in its proper perspective. Had I gotten out of the car and taken a look at what I was doing from just one step away, instead of continuing to do the same dumb thing over and over, I would have seen what I was doing wrong.

As I reflect on this incident, I am reminded of a document I came across a few months ago titled "The Second Bridge", written by James H. Dobbins back in 1996 (click here to read the entire article). Dobbins presents our spiritual life in three stages, beginning with what he describes as climbing a ladder to the first level of our understanding of God. The ladder leads from what he calls a great plain of souls to a first plateau, where we experience all of the initial fruits of that relationship with God. Upon reaching that first of three plateaus in our spiritual walk, "we have passed from indifference toward God, lukewarmness towards Him, to a growing fervor and desire to possess Him as fully as possible. We are tending to go beyond ourselves, and to make God the center of our lives instead of ourselves."

As we reach that second gate to the next level, or the first bridge as Dobbins calls it, some of us can't figure out how to cross the bridge, let alone make it through the gate (just like I couldn't figure out how to park my car in my own driveway). We just can't see that we're going about it all wrong. This is what Dobbins refers to as the second conversion. He tells us, "the need for this second conversion often comes as a surprise for us, usually because we do not know ourselves as well as we think."

Here's where stepping back and getting a better look at the bigger picture comes into play. When we do finally take a good look at ourselves from a distance, we can see exactly what it is that's preventing us from crossing that first bridge. Sometimes, though, we can't do it ourselves. There are times that the Lord blesses us with a person on that next plateau who can see where we're going wrong--kind of like my husband yelling at me from his much better view to stop before I took out the garage door.

Those on that next plateau after having crossed the second bridge can see those struggling on the first plateau so clearly: "[they] see their lay brethren still enamored with the latest car, or fashion, or vacation spot, or technology, or any of the hundred other things that seem so very important...devoting enormous amounts of time and money to all sorts of things having no spiritual value whatever." But if we aren't willing to stop and get a good look at ourselves, we'll be destined to wander around that first plateau, utterly stuck: "These people of God never seem to understand why they are still beginners in spirituality."

If only they would get out of the car and look at what they're doing.
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