Draw me after you...

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Draw me after you...

I was baptized as an infant, had an early childhood of religious indifference, and after a short flirtation with threatening God I'd become a satanist, I gave my life to the Lord at age 10. I was once an anti-Catholic Protestant, and currently I am becoming a lay member of the Carmelites, an ancient order of the Catholic church, devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary and dedicated to prayer and the mystical life. How does that happen, you ask? By the grace and mercy of God, I've had to learn to recognize the difference between my sin and God's holiness, and to seek Him alone. 

First, let me summarize for you how I see the core of what God is teaching me today. Then let me try to trace out for you some of how I arrived at this conviction. 

I firmly believe that the Christian life means living a continual state of conversion unto Jesus Christ, after we have accepted the salvation He won for us, until we reach perfect union with God. This work of conversion is a work entirely of grace, entirely a gift, but it is a grace and a gift with which a soul can and must cooperate. We have to say yes to God and do what is ours to do. This perfect union with God is something that we can and should enter into during this lifetime, but not all the saved do. We enter into it by a gift of God I'll call purgation. Scripture tells us that nothing impure can enter heaven (Rev. 21:27) and that our works will be tried by fire to remove what is worthless (1 Cor.  3:15). But we can't control or command our own purgation; God has to do it. We can either let Him do it as He wills in the course of our earthly lives, or we will have to experience it after this life is done and before we enter heaven. People call that purgatory. Everything I want is summed up in seeing the face of Jesus in heaven. Everything I hope for on earth has to do with living out the fruits of purgation and the holiness God works in me. Nothing is worth anything in comparison with the glory of being united, with all the holy ones, with the Blessed Trinity for all eternity. And the quest for eternal glory has already begun now. So Lord, whatever it takes, with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength, I give you my yes.

Now, every church I have belonged to has been somewhere on the scale from diametrically opposed to what I just wrote, to uncomfortable and uncertain about how to teach it and train believers in living it. And I've been right there in the midst with them.

My grandmother's Lutheran hymnal and my catechism. 

My grandmother's Lutheran hymnal and my catechism. 

My first religious formation, after first giving my life to the Lord as a child, was in an ultra-conservative Lutheran setting. Here I learned to honor the Bible as the Word of God, to read and to memorize it. While I did this, though, I had a lot of sin in my life. I've always been an interior-oriented person, so these sins were the seething sort, like hatred, bitterness, pride, arrogance, judgment, grudges, and the like. The Lutheran teaching on sin did not help me repent or be cleansed of these sins. The emphasis was that all we do is like filthy rags, but that the Father imputes Jesus' righteousness to us. Sin was all handled in the eternal perspective and we simply lived with our inevitable corruption while in heaven God had a clean tally sheet with our name on it, our bill paid by Jesus. And I went on hating, being bitter, and so on. Occasionally in those days, Bible verses such as 1 Jn. 4:20 ("Whoever claims to love God but hates his brother is a liar") jumped out and startled me. But the conflicting theology left me more confused than convicted.

One summer during college, I met Christians who witnessed to me that the Holy Spirit could personally enter my life and empower me with Himself. They called this being baptized in the Holy Spirit. Once I cautiously read through all of the Scriptures and decided that they had the Bible on their side, for the first time I had to face down this entirely passive notion I had that God did everything for me. When I was convinced from Scripture that God would baptize me in the Holy Spirit, I simply got depressed that apparently He hadn't. I figured it must mean He didn't love me or I wasn't important enough. I sadly moaned prayers in the self-pitying and despairing style that was common to me. Then, a revolutionary thought came to mind: Ask Him. Maybe you don't have because you don't ask. I had to make an elaborate ritual of it that included meticulously finishing all of my schoolwork, buying a book and setting aside an entire evening to read it, but I accomplished all that within 8 hours of this revolutionary thought that I could ask God, and I asked. And when I asked, BAM, the floodgates opened, and I had a powerful encounter with the Holy Spirit. 

My Bible and a worship song from the time I  I was baptized in the Holy Spirit.

My Bible and a worship song from the time I I was baptized in the Holy Spirit.

Immediately I sought out a new church to be among people who could help me understand what happened to me. The primary grace I experienced here was the release of years and years of hurt and sin during praise and worship. I learned to open my heart to God in the midst of other people, and I also began to be aware that God would speak to my heart. Gradually I learned to recognize the difference between His leading and my own confusion. This was something I could not do when I was isolated.

While still in a Lutheran college and attending that charismatic fellowship, God planted a seed that has had far-reaching effect. I had to write a paper for a very difficult class that was to count for 50% of my grade, and I had no idea what to do. The class was on Medieval and Renaissance philosophy. One day I paced the library stacks and begged God for some insight as to a topic. He answered with one word: "mysticism." I responded happily, "Ok, Lord! But, what is that?"

I researched St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Bernard of Clairvaux, Hugh of St. Victor, the Cloud of Unknowing, and others. I was captivated. Yes, I was a bit put off that these were Catholic authors because everything I'd ever learned about Catholicism concerned how it was wrong.  But these people... they wrote from an experience of loving God that left me with a pounding heart and breathless. At one point I just dropped my book on the library table and told the Lord, "If there is anyone left on the face of the earth who knows you and loves you like these people did, Lord, that is who I want to be with."

A few years later, the memory of that day in the library was the only thing that kept me from losing it as I talked with a friend I had deeply respected who had shocked me by becoming Catholic. I later had to face lots of ugly judgments, pride, and arrogance as I finally admitted to myself I had never once in my life read anything about Catholic doctrine written by a Catholic. My friend told me, yes, there are indeed people who love God like St. Teresa of Avila. They are called Carmelites. He gave me a little book about how to pray like a Carmelite. And I was amazed all over again.

I became a Catholic in 1993 in order to enter the world of mystics and saints, and I found the world of bingo, indifference, and sometimes outright scandal. Jesus had called me, though. The first time I had gone to Mass to actually be open to Him, He stunned me, shocked me, overwhelmed me, by revealing His presence to me in the Holy Eucharist. I knew I could not walk away from the Catholic Church without walking away from Jesus. He also spoke to me the promise that He is the Resurrection and the Life, and that all who believe in Him, though they die, yet shall they live. I wanted mystics and saints, but felt nothing but death in me and around me. But Jesus promised me life.

In the last two decades I've known purgations both slow and steady, and sharp and painful. God has also blessed me beyond belief with joy and the utter certainty of His love for me, and I've always seen Him provide everything I need, especially when I hardly realized what I needed. Together we have broken open and laid flat my hard crust of a heart, and He has indeed given me a heart of flesh.

My Carmelite scapular. 

My Carmelite scapular. 

It takes six years to become a Carmelite secular, and I have three years remaining in my initial formation. Part of the mission of a secular Carmelite is to teach God's people the wisdom of the saints I've mentioned, to help ourselves and others to grow in holiness and unto union with Christ. Every day I renew to God my desire to become His instrument, that He may teach His people holiness both through our words and hidden prayer. What other response can I have but to give all that I am to Him who has given me everything? 

Marie Hosdil blogs at Naru Hordo and this blog post first appeared there. 

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A Prayer for God's Lovers

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A Prayer for God's Lovers

When I was at hard at work one day, thinking on the spiritual work needful for God’s servants, four such spiritual works came to my mind, these being: reading; meditation; prayer; contemplation. This is the ladder for those in cloisters , and for others in the world who are God’s Lovers, by means of which they can climb from earth to heaven. It is a marvellously tall ladder, but with just four rungs, the one end standing on the ground, the other thrilling into the clouds and showing the climber heavenly secrets. (...)
— Guigo II, On Lectio Divina

Contrary to the quite popular belief, throughout history Catholics were never forbidden to read the Scriptures, and the last century provided enormous resources for biblical reading and study. While understanding and exegesis are very important, what people sometimes call "devotional reading of the Bible" doesn't really hit their heart with a full force, as it often stays on the level of 'inspirational' but doesn't elevate to encountering God. We do have a great heritage in that area, since from the very beginning the Church Fathers, Desert Fathers and monastic tradition were deeply immersed in praying the Bible, often daily, or several times a day, until the Word was alive and its fruits would spring from the hearts of its readers.

One of the forms of eating the scroll was Lectio Divina, first described by Guigo II, the Carthusian monk, who surely learned it from his predecessors. His simple idea is what is missing in many people's practice of reading and praying the Bible, since the main point of why God has left us His Word is to make it alive again through engaging our whole beings in its letters. Guigo, knowing how simple measures stick to memory, described the Divine Reading in four steps: Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, and Contemplatio, which is Reading, Meditation, Prayer, and Contemplation, providing a sure way of going from the external to internal, from reading for knowledge and information to receiving God's Word charged with His actual presence into our lives and making our hearts gardens ready for all seasons of life. 

When the practice of Lectio Divina in a communal setting is done for years, the results are enormous. Among these are: ongoing personal conversion, increased awareness of the fear of God and His love, real bonding in the Spirit, and breakthroughs in every aspect of life (not to be confused with annihilating suffering). I was on IHOP-KC staff, on and off, for six years. One of the aspects of why I was drawn to move and stay at the Mission's Base was its principal similarity to the "HalleluJah" Catholic Community that I founded with several friends in my early 20's in Poland: frequent and deep individual and communal prayer, from which authentic conversion and all ministry flowed. Since then, wherever I visit any Christian community, my first question is always about their history and current personal and communal prayer life, as this is the measurement of a Christian foundation. 

In our early days, our small leadership team of my Polish community decided that prayer would always be the foundation and non-negotiable core at the base of all we did. We prayed daily at 6 a.m. for years, in the midst of our family, work, and school responsibilities. We also had one evening prayer meeting a week, retreats, Masses, services, weekly small groups, very frequent leadership meetings, street and parish evangelization, ministry to the poor, weekly all night prayer meetings, etc. with not even one paid staff for a long time, and almost zero donations. What was keeping us going was our passion for Jesus and everything that flowed from that relationship with Him. Intense love required intense response. Intense needs required intense dedication. Our hearts would not be able to burn without that sacred place that we cherished from the very beginning: prayer. All discernment came through prayer and fasting, until we agreed on where to stand. It was a unique place of true communion (koinonia - unity of hearts) which I had not seen since leaving to become a missionary to Russia, working with different non-Catholic groups for years. After seeing IHOP-KC's prayer room, I recognized the same principles, at least in the approach to prayer and allowing God to woo human hearts to the place where He dwells and where peace and harmony strip off all fear and resentment, boredom and hurt.

One of the aspects that felt familiar was the structure of prayers and how they were conducted.  A prayer leader and a worship leader alternately led the congregation into the presence of God. This was the exact way we developed our prayer meetings years before: praying the Bible combined with singing prayers. It was, in reality, Lectio Divina at its best. 

The  Lectio Divina Ladder  I used for teaching 9-12 year old. 

The Lectio Divina Ladder I used for teaching 9-12 year old. 

From my personal experience, teaching Lectio Divina is not obscure any longer and more and more people are familiar with the structure and the approach. However, I would suggest that there is a big different between knowing how to do the steps and fruitfully experiencing Lectio Divina as prayer. The aim for Lectio Divina is having contact, one on one time, with God. Contemplation is the peak we are climbing, and the whole process should lead there, beyond the human, to touch the Divine. After all, it's Divine Reading, not Human Reading. 

I've seen that often Lectio Divina will not progress past the slow reading of and meditation on the passage. And in group practice, meditation is exchanged for a mini-exegesis, preaching, or reflection. Some told me that if they go beyond that point and try to pray the Scriptural passage or phrase, and include their meditative fruits, they will end mostly in vocal or mental petitioning, because the prayers of adoration, blessing, or intercession are like climbing the Himalayas for us. In winter. When we come to the contemplative part, people stay cautious so as to not accidentally practice any kind of Buddhist or centering prayer or transcendental meditation techniques, because they have little idea of what contemplation means. If one mentions St. Teresa of Avila's prayer of quiet or infused recollection, they would have not the faintest hint of what those things mean. Yes, we can not systemize meetings with God but we can train our spirit to deal with distractions, to become more attentive, to conquer our disordered passions, to enter into the stillness where God's voice resounds, to learn how to say FIAT in the midst of crisis or uncertainty - and Lectio Divina is a way to enter into this realm of dialoguing with God who offers Himself all the time and is always ready to encounter us. 

... seek through reading, and you will find holy meditation in your thinking; and knock through praying, and the doors shall be opened to you to enter through heavenly contemplation to feel what you desire. Reading puts as it were whole food into your mouth; meditation chews it and breaks it down; prayer finds its savour; contemplation is the sweetness that so delights and strengthens.

Reading is like the bark, the shell; meditation like the pith, the nut; prayer is in the desiring asking; and contemplation is in the delight of the great sweetness. Reading is the first ground that that precedes and leads one into meditation; meditation seeks busily, and also with deep thought digs and delves deeply to find that treasure; and because it cannot be attained by itself alone, then he sends us into prayer that is mighty and strong.
— Guigo II, On Lectio Divina

If you've visited IHOP-KC's Prayer Room or if you've had a chance to watch the 24/7 streaming, you will recognize that some two hour prayer sets are concentrating more on intercession and some are called Worship With the Word. The second one seems almost a direct and modern version of Lectio Divina done right, a way that will revolutionize one's prayer life.  Here is what Guigo says about Lectio Divina and what you will find in the Worship With the Word sets: 

Reading, Lesson, is busily looking on Holy Scripture with all one’s will and wit. Meditation is a studious insearching with the mind to know what was before concealed through desiring proper skill. Prayer is a devout desiring of the heart to get what is good and avoid what is evil. Contemplation is the lifting up of the heart to God tasting somewhat of the heavenly sweetness and savour. Reading seeks, meditation finds, prayer asks, contemplation feels. (...)
— Guigo II, On Lectio Divina

If you watch any of these kinds of sets, you will recognize a certain pattern where the worship team has a time of entering into God's presence (all sing known songs), followed by introducing a Scripture passage (read out loud by a prayer leader), and singers picking up a certain phrase and singing spontaneously around that phrase for a while, until it sinks deeper. After few minutes, you will hear one of the singers creating a spontaneous chorus that the whole congregation can repeat together several times as a response to the Scripture read and then a time of communal contemplative moments happen: all sing, or instruments play, or someone brings forth an encouraging word in a song and then the cycle of reading starts anew, progressing through the given passage of the text. At the base of this kind of prayer is a desire to engage with the Word that is alive and offering our human fragility into the process: we prepare, educate ourselves and dive deep into the Word and then respond spontaneously whenever He moves within us. There is no pressure or hype in trying to create a spontaneous reaction, there is only waiting for Gods grace to stir the Word in our midst. Here's a visual help:

And so prayer rises to God, and there one finds the treasure one so fervently desires, that is the sweetness and delight of contemplation. And then contemplation comes and yields the harvest of the labour of the other three through a sweet heavenly dew, that the soul drinks in delight and joy.
— Guigo II, On Lectio Divina

If you are planning to come to the Onething2015 Catholic Ecumenical Track this Dec. 28 -31, you will be able to sing Lectio Divina and pray as a God's Lover in the Prayer Room which will be opened from 6am till midnight daily, parallel with the conference's events. 


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#lovewins - Lesser known facts about Rajmund Kolbe

 
It may be that this is the last day of your life.
Live it as if it were, indeed, the last day.
Tomorrow is uncertain, yesterday is no longer yours. Only the present belongs to you.
Every action you perform will remain forever.
— Maximilian Kolbe, age 24, few days before his ordination
 

Rajmund Kolbe had a vision of Mary at the age of 12 – she brought him two crowns, white-symbolizing purity and red-symbolizing martyrdom. He had voluntarily offered his life for an unknown man, Franciszek Gajowniczek, and died as the last convict in the hunger bunker. This is what most people know. But there are many other aspects of Kolbe's life that are not known. Here are some of them:

Rajmund's family was very patriotic family (Poland was under partitions for over 100 years when the boys were small) and talked a lot about Polish history. Brothers liked to run around and paint Polish eagles on fences as a sign of protest and desire for freedom. Patriotic feelings were running deep. 

Marianna Kolbe

His parents, who were educated only in elementary schools, belonged to the third order Franciscans, they home schooled during early years, helped the poor (not being well of themselves) and sick. Looking for jobs, they ended up in a big industrial city of Łódź, but soon after decided that because of the kids they need to move to the little village nearby. They ran a small store and gave away so may things to the poor that they lost the business; because of the political unrest they had to downsize their living quarters to a small one-room apartment and changed locations often. They both worked 12 hours daily, starting with 5:00am Mass, prayed together as a family, and taught their kids that only the following order of life is meaningful: work, study, and play only if you have time. They belonged to a rosary group and every Sunday attended Eucharistic adoration, which they themselves organized.

 
Before all else, prayer. Some Catholics, less well instructed in the task of perfecting souls, often seem to do the opposite. Work, action... according to them this is the fulcrum of apostolic action. But such is not the case.
Prayer, prayer especially, is the effective weapon to use in the struggle for the liberation and happiness of souls. Why?
Because only supernatural means can lead to a supernatural end.
— Fr. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, 30 year old
 

The boys were responsible for keeping the apartment clean, they cooked and brought food for their parents twice a day to the factory where they worked, made dinners daily and walked with their parents from the factory to spend time with them in the evening. Marianna helped as a doula after her factory work, and studied in the evenings to become better at helping poor women without medical help. Juliusz supported the local parochial library, made book covers and wrote articles for a local newspaper. He evangelized everyone around, trying to convert even a local Evangelical pastor, and Marianna, feeling inadequate to raise boys, constantly called upon Mary’s help. Her conversations had only one focus: God. She was very firm and expected nothing but the best from the boys. After having five sons (two of them died early on), Juliusz and Marianna decided to live in chastity.

 
You must be prepared for periods of darkness, anxiety, doubts, fears, of temptations that are sometimes very, very insistent, of sufferings of the body and, what is a hundredfold more painful, of the soul. For if there were nothing to bear, for what would you go to heaven? If there were no trials, there would be no struggle. Without a struggle, victory would be impossible, and without victory, there is no crown, no reward (1 Cor 9:25). So be prepared from now on for everything.
There is nothing to shrink from, however, for we can and must be victorious.
— Fr. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, 33 years old, on the occasion of the investiture of new brothers
 
maks i brat.jpg

At the age of 13, together with his brother, Maximilian sneaked through the Austrian/Russian border (Poland did not exist as a country for 124 years; Polish territories was under Russian, Austrian and Prussian partitions) and they joined a minor Franciscan seminary in Lwów. Their youngest brother, Joseph, joined them three years later. After a few years in seminary, they both decided that their service to God and their beloved suffering nation of Poland would make more sense if they join the underground Polish army which would free Poland from its occupants.

A surprising visit of their mother changed their plans. After her arrival she announced that she and their father decided to consecrate themselves to the service of God by joining different monasteries. Marianna decided to move and live in the house of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Felix and Juliusz wanted to help Franciscan monasteries.  In Marianna’s words: “I loved my sons and husband more than my life, but not more than God.” She survived all of her sons and husband, and died in 1946.

Rajmund became novice at 16, at 19 received in a degree in theology, at 21 received doctorate in philosophy from the Jesuit Gregorianum in Rome, at the age 24 became a priest, and at age 25 became a professor.

 
We can build many churches.
But if we will have no media of our own,
they will be empty.
— St. Maximilian Maria Kolbe
 

He was called "Crazy Max" , because he was always working on new ideas. At 21 (in 1912) he presented his patent for a spaceship called Etereoplan, he also prepared a plan for defending the Polish city Lwów in the East, and built a radio broadcasting station. 

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Despite tuberculosis, which he suffered for all his life, his entrepreneurial spirit for God had no boundaries, and he always used cutting edge technology to reach people. In 1939 the City of Immaculata had 13 priest, 18 seminarians in novitiate, 527 professed friars, 82 candidates for friars and 122 boys in minor seminary. Yearly about 1,800 boys and men wanted to enter Niepokalanów, but Fr. Kolbe would receive only 100, personally. During WWII, Fr. Kolbe received over 1,500 Jews and helped them.  "The Knight of the Immaculate" had been published in 221,000 copies, daily magazine reached 137,000, Sunday's magazine 225,000 and Missionary Bulletin 440,000. 

From His journal, a glimpse into St. Maximilian's personal Spiritual Life as a Young Man ("The Kolbe Reader" The Writings of St. Maximilian Kolbe; Commentator: Fr. Anselm W. Romb, OFM Conv.), here is an excerpt from his notes after a retreat in April 21-27, 1918, a strategy of how to do priestly ministry, written a day before he became a priest:

Follow very faithfully the timetable of each day, and you will be safe. 

This very day begin to serve God. It may be that this is the last day of your life. Live it as if it were, indeed, the last day. Tomorrow is uncertain, yesterday is no longer yours. Only the present belongs to you.
There is an ear which hears all, an eye that scrutinizes all the most secret movements of the heart, a hand which takes note of all. 
Not being punished is the most terrible chastisement of all. 
Every action you perform will remain forever. 
Silence. 
Make up by fervor for the time you have lost. 
Be a man, a Christian, a religious. 
Be a man: 
Don’t blush for your convictions. Do unto others what you would wish them to do to you. 
Have a sense of duty, fulfill it well, without being concerned whether anyone is watching you. Act instead with a noble ambition. 
Every action you do is noted down. Nothing will fail to be either rewarded or punished. 
You might die this very day!
Be recollected: whoever pours himself out on exterior things quickly loses the graces he has acquired. A full jewel box is always kept closed.

(this is not even half, get the book to read them all). 

 
We do not intend to attempt any industrial ventures, because that would not be in keeping with our monastic spirit in general, and especially the spirit of our Franciscan Order, which since its origin is founded on poverty and trust in divine providence.
The only aim of our work, including the publishing of the periodical, is to spread the cult of the Immaculate Virgin Mary, which in our estimation is an effective remedy, for the contagion of immorality, which today is spreading to a terrifying degree in both private and public life. Neither profit nor profit yielding enterprise ever was or will be our goal.
(...) We don’t even demand this low price at all times (for the “Knight of the Immaculate”). Because we would like to be of service to everyone, we send the magazine to everyone who wants it, regardless of whether they are able to pay or nt. To make up the deficit we accept voluntary donations. We ourselves live in wooden barracks, depend on alms for our livelihood and deny ourselves even the most primitive comforts. (...) We do not hire any laymen to do any part of the work, because we cannot afford it, nor do we accept any orders from outside, because we do not intend to run a printer’s establishment requiring a legal permit and having legal rights.
— Fr. Maximilian Maria Kolbe, Letter to the Governor of the Warsaw Province
 

"The Last Letter of Kolbe to His Mother" composed by Paweł Łukaszewski: lukaszewski.org.uk

The last letter of Fr. Kolbe to Him mother, May 28, 1941:

My dearest Mom,

Towards the end of the month of May I reached the concentration camp of Auschwitz (Oświęcim) by rail convoy. Everything is going well with me. Beloved Mom, don't worry about me or about my health, because the good God is everywhere, and with immense love he thinks about all of us and about everything. It would be best not to write to me until I send you another letter. I don't know how long I shall remain here. 

With heartfelt greetings and a kiss. 

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Gentle L'Apotre

When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me.
— Jeremiah 29:13

"L'Apotre" (Apostle) is a French film by Cheyenne Carron telling a story of a French Muslim coming from a practicing Muslim family being drawn by the love of Christ and eventually converting to Christianity. Viewing of this movie was prohibited in France in fear of social repercussions. It was shown in the Vatican during Mirabile Dictu International Catholic Film Festival in 2014 as one of the three movies in the category of Best Films. Carron won the award as a film with high value of evangelization and rightly because finally I can say that this is a move in the right direction if we consider the idea of the new evangelization in the film department. The film has the feel of a documentary, with lyrical stops accompanied by driving music, to underline the concept of internal turmoil, invisible waves of grace. Family scenes are very realistic, dismantled of staged rehearsals. 

Despite a low budget and Carron's fight for making this project come to fruition, it comes out as true, poignant and successful, not preachy (finally) and a personal depiction of the inner journey.

Watch it on VUDU.  

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homo viator - becoming real

But to love another as a person we must begin by granting him his own autonomy and identity as a person. We have to love him for what he is in himself, and not for what he is to us. We have to love him for his own good, not for the good we get out of him. And this is impossible unless we are capable of a love which ‘transforms’ us, so to speak, into the other person, making us able to see things as he sees them, love what he loves, experience the deeper realities of his own life as if they were our own. Without sacrifice, such a transformation is utterly impossible. But unless we are capable of this kind of transformation ‘into the other’ while remaining ourselves, we are not yet capable of a fully human existence.
— Thomas Merton

The roads we walked for almost 60 miles were definitely not flat, the tempo of walking was faster than my wimpy body could take, and the heat and humidity were killing every bit of joy I had tried to pre-imagine. On top of that the Polish yellers (staff who constantly tell you that you have to keep up, stay to the right, and fill the gaps) were driving me nuts and behaved like Soviet trainers of an Olympic team making us feel like we are going to a war, not for a spiritually rejuvenating exercise taken as voluntary penance. I just wanted to tell them: Chill. In a stoic and virtuous manner, of course. 

Very shortly, after you start walking, literally after the first hour or so, you realize that everyone has to suck it up more than they expected, stop explaining themselves, start to go with the flow and forget your premeditated idea that you will have such deep conversations with fellow pilgrims, because a lot of times you will just try to breathe so you don't faint. Within the next few hours you realize that a bottle of water is enough for a shower, that one sandwich with butter and ham is better than Fogo De Chao on any super special day, that people in your tent now know what ticks you off on a daily basis, and that, generally, people are screwed up but immensely interesting and good indeed. Sooner or later, all realize that all is chaff and we are pilgrims. The tempo of this revelation is as speedy as the tempo of being exhausted after climbing hills for 30 minutes or so. 

Homo viator is a concept of a pilgrim man. Plenty of literature (starting with Odyssey) and movies (the so called movies of the road) exist to illuminate the idea of progressive, redemptive, and surely adventurous journeys where the reached goal makes only sense because of the trip taken. The themes of heroic overcomings and becomings are perpetually served all around us in order to cheer us up or to awaken us from our comfortable slumber but the actual physical undertaking of walking with other unknown human beings for four days rip out all of the sentimentalism and take you from the imaginary lands of mists and dragons to the hot asphalted boring surfaces surrounded with landscapes infested with poison ivy and monstrous cicadas where sweat and short tempers as well as kindness and survival mode meet frequently, giving you that eschatological hope for the next stop where you drop your theologically understood body, take your shoes off, cut your blisters with a surgical knife, send someone to take a photo of whoever is around you and post the update on Facebook with the #humansofthepilgrimage, hoping that people will not de-friend you just because they are upset that you are trying to be holier than they are by posting uber-penitential reminders while they go on their 'Cruises for Jesus' or swimming with dolphins (this sentence was too long but I can't help it). 

 
Authenticity is reality without sham.
Authenticity coincides with sanctity.
— Fr. Dubay
 

The existential immediate needs during the walking pilgrimage make you a simpler human being, and sooner (for those 40+) or later (for those under 30) you will have to fight to constrain yourself (if you are already a saint) or make a choice of laying it all down, leaving yourself bare and unaided, mainly authentic (Gr. authentikos - primary, original), which scares the heck out of many, especially people already established, with reputations or high positions, and afraid that their coping mechanisms, if they developed any, might be discovered. And once you cause a havoc for no reason other then you've had enough, you really wonder if others will still take you in, after seeing the huge, obnoxious, ugly, painful, repulsive, and boring you. Will they stay or will they move on to seek the new and edgy, interesting and captivating, shiny and mechanical. Will they be shocked and whisper behind you, or calmly look at your idiotic miscalculated reaction as a normal part of your becoming, knowing that Real can't be ugly

Real isn’t how you are made,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.’

’Does it hurt?’ asked the Rabbit.

’Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’

’Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,’ he asked, ‘or bit by bit?’

’It doesn’t happen all at once,’ said the Skin Horse. ‘You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.
— Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit

Once you come close to the field of the real you, and there is no place to escape to your own opinionated, cushioned, individualized, and custom-made image that you have worked so hard on, you know that this is the communal moment. Ignoring your authentic and not yet holy you will not be enough, tolerating it will not be enough, accepting it will not be enough, only mad, boundless love poured out in various forms, will do. And that's what you cry out for anyway, so at the end of the day you can sit (while walking) offended and pout playing out a victim of other people's rudeness and insensitivity or you can deal with it. And that opens up rooms in your callous self that you hoped to forget about. Icebergs are being flipped upside down and the unknown is surfacing and melting in the merciless August sun.  

To put oneself in a state of vulnerability is risky but necessary if we want to live in a community as the first Christians did. A walking pilgrimage is a perfect test of our readiness. 

People know they have limits but that others accept them anyway. There are no masks; nobody’s pretending to be better than the others’; nobody wants more recognition than the others; nobody is pretending to be other than they are. They are themselves with their poverty and their riches that God has given them. They love each other.

When a person realizes that he or she can’t keep his or her barriers because he or she is in a group where there are no barriers, then his or her barriers drop quickly. If people have no barriers in their being but are open with their limits and their poverty, then others begin doing the same thing and people become themselves. They don’t have to pretend to be. They can just be.

Then comes the discovery that the community is not just a group of people living, working, and learning together, but that here you are my brother or sister in Jesus. Whatever happens to you concerns me. We are precious to each other.
— Jean Vanier

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