“I’d like you to begin the retreat by praying with Psalm 139,” said Edmund, the young Jesuit who was my spiritual director for the eight days I spent alone with God.
My room at Carmel Hill Formation House in Deroche opened onto a little patio and a forest of evergreen trees, foxglove and hundreds of wild orange poppies. I pulled up a rock for a foot stool and opened my Bible to the familiar psalm. The reality of God’s love enfolded me with peace. Memories of God’s attentiveness came to mind–as did many distractions. The hour was long, and I was relieved when it was over.
The next morning I returned to Psalm 139. I waited and fidgeted in the silence.
When I met with Edmund later that day, I read aloud the short summaries of what came out of my prayers. In response he gave me four more prayer assignments including a lectio on Psalm 91.
“I was surprised at how many times the words ‘defend’ and ‘protect’ were in Psalm 91. I sensed God’s desire to defend and protect me. I could picture myself having more freedom if I stopped guarding my heart. I’d be more present to others,” I told Edmund when we met the third time.
But Edmund was not impressed with my insights and asked me to pray with Luke 18:9-14, the parable of the tax collector and the pharisee. He invited me to use my imagination to enter into the story, and let it unfold.
So I did. I pictured myself in the place of the tax collector and imagined his life and what brought him to this penitent place. I hoped his story would open me to mine, but both times I prayed with the passage I felt disconnect from my remorse or any other deep feeling. I knew I couldn’t “push the river,” so I let it go and was at peace with what was given.
But Edmund wasn’t. I tried to talk him out of it, but he sent me off a third time to pray with the parable.
I thought it might help if I knelt down to pray in the chapel. Once again I imagined myself in the place of that tax collector. This time I heard the pharisee pray loudly for all in the temple to hear, “I thank you, God, that I am not greedy, dishonest, or unfaithful to you, like Esther over there.” Hearing my name shocked me. The tall man went on to list my faults and failures liberally using disparaging adjectives.
Truth ripped my soul and I began to sob. I wept and wept, crying out to God for mercy. “Make him stop accusing me,” I prayed to God, and yet I was thankful that his words cracked me open.
After a while I sat back on the pew and took a deep breath. I knew I was forgiven and was grateful for it, but when I looked to the future and knew I couldn’t stop my hurtful behaviours, I wept again.
This was the pain that I had protected and defended my heart from feeling. This was the pain that Jesus wanted to soothe.
A repentant and contrite heart,
O Merciful One,
is the gift you most desire.
Psalms for Praying by Nan C. Merrill
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Carmel Hill is a dream come true for the Discalced Carmelites of the Karnataka Goa Province (India). In April 2012 Helen Chua Tiampo agreed to donate a piece of land to the Carmelites through Fr. Rudolf V. D’Souza. Not long afterwards, 20 acres of land with a beautiful house was found in Deroche, a small community in the Fraser Valley, 85 km east of Vancouver, and Little Flower Formation House was built. Father Alwyn and Bother Joseph welcome all who, like the Carmelites, are drawn to contemplation to come and rest in God’s love and beauty.
What love mischief are you and God doing to care for the earth?
Let me know and I will include it in an upcoming post.
Excellent post Esther.
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Thanks, Dave. Wait till you hear what happened next.
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