Hope in God

O Lord, we wait for you, 
our God who helps and protects us.
In your presence we discover joy. 
We entrust ourselves to your care. 
Pour your faithful love upon us 
as we place our hope in you.

(Psalm 33:20-22, my paraphrase)

As we transition from 2016 to 2017, I am given to thinking about the past year and looking to the future. What were our best moments and greatest challenges? Where are we headed in 2017?

movingHistory will remember 2016 as the year of Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump, but in our home we will also remember it as the Year of the Great Move. My husband and I spent most the year transitioning from the Twin Cities area to a less populated, more rural place in west-central Minnesota. We gradually sorted our belongings with an eye for what was really needed, prepared and sold our home. This process made us think about our dreams and goals for the next chapter of our lives.

In the midst of the long transition, I was looking for part-time work in some form of pastoral ministry. As it turned out, there was a small Christian community whose pastor had just left, and they needed someone to lead worship.  Because of our move, I could not become their pastor, but I did lead worship a number of times–and the community ordained me as an ecumenical minister of Christ.

And so it is, I write to you now as your sister in Christ and one who has been commissioned to serve others as an ordained minister.  This idea of “women priests” or women ministers is something I had wrestled with internally for many years, often doing my very best to resist and deny my own calling (!).

ordination-even-smaller-copy

Now 2017 is just beginning after a year-long transition to a new place and a deepening calling to minister to God’s people. I have rented a new office in Alexandria (MN) and will be continuing the spiritual direction ministry there (and on Skype). I will also be continuing writing and painting in the studio portion of my office.

As for the rest, I cannot see the future, but I believe that God will use my ordination for a divine purpose. I love the area I’m now living in. For the next few months I will be listening and learning about the needs of people here.

The new year holds much promise, but also a lot of fear for many Americans who are feeling nervous about the transition of leadership and about the direction our country might take in the future. I’ve been trying to think how to approach this new situation (it feels new to me) and I don’t have a magic wand to wave over the situation.

The thought I have today is that no matter what happens in the world, God is still with us. We might ignore God or turn away from God’s wisdom, love, and mercy, but God is still present, witnessing our struggles, sharing in our pain (as Jesus did), encouraging us to make wise choices, and watching over us with loving care.

44dcfc01a695be50b1f0edcd3ec3c2e0-hope-in-godAs we begin 2017, I choose to hope in God and to do what I can to make the world a better place.  I do not expect that everything will be easy or fair or successful or even peaceful.  Although there is much good, beauty, and love in the world, there is also selfishness, greed, cruelty, hate and any number of evils.  We humans are simultaneously both saints and sinners (thank you, Martin Luther), myself included.

Because humans are fallible creatures, we place our hope in God. 

The God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope.  –Romans 15:13

Until next time, Amen! 

 

 

 

 

 

Paying Attention . . . to the Holy Spirit

(Note: Below is a reflection I offered recently at our church on Sunday. I was asked to share a personal faith story relating to Matthew 1:18-25.) 

In today’s gospel reading, we hear about the amazing ways God sometimes communicates: Mary has her angelic vision, and Joseph has his remarkable dream. These things are recorded in the bible because they were outstanding experiences –God knew they needed these angelic visions because of their extraordinary calling to become the parents of our Savior.

007-prophecies-birth-jesus--from freebibleimages dot org

I am given to thinking, though, that for most of the time, Mary and Joseph found their inner peace in ordinary ways: in paying attention to the Holy Scripture, in praying, in practicing Sabbath, in listening to their rabbi, in watching the seasons of nature and the experiences of ordinary family living.

I would like to share a time when my husband Terry and I felt that the Holy Spirit helped us in a way that felt extraordinary — and yet others might see as “ordinary”…

Capture--Ely Minnesota 2--from Google MapsWe were fairly new to Minnesota, having moved here from Arizona/New Mexico, and we were excited about camping up in the Northland.  On this particular trip, we were tenting near Ely (EE–lee–rhymes with “really”) in mid-summer, and things weren’t going so well. We came to the place for the quiet, and instead heard loud partying late into the night, just two spaces away. We came for hiking, but the generous use of bug repellent didn’t keep the mosquitoes from swarming around us (it was a cloudy, muggy day, and apparently they knew we were “green Minnesotans” and took special delight in annoying us). Yes, too buggy outside the tent and too humid inside the tent…

In the midst of all this, we had this one night of intense heat, humidity, and unusual stillness… How could this be the frigidly cold Minnesota I’d always heard about?

In the morning, we saw a gray cloud appear in the west (you will recall campers didn’t have “weather apps” in those days). We considered cutting the trip short and going home, but wondered if that would keep us from becoming “hardy Minnesotans”?

In the end, we hurriedly threw our tent in the car and headed home. We were only as far as the city of Virginia, when the darkness hit in midday and the wind and torrents of rain forced us to stop at a restaurant.  Inside, a crowd of people was huddled by the door, talking about how bad this storm was.

Eventually, we made it home okay. The next morning, the news reported that this was a gargantuan size storm– you may remember this storm! It happened on July 4, 1999, and you may recall it took a full week to rescue all the campers in the Boundary Waters due to the millions of trees downed (they couldn’t even hike around all those trees). [Note: You can read about this special, unique storm, called a “derecho”,  on the National Weather Service link: July 4, 1999 storm. ]

U.S. FOREST SERVICE PHOTO -- BWCAW blowdown on July 4, 1999.
U.S. FOREST SERVICE PHOTO — BWCAW blowdown on July 4, 1999.

When I think of this experience, I always think of the Holy Spirit. One could say it was a “coincidence” that we decided to go home, but I think it was more than that. We didn’t have some fancy spiritual experience with “special effects,” but I think the Holy Spirit was our “advocate” on that day, nudging us to pay attention to the signs around us, to pick up our tent and return home.

Holy Spirit--stained glass window--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing BoardSo, yes, sometimes the Holy Spirit brings us peace through the “special effects” of holy visions and rarified dreams, but other times, I think the Spirit of God reveals things through ordinary, hidden ways, and waits to see what we will do with it. It is in responding to God’s invitation, with love in our hearts, that brings true inner peace.

Until next time, Amen! 

[Photo credits: 1) Image of Bethlehem from freebibleimages.org, 2)Ely, MN from Google Maps, 3)Boundary Waters Storm clean-up from US Forest Service, and 4) Stained glass window from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Litchfield Park, AZ–taken by Julie McCarty in 2013, with permission from pastor.]

 

Finding Your Calling, Living Your Vocation

Open water 3--photo by Julie McCarty

Someone very experienced in the spiritual  life recently gave me this quotation:

Each man has his own vocation.
The talent is the call.

There is one direction in which all space is open to him.
He has faculties silently inviting him thither to endless exertion.

He is like a ship in a river;
he runs against obstructions on every side but one;
on that side all obstruction is taken away,
and he sweeps serenely over a deepening channel into an infinite sea.       
              
–Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Spiritual Laws

As a woman, I have found that changing the pronouns for my personal journal makes me more aware that the words are intended for me. After all, Emerson intended the words to be for all people. So in my journal, I also wrote this version:

Each woman has her own vocation.
The talent is the call.

There is one direction in which all space is open to her.
She has faculties silently inviting her thither to endless exertion.

She is like a ship in a river;
she runs against obstructions on every side but one;
on that side all obstruction is taken away,
and she sweeps serenely over a deepening channel into an infinite sea.
              
–Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Spiritual Laws (adapted pronouns)

In our time and culture, one can experience multiple callings at once, or different callings over the course of a lifetime. One man may live out the callings of parent, spouse, construction worker, and part-time artist simultaneously. A woman might be head of a business, school board member, volunteer, and the caretaker of her aging parent.

Woman paddling on water--photo by Julie McCartyI think Emerson is talking about those gifts within us that light a fire in our lives. They are callings that become a driving passion for our existence. Many things may seem to obstruct these callings, and we may feel impatient. However, Emerson believes that eventually, we find a way for what is most important. I think of it this way: God opens the door for us when the time and place are right.

What are your gifts calling you to do at this point in your life?
What step might you take this week to test the waters?

Think about it–and I will, too.

Until next time, Amen!

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Following Jesus–even when times are hard

Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.    –St. Philip Neri *

Sometimes we feel the nudge of the Spirit asking us to do things we think cannot possibly do. Perhaps we have been hurt in the past by rejection or loss, and are afraid to take up loving someone again. Maybe we feel we don’t have enough education, good looks, or poise for a task. We may feel too young to qualify, or too old to try something new.

But following Christ (or any spiritual path) involves remaining open to new things, to go wherever the Spirit leads us. Sometimes this is easy to do, especially in the first flush of spiritual enthusiasm. However, when times get hard, when we are tempted, or when others around us ridicule us, it can be very difficult to live as Jesus lived. 

St. Philip Neri reminds us that God does not ask us to do the impossible, at least not what it truly impossible. Even in the rough places in the road, God is there with us, to guide us, to comfort us, and to challenge us to grow.

Is there something in your life that God is asking you to do, but you are shrinking from out of fear?

If that “something” really is God’s desire for your life, then we can be sure that somehow, some way, God will bring it about, sooner or later—if only we open ourselves to receiving divine guidance, divine strength. It’s worth reading Philip Neri’s words again; write them on your heart (as I will strive to do as well):

Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.

Until next time, Amen!

 

*Philip Neri quote from The Wisdom of the Saints: An Anthology by Jill Haak Adels (Oxford University Press), p. 58.

Would Jesus Allow Open Discussion on Controversial Topics?

This past Sunday, the Minneapolis Star Tribune ran a front page article entitled Priests told not to voice dissent,” the gist of which is contained in this quote:

Archbishop John Nienstedt is warning Catholic clergy across Minnesota that there should be no “open dissension” of the church’s strong backing of a proposed amendment to the state Constitution that would define marriage as a union only between a man and woman. 

The Roman Catholic archbishop is not merely asking clergy to remain neutral on public issues while speaking in the pulpit. Instead, he is pressuring pastors and parishioners to be proactive on the issue even if it is against their conscience, by  pushing “marriage prayers” smack dab in the middle of Sunday Mass, creating parish “marriage committees” to support the amendment, and inviting “marriage teams” to come speak to high school students.

Of course, church leaders certainly have the right–and the duty–to speak publicly about issues of faith and morals, and about anything that might make the world or church a better place. However, based on my past experiences, I rather doubt any of these marriage speakers will offer any genuine, mutual discussion (this vote, after all, applies to all of society, not just Catholics, so all angles ought to be openly discussed, even at a church meeting).

Catholics today are facing the same kind of repressive environment that exists under dictatorships. It is becoming dangerous to disagree on controversial topics. One cannot write or speak publicly if one disagrees with church teachings on such topics as women’s ordination, married clergy, gay rights, birth control, abortion, liberation theology, or even how one views Mary (as in the case of Tissa Balasuriya). 

Regarding the case of the proposed marriage amendment, the archbishop is so determined that in a recent speech/letter to priestshe reminded them of their vows of obedience. In addition, the archbishop wrote a letter to one priest threatening to remove him from active ministry if he spoke publicly against church teaching (the marriage amendment being one example in the letter). Some people would call that spiritual bullying.

Conservative Catholics spout the slogan “error has no rights,” but “error” is not a person. People do have rights. People are God’s beloved sons and daughters–and Christ often listened carefully to others, even asked about what they thought: How do you interpret the law? What do you want? Who do you say I am? What are you discussing as you go your way?

Since Sunday’s Star Tribune article, I have been trying to think of a single instance in which Jesus silenced a conversation, or bullied people into thinking his way.

Hmmmm… In Mark’s gospel, Jesus does ask the disciples to keep quiet now and then, but the secret is all the good works he’s doing, that he’s the Messiah, not the squelching of his opposition. Today’s equivalent would be a bishop working a miracle and then telling the priests to keep it secret, because, after all, he’s a very humble guy.

Maybe we might think the time Jesus turned over all those money tables in the temple was a little like silencing someone with opposing views. Today’s equivalent would be a bishop blasting American corportations for their greed on a nationally televised event, or publicly destroying the number balls used to select lottery winners. Or maybe selling the bishop’s mansion to build a place for the homeless.

The only time I can remember Jesus ever coming close to silencing someone is when Peter–whom Catholic call the first pope–tells Jesus he ought not to go to Jerusalem because of the danger. To this, Jesus replies:

Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do. (Matthew 16:23)

Those are pretty strong words–even harsher than “shut up.” Jesus knew that God wanted him to go to Jerusalem even if it meant risking death on a cross. When pushed between following the advice of the first pope or what his Father in heaven wanted, Jesus chose to obey his Father, trusting that God would bring about something good (through his cross and resurrection, the salvation of the world!).

In our own times, those of us who follow Jesus must listen carefully not only to religious leaders, but also to those whose voices are not easily heard: the poor, the abandoned, the lonely, the sick, and those who are most ill-treated and misunderstood. We must ponder our sacred scriptures and pray to God, asking the Holy Spirit to guide each one of us to make good choices.

Even if it means disagreeing with “Peter.”

Elizabeth of Hungary: Patroness of “Juggling”

Rising very early before dawn, [Jesus] left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

St. Elizabeth–Spinning to make clothes for the poor–Marianne Stokes

In my Catholic upbringing, I got the impression that the only path to sainthood would be priesthood for men and religious life (becoming a nun) for women. I rarely heard about married women saints, and when I did, they were described to me as holy because of becoming nuns or founding convents after their husbands died.

Because of this, I have a special place in my heart for St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the medieval wife and mother who didn’t merely “tolerate” marriage (after all, the marriage was arranged by one’s parents) but rather genuinely liked her husband.

In her short lifespan of 24 years, Elizabeth integrated many callings: queen, wife, mother, woman of prayer, personal service to the poor and sick, etc. Elizabeth’s example appeals to people of many walks of life for many reasons, but I like to think of her as the patroness of “juggling:”

When I feel overwhelmed with balancing the pieces of my life, I think of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the thirteenth-century queen who could be called “the patroness of juggling.” This young woman not only devoted herself to raising her children and spending time with her husband Ludwig (whom she adored), but she also attended church frequently, managed the castle while Ludwig was away on extended business, developed a rich prayer life, and personally ministered to the poor and sick of the kingdom (something the elite found rather revolting). 

Apparently Elizabeth couldn’t find enough prayer time to satisfy her, so she instructed her maid to sneak into the royal bedroom each night, reach under the bed covers, and pull on her toes to wake her. Elizabeth would slip away without disturbing Ludwig’s sleep to pray in secret. This clever plan worked well for a time, until one night, when the servant girl reached between the sheets, the king suddenly bolted upright in bed. Apparently she had found the wrong toes.

Jesus, too, often had to find ways of stealing away from his busy ministry to catch his breath. [In Mark 1:35-39], it appears that the disciples do not know where he has gone. When they find him, Peter sounds exasperated: “Where have you been? Everyone is looking for you!” It’s as if he thinks Jesus is missing a photo-op and the chance to work the crowd. But Jesus knows his priorities: his work must be grounded in a healthy, personal relationship with his heavenly Father.  

from The Pearl of Great Price: Gospel Wisdom for Christian Marriage (by yours truly, Julie McCarty; published by Liturgical Press)


When we feel pulled in many directions, unsure which task to do next, whether to say yes or no to this or that, or how much time to devote to prayer, we can take heart that others before us (including Jesus!) certainly faced similar human challenges–yet ultimately found their true Christian fulfillment.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary’s feast day is Nov. 17. For more about her read here  or view a slide show here .

Until next time, Amen! 

New Page about Spiritual Direction

Yesterday I learned how to add a whole new sticky page to the Spiritual Drawing Board. The page I created tells about the time-honored practice of spiritual direction, often called “spiritual companioning” today.

(You can access this new page by clicking on the tab labeled spiritual direction above the sunrise photo. If you are receiving this post via e-mail subscription, you can click to my blog or else just google “Spiritual Drawing Board.”)

If you are looking for a safe place to explore your own spiritual life, to wrestle with soul questions, to learn about prayer in a one-with-one setting, think about finding a spiritual director. If you live near Eagan, Minnesota, and feel you might like to work with me, my contact info is on the Spiritual Direction page. You can locate other spiritual directors by asking church staff, spirituality or retreat centers, or searching on the website of Spiritual Directors International.

By the way, Spiritual Directors International website has some great YouTube videos of people talking about their experience with spiritual direction.  

Hope your Lent is proving fruitful–and if not, it’s not too late to delve into a good spiritual book, take a soul walk,  or turn to prayer. 

Until next time, Amen! 

P.S. If you are receiving this in e-mail, feel free to pass it on to others who might be interested in spiritual direction. (It is always okay to forward my Spiritual Drawing Board posts!)