Wednesday, August 31, 2016

The Interior Pilgrimage

I am finally in the groove of writing about the right pilgrimage.

The whole premise of a pilgrimage is that while one is physically traveling from place to place, one is also open to God who encounters you with an interior journey to undergo. Our physical travel was meticulously planned out; however, we had to discover the invitation and the itinerary of the interior journey as we went along. Some of us, I think, dreamed with happy sighs about the locations we would see in Poland for months and years. And I probably was not the only one who met with some of the interior journey with frustrated, angry refusal. For a time.

This is part of what makes processing the fruit of a pilgrimage such a challenge. Some had to wrestle beforehand with the question Do I really want to go to Poland? I have found myself with a little tussle over how to respond to that interior journey that happened. Do I really want this? What now?
It brings to mind again something I've often pondered in the healing stories of Jesus. The blind who were healed, or the man with the withered hand, or the lepers -- what kind of upheaval did they face over the following weeks and months and years as the only life they had known for quite some time was suddenly and permanently changed? How did they learn to cope with grace?!

Another aspect of processing this pilgrimage for me is that I have felt a significant piece of my life's puzzle go click into place. In the Constitutions of the Secular Order of Carmel, one of the chapter headings calls Carmelites "witnesses to the experience of God." The first time I was explicitly taught to do this (to tell others how God had personally manifested Himself to me) and I obediently followed through, it changed my life and set it on a path that has been a little bit like a flame chasing gasoline since then. In fact, it was the first step that led me to embrace my Carmelite vocation. It also led me to no little suffering eventually. Even so, I have felt the urgent need to bear witness. It is one of the reasons why I blog and why I share my experiences in a publicly-accessible format. I've fought myself over why I bother sticking my heart out there. But now it goes "click." It is part of my vocation to Carmel to be ready to bear witness to the experience of God in the world.

Our experiences of God tend to be most vivid where our misery is most felt most keenly. This is what makes it hard to give testimony, because it requires a great deal of vulnerable honesty -- with oneself, first, and then with others. But where we don't spend energy on honesty we tend to spend energy on hiding and denial. I'd rather spend energy on what will end in rest, which is hauling my sorry self before the Lord, instead of on an inescapable, escalating program of trying harder and harder to manage the universe until I am one crispy critter.

It seems the Lord's theme for His encounters with me was my heart and His love. By the grace of God, I, who once formally defined myself as a misanthrope (a hater of mankind), am actually capable of loving another human being. Early in the trip I was given the grace to see the history of my heart clearly. From baptism, it seems, in the innermost place of my heart I have believed that I am deeply loved. The problem entered in (quickly) when my experiences of the world did not match this "interior truth." I was so shocked and confused by not experiencing love coming to me from the outside that I stopped going out of myself. I then had two lives: interior and exterior. God's program of redemption of my life has been this matter of dismantling my walls and blockages, and of giving me the courage to simply walk away from them. Like Adam, I hid because I was afraid. I was afraid to love people whose response to me was not, or did not look to me to be, love.

In the midst of the pilgrimage, I had to face the reality of my friend who was about to move away, as I have mentioned. Changes are hard, but changes also tend to dredge up unresolved stuff from every other change that rhymes. So I wasn't simply dealing with one concrete matter of life. I was dealing with a category of fear and pain. But this is sometimes how God is able to reach a whole lotta life through one event.

I was complaining to the Lord in prayer one day that my friend was going to stretch my heart all the way to California. I asked Him just how I was supposed to deal with that.

A few days later He showed me that His heart stretches from eternity and wraps around all space and all time. He refocused my attention away from my pain and on to His heart. And He told me I was called to love everyone.

Hey, Lord, one person is a miracle for me, ya know.

Yeah, but you live in Me, and I've called you to be love in the heart of the Church.*

Shortly after that, during the Diocesan Days in Wroclaw, a friend beckoned me over to a prayer team, and three young Polish women offered to pray for me. They prayed for me mostly in Polish, but then one phrase came through in English: "cause her to love everyone."

There is more, of course, but it is time for this pilgrim to sit down and rest a bit now.

(*Not an actual dialogue; just a paraphrase using St. Therese's discovery/definition of the vocation of a Carmelite: to be love in the heart of the Church.)

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