CELTIC PRAYER & THE IMPORTANCE OF BREATHING

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The past 24 hours or so, I was reminded again of the importance of simply breathing. The situation that can bring me anxiety, anyone who knows about it can’t blame me for feeling trepidation over. (Not to sound mysterious, but I can’t go into it here.) Inhale… exhale… deep inhale… deep exhale. Still, one would think it would come so naturally—to breathe. After all, we’ve been doing it since we were born. Yet in times when things appear possibly dangerous or frightening, we can easily forget to do the most basic thing of our lives: draw air into our lungs.

When we’re anxious or troubled, it’s like we have to remind ourselves to breathe. I’ve found though that while drawing deep breaths is good, drawing deep breaths while meditating on a short phrase about God is better.

Being that it’s St. Patrick’s Day, it seems a good time to mention how powerful and calming many Celtic prayers are simply because of their simplicity and the fact that they mention such seemingly “ordinary” things, such as wind, fire, water… air. All those things seem ordinary enough until we are suddenly without them. Being without breath due to fear or panic can be like suffocating on our own thoughts.

Granted, I don’t have this all the time, but I do at times have it when it comes to extreme circumstances (a category the current situation would fall into).

So here is a prayer that might help you should you ever find yourself in a time of needing to remember to breathe. If you never have a moment like this, then we’re all very happy for you. This is for the rest of us.

This is from the Breastplate of St. Patrick:

“I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of the sun,
Splendor of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of the wind,
Depth of the sea,
Stability of the earth,
Firmness of the rock.

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me;
God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me,
God’s eye to look before me,
God’s ear to hear me,
God’s word to speak for me,
God’s hand to guard me,
God’s way to lie before me,
God’s shield to protect me,
God’s hosts to save me
From snares of the devil,
From temptations of vices,
From everyone who desires me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone or in a multitude.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye that sees me,
Christ in the ear that hears me.

I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through a belief in the Threeness,
Through a confession of the Oneness
Of the Creator of creation”

I hope this helps you, calms you, give you peace in times of distress and most of all, hope in God’s divine presence holding you and helping you.

For more ideas of wonderful short phrases you can repeat, that are easier to meditate on with your eyes closed, have a look at this link.

** The beautiful calligraphy is courtesy of my dear and gifted friend, Karen Ables, who gave this to me as a gift. It is one of my great treasures. Please only use with permission.

This is a song I wrote based on the breastplate of St. Patrick.

Wishing you much peace, protection & strength…

Monique

** To schedule a free 30-minute discovery coaching call with me, just click this link.

 

 

FINGERS OF DOUBT IN GOD’S SIDE

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For the last 2000 years, Thomas seems to have gotten a bad rap because he’s known as The Doubter—the guy who, when everyone was saying Jesus was alive after his crucifixion, said he wouldn’t believe it unless he could put his fingers into Jesus’ wounds. When we refer to someone as a “Doubting Thomas,” that’s our modern-day way of saying “Oh ye, of little faith!” But we forget some things about Thomas that might be worth considering…

For one thing, Jesus must have seen something in him because he was, after all, one of the twelve disciples whom he hand-picked to follow him and be part of the revolution of God’s kingdom of love, grace and faith that he came to bring.

For another thing, let’s give the guy a break: everyone else believed after they had seen Jesus raised from the dead. Mary Magdalene was the first one to see him outside the tomb, and even she didn’t realize it was Jesus at first. She thought he was the gardener. It makes you wonder what made her think that. Maybe he had some sort of hood on, or was in a different form. In any case, he’d just been crucified a few days before, so it’s not like she was expecting him to be walking around outside the tomb.

In Luke 24, when Mary and the other women tell the apostles that Jesus has risen, their words were like fairy tales to the apostles (it reads “idle tales” or “nonsense”). They didn’t believe it right away either. In Mark 16, it says plainly (twice in fact) “And when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe.” (v. 11) and after Jesus appeared to two more people, “They went and told it to the rest, but they did not believe them either.” (v. 13)

Before Jesus was crucified, no one seemed to have a clue what he was talking about half the time or that he was constantly making references to both his death and resurrection. Mostly, they seemed to stand around scratching their heads, perplexed at his way of speaking, his parables and his words. And frankly, so would we. If you read the many incidents of Jesus’ frustration with the fact that people didn’t understand what he was talking about, you’d think he was telling knock-knock jokes rather than proclaiming the Kingdom of God. It must have been hard for him to be around so many people who just didn’t get it. How often do we read him saying, “Oh faithless generation, how long will I have to put up with you?” and “Oh you, of little faith, and slow of heart to believe…”

Apart from Mary Magdalene, the only two people who seemed delirious to know if it might be true that Jesus had risen from the dead were Peter and John. Interesting. John, the one who knew himself to be the beloved and referred to himself as such in the Book of John. And Peter, the one who knew himself to be a royal screw-up in terms of following Jesus, but also knew that the heart of grace that pounded in Jesus’ chest was the heart that loved and forgave him even in the moment that Peter was denying that he ever knew him.

So it wasn’t that the people who believed in Jesus were pious people, or particularly faithful people, or that they always understood what Jesus was talking about. It actually seems the opposite was true. They were more like the opposite of church people. But what they had was that they had encountered Someone in whose presence they felt safe despite their doubts, despite their failings, despite their double-mindedness and despite their foolishness. This must have surprised them as much as it surprised the religious folks who were very interested in making sure people had the correct theology, much like nowadays religious folks are very interested in whether we have the correct theology or politics to go with their version of God.  They seem to forget that Jesus himself was an outcast. So naturally, other marginalized people were drawn to him—the poor, lepers, moral failures, tax collectors, women of ill repute, men of questionable integrity (like Judas, who with all his betrayal, was still called to be part of the story).

The people Jesus called might look something like this in today’s world: homo/bi/transexuals, the homeless who come on trains mumbling and shouting, beggars we step over on our way to buy our groceries, atheists loudly proclaiming their anger at a God who (to them) doesn’t exist, the people hiding under bridges sticking syringes in their arms to cope with life, siblings on death row for narcotics crimes, and maybe even those billionaires who sold out the world economy on Wall Street for their own greed. Yeah, those people. The ones we, of course, are nothing like. We’re not confused, greedy, stingy, morally questionable, depressed, struggling financially, or full of doubts. We are so much better.

And as long as we think that way, it will be very hard to truly see Jesus because then we have lost sight of our own inner poverty and brokenness that is, every moment, in need of God’s grace for each breath, each word and each next action we take. We might then be living out religion, but we won’t be living out God’s love. We won’t see Jesus in those people because we’ll be too busy judging them and feeling superior. And as Mother Teresa said, “When you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

Which brings me back to Thomas and why we should cut him some slack. Something that often goes sadly overlooked is this: when Jesus delayed in going to see Mary and Martha after their brother, Lazarus, had died, the disciples were trying to talk him out of it. They were like, “Whoa, Jesus, you’re going back there, where they just tried to stone you?” And then guess who says this line, “Let us also go to die with him,”? (John 11:16) Yup, Thomas. The guy most people associate with doubt and lack of commitment.

So maybe that’s why Jesus makes a special appearance to say to Thomas, “Hey bro, here I am, believe it or not. Here, stick your finger in my side.” Maybe when Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” it’s not just for Thomas. Maybe it’s for all of us because we weren’t there to see him like all of them were. For us to believe takes true faith. If we look at the entirety of the relationship between Jesus and Thomas, including Thomas’ willingness to die with him, we can see the tenderness in Jesus’ words as they drip off the page. He’s not there to beat Thomas up for not believing. He’s there to do what Jesus does best: give grace.

All the other disciples saw him. It was eight days before Thomas got to see him. For eight days, he had to listen to their stories and probably wondered if they were all stark raving mad, or if he was. Maybe Jesus remembered that Thomas was the only one willing to go and die with him long before all the others fled and abandoned him. Maybe Jesus pitied his doubt, but admired his commitment. Maybe he was hurt by Thomas’ unbelief, but respected his honesty about it.

If this day or season of your life is a time where you’re finding it next to impossible to believe in a loving God…if you’re tossed about with doubts while hearing so many voices telling you that they’ve seen him, you’re not alone. Maybe God sees something in you that you don’t even see—honesty, resilience, persistence…and maybe even a glimmer of faith.

If you don’t have a name for it right now, but you really believe that things are going to get better—if you believe that, you have faith, no matter what name or label you put on it, no matter how big or small it is. Even if it’s as small as a mustard seed.

In case no one has ever said this to you: you’re allowed to be where you’re at with your questions.

And if you ask—truly ask—to see him, he will show up for you at a time and in a way you never imagined possible. And he will be peace to you. And he will be grace to you. And you will know he has been there because you will, for once in your life, feel safe and understood and accepted. It’s not that you’ll never doubt again, but your soul will stop its fluttering around and settle within you as a bird settles into its nest and calls it home.

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FEAR VS. LOVE

          

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Some people think that the opposite of love is hate. Some have said the opposite of love is apathy. While there may be some truth to both of those, the opposite of love is actually fear.

It’s interesting that when Jesus cast demons out of certain people or healed them of ongoing illnesses, he didn’t spend hours analyzing how they got into that condition. In Mark 5, he didn’t ask if the demon-possessed man had had an abusive childhood. They didn’t have psychiatric labels then (that we know of) like we have nowadays. Jesus simply met people where they were at and he moved them forward, often by healing, freeing, and delivering them from what was causing their suffering.

I once had a pastor who said, “God never does something just for you. What he does for you is also meant to bless and affect others.” Jesus didn’t just deliver this man for the man’s sake; an entire town had been affected by his “issues” and the entire town would later be affected by his healing. One of the most marvelous passages in the Gospels is Mark 5: “Then they came to Jesus, and saw the one who had been demon-possessed and had the legion, sitting and clothed and in his right mind.” This wasn’t after years of extensive therapy. This was after moments in the presence of Perfect Love.

Christ’s love is so powerful and his power so loving that all he needs to do is speak words of healing, or touch someone, or be touched, and oppression of body, mind or soul must cease and leave. This begs the question: what if we were able to love from such a place of being so grounded in God and his love that our mere presence, our mere words, our mere touch could bring healing to others? There’s nothing “mere” about any of these things.

There are people in our lives, around whom we may feel rejected, criticized, and like nothing we ever do is good enough for them. Around these, we may feel anxious, bound-up, irritated, and uneasy. We want to remove ourselves from their presence. On the other hand, there are people we are drawn toward because they exude love, acceptance, and a deep-seated joy that’s not dependent on circumstances. Their acceptance of us is not based on what we do, it’s based on who we are to them. In their presence, we feel freer, more able to be ourselves, at ease, and at home. No human can love us perfectly, but these people give us a glimpse of that perfect love that everyone longs for.

God is the only one who can love us perfectly for the simple, yet profound, reason that he is love. It is the very essence of his character and of his being. He cannot be, or do, otherwise. This is why Jesus was a magnet for the downtrodden, the discouraged, those heavy-laden with care (and he still is). These are the ones who are often most open to the slightest kindness, the gentlest touch, because when a person is wounded, the last thing they need is harshness. They need tenderness.

The man in Mark 5, prior to his deliverance, was much like the guy on the train who most people avoid—the one who is dirty, smells bad, and mumbles to himself or shouts obscenities. It is very likely fear that makes people look away—fear of being reminded of one’s own inner poverty when in the presence of outward poverty. But Jesus was afraid of no one because Jesus was the embodiment of perfect love and perfect love casts out all fear.

It is dazzling that in Mark 5:6-7 the man ran to Jesus and worshipped him before he was ever healed. The man wanted God. The demons were afraid of God. So the man was in a state of push/pull—drawn to Jesus, yet at the same time repelled by him. But once he was free, he begged to be allowed to stay with Jesus. Instead, Jesus sent the man back to his town (the very town that had alienated him) and told him to tell everyone what God had done for him, making him the first bearer of the Good News of God’s healing, freeing love in that vicinity. The man’s life was his testimony. The people had seen him before, and they saw him now, and there was no denying that the man was changed, transformed, and free due to encountering God’s perfect fear-evicting love in his Son, Jesus Christ.

 

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