Take off your shoes…

take-of-my-shoes-iva

What is holy?

Anything where I have to take off my shoes, metaphorically. I don’t walk barefoot on this earth, even though perhaps I should, at least when I am walking inside my heart, or inside yours. Your stories are holy, filled with grace that falls through the cracks. The silence that rests in my chest between heartbeats and the breaths is holy. The way I look at him, even when he cannot see, is holy. A smile that resides on our lips after a flower has opened up or after a bird flew by, after a child started to cry, all of them are holy. A tear, oh tears they are holy like sacred salt consecrated with longing and love. They wash away any stain, they clear away the pain…they are treasures from the soul, and the soul is holiest of them all.

You know why?

There is a part of us that is so deep, so pure, intact in fact from any stain of life. No matter which wrong decision or hurt rains inside, there is the deepest centre in us that is always holy – it is rooted in God. A diamond planted deep in our soul, in our heart. The longing we feel? It is from that diamond. It reminds us who we are. So when you tell me your story, I will take off my shoes, listen and observe…between all the words, there is a spark, unique for you, unique for me, that diamond inside: who we really are, is holy. I think each of these diamonds are taken out of God’s heart and that’s why the true meaning of our existence is love.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 20th February 2017)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Advertisements

Tonight Christ comes to your heart and mine

2016-12-22-18-23-37

“Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her” (Luke 1:45)

The first Advent, when Mary became a God-bearer, was the end of waiting, a very long centuries old waiting. The Israelites had a centuries old promise from God that Messiah would come and now was the time when this promise was being fulfilled. I prefer images that show Our Lady being pregnant, as they are most evocative with meaning in this season. Even though during Mary’s advent Jesus wasn’t yet born, He was in fact already there, nurtured in silence beneath Mary’s heart.

In the last few years, I started to think that Advent is about NOW. About what God is doing at this moment in our lives, partly because the traditional understanding that focuses on ‘waiting’ no longer spoke to me. But what is more, in the wider context of the history of God’s people, Mary’s advent was not a very long season of waiting, it was the end of it.

This Advent was probably the hardest I ever had, and yet the most graced and meaningful at the same time. God brought light to the corners of my soul that were hidden in the dark, and simply allowing it to happen was terrifying. But all I could think of in the midst of it, and now, is how good God is. Had He not led me on this journey I would continue carrying a burden I was never meant to carry, but now because of His goodness, when His grace finishes its work within me, I will no longer have to. And that is a meaning of Christmas.

Christ comes to our most deepest needs. In the midst of circumstances that make our hearts feel ‘lowly’ or ‘poor’, Christ comes, because there is room for Him there. No matter how you are, how you feel, joyful or not, welcome Him this night into your home, into your heart. All He needs is an invitation. We don’t have to be perfect or perfectly prepared. None of us is, anyway.

C. S. Lewis said, “In our world, there was once in a stable someone who was bigger than the world itself”. That ‘stable’ tonight will be your heart, and mine, just one more reason to call it a Holy Night.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 24th December 2016; small part here was taken from my reflection written on 30th November 2014)

What I would pray today

Today on the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi I would not pray “Lord make me an instrument of your peace” (even though I like that prayer), because I have to keep renewing that peace in myself (I am not a constant ‘carrier’ of it). I would rather pray,

Lord bring yourself and your peace to all the wounded parts of the world that are crying out for it. Syria, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, everywhere. Bring it to every heart that needs you – there is not one person on the planet that doesn’t need God’s peace, and bring it soon, now. Tell the noise of wars to shut up, calm them like you calmed the storm, change our hearts, into darkness of this world, bring your light.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 4th October 2016)

May God bless you with discomfort

fasting_desert

A Franciscan Benediction

May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,
So that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger,
At injustice, oppression and exploitation of people,
So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears
To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger, and war,
So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them
And turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness
To believe that you can make a difference in the world,
So that you can do what others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

Amen

Holy Saturday, a bridge towards Easter

One of the most overlooked days in the Christian story is Holy Saturday.

ivaberanek

2015-01-27 10.03.08-1

“God works as much in darkness as He does in the light”

Rev. Ruth Patterson

I love Holy Saturday and I think it is one of the most overlooked days in our Christian story, and yet it has so much to offer for daily living. We probably spend a lot of our lives living through a Holy Saturday experience of sorts. Let me explain.

For most of us Holy Saturday became a day of expectance and anticipation of Easter glory, we don’t make as much effort to spend time with the silence of death, not just any death – a death of God. But the first Holy Saturday was a day when even God appeared to be silent. It was a day with no answers. Yes, Jesus was doing His deep redeeming work even in His death, but the disciples did not know that. For them, Saturday before Easter, as…

View original post 343 more words

Why is Holy Week holy?

2016-03-17 17.32.35-3

This week we have been spending time with Jesus in His last moments of His earthly life. Accompanying anyone into death is very sacred, even more so accompanying God.

When we take part in the liturgies of the Holy Week, I think it is good to have a situation in mind that we will bring into prayer during these days. Either something that we know is happening in the world and we wish to pray more about it, or a situation from our own life.

Lent was our entry on the road towards Jesus’ last hours, towards the Holy Week and Easter. The end of Jesus’ journey on earth was the very purpose why He came – to give us life, so we can have it to the full. As we can witness today, on Good Friday, the journey towards the fullness of life goes through the most excruciating pain, which is very contra-intuitive for us. It goes through humility, littleness, and often the lack of understanding of what will come after. Good Friday as a journey towards the fullness of life is like the first winter that was oblivious to the fact that after winter comes spring. The first winter does not have a memory of any previous spring that it can rely on. It is bleak, stripped of all hope, and very lonely, heavy with sadness. And many people, unfortunately, experience this reality in their lives.

Today is the day when we remember that God died. Can there be anything more mind-shattering and heart-breaking than the death of a loving God? If you have ever had all your hopes shattered, all that you thought about life broken into pieces, if you ever felt like a part of your soul is forever locked into winter, with no hope for further spring, you will understand how this day was for Jesus’ disciples. In the face of such despair, only silence, tears, prayers, sighs of the heart are suitable response. We have not been singing Alleluia in Lent, and I think this is one of the reasons why. In the light of the Good Friday, you cannot sing Alleluia. It would be irreverent. Same as we cannot sing Alleluia in all the situations around the world where evil seems to triumph, where lives are taken so carelessly and cruelly. We cannot sing Alleluia from the desert places, from experiences that break our hearts. Not yet, anyway.

We can only be silent before such mystery of Love of all loves being nailed on the Cross, left to die. Yet this death was Love’s ultimate release; it was Love’s triumph, however at times this remains hidden from our eyes and from our understanding. Because of today we know that no matter what we may go through, God is there with us as well. More so, His love is healing our wounds as He has been to the deepest places of pain in order to saturate them with love. This week is holy because Christ’s presence makes it so.

Let me come back to the Alleluia. As far as I am aware, Alleluia has two meanings. It is “used to express praise or thanks to God”, but it is also “used to express relief, welcome, or gratitude”. Another reason for not singing Alleluia yet, is that we would find it very hard, if nor impossible, to sing a song of relief out of all those experiences that break our hearts. We need the Holy Week to do the deep healing work in us before we can express relief and gratitude from within the exiled parts of our life. We need to let the fresh blossoms on the trees to slowly lead the way before our inner desert places are ready to blossom and sing. We need Jesus to take our pain, disappointments, shattered hopes, the deepest prayers of our heart, and join them with His pain in order to heal us and bring us new life. We need Him to lay them at rest in His grave, and to bring them, bring us towards the Resurrection, though this may take a while for us. When Alleluia slowly rises out of the deep silence of our greatest sadness, then it will be truly real.

At the end of Good Friday Jesus is put to rest in the grave. Whatever we decided to bring into the Holy Week we can leave in the grave with Jesus. By leaving it there we acknowledge we have done our bit. Now is time for God to do His.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 25th March 2016, older reflection edited)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

The Ache of Loneliness

2016-03-17 19.08.27-4

Most of us will occasionally fall into a trap of thinking that we need to be perfect, or rather that we need to hide our weaknesses in order to be accepted and loved. This attitude creeps in unconsciously, almost like our personal inner-app that works in the background; and perhaps we are not much aware of it. I don’t know if society has inflicted us with this notion that weakness is to be despised, but many of us have succumbed to the idea that we need to keep proving (to the world and to ourselves) that we are successful and strong, not just sometimes but all of the time. If nothing else, this is quite unrealistic. Also, this kind of context does not allow us to talk about very human realities of sometimes feeling inadequate or lonely. When we unmask loneliness it is interesting what we can find beneath it.

Matthew Hussey, public person I admire who is someone you would consider ‘successful’, recently spoke about loneliness. He is always upbeat and positive, so it was surprising to hear him address this topic. “We are all lonely at times”. We will never grow if we don’t embrace the parts of our humanity that make us wrestle with ourselves. It reminded me of something I wrote about this topic a few years ago, and I decided to share it here.

In silence, in solitude, when no one is around to listen, a thirst can emerge from our depths. It is only me there and I cannot but take note; clutter of memories from the past has been reduced to a very minimum, creating space for this deeper ache to emerge. It has been emerging all through the years, fighting for breath within the clutter, but now, as the air is clear it is more acute, naked, real. Occasionally, in a blink of a moment, something cracks open in us and we ‘see’ the reality for what it really is. We ‘see’ our desires for what they really are – thirst that is not ‘mine’, or ‘yours’ but ‘ours’. There is a deep loneliness in each of us; it is primordial, communal, it bears the name of our ‘lostness’ and ignites the search for ways to quench that hunger. In it, we are one, connected in this quest for meaning, for satisfaction, for liberation. Not all of us let it come as acutely or we may be experiencing it differently, but nonetheless it lives in us all. Even if we cannot point the finger to it, it points its finger towards us in that rare placid moment when the reality uncovers itself before us.

Some years ago, I spent a week in Taizé community in France. It was a decision-making time, when I was trying to discern what I would do after I finish my masters. I thought the question was whether to continue with Ph.D or go and do something ‘more practical’. Yet the search was deeper than what I will ‘do’, now I would rather say it has been about who I would ‘be’. I spoke with one of the brothers after the evening prayer saying, “I find this deep thirst in me to give more, to be more, to do more (for God), but I do not know what to do with it”. He smiled. After a short pause, he told me a few simple thoughts that still nourish me whenever I remember. “Change your prayer into a prayer of thanksgiving and do not try to fill that thirst; learn to live with it. Then in time, let God fill it.” Yes, it made sense. It was not easy though, still isn’t. To live with that thirst that aches deep within you without not only trying to fill it, but also not even knowing what could be sufficient to satisfy it, has been hard. Yet, it was wonderful; not that I liked the times of the struggle, or the ache of the longing that became my (often) daily companion. But attentiveness to the search brought me more into life. Truly, it thought me that it is for life that we were created, not for dying – and even if we experience death and loss in any form, it was only to lead us more into life. Somehow, it even increased my capacity to hope against hope. The ache of loneliness and this desire that was brewing within me were not the same, though I believe they do come from the same place deep in us. Their reality may be different, but the source is the same – it is in the far end of the unquenchable depth of our souls that they start.

Sometimes I hate this feeling of loneliness that creeps in and emerges uninvited. And I do not think it has much to do with being single, though perhaps at times. I presume it belongs to a sentiment that would appear even if one was married or living in a community that shares their calling, as it comes under many faces, hides under many life’s circumstances and only takes them as an excuse for its existence. It is almost like a disease, a mark of lostness ingrained in our souls. It is in everyone. What we do with it is another matter, as it has a great tendency to wrap us around ourselves – it is easy to become self-absorbed or dwell in self-pity. Neither is recommended. We may all fall into it from time to time, we are after all weak in our humanity, but as soon as we become aware of taking the road of self-pity, it is good to acknowledge it and try to move away. Staying on that road could perhaps even lead us towards depression, but I will not write about that here, as I am too ignorant. These are grey areas, and one has to tread them softly. There is another, better path. We can allow loneliness to lead us towards a deeper compassion, as “without a more profound human understanding derived from exploration of the inner ground of human existence, love will tend to be superficial and deceptive” (Merton). The ache of loneliness stands humbly before God in prayer, expanding our “capacity to [love,] understand and serve others” (Merton).

Merton once said, “Go into the desert”, go into the silence, “not to escape other men but in order to find them in God”. Perhaps it is also valid to say, go into that loneliness deep within you and find in it all the humanity in its lostness, find there all those who are abandoned, desolate, alone and offer them to God. As, with the ache of your heart, you ask Him to set you free from your own lostness and aloneness, you also ask Him to deliver them from their lostness. No one is alone in loneliness, yet we do not know it as it ‘feels’ like a desert in which all the sand is taken from my hands, and my hands alone. There is a redemptive power in embracing loneliness as a bridge towards the humanity of others. In those ‘redemptive moments’, a desire to offer more to God becomes one with the loneliness in us that seeks to receive more. In giving of one-self, in sharing one’s sighs (through prayer) with all the sighs of this world, giving flows into receiving and becomes bearable. Or even if not bearable, at least meaningful, and therefore can be easier to tolerate. Then a time may come when we will be invited to somewhat let go of this loneliness, which may have become so familiar to us, in order to let God lead us into the fullness of life we were meant to live, and deeper into love for which we were created.

The ache of loneliness reveals in us that it is closely related to intimacy. The longing for intimacy, which is present in every heart, in every soul, is a flip side of loneliness. Yet if we explore the desert areas of our hearts we may discover that solitude has the same healing powers as intimacy does. Solitude unites us with everything through God since it has a different inner quality than loneliness. Loneliness teaches us the ‘illusion’ of separateness and disconnectedness; it is a stem of Adam in exile, whereas solitude grounds us into God and leads us back into the Garden of Eden. Solitude is a mark of unity; loneliness, on the other hand, is a mark of lostness. Will the ache of loneliness ever fade away in this life? Perhaps if one manages to share the depths of one’s heart with a lonely other, perhaps if the intimacy and solitude soothe the ache, then it can ease a little. If in the process we become more real, that too will help us connect with one another; and this connection is what we long for when we experience the inner thirst.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, 20th March 2016, adjusted from 2011)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

Novena to St. Patrick – Day 9

2015-03-17 10.56.47

Day 9: Becoming more, which we were always meant to be

St. Patrick is an example of what one can become when the Spirit of God takes over. Reflecting on Patrick’s life may help us recognise a potential in each of our lives, beyond what we may see at present. I am sure there are already pearls in each of our lives that we are grateful for, but there is also always more to discover when one journeys through life with God.

Patrick mirrored God’s love to the people of this island, and through the communion of saints he does so to this very day. Tomorrow the green colour will spread from Ireland all around the world; everyone will celebrate St Patrick’s Day! I wish they all knew what they are celebrating. We are celebrating that we are God’s beloved.

Whatever each of us chooses to do tomorrow on St. Patrick’s Day, let us try to be aware that Christ is in our midst, in the people we meet, in us whoever or wherever we are. And let us say to St. Patrick, “walk among us, holy man, come and celebrate with us Your Day”.

There are many inspiring stories of St. Patrick’s mission here in Ireland – I encourage you to read more about him, from his own writing “The Confession” or other sources.

Patrick’s mission, though not without opposition, has been very successful. He tells us: “Do not contribute to me in my ignorance the little I achieved or taught, which was pleasing to God. Rather let your conclusion and the general opinion be the real truth, that my success was the gift of God”.

Today we pray that if we should listen to His voice, let us harden not our hearts.

A thought for the day (from St. Patrick’s Breastplate): “Christ in every ear that hears me”.

And, Enjoy tomorrow!

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, March 2012)

Novena to St. Patrick – Day 8

2015-05-22 09.31.53-1

Day 8: Personal input and the relevance of St. Patrick for today

Saints are friends we have in heaven. St. Patrick and his story have been an inspiration to me, especially because Ireland played a crucial part in my journey of faith since my teenage years too. For Patrick Ireland played a decisive role in his relationship with God and his mission here on Earth. I believe it is similar with me, as I have been praying for this place from my early teenage years, shortly after my conversion. When I still lived in Croatia the Spirit was increasing my longing for this place I now call my home, even though it took me years to actually come and live here. Knowing there was someone greater than me who came to this place drawn by God provided comfort and stability.

In his “Confession” Patrick writes, “What return can I make to him for all his goodness to me? What can I say or what can I promise to my Lord, since any ability I have comes from him? (…) My only prayer to God is that it may never happen that I should leave his people, which he won for himself at the end of the earth. I ask God for perseverance, to grant that I remain a faithful witness to him for his own sake until my passing from this life”.

Reflecting on Patrick’s life may help us recognise a potential in the Church, and in ourselves, beyond what we see at present. Is there something about his life that particularly inspires you and is relevant for your life? I, for one, find his faith extremely compelling. I wish I had such strong and unwavering faith like he had.

Today we pray that we may rediscover the relevance of St. Patrick for today, and that we may have a renewed hope that God is still on our side, and better days are yet to come.

A thought for the day (from St. Patrick’s Breastplate): “Christ in every eye that sees me”.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, March 2012)
Photo by © Iva Beranek

The story of two sons

prodigal-son, Gary Wallin

Once upon a time, a father had two sons. They had a lot of land and lived on a farm. The sons never called each other brothers, but no one could understand why. The father loved them both, and all that the father had was free for the sons to share in as well. When they were kids, days would pass in which the two sons never played with each other. As they grew up, each did his own duties on the land, but they still never called each other brothers. However, a day came when the younger son decided to go to a far away country so he asked the father for his share. In their country, it was not a custom to ask for inheritance while the landlord was alive. It would be as if saying that one wants him dead. The village people gossiped the lad, he wants the father to die, they said.

The father, broken in heart but in all his love and kindness gave him his share and the son left. Home became a distant thought for the young one, a thought he rarely entertained. But then times got rough and he had almost nothing to eat, he became poor in every possible way so the thought of home started to whisper in his ears again. It was a disturbing thought at first, but after a while, it became sweet, much sweeter than any sweetness he has ever known. He collected his pride and set on a journey, a journey of homecoming.

The father longed for that journey to take place. He thought of the young one many times every day. Days became so lonely without the joy of having both sons in his dwelling. After days of journeying, the son approached the village and the heart of the father sensed him coming so he ran to greet him. The young one wanted to be the father’s servant, but he was not born to be a servant. He was born a son; not an ordinary son, but the son of a lord.

Embrace. The father welcomed him home. Tears. Joy. Confusion. The son fell on his knees before the mercy that he encountered. And the feast. The father’s joy could be expressed only through a royal banquet. The music was on, everyone was rejoicing, everyone but the older son. He almost forgot his father had another son, he did not want to remember as remembering was too challenging. Remembering would make him call that son a brother he never believed he had. He refused to party. He could not face the truth. He felt rejected, alone, betrayed. He could not forgive the young one for having always his own way. He refused to call him brother.

The music stopped.

The father left the party to regain another lost-son. The music stopped. Will the sons become brothers; will the music be on again? That story is on us to tell… We are sons, and brothers, daughters and a father, each in our own way.

© Iva Beranek (Dublin, June 2007; based on the story of the prodigal son, Luke 15:11-32) Photo by © Garry Wallin