Tuesday, February 27, 2007

iPod Random Shuffle Challenge...

Taking a lead from some fellow bloggers out here in cyberspace, I'm taking the "Random Shuffle Challenge". The challenge is to use iPod's shuffle feature to create a random playlist from your music library and post that list, no matter how "corny" or embarassing or whatever it seems. So, OK. I told you guys my musical tastes were a bit eclectic. Here's my answer to the challenge:

"Kryptonite", Three Doors Down
"Take it to the Limit", The Eagles
"Word of God Speak", MercyMe
"Right on Track", from the Breakfast Club Soundtrack
"Got to Give it Up", Marvin Gaye
"Californication", Red Hot Chili Peppers
"Dont' Stop", Fleetwood Mac
"In the Light", DC Talk
"Ordinary World", Duran Duran
"One Night in Bangkok", Chess

Wanna' know what's really scary? I could see myself listening to that playlist, just as it is. "Take it to the Limit" and the Breakfast Club as bookends for "Word of God Speak". Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Picture Worth a Thousand Words

By Dave Myers

I saw this image on another Seminarian's blog the same day I received the comment from my priest friend discussed below. Somehow, they both have joined together to guide my contemplation of all of this over the past days. I wanted to share the picture here, too. (Thanks to "School of Mary" for originally leading me to this image.)

Humility...And Grace...Adding to My Lent Beginning

One of the suggestions someone had given me for a deeper experience of praying the Liturgy of the Hours was to become more specific and purposeful with my intentions. As I worked with that idea approaching Lent, I was sharing with a good friend of mine who is facing some medical uncertainty that I would be including her in my intentions. She looked at me with a "whaddumean" expression. (I have many family and friends - umm... most, actually, who aren't Catholic.) It occurred to me that many of those who I desire to pray with and for might have the same blank stare, so I tried to write something that described my understanding of an intention.

To make sure that I wasn't being inaccurate, I sent it to a priest friend of mine. I'm certainly no authority, and don't intend to publish in his or anyone else's name - but I wanted to make sure it was at least without any glaring error or inappropriateness. In his response, Father shared the following comment:

"..you attempt to configure your life after Christ and one day, if God calls you to be a priest, then you are offering your [prayers] for the world to Jesus Christ who has ascended to our Father in heaven..."

Those words have stayed with me - they still resound in my heart and my mind. They are powerful words. It seems that each day, as I've walked this journey with purpose, some new aspect of what it would mean to be "priest" dawns or develops in my heart. They all evoke a similar response in me.

Configuring my life after Christ. I know this intellectually. And deep within, this is my desire - wherever God leads my life - ordained or not. But when my heart opens to this idea that I so desire to pursue, my heart is always pierced somewhat. Pierced by the coexistence of my desire to do so, and the knowledge that my ability to do so is limited by my humanity.

Offering my prayer for the world to Jesus Christ who has ascended to the Father. Christ is our perfect and Holy "vicar". (from the Latin, "vicarius", meaning representative, or agent, or substitute.) Christ, in His human life, undertook the ultimate act of a vicar. Taking human form, He became man - allowing us to glimpse with human eyes the person of God. (I'm not a theologian - this is probably inaccurate in many ways. But I know there's truth in this idea - and I hope my inability to express it accurately does not hinder how profound it is.) He became our Vicar on the cross - substituting Himself for us.

Ascending into heaven, He continues to act as Vicar - OUR Vicar. Pleading at the right hand of the Father on our behalf. Some days I just know He's there, "Father, Alan loves You. He's trying. I offer you My Body, Blood, Soul, and Devinity in atonement for his sins, and for those of the whole world." I know it, because how else could I know God's love. How else could I know his Grace. How else could I receive an invitation to follow Him at all?

What is really ringing my bell this last couple of days is becoming more and more present to the idea that, if called to ordination, part of what that means is I would become a vicar, a representative, an agent for all of humanity. Standing, by way of some divine mystery, alongside Christ. Pleading to the Father, by way of Christ Himself, "Father, we love You. We try. We're only able to try by Your grace. I offer you the Body, Blood, Soul, and Devinity of Your Dearly Beloved Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonemeny for our sins, and for those of the whole world."

United with Christ in praise, intercession, and in some small way, in sacrafice.

That's what's humbling. That God would invite us to participate in some small way in this mystery. We. Humans. Born in sin. Who's best is to try, and even that flowing only from His grace. What a loving, caring, amazing God we serve.

My humility often leads to questions of competence. Am I competent to participate in such a mystery? Would even years of formation in the Seminary cultivate such competence? Me - a sinner - born of a woman. Me, for whom "try" is the best I can do. Fr. Frank (one of the priests of my parish) encouraged me months ago in this way: "God doesn't call those who are qualified. He qualifies those He calls." Grace. It's all grace. A gift freely given, one that we could never hope to deserve or earn. Grace. (I'm reminded of the thought I had, in the moment Fr. Frank shared that with me: "The grace of that comment in my life arrived from Christ Himself, by way of his priest here before me." It was a result of Christ's Priesthood in the heavens, united with Fr. Frank's priesthood here and now.)

And - what's amazing me even now as I write this... everything I've said above applies to us all in some way. I don't know how it works out theologically, but I do know this. All Christians share in some way in Christ's priesthood. As recipients of, and participators in it. (Isnt' this right?)

As I begin the Lenten journey this year, I'm finding the suggestion to be more purposeful and specific with my intentions IS enhancing my liturgical prayer. Sometimes, even if just for a moment, I can sense my humble prayer here, with and for those I love, joined with the prayer of the whole Church, united with Christ at the right hand of the Father.

Humility. Grace.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Discernment...A Mountain I Can't Climb...

I remember when I first heard what I thought was "God calling me". (Well, it wasn't the first time - I had always thought as a child that I'd be a pastor. But life and love happened along the way, and I hadn't heard - or paid attention to - that calling for nearly 20 years.) I was driving down the road one day, and said outloud, "Gee - I could be a monk like Thomas Merton." The first thought I had was - "Um... Alan... why aren't you laughing your bumpkus off at an idea like that?" THAT's what I noticed first... that the idea wasn't nearly as strange to me as it should have been.

The idea wasn't just a passing thought. It didn't go away. The next morning when I woke up, it was there. It followed me around for days. "What should I do with this?" I wondered. Nothing. Do nothing. This is just... I don't know what this is. Just let it pass. So that's what I did.

Days. A week. Two weeks. It was still there. This "crazy" idea. So, I had to figure out what to do with this idea. I thought about it. Prayed about it. (Although, my prayer wasn't anything close to a model prayer. It was more like, "God - how do I get rid of this crazy idea?") And I decided - more delay. Just sit with it. I won't do anything with it for six months. I'll just let it be. Surely after six months, it will be gone. But, if for some strange reason it isn't, I'll figure out what to do with it then.

A month. Two months. A quarter. Half a year. The idea was still there. I still heard this voice saying, "Um - Alan. You know - you COULD be a monk or a priest." I didn't know who's voice it was. Was it mine? Was it God? Was I going loopy? Was I running from life? Was the voice a reaction to difficulties my loved ones were experiencing?

But, the time had come - I had given myself six months. Now I needed to figure out what to do with this voice.

Notice anything quite odd about all this so far? Yeah - I didn't notice anything odd about it at the time either. It's only in looking back, and in my prayer time these days, that I'm beginning to see one big adjustment that had to be made along the way. (Thank God for Spiritual Directors!)

Here's a hint - ask yourself this question. For me in what I've described above, who's job was it to deal with this "voice" I was hearing? Where was I placing the responsibility for "figuring all of this out"?

When I first began on this journey, I thought this was something I needed to figure out. I. Me. I will. I can. I need to. Me. Mine. My mind. My thought. All me. Where was God? Sure, I was fooling myself that I was praying about this. But, in my prayer, I was telling God what I wanted Him to do so that I could figure this out. I was sending Him "directions" - as if He needs MY directions. Ha!

Bebo Normas has a song that's on the Christian radio these days, "I Will Lift My Eyes". Here are the lyrics:

God, my God, I cry out
Your beloved needs You now
God, be near, calm my fear
And take my doubt

Your kindness is what pulls me up
Your love is all that draws me in

I will lift my eyes to the Maker
Of the mountains I can't climb
I will lift my eyes to the Calmer
Of the oceans raging wild
I will lift my eyes to the Healer
Of the hurt I hold inside
I will lift my eyes, lift my eyes to You

God, my God, let Mercy sing
Her melody over me
God, right here all I bring
Is all of me

Cause You are and You were and
You will be forever
The Lover I need to save me
Cause You fashioned the earth and
You hold it together, God
So hold me now

I will lift my eyes to the Maker
Of the mountains I can't climb
I will lift my eyes to the Calmer

Of the oceans raging wild
I will lift my eyes to the Healer
Of the hurt I hold inside
I will lift my eyes, lift my eyes to You

Discerning God's call for my life is not something I can do. It's a mountain I can't climb. Why? Because its not just about me. It's about my relationship with God. It's not a "me" thing. It's a "we" thing. God and me. And the church. And more.

When I was first confronted with this idea - this concept that "discernment" was less about me having to figure it all out, and more about me loving and trusting God more deeply, entering into a deeper relationship with Him, and letting go of any preconceived ideas, outcomes - or even any questions - it was a bit unsettling. I started all of this trying to figure out what I/Me/Mine needed to do to conjure up a burning bush that would answer the question I was asking. Somewhere along the way, I had to let go. I had to begin to just be who and where I was, still asking my questions, but being open to whatever answers came, even when those answers seemed to point in directions completely unrelated to the "priesthood" question.

As I prepare to enter into this Lenten season, I am amazed and awed at the wonder, and love and grace of the God I am coming to know more and more each day. Truly, as I pray, "I will lift my eyes to the Maker of this mountain I can't climb."

If I could have "figured this out" on my own, I wouldn't have experienced the grace and love and care that comes from trusting God to start climbing the mountain with and for me.

Wherever you are on your discernment journey - asking questions about priesthood, religious life, marriage, children, work, life, love - its all about discerning, isn't it? Wherever you are, trust that just because it feels like its a mountain YOU can't climb, God will climb it with you. And, in letting go and letting Him, the journey will lead where it should.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Visiting The Seminary

Two seminarians from my diocese, who will be ordained this year, gratiously invited me to visit them at the seminary I've learned that our Bishop has decided would be his choice for me this coming August, St. Meinrad. I was very excited to take this next step, as it were, and get a glimpse into the seminary itself, and the life of a seminarian a bit more firsthand.

Over the couple of days that I was there, I experienced and felt many things. I'm sure in the weeks to come, as I continue to reflect on my journey, more about the visit will come out here.

Today, I'm left remembering a moment of feeling overwhelmed. Over the past two years, I've contemplated "the seminary" and "seminary life" many times. Different aspects of what it would mean, how it would be different. Looking back, I see one of the benefits of "contemplating" such things is that we can neatly take one piece of it off the shelf, so to speak, at a time. We can work with that one aspect of it for a bit, get comfortable with it, pray about it, ask God to work in our hearts with that one thing. And then put it back on the shelf, ready to repeat the exercise with some other aspect.

I arrived at the seminary on Thursday evening, and was quickly "swept" into the visit. A visit with the priest/Benedictine monk who is Director of Enrollment. Shown to my room. Twists and turns around the halls and grounds. Down to the student hang out for a beer and a pizza. And then back to my room for the evening. I enjoyed all of that.

But then, 5 minutes after coming to rest in my room for the evening, I realized all of a sudden that I was feeling overwhelmed. I asked God out loud, "God - can I do this? This is SO different. It's been so VERY long since I've felt like a fish out of water."

For about 20 minutes, I felt utterly overwhelmed. The voices of doubt were rumbling. (See, Alan, you can't do this. God isn't making this easy enough for you. You'll never survive 6 years of this after all the time you've lived on your own.) Blah - blah - blah - blah. I needed to pray. And so I did.

You know - its funny. Every time I am able to "let go" of whatever I'm feeling, and give it to God, it very quickly begins to be less unmanageable for me. Less overwhelming. No, I don't have to hide from feeling overwhelmed. I can let it be what it is. But when I quit trying to handle it all on my own and say, "OK God - its me again. Here's where I am. Here's how I'm feeling. What do we do with this?" I get an answer that's what I need. "It's OK. I love you. Just trust me, follow me. That's all I need from you right now. Trust. Follow. If you can do that, I promise you I'll take you where we need to go."

This wasn't the first moment I've felt overwhelmed in the discernment journey. It probably won't be the last. It may have been the most "present" experience with feeling overwhelmed that I've had so far. And you know what I left that experience with? Peace. And lots of it.

I have effort to make. God willing, part of that effort includes enrolling as a Seminarian at St. Meinrad this August. And with that will come "sliming down" to live in a dorm room. Attending class again as a full time student. Letting go of a salary. Trusting God for my material needs. Joining into a rhythm of prayer, study, fellowship, and formation as a member of the seminary community. But, that's all just effort. My part of the work.

If I'm faithful to my part of the effort, I can trust that God Himself, through the seminary and His own working and forming in my life, will create the outcome that is right. Whatever that outcome may be.

Focusing on effort, letting go of outcome - these things bring so very much...peace.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Change...

So I was flipping through the channels last night. Sunday evenings are prime "TV-Time" for me - dunno why. My weekends are usually a mixture of "rest & relax", trying to keep dishes & clothes washed, and keeping the house from becoming a health hazard. My routine for a long time now has been that I attend Sunday evening mass at the Cathedral. So, I suppose after I've returned home from mass, I enter a "wind-down" kind of mode to end the weekend, and get jazzed for a new week. (OK - you can't hear the sarcasm in "jazzed for a new week" - but its there, oh boy is it there...)

Anyway, last night as I was winding down, I was flipping through the channels - looking for something not quite mind-damaging to entertain myself. And up came the Grammy awards. Now, if you know me, you know I LOVE music. I love listening to music. I love to sing along with the radio. (One of my biggest challenges with my iPod is, if I'm not paying attention, I'll find myself singing out loud with my earphones in - forgetting that no one else can hear the song.)

I happened to turn to the show right when they were about to do "Record of the Year". I was excited. To see who was nominated. To see who would win. I'm a music buff after all, you know? So they read the nominees, and play those little clips. Now, the last time I watched the Grammies - I was singing along with all those little clips for record of the year; and I can remember being torn - really invested in who would win - because I really, really liked several of the songs.

This year - I found myself hitting the rewind on the DVR. I MUST have been confused about the category they were working with. This couldn't be "Record of the Year" - I didn't recognize a single song. Not one. So, I re-wound... yup, sure enough, record of the year. Hrm... how could I not know a single one of those songs? Surely, I'd know the artists, right? Hit re-wind again. (I love DVR - just love it.) Mary J. Blige - check. I know her. Loved her first big single, what... five years ago or more? Good. I know one. Dixie Chicks - check. OK - I know who they are, but can't say I know any of their songs. And - um.... isn't this the Grammy Awards? I thought the Dixie Chicks would be limited to the Country Music Awards - or at least the country music categories. They really have a song nominate for record of the year? James Blunt - who? Gnarls Barkley - when did he give up the round ball for a music career - and have we ever had a former NBA player make it to Record of the Year? Oh, GNARLS Barkley. Who the heck is that? Corinne Bailey Rae - OK - I've got to admit - I hit the DVR rewind one more time. This is surreal - is this REALLY the Grammy Awards... for Record of the Year? Who ARE these people?

What was worse than not knowing all the artisits, was that I didn't know ANY of the songs. Not a one. They didn't even remotely sound familiar. Now, for the average person, this might not be a big deal. And its not like my life ever revolved around the Grammy awards. When it comes to music, I like what I like - the awards shows (or anything else, really) have never dictated my taste. But, being a guy who needs radio in his car to work more than he needs A/C, how could it be that I don't have any CLUE about the nominations for Record of the Year?

It puzzled me. It concerned me. Where have I been this past year? What have I been doing? How could I be so out of touch? This is BIG. I've got to figure out what happened. (Have you noticed yet from reading other blog entries that I sometimes over-analyze things?)

So I started thinking. Yup - every time I get in the car, I'm listening to the radio. Every time. I thought more. I'm singing all the time, too. Deep in thought sometimes. Really listening to the music other times. I thought some more. My routine: Get in the car, turn it on, turn up the volume on the radio, and then put on my seat belt. Yep - my priorities are still OK. How could I miss what's happening in the music world?

Then it hit me. I listen to K-LOVE and AIR-1. (Contemporary Christian music stations in my town.) I flip back and forth between them. I sing the songs they play. They are the songs I pray the mass with. They are the songs that I pray with when I'm worried, searching, tired, scared. They are the songs I praise with. My car time has become prayer time. Music is still very important to me - its just that my selection of music has changed. I'm guessing as my own internal focus changed, my music selection followed.

Now - before you jump to any conclusions - I want to be clear. I am not condemning any music. I don't like the stuff that talks only about sex or drugs or killing someone else. But that's because of the topic, not the music. I still like "popular music" - most of the song snipets I heard last night on the awards show sounded OK to me. And, if there's 80's music on the radio, look out. I'm there quick. And my taste in music runs a very wide spectrum. Right now in my CD players at home, one has Steevie Wonder's greatest hits in it (a Christmas present from my mom). The other has Earth, Wind and Fire's Greatest Hits Vol. II. Beside that CD player is my old Nirvannah CD, Elton John's Greatest Hits, and the original cast recording of Phantom of the Opera. I love my music - I haven't abandoned it.

But I realized last night...as I began to turn toward the path of discernment, seeking God more purposefully, and trying to learn how to have the guts to give it all to Him...something happened to my car radio. Over and over in my mind as I thought about this last night, I heard the words of the Gospel: "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Don't get me wrong. I'm far - very, very far - from being the kind of man God wants me to be. My imperfections and shortcomings outweigh me by a ton. It's only a matter of God's infinite love and grace that allows me to approach Him and try to serve Him. But, I think I've got to notice, part of what that grace has given me over the last year or so is a changing of where my tresure is; where my heart is.

I can't ignore God's working in my life. I would not, and could not have, made even so slight a change myself. It's God working in me. Wow. Scary. And humbling.

And - as I reflect this morning - I'm even more grateful that this change hasn't come as a replacement of my love for music, even my love for popular music. Where's my Eagle's Greatest Hits CD? I want to listen to that at lunch.


And, for a special person, who gave me my love of music:

You are the apple of my eye, Forever you'll stay in my heart.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Sometimes, There's Nothing Spectacular...

When I started the blog, I made a commitment to "recording the journey". Sharing what's going on. More than that, sometimes, it gives me a chance to process what's going on - or put a period on the end of a sentence that's been being written over a couple of days. There was lots going on, in my "world", in my "mind", and in my journey those first few days... so lots of posts. Every morning this week, I've sit down to write something new - but found there weren't things going on that were ready to put to words.

This morning, the same thing. Nothing to write about. And then it occurred to me - one of the most common states of being on this journey over the past couple of years has been - "today, there's nothing spectacular". I'm not sure how the spiritual journey unfolds for others, but for me it seems there are sometimes long stretches of nothing spectacular. Nothing earth-shattering (like knowing its time to apply for seminary). No epiphanies (like experiencing for the first time some new, deeper understanding of prayer, or God's love). No monumental tasks to complete. Some days are... just days. Just moments. Just living, and being. Trying, for better or worse, to 'be' what God is calling me to be today.

Though, I must confess... I've probably misled you a bit in the title of this post. Because, what I'm coming to find is that there's something absolutely spectacular about these days when "there's nothing spectacular". Something miraculous and amazing in the reality that it is these pedestrian moments, if we can call them that, that constitute the majority of our journeys into God's will for us. It must be that THESE lackluster moments have the power to grow us, change us, call us forward into God's plan of holiness for our lives. Otherwise, we wouldn't be given them as gifts for the journey so often.

The biggest battle I fight with myself sometimes is seeing and accepting these days for the grace that they are in and of themselves. My temptation is to take them, and begin to go searching for the earth-shattering, mind-bending, life-changing (drum-roll) TA-DA. But, if I've gone searching for it, I run the risk of falsely creating it when its not there. And that would be an exercise in seeking and finding something born of self. What I so desperately want to do is seek and find what is born of God, united in self. (Perhaps similar, but also different.)

Sometimes, as we seek to walk with God, as we strive to become a man after God's own heart, the days are just days. We wake. We live. We serve. We pray. We laugh/cry/work/play. We breathe. Who are we to believe there's anything less than spectacular about that?

So - anyway - nothing huge going on these last couple of days to write about. God's grace and movement in my life, all the same.


I've added a "links" section to the right of the blog where I've listed several seminarian blogs I've found in the last couple of weeks, and which I read regularly. My journey isn't the same as all the guys. I don't agree with all the guys. So my listing them here isn't really an endorsement of what they have to say. But we share one thing in common - we're walking the same kind of path. And their journeys inspire and comfort me.

Friday, February 2, 2007

"In the Year Twenty Thirteen...."

(of course, when you read the title of this post, you heard the same booming, Flash Gordon, totally sci-fi announcer speaking those words as I did when I typed them, right? 'Cause if you didn't, it may not have the same effect...)

That's right, folks. Twenty Thirteen. But we're not talking about the setting for "Voyage to Mars" or "Flash Gordon Saves the Galaxy". Twenty Thirteen is my new "class". If it be God's will, I'm a member of the Ordination Class of 2013.

Wow - that seems like so far away. I was having lunch with Fr. Mark earlier this week, and he asked me how I felt about that. I didn't want to admit how I really felt, but what's the point of dancing around the truth? One thing I've been learning - there's no point in being anything but authentic and honest, with others or myself. If what I seek is God's will, and to follow His call to holiness - I can't do that by wearing masks or avoiding what's real for me right now by trying to say "the right thing".

So I answered Fr. Mark honestly. "It just seems so far away. And truth be told, I have a dangerous attitude brewing. Seminary today feels like a obstacle to beginning to serve God's people, rather than a vehicle for it." How utterly pompous of me!

I've been reading other seminarian's blogs a lot recently. Earlier this week I happened across an entry by a Seminarian from our Diocese who will be ordained to the priesthood this coming spring. In this entry, Deacon Noel says:

Yes, I was homesick. But most of all, I was frustrated with how my vocation story was unfolding. I was frustrated because I came to Saint Meinrad with my own vision of seminary life, with my own program of formation for the priesthood. I thought I knew better. I thought I had it all figured out. I thought they should have taken one look at me and then called Bishop Williams in and had him lay his hands on my head and ordain me right then and there. I was wrong. (You can read all of this reflection at his blog by following this link.)

Heh... its nice to know I'm not completely alone. It's also nice to know that just having this attitude right now doesn't mean my vocation is broken, or that I can't be formed. Formation... formation is what's missing from my attitude. The difference between a ceramic cup that can hold warm tea and a big blob of moist clay that can't do much of anything but roll around is... formation. In the hands of a Master craftsman. Which includes what... shaping, removing imperfections and impurities, curing, strengthening.

I won't lie - my attitude isn't perfect. There's still a part of me that says - gee - six years! (booming voice again:) In the year Twenty Thirteen.

But, there's also comfort, and a realization that if I'm ever going to be a vessel that can carry God's warmth, comfort, nourishment, and sustinence to His people, I have to be formed. By the Master craftsman. Now - if I can keep my hands off, and focus on being formable clay...
On a side note - its been very nice this week being welcomed by the seminarians of our Diocese. I've received emails, phone calls, and even invitations to visit. One of the concerns I've faced over the past two years as I've moved toward today is the idea of being "disconnected" as a priest. Not in the theological or spiritual sense - in the physical and emotional sense. From what I've seen this week, the bonds of community begin long before ordination. If that's any indication of the community and commraderie among the presbyteriate, my concerns are unfounded.

And if any of my fellow Seminarians are reading this - "THANKS GUYS! You sure know how to make a fella' feel welcome."