"We were born to embrace not accept it."
~from Let Us Love by Need to Breathe
"Ours is the Spirit of the Eucharist, the total Gift of Self."
~ St. Katharine Drexel
~"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me." Is 6:1
It's that time of year again, the time to look forward to the year ahead and anticipate how I hope to grow spiritually. One of my favorite ways to do this is by prayerfully choosing a "word" upon which to reflect and then to periodically take a look at my spiritual life throughout the year to see how well I am accomplishing the goal of growing closer to God through the basis of that word.
I began this practice three years ago with the word "surrender," then moved onto "accept" and finally strove to go "deeper" in my faith this past year. All of these words were carefully chosen to help me to come to know and understand God's will for my life and then to learn to fully live it.
Recently I was listening to one of my son's CD's on the drive to work and was struck by the lyrics: "We were born to embrace not accept it." Here was a very fitting word for 2012, I thought, and I was especially touched by how it moves me beyond the simple acceptance of two years ago and brings me into the deeper posture of an embrace. The past three years were difficult and the words I chose to focus upon were very challenging for me, but now, I have gone two full months without a depressive episode and this feeling of consistent peace which is currently marking my life makes me long to embrace all that I am and all that God has abundantly blessed me with; I want to move beyond surrender and acceptance and to remain in the blissful depth of His love for me.
It almost seems too easy, doesn't it, to embrace God's will when I'm feeling peace, joy and happiness? Yet I've learned from the spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer that when we offer our days to God, he doesn't want only our sufferings and sorrows, but that He also wants our joys and our happiness, and sometimes, giving Him those things that feel good, that bring us pleasure, can be the hardest thing of all. Sometimes, when darkness threatens to haunt me, remaining in joy and giving it to God is a spiritual sacrifice in itself. Living a Eucharistic life of gratitude means giving God my total self because He wants all of me, and so I will strive to give Him my all and to embrace all that He gives to me in return.
This past Sunday morning I was scheduled to lector at Mass and as I read the first reading I was immediately struck by the opening line- "The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me," and throughout the remainder of Mass I continued to hold this line prayerfully within my heart. I must have read it an especially profound manner as well, because after Mass my sons complimented me, which is very rare, and they mentioned that there was something very different about how I proclaimed that very first line.
Later that evening I attended my parish's Advent Taize Prayer Service which is one of my favorite ways to pray. There is nothing so beautiful as prayerfully sitting in a near-dark, intimate church surrounded by candlelit icons while chanting scripture punctuated by periods of blissful silence. I sat near the front of the church where I could focus on the icon of the Holy Family and deeply pondered it throughout the service. Here, in this painting, the Holy Family's entire posture is one of embrace. I noticed St. Joseph's arm around the Blessed Virgin and her head resting upon his shoulder. I saw how all three of their hands are gently touching. I looked at the expression of peace on all of their faces. I could clearly see the Spirit of the Lord God upon the Holy Family through the deep love that is so evident in their circular embrace. Here is a family that lived a life of embracing one another and of embracing God's will for their lives!
Praying with that image reminded me of the first time I ever took a weekend retreat alone, away from my family. My plan was to completely focus on God the entire time I was away, but I found that I couldn't concentrate on God when my mind kept wandering to thoughts of my family and how much I missed them. I took a walk on the beach and collected rocks and wrote a word on each rock to represent every one of my family members. On my husband's rock I wrote the word embrace because the thing that I love best about him is being held within his strong arms in a silent embrace every morning before he leaves for work. I realized that my entire life could be like that morning embrace between my husband and I! I could allow myself to be wrapped in God's loving arms and let Him carry me through the coming year, trusting that in good times or in bad, He will always be there loving me and caring for me.
Just as St. Joseph in the icon, my husband in the mornings, and all fathers in life hold and care for the ones they love, God holds and embraces me as well. The Christian life with God is an embrace, a total offering of ourselves to Him and the sweet, precious gift of His total and complete Self in return. In His embrace I can't help but feel the Spirit of the Lord God upon me and I will walk in the peace and joy of His presence every day of the coming year! I'm looking forward to 2012 and believe that it is going to be a very good year!