Posted by: mmreflections | February 10, 2009

Ascending and Descending: February, 2009

Jacob had a dream:  a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s messengers were going up and down on it.  And there was the Lord standing beside him and saying: “‘I, the Lord, am the God of your forefathers…. know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go….  I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you.’  When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he exclaimed, ‘Truly, the Lord is in this spot, although I did not know it!’” (Cfr. Genesis 28:11-16)  When Jacob woke up he realized God’s presence in all that was happening to him.  At some point on our personal journey I believe we will also wake up and discover God’s presence and promise in the midst of all that is or has been happening to us.  We often long for God to reveal himself to us while missing the daily opportunities that come to us in which the very revelation we are seeking is unfolding before us.

In the last five reflections I described the different levels upon which I had been living my life’s journey.  Looking back over the past seventy five years I recognize how frequently various life situations caused me to move back and forth from one of these levels to another.  Some days were overloaded with fears, anxieties and worries while other days were marked by boredom or frustration.  There were times when anger or resentment seemed to cloud everything I was doing.  On the plus side many moments were marked by deep love, joy, peace and gratitude.  My life could be best described as fluctuations between one level and another.  In discussions with my friends I learned this is how most of them described their own life situations.  This is probably the normal way of life for most of us and we very rarely take time to give much attention or thought to the level on which we are living.  In this month’s reflection I hope to share thoughts about what I consider the sixth rung of my spiritual ladder.

For many of us life seems to be a series of problems to be solved, goals to be accomplished, mistakes to be corrected, sins to be forgiven and questions to be answered.  Along with this many of us find ourselves struggling with fears, worries, anxieties, guilt, boredom, frustrations, anger, resentment and weariness most of the time.  There are seasons of peace, joy, love, happiness and satisfaction but it seems they quickly pass.  New problems or challenges arise!  This is life!  For me the secret was staying alert and paying attention to what was happening.  For most of my life I seemed to be asleep, failing to realize God’s presence in my life and how everything I was experiencing was a part of a greater plan.  When I was living unconsciously, that is, without alertness and attention, I made many mistakes as I tried to resist what was occurring in my life and the negative emotions and feelings that followed.  I also learned by accepting whatever occurrences were confronting me and by being alert to the emotions I was feeling, I made wiser decisions which were accompanied by peace and healthy satisfaction.

On this sixth rung of the ladder we begin to live with attention and awareness.  Instead of being overwhelmed by what is happening in our lives we begin to experience God’s grace at work on whichever rung of the ladder we may find ourselves at any moment of the day.  We will find ourselves ascending and descending the rungs of the ladder in the midst of our daily activity.  When I find myself awake on the bottom rung I realize God is with me and there is a lesson to be learned.  The same applies to the second and third rungs of the ladder.  The instant we realize where we are we will find ourselves resting in God’s love and overflowing with gratitude.  To live with this kind of attitude we will need to make some adjustments in our thinking in order to live with the wisdom from above.  When feeling overwhelmed with the negative emotions characterized by the lower rungs of the ladder, we need to understand by faith that there is some blessing present for us. St. Paul teaches, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.”  (Hebrews 11:1)  St. Paul also encourages us to “Endure trials as discipline.  At the time, all discipline seems a cause not for joy but for pain, yet later it brings the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who are trained by it.”  (Cfr. Hebrews 12:7-12)

We are reminded on this awareness or attention rung of the ladder that we need to be strengthened by God’s grace every day.  We need to grow strong spiritually, emotionally and physically each day of our life so as not to become unhinged every time an unexpected situation arises.  How can we walk without fault?  Only by keeping the truths which Jesus taught us!  We need to seek God’s plan with all our hearts.  We need to pray that we not stray from the right path in moments of difficulty.  The lower rungs of the ladder are wake up moments which can help us to grow spiritually stronger and lead to the upper rungs of the ladder.  As God’s sons and daughters we will grow stronger as we move up and down the rungs of the ladder with attention.

It is important for us to understand that being on the lower rungs of the ladder are not bad in themselves.  It is only human for us to be worried and afraid at times; it is also human for us to be bored and frustrated at other times; it is also human for us to be angry and upset at times.  What is needed is for us to be attentive to what is happening at these times and not be overcome by whatever emotions are present.  I have noticed that when I pay attention to these feelings and seek God’s wisdom they quite quickly disappear and I am left in peace.  Most of the upsetting situations in our lives are brought about because of some preoccupation with the dead past or with some anxieties about the future.  It is quite apparent that much of our society is caught up with increasing anxiety about the future; it is difficult to stay centered in the present moment as we are bombarded on all sides with the current situation in our country and in the world.  If we are not alert we can easily be taken over by fear and make mistakes that would destroy our peace.  It may seem impossible to stay centered if we rely upon our own strength; these are the times we need to rely upon the strength that comes to us from a power greater than ourselves.  Trials and testing do not come into our lives to break us but rather to help us grow strong in God’s grace which will keep us from wavering in our confidence. 

This reflection has been more difficult to write than I had anticipated primarily because I am learning with each new day the importance of staying awake and paying attention to all that is happening each moment of my own life situation.  Even as I am preparing this reflection I am struggling with anxiety and worry about each word I put down on paper.  I have been dealing with the temptation to procrastinate and delay this work.  I also find myself getting upset and angry with myself for not being able to put more clearly on paper what is in my heart.  On the other hand, I am motivated because of my love for each of you and my desire to make God’s love known to you.  At the same time, I am grateful that I have this opportunity to share with you what I am learning.  The truth is that even as I am writing this reflection I am ascending and descending, going up and down the ladder myself.

I suggest a re-reading  “Awake or Asleep” (August, 2008)  to help you better understand the importance of this level of the spiritual ladder.  As mentioned before, I am only trying to put into words some aspects of my own journey and the lessons learned along the way.  If you find a gold nugget or two in these writings meant to be a blessing for you, give thanks to God for all my teachers.     

   “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, and act like men.  In a word, be strong.  Do everything with love.”  (1Corinthians 16:13-14)

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