Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Free Your Mind

No, I am not going to encourage you to take drugs in this post despite what the post title may lead you to think.

There are many ways that we exercise what we think is freedom in this world. We choose what we want to do no matter what the consequences to ourselves and others and we call that freedom. And then when we are tired or hurt from exploring and crossing moral boundaries in the name of freedom, we begin to talk about the importance of inner freedom.

The idea is so often written and talked about (and taught in yoga classes) that it has become cliche. But what does it really mean to gain "inner freedom"?

My journey on this road of thought began a couple months ago when a friend wrote a note on Facebook putting forth the possibility that maybe it is better for a person to sin and learn from it than for a person to follow rules mindlessly without really understanding why something is forbidden. This hypothesis did not sit well with me but I let it simmer in the recesses of my mind for several weeks and eventually I found it helpful in understanding inner freedom.

When I first got to the convent several months ago I unconsciously began to try to be perfect. I could tell I was not being real with myself or others but I think I was somehow under the false impression that I could continue the charade indefinitely and convince my fellow postulants and myself that I had come to the convent free of problems and flaws.

Naturally, it did not take long for my flaws to begin to shine through. In one case, I voiced my opinion about not wanting to do something late at night in a rude, petulant way. I was the victor in that situation and everyone went to bed. As I headed to bed, I began to beat myself up, not really for being rude but for letting the cracks in my perfect facade show so obviously. But after lecturing myself I just felt relieved that I was going to bed after a long day.

A few days afterward, I joined the postulants on a trip to a retreat center in the black of morning before the sun had risen. We were instructed to walk around the grounds and pray as the dark of night changed to light.

I made my way to the labyrinth on the grounds and sat under a tree in the middle of it.  I immediately thought, "Bingo, this is the best place to be on the entire grounds. It is peaceful and other people have been here before - that is comforting. I am going to stay here until the sun rises."

I set about eating my breakfast, feeling very satisfied with myself. Several minutes later, however, I looked out into the darkness, into the unknown and I suddenly felt an urge to leave ground already tread. I felt a deep need to make my own path literally and figuratively and I suddenly knew that this is a deep and critical part of who I am. I left my safe spot beneath the tree and as I set out into the darkness I felt God say to me,

"Theresa, stop trying to be someone you are not. I made you to be honest, sometimes painfully so. I made you to voice your opinion with strength and without fear. I made you to be a trail-blazer, someone who should not be afraid of anything. I need you to BE YOURSELF. Try to do it nicely, but if you make more mistakes along the way it is better than if you keep trying to fit this mold of perfection that does not exist. I prefer that real Theresa to this faker I have on my hands right now. Make your own path."

As I came away from that experience, I felt a wide freedom inside of me like a child lifting her arms to heaven.

I have left behind the freedom of the world for the freedom of God - a freedom that does not lead me to crossing moral boundaries and hurting myself and others, a freedom that does not call me to be a perfect robot, but only perfectly WHO I AM. We are all called to embody and live out charity in our own unique way. We can only do this by being ourselves.

And we can only be truly ourselves by following God's will in our lives because He is the only one who knows who we truly are.
You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb ... My very self you knew; my bones were not hidden from you, When I was being made in secret, fashioned as in the depths of the earth. Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be. - Psalm 139
May we have the courage and the strength to leave behind our own choices in life and follow the only path that leads to inner and outer freedom.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Dead We Know

The other night I dreamed about Eric, a friend of mine who died several years ago. We were never that close but I had known him since middle school and I always saw him around until I left Oklahoma for college. When I saw him, I would always say hello and I can still remember his goofy, shy grin as he said, "Hi Theresa" and then looked quickly at the ground.

Eric was a dreamer. Most people thought he was slow but he had a huge heart and I think his naive kindness made people think he was not as intelligent as he was. He was easily led by other people and he got mixed up in things he shouldn't have, probably in part because of his laid back and simple nature.

One time in middle school a teacher asked him if he had a homework assignment and he started to dig in his backpack, throwing pieces of paper all over the floor. His book bag was literally crammed to the brim with wrinkled paper. We were all astounded. It was like Mary Poppin's bag, the crushed paper wads were never ending.  He slowly uncrumpled each piece, occasionally looking at my teacher with an amused and embarrassed smile that said, "I can tell you are annoyed and I am kind of enjoying this but please don't give me detention."

Eric died suddenly, he was shot by someone who was supposedly his close friend. I was told that it involved drugs. When I found out about his death I cried bitterly. He was innocent and simple and his life ended so savagely and in such a dark place. Even though I did not know him well, I had this irrational wish that I could have protected him somehow, sheltered him from the world.

Eric appeared in my dream the other night. He was the same - simple and kind. But he was also different. He was as child-like as ever but wise at the same time. He seemed to see everything, to be aware of everything, in a way he never was before. And his eyes told me that he knew true Love now, that he was in a place of rest.

As we enter November, the month where Catholics pray for all souls in the state of Purgatory (those souls being cleansed before they enter into full communion with God in Heaven), I am remembering the friends and family close to me who have died.

I remember Elinor and Charles Shea, the matriarch and patriarch of the Shea family who are looking down at all of us from heaven with a smile.

I remember Paul and Phil Noble, two men I wish I had known better.

I remember parents of friends - Gabe, Brooke, Anne, Marilene, Angela, Teresa and Lucie - who have died.

I remember Eddie and Caia, two people who died too soon. 

I remember Joe, my friend who also died too soon and whose death deeply affected me - it was one impetus that caused me to reevaluate my own life and eventually convert back to a faith in God.

I remember Stubby, another sweet and simple soul gone too soon who smiles down at me from heaven, healed and whole.

I remember everyone who has died and I hope that when I get to heaven, they all will be there to spend eternity with God.

If you would like me to include someone you love in my prayers this month, please comment on this post with their name or message me on Facebook.