Many years ago, during a period that I was living in England, I attended a very special retreat at Aylesford Priory which is located in the heart of Kent. The Priory is an ancient religious house belonging to the Order of Carmelites and dates back to the 13th century. The setting there was extremely peaceful and welcoming and I returned several times to attend other retreats.
The reason that the particular retreat I mentioned above was so special was because I received an incredible gift, the first of many messages that God has given me through others. One of the participants on the retreat was a woman who suffered some physical disabilities. She was confined to a wheelchair and had a companion who helped her with everything.
On the second day of the retreat our group had broken up into small groups for discussion. I do not remember the specific topic that we were discussing but I do remember that I struggled badly with the word “faith”. I was, of course, trying to be very “intellectual” in my participation – probably trying to impress someone as I did frequently in those days. And because I was not being “real” I was totally missing the point.
In my egotistical attempt to appear sophisticated and clever I became very frustrated and irritated. I remember making a comment along the lines of, “so what the heck is this “faith” thing anyway; I’m not a theologian. How am I supposed to understand the notion of faith?”
At that moment the woman in the wheelchair (I regret I do not remember her name), leaned across the table, took my hands in hers and spoke very quietly and gently. I will remember her words for ever, and for ever I will be indebted to her. She said, “Margo, use the word trust.” I sat there, unable to say a word, and my heart filled up and my eyes filled up and my soul filled up.
She continued to explain that she implicitly trusted her companion to take the best care of her physically and in the same manner she implicitly trusted God to take care of her spiritually. I was very humbled and I think that was the moment that I experienced my first real feelings of gratitude. Today the whole of my belief in God rests in trust and this trust in Him has grown over the years as I see all that He has done for me, a wretched imperfect human being.
God continues to send me messages, sometimes through others, sometimes through readings or events that take place in my life. The most recent message is an old and beloved one. It comes from the gospel of Matthew, 11:28.
"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying
heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
This was the featured scripture verse in one of my meditation books on 27th July. It appeared again in another meditation book on 29th July. And one more time Max Lucado offered it to me in “Grace For The Moment” on 30th July. When He wants to get my attention I usually hear it three times in quick succession. So I am hearing that I need to rest more in the quiet of God. I need to quit struggling and let God do it for me. I need to stop trying to fix situations and people outside of myself. There’s already one Savior and it’s not me!!
A few weeks ago, as I prepared for a women’s retreat, I was asked to do a reflection on Scripture. Because this is about writings from the Bible it is obviously a Christian based article.
I was raised as a “real Catholic kid”: pre-K through Teacher Training college I had nuns all the way! I received formal Religious Instruction classes right through college, but I never remember discussing the Bible let alone opening and reading it. “Bible” was a word that described a holy book, but it was a book that I never read.
I saw my first TV program when I was about 10 years old. It was a movie about a guy whose face had been terribly disfigured and he was a witness in a court case. I remember the movie because of his horrible face and because he swore on the Bible, and that seemed an oxymoron to me because swearing was about bad words, and why would he do that on a Bible??
I have vague memories of certain stories being read at Mass: the Prodigal Son, the Seed Sewer, the Marriage at Caana, but I didn’t associate them with the Bible. The readings were either “cool” stories, boring sermons, or fear-creating admonitions that were part of the Mass.
Picasso had his “Blue Period”; after high school I had my “Black Period”. It lasted approximately 18 years and during this time I had little or no connection with God or the Bible. But thank goodness for the God of Ephesians 2: 4-5: “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of the great love He had for us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, brought us to life in Christ (by grace you have been saved).”
After coming out of my “Black Period” I stumbled along in church but carried all the old knowledge and fear of God. Slowly scriptures began to have some meaning for me as I came out of the dark, but I was still just hearing the word of God, not reading it.
In 1983, thirty-nine years old, I received my very first Bible. It was given to me by the niece of a dear Italian friend, Wanda. who had died. Anna-Maria gave me the Bible because she thought I was “holy” – I actually went to Mass every Sunday!! I remember glancing through it and thinking of Wanda then ……. I put it on my bookshelf.
Years passed and by the grace of God I continued growing spiritually and grew stronger in my faith. I began to conscientiously pay attention to scripture and somewhere between ‘86-89 I joined a mixed denomination Bible Study Group. Rev. 3:20 “Behold I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with Me.”
But I was resistant, the old rebel at heart. I felt “apart from” my Protestant sisters who could recite the Bible inside out. I slunk away feeling very inferior but really it was false pride. Sirach 10: 12-13 “The beginning of pride is man’s stubbornness in withdrawing his heart from his Maker: for pride is the reservoir of sin, a source which runs over with vice.”
Finally I think God took pity on me! In 2004 He sent me on a wonderful retreat experience – Christ Renews His Parish (CRHP). There I discovered the sweet joy of the Holy Spirit who has become a strong vibrant fire in my soul. During my CRHP retreat I was encouraged to dive into the Bible and find nurturing comfort for my soul. In the years between 1979 and 2004 I had been reading daily meditational books which for the most part contained scripture verses alongside a theme reflection. I read the reflection, but always skipped the scripture. Today I not only read the Bible verses but I also spend time reflecting on them, savoring them and seeing just how they connect with the theme and what application they have in my life.
I have come to love the Psalms. If I get too busy I think of 46:10 “Be still and know I am God”. When I am burdened or overwhelmed I read 23:2 “In green pastures you let me graze; to safe waters you lead me.” As I gather with friends for prayer or meditation, I frequently think of Matthew 18:20 “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” And when I am unsure of my direction there are no verses more comforting and encouraging than Jeremiah 29:12-12 “For I know well the plans I have in mind for you, says the Lord. Plans for your welfare, not for your woe! Plans to give you a future full of hope. When you call me, when you go to pray to me, I will listen to you.”
The Bible is no longer a book that sits on my bookshelf. Sometimes it is by my bed. At other times it is on the coffee table, or my desk, and other days it can be found on the patio table. I have attached book tabs so that I can easily locate a verse that I am looking for. It is showing signs of wear and tear. Scripture has meaning in my life today.