Rev Ruth Patterson will be speaking at all Masses on these dates at Clonard Monastery Belfast.
“Sing O Barren one!” This is the word God speaks to the beleaguered people of Jerusalem whose hope had gone and who felt that all they had dreamed of and striven for was over. In this powerful message, (Isaiah Chapter 54,) they are told, “The Lord has called you back from your grief, as though you were a young wife abandoned by her husband. For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great compassion I will take you back. The mountains and hills may crumble but my love for you will never end.” God is urging his beloved to sing. It may seem to us at the moment that we are barren, that what we have known, dreamed of and striven for is over. The world lives under the threat of devastation and destruction. What seemed as secure and eternal as the mountains and hills is crumbling and we are powerless to stop it. But the one indestructible force, more powerful than any other, is love, God’s love for us, for humankind. So, in this present moment, God urges us to sing. What sort of song can come from such a barren place? The way ahead is uncharted but we are returning to Love, to God. At the moment, we are on the very cusp of stepping over the threshold, out of that liminal space we have experienced during the pandemic, not back to what we have known, but into an unknown future, into a wilderness journey. It will require of us a huge refocussing of trust, an ever expanding vision of who God is, a willingness to let go, and, above all, a remembering who we are.
But we start with gratitude. That must be part of the essential rhythm of our song; gratitude, overflowing wonder and praise to the God who continually calls us out of darkness, who rescues us, challenges us, moulds us and shapes us for a purpose far greater than we can ever know or even imagine. As I reflect on that I remember David, called from being a humble shepherd boy tending sheep to become a King. At one point, when David is established in Jerusalem, Nathan the prophet shares with the King God’s covenant promise for the future. David’s immediate response is to worship. He begins his prayer with these words of gratitude and praise, “Who am I, O Lord God, that you have brought me thus far?” And he ends his prayer, “When you grant a blessing, O Lord, it is an eternal blessing!” In this moment he has a heightened awareness of who God is, of his loving purpose, and, in all humility, of who he is. There follows a refocussing of trust, for no matter what happens or how many times he wanders from that covenant promise, having feet of clay like the rest of us, God’s love draws him back and God’s calling of him will urge him on. Can we see how it is so important at times to pause, and remember the infinite love that first drew us and we found ourselves on a journey that you could never have planned or engineered? In these days, whenever I pause to remember, these words of David come to me loud and clear, “Who am I Lord that you have brought me thus far?” It is somewhat overwhelming. It follows that if we believe that it is God who has brought us to this very time that we find ourselves in now, as part of humankind, as a person of faith, then we have no option but to affirm and trust that when God grants a blessing, it is forever. That does not necessarily mean that the blessing is a neat package that would secure our comfort and keep things the way we would like them to be. God is a God of surprises. The blessing may often be shrouded in mystery or disguised as something less, even anguished, but it is my limited experience that enough of it unfolds at those times when it is desperately needed to keep us trusting and hoping. Our song has to be one of gratitude for that ‘love unknown’ that has brought us thus far.
Rev Ruth Patterson preaching at Christchurch Sandymount, Dublin on Sunday 6th March.
3 – 5 December 2021
Theme: One Step Too Far Away – One Breath Too Near.
Facilitator: Rev Ruth Patterson
LIVING THE FUTURE WE LONG FOR IN THE NOW
How has been the journey of the last year and a half of pandemic with all its attendant experiences, both negative and, hopefully, positive been for you? None of us knew back in March 2020 what would happen as the days and weeks and months unfolded. We didn’t know what being in lockdown would entail. We didn’t know how we would react to a whole different way of communicating and how we would deal with all the many restrictions on what we called our ‘freedom’. We have been presented with many challenges and choices, the biggest probably being how we live the present moment with hope, faith and love. Looking back from this vantage point it seems as if sometimes there has been no choice at all- we just have had to obey what we were told. There was, and to a large extent is, no option. But there hasn’t been a curb on thinking, on dreaming, on hoping, on believing, on finding different ways to be present to both the world about us and to this wearied anguished plagued earth. I confess to having found much of these last eighteen months or so very difficult. Yes it has been stretching and at times very dark. But also there have been what Dag Hammarsjold once described as ‘glimpses of gold in the iron grey – proof of all I never dared believe.’ One of my recurring prayers throughout this time has been that I would not miss the treasure hidden in the field of lockdown for me. I have always loved the words from Isaiah 45 where God speaks through the prophet and says, “I will give you the treasures of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you will know that I am the Lord, the God of Israel, the one who calls you by name.” If you are anything like me you will have had to mine very deep at times to discover the riches; sometimes the waves of isolation and despair and helplessness have threatened to overwhelm especially when we have lost someone dear to us from this cruel disease. So many lives have been lost. For those of us who have survived to this point, we acknowledge this with gratitude and not a little awe.
Sometimes I think how great it would be simply to be lifted up from A and be put down at B without having to live the hardships and fears of the journey. But in my saner moments I know that if this happened I would be missing so much. If I spend my time wishing that this bit was over, yes even this cruel time of pandemic and its aftermath, the treasures of darkness would elude me, the field would remain undug and its secret would remain hidden, the two-dimensional world would have won. Joel Mason, referring to what it takes to be a pilgrim, says, “We cannot control him (God); the art of following is the opposite of control. He is all in all, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; he is the journey and the journey’s end.”
I have the feeling that, as we look back from some vantage point in the future the journey we have sought to make, however stumblingly, over these last eighteen months or so will be seen as having been transformative. Some of the prophetic voices of our day talk about the transformative Journey as having three stages – Order, Disorder and Reorder. The starting point and the end is Love. I find this very helpful and have come to see that this is not just a one-off series of events but can happen several times as part of our life experience – if we allow it. In a recent edition of Oneing, a bi-annual publication from the Center for Action and Contemplation, Kirsten Oates describes the journey this way:
There is an Ultimate Reality (God or Love) manifest in all things. This Love is the engine for and the destination of our transformation.
We begin by ordering our lives around our finite self which is caught in an illusion of separateness from Love. The finite self focuses on separateness, survival and self-sufficiency.
An encounter with great love or great suffering exposes the limitation of the finite self and is experienced as suffering. We either consent to this experience in faith – leaving us open to the process of transformation – or return to the ordering around the finite self.
A mysterious and graced experience of God’s presence is tasted and increasingly frees the will to be aligned with God’s will for the love and healing of the world.
Behind us lies the order we have known, the normality that over these last months we have sometimes yearned for with an intensity that perhaps surprised us – back to that two-dimensional world, where we batten down the hatches once again and pick up the mantle of self-sufficiency while, at the same time, paying lip service to a God who has moved on. Ahead of us lies the unknown. All we can be sure of is uncertainty, suffering and a promise from somewhere of a process of transformation, of growth, of freedom, of hope for the world. Which way? Dare we risk entering further into disorder, choosing to live the future we long for in the present moment, trusting that within such a choice lies our growth and our freedom? This is the challenge, the choice, the hope of this present moment. The hope is, as we fling our affirmation of faith against the present darkness that we will see the dawn of reorder, of new life where, having touched mystery and tasted Presence, by grace our will is freed to be more aligned to God’s will – not for ourselves alone but for the love and healing of the world.
Rev Ruth Patterson will be giving a 6 day retreat for the Mercy Sisters in Dun Laoghaire.
Dates: Sunday 26 September to Friday October 1st 2021.
Title: ‘A Traveller Passing Through’
Fr Miceal O’Neill the Prior General of the Carmelites and former Board member of Restoration Ministries paid a surprise visit to Restoration House on Wednesday 7th July 2021.
Rev. Ruth Patterson will be giving a 5 day retreat to the Medical Missionaries of Mary (Drogheda) via zoom from the 10th to the 14th May 2021.
The theme will be ‘A Traveller Passing Through’ based on reflections from a visit to the Holy Land a couple of years ago.