Fourth Hoboversary: What’s Changed?

Saturday marked four years–and nearly one million blog views–since I started hoboing. It does sometimes seem that this episodic novel I’m living is monotonous in its constant change, but a look back at where I was four years ago makes me think things are rather more different than I’d realized.

Something else I wasn't expecting to be part of my hobo life.

I wasn’t this expecting to be part of my hobo life.

Four years ago, I quit my job, packed everything into my car, and started driving. I figured I’d be couchsurfing until July, then God would give me a place to live. Four years later, there’s no end in sight. I figured I might hit 20 or so states before I settled down. 49 states and 18 countries later, not so much. I called it a sabbatical, thinking I’d stay someplace quiet and have lots of free time to write a book. Quiet? Free time? Ha.

It became clear within the first 8 months or so that this was going to be a longer and wider-reaching ministry than I’d expected. You lovely people have read and shared my blog, invited me to speak, told your friends, connected me to people abroad, and all around kept me busy. And as this whole crazy thing has unfolded, I’ve found myself praying more and sleeping less, reading more and blogging less, falling asleep in chapels more and beating myself up about it less.

Also wasn't planning on employing a puppy evangelist.

Also wasn’t planning on employing a puppy evangelist.

Then I liked very little better than talking about myself. Now it’s all I can do not to sigh dramatically when someone asks me a question I’ve answered a thousand times.1 Then I was such an extrovert I couldn’t stay awake driving unless I was talking to someone on the phone. Now I’m thrilled when my host offers to leave me alone for the evening–and I detest talking on the phone.2 Then I was convinced I was going to be a consecrated virgin. Now I’m thinking God might be intending marriage for me.

I can feel the strain this life has put on my body; I might still be able to drive 15 hours in a day, but my back is no longer pleased about it.3 Fortunately my soul’s holding up better than my shoulders. I lamented last year that this life isn’t making me a saint, and while I’m certainly no saint, I can see areas where the Lord is rubbing off my rough spots using internet trolls, thoughtless hosts, and talks that go over like a lead balloon.

Didn't anticipate how often pieces of my car would fall off.

Didn’t anticipate how often pieces of my car would fall off.

There’s quite a lot that’s hard—though mostly not the things you’d expect—and quite a lot that’s lovely. There are days when I think I can’t possibly do this any longer and days when I can’t imagine anything else. Most days are both.

But the biggest shift has been in how I preach. For the first year or so that I was a hobo, person after person asked me what my topic was. I’d prayed about narrowing my focus and I really felt that I couldn’t, that I wanted to speak on all things Catholic.

“Everything,” I’d say, “but at heart I’m an apologist.” I was fascinated by the differences between Protestantism and Catholicism–still am–and was pretty convinced that training Catholics in how not to be Protestant would teach them to be Saints.

I'm not at all surprised by how many books I have.

I’m not at all surprised by how many books I still have.

What I didn’t realize was how very many Catholics weren’t ready to be Saints. Or Catholics. Or even Christians. I didn’t know how many people go through the motions without knowing Jesus. I had no idea that people would bother showing up to Mass–even to daily Mass–when they didn’t love him.

I was trying to feed meat to children who needed milk. And while I’m sure those were good enough talks, I was skipping the foundation of loving God and trying to build the turrets and crenellations. I won’t worry about who I missed, I’ll just trust that God was working even then.

But then I read Forming Intentional Disciples (which is amazing and you simply must read it) and realized that what people need more than anything is to hear the simple Gospel proclaimed in compelling ways. And I shifted my focus.

Had no idea I'd be spending two months in Europe each year.

Had no idea I’d be spending two months in Europe each year.

Oh, I still speak on confession or purgatory or Church history, but I’ve really only got one talk: “God loves you like crazy.” I just frame it in different topics. Basically every talk I give now is the kerygma (a proclamation of the Gospel). When I talk with individuals, I try to work it in. When I get excited about defending some point of doctrine, I remind myself the whole point is to convince people that God loves them and encourage them to live like that’s true.

So these days, you’re more likely to hear me say this than anything else: you are loved beyond imagining by a God who died to know you. It’s incredibly basic and the most important thing you’ll ever hear. Which is why I try to slide it in to every talk I give, even to people who already believe it. Because it’s the greatest good news the world has ever seen and it changes everything.

So it’s the same mission that it was, just longer. And busier. And more exhausting. And more focused on the one thing that matters: the love of God. All in all, a good four years. Please pray for me!

  1. Amazing that it took me three years of talking about myself nearly nonstop to get tired of the subject. []
  2. I still love people, it’s just such a treat to be alone! []
  3. My back is no longer pleased about most anything and I’ve decided getting a massage every few months is not overly indulgent. []
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Experiencing the Spirit

I’ve always loved the Holy Spirit rather more than most, I think. For years, I told people he was my favorite person of the Trinity, if it’s not blasphemy to pick favorites among the coequal, coeternal persons in the triune Godhead. When your gifts are as churchy as mine, it’s easy to have powerful experiences of the Holy Spirit. And I certainly have, whether it’s through speaking or giving counsel or just following God’s prompting to visit a random town in Ohio or fly out of Norfolk for no good reason.

I describe him as a power running through my veins, like adrenaline or alcohol or caffeine. He heightens my experience of the world and makes me more alive.

2016-04-06 19.03.13But last week in a powerful homily Father asked us to imagine the Holy Spirit not just within but behind us, catching us up and pushing us along, and the Lord gave me the most beautiful image. I’m sure I can’t describe it adequately, but I think I have to try.

The Spirit is a wind that you can see and feel, a wind that has a personality you can understand, though he speaks only mutely. He communicates by the things he catches up and shows you, the places he draws you, and the way he moves you. When he first begins to blow around you he may be gentle and enticing, but at a certain point he sweeps you off your feet, spinning you around before gently setting you back down. When he takes control, you can choose how to respond. You can fight, clinging to lamp posts and trying to keep charge of your life. And more often than not, he’ll back off and let you continue trudging along through your dreary life, oblivious to the joy and wonder he’s trying to open to you.

But you’ll find that when you fight him you often end up hurting yourself. The less you trust, the more you clench your fists around your own plans and ideas, the more you find your shoulder wrenched, your nails broken, your neck aching from whiplash. When you give in, though, surrendering to the movement you don’t understand, there’s an unexpected comfort and even a whimsy. You might be spun into the air laughing for joy or gently cradled for a moment of rest. The wind is at times warm and comforting, at times a bracing chill to wake you. He’s got emotions, too, that you can sense from how he’s moving but that you also inhale, finding yourself filled with power or clarity or peace amid turmoil. It’s different depending on what he’s doing–he’s nothing if not unpredictable.

Watch this brilliant video for some sense of what I mean, only with more of a personality and taking you into the air as well as around on your feet:1

I’ve been sitting with this image of the Spirit all week, allowing myself to be caught up in his dance and filled with his power. Sometimes I see myself reaching out to grab something that isn’t for me and left tumbling, falling, falling before suddenly he catches me again and puts me back where I belong.

flameIt’s somehow both thrilling and peaceful, a gentle ride on Aslan’s breath or an hour in a tornado. It’s more a relationship with a person than just the motivation and inspiration I’ve felt before. I’m not sure if I’ve described it well enough, but maybe you can pray with this image during the octave of Pentecost, asking the Spirit to show you who he is and how he works. Find someplace still (before the Blessed Sacrament is always best) and picture yourself being caught up and carried about by the Holy Spirit. Maybe it’s terrifying or out of control or just as it should be. Maybe you’re fighting it and the Spirit won’t leave you behind or maybe he leaves you be to try again later. Maybe there’s something specific you grasp that causes you to be pulled out of God’s will. Maybe it’s all too speculative. But this is where my spirit’s been all week and it’s been absolutely lovely to be getting to know the Spirit as a real person, not just a force. Give it a shot and let us know what you think!

  1. There’s some other animated piece, I think, that accomplishes what I’m imagining, but I can’t quite think what. It’s a little bit Toothless the dragon and maybe something from Peter Pan? And a lot of the Genie from Aladdin. And other bits that make it much more personal than this, but this is a start. []
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When Being an Easter People Is a Bad Thing

Easter candle liliesHappy Easter, friends! We are an Easter people over here–all 50 days of it. So along with my feasting (and there has been plenty of feasting) all during the Easter season I’ve been trying to use the stories from Acts as much as I can. After all, Acts is our Easter book, right? We read from it every day of Easter. So let’s be all about the Apostles and the amazing work they did, especially during this Easter season!

Until last week when I realized: almost none of the Acts of the Apostles takes place during Easter.1 Because during Easter, the Apostles weren’t out doing anything. For forty days they were being taught by Jesus, learning to forgive sins and feeling their hearts burn within them as he opened the Scriptures to them. And then he ascended. And maybe they felt empowered by the great commission or maybe they felt afraid and alone or maybe they wondered if this wasn’t another 3-day psych-out. But whatever they were feeling, here’s what they did:

They kept to themselves.

“They were continually in the temple praising God,”2 which is great. They “devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”3 They were in fellowship and in prayer amongst themselves, but they weren’t going out. They weren’t preaching Christ crucified or offering his mercy to the nations.

They had an excuse: they hadn’t yet received the Holy Spirit.

What’s our excuse?

We received the Holy Spirit at baptism and his presence was strengthened in confirmation. We claim his name over our lives every time we cross ourselves. We’ve been called and filled and sent out.

But most of us are still locked in the upper room.

We’ve met the risen Christ and many of us have been transformed. Like Peter our sins have been forgiven, like Mary Magdalene our broken hearts healed, like Thomas our doubts satisfied. We’ve been made new. And now we’re sitting around doing nothing about it.

Oh, we might be in the temple day in and day out. We might be meeting in fellowship and even praying together. But we’re not reaching out to the world.

I wonder what happens when the Spirit comes down as tongues of fire and we refuse even to open the windows, let alone go out into the streets. My hunch is that it doesn’t look pretty and doesn’t end well.

That’s where we’ve been as a Church for far too long. In the West, at least, we’ve been focusing inward, trying (halfheartedly, in most cases) to take care of our own. But when a missionary Church locks itself in an upper room, nobody gets fed.

This year on the Vigil of Pentecost, people all over the world are praying in a special way for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit. They’re praying that the power of God will be released in their lives, that they’ll live in the freedom of the Spirit. I think one of the most powerful ways that we’ll experience this is by giving God permission to touch hearts through us. If we decide that we’re going to unlock the door and walk out into the streets, proclaiming Christ and living the book of Acts, we’ll be transformed just as much as those we meet. We’ll move past Easter (still filled with Alleluias) and live in Pentecost as though it were Ordinary.

This Pentecost, the Spirit is coming down. Let’s open our lives to him and go out to set the world ablaze.

Pentecost

  1. That we know of anyway. Certainly not during the first Easter season. []
  2. Luke 24:53 []
  3. Acts 1:14, though they weren’t really his brothers []
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The Day After the Annunciation

Yesterday the world stopped spinning.
The whole earth trembled.
Heaven came down to earth
as the Word was made flesh
in my womb.
Mine.
Though I am no queen,
no prophetess,
no Judith or Esther or Deborah.
Here in this nowhere town
dwells the creator of all the world.

I cannot say if there were trumpets,
though I heard them,
nor if choirs of angels sang God’s glory.
I only know my heart thrilled,
my spirit soared,
my soul sang
as the angel of the Lord called me God’s own
and asked me to bear his Son.

But that was yesterday.

Today the angel is gone,
and so too the astonishing peace,
the silence in my heart so loud it fairly shook.
Today I am not wandering
like one in a dream,
a secret smile touching my lips
as my hand returns again and again to rest
over the spot where Life himself has chosen to live.

Joy still, yes, and wonder.
Who am I that my Lord should come to me?
Still my heart is full and still my head spins with the glory of it all.
But today I have to think:
what next?

St. Anne and the Young Mary, by Maria Pureza Escano.

St. Anne and the Young Mary, by Maria Pureza Escano.

Perhaps I imagined it,
fell asleep in the warm afternoon sun
and turned the words of the prophet
into my fate.
Perhaps it was a dream,
a temptation,
a trick of the light.
And yet there has never been anything so real
as that shocking moment of peace,
that clarity of confusion.
Nobody could hear what I heard
and see what I saw
and not believe.

But they did not see.
Nor did they hear.
And today I must wake from this dream I am living
and act.

What will he say, when I tell him this thing that has never been told before?
Will he rage against what cannot be believed,
call me out for a liar and call my neighbors out with stones?
He would have that right.
But no.
My Joseph so gentle could never.
He will not shout, will not condemn.
But still he may not believe.

And the sorrow in his eyes would break my heart
if it did not beat for another Heart than his.
He may turn from me,
divorce me,
and leave me alone with this Child who will save him, too.
I am not afraid,
exactly.
My life is not my own.
And He who has chosen me will take me where I need to be.
Though that may be death or disgrace,
though a sword may pierce my heart,
I know he will be with me.

But
but
but I cannot help but hope
that the love of this good man will be stronger than his doubt,
that my parents will believe,
that I and my son will be safe.
As I walk from the radiance of the angel’s presence
into the darkness of the unknown,
God-with-me guides my steps,
though we may walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
And while my flesh may fear
my heart will choose to trust.

Even when I cannot see him
I will be faithful:
the handmaid of the Lord.

After the Annunciation

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Do You Have a Reliable Car?

I took my hot mess of a car into the mechanic last week for a weird rattling sound. 6 hours later, I got this call:

“What is the story on that car?”

I knew things weren’t going to go well.

I don't think this muddy disaster had anything to do with it.

I don’t think this muddy disaster had anything to do with it.

Apparently I drove her right into the ground. Shocks, struts, control arms, wheel bearings, rotors, everything.

“Your brake pads are okay,” he said. Because that was about the only thing.

Undriveable, he said. And I was kind of relieved. My prayer has always been that I would know for certain when it was time to move on from this lemon of a car, and this was about as certain as I would get. Besides, I’ve spent the last few weeks (months?) dealing with dead babies and broken marriages and foreclosed homes and kids with restraining orders and all kinds of heavy, ugly stuff that I can’t fix for people. This I could do. God has shown me again and again that if nothing else, he’s at work when my car is a disaster.

People always ask me, “Do you have a reliable car?” After all, how could you live out of a lemon? How could you put 3,000 miles a month on a car that might break down at any moment? How could you drive 500 miles from anyone you know if your brakes might go out or your radiator crack or your engine die? Who would spend this many hours in a car that regularly leaves bits behind on the highway? Of course I must have a reliable car.

“No,” I answer. “But I have a reliable God.”

A very kind young man in Alabama took this off my car when I pulled into a gas station and lay down on the ground to see what was dragging.

A very kind young man in Alabama took this off my car when I pulled into a gas station and lay down on the ground to see what was dragging.

This car has been trouble almost since I got her. She dies at inopportune moments, eats money I don’t have, and leaves me nervous that I might find myself stranded.1

But every time she’s broken down, God has saved the day. Every time I’ve been stuck somewhere, it’s because he was doing something. Every time I’ve had an emergency change of plans, he’s taking me somewhere I need to be. Maybe it’s a mechanic who needs to hear about Jesus, maybe it’s me needing to see how he provides, maybe it’s a hostess who needs someone to listen and pray with her. But it’s really gotten to the point where something goes wrong with my car and I smile and step back, wondering what God’s about to do.

He proves himself again and again, this God of mine. And it’s nowhere more obvious than with the thing I rely on most in this world. Every time there’s a disaster with my car, he reminds me that I don’t need a reliable car. I need a reliable God. And I have one.

In fact, I’ve learned so much about God’s faithfulness from my car that she’s even named after what she’s done for me. I call her Betty, but it’s really BD: Balaam’s Donkey. In Numbers 22, Balaam was a pagan prophet asked to curse Israel. He knew God would only bless them, but eventually he agreed to see what he could do. On his way there, an angel of death stood in his path to cut him down. His donkey, seeing the angel, refused to go on. Balaam beat her in rage until she opened her mouth and spoke, telling him that her refusal to move was saving him.

I’ve seen again and again how my Betty’s refusal to move has saved me: in individual circumstances and above all in transforming my ability to trust the Lord.

Oh, I’m still learning, of course. Tuesday I bought a new car and Wednesday I felt compelled to return it. As I was sitting in the chapel, anxious and frustrated to the point of tears, I suddenly remembered who God is and gasped:

“Oh, that’s right! You’re always at work!”

Matthew 10 29-31And the peace was back again. Because for a few hours I’d been overwhelmed by the unknowing and the complexity and the heaviness of life but then he sang me that song he’d been singing all day (Matthew 10:29-31) and I remembered that he is always working all things for good. I don’t have to know how or when because he’s done it enough that I trust him.

Meanwhile today I’m buying a car on my way from Atlanta to Baton Rouge. Hopefully this one lasts longer than the last! And while I went looking for reliability this time around, there’s a part of me that mourns the loss of the jalopy that taught me so much. Rest in peace, Betty. Well done.

 

  1. When I sold her, she had parts from Missouri, Nevada, Georgia, Oklahoma, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. At least. []
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