To Be A Witness

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"To Be a Witness" by Kimberly Nettuno (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright Stasi Albert (2006) via Freeimages.com, CC0 Public Domain

Be teachable every day.

These were reassuring words on February 11th when I was blessed with the opportunity to offer a talk at an upcoming retreat. That talk was entitled: Study. I immediately felt unworthy to speak on such a topic. A relatively new Catholic that could only be described as a long-lost, rebellious child of God now offering insight into Study. But the Lord seems to place us where we need to be?

This idea of me learning,

let alone offering any enriching paths regarding Study did not occur to me? However, as the Lord places us gently upon the road, He encounters detours of our doubt with opportunity. This was precisely His plan. Sunday, as I was lying in bed, words ignited a combination of fatigue, anticipation, and anxiety. My body began to burn, and the desire to sleep abandoned my active mind, filling it with dreaded things to come.

First, a prayer:

I would have to come up with a prayer! Great, that unworthiness from the day before crept back in – I don’t think I’d ever led anyone in prayer. Then something encountered fear that had long left. A prayer I had not spoken since I was thirteen. I knew it was time for me to relearn what this little prayer meant and find the courage to say it once again.

Second, where did my study begin?

Truthfully, I had no idea how to answer this as I wasn’t sure it had ever started. Until relatively recent years, I had no encouraging influence or desire to seek knowledge. And even after finding my home in the Catholic Church, had I ever thought about learning anything beyond Mass? Then, the Holy Spirit, like a master weaver, intertwined my thoughts, connecting times I’d long left forgotten with those the Lord had recently enlightened.

Finally, a witness:

Since the age of six, I wished NOT to be witness to much of what life had offered me. But, this prayer kept stirring, and as I lay there sweating from memory’s flood, I knew what I must say. And, doing so was going to require my being teachable. These memories were not reminders for my benefit or hindrance but a request. An invitation to be willing to lift devastation shoved into darkness upward into new light – to allow The Holy Spirit to be my guide and learn what the Lord saw, so that I, myself, might see.

I awoke

Monday morning, eager to write. I opened the talk outline I’d not yet looked at and read the first line.

Study is applying the mind to learn the truth.

What an astounding statement. It was as if God whispered His truth would be revealed if I openly offered or applied My thoughts to His will. I knew why I was chosen for this talk. I’d long been supposed to give it, and I think more so to hear it. I continued to familiarize myself with the outline. Little reminders of God’s comforting presence kept appearing. They became reassurances leading me ahead to the feared approaching word: witness. As I gazed through the next few bullet points, there it was. I paused; I knew what it meant to witness, but who or what is a witness and how do they objectively share vulnerability with others to provide all listening (including the speaker) the potential for growth? I did not know.

"To Be a Witness" by Kimberly Nettuno (CatholicMom.com)

Copyright 2007 Rene Yoshi via Freeimages.com, CC0 Public Domain

I only knew what I’d witnessed.

I am not a cradle Catholic, in fact, until the age of twenty-four, I could count on my one hand the people I knew that used words such as Church, Religion, even God. None of the few included my mother or father, yet oddly enough two of these people were my mom’s parents – Nanny and Papa – as I affectionately referred to them. They lived in Florida and were a solid foundation for a very broken child. In the summertime, I was able to go and visit. They attended a small Southern Baptist Church, and every Wednesday evening and Sunday morning, we were there.

They taught me

a prayer that we would repeat at all mealtimes and bedtime, and when I was about eight, they gave me my first Bible. All I remember about this gift was the picture that enveloped the cover. It was a picture of Jesus sitting under a tree and gathered all around His feet – sitting, standing, and kneeling – were little children. They appeared to be with such attentiveness – listening, lingering on His every word – what I perceived to be learning. The other thing I remember about that Bible was my relentless desire to be one of those children, and the suffocating inability to ask how.

When I was thirteen, my grandparents were killed. As I sat at the funeral, I asked my mother for a piece of paper and a pencil. Many people spoke, and more cried – I sat, without emotion, and began to write. I wrote the one prayer we would repeatedly say during those summer visits. At the end of the funeral, the preacher invited the family up to the open coffins. I folded my paper, approached my grandfather and placed the prayer on his chest. It remains with him.

The dream

of ever becoming one of those children sitting at Jesus’s feet quickly faded. I never again looked at that Bible, nor did I ever repeat the prayer. That is until I was asked to give a talk entitled Study. The first spoken words are that prayer.

Four little legs at our tables

Four little angels willing and able

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

Bless these tables for all the seated

And whoever else sits among them.

Life, from that day forward

climbed many lonely hills where I thought I had it all figured out and lay in many abandoned valleys longing for answers. That is until I married my cradle-Catholic husband at the age of 24. Shortly after we began dating, he asked me to go to church with him. Hesitantly, I said yes. That date was an Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Benedict’s Catholic Church in Atlanta, GA. Talk about awestruck! I thought I had died and awoken within some fairy tale. The pageantry, the smells, the bound voices speaking in unison. I was immediately smitten!

I became Catholic in 2003 at St. Luke’s Catholic Church in Dahlonega, GA. That small white church became a crack in what was the first to lead me to many doors of grace that continue to open. Slowly, I learned the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Profession of Faith. My constant study matched my desire to become one of the coveted threads that joined my fellow brothers and sisters. I still, to this day, am in awe of the many voices coming together! It binds me to the first time when I was able to speak with them in unison granting me the recognition that I was part of something much bigger.

Twelve years into my faith journey,

study outside those walls presented itself. In April of 2015, I attended a silent retreat, and it was there that my husband thinking I might need something to do with my time slipped a book into my bag. That book was The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen.

I began reading it and couldn’t stop. I’d heard this parable countless times, and yet there I found myself walking among the pages. It was as if Jesus was gently reminding me with such joy – I know where you’ve been,

you were lost, but now you have been found.

(Luke 15: 24)

The desire to seek and find flooded my soul. What happens when we crave information? We begin to hunt for that which we so crave.

Flash a bit forward to October of that same year, 2015. I was a participant at the same retreat at which I will now be speaking. During a break for reflection, I wandered into a room downstairs. And lo and behold a picture invited me in – The Return of the Prodigal Son. I sat and studied every detail of that picture, now able to envision what mere words had taught me – seeing myself, kneeling with such sorrow, listening for His comforting reminder.

you were lost, but now you have been found.

(Luke 15: 24)

And, his overflowing joy upon my return. 

December of that year, I knelt in a small chapel at a healing retreat of which I thought I no longer needed to attend. Had I not yet been found? Was there more to learn in this journey?

Repeatedly, we were guided through scripture that centered around The Passion; then, given a journal and a question to reflect on as part of our healing journey. Upon the first assignment, I found myself sitting alone in that little chapel. With that empty journal resting on the pew in front of me – not knowing what in the world I was going to write – I began praying with the first and familiar words that came into mind.

“Father, I have sinned against you, I am not fit to be called your child.”

(Luke 15: 21)

then a whisper: No, My child,

you were lost, but now you have been found. (Luke 15: 24)

I sat back in the pew,

took hold of my pen, opened the journal and began to write, and write, and write. At every reflective dismissal, words, prayers, regrets, and joys poured into this little red journal. Some months later, I published those words to remind myself and everyone He eagerly awaits our return, He seeks us, and when we are ready . . . welcomes (and yes celebrates) our return. He invites His lost children to gather at His feet, so we might attentively listen and learn of His love.

I left that retreat yearning never to leave His feet. I wanted to linger on His words by reading, listening, and writing. My sisters and brothers, I write to you today resting there because I was asked by other children gathered to give a talk on Study and invited to remember where that journey began.

To be willing to be teachable; to apply the mind to a memory to learn the truth:

To Be A Witness. 

Copyright 2017 Kimberly Nettuno

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About Author

Kimberly Nettuno posts her poetry and reflections at www.becomingsound.me. When not writing, she enjoys working on her farm in North Georgia where she makes certified organic goodies for her critters and the surrounding, local farms. She shares this life with her husband, three home-schooled daughters, two dogs, two cats, three horses, eight goats, some two dozen chickens, and thousands of bees.

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