Zooming Along

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I participated in three hour-long zoom calls yesterday. I can see the value in each but, in a contest, would have voted the first my favorite. Although it began at 7:00 AM (not my best time to be fully functioning), there were several reasons to recommend it. As a pre-planned part of Bill Redfield’s Lenten on-line retreat, there was content to discuss. Interesting that although the discussion took a turn because of the COVID-19 virus that is ever-present now, the 16 early risers folded that topic in to the discussion in a way that was seamless and totally appropriate. We found the call to consciousness and lovingkindness heightened in ways we could never have predicted because of the virus.

The second offering was an experiment and, like most “first tries,” it was rather chaotic, especially at the start. As an invitation to a virtual “open house” to meet the new Congregational Leadership Team of our religious community, this call was a replacement (one of five) for the pre-planned “in-person” visit of these five women. In essence, it was a remarkable feat, offering more Sisters more opportunity to interact with the leadership than ever before because we are over 800 women spread across the United States and in Peru. The downside of the meeting was the lack of familiarity with Zoom and the large number of Sisters who responded to the invitation. Although it was honestly chaotic, the hour provided opportunities to see and hear one another (more or less!) and to know ourselves as part of a powerful force for good, larger than ourselves, and willing to move to a new way of connecting that will, in time, be of great benefit to us in the future.

Back for the evening offering of Bill Redfield’s Lenten retreat at 7PM, there was conversation of the same nature as in the morning but with a twist. In a way that is still a mystery to non-technophiles, Bill sent us for awhile to small group “rooms.” Because there were 30 participants, we were randomly divided into groups of three for the major part of the hour. While I’m always happy to experience all the participants – some of whom I have known in other retreat experiences – the wonder of being thrust into what is always a deep and meaningful conversation with two or three people I have never met before is always a blessing. My half hour with Dave and Tony was just such a gift.

So what is the point of all this? The willingness of people to find new ways to connect and the recognition of our need to know not only that life goes on in times of challenge and distress but also that we can be lifted up in solidarity with others who are experiencing the same is a blessing in the midst of this worldwide crisis. More than anything we have experienced, this moment calls us to unity and to a gratitude for the generosity of people who serve in ways that motivate us all to deeper understanding. May it be so for all of us. God bless us all!

Where’s the Evidence?

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We have watched a lot of Hallmark movies this year. First there were the ones that led us up to Christmas – all rather formulaic, but preferable to much of what else is on television lately. The one thing that always bothers me (and always is present in the stories) is a moment when the protagonist overhears a conversation or sees a situation that s/he interprets incorrectly, which subsequently leads to a rupture in the burgeoning relationship of the two main characters. Within five minutes of the “denouement” there is a reconciliation, of course, and the final kiss that seals the relationship and enables a “happily ever after.”

What bothers me about this universal set of circumstances is the fact that none of the characters investigates the perceived change of heart in the love interest. There is never any conversation, never an answer to “what could be a different outcome here?” People just leave without an explanation or a trace. Of course, they are swiftly back in the scene before the clock strikes and just in time for the kiss, frustrating me with the shallowness of the characters and their behavior.

This rant about my TV time distress is similar to the reading today from the Book of Daniel (ch. 13) where two elders plot to violate a woman and, if they are found out, to lie about the situation to avoid shame or punishment. Luckily for the young woman, Daniel steps up and makes things right by quick thinking (a great story), but it does remind me of our tendency to judge by appearances rather than by deeper thinking and/or evidence.

The lesson here is for myself (and maybe some of you). Why does it bother me so much? I really do think it has to do with the simple formula of the episodes, at least somewhat, but I wonder if there isn’t sometimes a mirror being put before me to check on my own rush to conclusions in certain situations.

We Sisters of St. Joseph have a maxim that provides us good advice from our founder. It says: “Always interpret everything in the most favorable sense.” Maybe I should send that to the Hallmark writers…or maybe just try harder to take it to heart myself.

Go Deep

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Today’s gospel – the very long story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead – (JN 11: 1-45) offers several themes worthy of reflection. It’s easy to give it a cursory reading because we know the story from the moment Jesus got the word from Martha and Mary that Lazarus was ill, through the delays, the strange behavior of Jesus (not rushing to the home of the sick man, his dear friend), theological conversation about the end times when all will be raised, to the cinematic moment when Lazarus emerges from the tomb still bound in burial bands, when Jesus gives the order to untie him and let him go and John concludes that many people came to believe in Jesus from that day. (Whew! Try to diagram that sentence, if you will.)

What I noticed today more clearly than ever before when reading this story was the authority in the voice of Jesus at every turn. Clearly, he had come to understand his mission – the reason he had come into the world – and perhaps how Lazarus could illustrate something that Jesus knew about God’s willingness to save us all.

I’m still ruminating on the themes…so I urge you to read the text aloud, stop at each juncture and wait listening (as Psalm 130 urges us today) for deeper understanding of what Jesus was saying and doing to ready us for the events that await us in the remaining days of Lent.

Lists

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I woke up this morning full of urgency. I looked at my calendar to try to discern when everything (all “normal” activities) stopped because of the word and reality of PANDEMIC coming to us. It was somewhere in the midst of early March and I have been floating along since then without a definite sense of what to do – and, more to the point – how to be. In one sense I feel as if I have been wasting time while in a different way I think I have begun to live into a new way of encountering time.

It’s difficult to explain what is different but the urgency in me seems to be the need to make lists so I can be more deliberative about this “wrinkle in time.” There are tasks to do which I have been considering for a couple of weeks that still sit undone, connections to be made that need a motivation as well as a different mode of execution (telephone, computer or snail mail rather than meeting in a physical space) in addition to books and articles to be read — some of which have deadlines.

I feel as if we have been given a gift. I know that sounds incredibly counterintuitive and horrific in the face of the sadness and death but in the face of disaster we often find possibility. What is happening this morning to me is the call to be alert so as not to waste this time. It does not mean to use it in the same way as I have before but rather to dig deep to see what will have a positive outcome for the rest of my life.

My lists will hopefully serve as a marker for inner attention but may be a map as well for the kind of a “growth spurt” that I long for but cannot achieve in any active way. The motivation will be more essential, perhaps, than the actual activity and the urgency will provide the energy for everything. In a word, I think it all comes down to discipline, which – as an inner attitude – manifests as wisdom work for myself but also for the good of the world.

Nature’s Blessings

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About 20 minutes ago I watched the sun peek out from behind the mountain at the back of our property. I was surprised that it showed at all since it was about 8:00am already. It didn’t seem convinced about showing a lot of energy, however. I hope I’m wrong because we need a sunny day. We need to remember the blessings that come to us through the light of the sun – and even the moon on a clear night. They are reminders of our own ability to shine, especially when everything seems so dark around us.

Here’s a short prayer from John Philip Newell that might help us to find some gratitude inside ourselves for what may seem muted right now. We need to remember:

The blessings of sun, the blessings of moon, the blessings of east and of west to guide us on the way…to lighten our eyes, to strengthen our will and our loving. The blessings of earth, the blessings of air, the blessings of fire and water to fill us with heaven, to free us with mercy, to stir us with flames of compassion. (Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace, p. 36)

Annunciation

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Have you ever wondered about the encounter of Mary and the angel who brought her the news that she was to be the mother of Jesus? I know that we have the gospel passages that help us put the pieces together but we don’t have much to go on – especially because there were no witnesses to the event except Mary herself. The fact that it is one of the foundational tenets of Christianity and has been celebrated in art for centuries and written about and debated in theological circles for nearly two millennia should be convincing enough for us. But how was it for Mary really? Did she see an angel with her human eyes? Was it a being of light or a human form? Did she hear the message as if spoken from human lips or was the message transmitted by telepathy? Was she really as quick to answer as the gospel tells us or did she hesitate longer than just that one question: “How can this be since I do not know man?” (or closer to our language “I have not had intimate relations with a man.”)

Some of us have deeper devotion to Mary than others of us so we may conjecture different scenarios. Some of us probably never spend any time with the scene at all. Today, I suggest that we do spend some time in what some call “the imaginal realm.” Go to a place in your inner self where you can reconstruct the event of Mary coming to know that she was to carry the child that would become Jesus the Christ.

Then put yourself in the equation.

I suggest this last practice after having read the reflection from Franciscan Media this morning. It just carries the experience toward us to a place that perhaps we have never gone. See what happens, if you will.

Sometimes spiritual writers are accused of putting Mary on a pedestal and thereby, discouraging ordinary humans from imitating her. Perhaps such an observation is misguided. God did put Mary on a a pedestal and has put all human beings on a pedestal. We have scarcely begun to realize the magnificence of divine grace, the wonder of God’s freely given love. The marvel of Mary—even in the midst of her ordinary life—is God’s shout to us to wake up to the marvelous creatures that we all are by divine design. (www.franciscanmedia.org)

Oscar Romero

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Today Christian Churches everywhere celebrate Oscar Romero, a man who was in our midst until 1980. Archbishop Romero’s story is one of conversion and courage as he spoke out in El Salvador for peace and non-violence and was murdered for his faith while celebrating Mass. There is much that could be said about him today but I choose a brief quote that to me is illustrative of a life lived in the manner of Jesus and seems quite appropriate for the days of Lent.

I don’t want to be an anti, against anybody. I simply want to be the builder of a great affirmation: the affirmation of God, who loves us and who wants to save us. (The Violence of Love)

The Power of Image

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I’ve been sitting for quite awhile this morning with nothing worthwhile to say and nowhere to go to find assistance from one of the many books that surround me. I was on the verge of admitting that this moment — while obviously of great import in the life of the world — is unable to be captured in any language that I possess. While that is still true, I now have something to offer.

Each day I wait to see what our talented and thoughtful internet expert adds to my blog as a visual message. I love the pictures that Mary Pat finds to enhance my words. I am sometimes challenged, often amazed and delighted but always grateful for her skill and interpretation. Today as I clicked on the “admin” page, ready to admit that all I had to offer was my silence, I glanced at yesterday’s post which I had yet to see published and immediately found today’s message in the image that greeted me.

One of the most important tenets/objectives of the wisdom work that I have attempted to understand and make real in my life is “putting the mind into the heart.” It isn’t easy to let go of thinking and measuring and judging and all the things that keep us from opening to grace and willingness and, in a word, to love. That is, however, what I have come to know as the most important and reasonable and simple (but not easy) message of Jesus and other spiritual teachers. And there it was in an image this morning on my very own blog page from yesterday. A perfect way to begin another week of dealing with the pandemic that has stopped us in our tracks and calls us to be mindful of our every move and moment.

Who could ask for anything more?

Spring Cleaning

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The choice of David as king of Israel (1 SM 16) was rather stunning and perhaps as difficult to understand in human terms by the populace of our time as we face a presidential election. We have been watching and listening to a large number of Democratic candidates during primary season and have looked for one thing most importantly: who can beat the incumbent so as to change things. In the Scriptures, the choice was made for the youngest of Jesse’s sons – someone who wasn’t even considered. They had to go to the fields where he was guarding the sheep to find him because none of the seven sons had been found suitable.

What was it that God (through Samuel) was looking for? Not appearance or lofty stature but rather the state of his heart. And how would we judge that in our day? Not by how much money he has (or how much s/he has raised to run a campaign) nor the promises made for the future. We must look deeper than the words and consider how the candidates’ actions and the way they live their lives is consistent with those words. That’s not easy in this huge country of ours. We need to do our best to follow what St. Paul said today to the Ephesians for our assessment of ourselves.

Once you were darkness” he says, “but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.” (EPH 5: 8-14)

Notice that I suggested that we are assessing ourselves here – not others – because if we cannot find truth and honesty and goodness in ourselves, how do we expect to recognize it in others? It will take a long time, I think, for this to become the way we find our leadership, but perhaps, as we live through this moment that is challenging our world so seriously, we will shed much of the darkness that has accrued around and within us. In so doing we might see new (or forgotten) light in ourselves and others and a new world order might emerge. Why not adopt that kind of “spring cleaning?”

The World's Turning

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The spring equinox was early and totally missed by me this year! While I was busy trying to celebrate St. Joseph’s feast day (3/19), the earth was sending out messages of new birth and energy. It took until this morning for me to feel it and I had to verify it by looking at my calendar. Now I know why the daffodils are straining to open after their surprise breakthrough along the side of our house two weeks ago.

I plan to go outside today and stand in the midst of all that is natural: the greening of the grass, the calling of the birds, the freshness of the breeze (still somewhat chilly) and feel the hope of healing for the earth rise up to give me courage in this moment when all but the most essential workers have been charged to stay home. With this remembrance of the cycles of life happening in concert with or in spite of us, I hope to add to the positive energy and learn the lessons so important to us all.