Today Matthew is still recounting a part of the famous message of Jesus from the Mount of the Beatitudes, one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited. Jesus is preaching about the danger of storing up earthly treasures and he makes a statement that engenders my question this morning about “treasure.” He suggests that we not be concerned with material goods and such, but rather go deeper, finding more precious things. He says simply and directly, “Where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.” And so I ask myself today: “Lois, where is your heart?”
I know the Lord’s Prayer (“Our Father”) in two languages and can recite it without a thought. Unfortunately, that is sometimes precisely how I say it—without a thought. I rarely stop to consider what the words mean. Sometimes that is a comfort, telling me that the message is deeply ingrained in my heart and I am changed in the saying of it. Sometimes, however, my thoughts are somewhere else and I am moving as if on a treadmill, going nowhere and in danger of falling off/losing my place with every step.
This morning’s gospel (Mt 6:7-15)) has Jesus teaching his closest friends how to best approach God: simply—not babbling with lots of words. There’s no need for that after all, because God already knows what we need. We might ask “why bother then?”
This morning my answer is simple: the recitation wakes me up to what I’m doing/saying and I have that good feeling of connection in my heart. What’s your reason/experience?
Every time I read chapter five of Matthew’s gospel, I feel more and more challenged! The Beatitudes are enough but then there are so many other things added on…. One could spend a lifetime simply in that one chapter! Just take one little section like: I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. Yikes! I try but have been very short of success in that endeavor, especially as that statement is followed up with questions like: If you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Difficult questions…challenging statements…. Love can certainly get complicated if your desire is to listen to the way of the disciples…. Are you still willing to go along?
Once again I marvel at the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel. Today it’s verses 38 to 42 where Jesus says: “When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well. If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well….”
Over the past few weeks, I have made three trips to The Deposit Closet, a thrift store in the village of Deposit, NY (really!) not too far from Windsor where I live. I have brought a number of boxes and bags, some full of blankets and afghans from our house, but also a lot of clothing that has been “mine,” much of which we call “hand-me-overs” as someone else has worn it first. That’s the easy part. There are also items that I find it hard to let go of but that I know I do not need. Those are more difficult to give away, but it is time…
I find it interesting that on the drive home from “The Closet” I feel a lightness inside, a freedom in knowing that I am not tied to those possessions and that they will serve others well. More difficult for me is letting go of books (many of which I still hope to read after they have been with me for years). And then there is money. Surprisingly, that has become the easiest thing to give away. I have never had much money (having promised a vow of poverty at age 21). I smile at teenage me who used to be certain to know just how much money was in my bedroom drawer, but then I think of the generosity of my parents and the way we always had what we needed. Every year, usually after a dance recital, I recall starting to get an allowance as a reward for our stellar performance (!!) but sooner or later that habit would disappear and we would be back to just having money when we needed it for something. Now, as then, my needs are taken care of so it becomes easier to make a donation from my monthly “budget” each time a need arises. I don’t know when letting go began to be so easy, but I think it’s likely since centering prayer became my preferred spiritual practice. Essentially, the process and the goal are similar: sit, let go of thoughts and consent to be in God’s presence. So simple, but somehow difficult.
It’s all about letting go. Perhaps, if I continue to do so in small ways, I will be ready when I am called to let go of this life into God…and that will be the best reward of all for the practice of loving generosity!
Of all the images that are meaningful in multiple cultures, I suspect that the heart (💕) is most easily understood. I often use the image that you see here because, for me, it not only suggests love in all its meanings but also indicates a relationship—two hearts in tandem. Today I’m reflecting that the larger heart sits below the smaller one. That could have any of several meanings…what do you think? (Stop here to reflect.)
Today is the celebration in my Church of the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. That means it’s a BIG feast, an important day! I’m happy for that designation for several reasons (as you have already uncovered if you answered my question at the end of the first paragraph). When I was in elementary school, one of the short prayers that we learned as a leader/response was: “(L) Sacred Heart of Jesus, (R) I place all my trust in Thee.” It was a reminder before an examination, a hope for success in any attempt—scholarly, sports contest, oral test…anything, and to the degree that we believed in the power of God to hear us, we trusted the eventual outcome. The overarching trust factor was, of course, our certainty that God loved us—and all His children—more than we could ask or imagine. Not a bad way to grow up.
Today I am aware of God as love in a visceral way. There’s a lovely breeze ruffling the tree outside my window in the back yard, a soft kiss, one might say. Out there also, through my open window, I am hearing a consistent—VERY LOUD—bird call. We have been trying for two days to recognize the bird who is speaking but have yet to identify it. So he ( I think it must be a male) continues his quest for attention—like God does with us so often, never tiring of the effort for our notice.
God is everywhere, we learned as children, and if we have nurtured this belief and stay still and quiet, we can sometimes hear and maybe even feel the heart of God beating in us and for us. It is the echo of our own loving heart, beating in tandem with our God.
I have always loved words and sometimes complex sentences cause us to pause to figure out which of the parts of speech is the subject, which is the object of the verb, etc. (Does that take you back to your youth as it does me?)
Here’s the example from today’s lectionary that gave me pause. From Matthew’s gospel (5:20-26) we read: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother…”
It doesn’t say: “if you have anything against your brother…” In other words, your brother is the subject of the clause, not you. But then the emphasis shifts and you become the subject (the “do-er”), the one who has to initiate the reconciliation. It calls for a deeper self-reflection because it doesn’t seem fair. Rather the gospel writer seems to be blaming me for what my brother has against me…making me dig deeper to examine why my brother has a quarrel with me and placing the responsibility for reconciliation on me…not always pleasant, right?
To avoid that kind of distress, we might do better to live always by the adage, “Love one another as I have loved you,” where the subject is clearly understood as you, the person spoken to, and the meaning is clear in the direct address.
Today’s gospel reading presents a monumental challenge to us. (Mt. 5: 13-16) It begins with a compliment that one could consider as a “hook” (as in: “Be careful not to get hooked into something you can’t do”) but when we hear Jesus say: “You are the salt of the earth!”, it’s hard not to get puffed up and think we can do anything. It’s the same when we hear: “You are the light of the world!” The difficulty comes with reading the second part of each of those declarations of Jesus. Look back and see if you don’t feel deflated occasionally when you’re having a bad day and you hear about salt losing its taste or light set under a bushel basket unable to be seen…
I suggest we look at both of the full statements as the words of a cheerleader instead. “Come on!” Jesus says. “You can do it! Shine! You are such a brilliant light! Just keep going! Keep trying! Be the light you want to see in the world! Shine! Shine! Shine!”
Zephaniah, the ninth of the twelve minor prophets, is a rarely quoted text in the daily lectionary. Thus, it is a memorable moment when we read a message like the joyful one that is the first reading for today. Listen:
Shout for joy, O daughter Zion! Sing joyfully, O Israel! Be glad and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem…Fear not, O Zion, be not discouraged! The Lord, your God, is in your midst. He will rejoice with you with gladness and renew you in his love. He will sing joyfully because of you…
It was significant today for me to read such an account of emotional experiences as I had just spent a heartfelt half-hour reading about families and other groups that have been spending this weekend re-connecting with loved ones. All across our country people are gathering in celebration of the incipient end of the pandemic. One after another, families and friends tell of the joy they have experienced upon spending time with one another. The stories are full of hugs, kisses, laughter and new stories from over the past year when such behaviors were not allowed. Love was the over-arching theme and the possibility of actually touching one another seemed almost miraculous. All of it gave credence to the second reading for this day from Paul’s letter to the Romans. We would do well to take his words to heart:
Brothers and sisters: Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. Rejoice in hope, endure in affliction, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the holy ones, exercise hospitality…
Above and beyond all that, there was the consummate example of love and hospitality—my favorite in the entire gospel (at least today…) where Mary “went in haste” to her cousin Elizabeth. Mary was a pregnant teenager seriously needing solace and she found it in Elizabeth (undoubtedly held tightly in her arms). How similar are some of today’s stories to Mary’s, how needy are we all of comfort after the past sixteen months!
May we find joy in the Lord as Zephaniah did, camaraderie as Paul and the early followers of Jesus did, and comfort at the possible end to the pandemic as Mary did in the person of her relative. And may we all remember on this Memorial Day to thank God for all the good that has been done for us.
When I think about my “wisdom journey,” I often refer to 2003 as a beginning point, but it would be sad to think that I began my search for God at that late moment in my life. I was already 55 years old then. (Of note, however, is the fact that “5” is a significant number for change in numerology.) That year is significant because it signaled the beginning of a disciplined study of the wisdom tradition of Christianity under the tutelage of a teacher—Cynthia Bourgeault. It was a “jumpstart” to a new chapter in my life as it focused my prayer and religious studies to enable a deeper dive into spirituality.
I will always be grateful , not only for Cynthia, but for all the people I have met and the work I have been privileged to be part of over these last 18 years.
I don’t mean to sound like I am finished learning or going into retirement—not yet! What has precipitated this reflection is actually the first lectionary reading for today, from the Hebrew Scriptures book of Sirach. Here are the lines:
“When I was young and innocent, I sought wisdom openly in my prayer. I prayed for her before the temple and I will seek her until the end, and she flourished as a grape soon ripe. My heart delighted in her; my feet kept to the level path because from earliest youth I was familiar with her…”
As I look back over my life, I recognize—not for the first time—that the desire for God was always in me and all my experiences and lessons were important to the growth and deepening of that desire, until I was ready to act more directly on it. At that point, I trust that God said something like: “YOU GO, GIRL!” and then provided everything I needed to proceed. I have often heard that “when the student is ready the teacher appears.” I know that to be true in my life but not just when the lifelong lessons “appear”—but all along the way from all the sources of grace—people and experiences—that spark the fire that is the Holy Spirit inside.
Can you plot the workings of God in your life? Are there touch points when you suddenly—or not so suddenly—understood something important happening for your growth? Do you ask in prayer for understanding of the events and place of people in your life? And what is the place of gratitude in your prayer? Worthy questions, don’t you think?
On my way to the gospel for this morning, I encountered a surprising thought. It came from Psalm 149, the psalm refrain for the day’s lectionary. The actual ” refrain” (what was repeated repeatedly (😇) between every two stanzas of the psalm, said “GOD TAKES DELIGHT IN HIS PEOPLE!”
What struck me was the fact that I had never (or maybe just not for a long time) thought about God exercising emotional responses of that kind in relationship to us. I am mostly always aware of my responses to gifts of God but I don’t think about the opposite, i.e. God’s response to my behaviors. Oh, of course I was taught to please God and not disappoint God, but when I think of DELIGHT, there’s a whole new image in me of what the response would be on God’s part. I can see God doing somersaults or singing a chorus of “alleluia!!!” or some such behavior. And that makes me smile…as if it humanizes God somehow…and not just Jesus—whom we know was “like us in all things but sin.” I’m talking about THE GODHEAD! The One we adore, the Creator…
Ah, the vagaries of my mind…Are you with me at all? Can you imagine God delighting in you like that…? Maybe even grabbing you in a great big bear hug and singin : “I’m just wild about Harry (or Lois), And she’s just wild about me!” (Are you smiling yet, at least?)