Bigger Barns

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aclosetYesterday I had another of those conversations about what some of us have come to call “bigger barns.” As “girls” often do, we were admiring someone’s lovely clothing. As is also frequently the case, the woman in question said she found it on sale and just couldn’t leave it in the store. She then proceeded to lament her full closet and her intention to clean out and let go of things she hadn’t worn in more than a year. We all agreed we tend to wear the same few outfits, maybe pairing different blouses with skirts or slacks but eventually noticing that we wear what is comfortable and those items in our closet that we like best. So why do we hold on so tightly to all the rest…?

I can easily join in to these conversations, amazed that I have accumulated such a large wardrobe. To be fair, most of my closet is filled with “hand-me-overs” – lovely clothes that have belonged to my sister or a close friend when they were new. Still, the point can be made that too much is always too much. What shall I do with all of this as we move from summer into winter? I could just invest in a couple of (additional) storage bins, the kind that fit under a bed or on a shelf…”Bigger barns!” I hear my inner voice shouting as I read the lectionary gospel text for today (LK 12:13-21). This time of purging my wardrobe – which I do hope will actually happen today – I will be mindful of all those who have “lost everything” in recent hurricanes, floods and fires. Moreover, I will hear again some of those people who, in the midst of their lament, say that “God is good; all of my family has survived.” It’s then that I hear Marty Haugen singing, “Where your treasure is, there your heart shall be. All that you possess will never set you free. Seek the things that last; come and learn from me. Where your treasure is your heart shall be.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sunday Morning

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The autumn flower of sun flare.Psalm 96 greets me this morning, encouraging me to sing, a prodding that will not be difficult to follow as I wake both to memories of yesterday and events of the day to come.

The women I met and interacted with yesterday were so kind, so respectful that I found myself immediately comfortable in their presence and awed by their faith in the power of prayer and the love of Mary, the mother of Jesus, whose intercession with God was a consistent strength in their lives. We had five hours together sharing information and experiences, both serious and lighthearted, and one of the best by-products for me was introducing my own mother to them and feeling her spirit fit in such a wonderful community. And then there was the bonus of driving home along a highway where the trees were brilliantly colored, singing their own song of praise. What a surprise! We are so accustomed to the peak weekend of autumn’s glory being earlier now in October that finding this brilliance just a little north of here was an unexpected delight at this late date. I just had to sing in accompaniment!

Today there will be occasion for our spirits to sing again as we welcome our newest candidate to our religious community for a conversation about what is closest to our hearts. This evening I will join in a prayer service in the style of Taizé with chant and Scripture and shared silence, a fitting conclusion to this Sabbath. What could be better, I ask myself, as I return to the words that prompted this reflection on Psalm 96.

Singing is a form of honoring someone. It is also a form of awakening. In this case both humanity at large and creation as a whole are being brought to wakefulness…Beauty attracts us and God is the ultimate Beauty of the universe. We are invited into that beauty, attracted close and closer, being touched and changed by it. What is there of beauty, reflecting the divine glory, that attracts you? (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 244)

 

 

 

 

 

Truly Our Sister

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abvm5:40AM: No time to dawdle this morning. I’m off to spend the day two hours distant from my home with 40 women who have registered to reflect with me on the topic, Will the Real Mary of Nazareth Please Stand Up? Our sharing will be based on our own experiences of the one I have known since my earliest memories as my Blessed Mother, as well as the information in a marvelous book by theologian Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ entitled “Truly Our Sister: Mary in the Communion of Saints.” I look forward to hearing the stories of the women who will gather as I rejoice in the memories of my own earthly mother, Mary Frances, who shared with me her own devotion and love for this other Mary, the one who was her guide and steadfast presence throughout her life. I feel young again as I prepare for this day and look forward to the energy that I trust will be the Holy Spirit with us in this endeavor.

Blessings on this Saturday will surely abound!

 

 

 

 

Truth-telling

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ahearthouseSometimes it seems too difficult to tell “the whole truth and nothing but the truth” when such speaking will reveal a fault or failing about ourselves. It seems much easier to obfuscate – a great word that means to obscure, blur or overcomplicate things so we don’t look so bad in the eyes of other people. The difficulty with this practice is that it doesn’t make us feel better because we have hidden our true self; rather we feel worse. The irony is that many times the failure we’re trying to cover up is so minor that we are the only ones who would judge it harshly if it were known. Everyone else would easily forgive the imperfection.

There are many reasons why we are so obsessed with perfection: culture, family values, education…The goal is to “get over ourselves.” Starting the process with God might be a good idea since we have it on good  authority that God will forgive anything if we just admit it. Psalm 32 tells us that this morning, saying, Then I acknowledged my sin to You; my guilt I covered not. I said, “I confess my faults to the Lord,” and You took away my guilt.

Alan Cohen offers a brief prayer in the same mode that addresses God as follows: I want to live from my heart. Help me to be me, without hiding or protecting. Short and to the point, that just might help us to turn our hearts to honest speaking more each day and find the love for ourselves and trust in others that God already possesses in our regard.

 

 

 

 

 

Clear Enough?

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awaitingFrom four sources this morning I heard the same message.

  1. PS 130:6 from http://www.usccb.org. “My soul waits for the Lord more than sentinels wait for the dawn.”
  2. PS 130:6 – Ancient Songs Sung Anew. “Listen, listen, wait in silence listening for the One from whom all mercy flows.”
  3. Hearts on Fire, prayer of Pedro Arrupe, SJ. “Grant me, O God, to see everything with new eyes, to discern and test the spirits that help me read the signs of the times…
  4. A Deep Breath of Life, quote from Joseph De Maistre. “To know how to wait is the great secret of success.” and an additional prayer by the author, Alan Cohen: “Help me attune to Your divine rhythm. Let me find Your will in time.”

That’s enough to slow my breathing, pay attention to the moment I’m in and let go of any need for concern about what this day (or any day if I can recall the message!) will bring. May it be so with all of us!

 

 

 

 

Keep Searching!

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astlukeToday is the feast of St. Luke, known to be the writer not only of the third Gospel but also of the Acts of the Apostles, the story of the early days and spread of Christianity. There is a line in the commentary from Franciscan Media that caused me to pause and think about this man whose version of the “Good News” has been variously subtitled the gospel: of mercy, of universal salvation, of the poor, of absolute renunciation, of prayer and the Holy Spirit, and of joy. The commentary said that as a companion to Paul, Luke traveled to many places and consequently had time to seek information and interview persons who had known Jesus.

I have an image of Luke walking around Philippi, Jerusalem or Caesarea listening intently for the name of Jesus and when he heard it – maybe in a tavern or outside the synagogue or even on the street – walking up to people, getting right up close and urgently questioning them for what Jesus was like, what he talked about, how they came to know him…asking anything that would feed his hunger for the spark that led that speaker to follow Jesus, so that he might really come to know him as well.

It’s a bit like people in our day, even us perhaps. Even if we were “born into” a Christian community it isn’t enough to just count on documents that give us information about what it means to be Christian (or whatever faith tradition we are raised in). We need to seek out people and experiences that lead us to the deeper streams of our faith, the mysteries that can’t be explained or taught but rather caught in order to ignite a longing for more, a determination to understand “by heart” what has been told to us, so that the words we read and hear will sing and ring with a truth that sustains us. Who are those people for you? What experiences have fed you in the past? Can you find something new or rewarding to enliven faith?

In wisdom schools we sometimes sing a chant that is based on the gospel parable of The Pearl of Great Price. The words have been floating through my consciousness as I write these thoughts today. Those words are: To find the pearl beyond compare, Oh, dig right here, within your soul. Perhaps a silent trip to our inner self is just what we need today to get a glimpse of that precious pearl.

 

 

 

 

 

Does Size Matter?

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496065AX.TIFI got a phone call yesterday from the convener of a group of women that I am scheduled to address on Saturday of this week. She called to tell me that the registration is now up to 39 people! I asked her if someone was paying the women to come since she originally told me that there would probably be about twenty registrants. As we laughed and discussed things like room set-up and schedule, I began to rethink how I might restructure the day so that all the women would have a chance to be heard in such a large gathering. I was happy when the convener began to speak of tables of six because most people are comfortable speaking in a group of that size. I will want to speak in the beginning of the importance of deep listening without judgment as we tend to jump on one another’s thoughts and interrupt each other when our experiences seem to mirror that of the person speaking. In that way we lose something of the sacredness of the exchange. Sporadic moments of silence to remind ourselves will be essential.

With those thoughts I was reminded of the experience of this past Saturday when I met with five other women in a small circle to spend time considering transitions in our lives. We began talking about the change of seasons, considering how we felt about each of the four seasons, what we like and dislike about each and even naming musical selections that included or indicated characteristics of each. (Everyone listed “Autumn Leaves” in their list; we were all of “a certain age!”) That conversation gave way easily to deeper subjects and by the end of the day these women who did not even know each other’s names at the beginning shared an empathy and reverence for one another that I could only name (and did) as “miraculous!” It was a holy exchange fueled by deep listening.

Is that kind of experience possible with a crowd of forty women? Perhaps. I believe it depends on intention and trust – the willingness to say what is often left hidden inside us because we do not feel articulate or as knowledgeable as others. Establishing an environment of curiosity and willingness to trust will be essential and will be the job of each person in the group. As I write I begin to build my initial approach and my trust quotient of “letting go and letting God” which is the only way that the miraculous dance of the Spirit will take place. I have great confidence in the energy of such a group of women but it will take some shepherding, I think, to harness the energy and make space for the deeper meanings to come through. I look forward to the challenge and hope for the best.

Wish me luck!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harden Not Your Hearts

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awellwaterThe verse before the gospel today is very familiar. It comes from Psalm 95 and if I only see the first clause, I can always recite the second. If today you hear God’s voice…harden not your hearts. I usually pass it by making a quick note to myself of the meaning, i.e. “Don’t get mad at God for anything that happens” or “Don’t forget that God always loves you.” This morning I decided to investigate because I didn’t remember why the psalmist was warning the people in that way. Here’s what I found in a commentary.

The experience of the Hebrew people at the oasis of Meribah was one of those historical markers in their journey from Egypt. The waters of Meribah were bitter (which is the meaning of the name) and they also complained to God bitterly that they were brought out into the desert to die. In the record and tradition of the people a miracle was performed and the bitter waters were turned to sweet, drinkable water. They never forgot what happened, but they also failed the same test of trust over and over again. Meribah became a kind of sign to them of their failure and God’s provision. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 241)

Thus, I guess I wasn’t far off in my assessment of the meaning of that verse, but now I might recall the whole thing myself before I get all huffy when a situation seems unfair. May it be so – for all of us!

 

 

 

 

 

Holy Doctor

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astteresaofavilaToday is the feast of Teresa of Avila. Because it is Sunday, always a “first class feast,” we don’t hear about Teresa this year. I find it difficult to let it go by, however, without some mention of this woman who is one of only four women thus far in the history of the Roman Catholic Church to achieve the title of “Doctor of the Church.” Sister Teresa was a mystic, but also very active, tireless in her work of reforming the Carmelite order of nuns in the 1500’s in the most rigorous – some thought too extreme – way. Her writings were extensive and her spiritual practice was constant, although for many years she suffered many physical illnesses and a deprivation of any spiritual consolation. She never despaired, even in the face of investigation by the Inquisition, and her writings are considered one of the great treasures of Christian mysticism.

My personal experience of the gift of Teresa’s influence is twofold. When I was 16 years old and considering entering the convent, I received a “holy card” inscribed with a piece of advice written by Teresa. For over 50 years I have held it close and shared it with people I thought would benefit from hearing it. I say it gratefully again today in the translation in which I received it:

Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you. All things are passing; God never changes. Patient endurance attains all things. The one who possesses God lacks nothing. God alone suffices.

Many years later, I heard a song by John Michael Talbot whose lyrics are attributed to Teresa, but not found in her writings. I offer it often when speaking to people who work in religious education or other ministries – and lately use it in any situation where I want to emphasize to people how important we are in bringing the love of God to others. Please take a moment to consider it as a word to you today.

Christ has no body now but yours; no hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which He looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which He walks to do good. Yours are the hands with which He blesses all the world.  Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes. You are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

Saturday’s Reminder

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asunsetprayer

Alan Cohen begins his morning reflection for today with an anonymous, well-known adage that says: Anyone who is too busy to pray is too busy. He ends with a prayer that addresses God directly and with a similarly clear message. I think this “twinning” of thoughts is appropriate and sufficient for today. I call us each to offer this prayer and in so doing to connect us to this circle of humanity for the good of all.

You are my first priority. Knowing you makes all the difference in my life and my world. Knowing you is knowing myself. Be with me today, that I may be with you always.