Celebrating Helen

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ahelendalyToday I am up before even a hint of sunrise, getting ready to travel again to New Hampshire just for today to celebrate the life of Helen Daly, friend and benefactor. Helen, her friends agree, died much too early but gifted the world with a legacy of wisdom. The Sophia Center is just one recipient of grants over the past six years that have seen the creation and continuance of programs for “Wisdom Seekers” far and wide. Before her passing from this world, I was blessed by her light over six years and since I have continued to sense that light that cheers us on in the work we have been blessed to share with others. I invite you who read this blog to give thanks today for Helen and other generous people everywhere who understand the importance of God’s call to seek and serve in the Wisdom Way.

Here is what Thomas Merton has to say about wise people like Helen.

This is what it means to seek God perfectly: To have a will that is always ready to fold back within itself and draw all the powers of the soul down from its deepest center to rest in silent expectancy for the coming of God. Poised in tranquil and effortless concentration upon the point of my dependence on God, to gather all that I am, and have all that I can possibly suffer or do or be, and abandon them all to God in the resignation of a perfect love and blind faith and pure trust in God, to do God’s will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Tax Collector

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ataxcollectorWe know only two things about St. Matthew whose feast we celebrate today. First, we know him as a tax collector and secondly that he responded to the call of Jesus who approached him with the command: “Follow me,” and later was credited with the Gospel that bears his name. In the time of Jesus, tax collectors were not beloved members of society. It seems that, once again, Jesus was trying to make an important point by calling Matthew to be a disciple – a call that Matthew was unlikely to accept in the unquestioning way that he did. He was making some money, after all, and his job was likely secure. But Matthew got up from his customs post and seems to have never questioned the motives of Jesus or his own response. Clearly, others questioned however! “Why does the teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” they boldly said – not thinking of any transgressions they themselves might have committed. Jesus was clear in his response to these queries. “I desire mercy, not sacrifice. I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

Something in Matthew knew what Jesus was about and prompted him to say yes to the invitation. I found verses in Psalm 19, later than the lectionary verses from today and in a different translation, whose monetary metaphor seems in accord with the desire – known or unknown – of Matthew’s heart at the moment he was called to be a disciple. See what you think.

Pure light, pure truth, pure justice, God, they’re like a cleansing wind that passes through our souls, assessing all. Your presence is more valuable to us than gold, far sweeter to the tongue than honey in the comb. For it is you and you alone who teaches us, O great instructor of the soul, and in this school of wisdom, you’re the profit, true, and wisdom, the reward. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p.45)

May our desire for conversion deepen daily and our recognition of that to which we are called become clearer in each encounter with the divine light stirring in our hearts.

 

 

 

 

Awareness All Around

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aawarenessAs the days of September slip away too quickly, I am trying to find a rhythm that will make me feel as if I am living the days in the best way I can. Turning for help from Sister Joan Chittister in her book Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, I found the following familiar story that made me smile but also gave me a practical reminder.

One day a traveler begged the Teacher for a word of wisdom that would guide the rest of the journey. The Teacher nodded affably and though it was the day of silence took a sheet of paper and wrote on it a single word, “Awareness.” “Awareness?” the traveler said, perplexed. “Couldn’t you expand on that a bit?” So the Teacher took the paper back and wrote, “Awareness, awareness, awareness.” But what do these words mean?” the traveler insisted. Finally the Teacher reached for the paper and wrote, clearly and firmly, “Awareness, awareness, awareness means…Awareness!” (p.68)

My practice today will be an attempt to be present at every moment to that which is happening around me and within me so that I will not miss the voice of God at any moment or in any event.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paul’s Legacy

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aclashingcymbalSt. Paul is “waxing eloquent” today in what may be his most famous and frequently quoted text of all: 1 COR 12:31-13:13. It is heard it so often at weddings that I sometimes wonder if we don’t just get as far as “Love is patient, love is kind…” and then let the words slide across our consciousness without really penetrating too deeply. Perhaps that’s too harsh a judgment on such an important moment, but I have often heard that “what is seldom is wonderful” and sometimes I know that I perk up and listen better to unfamiliar readings.

On this ordinary Wednesday morning in the middle of September, when all is quiet around me and nothing is stirring outside – even the birds are silent! – I hear Paul once again and am deeply touched by each phrase. May it be so with you also.

Brothers and sisters: Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge, if I have faith so as to move mountains, but I do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over to be burned but do not have love, I gain nothing.

(Before you go on reading, stop for awhile and consider how monumental are those propositions…)

Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrong-doing but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then, face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s In A Name?

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anamebadgePsalm 100 is brief but clear and direct in how we are to be in relationship with God. The psalmist calls to us to “know that the Lord is God” and assures us that we are “the sheep of God’s flock.” We are instructed to sing joyfully, serving the Lord, giving praise and thanksgiving to the One who is good, kind and faithful to all generations. Very succinct and all-encompassing advice, we might say.

One phrase deserves special notice, I think, for our everyday lives. It not only says “Give thanks to God” but follows that clause with “bless God’s name.” Having just come from a retreat where we were introduced to the Sufi practice of chanting the 99 names of God, I was reminded of my effort to learn the names of all those on retreat. There were only 16 of us so it was obviously much easier than learning all the names of God, and since we were in silence throughout the retreat one could argue that it wasn’t as essential as in most other situations. For me, however, knowing someone’s name implies at least a beginning of relationship and is important, no matter the situation. How might this also be true with regard to our relationship with God? In his commentary on Psalm 100, Lynn Bauman seems to agree as he writes the following:

If you do not know someone’s name, what is your relationship like? When you both know the name and the person behind the name in a personal way, how does the relationship change? Pause and reflect on your own knowledge of the name of God. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 252)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wherever We Turn…

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arayoflightIt is said that “old habits die hard.” I was aware of that in a small way during the days of retreat from which I returned yesterday. Each morning when I awoke to the sounds of silence one of my first thoughts was of my daily writing task. Since I had announced  the 5-day hiatus, I was able with just a grateful breath to simply turn toward the silence and enter the day where the only speaking was in sessions of prayer & reflection on the mystical practices of Sufism. What became the most obvious truth for me swirled around and into every hour of the day in the words of the chant: Wherever I turn, there is the face of God.

In the events of each day lie the seeds of gratitude for all the possible learnings available to us if we look deeply and surrender at every turn. Sometimes the face of God is easy to see but sometimes, if we look in a mirror, it is up to us to discern the truth of the face that looks back at us and how we are to act in response.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great Expectations

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asilenceJust a few words this morning as I prepare to travel to New Hampshire for five days of retreat with a brilliant spiritual teacher half my age. If you haven’t met Rev. Matthew Wright, I urge you to look him up on the internet at awaking heart (his blog) or northeast wisdom or the contemplative society. Matthew has a winning smile that invites everyone in to his vast knowledge and practice of Wisdom Christianity and Sufism, the mystical arm of Islam. Matthew is a great gift to anyone seeking to delve the inter-spiritual depths of the three great Abrahamic traditions (add Judaism to the other two) to see similarities more than differences and to reverence each for the richness they bring to the world.

I cannot promise blog posts until next Monday but will remain open to whatever each day brings. We may be asked to abandon our electronic devices, so if you find no new posts for five days, please simply join me in prayer and the great privilege of the silence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Great American Read

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alibrarySometimes I feel like a schoolgirl who gets so hooked on a story that she stays up half the night, disregarding the curfew, just to finish the book she has been reading or what she has been watching on some electronic device. The only difference is that my curfew is self-imposed so it’s easier to disregard. One of the most enticing places that calls to me is our Public Broadcasting System. PBS always has something to offer when nothing else suffices.

Last night, after an obedient nod to the clock, I went to my bed, turned out the light and proceeded to try all my usual tricks to fall asleep when my brain won’t give in and stop thinking. I finally gave up the effort and did a rare thing for me: I got up again and clicked on what would have been a wonderful program if I had found it in the afternoon. It was a two-hour PBS offering – most likely from a previous summer – called The Great American Read. Meredith Vieira led the way to a search for the best American novel ever written. Canvassing the country, speaking with authors and readers who gave her their choices of a favorite book, her task was to amass a list of 100 novels from which all comers could vote for the best one. I only got through the first half of the program; by then it was 1:30AM!

What was engaging and uplifting for me was the diversity of the choices and the willingness for whoever had made the rules of the process to accept any novel ever written that was published in this country as a valid entry. From Charlotte’s Web to The Da Vinci CodeHarry Potter to A Prayer for Owen Meany, the books were not only named but touted as the best with lines like: “that book saved my life” or “I learned to delight in the magic” – and passionate explanations that made me want to stop all other activity and just read for the rest of my life! (That isn’t really a stretch for me; I come from a family of readers.)

I will have to return to hear the rest of the listed choices and hear the excitement of  those interviewed about their choices – like all the people whose favorite activity is reading to their children or grandchildren, or the group of six year old girls who were so articulate about Charlotte’s Web or the woman who has sailed the oceans all her life and revels in the pages of Moby Dick…And then, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to know the winner.

Today I am grateful for those who taught me to read, those who give me the opportunity to lose myself in the occasional novel and for intelligent and interesting efforts like the Great American Read that remind us what richness is ours if we take the time to pick up a book. Most of all I am grateful for literacy volunteers who open the world to the eyes of people who do not know how to read, and for those who record books for the blind to do the same.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Look Back and Inward

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ahurricanerescueAs I sit this morning looking out at rain that is predicted to continue for two or three days and remember that last night I saw a weather map picturing not one or two but three hurricanes that might possibly come our way (with Florence, the first, sure to damage much of our East coast) I consider just sitting where I am and avoiding every eventual happening or news report of the day. But then I open Meg Wheatley’s little book, Perseverance, that shakes me out of my inertia and reminds me of the need to get about life once again. I want to copy the entire page here as it feels to me like a worthy reminder that, as she says, “We’ve Been Here Before.”

We have never been here before in terms of the global nature of our predicament. For the first time in human history (at least that we know of), we have endangered our home planet. And for the first time, we know what’s happening to just about all 7 billion of us humans, the challenges and terrors we endure and the occasional, reaffirming triumphs. Never before have humans been so aware of one another’s struggles, pain and perseverance. Never before have we known so many of the consequences of what we do – our thoughtless, violent, heroic and loving actions.

Yet we have been here before. In our long, mysterious history, humans have had to struggle with enormous upheavals, dislocations, famines and fears. We’ve had to counteract aggression, protect our loved ones and face the end of life as we’ve known it. Over and over again.

The scale is different now, but the human experience is the same. And so are our human spirits, capable of generosity or abuse, creativity or destruction, survival or extinction. As we face the challenges and struggles of this time, it might help to recall the centuries of solid shoulders we stand on.

And if you reflect on your own life experience, what else have you endured? You’re still here – how did you stay here?

How have you come through rough times before?

What from your own personal history gives you now the capacity to get through this time? (Perseverance, p.9)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eyes and Ears, Body and Spirit

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abkindmanhealedAs we begin another week of reflection we are called by the Scriptures to be alert in two areas, both having to do with outer manifestation but in reality, perhaps, dealing with our inner dispositions.

First lesson: Show no partiality (JAS 2:1-5). The letter of James is always direct in its teaching and never more than today as it speaks of judging people by their clothing. I remember when I was teaching high school long ago at the era when designer jeans were the bellwether for what was acceptable dress for teens. In some cases the only difference in the appearance of said clothing was the tag that named them which was sometimes not even visible! Although James is speaking more graphically here about gold rings and fine clothes, many teenagers suffered from the judgments of others simply because of their thrift store jeans and non-Nikes.

All of the other readings – Isaiah 35, Psalm 146 and the gospel of Mark, chapter 7 – speak of healing with reference to the senses. Eyes and ears being opened, speech impediments removed…wonderful healings, but if we pay attention to the entire passages, we ought to see connections between physical healing and something deeper. Through Isaiah the prophet, for example, God directs a message to those whose hearts are frightened. “Be strong, fear not!” he says. “Here is your God!…He comes to save you.” In the Psalm, the line about restored sight to the blind is followed immediately by an assurance that “the Lord raises up those who were bowed down” and “the Lord loves the just.” All this seems to be calling us to recognition of deeper healing and a belief in the God who is present in every eventuality of life, wanting to heal us, body and spirit alike.

In the gospel, there is what may seem like a throw-away line but is, I think, most important. When the people bring a deaf man to Jesus for healing, the next line says that Jesus “took him off by himself away from the crowd.” Why did he do that? And why, after the man could hear and speak plainly, did Jesus order those who had brought the man to him not to spread the news of what had happened? Interesting questions. Is there a deeper meaning that Mark was trying to get across? Perhaps Jesus was just trying to avoid the stampede of those wishing healing if the news was spread far and wide. Is there more? What do you think?