The Persistent Widow

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Today the gospel reminds us of a parable about a widow wanting justice from a judge who only saw her as an annoyance. You can read it if you choose (LK 18: 1-8) but right now I’m interested in the first and last verses between which the parable is sandwiched. The directive at the beginning and the question at the end of the passage should wake us up if the “meat” in the middle does not!

Jesus told his disciples parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. (vs. 1)…But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (vs. 8)

The Flow of Life

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Today I’m sitting in the quiet, reflecting on the flow of life and how important it is not to upset that flow any more than is necessary if we are to continue to travel on an even keel. It is not generally our doing if schedules get changed or events get shifted around. We in the Northeast are at a moment in the year when the weather plays a big part in everyday plans. A big snowstorm cancels lots of things as does a death in family or friendship circles. We can fret and moan over the inconvenience of rescheduling, or take a breath and look for alternatives.

The best thing to do (and this takes a lot of practice) is to breathe in the change and then let go the distress. Sounds easy…breathing in and breathing out, right? We do that automatically. (I’m watching my breath as I type.) I have come to know the value of letting go for equanimity in daily life as well as for spiritual growth and I would recommend it – especially as we move into our biggest and most important holiday season. Not as easy as it sounds, I know!

Practice makes perfect…give it a try!

Within and Among

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Occasionally there are in the translations of gospel passages a one word difference from the familiar that stops me in my tracks and causes me to reflect rather than to simply assume I “get it.” That happened this morning in a very familiar passage from Luke 17. Listen:

Asked by the Pharisees when the Kingdom of God would come, Jesus said in reply, “The coming of the Kingdom of God cannot be observed and no one will announce, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’ For behold, the Kingdom of God is among you.”

Did you hear it? Haven’t we been saying “The Kingdom God is within you?” That’s been my favorite quote for a long time and what I believe: that God has set up housekeeping in my heart! Hard to believe for some of us who feel unworthy of such a gift, but we have it on good authority – centuries of theological study and the witness of so many sainted people. Today I was happy to see that word among instead of within. It’s a little risky to say that because it could also allow me to say things like, “Well, yes: in you but not in me.” That’s not it at all! For me, “among” makes me know that God’s love is in all of us and that we are called to see it that way — in the mutuality that is totally inclusive. I would venture to say that Luke might be tempted to explain it as the kingdom of God being everywhere we are: within, between and among us as a flowing energy that is the life of God in this realm.

Can you, will you, see it that way?

Mother Cabrini

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If we need a model of perseverance so that we’ll never give up on life, we would do well to consider St. Frances Xavier Cabrini. I learned about the woman called “Mother” Cabrini (a great designation for the first U.S. citizen to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church) in elementary school. She lived until 1917 – when my parents were already three years old – so seemed more real to us than most of the holy people we learned about who had died and been declared “official” saints centuries ago. If anyone ever had reason to sit back and say, “Enough! I give up,” she did! Here are a few of the facts.

She was refused entrance to the religious community that had educated her to be a teacher. She began work at a House of Providence doing charitable work; the bishop closed it three years later. She wanted to be a missionary to China but the Pope (Leo XIII) told her to go to the United States instead to work with Italian immigrants and she went. She had a fear of drowning but crossed the Atlantic Ocean more than 30 times before she died in one of her own hospitals in Chicago, Illinois. Perseverance? Oh, yes…and a willingness to hear the voice of God in those she trusted to guide her.

It is not enough to list her challenges; I advise reading even a short biography. My point today, however, is to note her willingness and the optimism that must have accompanied her throughout her life. Today’s verse before the gospel in the lectionary readings seems a perfect example of how she must have moved through her days. In Paul’s first Letter to the Thessalonians we read, “In all circumstances, give thanks!”

Praised be, Mother Cabrini!

Ice Cream on a Cold Morning

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As I clicked my way through my normal check of websites for inspiration this morning, my eye fell on an advertisement for a book offered by Franciscan Media. The book is called This Is the Life. Although it was attractive to me because of the picture of an ice cream cone on the book jacket, it was the tag line accompanying the image that caught my attention. See what you think.

Before we succumb to someday, let us inhale this day.

That one will give me pause, slow me down and keep me breathing!

Veterans Day

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This day on which we remember all those who have served and are now serving our country in the armed forces has a complicated history. While I am not a student of the intricacies of our country’s history in wartimes, and did not live through the Great Wars ( WWI and WWII), I am the daughter of a WWII veteran whose stories were never about the war itself but always about the brotherhood that existed during the war and remained vivid throughout the rest of his life. There was never any talk about the tragedies of those days or what we now know as post-traumatic stress. The women who served during these wars were known mostly as nurses whose service was somewhat in the background – but so essential to the troops.

Things began to change after that. Beginning with the “police action” in Korea and brought to the forefront in Vietnam, questions of “Why are we there??” surfaced and politicization in new ways caused polarization as we wondered – and still do – about our participation in conflicts on the other side of the world. We have learned the downside of being a world power, and those making the decisions about that participation are not often those who are sent to serve.

As we face the repercussions of war in the modern world, we are called to support those who serve, especially those who have been physically, mentally or spiritually damaged in the process of serving. Whether or not we support the premise of the events, we need to see veterans as individuals serving our country and see to their needs going forward.

And we need to pray for veterans and their families who have been damaged by war. Regardless of our politics, we can all pray as individuals for individuals and families who will never be the same. Yes, that is something we all can do, and that is a debt we owe.

Sunday – All Day

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This morning I have a sense of recognition and remembrance that feels a bit like Sundays of long ago. It’s very quiet in our house. There was the “coffee chat” – the first sighting of our housemates in the kitchen – but the stillness that feels related somehow to the cold outside has now returned and we are left by ourselves to reflect on this weekly “holy day.” Before work schedules in the world were “24/7” we Catholics had a rule that said “No unnecessary servile work on Sundays.” Happily, that meant no serious cleaning, no heavy lifting…I couldn’t even iron my father’s handkerchiefs – a privilege I dearly loved.

What was the point of all that? Why was Sunday special for us as Saturday for the Jewish people in the next town? In describing the Sunday rituals of prayer in her monastery, Sister Joan Chittister offers the following thoughts.

Prayer is the filter through which we view our worlds. Prayer provokes us to see the life around us in new ways…Prayer is meant to call us back to a consciousness of God here and now, not to make God some kind of private getaway from life…prayer puts us in contact with past and future at once so that the present becomes clearer and the future possible. (Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, pp. 28-9)

While we still honor a day of the week with ritual, as do others in keeping with their religious traditions, it is helpful sometimes to step out of our routines and set aside a whole day for reflection on just what Sister Joan is talking about. I ask myself when was the last time I did this? What about you?

Heartfelt Listening

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Lately I’ve been noticing – and reading about – a lot of unfortunate trends in the ways that people speak to each other these days. It seems more like a contest than anything else and people are quick to pull a gun or call a lawyer to sue for defamation of character. On television, panel “discussions” devolve quickly into shouting matches or five people talking over each other in louder and louder voices to get their points across.

All of this reminded me of a moment at our book study session on Wednesday evening this past week. When Cheryl asked for comments on a section of the chapter we read, there was a protracted silence, long enough for me to feel the need to say something like: “Didn’t anything strike you? Anybody???” which elicited a rousing chorus of “We’re just thinking!…It’s so deep and meaningful…” I was immediately chastened and, at the same moment, grateful for the depth of sharing that was so common in this group.

Meg Wheatley has something to say on this topic. On a page from her book, turning to one another in answer to her own question, “When have I experienced good listening?” she writes the following:

One of the easiest human acts is also the most healing. Listening to someone. Simply listening. Not advising or coaching, but silently and fully listening…it has something to do with the fact that listening creates relationships. We know from science that nothing in the universe exists as an isolated or independent entity. Everything takes form from relationships, be it subatomic particles sharing energy or ecosystems sharing food. In the web of life, nothing lives alone. (p. 88-89)

I’ll try to remember that…

The Element of Surprise

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The days seem to be getting shorter and the nights longer now but it’s really just an illusion since the calendar still promises 24 hours (give or take a few seconds). It’s really just the light that has changed or diminished and it’s sometimes harder to keep our inner light switched on. I read a quote from Rainer Maria Rilke this morning that is somewhat comforting as I yawn my way into the morning, remembering how rich in events yesterday was and hoping for the same on this grayish, chilly day.

You mustn’t be frightened if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen; if an anxiety, like light and cloud-shadows, moves over your hands and over everything you do. You must realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall.

Perhaps today will be as surprising as any other…Why not?