His Name Is John

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ababyWhen my brother was born (finally, a boy!) there was some talk about what name he would be given. I recall hearing that my mother’s choices were Stephen or Victor but that my father (John) was clear that his name is John. Thinking of that always puts me in mind of the story of Zachariah who was also very clear about it – for a serious reason, of course. (LK 1:57-66,80) We think my brother is pretty special and although there was sometimes confusion about who my mother was calling to a task or to dinner, his name suits him as one called from birth (IS. 49:1). I find myself standing up straighter and feeling confident, just by saying the name “John.”

That phrase “called from birth” is worth attention from each of us since it is true, I think, of all of us. Sometimes it takes a very long time to figure out the specifics and depth of what that call means. These days it is rare for people to stay in one job or even one career for the extent of their work life. Coming to know our deeper identity as we look in the mirror and place ourselves in the presence of the Divine can be even more evolutionary, yet often daunting. Knowing ourselves as ‘the beloved of God” is a lifelong, graceful becoming.

Today might be a good day to consider our given name and how we inhabit it. Have we a special (maybe secret) chosen name by which we hear God call to us? Is it possible that those two names might be coming to a convergence? What might we do to encourage that unity to emerge?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming Love

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asacredheartToday is The Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, a designation that makes me, as a “cradle Catholic,” sit up and take notice. It’s the words Solemnity and Most that call attention to the holiness of Jesus as the model for life. In this way, my focus shifts from the beating and bleeding heart in the images of Jesus on the walls of many Catholic homes to a deeper consciousness that does not negate the truth of that devotion but expands and personalizes it in a new way. Lest the reader assume that I have left tradition behind, it seems important to mention that I have an image of the Sacred Heart in my prayer space at home. It is the totality of the symbols – the face of Jesus, the heart and fire illuminating it – and yes, drops of blood as a sign of his life’s sacrifice – that guides my prayer toward love each day.

The second reading for today speaks strongly of what I feel about this feast. Listen to John’s first letter (4: 7-16).  Beloved, let us love one another because love is of God…In this is love: not that we have loved God but that God has loved us…Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and God’s love is brought to perfection in us…(Here’s the “punchline” – the crux of it all) God is love.

I read a quote once on a card that stays with me. It said, “We are not God but we are a seed of God..” I don’t remember the exact conclusion to that thought but it spoke of our responsibility to grow into God in ways that reflect God’s light, God’s love: the being of God. How might I nurture that movement today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over and Over

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aforgiveThe prayer we know as “The Lord’s Prayer” or the “Our Father” can be found in two of the four canonical gospels – Matthew and Luke – and, although translations vary, the wording of the two is virtually the same. What differs are the verses that follow. Luke, chapter 11, gives an example of what Jesus meant by telling a story. Today we have Matthew’s version which tells people how they are to act when doing spiritual practice – not looking gloomy and neglecting their appearance so people know they are fasting, etc. (That always makes me smile as I know how easy it is to moan to let others know when I am in pain from some small injury or distress…). I noticed something in between Matthew’s directives this morning, however, that surprised me and made me wonder if I will ever have a new thought that doesn’t touch on our relationships in today’s world situation. (See the past few entries of this blog.)

After the “forgive us our debts/trespasses as we forgive…and deliver us from evil” lines and before the “don’t be gloomy,” there is an extra push on forgiveness. If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions. If we judge by the amount of text given to a thought, the necessity of forgiveness seems to win out over every other action in this prayer.

So once again today, I guess there is need to look at how easily – or not – I forgive. And here is another possibility. I have recently been made aware of a website entitled healthbeyondbelief.com of John Newton, a distance healer. To begin, one might choose to read – often – his Comprehensive Forgiveness Prayer for Ourselves. If this is an introduction for you to such a concept, it might seem a bit extreme, but I recommend openmindedness.

Whatever works, I suggest reflection once more on the issue of forgiving and allowing ourselves to be forgiven. It’s a big topic but worth the time.

 

 

 

 

 

Bless the Children

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abubblesMy thoughts this morning are of children – simple thoughts really, for a number of reasons. We have finally (some would say swiftly) arrived at the calendar designation of the beginning of summer and I have been aware that this is the last week of school for the youth of New York State. Freed for the summer from the constraints of study, some are likely jubilant while others quickly become bored. I suggest prayer for young people in general that this season will afford them some new, safe adventures and good friends to companion them.

Today is the feast of St. Aloysius Gonzaga who lived in the 16th century and died at the age of 23. An extraordinarily spiritual youth, he had a “spiritual opening” at the age of 7 years and was teaching catechism by the age of eleven! After a 4 year struggle with his father who was determined that his son join the military, Aloysius entered the Jesuit order. Soon after, in caring for those brothers sickened by plague, he contracted the disease and died. As I read about his early life, I thought of the children I have known as “different” or extraordinary – often the intellectually brilliant ones – who are not well accepted by their peers. Conformity is a much safer path to walk, especially in our younger years. I pray for those children and teens who wish for a simpler life but know a different calling, that they may accept themselves and others and come to celebrate their uniqueness as God’s gift.

Finally, I see pictures of the beautifully alive faces of the youngest members of my own extended family and pray for children everywhere that they may be granted loving parents or guardians like those I know their parents, my younger cousins, to be. May we learn from the young the lessons of spontaneity and wonder, of simplicity and joy and may they be a blessing to us in this season.

 

 

 

 

 

The Power of Prayer

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aguywtattoosPerhaps I am more sensitive these days because of all the strife in my own country and the world, but it seems that Jesus is repeatedly pushing his point about how we are to love. Today, again from the fifth chapter of Matthew’s gospel, I can practically hear the urgency in his voice when he tells us that we are called not just to love those who are easy to love but also those we would name “enemy.” He leaves no space for misinterpretation of the message. God, he says, “makes the sun rise on the bad and the good and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” Then come his questions:

If you love those who love you, what recompense will you have?…If you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that??

In trying to get a handle on just how serious a challenge this is, I create examples of people I might cross the street to avoid. One might be a man dressed in black pants and a muscle shirt who is covered with tattoos and chains for jewelry, smelling of alcohol and/or cigarettes. I ask myself how I would greet this man. Not knowing anything about him, I would probably jump to the conclusion that he is a gang member and just that designation has taught me to fear him. Then there are those I don’t need to create because I hear about them and their actions on the news at night. Just hearing the name Bashar al-Assad is for me what we used to call a “near occasion of sin.”

So is there a way to “love” those “neighbors?” I can think of two possibilities. The first answer for me is always prayer; I could pray for them. (Noting that I say “I could pray” points out to me that I have not – thus far – taken Jesus seriously on this point.) Then I would have to get serious about how to pray for them. What would I ask for? Their conversion, perhaps? Or my conversion toward them, seeing them as human beings, deserving of my consideration?

As a start, though, perhaps I ought to pray for those people in my daily life who are difficult to love, and treat them as the beloved of God. By practicing on those cases, maybe it would become more possible to approach “my enemy.” Maybe the guy with the chains is part of a very charitable Harley Davidson group – a fact I wouldn’t know unless I approached and greeted him and got him talking…On the other hand, I will likely never meet the world leaders that I find most difficult so everything in that realm is just theory. But there is still my prayer…Do I really believe in the efficacy of it? Might I (at least) be changed by consistent and sincere practice? I will never know, I guess, until I try.

 

 

 

 

 

Water on Stone

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awaterdripstoneChapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel is very challenging. Most of us know – or at least know of – the Beatitudes in which Jesus tells of the happiness (blessedness) of those who practice and/or endure justice and meekness and long-suffering, etc.(MT 5:38-42). The chapter doesn’t stop there, however. As Jesus lays out a new way of living – the fulfillment and next step in the evolution of the Mosaic Law, perhaps, he speaks of letting our light shine for the good of the world and then there is that most uncomfortable teaching that goes beyond anything his listeners could have expected. (MT 5:38-42) “You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.”

Interestingly, what caught my eye this morning when I first opened the USCCB (Catholic bishops) website was the topic of capital punishment. It is one of the tenets of Catholicism that I applaud wholeheartedly. This was the explanatory paragraph that I read:

The dignity of human life must never be taken away, even in the case of someone who has done great evil. Modern society has the means of protecting itself, without definitively denying criminals the chance to reform. (Pope Saint John Paul II, Evangelium Vitae, 1995)

As we watch the frequent news reports of horrific violence in our country and around the world, these are hard sayings to accept. Reacting to violence with violence, however, is never a solution. I feel led today to examine my own heart, seeking to root out any vestiges of violence – bursts of anger and even thoughts of “tit-for-tat” – that might add to the negative energy in the world. Offering what I find as an antidote to my own failures in conscious loving might become my strength when the next challenge to my ego comes along. I’m reminded of Holly Near’s song lyrics from long ago that asked, “Can we be like drops of water falling on the stone, splashing, breaking, dispersing in air, weaker than the stone by far but be aware that, as time goes by, the rock will wear away.”

May it be so in us!

 

 

 

 

 

What’s On Your List?

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acalmnessNot having any inspiration this morning – nor even cogent thoughts for that matter, I have been searching the words of Macrina Wiederkehr for an expression that would mirror how I’m feeling. Since I am unable to recognize myself in anything I read, I choose simply to offer her prayer that begins: There are mornings when I simply sit in silence trying to remember some of the things that rise in me. Her list is challenging but maybe if I focus on even one of the elements, it will jump-start my motivation for the day. May this day be a blessing for each of us and all of us together as we rise to the call of the Spirit.

Macrina’s list includes a tolerance for those who don’t agree with me, a refusal to judge others, a willingness to forgive, greater effort to live with a non-violent heart, a calm and hopeful spirit in the midst of my anxieties, discipline in my daily personal prayer, attention and faithfulness in my daily work, a holy anger for the injustice in our world. (Seven Sacred Pauses, p. 63-4)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yielding

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ayiledsignIn looking ahead to possibilities for the autumn “semester” at the Sophia Center, I began re-reading Finding the On-Ramp to Your Spiritual Life, a little book by Jan Phillips. The impetus came from two different conversations – one with Jan and another with a member of my Spiritual Practices Circle who is considering reading the book with a group in her Church. It’s a catchy title and the idea of using traffic signs as chapter titles was, it seems to me, quite an inspired idea. It’s part of Jan’s genius, I think, to see deep meaning in the connections that exist everywhere and use everyday experiences to mine deep truth. Think about all you could say about “STOP” or “DIVIDED HIGHWAY” or even “FALLING ROCKS AHEAD.” (Actually, that’s not a bad idea. What would you say about each of those things vis-à-vis your life?)

Last night I read the chapter entitled YIELD, which is a familiar concept to someone who learns the daily letting go in the practice of centering prayer. Here’s how Jan began that reflection.

The word yield has a variety of meanings. On the road, it means to surrender, to give way. In nature, it means to engender, to bear fruit. On the spiritual path, one leads to the other. Once we give up our notion of how life “should be,” we free ourselves to experience the lives that we do have.

Simple, right? But not easy, of course. Give it some time today as you drive or shop or interact with others…See how yielding is a better choice than resistance and bow to the opportunities that so often just show up to help us along on our journey.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Margin of Greatness

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ajeterThe verse before the gospel today was encouraging. From Paul’s letter to the Philippians, it urges us to shine like lights in the world as you hold on to the word of life. (2:15D, 16A) Thinking about my day yesterday with a group of parish faith formation leaders, some of whom who are wrapping up a challenging year in their churches, I was happy to reflect on their willingness to live in the reality of their experiences while still fanning the flame of hope in their hearts. The day was not an intensive, content-heavy experience but rather offered them some simple practices for everyday life that also included a brief nature walk and some poetry. The important element, as I saw it, was simply their presence together in community with no expectations except the support of one another. It was clear to me that they are, indeed, “lights in the world.”

I found the same spirit in Alan Cohen’s thought for June 16th in his book, A Deep Breath of Life. He was talking about baseball and how a batting average of .250 was a good predictor of a solid career if the player was also a decent fielder. In contrast, a player with a .300 batting average is a star. He pointed out that the difference between these two was one hit out of 20 times at bat. His reflection on that “margin of greatness” was the following.

Sometimes just a little effort is all we need to put us over the edge to huge success. In your career, family, or spiritual path try to stretch beyond your perceived limits. A little extra patience with a customer could make her a lifetime client and bring you her friends’ business. A seminar participant told me that she signed up for an intensive workshop simply because I had responded to a letter she had written me. An extra kind touch, one more deep breath, or a willingness to listen could make the difference between a modest salary and a million-dollar contract, or a life of mere survival and a glorious adventure.

I doubt that any of the people sitting in front of me yesterday will ever be a multi-millionaire, but I have a hunch that, in the end, they all have a good chance of looking back on their lives as a blessing – and maybe even a great and glorious adventure.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Juxtaposition

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aolivebranchChapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel is so full of teaching that it provides a lifetime of material for reflection. The Beatitudes alone are enough! In today’s lectionary selection, however, there is a very important section on how we ought to treat those persons closest to us. (Jesus calls them our brothers, but we know he meant our sisters too.) It’s about the fact that we must be in right relationship with our neighbors before we approach God in our worship services. The very familiar text (vs. 20-26) tells us that if there is something separating us from another person we need to leave our gift at the altar to go and be reconciled. It’s that important. The interesting thing about this passage for me, however, is a simple twist in the way the recognition of our duty is expressed by Jesus. He doesn’t say, “If you recall that you have anything against your brother, go first and reconcile…” Instead, Jesus makes the job of reconciliation ours even though it is “if your brother has anything against you…”

It would seem unfair to say it is our responsibility to take the first step in such a case. It’s much easier to blame others for their misunderstanding of us or their unwillingness to come to us when we have nothing (maybe) against them. I think that Jesus is looking for two things from us here: 1. a willingness to look in a mirror to be sure that there is no obfuscation going on from our part and 2. a willingness to practice unconditional love in any situation – whether or not we share responsibility for the breach in relationship. Letting go of justice for mercy is a large-hearted step. Taking it goes a long way in moving toward the heart of God.