Antony of Egypt

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Today is the feast of one of the great Desert Fathers, a man living an amazingly long life (251-356), whose legacy is greatly revered by those seeking a depth of spirituality. At the same time, Antony’s words are often quite matter-of-fact and “down-to-earth” and occasionally sound even humorous in our day (although most likely unintentionally). Here are three examples.

A brother said to Abba Antony, “Pray for me.” The old man said to him, “I will have no mercy upon you, nor will God have any, if you yourself do not make an effort and if you do not pray to God.”

Abba Antony said, “I saw the snares that the enemy spread out over the world and I said groaning, “What can get through from such snares?” Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Humility.”

Abba Pambo asked Abba Antony, “What ought I to do?” and the old man said to him, “Do not trust your own righteousness, do not worry about the past, but control your tongue and your stomach.”

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Who Are We?

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Psalm 8 is a lyrical reminder of our place in creation, calling us again today to our duty and privilege as “caretakers” of all God has made. In one lovely but haunting translation that calls us to recognize “the book of beauty that God’s fingers wrote,” the psalmist asks: “Who are we to stand before all this and see?” The answer comes as gently as the question that has been asked.

We are mortal beings set in this world, below the splendor of transcendent space…You placed us here and gave the earth into our care. You bid us cherish all this that’s ours, all the beasts and creatures of the wild. The birds of air, the fish of sea, the plants and everything that lives and moves are we here to know and love…*

My question as the images of all these creations pass before my inner eye is one of evaluation, knowing the effects of global warming and destruction of habitats causing the increased extinction of entire species. How well have we cared? Who are we in the role we have been given? Who are we?

*Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p.16)

Choice

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This morning I started reading something about how everything in our lives is a choice, even when it seems that life has treated us unfairly. Suddenly I was repeating the first line of a prayer card that I had kept in my Bible for years. The first two lines pop up frequently for me in the morning as I’m looking forward (or not) to the day. I’ve often wondered about the rest of the prayer of which I have no memory. It must have seemed that what I remembered was sufficient advice for the day. This morning, however, I decided to “Google it!” although I had little hope of success. Wouldn’t you know! Google is the memory of the world – even of little known and seldom used information. I still think the beginning is enough but repeat what I found simply because I found it. (No author attached)

This day is mine to mar or make. God, keep me strong and true. Let me no erring bypath take, no doubtful action do. Let all I meet along the way speak well of me tonight. I would not have the humblest say I’d hurt them by a slight. Grant me when the setting sun this fleeting say shall end, that I rejoice over something done, be righter by a friend. Let there be something true and fine, when night slips down to tell, that I have lived this day of mine, not selfishly, but well.

Not stellar poetry by any means, but as I typed the poem/prayer in its entirety I came to understand why I kept it. I could do well to live the words – all the words – every day that I am given.

The Human Jesus

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Like many people, I receive a few “thought for the day” quotes in my e-mail each morning. Most often I delete them without too much reflection but occasionally there is something that makes me sit up and take notice. Perhaps because of the Wednesday and Friday gospels this week that focused on the miraculous feeding and healing powers of Jesus, I was led to reflect on his humanity today by Brother Curtis Almquist of the Episcopal Society of St. John the Evangelist in a short post entitled Growth. Here’s what he wrote.

I don’t think Jesus asked to be the Messiah any more than any of us asked for the deck of cards that was handed to us in our birth. But Jesus grew into the acceptance of his humanity, his gifts, his limitations, his mission, and his unfinished business, facing the same developmental issues that we all do in growing up.

Even though in theory I totally buy into Paul’s declaration to the Philippians that Jesus “emptied himself of godliness” and “became like us in all things but sin,” it’s rather stunning to think of Jesus having limitations, let alone “developmental issues.” I must admit, however, to a tiny sensation of relief and gratitude somewhere inside me as I begin to conjecture just what that might mean. I think it will take some time because there are no words that will clarify the sensation. It will take imagination, visualizing Jesus in life situations – in his youth, as a young adult and during his ministry – asking him questions about what he is experiencing in the situations in which he finds himself and then listening for answers.

Trusting that this process is not just a “flight of fancy” but rather a journey into the “imaginal” world may lead to a deepening of understanding and appreciation of Jesus as “fully human.” Why not give it a try?

Audacity

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Every once in awhile we find someone in the Scriptures who isn’t afraid to take a risk in his/her approach to Jesus. The leper in today’s gospel is such a person. Upon seeing Jesus “in one of the towns where Jesus was,” this man took the dramatic step of prostrating himself before Jesus saying, “If you want to, you can make me clean.”

I have this image of the encounter. Jesus is either chatting with someone on a street corner or shopping for something that he or someone else needed. There is no crowd around; it’s early in the gospel of Luke (5:12-16) and the man was able to go right up to where Jesus was and, recognizing him somehow, declare his request without hesitation. Whether Jesus was taken aback or happy that the person in front of him was so direct and sure of him, his answer was just as straightforward. “Of course I want to (my favorite translation says), be clean!” And so it happened. Jesus stretched out his hand, touched the man and the leprosy left him immediately – just like that!

When I am feeling timid about the reasonableness of my prayers, I would do well to remember this man and summon up the courage of my convictions, remembering God’s willingness to hear me and help me. Confidence will win every time!

A Good Reminder

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In what seems a difficult start to the new year in our country and in many places on our planet, I find solace and motivation in a quote I heard and held long ago. It is like meeting an old friend once again and recognizing still our deep connection. I thank Meg Wheatley for including it in her book, turning to one another.

“Choose Life – only that and always, and at whatever risk. To let life leak out, to let it wear away by the mere passage of time, to withhold giving it and spreading it is to choose nothing.” (Sister Helen Kelley)

Impromptu Supper

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Today is the day when that formidable gospel appears. It’s a great miracle story – but has a twist that makes me groan and look inside myself every time. If I hear the words “feeding of the 5,000” I know I can’t just sail along to the end where everyone gets relaxed on the green grass and fed from 5 loaves and 2 fish until they’re more than satisfied. Jesus is interesting in this text from MK 6:34-44.

When the disciples come and suggest to Jesus that he send the people away after a rather long session of teaching so they can find food somewhere (and perhaps so they themselves can do the same), Jesus comes back with a challenge. “Give them some food yourselves,” he says. Imagine their surprise! How could he even think that was possible? They must have felt silly walking around asking everyone to contribute their meager meal to the huge crowd but they did what he asked. The results were not at all helpful: 5 loaves and 2 fish – for 5,000 people (men only!) but again they did what he asked, having them sit down in groups while Jesus said the blessing over the food and then distributing what became more than enough for everyone.

There’s so much to wonder about. Where did they get the baskets for distribution and collection of leftovers? How did that whole process of distribution start. “He broke the loaves…and divided the fish…” It reminds me of a family vacation where my father took my friend fishing and she came back with one very small fish that she joyfully cooked and distributed among the half-dozen people in attendance – a tiny but wonderful appetizer to the meal. A gift of love.

It doesn’t really matter, I guess, what is given as long as we do willingly what we believe we are being called to do. It is our “Yes” – spoken or not – that counts. God takes care of the rest.


Reality Check

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In case anyone is wondering about my progress of yesterday, I thought it only fair to report. Since I had made a list of tasks that would “choke a horse,” I need also to explain that my process is to write down every possible thing that I ought to do so that I won’t forget anything – and that I never can check off everything in one day. My list this time had 18 items on it – some more labor-intensive than others. I succeeded in attending to 5 of them. (No laughing please!) I had neglected to add meditation time, blogging time and meal time at home as well as just sitting for a bit watching TV together. And then there was a short space of time for reading, answering the phone and checking messages (no more of that than necessary!). We also have a retreatant here who always comes for the first week of the year and with whom I am privileged to “check in” at least once or twice during her stay. Yesterday that took what I thought would be my last two waking hours. But then we weren’t expecting the skunk who got stuck in our basement at 10:10PM…

What I realized once again this morning is that life goes on as it should, offering the expected and the unexpected and it is our duty to cooperate as we are able, offering our efforts in gratitude for being alive.

Inner and Outer Light

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Sometimes I “talk big” and really mean what I say but find at the end of the day that I haven’t come close to accomplishing what I had decided at the beginning I would be able to achieve. Such was the interim between this moment and what I wrote on Friday about diving in with vigor and making a new start. Events intervene and change the pattern of our days sometimes so all we can do is our best – sometimes starting over the next day. The key is not to get either discouraged or lazy so that nothing ever gets done. This morning I’m ready to try again. Here’s why.

  1. Yesterday morning six of us sat around a blazing fire in the living room of the Sophia House considering three themes for reflection in this new year. Our wonderfully creative tech person at Sophia, Mary Pat, walked with us on a non-stressful – peaceful even – path, stopping at directional points of inner and outer light, conscious living and gratitude. Our sharing was simple and then grew as did the fire’s warmth so that, in the end, we had a sense of that fire as an ongoing potential for this year’s journey.
  2. Last evening my three Sisters and I sat in our own living room and had what turned into a long, lively exchange of ideas about moving forward with the fulfillment of certain of our proposed projects at the Spiritual Center. It was another experience of how the inner fire in each of us was caught in the circle because of all of us together.
  3. This morning lying in my bed after waking I began to consider my day and to wonder what might be accomplished. Suddenly a wave of light seemed to burst within me – not a tidal wave but a flicker of determination that seemed to say, “Fan the flame. Go within to catch the spirit of those light workers who can help you in this realm and beyond. Use your imagination. Get up! Believe in possibility!” Needless to say I did not go back to sleep.
  4. As I sat with my coffee to relate these events and their effect on me, a strong wind began to blow through the tallest of the trees outside my window, cheering me on. It’s still waving at me – so I need to move to my meditation mat to solidify purpose and begin the day. Blessings abound!