Preparation/Determination

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Pentecost is on the horizon – not ready yet to burst forth but definitely building in energy. I just made a list of necessary tasks, those that I need to complete before what we call “Ordinary Time” begins again. That season is the longest in its liturgical “counting” of weeks and it is dawning on me that it may, indeed, indicate a “new normal” for us, in some manner at least. Today is not a time for lament on what seems lost but an opportunity to begin (if we haven’t already) to recognize a new season of consciousness.*

As I hurriedly picked up a used envelope, soon to be discarded to the trash, on which to write a list of tasks to be done before Sunday, I noticed I had already used part of the space on the back for a random quote. That’s not unusual. I often find these messages of import, saved for later when they offer perfect advice for the new day. This one seems quite appropriate for my mood and the rising tide of determination in me this morning. (The sun just broke through the clouds to underscore the moment.)

The envelope reminded me: The transformative power of gratitude cannot be overestimated…If the only prayer you ever pray is “THANKS!” it is enough. Two messages that become one in my quest for meaning and discipline today. May it follow me through the hours and breathe in me as a recognition of having done my best (even if not having totally completed all tasks) by nightfall.

Where do you hope to be by the end of the day?

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N.B. *While it is true that Pentecost is my “push point” for newness, it may be helpful for all to know that there is still time to prepare for newness of spirit. The Sunday after Pentecost (June 7th) is Trinity Sunday, the actual day of transition. We take the Triune God with us as we step into the period of “counting” or Ordinary Time.

We Are the Gift

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In what I think is the most stark passage in John’s gospel (17:20-26), today we read what is clearly a pleading of Jesus to God. He’s asking that unity may be manifest on earth. It’s a very personal passage in which Jesus talks about his relationship with God and his desire for his followers and – by extension – the entire world to know the love that exists in God and for us all. The most powerful line for me today is what we language teachers call “direct address.” (There’s no doubt about the ask or to whom the request is made.) He says: Father, they are your gift to me.

Think about that for a minute. Pretend you are listening in on the conversation and you hear Jesus saying, “Father, they are your gift to me.” He’s talking about us – not only the holy ones among us, not the intellectuals or the gifted artists, but all of us. We are the gifts God has given to Christ who has walked the same path that we have. His 33-year sojourn on earth was not virtual or imaginal; he actually lived a totally human life. Now he’s asking for all of us to accept being God’s gift to him. I’m fairly certain that God was willing to give Christ what he asked for. The question is whether or not we are willing to acquiesce to what is required of us in becoming a gift of God to the world.

We just have to agree…to say yes.

Perseverance

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As I was reading the “Saint of the Day” entry on http://www.franciscanmedia.org, the word perseverance jumped out at me. Given that we come up against situations almost daily now where that could be the catch phrase, I decided to consult Margaret Wheatley who wrote a whole book under that title. Not surprisingly, I found a reflection on the word—the concept—immediately on page 3. Here then is my simple, but seemingly quite apt, reflection for today.

Meg writes: The word “perseverance” in Latin means “one who sees through to the end,” “one who doesn’t yield.” In English, it describes how we maintain our activity in spite of difficulties. Tenacity, steadfastness, persistence, doggedness — these are all common synonyms.

In Chinese, the character for perseverance is the same as the one used for patience.

Human experience is the story of perseverance. Throughout space and time, humans have persevered. We wouldn’t be here without them.

There you have it: three simple statements to help us through the day. May we all continue to persevere in this time of trial and opportunity.

Quotable Quotes

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There are a lot of people who have chosen a specific quote that expresses something important to them, something that they want to say to all the people with whom they share e-mail. I’m always interested to read these brief messages that conclude their e-mails to see if I think they fit the person behind the quote. Last week one of my Sisters of St. Joseph treated me to a quote of Thomas Merton that was characteristic of him but one I had never heard before. I might have claimed it for myself if I were called to choose it from the many great lines that run through my brain on any given day. I don’t know if I could ever settle on one choice to the exclusion of all others but this one is certainly a contender.

Do you have a favorite? This one came from Sister Linda Neil, CSJ, and I could say I value its message more and more each day. Thanks to Lin!

Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer, where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is all in all.

Worldwide Waking Up

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I was on a zoom call at 7:00am today, the last Monday of seven offered by my friend, Bill Redfield. Getting up and being ready for a morning reflection by then sounds for me like a daunting project but the value and rewards are definitely worth it. There have been 26 others who feel it a privilege to be in such a company of seekers and I find myself to be the luckiest as some of the participants are in the Northwest USA and for them it is 4:00AM when we begin. Today I met Francis, a man from Australia who was anticipating a night’s sleep at the end of our gathering!

I am astounded that when we arrived in our small group room today we were three Catholics, one from the US, one from Eastern Europe and one from Australia, all of whom have a spiritual practice called Centering Prayer. Our sharing was only 20 minutes so we skidded along the edges of what could have turned into a deep and meaningful conversation of similarities and differences if we had more time. How incredible it is to see the possibilities now of partnering spirituality and technology as we did today.

We spoke in our brief encounter of the necessity of connection like ours and the urgency of connecting in prayer and practice for the survival of the planet. A now familiar adage tells us that we need to “be the change we want to see in the world.” That is really a call to each of us – and all of us. It is not essential for us all to do the same thing as a spiritual practice but it is imperative that we do something! Technology, even for those of us who are mystified by most of it, can help us and amaze us and find us new companions, just as the sharing of the meaning that we find on our spiritual journeys.

I highly recommend “taking the leap” and promise endless possibilities just for the effort of letting go!

Waiting for the Spirit

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It’s always a wonder when the weather outside reflects a state of soul, like a birthday gift that one has longed for but is not sure of receiving. That may seem like a great stretch as leaving the state of soul to the vagaries of the weather seems a bit shallow, but a glorious spring day can certainly lift one’s spirits and add hope to the daily routine.

Psalm 27 gave me that lift just now as the birds announced a lovely Sunday. This interim time from the feast of the Ascension of Christ to Pentecost is a perfect opportunity to reflect on possibility as we consider what is to come: the recognition of God’s Spirit lighting up the world. This “novena” of waiting is building the power of the Spirit in each of us and all of us, allowing us to respond to the call to be the light that we need to see us through the present—a difficult moment, to be sure—into whatever blessed future awaits us if we are willing to find the strength to persevere and create it.

The psalmist sings out: The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom should I be afraid? Though the enemy should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear, though war should rise up against me, even then will I trust. One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the loveliness of the Lord.

Can we spend this moment—this week of grace—gathering our willingness and trusting our ability to let go of fear and any weakness that clings to us, recognizing that God is indeed doing something new, readying us to step into a future that calls us together for the life of the world?

May it be so at Pentecost.

Memorial Weekend

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It’s not always easy to feel the joy that’s expressed in Psalm 47, the response in today’s lectionary readings. (“All you peoples, clap your hands; shout to God with cries of gladness.”) Usually when we approach this weekend on the calendar there is a deep sense of celebration but, even in happier times, there is a tinge of sadness as we remember all the brave men and women who have given their lives to keep us safe, especially in wartime. This year it is even more complicated as we face this weekend from the midst of COVID 19, the most brutal and dangerous disease of our time, not limited to warring countries but spread across the entire world. There is a lot of fear of infection as well as frustration and anger toward people who seem to disregard warnings of how celebration can lead to infection.

In Lynn Bauman’s commentary on the psalm today I read a paragraph that got me thinking. He says the following:

There are times when, as C.S. Lewis said, we are “surprised by joy.” The psalmist may be caught in one of those moments of surprise when the knowledge of God overwhelms human consciousness and history is seen in the light of divine reality. Have you ever had such a glimpse where everything shifted and you saw the world and your circumstances in an entirely new, transcendent light?

While this may be a little off the mark, I can point to one such experience of a Memorial Day weekend a few years ago when I was watching the celebration from the White House on television. Usually well-done events, this was the first time I remember famous people – either celebrities or military leaders – taking the parts of “real-life soldiers” and recounting their experiences of war. The most touching moment was at the conclusion of each narration when the narrator moved out from the stage to the audience to embrace and thank the real life hero of the story they had just told (or the family if the hero was deceased). The overwhelming sense that arose in me was a mix of gratitude for their bravery and patriotism and a recognition of the strong bonds of camaraderie as they spoke of their comrades-in-arms with whom they had served. I actually felt a joy for the gift of life in the United States where daily we can see or read about diverse outpourings of what can only be named as love of country or fellow citizens. I think at this moment of the healthcare workers who are spending themselves to save lives of people whom they do not know but whom they serve nevertheless…and whom they celebrate as the lucky ones are wheeled from the hospital on their way home.

Tears are indications of sadness, pain or joy and this weekend is about all of those feelings. May we be thankful for the good and forgiving for what we find disturbing this weekend and may we always be grateful, respectful and caring for the life we have been given in this vast, complicated and beautiful country that is ours.

Doing Our Best for the Most

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Lately I often have to look at the date at the top of my phone screen to see the day and the date because nothing is routine right now. I also keep the calendar where I write and can see an entire month spread out before me. No surprises that way. It is my “safety net” and keeps me somewhat up to date.

Speaking of dates, however, it surprised me to realize that Memorial Day is this coming Monday at the end of this weekend, rather than the next! It seems so early and it is true that it is as early as it possibly can be since the next Monday begins June. (Not rocket science, you may say!) I wondered why there was so much distressful conversation about “social distancing” already in the lead-up to the holiday. Pictures of crowded beaches give me a sinking feeling and I wonder what the infection numbers will show next week and beyond…

I’m disappointed at the need of people to disregard the precautions that we must take to be safe, but our difficulty with the concept of such restriction and lack of freedom of choice is understandable for those of us privileged to live in the United States of America. We have been founded on the notion of freedom as essential to life in all manner of things. I feel the pull myself when I receive coupon in the mail for sales at my favorite store and realize it would put me at risk to go there. I miss meetings with my Wisdom Practice Circle (soon to be by Zoom) or my book study group (already by Zoom – but not quite the same). I’m getting used to the internet life that we are left with but will never be satisfied with virtual meetings over handshakes and hugs.

All of that having been said, I hope we can reflect on what Memorial Day is about and think of the sacrifices of all those who died to keep us safe. Might we not be able to find ways to live for the same reason?

Which Is Better?

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For Christians the world over, there have been frequent musings over the centuries about what it would have been like to have lived when Jesus walked the earth, to have recognized and spent time with him (if we did, in fact, recognize him). Would we have embraced his message? Would it have been enough to have been in his presence? Or are we the gifted ones, living in a time when communication is worldwide, when Christians populate the world in great numbers and faith is strong in many places of worship and pilgrimage? Is it more valuable to have the testimony of the Scriptures, as well as works of scholars, mystics and monks who impart their knowledge and experience with a passion that is carried through time and caught by those of open heart?

Today we celebrate the great feast of The Ascension of Christ into heaven. His work on the earth plane was completed and he passed on to those willing to follow him the task of spreading God’s love throughout the world. That task is now ours. We can know him in our desire, in our sharing of his message, in the love we impart to the companions we have been given. We have many messages from Scripture, left to us by those who listened to the words of Jesus when he was here. Today, may we be comforted and strengthened by the promise given as he left the earth:

Know that I am with you always, until the end of the age.

Paul’s Passion

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I am back with Paul this morning, this time at my favorite text from the Acts of the Apostles, beginning at Chapter 17, verse 15, hop-skipping to verse 22 and then waxing eloquently all the way to the first verse of chapter 18. Paul was in Athens on that day, at the Areopagus, a location to be later known as Mars Hill. How Paul could have been heard from his position at the top of that outcropping of rock outside of the Acropolis is hard to imagine. It speaks, perhaps, to the passion Paul felt for his message, the necessity to impart the experience through which he had come to know the God of Jesus the Christ. No microphone embellished the message, only the inspiration that flowed out from him to touch all the listeners. In this important city of Athens, there was a shrine “To an Unknown God” and Paul took notice of that as his touchstone when he began to speak:

You Athenians, I see that in every respect you are very religious…I even discovered an altar inscribed, “To an Unknown God.” What therefore you unknowingly worship, I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, nor is this God served by human hands because he needs anything. Rather it is this God who gives to everyone life and breath and everything…so that people might seek God, even perhaps grope for him and find him, though indeed he is not far from any one of us, for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’ as even some of your poets have said.

The fire in the heart and the conviction in the words spoken that day should be an impetus for the recognition that we are—in this day of great peril and great grace—all one in the depths of our being as humans. We can be convinced, if not necessarily by the religious tradition that we follow but by the fire in our own hearts, that there is a God whose name is Love, a God who works for our good and in whom we too live and move and have our being.

And that is, for me, for today, enough to know.