As Morning Breaks

I woke up this morning during the first part of the 5:00 hour (which means I was still too asleep to remember exactly what time it was). The sun was already doing its job of drying the grass which is growing at quite a rapid pace and in my head was a sweet morning song – a psalm setting so gentle it lulled me back to sleep for a bit…As morning breaks, I look to you. I look to you, O Lord, to be my strength this day…as morning breaks…as morning breaks.” Just the refrain, offering everything up to God’s strength for whatever is needed every moment of this day. Just enough to take me through until tomorrow. I’m still singing…

Blessed be!

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Shedding

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I”ve spent some time yesterday and the day before picking up branches under one of our large maple trees. I hope that today I will complete the task and be able to rake and then cut the grass under that tree. We’ve had an inordinate amount of shedding going on this spring, mostly because of the heavy winds of the past few months. Some of the branches could be mistaken for trees themselves because they are so very large. As I drag them to a pile on the edge of our property, I sometimes wonder what made them separate from the tree as many of them seem strong and not at all diseased. People would say that it’s just the way of things in nature: they live, are nourished by their root system and then they die – either from a weather event or just old age.

Clearing the branches makes me more aware of the gifts of the trees to our ecosystem and to me. Beauty, shade and release of necessary gasses as they breathe are notable reasons to be grateful, as is the shelter they provide for the birds. Interestingly, today the gospel is the familiar “vine and branches” reading from John that speaks to us of our connection to one another and to God. And that is perhaps the greatest lesson of all.

Inner Peace

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Surely my most important insight today (amazing at 6:33AM) will be something that I have known for a long time but now makes more sense and came from a familiar verse from John’s gospel this morning. Jesus is getting ready for his final “goodbye” to his friends and leaves them with this message: Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.

What is clearer than ever for me this morning is that Jesus is talking about inner peace – peace of heart, we would call it, so that no matter what’s going on outside of us, the inside can remain hopeful and loving and kind because God remains steadfast in us. Disturbing events in the world around us are real but cannot shake our knowing of that truth.

I feel as if I have taken a further step into the deep waters of truth that will allow me more peace in the everyday recognition of troubling events. If I can remember to live from my heart where peace abides in God, I can face external events with equanimity. Perhaps it sounds strange to say that this is a new knowing for me. I certainly should be familiar with this teaching by now in my life, shouldn’t I? Well, of course! I have known those words of Jesus for decades but the world has become more complex, more challenging so I needed wider eyes and clearer recognition of the great gift of inner peace where we can meet each other and become that peace. Are you there as well?

Idols

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There’s a lot in the Scriptures for today about idols or “false gods,” both in Psalm 115 (their idols are silver and gold, the handiwork of men) and in chapter 14 of the Acts of the Apostles where Paul healed a man, lame from birth. In that case, Paul was clear that his power to heal came from “the living God” but the people refused to believe that he was not “a god in human form.”

I am sitting with these two impressions of long ago and thinking about how the world of “healing” works now. Besides our incredibly complex pharmaceutical system, there are still places in the world where inhabitants have their “kitchen gods” and others, and where Christian people pray to saints, named as intercessors for certain things (most commonly St. Anthony to find lost articles). I can say that there is a difference in prayers to saints and praying to “the living God” and that the distinction is clear to me – but is it always? Are there not people who attribute a measure of divinity to those whose power seems “super-human,” especially in situations of physical healing?

How do we explain these things? And is there not an element of faith necessary in the exchange of those involved in such a healing – between the healer and the one healed, I mean? Could that faith be generated by trust in “the living God” transmitted through a human being? Does the quality of the healing have anything to do with the humility of the healer – e.g. giving the glory to God rather than to his/her own power? In addition, shouldn’t we be looking more closely at the relationship between our physical, psycho-emotional and spiritual selves as we live each day? Physician, heal thyself, the adage from the gospel of Luke, might merit some reflection.

No definitive answers here as it is all a matter of personal belief, religious training and life situation. This is just what happens when I face a day with the Scriptures in my lap…The likely value for me is to ask myself all the above questions and consider alternatives so that when I am asked about my beliefs I have something to say.

An Encouraging Word

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I’m cooking this morning for the group that’s here at our retreat center for the first workshop of our season. I need to be in the kitchen 35 minutes from now so I just picked up Joan Chittister’s book, We Are All One, looking for a quick thought since my head is full of plugging in the coffee and making pancakes and cutting up cantaloupe. As I opened the book a small business-card sized message fell out. A stranger had handed it to me some time ago as I left a store. It says: YOU MATTER in white letters on a red background with the outline of a heart on the bottom right-hand corner.

I think that’s as good as it gets for today. Keep it in mind and have a good one.

The Bigger Picture

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The relevance of the Psalms is timeless as the issues raised and the relationships considered apply to antiquity as well as to world situations in our own day. Following on yesterday’s post, we have Psalm 2 today that moves us from the individual to the universal and puts God squarely in the midst of world events and the clashes of nation with nation. At present the question of who will rule the world and how is filled with tension and dangerous rhetoric seems to escalate with each passing day.

In the midst of such a situation, the psalmist calls for the rulers of nations to turn to God for guidance. I found an interesting twist in Lynn Bauman’s translation of the last verses of the psalm which seems to me to relate directly to the situation at the southern border of the United States of America.

So listen well, you rulers of the peoples, be wise, pay heed to what you hear. Learn service to the God of earth and heaven, in humility and awe draw close, come near. Instead of fury, anger, fear and wrath, know blessedness. Learn to trust and live as a refugee in God. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 3)

How might living with that consciousness change things on the world stage?

A Consistent Voice

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This morning I woke up with Joan Chittister’s name front and center in my consciousness. I don’t think I was dreaming about her but I looked across to a little book of hers standing upright and face out on my bookcase across the room. “She must have something to say today,” I thought. My guess is that Sister Joan always has something to say and it’s usually important. The little book, entitled We Are All One, was written last year and contains the author’s reflections, as the subtitle explains, on “unity, community and our commitment to each other.” It could have been written by Lynn Bauman whom I quoted yesterday. It seems that many of us are waking up to the same or, at the very least, similar themes for living rightly in this world. Here’s a smattering of sentences from the introduction that sets out the foundation of all that follows. I believe the book will be among my reflection tools for the foreseeable future.

Life, we learn young, is one long game of push and pull. One part of us pushes us always toward wholeness…The other part, however, pulls us back into ourselves. It separates us from the universe around us and leaves us feeling distant and out of sync…We seek unity, yes. But lurking within every human act is the gnawing need to be independent, to think of ourselves as distinct from the rest of life…Is the purpose of the gift of life to consume it for ourselves…or is our purpose to join the human race on its way to fullness of life for everyone?

And then her conclusion: The choice is actually simple. We must only decide if we will go on lingering in the shadows of life, forever trying to choose between doing what a numbed world will call “nice,” or step up and, in the face of evil, proclaim instead what is right. (p.1-3)

Weather Report

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This spring has been unusually cold and rainy. Today promises to be the only day this week with no rain but predictions also say we may be wet again by 6:00 this evening. Before I start to moan and groan about it I need to pay attention to Psalm 67 which today reminds me to look farther and deeper than my own back yard. As Lynn Bauman suggests, Our task as contemporary creatures is not simply to pray for ourselves, or narrowly for those around us who are dear to us, but to give voice for the whole earth…Imagine yourself as creation’s voice, as an instrument through which those without a voice can enter with praise the presence of God.

He is speaking, of course, about more than the weather although in some places the loss occasioned by that one element in the world has lately been monumental. He goes on to offer a challenge to us that carries us beyond the borders of our own lives and our own times to a larger vision. Listen:

Reflect upon your vision of the future for the world. There is often a wide gap between the the vision of beauty held out for the world and the experience of pain and ugliness we find within it. Those who pray hold these two regions together and will not let them fall apart.

As you pray this prayer (Psalm 67) imagine yourself praying for the voiceless creatures of earth, and for those human beings who have lost hope that such a future might even exist. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 166)

St. Matthias

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Today is the feast of the man who replaced Judas in the company of the Apostles. I wondered this morning what it must have been like for Matthias to step into the role. Was he immediately accepted by the others? Was there jealousy from “outside the circle?” I quickly found an answer in the lectionary text for today from the Acts of the Apostles, in the only section where we ever hear about Matthias (1:15-17, 20-26). The text notes that the replacement had to be “one of the men who accompanied us the whole time the Lord Jesus came and went among us…”

That makes sense, of course, since the best candidates would have been those who walked with and served with the ones who had also listened to and learned the lessons that Jesus imparted to his closest followers. I’m seeing Matthias today as someone who was willing to be in their company just for the privilege of walking with Jesus – without any name recognition from the crowds or any reward for his service. Because he was chosen by lot “by the Holy Spirit” and for his consistent presence among them, I presume that the eleven would be comfortable with him. Hopefully any “ego” had been stripped from the group by then about rank and position. I wonder if Matthias himself was secure in his new role. Being included in the day to day decision-making and other tasks left to those in the inner circle must have necessitated a bit of an inner shift for them all. Did he need a “buddy” to make him comfortable in the day-to-day?

We often don’t think of the small things for those whose whole lives had been turned upside down more than once because of Jesus, but they were human, after all, and their life together after Jesus had to be a challenge. We might consider that on days when our service of God is a bit of a bumpy road. Recourse to the faithful, persevering Matthias might be just the thing to keep us moving forward and grateful for God’s choice of us.

Listening for the Spirit

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Each time the Church reads lectionary texts from the book entitled Acts of the Apostles I come to appreciate these followers of Jesus in a deeper way. One might call this book “The rest of the story” – when the followers of Christ became the major characters and needed to listen inwardly to God’s directives rather than having recourse to the physical presence of Jesus. Peter is especially interesting to me this year as he takes the leadership that Christ called him to at that famous catch of fish in the early morning of breakfast on the beach.

Today’s reading from chapter 11 (1-18) Is especially timely in our day, I think, as Peter related his vision which indicated acceptance of others whose ritual laws were different from his own. Listen to Peter’s words:

  1. But a second time a voice from heaven answered, “What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.”
  2. The Spirit told me to accompany them without discriminating.
  3. If then, God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?

It must have taken a lot of courage for Peter to veer from what had always been his beliefs to consider those of others. It could only have been grace that allowed him to see more clearly and deeply what was needed. I think of Pope John XXIII, now a canonized saint of the Roman Catholic Church, who was similarly called in 1959 to announce the Second Vatican Council, a world-wide gathering of prelates and consultants to “update” the Church to deal with issues of the times. By the end of the Council that occurred each autumn season from 1962 to 1965, the participants had produced 16 foundational documents, five of which spoke directly to relationships with other religious groups – Christians and beyond. Different in scope but similar in intent, Peter and John XXIII changed the face and welcome of what had been to what might be for a better future.

We do not need to abandon our own beliefs in order to welcome others. We simply (or not so simply) need a clear eye and an open heart to hear the deep yearnings of people. If we listen carefully, we will likely find more to accept than to deny and a widening of understanding will benefit the whole.

May the Spirit of God be found in us and be spoken aloud for the good of the world!