Lost

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Today our Church celebrates what has come to be known as “Good Shepherd” Sunday, a favorite of most churchgoers. This year we might take special notice of the hopefulness of the message in this reading, (PS. 23) if we have felt lost during the pandemic in any way.

I suggest we all do some sort of a visual exercise where we see ourselves being scooped up by Jesus and carried home to his heart. If possible, while being held, try to feel the heart of Jesus beating in your own heart.

Another wonderful exercise is to listen to the song, “Like A Shepherd” from the St. Louis Jesuits.  Whatever it takes, my hope is that you feel the great love of the Good Shepherd who is always with us, loving us more than we can ask or imagine.

The Important Question

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I am always grateful when something or someone poses a question that calls me to stop and reflect. Today it was the psalm response from the lectionary that gave me pause. Here, then, is the $64,000 question for our reflection.

“How shall I make a return to the Lord for all the good God has done for me?”

Watching the Clock

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For over a year now I have not been “enslaved” by a clock. I have had very few appointments that took more time to get to than the moments it took to walk from one room to another at home and turn on my computer. My time has been, as people say, “my own.” Today will be my first foray into “normal life” again. I have only about an hour before I must be ready to jump into my car and drive. It doesn’t feel good. I have become accustomed to taking life as it comes and seeing how life unfolds.

I just read a little reflection on the difference between two ways of counting time. Chronos is the Biblical word for the time of day which we translate into hours, minutes and seconds. The other word, Kairos, is for “nature’s” time. We might call it “in due time.” My task for today may be to find a balance of the two. As I write this, simple song floats in my mind. I can hear an old friend singing:

In His time, in His time. God makes all things beautiful in His time. Lord, please show me every day, as You’re teaching me Your way, that You do just what You say, in Your time. In Your time, in Your time, You make all things beautiful in Your time. May each song I have to sing be to You a lovely thing in Your time.

Perhaps the song will help me compromise. I don’t know, but I can’t stop now. I have to go.

Earth Day

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Today we celebrate our Mother Earth when spring is here and all the earth seems to be coming alive again…but as I look out my bedroom window, what do I see? Snow? Yes snow! Mother Nature is a bit of a trickster so we need to offer what I learned a half century ago as one of 100 Maxims of the Sisters of St. Joseph to put a positive spin on the day. It was the shortest one—the easiest to remember—and one of the most important: “Always interpret everything in the most favorable sense.” So, how to do that on this chilly day? Well, here’s a thought from long ago: “Snow is the poor man’s fertilizer.”

It works for me. Let us truly celebrate today all the beauty of the earth and all the gifts we receive from the natural world. Happy Earth Day!

Mixed Emotions

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Yesterday was a difficult, emotional day. On Monday, the day before yesterday, I had an excision close to my right eye and today it seems (for me, at least) the best symbolic explanation of the experience of the past two days. Let me try to explain the strength of the mixed feelings in this way.

An excision is defined as: the act or procedure of removing by or as if by cutting out, especially by surgical removal or resection. I had a squamous cell carcinoma, a skin cancer more serious than a basal cell, but not serious if not left to grow in the body. My only concern was the closeness of the growth to my eye, but my dermatologist assured me that there was enough soft tissue around the cancer to successfully excise it without danger. My sight, in other words, would not be compromised. The procedure went as planned and today I can see just fine, but I am aware of a bit of swelling discomfort to my eye.

Yesterday I also found myself weeping at several moments around the announcement of the triple conviction of Derek Chauvin in the killing of George Floyd. There was a fair amount of tension as the time for the announcement of the jury decision loomed. I knew that if the decision was “Not guilty” on any of the counts it would be dangerous to the peace in the country. My relief when the verdict of guilty on all three counts was announced was total. As painful as it was to admit that I was grateful for a verdict that would mean severe punishment for any individual, I knew it was just, merited even, and that vindication was the best answer in this case. I cried with joy for the Floyd family, for all the people of color in our country, for all people who’ve been wrongly accused and punished, and for those who refuse to respect the rights of others to exist and thrive. I cried for myself as well and any shred of racism that remains in my heart.

I think yesterday was the first time I was so conflicted, not about the decision—because of the clarity of its correctness—but because of my actual feeling of joy in light of the decision. It is difficult to parse the feelings sitting in me. Perhaps I needn’t do so but only leave them and recognize that they exist. The question for me will be only whether or not I can forgive Derek Chauvin for his crimes. Perhaps if I come to see more clearly my own subtle racism, that clarity may shed light on how I am to proceed in my dealings with all people who are different from myself. And if love is a result of this recognition, my right eye will be healed.

A Look Back and Ahead

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The sun has been up for quite a while now (8:33 AM) and I’m feeling a hint of what used to be my “regular work schedule.” I would be in an office by now, attending to the work of the week that is beginning. If I think further back, the bell for the first period class would have already rung and we would be on our way to France by now…Those would be the days when I was a teacher of French, of course.

Now life is quite different, especially because of the interruption of the Covid-19 pandemic which has reshaped much of life in the world, especially for people like me whose “work” has become a response to need in the religious congregation of St. Joseph founded in 1650 in France to do “all the works of which women are capable and which benefit the dear neighbor.” (from the Constitution of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet) I never thought much about what that could mean as I moved from high school teaching to parish religious education to diocesan service in the same, to spiritual direction for individuals and groups, to the creation of an entity supporting the work of spiritual growth wherever the need arose. But here I am, waking up each day to a newness, responding to need as I see fit. Today I will spend time on the telephone, listening to and loving at least one person—maybe more—to a realization of how much God loves her, and later ascertaining the value of a certain kind of retreat for a contemplative group in the beautiful state of Vermont.

Days like this call for deep breaths. Actually most days do that now and prayers like those offered by Macrina Wiederkehr in her book, Seven Sacred Pauses, are a necessity throughout the day. Here is one of my favorites:

In you, O God, I live and move and have my being. Morning’s bright beginning has worn away, and I am full of thoughts about the things I must accomplish this day. Remembering how you stole away from the crowd for personal prayer, I take a deep breath. I invited you into the ground of my being. I cannot leave my work right now but I can breathe. Breathe in me anew. I will follow your breath to the depth of my being. I will remember to pause. O Holy One, enter into the sacred space of my life and abide. Amen. (p. 84)

Reasonable Questions?

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I think it must have been difficult for the disciples in the period between the resurrection of Jesus and the time when He was no longer present on the earth. In Luke’s gospel this morning we hear Jesus saying, “Why are you troubled? Why do questions arise in your hearts?” (LK 24:35-48)

They were just simple fishermen, not used to the miraculous. Maybe they had seen healings during the time that Jesus was with them, but rising from the dead?? Not so simple. I wonder if I would believe in a resurrected master even if my longing would want it to be true. And Jesus was rather selective about those he appeared to during the post-resurrection time. My question to God sometimes is: Why wouldn’t I be troubled or have questions?

Today might be a good day to try to put myself in the place of the disciples at this time, taking the opportunity to answer their questions: What might it feel like to be in this state that swings from desperate loss to amazing recovery of faith in seeing Jesus again in the flesh—and back again to a time of loss? See how long you can stay there, what it feels like and then what causes you to still believe as you do without seeing him…I think that might be an instructive time for all of us…

Always A Solution

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The gospels are replete with stories that teach a lesson. Sometimes I just have to smile at what looks like a “throw-away sentence” but is really a clue to the way Jesus functioned and a lesson that he was offering to his followers. Today, for example, we have one of the “feeding of the 5,000” stories—the one that Jesus uses to challenge the creativity of his followers by asking a question. “Where shall we buy bread for all these people?” he asked Philip. We get a clue to his purpose as the gospel then says, “He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” (I would have hated to be in Philip’s shoes as creativity is not my best gift…and I’m not fond of being tested like that.) Philip couldn’t get his mind around a possible answer to the question so it was a good thing that there were others more creative in the band. Andrew’s answer of 5 barley loaves and 2 small fish from a boy in the crowd was clearly not a solution but it got the miracle going.

Sometimes we don’t have to have the solution to a problem all by ourselves; it’s good to have companions who can add to the solution. I have always been amazed at what can happen if a group comes together with a willingness to help and an openness to possibilities—even if some of the suggestions seem impossible, because sometimes that’s all that’s needed to get the creative juices of the group flowing. Jesus knew that and he trusted the group he had gathered. It’s up to us to do the same, letting go of wanting to be in charge but willing to add what we can to a solution. We may not be able to feed 5,000 people in the end but if the love generated in the group takes over, it can be a beautiful thing to see what God can create in us.

Why Resist?

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My body can hardly sit in this chair because it is 9:20 AM and I have yet not settled on a thought worthy of being written. I keep trying to fit thoughts into a lesson from Thomas Merton. He sounds like I feel on this cloudy but still morning and it makes me smile that a great writer/theologian could find himself in the same state as someone like me. He says this:

My mind is scattered among things, not because of my work, but because I am not detached and I do not attend first of all to God. On the other hand, I do not attend to Him because I am so absorbed in all these objects and events. I have to wait on his grace. But how stubborn and slow my nature is. And how I keep confusing myself and complicating things for myself by useless twisting and turning. What I need most of all is the grace to really accept God as He gives Himself to me in every situation. (Entering the Silence, p. 199)

So I guess I’ve found my place for the day, after all!