Advice from Mother Earth

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All the news over the past few days has been about mass shootings. As a nation, we still expect peace and are surprised by the ever more frequent attacks on groups of innocent victims. Each day it becomes more difficult to trust in a day ahead that will be peaceful. And yet…and yet we do. I am sitting here running through a list in my mind of the tasks to be done, determined not to forget anything that can’t wait another day. I do that without even a thought that violence could interrupt the flow of my day.

Where is the balance between trusting in life and preparedness for the unexpected? And how does one prepare for what is unknown? How would I react to a violent attack? There is good evidence, if one can believe the interviews with people who have just experienced such a situation, that courage mixes with fear in moments like that and usually triumphs. People help each other, care for the wounded, mourn those lost and are forever changed as part of a collective sorrow.

Yesterday we had three storms: torrential rain, thunder and lightning, wild wind. It was as if the earth were lamenting with us, for us, and cleansing the atmosphere for a new day. “We are all one,” Mother Earth seems to say. “Lament is necessary to our survival, but so is courage. Band together to help each other when the courage is demanded. Love each other at all times and you will be prepared for anything. Be at peace. In your hearts and in your homes, always be at peace!”

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Transfiguration

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Today is a feast in Christianity that is difficult to explain. The word itself: transfiguration, if broken apart, speaks of a change from something into something else, a change in figure or form. What we know from each of the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) is a similar recounting of the same event that took place on Mount Tabor. Jesus had taken his friends Peter, James and John to that mountain for a time of prayer and something inexplicable happened. Jesus appeared to change into a “being of light” – as if from another realm. It seemed that the space-time continuum had been breached because he was seen by his friends to be in conversation with Moses and Elijah the prophet, both Old Testament figures.

Clearly, this event was something “other-worldly” for the three disciples of Jesus, something that they wanted to hold onto. (“Let us set up three tents here, Master, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah…”) but that was not to be. The vision disappeared as quickly as it had come and they were left in the presence of “only Jesus” again.

Why was this gift given to these three and not all twelve of the apostles? What did it mean for their lives? How are we to interpret the story? These questions and more can only be answered as conjecture. Perhaps our experiences of meeting Jesus are not as real in this physical realm. Perhaps we meet him in imaginal space or simply in our deepest moments of prayer. Perhaps we have yet to trust ourselves to some holiness in ourselves that might allow a deeper understanding of our connection to the divine.

Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews (11:1) tells us that ” faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen…” Perhaps we might benefit on this day from sitting quietly and putting ourselves in the gospel story of the Transfiguration (LK 9:28-36) to see what cannot be seen with our physical eyes but which might be grasped through the eyes of faith.

Pay Attention!

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Sometimes I feel so sorry for Jesus. In today’s gospel (MT 14:13-21) there are three distinct moments when Jesus could have used a kind word but no one noticed. The first line is the saddest:
1. “When Jesus learned of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” Of course he did!! This was his relative and dear friend who had baptized him and recognized who he was immediately. With him gone, Jesus would certainly have been bereft.
2. Even then, the crowds followed him. (I’m hoping they just weren’t informed about John because had they known they would have given him some space to grieve.) They were waiting from him when his boat pulled in to the shore and in his great sense of compassion, he tended to their needs – putting his own feelings aside. He cured them.
3. I’m wondering why the disciples couldn’t see his sadness. They seemed to just be concerned to have him disperse the crowds so they, themselves, wouldn’t have to figure out what to do next. I love the challenge he offered them when he said, “There’s no need for them to go away. Give them some food yourselves.” Of course they had no idea how to do that, but once again compassion reigned and Jesus taught a great lesson.

All of this in the midst of his grief! What lessons might we learn from this reading? Once again, I would say “Awareness, awareness, awareness!” Look beyond what is in front of you to what is inside the person before you. See always with an eye of compassion in the generous manner of Jesus.

Awareness, Awareness, Awareness

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Eckhart Tolle posted something this morning that caught my eye in its simplicity and its perfect depth of meaning. It was easily said, I suppose, as we are all about “catch phrases” these days, but I plan to spend time and effort with this one.

“Awareness,” he said, “is the greatest agent for change.”

I had been thinking about today’s gospel, the one I always refer to as “bigger barns” and talk about as akin to the relatively recent appearance of the storage units that dot the landscape in most towns these days. I wonder sometimes as I look around my bedroom how I acquired all the books I see or why I can’t find an empty hanger on which to place the laundry I just took out of the machine. How many of us can name all our possessions these days, I wonder.

Seeing what is in front of us to see and doing what is before us to do becomes more difficult unless we stand still for a moment every little while, look about us and shake off all the accretions of the last ten minutes. (I hyperbolize, no doubt, but only to make what I am coming to consider as a very important point.)

I challenge us all to see how long we can pay attention to anything in particular today before we fall out of consciousness. Let’s see what we see!

Earnest Prayer

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I made the mistake this morning of catching up on national news before turning to my blog. Finding everything to be distressing or conflictual, I reverted to the readings of the day and found Psalm 67 which reminded me of the necessity and the comfort of prayer for the world. In gratitude for Lynn Bauman’s translation, I may print it and keep it in my prayer space as an everyday goad to positive thinking.

O God, have mercy upon us and bless us with the light streaming from your face. 
And so that here on earth we know and walk your ways, restore us back to health again.
May every person, every creature become an instrument of praise to you. 
And may you be the song that makes us glad, and every nation sings with joy,
For your pure justice reigns and rules, guiding all with equal hand.
May every creature, every person, then, be an instrument of praise,
And earth itself abound with a fullness yet unknown, as you alone become “our God” for everyone.
Your blessings fill us full, and cover us and earth with awe from edge to edge. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p.165)

Limitation Lessons

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Today is Friday, an absolutely glorious summer day so far. I would like nothing more than to join the team of those working outside, making ready to greet our weekend guests later this afternoon. But I have been grounded. I was also supposed to be cooking this weekend for the retreat group but I have been relieved also from that work. I thought I would be able-bodied by now after flirting with a cold all week, doing everything one is expected to do in order to avoid what can be devastating to one’s schedule, not to mention the egoic need for usefulness! So now, I yield since I cannot speak (laryngitis), can hardly swallow (sore throat) and have the energy of a three-toed sloth! This is a strange viral onslaught, unlike anything I have ever experienced, and I am not happy it has chosen me.

There are lessons here. I know I did everything possible to avoid this situation, so why do I feel a need to make amends for my inability to help? There is no value in lament here so I will finish this sentence, sit on my mat and remember that I need to practice becoming not a perfect human doing, but rather a somewhat imperfect (as most, if not all of us, are) human being. And I will give thanks for the folks who are out there doing the work.

AMDG

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This morning I learned something new about acronyms. It’s only if the letters of the acronym can be pronounced and used as a word (like NASA) that it is correct to call what you are using an acronym. Otherwise it’s called an initialism (like FBI or CIA). There is so much shortening of words in both categories these days that hardly any conversation includes all complete words – to the detriment of those not initiated into this way of speaking. I see it most on television (TV) commercials about health care these days and it’s rather frustrating. If you miss the first ten seconds of the commercial you have also missed the fact that they are talking about deep vein thrombosis when they say – throughout the advertisement – “DVT.” And I remember how long it took me to decode “24/7” when it became popular.

Today is the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, S.J. (Society of Jesus, the religious order he founded, commonly called the Jesuits). The conversion story of this soldier is not dissimilar to that of St. Francis of Assisi and of other great ones whose life was changed by a serious wound or illness during military service. For Ignatius, it was fortuitous that during his recuperation there were no books available to him except stories of the lives of Christ and the saints, which he read and credited with his conversion.

When I was in what used to be called “grammar school” (an interesting descriptive should you be led to research it), we were often directed to write at the top of all papers that we turned in (especially our tests) “JMJ.” All Roman Catholic children knew that initialism to stand for Jesus, Mary, Joseph, likely to remind us to dedicate our work to the Holy Family. As we grew into middle school we were introduced to “AMDG” = Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (For the greater glory of God) I don’t know when I learned that the Latin phrase was the motto of the Jesuits, but it adorned all my efforts in school and now directs my life.

Whatever the acronym or initialism or word or motto or other phrase that reminds us of God’s place in our life (or even if our devotion is wordless), we might take a moment today to consider what leads us to that mindfulness and be grateful for our teachers, and for the great ones like Ignatius, whose influence remains visible throughout the world today.

Merciful God

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Psalm 103 is one of those comforting reminders of the ways in which God cares for us more even than we could ask or imagine. I feel the effect of the psalmist’s words this morning as I read the familiar lines: For as the heavens are high above the earth, so surpassing is God’s kindness…as far as the east is from the west, so far has he put our transgressions from us…(vs. 11-12)

Reading different translations sometimes adds a new depth of meaning to these long-standing sentiments. Today I read an alternate verse 10 and my imagination soars with the words: For as the heavens reach infinitely beyond all space and time, we swim in mercy as in an endless sea. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 258) I am immediately transported to a beach at Cape Cod, Massachusetts where the waves beckon as I walk into the water before the plunge that takes me deep in the rocking motion that I love. As I let myself go, I trust that I will arise from the experience refreshed and grateful, cleansed and renewed.

Today looks like it would be a great beach day…if only the beach were nearer and other tasks were not closer at hand. But it is enough to have felt that touch of God from where I sit, readying me for whatever comes my way today, strengthened in the presence of the God who loves me beyond all imagining.

Persistence

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Today’s gospel (LK 11: 1-13) is about the efficacy of prayer, a truth which has been evident throughout the 14 days of our gathering as a Congregation (see recent posts). Our theme: “Called together for the life of the world” was evident throughout our deliberations as we paused often to listen in silence for the direction of God’s Spirit speaking among us. How can we best serve our neighbors throughout the world in times of violence and destruction? How can we be a force for good in the complexity of today’s world?

When we were called together – six women in Le Puy, France in the 17th century – it was to serve the needs that were evident in the culture then. Our world is very different now but our call is the same: to be the Congregation of the Great Love of God wherever and however we see the need. We seek to move about in our world, seeking to be instruments of unifying love.

Today we go home, having had palpable evidence that together we are committed to the task and willing to serve the world so in need of hope. Here we were 100 Sisters. We return to nearly ten times one hundred and add our lay associates and many ministry partners to the list of those who join us on the journey. We take with us the words from Luke where Jesus said, “Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find, knock and the door shall be opened to you…”

May we know the blessing of all that we awaits us!

The Stuff of Legend

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A legend, the dictionary says, is “a traditional story sometimes popularly regarded as historical but unauthenticated.” Today’s feast in Christianity celebrates the parents of Mary, mother of Jesus, even though we know nothing factual about them except the fact that they existed. Even their names (Anne and Joachim) come from a legendary source written more than a century after Jesus died. “The heroism and holiness of these people, however,” (says franciscanmedia.com) “is inferred from the whole family atmosphere around Mary in the Scriptures. Whether we rely on the legends about Mary’s childhood or make guesses from the information in the Bible, we see in her a fulfillment of many generations of prayerful persons, herself steeped in the religious traditions of her people.”

I smile as I think of St. Anne, whose name I carry (Lois ANN) and have cherished as grandmother throughout my life, imagining what she must have been like. I see her caring for and teaching Mary the small tasks of the household and showering her with love as my own mother did with me. There is comfort and joy and no harm at all, I think, in this kind of imagining and so I will go about this day reflecting on this spiritual grandmother of mine whose life gave birth and much more to the one we call Blessed.