Superstition

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ablackcatWhile reading the Psalm text and commentary in today’s lectionary (Ps. 9) about the ebb and flow of the experiences of life – from euphoria over some peak experience to the “sober assessments and the realities of life” – I realized that today is Friday the thirteenth. I further realized that I had no clue to the origin of the superstitions of it being an unlucky date that have become the basis for books and horror movies in modern Western culture. I was quite surprised when I “Googled” the date and found the following:

The superstition surrounding this day may have arisen in the Middle Ages, originating from the story of Jesus’ last supper and crucifixion in which there were 13 individuals present in the Upper Room on the 13th of Nisan Maundy Thursday, the night before his death on Good Friday.

There are other references, with the biggest impact not beginning until the 19th century, and I was also shocked to see the “social impact” section of the information which estimated that 17 to 21 million people in the United States are affected by a fear of this day, some so paralyzed that they avoid their normal routines “in doing business, taking flights or even getting out of bed.” In Finland the date is touted as National Accident Day to promote awareness in driving because statistics indicate a greater number of traffic accidents on this date than normally.

The report continued but I needed no further information to recognize a concern in me for the easy way in which we slide into belief about what we hear – which then can become a trend and later a facet of a culture. The commentary on Psalm 9 this morning was calling me to reflect on my own life experiences and what I “learn from the rhythm and flow” of their impact. While I feel no distress about today being Friday the thirteenth, I wonder now what subtle influences of culture do affect me in negative ways, thereby inhibiting me from living each day in the best way open to me.

Just a thought…but I need to get going. Be careful out there on the roads today, everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

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Who’s On First?

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awindowHere’s a tidbit from Thomas Merton that takes a slow read and then another to seep into the soul so that the mind can follow the trajectory and then light up the heart. Or maybe it is the simplest circle of words he ever wrote and I’m just working too hard to keep up with him. See what you think.

Love comes out of God and gathers us to God in order to pour itself back into God through all of us and bring us all back to Him on the tide of His own infinite mercy. So we all become doors and windows through which God shines back into His own house. (New Seeds of Contemplation, p.67)

 

 

 

 

 

Found In Translation

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aourfatherThe gospel in today’s lectionary is probably the most commonly known prayer in Christianity: The Lord’s Prayer, also known as The Our Father. The text is found in two of the four canonical gospels, Matthew (6:9-13) and Luke (11:2-4). Most of us know it as it comes from Matthew’s version, appearing in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount. Reading Luke this morning made me think that his version might have been easier to learn for children who had trouble memorizing prayers; it’s very succinct and yet seems to cover all the requisite items for our living. It comes in Luke’s gospel as the response of Jesus when he himself was praying and one of his disciples asked him to teach them to pray. Luke reports him telling them: “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed (holy) be your name, your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread and forgive our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.” Period – the end.

On second thought, although the words may be easier to learn than those of Matthew, there is a tiny word that changes things for those trying to practice what they pray. In Matthew we hear: “Forgive us our debts (trespasses) as we forgive…” Does it mean: “to the extent that (or in the way that) we forgive others?” Luke seems to think that our forgiveness of others is a foregone conclusion – something already done – by using the word “for” meaning “because” in that same sentence.

As I get mired in these semantics, I remember that translation is not an exact science and everything I’m writing could be challenged by scholars of Aramaic and Greek and Latin… My point is only and always to delve into what can bring us closer to God on our spiritual path and what can motivate us to treat others as Christ would have us love them. So let us say our prayers and get about the day’s work in peace and the promise of fidelity, to the best of our ability today.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Call for Healing

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amanpraysSome years ago in a Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault, we learned a chant that was quite instructive for me. We sang: Listen, listen, wait in silence listening for the One from whom all mercy flows.” It was a very quieting verse and, sung over and over, had a mesmerizing effect, bringing us to stillness as we began our periods of Centering Prayer. I found those words again this morning in a translation of Psalm 130, verse 6, where the psalm was subtitled “The Call for Healing.” Even without the music, the words of that verse themselves could lead one to feel the healing presence of God, the One from whom all mercy flows. I was grateful for the additional commentary on the psalm, however, which emphasized the possibility contained in those words. See if you don’t agree.

The contemplative tradition of silent listening in prayer began in the ancient world and has strengthened across the centuries. Prayerful listening in the modern world is called “the Prayer of Quiet” in which thought, speech, image, and imagination are stilled, and one remains silently alert and expectant before the Holy One. Such a form of silence, however, is not inert; it is an active, open and attentive space. After a time of mental or imagistic prayer, enter into a period of silent meditation. Imagine yourself listening for the voice of God who speaks softly in the heart…It often takes time to heal the wounds in our experience. Like healing for the human body, spiritual and psychic healing is a process that unfolds through stages in time. The healing mercy of forgiveness is the medicine. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p.334)

In this noisy, busy world where we find so much sadness and regret, sitting is such a posture of silent expectation of God’s merciful presence might be just the thing that brings us peace today.

 

 

 

 

 

God Calling

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ajonahIt has been raining all night. I was awake only twice – and briefly – but my wide-awake housemate affirmed that although some of the rain came more seriously and some was just drip-like, we are in for a full day of it in any case. No storm, I hope, as our Wisdom School ends today and some people have a long way to drive…

I could have expected that the first reading for this morning would serendipitously be about Noah building the ark or some such similar event. Well, not exactly…but it was the story of Jonah and his attempt to get away from God by going in the totally opposite direction from where God had directed him to go. Not only was he found out, but he was determined to be the cause a huge storm and of the eventual deaths of all the people on the ship he had boarded to escape God’s call to Nineveh. Thus, Jonah agreed to have himself thrown overboard, into the angry sea, to save everyone else. Of course, God saved him in the end (Praise God for that large fish!) Good news! Jonah fulfilled his mission of going to Nineveh where, surprisingly, the people repented and returned to God – at least for a hundred years or more.

The moral of this story, we might say, is : if God calls you to something specific you’d better listen and accept the challenge! Or we could look at it as God’s willingness to give us a second chance – in a big way! Commentaries focus on God’s mercy and graciousness…

Whatever aspect of the story catches our fancy, it is surely a great and “fanciful” story for a very rainy day.

Think On These Things

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aprayercenteredI’m interested this morning in the lectionary text of St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:6-9) as he is ready to conclude his message to them. He exhorts them to keep in mind certain qualities that will help them remain steady on the path of spiritual growth. He calls them to what is true, honorable, just, pure and gracious. I think that is a noble bundle of traits for the spiritual person. Living from that list, I can see myself acting in ways that will assure deeper wisdom and the peace that Paul promises them today.

So what will be required to develop those qualities for consistency in practice? Just that: practice! And in addition, I will need to stay awake when I begin to fall away from truth-saying or graciousness, etc. so that I can call myself back to mindfulness without delay. A big order. A plan for life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visionary Seeing

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alookLast evening we welcomed 14 people to a Wisdom School here in Windsor. As an ice breaker, we made two concentric circles, facing each other, with the inner circle moving one person to the right each time a chime rang – once every 15 seconds. The task was simply to look the person in front of us in the eyes and hold that gaze until it was time to move.

I am not fond of that kind of exercise because it can be awkward and revealing to really look deeply at someone for a sustained period, but 15 seconds was relatively easy. It reveals something of ourselves to the other and we must be ready to offer it!

I was surprised to find Alan Cohen’s reflection today on the same topic. He is speaking of a chat the was having with an acquaintance that became something different when he said, “I caught Steve’s eyes and for a moment I could really see him. I saw beyond his job and his fear, and I saw the person that he was. I thanked him for his honesty…That moment was worth everything to me. It stood out in contrast to a day of unconscious business like a delicate flower growing in a pile of rubble. In that moment I remembered what friendship and human relations are all about. They are not about stuff and talk and presentation; they are about people joining in the place where we are one.”

Let us greet people today in genuine willingness to connect and offer ourselves in conscious and honest connection to each other for the good of all.

Slow Work

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amapleleafturningToday as I sit in my chair waiting for light to come I have a sense of urgency because there is a lot to achieve before my head hits the pillow again, so to speak. The days are getting shorter now. I was dismayed to know that when my alarm woke me a while ago it wasn’t a mistake. It was 6:30 and still dark outside. And yesterday we needed lights on in our living room by 6:00PM. I wonder why I was so astonished; the solstice was almost two weeks ago! I guess it is true that the older I get, the faster time seems to go.

Lest this devolve into a lament about old age which I refuse to allow because of my reverence for the wisdom of my elders, I remind myself of the advice of the great Jesuit paleontologist and theologian Pierre Teilhard de Chardin who is often quoted as saying: “Trust in the slow work of God.” I’ve known that line for a long time but this morning I came across the text from which that line originates.

Above all, he writes, trust in the slow work of God. We are quite naturally impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new. And yet it is the law of all progress that it is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.

And so I think it is with you; your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make of you tomorrow.

Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.

As I was copying Teilhard’s words, they seemed similar to Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” wherein similar advice about patience in life was given. I smile as I consider the necessity of hearing about the ongoing need for patience with myself and with the flow of life at my age. It is perhaps never totally achieved but maybe that is a good thing as it calls us to always reach for “the more” while accepting what is at this very moment. So on I go, slowly enough to notice the birdsong and the emerging color in the maple leaves that have now come into view, but ready as well to tackle the tasks of this day in patience and gratitude for life in this world in this time.

 

 

 

 

 

An Answer from Francis

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abarefootwalkYesterday afternoon I was in a gathering where we were discussing change using a number of quotes on the subject. It was fascinating to hear the different reactions to the various quotes depending on our interpretations of how the words were used in the sentences, or how a little word like “all” could challenge someone who is uncomfortable with such determinism. It was a great, stretching conversation that pointed up the need to really listen to the voices of others who differed according to culture and life experiences. etc. when interpreting what was being said.

It’s only 7:00AM and there are all sorts of vehicles – mostly big trucks – outside on our road with a large team working hard to get the road paved before the weather turns cold. They have already done days of preparation for this final process; they’re not just patching or putting down a thin coat this time. This will be an “extreme makeover” that is very welcome! But today is also the feast of St. Francis, the “little man of Assisi,” who was the champion of all things natural, i.e. those found in nature. Thinking of him makes me long for dirt roads and good walking shoes (or strong bare feet!) rather than all sorts of manufactured materials that are not good for the environment.

So while I think of our road I’m also thrown back to the vision of flooding in Houston, a city that has so much concrete in roads, building sites and parking lots that the rain had nowhere to go so that at least some of it might sink into the earth. I’m certainly not blaming the infrastructure for the 50+ inches of rain sitting in and flowing through the neighborhoods, but it was at least a mention on the news as a factor adding to the destruction and might be something to consider as cities continue to grow.

In an interview on NBC news following the devastating attack in Las Vegas this weekend, a man who was shot three times in his leg spoke of his experience. He said that two women, seeing his inability to stand, pulled him to a place of cover and then commanded two men to move him further into a truck where 7 others were already waiting to be taken to a hospital. He said, “I didn’t know any of those people. No one was looking at anyone in any particular way, judging anything. Everyone just kept helping, doing what they could for anyone they encountered.” We are our best in the worst situations, it seems.

What does all this mean? How do the thoughts fit together? Maybe they don’t really but I’m willing to entertain the possibility that there is a thread here, albeit a thin one. Or maybe it is as elemental as the opening line of the Prayer of St. Francis which says, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” On second thought, maybe that whole prayer is perfect for today as we try to move forward from violence and appreciate what is natural in our world. For those who don’t know it by heart let me print it here as our offering for peace and healing. Please join with me in praying it aloud.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love. Where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edge Walking

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atightropeOn days like today when we have been once again faced with senseless, unspeakable violence, this time on a scale not seen before in our history, it is difficult to even begin to speak of it. My first thought this morning was of a line from Scripture: A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more. (JER 31:15) As we turn in prayer toward the people of Las Vegas – for that seems the only thing to do as the tally of dead and wounded continues to rise – we must lament, as individuals and as a nation. And in the face of the distress in this dawning day, I turn to Meg Wheatley for a way to persevere.

Presence, she writes, is the only way to walk the edge of chaos. We have to be as nimble and awake as a high-wire artist, sensitive to the slightest shift of wind, of circumstances, emotions. We may find this high-wire exhausting at first, but there comes a time when we rejoice in our skillfulness. We learn to know this edge, to keep our balance, and even dance a bit at incalculable heights.

Walking the edge never stops being dangerous. At any moment, when we’re tired, overwhelmed, fed-up, sick, we can forget where we are and get ourselves in trouble. We can lapse into despair or anger. Or we can get so caught up in our own enthusiasm and passion that we lose any sense of perspective or timing, alienate friends, and crash in an exhausted mess.

The edge is where life happens. But let’s notice where we are and not lose our balance. (Perseverance, p.131)