Contemplating Hercules

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Today feels so much like a Saturday I’m tempted to go back to bed! Don’t ask me why. It could be the weather that promises more snow and sleet. It might be the result of so many events already come and gone this week, or the energy it took to achieve their completion. It’s interesting that Brian Johnson’s “Optimize” sounds today the way I feel but he’s such a cheerleader for moving forward that I should have expected his rather colorful post. It made me smile and he does have a point. Entitled “Getting Out of Bed and High-Fiving Hercules – Aka: Moving from Theory to Practice,” he quotes Epictetus (paraphrasing, I presume.)

What would have become of Hercules, do you think, if there had been no lion, hydra, stag or boar? — and no savage criminals to rid the world of? What would he have done in the absence of those challenges? Obviously he would have just rolled over in bed and gone back to sleep. So by snoring his life away in luxury and comfort he never would have developed into the mighty Hercules. And even if he had, what good would it have done him? What would have been the use of those arms, that physique, and that noble soul without crises or conditions to stir him into action? (www.optimize.me)

So, Johnson says: “Let’s not roll over and go back to sleep!” and then he asks: “Got any heroic choices you need to make today?”

And your answer is…?

Ancestral Connections

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We Sisters of St. Joseph have a long history that began in mid-17th century in France. The kitchen where the first six women sat to envision a new way of serving God is still there, a pilgrimage site for all of us. In those days women always needed the validation of a male spiritual director to strike out on their own. Happily, our foremothers chose a brilliant and holy Jesuit priest named Jean Pierre Medaille for that role. As I sit in meetings this week working with a small group of my Sisters to formulate a process for discernment of our immediate future, I am grateful for the spirit of Father Medaille which guides our work.

I offer this prayer today from a small book of prayers from the Jesuit priests. The language may call for updating but the sentiment is true and strong in its call to us for who we are to be.

So act, good Jesus, that, in my relationships with whatever neighbor and in all I do for the furthering of your Father’s glory and the salvation of others, I form myself on your pattern: that I be a genuine reflection of your moderation, gentleness, humility, patience, graciousness, tireless zeal, in a word, of all your virtues; and, in order to engrave them in my soul, live eternally in me. (Hearts on Fire, p. 92)

Third Force

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Some years ago at Wisdom School with Cynthia Bourgeault, I first heard the concept of “third force.” This morning as I read the headlines about the “total mess” at the Iowa caucuses last night, my own assessment of the situation arose. I’m not sure it’s accurate in this case, but I want to try and float it here as an example – primarily, I suppose, to keep my optimism functioning.

The concept of third force – simply put – is threefold. In a situation there is an affirming force and a denying force (not always a culprit but somehow in opposition to the affirming force whose task is to move along whatever one is considering). To “solve” the situation, we hope for a “new arising” which is so called because of the need sometimes to struggle with what is in order to come to what will be. Some could say that there are too many good Democratic candidates for President of the United States. For awhile that might have been seen as a good thing (affirming force) since, if they had not had some credibility, they would have been out of the race before now. Last night, in Iowa however, the caucus process became “a mess” (denying) because of several factors, among them 1. the new rules for caucusing, 2. the fact that there could only be two rounds of choice for a caucus and even 3. The fact that there are too many good candidates still in the race!! (Question: Can a situation be both affirming and denying???)

We will have to wait for the new arising before this situation is resolved. Meanwhile I’ll have to return to my wisdom school notes for a better or easier example. My only other option is to trust that there is a possible outcome when too many “goods” seem to muck up the machinery, necessitating a whole new answer to the process!

Divine Music

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Who are we for the world? I just opened Daniel Ladinsky’s book, Love Poems from God, for a quick word for the day. Here is what I saw – just this brief message from the mystic, Hafiz. Put yourself into its picture, let yourself go and see if you are willing to act on it today.

I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through — listen to this music.

(And if you are brave and sing it, you might want to add a dance…)

One of Us

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We’ve been getting a lot of disturbing news at our house over the past week: illnesses and deaths of Sisters, friends and colleagues, as well as difficult national and international event reports. We wonder when it will all end and “normalcy” will return but we are reminded often that “this is the new normal” and that we must step up into acceptance and courage.

I was struck this morning as I read the lectionary text from Paul’s Letter to the Hebrews (2: 14-18) that reminds readers of the mission of Jesus as one who understood the primacy of love and how to practice love to its full measure. As one of the fundamental truths of the Christian faith, it was not a new thought but, as sometimes happens, the power of one line – the last one in the text today – stopped me with the depth of its meaning. It said that “because he himself was tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.”

Sometimes my comprehension stops short of remembering that in addition to Jesus as “fully divine,” my faith also asserts that he was fully human. I always know it, of course, somewhere in the recesses of my brain, but the reality of what it means in the everyday sufferings and sadness and loss – as much as the joy and affection and deeply loving encounters – is really something that Jesus lived as a fully human being even before he ascended to the role of the Christ in its fullness. In other words, he really, really felt the same kind of losses to the same degree or deeper that we are experiencing now and he went even further by losing his own life for love.

I don’t know how to explain the moment of recognition that was mine with that reading this morning. It can only be experienced and that is not something we can give to one another – we can only wish it for each other. All I know is gratitude for the fact that a divine being understands my struggles in a palpable way and shares them as his own.

And that is enough for now.

Love for the Little Ones

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As we turn the page of our calendars to February, we find in the middle the feast of St. Valentine. I will probably have more to say about this saint then; (his feast has become more of a “Hallmark holiday”). Today, however, there is a striking reminder from Pope Francis about how our love can be shown throughout this month and beyond. I found it in the monthly e-news from our province of the Sisters of St. Joseph and will make it a “hallmark” of my spiritual practices for February. Won’t you join me?

“See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my Heavenly Father” (MT 18:10). It is not just about migrants: it is a question about seeing that no one is excluded. Today’s world is increasingly becoming more elitist and cruel toward the excluded. Developing countries continue to be drained of their best natural and human resources for the benefit of a few privileged markets. Wars only affect some regions of the world, yet weapons of war are produced and sold in other regions which are then unwilling to take in the refugees produced by these conflicts. Those who pay the price are always the little ones, the poor, the most vulnerable, who are prevented from sitting at the table and are left with the “crumbs” of the banquet. (cf. LK 16: 19-21)”

20-20 Vision

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It seems incredible that we have already traversed an entire month of the year 2020. It is shaping up to be a challenging time for many reasons, some from natural causes and some of human initiative. It seems imperative that we be constantly awake to the broad spectrum of events and stay true to our own integrity, which includes watching our own behavior and response to challenges.

The impetus for this line of thought is (as usual) something I read just now from A Deep Breath of Life by Alan Cohen. In his reflection for this date, Cohen says the following:

Through prayer and meditation, you can sensitize yourself to hear important messages before they are played out in the physical world…Rather than fight life or adopt a victim position, look for the gift in the experience. Imagine that the universe is conspiring not to hurt you, but to free you. An attitude of appreciation, rather than resentment, will soften and transform otherwise difficult lessons.

It isn’t always easy to admit our less than stellar behaviors and reactions to life events great and small but if we stay awake and practice seeing the lessons in our days, in the long run our vision improves and we can learn to accept ourselves and others without a need for obfuscation or excuse.

What better year for working on clarity of vision? It is 20-20, after all!

A Home for the Lord

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There’s a verse in the lectionary psalm for today that stopped me in my reading and touched me in a deep place. Take a breath and see what you think.

I will give my eyes no sleep. my eyelids no rest, till I find a home for the Lord…(PS 132)

Immediately upon reading that line, I saw myself carrying soft, beautiful bedding to a room suffused with light. With a heart bursting full of love, I entered the room and saw that God was already there, waiting for me to make the bed. The image was brief but filled me with longing. And that is gift enough for today.

Flexibility of Farmers

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I have to give farmers a lot of credit for the way they live their lives. It occurs to me because the gospel for today is one of the parables about sowing seeds (Mark 4: 1-20) and all the things that can happen between the moment of planting and the harvest. There’s a lot of waiting that goes on and the extra work when certain conditions appear – like frost in Florida or drought in the mid-west of our country. Farmers are not in control of outcome. They are also not as able to take vacations as most people do. And every year is likely to be different.

I’ve often said that in my next life, should there be one, I would like to be a farmer. The life close to nature and the joy of seeing things grow is attractive to me. I should say that even dairy farming is included in my visioning because of the regularity of the work and the relationship with animals. The challenges may be different but the conditions remain similarly challenging.

So what’s my point? I guess it’s mostly about the trust necessary in any life. My computer could crash this morning and then how would the blog be proliferated? We’re up to 836 people who sometimes read it. I have no names or street addresses or phone numbers and it would take all day to find even some of the readers…you get the picture. The question is about what I would do in that situation. Most likely I would trust that it might be time for me to go on to something else and to “let go and let God.”

It’s a risky business, this life…Today I thank God for the example of those willing to sow and watch and wait…and trust in the providence of God.

Thomas Aquinas. “Angelic Doctor”

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St. Thomas Aquinas is called the “Angelic Doctor,” not for medical skills but for his philosophical writings and the scope of his scholarship. His biography oozes intelligence and diligence, seen in his effort to memorize the entire text of the Bible! I always shied away from this saint, fearing a lack of understanding of his work. (Who would think that the Summa Theologica (his summary of theology) could be grasped without a PhD? Little did I know that when I was singing the “Pange lingua” (Sing my tongue the Savior’s glory…) during the Holy Thursday procession in Church every year with full voice and full devotion, that he was the author of that great hymn. I knew nothing of his appreciation for all of nature and of his poetic heart. Today I am happy to celebrate this great saint on his feast!

In a poetic translation of the works of twelve masters of spirituality, I found a Thomas of Aquinas that I could love and try to understand. Here is one of his reflections that translator Daniel Ladinsky offers under the title, “Whenever He Looks At You:”

“God sees nothing in us that He has not given. Everything is empty until He places what He wishes into it. The soul is like an uninhabited world that comes to life only when God lays his head against us. The delight a child can know tossing a ball in the air my Lord confesses He experiences whenever he looks at you. God sees nothing that He has not given.”