City of the Heart

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Today I looked to my favorite translation of the Psalms for inspiration.* Sometimes it only takes a word and sometimes more is demanded in order to find in print or in my own mind or heart something worthwhile to say.

Psalm 122 speaks of Jerusalem as the seat of God’s kingdom. Unfortunately, this “city of peace” has been and remains a city of tension and a seat of struggle – sometimes open warfare – rather than a place that all people of faith can happily call their own. This morning, however, I found a second alternate translation that made it possible to see Jerusalem as a place for us all, as “an interior reality” where commentary names it “a reality of the heart that …has the opportunity to extend itself throughout the physical and temporal world.”

Why not try this? Consider your heart as the “City of God” and read the following with that consciousness. You are the city of God, the pulsing heart, the center of this place of peace. Read it aloud.

With joy I arose and went into your house when called to the worship of your name. I entered and now stand singing with all those gathered to worship and adore you. Your holy name becomes for us a blessed city, a place of peace that draws us deeper in where people of every tongue and race rise up before the presence of your face to know and love the God of peace as one. So in this hallowed space and ground, your judgment and your rule of love, becomes for us a kingdom. And may that kingdom come, your peace be done over all the the earth, we pray. Within the inner walls of heart and soul, and on the outer towers of human being, may peace descend, and be for everyone a fortress and a keep where nothing evil enters in. And this we pray now for the good of all, for all who are your house, your dwelling place forever. (*Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 318)

The Gift of Frost

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7:40AM. There’s something about the drop to just beyond freezing temperatures outside (26 F.) that silences me as if the earth put a finger to her lips saying, “Shh…Pay attention. Don’t move from where you sit. Just drink in the moment!” I would love to open my window and breathe in the freshness but I’m afraid that would be just a little too extreme for such an exercise right now. So I sit ensconced in the comfort of the chair that is slowly molding itself to my body, feeling the air around me. It’s cold enough to make me know I have made the right decision but warm enough to give thanks for the heat that rises from downstairs and allows me to concentrate on the prayer for Saturday morning in John Philip Newell’s book, Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace. Won’t you join me?

To the home of peace, to the field of love, to the land where forgiveness and right relationship meet we look, O God, with longing for earth’s children, with compassion for the creatures, with hearts breaking for the nations and people we love. Open us to visions we have never known, strengthen us for self-givings we have never made, delights with a oneness we could never have imagined, that we may truly be born of You makers of peace.

May the love of life fill our hearts. May the love of earth bring joy to heaven. May the love of self deepen our souls. May the love of neighbor heal our world. As nations, as peoples, as families this day may the love of life heal our world.

Music Lessons

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Today we sit in the midst of a distressing “moment” in our country’s history (only the fourth incidence of a presidential impeachment inquiry) while also remembering the tragic event of the presidential assassination in 1963. Today is also the feast of St. Cecilia, patron of musicians. Many people would say I am stretching a bit to throw St. Cecilia into that mix but I would beg to differ.

At our “holy hour” last week from the Sophia Center, we celebrated those who step up to serve in difficult times like natural disasters or mass shootings, those whose lives are dedicated to services like the military or as first responders and people who quietly “do good” each day. The most moving moment for me and for many others was at the invitation to stand and sing all four verses of America the Beautiful with our voices being the only musical instrumentation. It was a stirring – one could easily say “emotional” – event that could never have been as meaningful as a spoken recitation of the lyrics would have been. It was a reminder both of the beauty and history of our country and the strength of character of those who have made the country great.

We need music. We need concerts and “singalongs” and hymns in religious services both joyful and those filled with sorrow. Music helps us to express emotions that are deeper than words. Today might be a good day to find some music in our personal “favorites” file and allow ourselves the emotions of remembrance, sadness or despair, pleading for peace, hope for resolution or seeking God’s grace to persevere. See what you can find and listen with your heart. Feel better and give thanks.

A Little Touch of Merton

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I wrote yesterday in anticipation of the two sessions of our book study. It was the last of five sessions and did not disappoint. Today I sit in gratitude for the growing number of spiritual seekers who find their way to all kinds of groups that assist in the process of deepening understanding of self and meaningful life. This morning I read something written by Thomas Merton more than half a century ago that could have been said of our two wonderful, diverse groups of people who in their sharing and their silences created community in a way that was beautiful to watch. (You may want to read it aloud a couple of times to catch the flow and beauty of meaning.)

Merton wrote: 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 God on the tide of God’s 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)

The Wisdom Jesus

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One of the websites that shows up daily in my email is Brian Johnson’s “Optimize.” I don’t know how it first came to me but I used to systematically delete it each day along with all the ads that appear. Now I scan it because sometimes I find clues to good reflection topics and notes from a person I have come to see as a very energetic cheerleader. Today there was one line that caught my eye as I prepared for the events of the day. The topic was “Science Says Words Matter.” The advice at the end of his presentation was as follows.

See if you can bring a little more mindfulness to the words you use today.”

Nothing wildly creative or vastly different. Just a reminder that is valuable no matter what day it is. For me today it will be my companion during two sessions of a book study. They’re our last meetings where we will discuss The Wisdom Jesus by Cynthia Bourgeault. I am having hard time letting go of this one because of the level of deep sharing that we have experienced during our exploration. Of course it is due to Cynthia’s extraordinary insight and writing skill but the grace with which participants have responded brings the book (and Jesus, I might add) to life in a wonderful way.

So I offer two things this morning. 1. Take Brian Johnson’s advice for the day, and 2. Give The Wisdom Jesus a try. Cynthia’s work is not for those unwilling to dig deep and re-read sometimes, but this is one that may respond to your need for a deeper understanding of (as Cynthia would say) “just what Jesus was up to” here on earth.

Changing Times, Changing Challenges…

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It’s easy sometimes to dismiss some of the archaic practices of Old Testament times that are recounted in Scripture. Today, for example there is the story in the Second Book of Maccabees (2 MC 6:18-31) about Eleazar, one of the foremost scribes who chose to be tortured to death rather than eat pork, a meat forbidden by religious law. Some people told him to bring to the unlawful ritual “meat of his own providing, such as he could legitimately eat, and to pretend to be eating some of the meat of the sacrifice prescribed by the king” so as to escape the death penalty. Eleazar refused, saying he would remain “loyal to the holy laws given by God.”

Eating meat sacrificed to foreign gods seems in our day, perhaps, to be a ridiculous pretense for the death penalty but we might pause and consider how we might somehow be called to defend our faith with our life and whether we are strong enough to do so. That is not a new idea. Most of us began asking that question of ourselves and/or being asked it by our religion teachers in elementary school. (“If you were asked to reject God or your religion under pain of death, would you be able to remain faithful?”) It was easier to answer “YES!” as a child who was never in danger of death.

I still say an enthusiastic “YES” when I think about the question but am not so sure I am equal to the possibility. Perhaps I need to go joyfully toward all the events of my daily life – the beautiful and the difficult – welcoming everything with equal vigor – just in case there might come a day when something more challenging than I have yet encountered stares me in the face and requires my “Yes” in a way that draws me beyond what I can now imagine. What might that be I cannot say, but I can think about it in more realistic terms and maybe I should start right now…

Make It Personal!

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There are so many ways to learn from the Scriptures. We can usually find literal meaning in the passages we read. Sometimes it is also really easy to see more than a literal meaning to the gospel stories. Today is a good example of that. (LK 18: 35-43)

When Jesus approaches the city of Jericho, he hears someone calling, “Jesus of Nazareth, have pity on me!” We already know that this man is blind, sitting on the roadside begging. (Could we be the blind man? Are we sometimes blind to what’s going on? Do we ever ask those around us for help?) Even though people try to get him to stop yelling, he keeps calling out for pity. (How persevering are we in our prayer?) Jesus has the man brought to him and asks the important question: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Would you be ready for the question? Would you dare to ask for something or would you just say as many of us often do: “Oh, I’m okay…I don’t want to bother you…”) The man was brave enough to acknowledge what was wrong with him: “Please let me see,” he said. (Are we willing to ask God for what we need, even if it exposes some weakness or sinful behavior?)

The reward for honesty about ourselves is clear in this story. Jesus answers immediately: “Have sight!” and it’s clear that it is the man’s faith in the power of Jesus to heal that allows the healing. (What is your faith quotient these days? Are you sure that if you have faith you will get what you need? Would you be willing in your request to believe that God knows better than you do what you need and what will be good for you?)

I like this way of approaching the gospels and see it as an examination of consciousness because I really have to be awake if I’m going to get to the depth of meaning in my search. This story was easy to interpret. It’s the answers to the questions, however, that take time and honest digging. Are you willing to give it a try?

Holding Hope

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Sometimes life seems difficult and it is only in connection with others that we seem able to hold onto the optimism that is our true natural state. Sometimes that connection comes in meetings with cherished friends and/or family but sometimes we are able to dig deep and find it in the written word. Even a brief quote can sometimes shake it loose and have it rise to the surface with the dawn. Here’s something offered by author Clarissa Pinkola Estes for today as we move into this new week.

My friends, do not lose heart…Please do not spend your spirit dry by bewailing those difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because the fact is that we are made for these times.

The Persistent Widow

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Today the gospel reminds us of a parable about a widow wanting justice from a judge who only saw her as an annoyance. You can read it if you choose (LK 18: 1-8) but right now I’m interested in the first and last verses between which the parable is sandwiched. The directive at the beginning and the question at the end of the passage should wake us up if the “meat” in the middle does not!

Jesus told his disciples parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. (vs. 1)…But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth? (vs. 8)

The Flow of Life

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Today I’m sitting in the quiet, reflecting on the flow of life and how important it is not to upset that flow any more than is necessary if we are to continue to travel on an even keel. It is not generally our doing if schedules get changed or events get shifted around. We in the Northeast are at a moment in the year when the weather plays a big part in everyday plans. A big snowstorm cancels lots of things as does a death in family or friendship circles. We can fret and moan over the inconvenience of rescheduling, or take a breath and look for alternatives.

The best thing to do (and this takes a lot of practice) is to breathe in the change and then let go the distress. Sounds easy…breathing in and breathing out, right? We do that automatically. (I’m watching my breath as I type.) I have come to know the value of letting go for equanimity in daily life as well as for spiritual growth and I would recommend it – especially as we move into our biggest and most important holiday season. Not as easy as it sounds, I know!

Practice makes perfect…give it a try!