I woke this morning—late—to blaring sun and a beautiful sky. Stillness was all around. That was almost two hours ago because I opted for coffee in the kitchen. These days there is an inevitable turn toward the political news in our morning coffee hour, and even though the election is over, much of the distress remains. I doubt that “business as usual” will ever exist again, at least in the way we have known it and, for some reason, I believe that today is the day that I must begin to accept that fact.
That’s rather a monumental thought for a Saturday—which is usually the day to attend to household chores… It will call up every ability for clarity that I possess to deal with the issues indicated in never going back, because there is no road map for going forward—and I love maps!
How would you cope with a completely new reality that was a challenge to your way of doing things? Are you willing to entertain that thought? I will need the rest of the day to just get started on that conversation with myself. If you plan to take the challenge, I wish you clear skies and a peaceful journey. May we meet “on the other side.”
When I was younger (much younger!) I used to be able and willing to run two miles with a colleague after school. When I moved to the country, I delighted in walking two miles down our road to breathe in the good air and watch the changes in the landscape in every season. That lasted a very long time. Lately, I have been disappointed to experience a diminishment that I am blaming at least partially on the pandemic. I find my capacity for foot travel woefully less than I ever expected. My goal is to strengthen my legs by exercising but that is not working very well in this long season of distress…
This morning I read something that may be a solution for me. I plan to try it anyway. It was in Brian Johnson’s daily post, “Optimize” where he wrote the following:
The next time life presents you with a challenge, don’t simply assume everything will work out. Don’t tell yourself you can’t do it. Just evaluate the situation. Figure out what you can accomplish right now. Then draw your line. When you cross that line, draw another one. And keep going.
In this difficult season, it seems important to me to remember that “small is beautiful” or “one step at a time” is the way to go. The determination not to take on too much is key. Wish me luck – or better yet – pray me along and join me!
I’ve often said that chapter 21 of John’s gospel contains one of my favorite stories. People have heard me enthuse over “breakfast on the beach” more than once each year – the latest, just 9 days ago in fact! It has so many elements to recommend it: Peter’s impetuosity (jumping out of the boat to get to Jesus sooner), the miraculous catch, the image of Jesus as cook and servant to others and the love that was so palpable among the men gathered on the beach.
I don’t often spoil the mood created by all those elements by talking about the second part of the text which is really the heart of the message. It’s too hard to leave the serene message of love at the beginning in order to hear the words of Jesus about the last test that Peter will endure for the sake of Christ at the end of his life. Jesus would not be around much longer in his physical body so Peter would have to remember the entire conversation on the beach if he was to take love all the way to the end.
A question, three times asked, a response and then a command the full impact of which Peter could not have foreseen at that moment comprise perhaps the mission of a lifetime for this greatest, most human apostle.
Do you love me? Yes, Lord. Feed my sheep.
Why repeat the question two more times? (Peter wondered that too, sounding more frustrated each time Jesus posed it.) It’s doubtful that he didn’t believe Peter’s answer. After all, Peter did jump out of the boat and swim to him rather than waiting the few minutes it took to row to shore. Some would say it was a way for Jesus to bring to Peter’s mind the time that he betrayed Jesus, disavowing any knowledge of him – to blame him of his failure to love. I doubt that. It doesn’t seem like a tactic Jesus would use and Jesus certainly knew Peter’s heart.
Most likely Jesus was trying to fortify Peter for the cost of discipleship. Feeding the lambs and sheep of the Christian flock in the face of the persecution leveled against the them was not going to be easy. Remembering the words of Jesus and coming to understand the significance of the charge would need to grow within Peter, deepening the love that would be the anchor of the rest of his life and the courage to endure his painful death.
I sit this morning not knowing what the future will bring to my life. I would do well to open my hands and heart to the question of Jesus and hear his challenge. May we all answer as Peter did the third time the question was put to him: Yes, Lord. You know all things. You know that I love you. And may it be the answer on our lips until our last breath.
The daily Scriptures continue to surprise me. Just when I think I have the important messages memorized, a verse shows up saying something I don’t remember ever hearing before. This morning it’s from Ezekiel. I’ve been confident for as long as I remember, knowing that God said “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you…” but this morning the verse before the gospel stuns me with: “Cast away from you all the crimes that you have committed, says the Lord, and make foryourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” (EZ 18:31) That sounds like the retort of Jesus when the disciples tell him the huge crowd that’s been following him needs food and he says, “Give them something to eat yourselves.”
The Scriptures do note that occasionally Jesus says something to challenge them before he does something extraordinary to solve the situation – as in the miracle of the loaves. But this is different. This is the God of the Hebrew nation speaking about radical life change. Jesus does become the model for this, teaching us to live from the heart in compassionate love regardless of the consequences. It cost him his life. If, however, we are to develop such a generous spirit it has to come from the inside – from our own decision and action. A prayer of “God, make me kinder, gentler” isn’t answered with the wave of a wand. It takes constant practice and sometimes vigilance to achieve and there is always possibility for us to fall back into selfishness or lassitude.
There is a bit of encouragement for us here, however, as Ezekiel ends God’s message with the following verse intimating that it isn’t all on us to succeed; God will be our cheerleader in the process. “Why should you die, O house of Israel?” God asks. “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies. Return and live!”
I was a little surprised in this second week of the Easter season to read that today’s second reading was Mark’s version of the gospel for the feast of the Ascension of Christ into heaven. Then I realized the date; March 25th is the feast of St. Mark, Evangelist. Knowing that, I read again the advice that Jesus gave to his disciples before leaving them “in charge” to carry on his mission. Simply stated, his advice was three-fold: humble yourselves, be sober and vigilant, remain firm. Each of those imperatives takes discipline, certainly, and we can expect some false steps along our way to perfection.
I checked Alan Cohen’s thought for today and found a little solace for the road. In a page entitled “Best When It’s Worst” Cohen wrote the following: Adversity is a gift if we make it work on our behalf. Challenge is not a curse or a punishment, but an opportunity to shine. If life were easy all the time, we would not deepen in love, compassion, and wisdom, or learn how to sink a pipeline into the well of true strength within us. Often we do not know how powerful we are until we are faced with a challenge that draws forth our greatness.
When an act in life counts, there is a source of strength within us that grows to meet the challenge. Some people demonstrate superhuman abilities, such as pushing a wrecked car off an injured person. Where do they find the strength? It was within them all the time; the worst brought out the best.
Whatever our challenges today, may we remember to forge ahead, remembering that we are not alone and that our strength does not come from outside us – in external circumstances or events – but from inside where the living Spirit of God is our strength and our guide.
Some might say I sound like a broken record because of my continual insistence on the reality that “it’s all about love” but here it comes again because of Paul’s message this morning to the Philippians (2:1-4). Listen carefully to his words:
Brothers and sisters, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing…
If we interiorize that message, it is easier to swallow the not-so-comfortable urging of Jesus in this morning’s gospel where he tells one of the leading Pharisees (at whose house he is dining, no less!) not to invite his relatives and friends when he gives a dinner, who will probably invite him back in repayment. No, he says, “rather, when you hold banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind.” Why? Precisely because of their inability to repay. Invitations to those people would necessarily spring from the heart, manifesting the qualities of spirit of which Paul speaks. It’s much more difficult to engage our unfortunate “neighbors” than to write a check to a food pantry. Both are good deeds but the former calls for a stretching, perhaps out of our comfort zone, to where we might experience a widening of our heart that is inaccessible to us until we take up that challenge. So there it is; it’s all about love.