I can’t help myself. Today I am shamelessly lifting the introductory words from the blog on the franciscanmedia.org website. It’s entitled as above: Hope and Humility: Our Weapons against COVID – 19. I believe that a very important lesson is encapsulated in the two quoted sentences that follow. I invite your reflection.
Neither God nor our world is tame: there is an unpredictability woven into reality itself. Facing this truth, the only appropriate response is humility. (Kyle Kramer)
The entire article is worth your time but if you can’t possibly spare 5 or 10 minutes to read it in its entirety, here is the conclusion. (Kudos to Kyle Kramer, author)
It’s hard to let go of the illusion of certainty and safety. But my hope is that this present darkness, which feels so much like an unraveling and breakdown, is actually a birthing process in which God our midwife is bringing us into a new, more beautiful, more blessed way of being.
Today there seems to be a whisper of promise in the world. The sun has returned after the torrential rain and thunder of yesterday and the birds are conversing in quiet tones outside. Fog is lifting – inside and out. There is a sense of possibility, a hope for return to civility on the heels of charges brought against the four policemen involved in the death of George Floyd. We are, perhaps, at the beginning of a new moment of what will be a long awakening. Our task now is to recognize and acknowledge the situation in which we stand.
I am often taken by the messages of Brian Johnson on his daily website offering: optimize.me and today I found his words and those he quoted from President John F. Kennedy particularly appropriate. The occasion was the graduation ceremony at the University of California at Berkeley in 1962. I offer it in gratitude for Brian Johnson, for the hope that is in me and perhaps for the stirring again in many of us, allowing a desire for reparation and a new birth.
Kennedy speaks: “‘Knowledge is the great sun of the firmament,’ said Senator Daniel Webster. ‘Life and power are scattered with all its beams.”‘ “In its light we must think and act not only for the moment but for our time. I am reminded of the story of the great French Marshal Lyautey, who once asked his gardener to plant a tree. The gardener objected that the tree was slow-growing and would not reach maturity for a hundred years. The Marshal replied, ‘In that case there is no time to lose; plant it this afternoon.‘”
Kennedy wrapped up his speech by saying: “Today a world of knowledge – a world of cooperation – just and lasting peace – may be years away. But we have no time to lose. Let us plant our trees this afternoon.”
I wasn’t sure yesterday that I would be able to write anything ever again in the face of all the devastation around us (see yesterday’s post). Of course we have seen devastation before. I just think of all the fires and the slow oozing of volcanic lava last year on the island of Hawai’i, and the floods and/or drought across the United States. These are natural disasters; we survive them and rebuild. What is happening now in our country, however, is of human origin that is not happening because of one event. It is, at its core, a result of prejudice and distrust leading all the way to hatred that has once more erupted into violence. And it has happened before. But this time it seems different.
The violence that has spread across the country (not unlike the fires of last year) goes deeper than the catalyst: the death of one man caused by another. Brutal as it was in itself, George Floyd’s death was also a symbol, the last straw in a long line of events that speak of racial hatred, white privilege and the failure of understanding of what freedom means in our democracy. Freedom is linked to disciplined living, not to license to do whatever one wills. We have clearly failed to comprehend the depth of our responsibility to others when we ignore the strictures of self quarantine in the present pandemic and obedience to curfew in the face of the violent protests.
It seems that we have come to a crossroad. If we fail to face the crisis of the present moment, it seems clear that we will have failed far into the future. It will take a mighty effort to even begin to face all the issues that we must confront: racism, police brutality, personal responsibility as citizens and lack of love – which is at the heart of all other issues. To be fair, there have been extraordinary acts of kindness and care during the pandemic that underlies much of the anxiety in the country and even during the violence that has followed over the past week. But we will have to dig deeper for the courage we need to face ourselves and one another at this juncture.
I said at the beginning of this post that I wasn’t sure I could write any more after yesterday. I have truly been heartbroken and feeling powerless over the past week – as I believe most of us have been. What has motivated me this morning is my “go to” practice: the daily Scripture readings. Today it was Psalm 90, especially the refrain for liturgy: In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge… As I read that phrase and what followed, the words of a modern hymn by Janet Sullivan Whitaker kept repeating in my mind. When I found the song on the internet and let myself feel the words and music, I was reminded of where my strength comes from…in every age. Here are the words:
Long before the mountains came to be and the land and sea and stars of the night, through the endless seasons of all time, you have always been. You will always be…In every age, O God, you have been our refuge. In every age, O God, you have been our hope…
May you have the strength today for whatever you are called to be or do for the world. May it be the same for all of us.
As I contemplate the tumultuous times in which we live, the words of a familiar song float in. “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” Do we ever really take that to heart? Joyce Rupp urges me along today toward that goal. Listen.
“Rock and Refuge, Stronghold of Souls, Unshakeable One, infuse your strength into the places where I feel the greatest weakness. Permeate the parts of my life that continually challenge my patience. Increase my ability to accept those who seem to be most unacceptable. Lessen any tendency in my spirit that gives way to a loss of hope. Reinforce an awareness of the daily manifestations of your presence. Boost my spirit when I think I cannot manage what is mine to be and do.” (Prayer Seeds, p. 56)
Today is a new day. How is that different from any other day? Well, it’s a new year as well. Someone once said: “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” and that became a standard for greeting cards and slogans everywhere. When something is that self-evident we need to stop and think why it becomes so popular to say or think. It is, of course, the surface and beginning point of a long and sometimes arduous reflective adventure.
What does your desired future look like? Do you have any idea? Any goals? Would you be dissatisfied if today becomes like yesterday or this year like the last? Are there things you want to or need to change? How will you make it happen? Of what are you certain now and what will make the rest of your life more meaningful? Is there even a need for all these questions ?
This exercise is for myself, of course, and perhaps something on which to spend at least a moment each day, even though today may warrant a deeper dive. May this new beginning be a gift of hope for you as you step into this new year. May clear seeing (20/20 vision) guide you along with sincerity and clarity and may you welcome the joys and challenges of this year with acceptance and gratitude that you still have this new day to open yourself to life!
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.
Today there will be celebrations and prayer services throughout the world commemorating the life and death of one of the most beloved saints in the history of Christianity: Francis of Assisi. The website franciscanmedia.org has much to say about Francis but for those who seek brevity, there is a summary statement on their calendar at the beginning of the biography which gives a taste of the most important information, including the most recent title under which Francis is known.
Saint Francis of Assisi: founder of the Franciscan family, Patron Saint of Ecology, inspiration to thousands, claimed by people of all faiths as well as those with no particular faith, a truly “catholic and apostolic man.” Though born in the 13th century, he belongs to all ages.
I think of Francis walking the Italian countryside, addressing all of nature as Sister and Brother, talking to the beasts and birds and listening to God’s messages everywhere. Today we are in the company of Brothers Wind and Air, and “fair and stormy all weather’s moods.” Tonight I will hope for a sighting of Sister Moon and the stars, who “in the heavens You have made them bright, precious and fair.”
Francis is a good model of how to live – amazed at everything – but also how to die, offering himself and all his suffering to the God in whom he placed all his faith, hope and (boundless) love. As I wrote that last sentence, Brother Sun made a momentary appearance, bathing the autumn countryside with golden light before receding into the cloudy sky. Just like Francis. Praised be…
Today Christians everywhere celebrate Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, who died on this date in 1968. We know him as Padre Pio. There is much to say about this humble servant of God, which you can find on http://www.franciscanmedia.org or in any number of books, documentaries and internet sites or perhaps from people, still alive, who have had experience of his life. It was not easy; he suffered spiritually and physically, and, perhaps most of all, psychologically from the words and actions of those who did not believe the movements of God in his life.
The verse before the gospel in today’s lectionary could be called “difficult grace” in the life of Padre Pio. It calls us all to humility and truth in recognition of our gifts, and reads as follows: Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.” Clearly, Padre Pio did not take credit for his extraordinary gift of healing or complain about the trials of his suffering, especially when he received thestigmata (the wounds of Christ in his physical form). It was his willingness to serve God in whatever way was asked of him that we honor today.
In the morning I usually try not to read the news as a first activity. I’m much more concerned about inner meanings. This might sound like a “pollyanna” attitude, one that hides unpleasant or inexplicable truths because they are too difficult to absorb. That could be true of an optimist like myself but I prefer to look at it as self-protection that allows me to first blog without distraction. Sometimes, like today, that kind of avoidance is impossible. After having written about the concerns of Pope Francis on climate change yesterday it was impossible to avoid the news of Dorian, the worst hurricane the Bahamas have ever experienced, then the story about the latest shooting spree by a man in Texas yesterday who had just lost his job, the sad state of politics in our country and a man who had just died from a flesh-eating disease!
“What is happening to the world?” I ask myself. Things certainly seem to be devolving into chaos on many fronts. It is difficult to maintain any sense of hope even in the most banal of issues. (Today is Labor Day in the United States, the second largest picnic day of the year and a drenching rain will be with us until tomorrow.)
My only refuge today is in the small but powerful book by Cynthia Bourgeault called Mystical Hope. Cynthia’s definition of this virtue differs from “normal” hope in that mystical hope is not tied to a good outcome or to the future. “It lives a life of its own, seemingly without reference to external circumstances or conditions. It has something to do with presence,” she writes, and “rather than…from outward expectations being met,” it seems to bear fruit from within. (See p. 9-12 for complete explanation & examples.)
As I pause and listen to the steady rain outside, I know the truth of that concept. After the hurricane passes, people in our southern states and the islands already damaged by Dorian will grieve their losses – even losses of life – and begin at the same time to help each other to recover from tragedy. There is something in us that will not allow us to give up. Most often at times like this, people talk about God and grace. This kind of hope does not obviate the trials that are part of our lives but allows us to endure and help one another to go on to another day and then the day after that.
Tragedy, it seems, is one of the best motivators for community and community is what we need a lot of right now. May God bless our efforts today and throughout these crises. Amen!
I am sitting in an air-conditioned bubble, knowing about the dangerous heat index only because there is a large television on the wall in front of me constantly running today’s temperatures across the screen as the biggest news of the day. It is scheduled to reach 99 degrees F. by noon in St. Louis where I am and the headline right now is that the heat index across the country will reach 100F. for over a million people and will shatter heat records – over 150 of them – this week. It’s not just the 100 but the 111 in Virginia and elsewhere that makes me want to corral all the poor or aged people and bring them to our climate-controlled conference venue where we will need to remember to bring our shawls or sweaters to our session.
As I turn to the Scriptures for comforting news I hear God calling to Moses, “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground…I will be with you…” I can usually twist and turn and fit the messages I find to my daily circumstances. Today I wish only to note for myself that God was speaking all those centuries ago and I am here now to hear the message. I can do nothing about the heat or the storms except to trust the generosity of people and local governments to open places of safety for their citizens.
So with that hope and the knowledge that I am privileged to stand this day on holy ground to pray and plan with my Sisters from near and far (see recent posts), I go about the work that is mine to do asking only for an open heart.