Today in the first Book of Samuel, we read:
“Do not judge from appearance or lofty stature. Not as humans see does God see, because humans see the appearance while the Lord looks into the heart.”
Amen to that!
Here’s a thought for the day that I think follows from yesterday’s word of humility (Ego sum pauper) as well as the gospel for today about the Pharisee and the tax collector (LK 18:9-14). Joan Chittister says, The harshness with which we judge the other will some day be the measure by which we ourselves are judged. “I really only love God,” Dorothy Day writes, “as much as I love the person I love the least.”
We Are All One: Reflections on Unity, Community and Commitment to Each Other, p.62
Today, as yesterday, the theme seems to be about the danger of making judgments without sufficient evidence. In the gospel (MT 13:54-58) Jesus is teaching in his hometown synagogue and people are questioning how he could possibly sound so wise given the fact that his father, Joseph, was a lowly carpenter and the rest of his family had no “pedigree” either. The conclusion was that “they took offense at him.” Nothing about what he said, but just whether he had a right to say it, given the lowliness of his station in life!
So as not to be repetitious, I pulled out Alan Cohen’s book, A Deep Breath of Life, to see what his subject was for this date. Cohen announces his topic with a quote for the day at the top of the page. Today’s was quite clear: Make it a practice to judge persons and things in the most favorable light at all times, in all circumstances. (St. Vincent de Paul) and in the last paragraph of the reflection I read the following;
Things are not what they appear to be. We never know the motive or consciousness behind someone’s actions. Any act can be a tool for the ego, or an avenue for the Holy Spirit. We inherit the world we build with our thoughts.
Today, it seems, will be another opportunity for me to practice because we have a weekend workshop at our Center that I am helping to facilitate. Time to clothe myself in hospitality and look for the good in everyone!
Today’s gospel (MT 5:43-48) is one that can make me feel as if it would be easier to go back to sleep. Turning over and saying, “Sorry, God. Those questions are too hard for this time in the morning” seems reasonable. It never works, though, because the questions keep nagging.
In truth, it’s easy to “hate” (too strong a word for my vocabulary these days) people that I have never met because there has been no energy exchange between us and I have no measure that has come from conversation with them. If I only know about people from what others have said, I may judge from externals rather than the depth of their hearts. I’m not saying that every person in the world is worthy of relationship but dismissing people because of hearsay is not fair. What room does that leave for conversion? Sometimes people who seem unlovable have grown that way because of never having been loved by anyone in their lives. Maybe we are called to be just what they need to see a different way to live. Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” He knew how to do it and is willing to help us, I think, if we sincerely want to move toward unconditional love.
None of this means that we need to embrace the horrific actions of criminals. What it does mean, to me, is that everyone lives in the circle of God’s love and, if we work to keep our hearts open to possibility, we may just lift up the world a tiny bit toward the good. I’m willing to give it a try.
Early in his tenure as king, Solomon had a dream where God said to him, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you.” (1KGS 3:4) Solomon’s response is striking because it sounded as if he could have had anything in the world. He began by praising his father, David who had been a great ruler and the beloved servant of God. Then he talked about his own inexperience because he was young, and his lack of knowledge about how to act as king over such a vast populace. How amazing his wisdom at such an age! How astounding the sentence that followed. “Give your servant, therefore,” he said, “an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” In return for the selflessness of Solomon’s request God gave him not only what he asked for but also many things he did not seek: the riches and glory that might have been the request of a lesser man.
Solomon is a good example, not only for young people learning to navigate in the world, but for all of us who still wonder occasionally what it is God is calling us to do. I hope I am never too old or too “settled” to direct a plea to God for wisdom in great moments as well as in the everyday situations of life. An understanding heart is always at the top of my list of perfect gifts and I pray that it is as renewable as it is necessary.
This morning as I read Psalm 86 I thought of how blessed I am with good friends to whom I can go for comfort in troubled times. There are moments, however, when it is only God who will suffice as a sounding board – or when it feels as if that is true. When I have acted in a less than worthy manner or judged someone unjustly, I am likely to first seek God’s forgiveness until I work up the courage and humility to admit my fault to a human being. Excuses abound for bad behavior and it is only when the layers of babble are stripped away – usually in conversation with God – that I dare to admit my need for forgiveness. How blessed are we, therefore, to have a God whose name is Love! I am grateful to the psalmist today – and to the translator – for these comforting words that give me pause.
My God, stoop down to me, and putting close your ear, let me speak my poverty, my misery of life to you, and then, I beg you, whisper back your answer clear. I am your faithful servant, and I trust you, Lord, to keep a watchful eye upon my path of life. Treat me with greatest mercy and most tender care, for you, my God, are all I have; there is no one else but you to whom I speak throughout the day. So I lift my soul to you, that you would flood my heart with secret joy. For in your presence goodness flows as constant as a stream, forgiving me. This is the essence of your love for anyone who calls to you. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 215)
One of the “tricky” faculties of the human mind is our ability to judge. We need to be “razor-sharp” in using the quality of discrimination – knowing first the two sides of that “coin” – while refraining from making judgments based on insufficient information, hearsay or our own narrow perspective. To clarify what might sound rather complicated in that sentence, I have two examples.
The key to all of this discrimination (the good side of seeing honestly, i.e. the difference between one thing and another, as in “discrimination between right and wrong” rather than a prejudicial stance toward a category of things – or people) is awareness. We need to wake up to our thoughts and where they come from, to our motivations and where they move us. Walking mindfully through our days is a goal to be achieved one moment at a time.
*See Cynthia Bourgeault’s book Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening and/or Thomas Keating’s Open Mind, Open Heart.
anxieties, blessing, calm, centering prayer, forgive, holy anger, hopeful, inspiration, judge, Macrina Wiederkehr, non-violent heart, prayer, seven sacred pauses, sit in silence, spirit, The Sophia Center for Spirituality, tolerance
Not having any inspiration this morning – nor even cogent thoughts for that matter, I have been searching the words of Macrina Wiederkehr for an expression that would mirror how I’m feeling. Since I am unable to recognize myself in anything I read, I choose simply to offer her prayer that begins: There are mornings when I simply sit in silence trying to remember some of the things that rise in me. Her list is challenging but maybe if I focus on even one of the elements, it will jump-start my motivation for the day. May this day be a blessing for each of us and all of us together as we rise to the call of the Spirit.
Macrina’s list includes a tolerance for those who don’t agree with me, a refusal to judge others, a willingness to forgive, greater effort to live with a non-violent heart, a calm and hopeful spirit in the midst of my anxieties, discipline in my daily personal prayer, attention and faithfulness in my daily work, a holy anger for the injustice in our world. (Seven Sacred Pauses, p. 63-4)
I think that Psalm 117 is the shortest psalm in the whole book, or at least tied for that honor. It’s a praise psalm – as many are – and our lectionary translation has it in its totality as follows: Praise the Lord all you nations; glorify him, all you peoples. For steadfast is God’s kindness toward us, and the fidelity of the Lord endures forever. A lovely, hopeful sentiment.
There was something in Lynn Bauman’s translation, however, that drew me more powerfully. Read both aloud and see what you think. Bauman writes: Hallelujah! O peoples of the earth and all the nations, it is God alone that we should name in praise. For it is God who shows such deep compassion, who loves us now and everlastingly! (Ancient Songs Sung Anew) Maybe it was the Hallelujah! at the beginning that made me sit up a bit straighter or maybe the specificity of “God alone.” Certainly kindness and fidelity are comforting characteristics that we admire in our God, but those two unbeatable words, love and compassion, seal the deal for me in the comparison.
Sometimes, just to bolster the direction in which I’m leaning, I check another source. This morning it was Alan Cohen who spoke of human judgments and then wrote a line that seemed to resonate with what I had already begun to feel. See what you think.
We cannot judge or condemn another person’s act because we do not know how it fits into the bigger picture of their life or the lives of those they touch. At any given moment, we see only a tiny sliver of a huge jigsaw puzzle that only makes sense on a level that is broader than any human being can understand. Ultimately, every experience contributes to spiritual awakening. The Holy Spirit sees only love and when we lift our vision, we behold a miraculous universe. (A Deep Breath of Life)
Cohen ends his reflection with an affirmation that jumps up a level and brings my thought circle to conclusion. He writes: My eyes are God’s eyes. I exchange judgment for compassion and look upon a forgiven world.
(Let the people say, “AMEN!”)