7:02am: I have just had two hours of silence – in and out of dozing – not achieving anything, not even trying…aware of God’s presence and my “being here,” watching my thoughts come and go and not trying for anything. The world is waking up around me now – cars going by…impetus for moving. I wonder what effect these hours will have on my day: such a rare (non-)happening! Non-action feels so full. What can be learned from such a practice? I hope to learn…
Today’s gospel (MT 8: 23-27) presents us with the story of Jesus in a boat with his disciples, sleeping while everyone else is awake and intensely frightened that they are on the verge of drowning. In earlier translations I don’t ever recall the word “terrified” in the response of Jesus when they woke him, saying (probably shouting), “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” As he often did, he answered their fear with a question. In my recollection, it was always: “Why are you so frightened (or afraid), O you of little faith?”
Musing on the shift of just one word, I wonder about the translation I am reading. Are the translators pointing to the more tumultuous times we live in and trying to emphasize that danger? Is there new scholarship that finds a closer meaning for the word fear? Should we – with 2,000 years of living in the Christian Era – have more faith in Christ to save us or are the hazards of life reason enough to keep us terrified? What if we did drown – or die in a plane crash? Are we trusting enough in God to be there in that moment?
This may all sound like a ridiculous set of questions but the phrase that Jesus uses to address to his friends in the question is really key to the entire lesson. “O you of little faith…”
How we are able to face our fears is, for me, the question of the day. Believing that God is with us in all ways each day is a necessary component, it would seem, of each response. No easy task…rather the work of a lifetime for some. Practice and prayer seem to me to be the only way to strengthen our capacity to maintain peace of heart whatever comes our way.
I woke up this morning at around 3:00 and realized about ten minutes later that I was not likely to go back to sleep as my mind had begun ticking off things on an already-made list and things that I needed to add for completion in the next few days. I gave up trying and, in a rare move, got up to read what was left of our “assignment” for the book club meeting tomorrow. I smiled at God’s sense of humor as I read the chapter heading: Intention: Slow Down. Sprinkled throughout the chapters of this book (Life Is A Verb by Patti Digh) there are activities which the author calls challenges. What I read before I was finally able to go back to sleep for two more hours certainly fell under that title. There were two parts to the challenge. I was happy to see the first part because I have recently begun such a practice – at least while I eat – but the second will, I think, be the more difficult process for me. Here is what Patti recommended.
- Today, for one hour, imagine that you can only do one thing at a time. If you are drinking coffee, you can’t check e-mail. If you are talking to your neighbor, you can’t be folding laundry. If you are walking to get your mail, you can’t be talking on your cell phone. If you are eating, you can’t be reading. One. Thing. At. A. Time. Try it.
- Write for five minutes without stopping in answer to this question: What is on my to-do list today? List every single thing you need to do today, those things that are past due, and those things that are coming up. Stop. Now write for five minutes on this question: What must I do or I shall die? Using your answer to the question, What must I do or I shall die, practice different ways to say no. For the next 37 days, when you are asked to add something to your to-do list, if it doesn’t match your do-or-die-list, say no.
How outrageous these thoughts are to someone with an overactive sense of responsibility! They did not, however, keep me awake. As a matter of fact, I went back to sleep rather quickly, so perhaps there is something in these “challenges” that I am called to consider. It can’t hurt…and might help considerably! I can only try…
Our first real frost today has its effect on arthritic limbs even for those of us who feel it only in tiny places (one finger perhaps). It seems an appropriate metaphor for our state of heart after seeing the 26 faces of those killed in church on Sunday in a small town in Texas, victims from 17 months to 77 years old. “Frozen with shock,” disbelief and overwhelming sadness at this latest outrageous act, I read again today from Paul’s letter to the Romans. Whatever other commandments there may be are summed up, Paul says, in this saying, namely, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law. (ROM 13:10)
This is a time when “shouting from the rooftops” to get the attention of the masses seems the only recourse. Theory must move to practice in the face of such tragedy that seems to be escalating too rapidly to ignore any longer. What am I called to do to add my voice to a solution? It is not enough now to lament the violence. What is possible right now to me? To you? To us, in fulfillment of the law?
This weekend has been all about family for me – and about the love that we hope will last forever for Paul and Gemma who were married on Friday. That was the message that I proclaimed for them, one of the most commonly quoted Scripture passages of St. Paul. It’s the one that tells us all about the qualities of love (kindness, patience, never boastful…) and ends with the certainty that “love never ends.” I would add: if we continue to nurture it. Actually there was a lot of love being spread around the venue then and into yesterday morning at breakfast.
It is a great grace that not only my generation of cousins (the “old guys”) are truly fond of one another. The 16 cousins in the younger generation – all of whom but one attending the event – traveled from near and far and were delighted to be together as well. The eldest, the ‘missing one’ (my godson) was even there by the miracle called FaceTime, so he was included in the “cousins photo” where they all held up their numbers in the birth order over a span of 30 years. Even the fact that Peter now resides in South Korea couldn’t ruin the perfect joy of the night; he was there as surely as the love that conjured him on a telephone screen. And then there were the several babies & little folks who were incredibly happy and well-behaved. It was the kind of experience that lifts the spirit and calls us to be our best selves.
Speaking of things that help us grow, I was surprised to realize that this blog post is number 1,200 for me! It seems uncanny that I have been able to sustain such a practice in the early hours of most days (although not today!) for the better part of four years. What drives me, however, is my desire to do something – no matter how small – to uplift the spirits of good people, some of whom are struggling to make sense of our world. And although I use the prompts of Scripture on many days, in addition to various contemporary writers on others, I am quite often astounded at the message that unfolds. Some call that synchronicity; I believe it is the divine Spirit directing what needs to be said. I sometimes think it might be time to close up my computer and find another path to roam. Days like that are the ones on which someone usually writes or calls to say something like, “Your blog this morning was so helpful for me! Keep them coming.” Then I go back to read it again and find it helpful for me too! It’s all part of the mystery and beauty of how God works.
So if you can keep reading on the days when the result is a bit “ho hum” I guess I’ll keep listening and writing what comes for a while, remembering that love is patient, love is kind…love is always ready to forgive.
Sometimes my thoughts have a strange way of coming together. Often two or more unrelated things give me a basis for conclusion that make me scratch my head and say, “Where did that come from?” Today is one of those days – a serendipitous collision of a passing thought with the morning lectionary reading that may or may not “work” in the world outside my mind. Here goes:
On my coffee run to the kitchen this morning the few words I heard exchanged were about the lovely morning weather. The sun was full up and shining on all things green (before 7:00 am!). As I left the kitchen I heard a remark about how beautiful the new-mown grass looked and I felt the same, satisfied with the hours I spent yesterday preparing it for the group of retreatants arriving today. As I sat in my chair and prepared to write, it struck me that mowing the grass on our 11-acre property has become a spiritual practice for me. I speak about it as my leisure because it gives me a chance to be outside in nature with all the color and diversity, the scents on the breeze, the small animals scampering away at the roar of the mower’s approach. It takes focus, however, to get the job done well. I am not free just to ride around without paying attention to the pattern I’m creating. Staying with the line of what has just been cut is essential to a neat and complete result. If my mind wanders into something I see – a new wildflower perhaps – I lose my line and have a wobbly patch that needs to be corrected. Paying attention does not mean I can’t enjoy the ride, but it does mean I need to stay awake and alert.
The gospel for today (JN 21:15-19) contains that famous and often pondered over exchange between Jesus and Peter where Jesus asks Peter three times: “Do you love me?” with Peter seeming more frustrated with each repetition. By the third time he is so frustrated that he blurts out, “You know everything! You know that I love you!” whereupon Jesus tells him just a bit about what the future might look like and why Peter might want to remember the love he has proclaimed so vehemently for Jesus when events call for that measure of love.
What came to me as I read that was the repetition and the necessity of keeping the mind focused – in this case, on what the heart knows. If I forget where I am in the mowing, it all goes awry. If Peter lost the certainty and depth of his love for Jesus (and that of Jesus for him) for even a moment in the toughest times to follow, he might have lost heart. As it was, all reports are that he endured everything that came to him as privilege because of his inner certainty of Christ with him all the time.
If we practice every day – whether in prayer, relationship or mowing the lawn – it may be that we are more able when the tests come. When God asks me in the many moments of the daily routine, “Do you love me?” my answer may be all I need at some future time to stand up to the challenge of love where life or death is the result of my response.
I presume it is intentional on the part of those charged with the choice of liturgical texts to have the first reading today (1 JN 2:18-21) begin with the words, “Children, it is the last hour…” Scholars have said that the author was writing to the Christian community to strengthen them against those (“antichrists”) who were spreading untruths about the Christ and about what faithful disciples believed to be imminent, i.e. the fact that Christ would be returning soon to the benefit of “the anointed ones.” It sounds like a serious moment of choice about belief and how to live it. In a way, we might see an analogy in the situation of Americans today. Clearly we are on the cusp of great – one might even say stunning – changes in our country, and it is becoming clearer that similar scenarios are being played out in other parts of the world as well.
It is not my intention this morning to reflect on such weighty topics as are before us all, but it is, in fact, the last day of the year (my reason for commenting on the intentionality of liturgical scholars). My thoughts today are clearly personal – and actually contrived in a way. Regular readers may have noticed that there was no blog post yesterday. Circumstances were some of the reason but there was a small part of me that wanted to postpone until this day – the cusp of a new year. You see, this post, as incredible as it seems to me, is the 1,000th almost-daily “word” that has appeared here. I have thought on occasion of giving up the practice, but since our readership has remained somewhat steady, with incremental increases on occasion (561 at this point), and since it is now, in fact, a practice for me, I see it as a benefit in my own spiritual life. Since this is the moment for resolutions about personal betterment in the coming year I suppose I should do my best to re-energize my commitment to deepening the totality of all things spiritual in my life and let the postings take shape from that place.
Because I have come to believe, as St. Paul clearly stated, that none of us lives as our own master, concluding that we are all one in Christ (and I would venture in our day to add “in humanity”), my strongest desire for this daily work is for us all to grow together. To that purpose I will continue to search for deeper expressions of truth and the love upon which I base all my beliefs. May all of our resolutions lead us day by day to the unity and peace that is surely possible if we move toward it together. And tomorrow may we awaken with a willingness to commit to that future as we wish those we meet a Happy New Year.
In the parables – like this morning’s “sower and the seed” (MK 4: 1-20) – Jesus often uses the dictum, “Whoever has ears ought to hear.” If it doesn’t just roll by our ears as a fitting wrap-up to the story, we might notice that Jesus is going for something deeper than physical hearing. Everyone who is not deaf has “ears to hear” but not all of us take the trouble to really listen. And actually even deaf people have physical ears so they are included too in what Jesus is saying. Later in the text this morning, Jesus reiterates and clarifies, using two of our senses this time. They may look and see but not perceive, and hear but not understand, he says. He’s talking about the kingdom of God, of course, which he says is a mystery that only makes sense to those who go beyond the senses to understand it. So how do we do that? Practice, practice, practice. Staying awake on a deeper level, letting go of the automatic pilot that we take for consciousness that is our normal way of functioning. (How often do you enter a room and say, “What was I coming in here for?”) Noticing subtleties in conversation, like shifts in tone, or really tasting what you are eating – being aware of the process of chewing and swallowing. Noting as well feelings that arise for no reason or interesting words in what you read, stopping to let them sink into you. Waking up in these ways presupposes allowing some quiet in our lives, so silence is a longer step to take toward that goal of perception and understanding of the reign of God which is already in our midst. If we are silent we begin to activate our inner senses and just might hear God speaking to us in a language that is inaccessible to our physical ears or eyes. No effort can achieve it but practice can open up a spaciousness in us that leaves us ready for just such a gift, given sometimes when we least expect it!