Two short statements to ponder on this auspicious Spirit-filled day—one from us and one to us:
1: “Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.”
2: “Peace be with you!”
There’re a great line from the book of the Prophet Isaiah today. In my opinion, it names the sort of person we all ought to aspire to become. First Isaiah offers a description and then speaks the name. Listen:
Thus says the Lord: If you remove from your midst oppression, false accusations and malicious speech; if you bestow your bread on the hungry and satisfy the afflicted; then light shall rise for you in the darkness, and the gloom shall become for you like midday; then the Lord will guide you always and give you plenty even on the parched land. He will renew your strength, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring whose water never fails. The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise. (IS 58: 9-14)
That sounds like a pretty big reward for doing what we should all be working toward in our lives. And for that, Isaiah says, “Repairer of the breach,” they shall call you.” It sounds to me like naming ceremonies in many indigenous cultures when individuals are given their “Spirit name” which “tells something about the person, their personality, their mission in this life.” (manataka.org) Similarly, Christians often choose a name during their Confirmation ritual that speaks of a saint of the Church or honors the sponsor who witnesses to their willingness to act in a sacred manner in life.
What is your “spirit name?” If you could choose one today, what would it be? For myself, I am rather partial to “Repairer of the Breach.” Perhaps in solidarity of purpose, we could all add that one to names we already own. It could look something like this: “Lois Ann Barton, CSJ, RB” (Congregation of Saint Joseph, Repairer of the Breach.) A good and necessary reminder to carry forward, don’t you think?
Sitting here this morning taking inventory of my thoughts and feelings I found only loss. First, I was faced with a message from a friend about her mother’s passing. It was not an unexpected message but monumental, of course, especially for someone who has been a loving caretaker for a long time. Then I read less serious news of dashed Olympic hopes in skiing and skating. Americans who seemed destined to win by the agreement of the entire world failed miserably and one wonders what role the expectations of everyone had in the results.
Wanting only to accept whatever this day holds, I was encouraged by Thomas Merton whose Book of Hours said it quite succinctly. It will suffice for my prayer on this first Friday of Lent.
Thank God for the hill, the sky, the morning sun, the manna on the ground which every morning renews our lives.
change of heart, clean heart, consciousness, conversion, fast, God, Jonah, Nineveh, psalm 51, renew, repentance, sackcloth, second axial age, steadfast spirit, The Sophia Center for Spirituality, violence
Today’s first reading (JON 3:1-10) tells the story of the second time God told Jonah to go to Nineveh to preach repentance. This time he went. His message was that the city – so large that “it took three days to go through it” – was going to be destroyed because of the “evil way” and violence of the inhabitants. Jonah was persuasive in delivering God’s message; it only took one day for the people to really hear him and as the key to everything: “The people believed God.” So they all began to fast and everyone put on sackcloth. The king of Nineveh was himself the model for their repentance. He “rose from his throne, laid aside his robe, covered himself with sackcloth and sat in the ashes.” Here’s what he had proclaimed throughout Nineveh:
Neither man nor beast, neither cattle nor sheep, shall taste anything; they shall not eat, nor shall they drink water. Man and beast shall be covered with sackcloth and call loudly to God; every man shall turn from his evil way and from the violence he has in hand.
The end of the story tells that God did, in fact, relent and did not destroy Nineveh. I had a moment of wondering, in the midst of visualizing the scene and hearing the din of all those people begging “loudly” for God’s forgiveness, if perhaps we should try a similar tactic to rid our world of the violence that seems to be escalating in amount and kind everywhere we see on the news. But, of course, God was perceived differently to the people then and life, it seems, was more primitive. We are supposed to be living in a time of evolution of consciousness, the so-called “second axial age” where we are called to understand that we live now with a sense that the survival of the earth and all her inhabitants is in our hands. God is certainly not absent from the picture but our actions would sometimes belie that fact. Unless God is at the center of it all, nothing works. But God is not the only responsible party; we must see ourselves as co-creators or we are doomed to blame God for our failure. That is a different concept from all the images of God that most of us grew up with but I have come to believe that this is the maturity of faith that is incumbent on us if we are to survive.
Perhaps this is the year that the magnitude of the task of “change of heart” is upon us; we can no longer go on the way we have been living. Real conversion (turning) calls for solidarity as well as individual determination. So let us look deeply to see what needs to change in ourselves and join with others to call loudly to God in the words of Psalm 51: A clean heart create for me, O God, and a steadfast spirit renew within me. Perhaps God will answer and together we and God will make it happen.
I found an interesting coincidence when I clicked on the American Catholic website this morning, looking for anything unique about Martha, the sainted sister of Lazarus and Mary whose feast we celebrate today. She is known for her work ethic – and her apparent frustration with her sister who preferred sitting at the feet of Jesus to helping with the meal preparation. This morning’s gospel (JN 11:19-27) is the less familiar exchange of Martha with Jesus where she laments the fact that if he had come sooner her brother wouldn’t have died. We shouldn’t miss the last part of that text where Jesus challenges her belief about him. She doesn’t hesitate as she answers clearly that she believes in him as the Christ, needed evidence of her reflective side perhaps.
But back to my discovery of the morning…While I wasn’t satisfied to reiterate the common message of balance gleaned from the Mary/Martha evidence (i.e. “Virtue stands in the middle.”), I had to pay attention because it got a boost from a wise and popular source: Pope Francis! It appears that after his whirlwind tour of three South American countries and as he prepares for his first, important trip to North America in September, he is on a “staycation.” Of course it was the newly-coined term – new to me at least – that got my attention. It seems that, while the Pope will not be going to some peaceful place to renew himself after his strenuous last few weeks, he is curtailing his public appearances until August 6th, content to do study and paperwork in an effort to rest and regain a healthy balance of his energy. We would do well to follow his example if our responsibilities don’t allow a vacation right now. So my question to myself this morning is about how I will spend my staycation time in August. Hmmm…