Monday, September 17, 2018

The Bruised Servant


"The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together. Who disputes my right? Let that man confront me. See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?" -[Isaiah 50: 5-9A].

I grew up in a dysfunctional household. Everyone saw my bruises. My mother, when asked, would say, "Well, she is a tomboy."

My brother would verbally abuse me, daily.  My mother would say to me, "If you don't cry, he won't do that. You are too sensitive." Unchallenged, my brother began to hit me.

I went to school with black eyes. Everyone saw my bruises. My mother, when asked, would say, "Well, she is a tomboy."

I gradually shut down, numbing my feelings, ultimately taking a vow of silence when I was ten.

The teachers would contact my mother, telling her, "She barely speaks." My mother would tell them, "She is NOT shy, she is just reserved. Still waters run deep."

I stopped speaking because I had decided that no human could ever give me the Love and caring that I needed.

When I was fourteen, I was not physically safe, the medical care for my chronic lung condition was ended, the verbal abuse continued, I was not being fed on a consistent basis.

I had lost everything, really. Then my parents refused to continue going to church. They took that away, too.

Yes, I set my face like flint. I knew that I did not deserve this treatment. I was a child . . their only daughter . . the youngest. I was not the shameful one.  I had a right to be treated with respect.

I knew that I was trapped for the next several years, I was their dependent. I began hoarding food in my room, in case I wasn't fed. I began to hoard the little money that I earned from babysitting.

I tried to make things better at home as much as I could. I weeded my mother's garden. I knitted my brother a sweater. I did some small painting jobs around the house for my father.

Was I trying to buy their kindness? I don't know. Maybe I was just desperately trying not to become bitter and angry the way they seemed to be.

After awhile, I realized that NO ONE could take God away from me. They could take away my physical safety. They could take away my health. They could take away my food. They could take away my dignity. They could take away my church. But out of all those things that make us human, they could never take away God.

Over the years, I have felt God's presence at times of anxiety, at times of real danger, and at times of joy and peace. "He is near who upholds my right."

I am way stronger with God than without Him. "If anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together. Let that man confront me."

In many ways, I have "lost" my life. I fear going places alone. I have had trouble sleeping, eating, speaking up. My chronic lung disease needs constant vigilance. I need to lead a very simple life. I have had enough trauma and damage already over the years to fill a lifetime.

But, I insist that I was fighting for what was right. "Who will prove me wrong?"

And as Jesus says in Mark 8, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake  . . will save it."

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018.  All Rights Reserved.










Monday, September 10, 2018

To Speak Anew



"People brought to Jesus a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged Him to lay His hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put a finger into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then He looked up to Heaven and groaned, and said to him, 'Be opened.' And immediately, the man's ears were opened, and his speech impediment removed, and he spoke plainly . . .The [people] were exceedingly astonished and they said, 'He has done all things well. He makes the deaf to hear and the mute speak.' "-[ Mark 7: 31-37].


I grew up in a house that was highly dysfunctional - alcoholism, verbal abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, bitterness, jealousy, greed, blackmail. . .

Even at a young age, I decided no one was going to protect me or meet my needs, so I would have to accomplish this myself. When I was five, when my father would say, "Do not feed her, I would eat a gluttonous meal in the school cafeteria, or I would find food at the neighbor's house.

At five, if my mother said, "You are five, you are not tired", I would put myself down for a nap.

I got tired of running and crying to my mother about all the taunting and abuse. She told me, "If you don't react, you won't gain attention and the taunting will stop."

It became my responsibility to defend myself. No human being was going to do it.

Thereafter, I would not show any feelings when the abuse started up again. When nothing got any better, I became afraid that if someone could even "see" my feelings inside of me, the abuse would renew. So when I was 8, I numbed my feelings.

By age ten, I had stopped speaking. I had become invisible.

Walking softly, showing no emotion, not speaking, I was certain, would eliminate me as a target. I also stayed up at night until everyone in the house was asleep.

My vow of silence was not a speech impediment. Nor was it a holy vow. My Silence was borne out of fear of being noticed. My Silence was also borne out of despair that any human being could love me or protect me.

My Silence lasted several years. I rarely spoke and if I did, I was annoyed at myself for "slipping up".

The power in this Scripture is that Jesus, through His Love, notices the Invisible. Not only does He notice them, He makes them Visible again.

And He loves them. He does not blame them for their afflictions. He does not judge them for being poor, disabled, desperate and alone.

This is a far cry from Jesus' world then, or our world today, where too often, Power speaks loudest.

I can tell you that no mere human intervention saved me. Teachers were alarmed and told my mother that something was seriously wrong. My mother dismissed them, saying, "She is just quiet."

No compliments from teachers or parents made me blossom. A volunteer in the school library once told me, "You have a beautiful smile. You ought to smile more." I thought- She has no idea what it is like to be me.

It took meeting the man who would become my husband to reach me. My pastor a few years ago told me that God works through others here on Earth to show us His Love.

It is a miracle that I would be open enough to receive this man's Love. Something blossomed inside of me. I slowly began to trust again.

A friend of my mother's told me at my wedding that she had never seen me so happy. I had truly blossomed and become a vibrant young woman.

The words I spoke to my husband were words of Love. And God IS Love.

Yes, God DOES "make the mute to speak". -[Mark 7: 37].

"Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine recompense He comes to save you. Then the tongue of the mute will SING." -[Isaiah 35: 4-7A].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.


Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Evil From Within



"Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:  to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world."  -[James 1: 21B - 22, 27].


Many who decry organized Religion and who call themselves "Spiritual but not religious" are critical of the outsized role of Ritual in the Church.

It is true that Jesus called out the Hypocrite above all else, the Pharisees and scribes who ritually washed their hands and sanitized their cups and vessels, all the while engaging in Sin from the heart.

In Mark 7, Jesus said, "You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition."

In Isaiah, it is written: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts."

In my family, we called ourselves "Christians" because we attended services in a Christian church.
Our names were in the roster of congregants. We decorated a Christmas tree, and wore brightly colored spring clothes for Easter. My family gave money to the church regularly. We received Communion and we had a Bible on the bookshelf at home.

But my family was Christian in demographics only. My parents disdained those without money. They disdained the poor, the immigrant, the uneducated. They were very far from loving their neighbor as themselves. They gossiped, they were jealous, bitter, superior in attitude.

They were not Christian as a matter of Heart.

Their Christian "Cover" enabled them to appear upstanding citizens in the community, all the while they were neglecting my medical needs, not feeding me, not keeping me physically safe, verbally abusing me, blackmailing me, emotionally abusing me and so forth. If I were to complain, who would have believed me?

Religion that tramples upon the widow and the orphan, that operates in name only and clings to Ritual without purity of Heart - is dangerous.

We see this thin veneer of Religion, in the allegations of priest abuse for over 70 years in Pennsylvania.  This level of abuse is not without precedent. There have been cases of Church abuse of children and the poor in Ireland, in Canada in the orphanages, and in Boston, as well.

To be fair, this kind of abuse has occurred in many Protestant churches over the years.

In PA, priests covered their victims with the Crucifix. They ordered the children to "confess their Sins." This is a perversion of holy Ritual, stemming from a misbelief that the Ritual alone will cover the Sin. But a Ritual devoid of a pure and undefiled Heart only deludes, and causes deep harm. An empty and perverse Ritual such as this is blasphemy.

The Catholic Church viewed the Sin as coming from a temptation arising within the child. The Church removed the priests from the temptation, that is from the child and from his or her location.

They face the fact that the Sin came from within the priest himself.

Jesus said in Mark 7: "Nothing that enters from the outside can defile that person; but the things that come from within are what defile. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile."

From the abuse in the Church, from inside the priests involved, came evil thoughts and unchastity. What resulted was not just a physical assault on the child, but theft of the child's trust and murder of the child's Soul. From within the priest came depraved behaviors: the preying upon innocent children, the arrogance of the deceitful cover-ups, the folly of blaming the victims in requiring them to confess "their Sins". From within the Church came the malice of putting Ritual and the reputation of the priests ahead of tender care for the children.

As the Church itself went to elaborate lengths to cover up the depravity, the Church itself became defiled. Empty Rituals went on week after week during Mass at the altar, even as depravity and deceit rolled on and on. . . for 70 years.

Immoral and depraved priests must be removed, not just moved around. And the tender care of the children must begin anew and with Heart. If this does not happen, we will have no Church.

(Related Postings: "Clinging to Human Rules", 9/4/12; "The Evil Seed", 5/24/13.)

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.








Monday, August 27, 2018

Joined as One



"Brothers and sisters: Live in Love, as Christ loved us. . . He who loves his wife, loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. " - [ Ephesians 5: 2A, 25-32].


 When my husband and I were married, we were in our late twenties.We were so young and innocent! I thought marriage was eating dinner together every night; dividing up who would wash the dishes and who would dry and put away; negotiating which side of the bed to sleep on; sharing that last bite of cake or pastry.

Nothing quite prepared me for the challenges of being united "Till death do us part."

Okay, it wasn't so hard to put myself aside if my husband had a cold and wanted to stay home and cocoon, but I was planning a fun night out together. I felt honored to stay home with him and bring him hot tea and an extra blanket.

What was much harder was navigating the lifelong vow that we were now "one person."

My family reacted viscerally and angrily that I was marrying a Catholic. First they tried to talk me out of the marriage.

When they could see that my fiancé and I were adamant, they took another tactic - they began shutting my husband out.

I was invited to a family get-away, but he, pointedly, was not.  When my husband lay sick in a hospital bed on Christmas Day, with a potentially dire diagnosis, there was no sympathy visit from my family. My parents went on with their holiday travel, saying, 'You don't need us.'

Here is where I confronted the true meaning of leaving one's father and mother, and joining one's spouse, and becoming one flesh.

I had to explain to my family that when they cut my husband out of family trips, they were doing that to ME. When they left my husband in a hospital bed with a life threatening diagnosis, they were abandoning ME.

And so, I had to make the tough choices. I had to firmly reject their invitations. I could not go away with my family, alone. There was no longer any "alone". My husband and I are ONE.  The cost of this was that I had to leave my father and mother, and much of my allegiance to them, behind. I would still respect them and take care of them when they were old and ill. But I could not allow them to divide my marriage.

This heartfelt example of a husband and a wife joined together forever, in one body, is a fitting metaphor for us AS Church. When we proclaim we are Christian, we are joined in one Body.

The implications of this are staggering!

For, if we are one body, there can be no ostracizing or marginalization of any one group. One cannot say, You are a woman . .  a person of color. . . a foreigner, a poor person . . . a prisoner . . . an addict . . and say, 'You do not belong.'

If anyone does demean or shut out a particular group, that hatred is an act that demeans ALL of us.

And as one body, if there is scandal, or Sin, or corruption within, then these affect us ALL.

We are witnessing this with the abuse scandals within the Catholic Church, but there are many examples of abuse within Protestant churches as well.

Scandals whiplash church communities. Pastors who were there today are suddenly gone tomorrow. There is a real gap in ministry. Who will celebrate marriages and funerals? Parishioners no longer trust any priests or pastors fully. Priests are spat upon when out in public, because it is assumed that all priests are either abusers or enablers.

There have been calls for Pope Francis' resignation over the latest abuse scandals, because it is said that he knew all about it, but did nothing.  When tickets were allocated for Pope Francis' trip to Ireland, silent protesters reserved big blocks of tickets that they never intended to use, so that turnout would be low.

In my parish this Sunday, a second collection was supposed to be taken. This is often for mission work in Africa or Asia, for support of school tuition, or programs supporting immigration aid. This second collection was not taken. Some organization that does valuable work is, therefore, not reaching the budget it needs.

Some Catholics are still attending Mass, but are refusing to donate anything to weekly collections until they see justice done for the abuse survivors.

A pastor told me that it will take a generation or more for the Church to recover from these scandals. With increased secularization, I wonder, do we have that kind of time?

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, " In a real sense, all life is inter-related. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way God's universe is made."

Or, as Mother Teresa once said, "We forget that we belong to one another."

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.












Saturday, August 25, 2018

Wisdom



"Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven columns; she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table. She has set out her maidens; she calls from the heights out over the city: 'Let whoever is simple turn in here; To the one who lacks understanding, Come eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed!' " -[Proverbs 9:1-6].


In this Age of Technology, we know, and track a ton of data. Mapping engines take photos of our home and car in the driveway, and draw inferences from these and from our postal code, about how we might vote in the next election. We can find a date or a mate, by paying for an algorithm to tell us with whom we may be compatible. We sign up for fashion quizzes, to test if we are a Classic fashionista, a Romantic, a Bohemian.

But lots of data do not amount to Wisdom. That amazing quiz show contestant, who won about $1 million, could hit the buzzer signal with lightning speed, and he could rattle out the correct answers with unerring accuracy. But that did not mean he was wise, only smart.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his book "Strength To Love", "Science and technology have enlarged man's body. The telescope and television have enlarged his eyes. The telephone, radio and microphone have strengthened his voice and ears. The automobile and airplane have lengthened his legs. The wonder drugs have prolonged his life. But, . . unless humankind is guided by God's Spirit, his new-found scientific power will become a devastating Frankenstein monster that will bring ashes to his earthly life."

Implicit in Wisdom is our sense of our own place in History and in the Universe. Wisdom assumes we possess humility - even a sense of Awe.

I see this paradigm in the book of Job. After Job falls ill, loses his property and children, loses his friends, curses the day he was born, sees his friends blame his ills on "Sin", complains to God, cries out that he hates his life: God answers Job, "Who is this [man] who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?"

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? . . Have you commanded the morning, since your days began. . Where is the way to the dwelling of light. . Has the rain a father. Who has the Wisdom to number the clouds? . Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars?" -[Job 38].

Then, Job answers, "See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?. . . I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." -{Job 40: 3-4; 42: 1-3].

I do believe that we are born foolish, but if we can "get out of ourselves", then as the years go on, Wisdom is possible.

Wisdom is way more than those inexpensive wall plaques that proclaim "Gratitude", or "The Beach Life."

Wisdom is a 'knowing". It is getting beyond the Selfie, and beyond the worry about our weight or our bank account or our social standing. It is, like Job, seeing past our sometimes ugly Life's circumstances, and realizing that we are not in control of the Universe, but that there is a cosmic symmetry out there which we can only partially grasp.

Wisdom is about not just blaring the Pain, but sharing the Pain, because a burden shared becomes lighter. Or, just maybe, someone else has it just as bad - or as good - as we have it.

Wisdom says, we may know the Facts of Life, but we have no idea how to really live.

Professor Ellen Davis, Duke Divinity School said, "We do not speak much of Wisdom in contemporary mass culture. We value people who are 'smart', pursuing prestigious academic degrees for ourselves and high test scores for our children. In the end, our failure to value wisdom may be the most consequential difference between modern industrialized culture and the culture the Bible seeks to advance, and the difference could be deadly. . . No culture has been so burdened and even endangered as ours by the proliferation of knowledge that is not disciplined by the search for wisdom."

In the end, knowledge without compassion, without a heart of Love for others, becomes merely another weapon in a cold Industrialized Age. I fear that this is an Age I don't want to live in. Davis concludes, "Those who listen to the cry of divine Wisdom and 'gain a heart' are enabled to hear the cry of the vulnerable, which is inaudible to so many."

[Related Posting: "Prayer for Wisdom", 7/23/11].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.











Thursday, August 16, 2018

Live In Love



"Brothers and sisters . . . All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in Love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us." -[Ephesians 4: 30-5:2].


I grew up with a constant negative diatribe coming from my family - - this waiter was too slow, this neighbor was a loser, this driver must be "an immigrant" because he did not know how to drive, this guy was a leech on society because he had no education. . . Gossip, slander, bitterness, intolerance, racism, malice. This is the diet which I was fed.

I tried, even as a child, to keep the peace. But I was called ugly; a failure; naive to believe that Love could make life better.

My pastor heard my story and was amazed that I turned out to be loving, generous, patient, tolerant and kind. We really ARE what we "eat".

Today, we have Social Media. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that a free and open exchange is crucial to a democratic society, that when people can express themselves,  "Together, we can change the world."

Instead, what I see is that Social Media has given a platform to - and magnified - ALL kinds of expression. . . not just good and Loving and hopeful speech, but "bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, malice."

It is the loudest and most extreme voices which get heard. But after awhile, I don't even hear the messages of hate or negativity an longer. Those messages are a tsunami of despair, each voice drowning out the other, all of it drowning me in an ocean of numbness. All I hear is the yelling. I want all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling and malice to just go away.

I want people to stop micromanaging how I talk, what I wear, how thin or heavy I am, what kind of car I drive, where my kid goes to school, every time my elocution is not so perfect . . .

It is enough to make me want to just draw the blinds closed, lock the door, and stay home. We can do that, you know. We can get groceries delivered, we can order anything in the world from Amazon, we can even telecommute.

Or, I want to scream back. If someone yells, get in their face and yell louder. Take to the streets, protest something or someone each day. Lord knows, there are enough causes and injustices out there, waiting for a loud voice. I might as well chime in.

But I don't think that worldly retreat, or shouting louder, or hating back, is what God made us for. God IS Love, We are "imitators of God", made in His image. We are meant to Love others.

People seem to believe that Christians simply lay down and accept whatever is dished out, meekly. So not true! Jesus, in genuine anger, overturned the tables of the usurious money changers at the temple. He called plenty of His challengers "hypocrites", "fools", "naive",  "thieves", even "Satan".

But, in all of the Bible, I do not see Jesus being bitter, or displaying hate, malice or vicious anger. I DO see Him speaking the Truth. Jesus was never afraid of the Truth, which He spoke very plainly, and without regard to His own earthly Life.

We see this even in His own Crucifixion. He would not cringe from speaking the Truth. He called out his opponents accurately and unflinchingly. He was flogged and given vinegar to drink. His clothes were stripped away. He carried His own Cross. Still, He would not yield to the mob's blasphemous version of His Life.

This kind of ultimate Love is a steely bond with the Truth. It is a reckoning that one can never- -will never-- dilute the Truth or descend into hypocrisy, or bend to popular sentiment, just for power, prestige, money or public regard. Even an angry mob, out to crucify Jesus, could not change His Message.

You don't need shouting, ugly rumors, malice, bitterness, rage or envy to stand up for the Truth. Speak the Truth, and the Truth speaks for itself.  The Truth, plainly spoken, is Power enough.

[Related Postings: "Banish the Fury", 8/9/15"]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.








Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Bread Of Life


“ Jesus said to them, ‘ My Father gives you the true bread from Heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world. So they said to Him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’  Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.’ “ - [John 6:24-35].

I grew up in a family that had plenty of food, a well-kept home, closets of beautiful clothes, many beautiful furnishings. And yet, I suffered.

Despite plenty of food in the house, when I was fed four-day old leftovers which I could not eat, I was told, “Eat that or you get nothing else.” There was other food in the kitchen but I would overhear my father telling my mother, “Do not feed her.”  The next day, I would go to a neighbor’s house, looking very hungry.

I was more than physically hungry, though. My family never hugged me or told me, ‘I love you.’  When my sibling verbally abused me on a daily basis, if I complained I was told, “You are too sensitive.”

I learned from this that if you are physically hungry, you won’t be able to fall asleep at night.

I learned from this that if no one ever says, “I love you”, you don’t expect anyone to love you. You begin to believe that you are by definition, unloveable.

I learned from this that there are many kinds of hunger, not just for a meal to fill the belly; but also, for a soft touch or a soft voice to reassure and fill the void in the human heart.

I learned from this that there is a spiritual hunger, a longing for something or Someone who is Infinite; for an organizing principal that begins to make Life more understandable.

I learned from my childhood experiences not to trust the lure of Things. My mother tended to bribe me - - ‘If you do this my way, I will give you this or that.’   I had to learn that Things have temporary value, and that Things can be weaponized.

I do believe that God gave us each other. People who have strong social ties are less anxious, less depressed, more healthy and tend to live longer.

My pastor always says to me, “Stay in community.”  But I learned that people can have agendas, can be mean and ugly and abusive.

We all have times when we can offend others, be selfish, show jealousy, be greedy. Paul teaches: “Bear with one another, and forgive one another if anyone has a grievance against someone.” - [Colossians 3:13]. And, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” - [Ephesians 4:2]. If we all behaved perfectly toward one another all the time, we would not have to learn this.

I am someone who was hit with a lifetime of trauma in my childhood. I have had to ask myself over all my years, ‘Who or what do I have on my side, unconditionally? In the clinch, if I have no one to feed me, to love me, to rescue me, who or what is on my side?’

I have learned that if I buy something new, the lure of that something shiny and new lasts about 24 hours. I have learned that I can be in a house filled with beautiful things and feel very empty.

I have learned that if I depend utterly on others, sooner or later they will disappoint me. Certainly, I will disappoint them. Or, they may become sick and die. Waiting to see them again in Heaven can be a long time to wait.

I have come to see that Who and what I have is Jesus. He walks beside me through all the joys and sorrows of Life. Who I have is the Father, God, Who walks in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. [Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” ] - Exodus 13:22.

God’s presence is always there, leading the way. God’s Son is the Bread of Life.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.