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.







Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Unity


“Brothers and sisters: I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through Love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of  peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” - [ Ephesians 3:1-6].

If anyone of us believes in one God, or a Higher Power, we believe that we were all created by God. And as we were created by God, a little bit of God is in all of us. God as our Creator, presides over all of us. And God, our Creator works through all of us.

My parents did the minimum to raise me as Christian. I was baptized, received my First Communion and was Confirmed in the Church. Then, we were done. I was not allowed to go to church any longer.

It took marrying my husband for me to find another church and return to attending Sunday services. My parents were furious that I returned to church. But I have to be grateful that they introduced me to God at a young age. By the time they took church away, it was “too late”: I was already a believer.

My parents were socio-Christians - I.e., they could not at all identify as Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, etc. They believed that Christianity taught right from wrong, and enabled you to meet “the right kind of people”. They were Christians of a certain race and class, in the same way that you would belong to a social club.

I don’t know why I understood at a young age that, since we were all created by God, we all possess inherent dignity. Maybe I developed this understanding, by the power of the Spirit.

And because I knew that we all possess inherent dignity, then it hurt me deeply when my father would yell at people from the driver’s seat of the family car, heaping racist indignities on other drivers. If a driver in front of him drove too slowly for him, or started through a green light a bit too late, he would label the other driver with ethnic sobriquets - even if he had no idea whether the person really was Indian, Italian, Polish, Jewish or whatever.

My father’s racism assumed that we ought to all be the same. . . that if someone were not white and well-off, then there was something wrong with them; that the “non-conforming” person needed to either change, or failing that, get out of the way.

Somehow, I figured out that since we all came from God, since God moves “ over all, and through all and in all”, that I needed to work on approaching others “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with others with Love. . . striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

That is why, the belief today that being equal should mean “being the same”, hurts my feelings just as much as my father’s racist rants. Young people today find it abhorrent to even acknowledge that someone is female, or is a person of color, or comes from an under-developed country. I find unity in celebrating people’s differences, loving others BECAUSE of their differences, not DESPITE of their differences.

God is in all of us, and works through all of us, no matter who we are, where we come from or what we look like. That is the source of humility, patience, Love, gentleness, peace - and ultimately, of Unity. Truly, there can be nothing more beautiful than that. . .

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Rest Awhile



"The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to  deserted place and rest awhile.' People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in a boat by themselves to a deserted place.' -[Mark 6:30-34].

When the computer was invented, the belief was that it would replace human effort. Instead, we humans are all now tethered to computers and hand-held devices, 24/7, 365 days per year.

Twenty-five years ago, when I went on vacation out of the country, I was unable to retrieve my voice mail messages from work, from an outlying area. My boss wasn't happy, but I did a little happy dance. My time away would be a true vacation, not just working from a different location.

Today, there are few places on the planet where we are unreachable. And if there is no wifi or cell phone reception, we fume and cuss.

We Americans truly believe that we are free, but there is no freedom when we are on the "electronic leash" at all times. Admit it, we are all slaves to technology.

If we go to a place that requires us to place our electronic devices in a basket by the door, we get angry and anxious. I admit that if I have a spare few minutes before the next meeting or task, I automatically start punching buttons on my smart phone, even if I just checked those sites five minutes ago.

The electronic age sets up an expectation in me that I SHOULD be able to complete tasks at lightning speed, and thereby gain a bounty of free time. Instead, automation simply makes the pace faster, and the expectation is that I ought to be dispatching with even more tasks, even more efficiently.

When I talk with friends about what I did over the weekend or on my vacation, I am expected to come up with a list of my amazing feats and adventures. If I dare to say that I did "Nothing", I am met with gasps - as if I cannot possibly be that lazy? Or maybe I am half-dead?

I confess that there are many days that I have barely any opportunity to eat. I have a small bowl of cereal in the morning, I don't get lunch, by dinner I have a massive headache. But believing that the world cannot possibly go on without me if I stop to eat, is a kind of hubris - as if I believe I am some kind of god, who is omnipotent and indispensable.

I confess that often the only way I get a true rest is if I travel far away from home, to a remote place where there is not much to do except eat, sleep, and watch the clouds go by. In other words, I have to take myself away from the noise, the constant mental and emotional stimulation, the temptation to accomplish more and more.

To be a "busyness addict" is harmful to one's health, ultimately. I am starting to believe that if I could figure out my motivation for my constant activity, maybe I could begin to cure it.

Do we fear that everything will fall apart without us? That is egotism.

Do we believe that people will admire us more if we constantly achieve? That is pride.

Do we fear what human closeness will happen if we slow down? That is anxiety.

Do we worry that if we don't do it, no one will? That is fear borne out of a lack of Faith.

Do we believe that no one else can do it as well as we can? That is narcissism.

My greatest concern is over the young people who have been reared on electronic devices. We have raised a generation who cannot seem to sit still "doing nothing", without a device in their hands, for even five minutes.

This generation pronounces Mass "boring", and declares that they cannot possibly sit through it. They expect instant, point-and-click results. If instant results don't arise, they give up. They actually fear face-to-face conversations, because they cannot read body language or facial expressions, and human contact is too unpredictable and uncontrollable. It feels much easier to click on screen icons than to deal with the messiness of human interaction.

Jesus calls his apostles - and ALL of us -- to "Come away and rest". Rest is not a waste of time, nor self-indulgent. Rest refills our cup, so that we have the energy and focus to be present, and to serve others.

Sometimes, I catch myself almost thinking that eating, sleeping, resting, breathing deeply and thinking things through, are a waste of time. BUT, these are what make us human. Becoming a rote "processor" is what computers do.

God doesn't love a computer. He loves YOU, in all of your human, faulty, messy glory. Sooner or later, even a machine breaks down.

Come away and rest while.

[Related Postings: "Come Away and Rest", 7/22/12; "A Simple Summer", 6/25/14; "Finding Rest", 7/8/17.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.












Monday, July 16, 2018

Shake the Dust Off your Feet



"Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two.  He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick - no food, no sack, no money in their belts. . . He said to them, 'Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.'  So they went off and preached repentance." -[ Mark 6: 7-13].


It is said that God never forces Himself on us. God may be insistent, may make His presence known in a pervasive way. But we have Free Will to decide whether we will believe in Him, or not.

Jesus taught His twelve disciples to travel together. Walking life's journey as a Christian is a difficult and even perilous road. My pastor's advice to me was always, "Stay in community." It is not that Christians are to isolate ourselves or remain cliquish only with our own kind. But we do need each other for fellowship, for encouragement, for solace. Being Christian is not a solo trip.

I am struck by Jesus' advice that, "Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them."

It is certainly not Jesus' advice to remain meek and to never speak up. To the contrary, Jesus tells His disciples to "go forth and make disciples of all nations." -[Matthew 28: 19]. There is nowhere in the world that is off limits in our journey to speak and live the Truth.

But, Jesus never says to get in others' faces, to heckle or to scream, to corner and trap, to threaten or publicly shame. Jesus says, "Shake the dust off your feet." In other words, whatever place is hostile or resistant, we are to shake that rejection and unreceptiveness off of our Selves and move on.

There is no prideful belief that simply because we speak the Word more loudly, more forcefully and more often, that we will convince anyone more readily. The responsibility for a person's beliefs lies within himself.

Jesus talks about why He sometimes needs to speak indirectly. It is not because He is a coward or too timid. He says, "This is why I speak to them in parables; 'Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.' " In other words, only some are ready to hear the message of Truth.

I look back on my life as a child. My parents did not ever say they loved me. They did not show me love, or they would have never refused to feed me, or let me be hit and go to school with black eyes. They would never have thought it was fine for me to stop speaking. They did not know how to love.

I suppose I gave up speaking for the same reason that Jesus fell silent on the cross. He was dealing with a heckling crowd that became a restive crowd, that became a murderous crowd. Angry faces going nose to nose turn ugly rapidly, then become murderous violence that can never be reversed.

I may have let my lips stop speaking, but my hands spoke volumes of Love.  Not receiving any Love, I turned to demonstrating what Love is, by showing it in my deeds.

My brother hit me. I knitted him a sweater. My mother told me I was a failure. I weeded her garden, set the table, dried the dishes, helped put away the groceries, mended the clothing. My father took his anger out on me. I sewed him a silk tie. I painted a spare room while he was away on a business trip, so he didn't have to do it when he came home.

No, I was a child, but I was no fool. I taught Love by giving Love. If no one else in that house was going to Love, well, by God and for God, I was going to! If no one else in that house was going to allow me to feel Love, then I would find that Love by creating it.

I also took the long view. I was so young and dependent on my family for shelter and so forth. But I bided my time. When I was thirteen, I was saving every dollar I could earn. I was barely home during those days, except to eat whatever food was offered, and to sleep. By 18, I left home for university and came home rarely. I was shaking the dust off my feet.

Like the disciples, I had to go out into the world with very little, except my Faith.

So often, I thought I was alone, but the ethereal Jesus was beside me all along. Jesus was in the food given to me, the rides offered, the friends who believed in me, the mentors who helped me in school and at work, the encouragement from co-workers, the deep and abiding love of my soul mate and husband.

I was not weak and timid to walk away from hate and abuse. I was courageous enough to understand that I deserved far better, and that I could walk towards that Love with a clear conscience and an open heart.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.













Monday, July 9, 2018

In Weakness, Strength



"Brothers and sister: That I, Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me. . . Three times, I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but He said to me, 'My Grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.' "  -[2 Corinthians 12: 7-10].


I have struggled mightily with this concept of being strong when I am weak. It makes no sense that one's weakness could become true strength.

This weekend, I was watching an interview with the actor, Michael J. Fox. The interviewer asked him 'Would he rather be remembered for his movie roles, such as in "Back to the Future"; or, for his foundation that has raised nearly $1 Billion for Parkinson's research?'

Astonishingly, he chose his work in financing Parkinson's research. In other words, he chose his "weakness" - -his disease - - over his strength - - his gift for acting.

As he talked about the legacy of his Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, I suddenly found myself asking, 'Why was HE chosen?' - You notice that I did not ask, 'Why was HE burdened? OR, Why was HIS life ruined?'

This is exactly what St. Paul spoke of when he wrote, "For when I am weak, then I am strong." Michael J. Fox took his greatest weakness, and turned it into his greatest strength.

St. Paul, summing up his life, recited a long litany of personal traumas and disasters: "Five times I received forty lashes minus one., Three times, I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open seas. In my frequent journeys, I have been in danger from my countrymen and from the Gentiles, in danger in the city and in the country, in danger on the seas and among false brothers, in labor and toil and often without sleep, in hunger and thirst and often without food, in cold and exposure . . . Who is weak, and I am not weak? " - [ 2 Corinthians 11: 24-29].

I have often engaged in a similar litany: Nearly lost my life as I was being born, so I almost never saw this life at all. My mother nearly died giving birth to me. Nearly drowned when I was four. Diagnosed with a chronic lung disease when I was six. Numbed my emotions when I was 8. Stopped speaking when I was ten. Lost the only family member who loved me unconditionally, my grandfather, when I was ten. Went to school with black eyes from physical abuse. Was not fed. Barely slept. Cold winters. Suffered emotional, verbal and sexual abuse. Was forbidden to go to church or to receive Communion. Nearly died in a violent crime. Twice, falling trees nearly killed me. Gained a son, but nearly lost him. In two years' time, my best friend, then also a dear family friend, my father, my mother and my dear mother-in-law, all died.

You would think that, when I recite this litany, that I am unhappy and complaining about my life. But, no. What I see is the in-breaking Kingdom of God. I was able to endure all this, a trauma or crisis almost every year of my life, because God's Grace upon me was sufficient!

I tell people my story and they say, 'Oh! My Lord, how did you survive?' And I say, 'I would not have survived, if I did not have my deep Faith. My favorite Scripture is, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the Faith." - [2 Timothy 4:7].

I tell people, 'Things were so bad, I stopped speaking.'  Yet, the encouragers in my life tell me, 'But you were not burdened, you were chosen. That was a blessing, not a curse.'

I tell people, ' When I finally worked up the courage to return to the church and walk up that long aisle to receive the Eucharist, I was shaking, overwhelmed, terribly emotional.' Yet, the encouragers in my life tell me, 'Everyone should feel overwhelmed and in awe at receiving the Eucharist.'

As I look back, I am fully aware that my life is a testament to the presence of God. I see the hand of God in the doctor who saved my life as I entered this world. I see the face of God in the neighbors who fed me, or in the friends and strangers who helped me after I nearly died in a crime - when my own family refused to let me come home.

The Truth is, God never wants us to suffer. But when we do suffer - and in this life, we do - the crisis provides an opening for God's Love and Grace to enter even more fully.

The meaning of the word, "Crisis", IS disaster, but also, "crossroads or turning point".  God's Power is made perfect in our weakness.

I am living proof of God's Power and Love. I have been told that I "ought to be" dead, maimed, homeless, in jail, addicted, in danger from domestic abuse, terminally ill, unable to love or to trust, suicidal, or abusive to others.

But, no. I am a miracle. . . Because in my own weakness, with God's loving Grace, I am strong!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.






Sunday, July 1, 2018

Abundant Generosity



"Brothers and sisters: For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. Not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality, your abundance at the present time should supply their needs. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed. At the present time, your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need." -[ 2 Corinthians 8: 7, 9, 13-15].

Several years ago now, I was on vacation with my parents. We were driving along a country road but we had not packed any lunch. By mid-afternoon, we were famished. We stopped at a country market. They sold packaged snacks but no sandwiches or lunch items.

We picked some ice cream bars out of a freezer. When my father went to pay, he was short by a dollar or two. The owner would not take a credit card.

My father said to the proprietor, "Oh well. I am short only a dollar or two, it doesn't matter." Clearly, my father expected to walk away with all of the ice creams, but not pay the full amount. He felt owed.

The proprietor became angry, saying, " It matters plenty to me. Surely, you can see my point of view! If I sold all my goods for a few dollars short, I would be out of business in a short time. I cannot give my goods away."

My father was impeccably dressed. It was obvious that he had plenty of resources. We could have shared fewer ice cream bars and surely not starved before we got home.

I related this story to a wise friend. She said, " Your father showed an abysmal lack of generosity." It was all about his immediate desire for an ice cream. But the proprietor's shop had few customers, it was dusty and poorly lit. Obviously, the shop owner depended on every penny to survive. My father could pay what he owed, or buy fewer treats. His abundance could supply the proprietor's needs.

I grew up in this ungenerous environment. Once, my father went careening back to the store where he had bought a case of sodas. One of the cans for some odd reason was sealed but totally empty. Something had gone awry at the factory. My father chewed out the store clerk: "How dare you sell me an empty soda can?!" The young clerk asked if he wanted a refund? The refund was 10 cents! Ten cents! My father was retired at that point and living an extremely comfortable life. He certainly could afford to lose ten cents. No one was purposely cheating him. Or, he could turn the empty can in for the 10 cent recycling deposit.

I see so much of this ungenerous attitude today. We possess this visceral attitude that somehow the poor are taking from us, when we have so much abundance, what more could we possibly need to buy?

When immigrants come to this country, what are they taking from us? Even with a green card, without citizenship, they cannot vote. Undocumented immigrants cannot receive welfare benefits.  With or without a green card, they don't take our jobs - they perform jobs we largely don't want, such as picking produce, caring for our elderly, or busing our tables in restaurants. Or, they perform jobs where there is a true shortage of American workers, such as doctors, nurses and STEM experts.

By my parents un-generosity, I learned to be generous. I do not begrudge others. I do not hold onto what I have because it is "mine", when others are in need. I do not give, with an agenda in mind, that if I give so much, you must give so much in return.

My father felt "owed", when he had more than he could use. I believe that things have a way of evening out over time. I don't keep score. Sometimes, I am down, and in need. I need to borrow a cup of sugar or an egg. I need your time, to console me or to give me advice. Other times, I am in abundance and I give.

Recently, I told some friends that I had helped a relative with her schooling "because, because . . ." And my friends chimed in, "Because you can."

Yes! I could. So, I did! That is generosity. That is Love.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights reserved.