Friday, December 30, 2011

A New Year!

" Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . . . .And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ' Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. [Then], He who was seated on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making everything new!' " [Revelation 21: 1-5].

New Year's Eve is upon us! Soon, the pages of the calendar will turn and we will be in a New Year and a new month- - - January, 2012.

The month of January is named after the Roman god, Janus, the god of two faces. The two faces of Janus point in opposite directions, symbolizing turning away from the old and simultaneously facing what is new. A classical statue of Janus resides in the Vatican Museum.

I have to confess that I really dislike New Year's Eve. I try to treat it as I would every other day.  I resist all this pomp and celebration of ringing in the New Year. Every other month, I turn the pages of my calendar without much thought. Why should this day be any different? I think that many must feel this way. We discuss our plans for New Year's Eve as if it is an annual problem, not something to embrace. Why is that?

So many of us do not like to look back. If last year -- or any past years-- were painful or difficult, we do not want to even face those times. We want to kiss them goodbye. And yet, New Year's sort of forces us to look back, like the god Janus does, gazing over his shoulder. Maybe we fear that all those ghosts and traumas are still there to haunt us, no matter how much we would wish them away. Maybe we look back at what we have accomplished in our lives thus far and we feel guilty, as if whatever we have done is not good enough.

I have been trying to develop a healthier way of dealing with my past. This necessitates my delving into events of the past, even the painful or difficult ones. I can no longer bury my past. That does not make the past go away.

Some have criticized me for "dwelling" in my past. That kind of statement really stings me. If we do not examine and reflect upon our past, then we have no idea who we really are!  For example, some in my family preferred to bury our Irish past. So I grew up thinking something was "wrong with me" for having all those freckles and that curly hair . . . . When I found out that I really was Irish, I fel intense relief and true joy in finally knowing the Truth about myself!

You cannot be comfortable in your own skin, or know who you really are with God, if you do not know who you are, and where you came from! In other words, you must confront your past!

BUT, you do not have to live there. Jesus, reflecting upon his life here on earth, said to His disciples, "Do not hold onto me, for I have not yet returned to the Father! " [John 20:17]. He also said, "I am with you for only a short time and then I shall go to the One who sent me." [John 7:33]

It is like that with the past. Jesus is saying, "Do not hold onto the past". But we can learn from the past. After all, we commemorate the past with Jesus, and even absorb a tiny piece of Him, and His Spirit, each time we receive the Eucharist.

Whether we do glorify our past happiness, or whether we wish all the pain of the past away, I truly believe that it is in that moment that we are deeply desiring to be closer to God! It is when we desire Perfection, that we desire God!

So now, I think that I have finally found a healthier way to deal with the past this New Year's. When I feel anxious about the past, unwilling to give credence to all of the pain, unable to let go of the times of joy, what I am really feeling is a deep longing for God. And that longing for God is always okay.

And so, what to do with the "other face" of New Year's Eve? How to confront the future?

If I think too hard about the future, it terrifies me! I am so weak and imperfect! How can I be strong enough to accomplish all of the things I need to do; all of the things that God wants me to do?

When I was growing up, I was taught to worship human achievement. In this kind of construct of the world, there is no God, and all successes in life come from individual effort. No wonder the future terrifies me! I think of all the times of trouble that might lie ahead and I think: I can't do all this alone!!!

In Matthew 7: 25-33, Jesus teaches us, "Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life. . . Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."

I do not take this to mean that I am to become passive and wait for life to happen TO me. I have gifts and talents and God means me to use them. But if I sit around terrified of the future, I will become paralyzed. Then, I will accomplish nothing.

This New Year's Eve, I want to imagine the face of Janus looking back at my past, and I want to honor what I have learned from the past. I want to let go of any intense pain over the past and give those troubles to God, who has the power to wipe away every tear, and rid me of all of my crying and mourning and pain!

This New Year's Eve, I want to imagine the face of Janus looking ahead to the future and I want to contemplate the future with hope. I now know the Truth about the future: I am not alone! Because God can make all things new!

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Holy Family

"Abram said, 'You have given me no children, so a servant in my household will be my heir.' Then the word of the Lord came to him. He took [Abram] outside and said, 'Look up at the Heavens and count the stars if you can. Just so shall your descendants be.' "   [Genesis 15: 3-5].

December 30 this year marks the Feast of the Holy Family. This is the day on which we celebrate the Holy Family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus.

During the holiday seasons in the Christian year, the times of the year such as Christmas and Easter, I think of my own family. Sometimes, I feel so very down at holiday time. My parents are gone now. My extended family-- siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins-- are either deceased or live in far flung places. The only family I see at holiday time are on my husband's side. I thank God for them. But it is not the same.

This concept of closeness during the holidays is actually a lonely business for me! I feel sort of depressed during this time. I feel like I have no family.

I imagine how Abram (who became the great Abraham) must have felt. He had reached a very advanced age; the Bible says he was ninety-nine years old. And he had no children with his wife Sarai.

Even if my family were still around me, they were so far from perfect! We have all known dysfunctional families around us:  families with alcohol addiction, arrest records, suicide in the family, verbal abuse, neglect, physical abuse, abandonment, even cruelty.

So we ask ourselves, how can we be expected to be joyous in this Christmas time, if we have no family, or if our family is so dysfunctional?

First of all, this dilemma causes me to reflect on the Holy Family itself. This family was holy and true and Heaven sent. But perfect? Not according to our modern eyes.

Joseph was a humble carpenter. Would I reject him today because he is not the go-getter, corporate type?

And Mary. . . .She was apparently very young, maybe all of fourteen. She was uneducated, perhaps not literate. Would I judge her for not being a worthy mother? And her pregnancy-- when she had had no relations with a man? Hunh?!

At the time, Joseph was merely engaged to her. Then an angel came to him and explained that it would be best for him to stand by her, because she was with child by the power of the Holy Spirit.

None of this makes much sense in an earthly way. But we accept this family in a sacred way; in fact, we welcome them joyfully into our hearts! For God, this family IS perfect!

After awhile, as I have begun to think of this Holy Family, I have realized that my own family does not have to be perfect, and neither do I. God accepts us all as His children anyway!

Then, I realize: In some ways, having no family is very freeing! Do you think I am crazy for saying this?

I say this because, if No One is my family, then I am free to regard Everyone as my family! I really like this idea. If Jesus, Mary and Joseph can represent the Holy Family for all humankind, then why can't I welcome all the children of God as my own family? Even if we had no other human being on earth, we are all part of this one Holy Family!

My son said to me recently that he wants his best friend to be his brother. I said to him, "Your best friend can be your brother! You just have to treat him that way!"

In this Scripture above, God explains to Abram that he should go out and look up at the night sky and count all the stars. Then he will get an idea of how many descendants that he will have, whom he can call family!

I ponder how many hundreds of millions, even billions of people there are in this world. Then I think about how I complain bitterly that I have "no family" !

In truth, I have a family as extensive as the number of stars in the sky. These stars, my family of God, are more numerous than I can count. And these "brothers and sisters" are all, each in their own way, a beacon of brilliant light!

God, I praise you for sending all of Your sons and daughters into this world.  I pray that I may always remain grateful for Your family all around me!

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Christmas Joy!

" To all who received [Jesus], to those who believed in his name, he gave the right [the power] to become children of God."  [John 1: 12]

What is it that feels so special about Christmas?

Is it the awe and wonder on the faces of the children, when they run to the Christmas tree to see what gifts are awaiting them ?

Is it the innocent sound of a childrens' choir, singing Christmas carols?

Is it the sweet scent of the pine tree or evergreen boughs gracing our home?

Is it the crunch of new snow underfoot, and the surprising burst of fog as we exhale the cold air?

Is it the cocoa-y rich taste of a hot chocolate after an afternoon of sledding?

Is it the glow of lights on the outdoor trees and shrubs, banishing the darkness?

Is it the comfort foods of our heritage-- the dinner of seven fishes on Christmas Eve in Italian families, the plum pudding set aflame in English families, the dense, rich Buche de Noel in French families?

Is it the burst of sparks from the new log placed on the fire?

Is it the reunion with family and friends around a holiday table, breaking bread together?

To me, Christmas is all these things. But these are only the outward manifestations of Christmas.

Christmas truly is the tiny babe who unto us is born, that newborn child sleeping in a humble manger -- who nevertheless was the gift that changed us-- that changed the world!

Christmas is the unfolding of His Power --a force to bring change to the world, and to change  US. Christmas is the totality of His humble, peaceful, loving, hopeful and joyous Self!

God, of all the gifts I have received, the most sacred and blessed is the coming of Your only Son, Jesus, whose name means "God saves."

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Is Christmas Illegal?

"Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!" [Clement C. Moore].

The United States was founded upon the principle of religious freedom. Every school child in America knows that the pilgrims came to the New World, in large part, to be allowed to worship within their own religion and in their own way. In other words, in America, there would be no government established religion.

In recent years, there have been lawsuits against towns that display a creche on their town green. It is said that the display of a manger on town property is government endorsement or establishment of religion. This decision stands even if ALL symbols of the season are displayed there, such as inclusion of a Menorah. We have criminalized Christmas.

A few years ago, I attended a year end party hosted by a client. Several us stood in a circle, festive drinks in hand. We did not dare say "Merry Christmas" out loud, for fear of offending. Finally, one in our midst asked timidly, "Can we say 'it'?  Then, we all whispered "Merry Christmas" to each other. We have taken Christmas underground.

The Christmas concert has become the "Holiday Concert." We send out cards that say "Season's Greetings." The worst example of this lately was a card I found for sale in my local market. The front of the card showed a jolly Santa. The caption read, "Season's Greetings". Talk about mixed messages. Or covering all bases. We have euphemized Christmas.

In similar stores, I see coffee mugs for sale with snowmen or snowflakes pictured. The items are labeled "Winter Decorations."  We have "dumbed down" Christmas.

It is the same, at any time of the year, when we mention God's name. There comes a shocked hush, even a gasp. The reaction comes, not from the fear of uttering the holy, it comes from the fear of offending. We have turned "God" into an offensive word.

And now, not surprisingly, we live in a largely secular society. Christmas gift giving has reached new lows of greed and selfishness. Christmas has become an exercise in: "Tell me what you want and I will buy it for you." Recently, I heard in the news about a new trend: people registering their gift list with department stores in malls. We have materialized Christmas.

What happens when we materialize Christmas, when we secularize it, when we stigmatize it, when we criminalize it, when we euphemize it? Quite simple, we allow ourselves to lose Christmas, in all of its holy, magical, mystical, cultural and historical ways.

Worse yet:  when we treat our own Faith as a threat, then we allow others to threaten it as well. What starts as well-meaning politesse ends up as fear. And then ALL faiths are in peril.

There is a true story of Faith in peril in Billings, Montana in 1993.  In December of that year, a cinder block was thrown through the window of a Jewish family in Billings. The window, decorated with a Menorah and Stars of David, was shattered. The block landed in the room of the family's 5 year old son.

But this was a town that would not take this lying down. Children in Sunday School (yes, Christians) drew Menorah's for everyone in town to post in their windows. The local paper ran a full page picture of a Menorah so that residents could copy the page and post it. Every business in town posted a Menorah in its windows.

The racist hate group responsible for this vendetta had also been allegedly responsible for a bomb threat called into a local synagogue on their New Year. After the almost universal show of support at Hanukka, the hate group backed off and left town.

A reporter from the Billings, Montana newspaper interviewed the mother whose 5 year old son's bedroom had received the blow from the cinder block.  This mothers' conclusion:  "Never hide who you are!"

[Read the whole story of Christmas in Billings, Montana, 1993 at; the article entitled "Not in Our Town"].

Perhaps we Christians see our God as the one true God and Jesus as the only Messiah. But if we do not become Defenders of the Faith for ALL of our brothers and sisters, we risk having no religion at all.

One Christmas, when I was in high school, a Jewish friend of mine came to Christmas Even Mass with me. She did not believe in Jesus as the Son of God but she was thrilled by the beauty of the church and the inspiring music. I always went out and bought her a Hannukah card, and she always sent me a Christmas card. In turn, I went to Friday night services at her temple, just to see what her faith was like in action.

To wish someone "Happy Holidays" comes either from fear or laziness. This Christmas, I challenge you to take an extra moment to ask the person you meet, "What do you celebrate?" Then, take a moment to wish them "Merry Christmas",  or "Happy Hanukkah" or whatever.

Welcoming all into our hearts is, to me, the true meaning of Christmas!

Love to all,

The Spiritual Devotional

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Prince of Peace

For unto us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, . . . . and He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace and, of His governance and peace, there will be no end." [Isaiah 9:6].

It seems that Jesus is honored with many names. Jesus means "God saves". "The Christ" comes from the Greek meaning for "Messiah." Some call Him Emmanuel, which means "God-With-Us."  Jesus is also known as our Savior (literally "the One who saves".) In this Scripture, He is also called Wonderful Counselor, Everlasting Father.

This week being the last week of Advent, I prefer to call Jesus "The Prince of Peace".  Just as the first purple candle on the Advent Wreath symbolized Hope and the second purple candle symbolized Love, and the pink candle symbolized Joy, so the fourth purple candle symbolizes Peace.

This week in Advent, as Christmas preparations are reaching a fevered frenzy, I seek above all, Peace! And where I find this peace is with The Prince of Peace, Jesus.

Recently, my young son asked me what I wanted for Christmas? I said, with a twinkle in my eye, "Uhhh. . . .'Peace on earth, good will to men?' "  [Luke 2: 14].  My son answered, "That's what you want from your brother!" Oh, the great wisdom in a child.

The truth is, during my childhood, I enjoyed no peace. There was food in the house but sometimes I was not fed. There were no locks on the bedroom or bathroom doors, and no proper sense of boundaries between the adults and children. I had no fan to keep me cool on summer nights, even though everyone else in the house had a way to stay cool. I was ridiculed each day for being ugly. If I hid in my room, I could never be sure that it was physically a safe haven. If I left to go outside, the neighborhood children would taunt me.  Even though I made straight A's, I was called a failure at home, and a "brain" out in the world. No place was safe.

Living in physical deprivation and fear is not a pathway to Peace. There is no Hope in this kind of life.

And yet, I learned to stay out of the way.  Like Jesus and his Disciples, if there was no welcome "in one village", I would move on.  Jesus instructed His disciples, "Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave. . . If people do not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet when you leave their town."  I was in school long hours, I would hide in my room and read; if that was not safe, I would go outside and ride my bike, the wind blowing gently through my hair. I would eat when and where I could, I would move on to somewhere else if the kindness stopped. I became essentially "nomadic."

In my house growing up, family members had sardonic names for every ethnic group in the world. All "those people" were inferior to Us, or so it was repeated. I was embarrassed and ashamed at what was being said. Someone recently remarked that it is a wonder I did not turn out that way? I replied, choking up, "You do not understand, a child does not want Hate. She wants only Love."

Living in a house of  bitter judgment against others is not a pathway to Peace. There is no Love in that way of life.

I could not change how my family felt and believed. But I did try to make a difference in our home. I volunteered to tend my mother's garden, if she would only allow me to bring some flowers and plants into my room. I offered to do all the family's sewing and mending, if only my mother would buy me a sewing machine. One summer, I painted the foundation of our house after a small addition was built.

Despite all of my good works, I fell into a kind of Despair. No matter how much I did, it seemed it was never good enough, never enough to keep me safe. My family had taught me that there is no God; or if there is a God, He is there only for the desperate, whose human capabilities have failed them. In other word, only "Losers" who cannot accomplish anything need God. The rest of us get along just fine without Him.

Living in a place where we are judged only by our own fragile efforts as humans-- but where there is no Faith, no God-- is not a pathway to Peace.  There is no Joy in this kind of life.

So where do I find Peace?

I find Peace in Jesus, in what He teaches me and in what He stands for. I find Peace through Hope, through Love, through Faith and through Joy.

This Christmas, will you find the promise of the Hope, the Love, the Faith, the Joy, in the Child who is born unto us?

Lord, I crave the Peace in my life that Only You can bring, through the birth of Your only Son.

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas In My Heart

" Joy to the world, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King! Let every heart prepare Him room. And heaven and nature sing, and heaven and nature sing. . . ." [Hymn published 1719, based on Psalm 98 ].

This is the third week of Advent, beginning with this past Sunday, which was Gaudete Sunday.  Gaudete means rejoice in Latin. During the third week of Advent, two purple candles are lit, as is the pink candle.

We light the pink candle and rejoice because Christmas is almost here! While the first purple candle represents Hope and the second purple candle represents Love, the third, pink candle represents Joy.

As the hymn "Joy to The World" proclaims, we are to prepare Him room. That is, we are to open our hearts and our homes to the coming of Jesus. We are to open our hearts to the Joy that Jesus brings.

I have had more than a few times in my life when I have felt such a huge joy in my heart, that I did not want to let it go. I think of Christmases in my childhood-- the anticipation of that magical day was so overwhelming, I could hardly sleep. Of course, it was about what special gifts I would find under our Christmas tree-- maybe a doll, or a new dress, or a bicycle?

It was also about the shimmering Christmas tree, about singing Christmas carols in the car, about the Christmas cookies, the huge Christmas dinner and the visits with the relatives.

It was much more, though, about a special feeling in my heart. I was in the Children's Choir when I was a girl. We wore red robes with white collars. Every year on Christmas Eve, the lights in the church were dimmed. Every child in the choir held a candle as we sang "Silent Night". I can tell you, there was not a dry eye in that church as that beautiful hymn rang out. Even I was almost in tears; I could barely sing!

At that moment, I felt a magical, mystical connection with Someone much bigger than I was. I believe today, that this deep feeling was my longing for the baby Jesus and the promise He holds for all of us.

Many years later, I was married in that same church. Immediately after the wedding ceremony, I told my husband that it was like the joy of Christmas. No, I certainly did not mean all the generous gifts that we received. I meant that pledging my love and honor to him, before God, for the rest of my life, was one of the biggest gifts I could ever receive. I had that joyous feeling again, a certainty that something sacred and mystical and special had just taken place.

That feeling came back the very first time I held our son. We waited 15 years to become parents. We were beginning to despair that we would ever have children. But when I held our son for the first time and peered into his tiny face, I was so overjoyed, I began to cry.

The next morning, when the day dawned, I tip-toed over to his crib and peeked in. And I could not believe my eyes. It really was true, this son of ours! His silky cheek was pink, I coudl see and feel his breathing. There he was, a flesh and blood human being and he was my son! It had not all been a dream, or our imagination, or a mirage! I told my husband, "It feels like Christmas morning!"

We all struggle as humans to control our despair, our anger, our hurt, our jealousy. We want to lash out, to blame others, to quit trying. We get sick of always being the diplomatic or generous one.

At those times, I try to hold that special Christmas feeling in my heart. Even during hot summer weather, when the calendar cannot be further from December 25, I try to pretend it is Christmas in our home. The decorations may be gone, but I strive for that Christmas feeling anyway.

I want to feel that joy so great that I feel like singing! I want to burst with happiness. I want to connect in a deep way with the One I have longed for since I was a young child. I want to experience a stillness and a peace that come from knowing truly who I am with God and His Son.

I want to hold Christmas in my heart, all year long, for the rest of my life!

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Radical Love

" 'There came a man who was sent by God. His name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. . . . . The Jews of Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He confessed freely, 'I am not the Christ.' They asked him, 'Then who are you? . . .Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?'  John replied: 'I am the voice of one crying out in the desert. Make straight the way for the Lord.' Some Pharisees questioned him: 'Why then do you baptize if you are not the Christ?' 'I baptize with water,' John replied, 'but . . . . after me comes one, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.' [ John 1: 6-27].

This "John" described in the Reading is known as John the Baptist. He is not a prophet, by his own admission. He sees himself as too lowly to be a prophet; unfit to untie the sandals of the One who will come after him.

John was an odd figure, by the standards of that time, and even by today's standards. In Mark 1: 2-6,  John the Baptist is described as wearing "clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and he ate locusts and wild honey."

The One to come after John the Baptist, of course, was Jesus. Who was this Jesus who came, claiming to be the Son of God?

Jesus taught His followers to "love thy neighbor as thyself." [Romans 13:9 ] And yet, in these times, so many of us tend to think of ourselves first.

He taught us to love our enemies. [ Matthew 5:44 ] And yet, the way of the world today, as ever, is to go to war against our enemies.

He taught us that it is better to give than to receive. [Acts 20: 35] And yet, we believe so often that we deserve to receive the best of everything.

He taught us that the humble shall be exalted. [Matthew 23: 12 ] And yet, we spend a tremendous amount of time on social media, exalting ourselves.

He taught us that the greatest commandment is love  [1 Corinthians: 13] -- ( not money!) And yet, the world today believes that it is money that makes the world go 'round.

He taught us that we are the light of the world [Matthew 5: 14 ]. And yet, how often do we contribute to the darkness because of our greed, our sin, our doubt in anything good and true?

He taught us that hate is murder. [Matthew 5:21]. And yet, we expend a lot of psychic energy hating others, not loving others.

He taught us to overcome evil with good [Romans 12:9]. And yet, how much energy do we expend responding to evil by doing the same thing in return, as if revenge were the answer?

Jesus taught us to forgive "seven times seven" [Luke 17: 4 ]. And yet, we humans can spend a lifetime nursing a grudge, allowing a bitter anger to eat away at our souls.

Jesus taught us, "Judge not, or you too will be judged. [ Matthew 7:3].  And yet, these days, what passes for "news" is merely gossiping and judgment about celebrities, politicians, prominent citizens. Where is the energy being expended for real solutions?

Jesus taught us to "pray continually and . . . . give thanks in all circumstances". [1 Thessalonians 5: 18] And yet, we do not remember to give thanks during times when things are rough for us. In fact,instead of praying continually, we complain incessantly!

Imagine the radical and total change in the world, if we humans were to follow Jesus' teachings? Imagine if we sought love, not money above all else? If we sought peace, not war. If we sought humility, not constant self-promotion? If we sought tolerance, not hate? If we sought good, not evil? If we sought to give more than we thought we deserved to receive? If we sought to forgive, rather than to begrudge?

People criticize Christians. They say we fight to maintain the status quo. They say that we want to remain firmly entrenched in the old, conservative ways. They say that we resist any new world order.
In reality, the message that Jesus brings is totally opposed to the ways of this world; because, the Lord says, " My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways." [Isaiah 55:8].

When we celebrate Christmas and the birth of Jesus, we promise to learn and to follow His Ways. Christmas may be centuries old, but Jesus' teachings are as radically opposed to the ways of the world as ever.

This Christmas, do you dare to be "the voice of one, crying out in the desert?" Do you dare to be a follower of Jesus?

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Immaculate Conception

"God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, to a virgin pedged to be married to a man named Joseph. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, 'Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.' Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, 'Do not be afraid, Mary,you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus.'. . . .'How will this be,' Mary asked the angel, 'since I am a virgin?' The angel answered, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. . . . For nothing is impossible with God.' "I am the Lord's servant,' Mary answered. 'May it be to me as you have said.' [Luke 1: 26-38].

I read this, and I think, Can you imagine how totally terrifed Mary must have been? She was humble, uneducated, a simple girl.

Then, one day, an angel comes to her and announces that she will be the mother of a son; and not just any Son, but the Son of Man!?

How could she say, Yes? And yet, how could she say, No?  If she refused, she would be rejecting the call of God.

I confess that my mode of operation in life is one of absolute fear! I grew up in an upside down household. One minute a family member was nice, the next cruel. I came home from school one day when I was about six, and the family dog had been given away. We had food but sometimes, I was not fed. No one put me down for a nap if I needed one, so I put myself down for a rest.

Some children growing up in this kind of household would become angry-- at the family, at the world, at God. Other children growing up with such totally undependabel adults would become depressed and give up on humanity. 

Instead, I became fearful. I did not feel safe,-- anywhere, at any time --when my needs were not being met and my life was so unpredictable.

And yet, I went to school. I got straight A's but I was terrified when the teacher called on me in class.

I learned to drive a car, but I refused to drive on the highway-- too many cars and trucks close to me, going way too fast.

I got out of university and got a job. I lived by myself in a big city. I took the underground train to work. I was terrified. I did it anyway. I had to make a living, right?

Then, I met a wonderful man, the guy who would become my husband. Only he was shy, too, so this romance was going nowhere . Neither one of us wanted to make the first move! Finally, I worked up the nerve to give him my phone number. I actually thought I was dying inside when I walked up to him and wrote out my number for him. You know what? I didn't die! We dated. . . . we got married.

I often think, if I had not given him my phone number, we would not be married now!

All of the wonderful, amazing, good, and precious fruits that I have reaped have come from taking a risk!

And yet, I am the biggest baby, scaredy cat, chicken you will ever meet! I hate to say hello first. I will not go anywhere for the first time alone; I have to go with someone. I hate loud noises. If it is too noisy, I close my eyes and put my fingers in my ears, like my young son does. If there is bad weather, like a thunder storm, I run upstairs to my bed and get under the covers!

So I do not understand it when people say that I am courageous. This cannot be; I totally live in fear.

What I think they must mean is that, no matter how terrified I am, I do it anyway.

Recently, I was at a religious conference and I was asked to stand in front of a microphone and say a few words. I was horrified at the thought. The woman next to me said, "I'll bet there are some things you would NEVER do for anyone else. But you do them for God!"

She was absolutely right! And this is what Mary did! She was terrified. She was not fearless. But she believed in Someone much larger and stronger than herself. She believed Gabriel when he said "The Lord is with you!"

So this is why I also cringe when people say I am so brave! They make my story out to be all about ME! But what I have done is not about me. Really, it is about God.

If I have used my gifts, they come from God. If I have seized opportunities presented to me, it is only because I have been open enough to the Lord, to recognize him when He comes. If I have said yes to God, it is only because I have faith -- which also comes from Him-- that I will not be going through this alone!

Oh, I have resisted His calls! I fought a long time against God's call to convert. "Impossible!", I said. This call came at a time when my mother was back in my life, back in my home, criticizing Christians as blind, hypocritical losers! "HOW," I asked God, "can you make me do this now?"

It turns out that His call and His timing were perfect. I did not know it at the time, since I cannot predict the future. Only God knows what is coming. But shortly after I converted, I was able to receive the Eucharist at my best friend's funeral!

St. Paul said that in our weakness, we are strong. [2 Corinthians:10-12]. For decades, I never understood this. Now I do. You may say that, despite my past hurts, I have done great things and accomplished much. I say to you, I have done all of these things "afraid". And I would be nothing-- not even alive, certainly not with these gifts-- without God.

I am human: I make mistakes. I doubt. I fear. I fall into deep despair. I say things like, "That will never happen!" But with God, nothing is impossible.

I do not want any personal acclaim for what I have done. I do not want to be put on a pedestal. In fact, I would be horrified at any lavish praise over me. This is not about me. I have done these things for God, with God, through God.  Sometimes, I have even initially said no to God! (I can tell you that He does not go away!).

I have fought and struggled because I want only what is good and true and right. If you desire these things as well -- in reality, what you want is God!

Lately, when I pray each morning, I say, "Here I am Lord, let me do what You will!"

I used to look askance at these words of Mary. In a modern sense, we cringe at how passive she seems. We think, How can she let herself be used that way? Can't she promote herself a little? What does SHE want out of life?

In this age of social media, of self promotion and worship at the altar of Human Power, Mary's stance seems blasphemous. In fact, the opposite is true. When we worship only Human Power, we forget God!

If we think that only Humans are in charge, that is precisely when fear, anger, anxiety and despair set in! We shut down, we stop trying. We become useless. We become Nothing.

Lord, I pray that I may be open to You, that I may discern Your will. I pray that, like Mary, I may say Yes to your plan for me, for I know that You hold me in Your loving arms.

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2100. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 5, 2011

The Hope of The Lord

" First of all, you must understand, . . . . scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this coming He promised?' . . . . But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. . . .So, then dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found blameless and at peace with Him". [2 Peter 3: 3-14].

With God, time is elastic. We humans are bound in earthly time, the time of clocks and calendars and waiting. We grow impatient, with life, with ourselves, even with God.

When, Lord, will I ever learn to ride a bicycle? When, Lord, will I make a best friend? When, Lord, will I graduate from school? When, Lord, will I find a job? When, Lord, will I meet my soul mate? And so it goes, our whole lives.

We want things to be perfect. And we want it now. That is, we want it in human time ---sooner rather than later. And we want things to come "in the proper order", as we see it. We want things to come, in the way we want them to come.

Can we ever understand that maybe we humans are being judged, just as much by how we wait, as by the end result?

Advent is a waiting. It is the preparation for the coming of the Lord. Our concept of time would be quite different if we could only think of Advent as a process. In old movies, the pages of a calendar would twist and fly away as if by magic. Today, when watching a movie at home, we can "fast-forward" through the slow or boring parts.

We cannot fast forward through the boring or difficult or even painful parts in real life, though. We must wait things out. We must go through what life brings our way. Advent tells us that the preparation-- the process-- is just as important as the arrival.

A dear friend used to tell me that we WILL all have to wait. So then, the issue becomes simply one of how we wait.

I remember times in my life when the waiting was excruciating. I waited my first 26 years for a human being to hug me and say, "I love you!" During this time, I was a child. I would sometimes turn away from any hope that humans could give me love. I would run away and hide. Other times, I was angry or in despair.

Later, I was blessed enough to get married. But my husband and I had to wait 15 years before we became parents. All over again, I was sometimes angry, sometimes in despair. Sometimes, I felt like giving up.

You see, I had my own ideas of how things should go. I told God that I deserved a loving family of origin. If I could not have that, then, I deserved to get married and to have children. I wanted my poetic justice, as a triumph over my past.

I am now married. My husband has changed my life; he has changed ME. I am now the mother of a beautiful son. Our son came at a time that I did not expect, in a way that I did not expect. He is everything I could have hoped for or prayed for in a child. He was totally worth the wait.

I still do not understand why I had to wait so long for my very own loving family ? I still do not understand why the "love" in my family of origin was so painful and so very imperfect. I still do not understand why I had to wait something like 40 years before enjoying this time of supreme happiness?

Advent is like that!! We do not fully understand this promise of a loving Father clearing away all of our sins and transforming the world. We do not understand the timing of it, any more than we understand when Jesus will come again. We do not understand the "why of it". Why do we, as humans, deserve the coming of a divine presence in our world? We do not understand the "how" of it. Who knew that God would accomplish this by sending us His only Son in human form?

Who could have foreseen the power  and joy of His Son? During Advent, the only practice that works for me is my faith, my trust that God knows things that we cannot know. 

During Advent, I try to ignore the skeptics and the scoffers. My own family would say things like, "Immaculate Conception! Does anyone really believe that?!" To me, Advent IS the season to prepare the way for something, for Someone more sacred, more holy, more divine.  Our world can be so ugly, so divisive, so violent. I cannot live with the thought that that is all there is. I NEED to believe!   

When Christmas is coming, I feel beside myself with impatience. But in Advent, I try my best to practice patience with others, and with myself. I give others my peace-- not my irritation, my stress, my hurried and harried self. I want my Advent to be about peace, not strife.

As Advent unfolds, I long for the joy, the hope, the peace, the promise. I am also mindful of the many ways in which I, as a human being, fall far short of these. I can never be as perfect, as divine as Jesus. But I march always towards Him, as my Guide, the Sign for our future.

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Advent Rituals

"O come, O come, Emmanuel!" -- traditional hymn

I love Advent and I love it even more, in some ways, than Christmas itself. Is it disrespectful to admit this?

Advent is a season of reflection, yes. But it lacks the solitude and dark thoughts of Lent. During Lent, I spend a lot of solitary, quiet time with God and Jesus. I examine my conscience and my soul. I dig deeply and confess my faults. I make resolutions to expand my faith, to become more committed to God in my life.

All this peaceful contemplation can certainly occur during Advent too. But there is more joy to my prayer during Advent. I wait in hopeful expectation for the coming of God's son.

I remember as a child being so excited about Christmas arriving, that when I was put to bed, I was beside myself with anticipation. I would squeal and kick my feet so hard, all the covers would fall off the bed and onto the floor!

The anticipation about Christmas is one of the best parts. I want to be this excited about Christmas every year. I believe that God and Jesus want us to experience this joy too.

Advent is a "feeling" in our hearts. It is also a season in which we prepare for Christmas.  I want to prepare myself peacefully and mindfully, though.

I had a family member who would say every year, "I HATE Christmas!" This was because the preparations for that awesome day were nothing but a burden to him. He would stress about what gifts to buy for everyone, he would stress about how much money he was spending, he would stress about who was hosting Christmas dinner and what food there would be to eat.

We really need our Advent rituals to force us to slow down. To me, Advent is not about a race to the finish line of Christmas Day Nor is it -- as with Lent-- going off by myself to meditate. It is about being together with family and loved ones, and truly remembering what Christmas is really about-- the birth of Jesus.

The ritual of the Advent wreath has been around since at least the Middle Ages. An Advent wreath can be made of any evergreen boughs that you have on hand locally. I can even imagine a lovely wreath made of woven grape vines. The wreath is set flat on a table. Four taper candles are placed around the cricle of the wreath, three of them purple and one pink. In the center of the wreath is placed a large white pillar candle. The wreath is lit each evening after reciting grace at the dinner table.

The father says a prayer or blessing over the wreath each evening. Then, in the first week of Advent one purple candle is lit. The second purple candle is lit the second week, along with the first. The pink candle is lit the third week, along with the other two. The pink candle is to symbolize the joy that Christmas is almost here! The last week before Christmas, all the candles are lit. On Christmas eve, all the candles are lit, along with the white candle in the center. The white candle symbolizes Christ.

I never realized this, but each family member gets a turn to light candles. In the first week, the youngest family member lights the candle. In the second week, the oldest child lights two candles. The next week, the mother lights three candles, including the pink candle; and in the last week, the father lights all four candles.

For more information on the ritual of the Advent wreath, check out "the history of the Advent Wreath" at

Lord, in all my preparations for Christmas, I pray that I may experience the peace and joy of Advent, as I await the birth of Your Son.

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Advent

"You, Lord, are our father. . . . Why do you let us wander, O Lord, from your ways, and harden our hearts? No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but You, doing such deeds for those who wait for Him. Yet, O Lord, You are our father; we are the clay and You the potter!  We are all the work of Your hands." [Isaiah 63: 16-19; 64:2-7].

Advent begins on the Sunday nearest to November 30. And so, once again, the season of Advent is upon us.

Advent means "arrival" and it signals a new beginning in the Christian calendar. We begin a new Christian year with this season of hope and joy, as we wait for the arrival of the baby Jesus.

I have had many seasons of Advent in my life. In our lives, there are seasons of incredible energy and action. Then there are seasons of waiting. We humans cannot "see" God at work and so, we think nothing is happening. But God is there, preparing a Way for us, and we need to prepare ourselves for Him!

My childhood was topsy turvy and upside down. As with a House of Mirrors, nothing was as it seemed. My family judged others, yet detested being judged themselves. We had plenty of food but many nights, I was not fed a proper dinner. We called ourselves "Christians" but we stopped going to church when I was 14. Our health was of paramount importance to my family; in fact, one of the things that my mother feared the most was ill health. And yet, treatment for my chronic lung condition ceased when I began high school. I heard poetic rhetoric about the love of a mother for her child, but no one ever hugged me or said "I love you."

Even when I was very young, I longed for something, or Someone, who was more loving, more peaceful, more gentle, more compassionate, than the people I had been given. I did not understand it at the time, but I was really longing for God!

I knew in my heart that instead of strife, I was meant to have peace. I knew that instead of the cold withholding of affection, I was meant to receive love. I knew in my heart that instead of judging others for something they could do nothing about, I was meant to show mercy to others.

I underwent a prolonged period, waiting for God. In the meantime, my family believed that I was a piece of clay that it was their responsibility to shape and mold. They told me what to eat, how to wear my hair, what colors to wear, what to study in school, where to go to school, what profession I would pursue, whom to date, even what company to work for. I felt a failure sometimes, because I could not be the person they told me to be.

I did not know about this Scripture from Isaiah, that it is God who is our One True Father. Our parents only borrow us for awhile, and if you are lucky, your parents guide you, not in worldly ways, but in the ways of God, in the path towards Christ.

If you believe that it is your job to mold and shape someone in your own image, you are playing God. Only God can truly lead you. "We are all the work of His hands."

And so I waited. But I did not simply bide my time. I did not wait passively. I studied hard in school. I had to get A's so that I could leave my father and my mother, and become independent. I started a babysitting business and saved all my money for my future.

Most importantly, I did my best to keep peace in my childhood home. I tended to my mother's garden. I sewed and mended the family's clothes. If the strife became too much, I simply walked away. I went to my room and sang songs. Or, I left the house and sat under a fragrant pine tree.

After I finished my undergraduate and graduate studies, I moved to a nearby city and rented an apartment. I bought curtains and a quilt. I purchased furniture and acquired cooking utensils. I worked hard at my job and received a nice raise. Finally, I was ready ---and God sent the man who was to become my husband.

I had made all my preparations, meeting hard times with peace, with love, with hard work, with the patience and faith of  expecting a better future. And God finally came to me, when I was ready for Him.

There is God in my mate. My husband is gentle, kind, patient, slow to anger, compassionate and merciful. He loves me for myself, AND despite myself (for we all have our many faults, being only human).

God is preparing  a loving, peaceful Way for all of us through the Way of His Son. But, as the parable in Mark 13:33-37 says, we must "Be watchful! Be alert! . . . . May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping."

I waited 26 long years for my husband to come along. I waited 26 long years for someone to hug me and say, "I love you!"

What is your Advent? And how long will you wait -- lovingly, patiently, peacefully, even joyfully for the coming of God, and Christ, into your life?

Or will you be too busy to notice; too angry to reap the rewards; too asleep to even recognize God when He comes into your life; too self-absorbed to discern the path in following the Prince of Peace?

God, we are all the work of Your hands! Your Ways are not our ways. But we seek Your ways in waiting joyfully for the coming of Your Son!

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 21, 2011


"Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices; who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices." [ traditional hymn, lyrics by Reverend Martin Rinkart, c. 1636]

When we think of the first Thanksgiving in America, we think of the celebration of the pilgrims in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621. The first Thanksgiving was a celebration of a fruitful harvest.

Today in America, the traditional meal of roast turkey, with bread based stuffing, vegetables and pie has been adapted by the many cultures who call the United States home. I have a friend from China who stuffs the turkey with rice. An Italian family roasts the classic turkey, but as side dishes, they serve lasagna or ziti.

Whatever the culinary differences, the one ritual that binds all the many cultures together is the practice of giving thanks on that special Thursday in November.

And so-=- what are you thankful for?

When I was a child, I often went to bed hungry. Now, I am thankful for the abundant food that I can eat every single day.

As a child, I developed a chronic lung disease. When I was 14, treatment for this condition ceased. Now, I am thankful that I have a doctor who cares for me faithfully. I am grateful for every breath.

When I was born, my mother almost died in childbirth and I almost died too. I have had other traumas and near death experiences, a fire in a relatives' house, a near drowning in a neighbor's pool, a violent assault upon me when I was in university. I am thankful to be alive!

As a child, I often did not feel safe in my own bed. I would wait until everyone else was in bed before I would go to sleep. Today, I am grateful to be safe and secure in my own bed.

When I was ten, all the years of trauma caught up with me. I ceased speaking. I am thankful that I have a voice again!

In my old neighborhood, the children would taunt and bully me. Now, I am grateful for the many true and loving friends that I have in my life.

As a child, sometimes I would tell my parents that I was cold and they would reply, "No, you are not". Since I was not taken seriously, I was not given a sweater to warm me. Today, I am grateful that I have many sweaters, and I can go put on a sweater whenever I want.

For several years, my family took me to church. I received my First Communion when I was 13.  But mostly, my family would avoid those Eucharist Sundays. I am thankful now that I have the privilege to receive the Eucharist at Mass.

When I was 14, my family stopped taking me to church. When I would ask to go to church, I was told, "We don't do that any longer." I am grateful that I can go to Mass now, anytime I want to.

In the last year of her life, my mother was so frail that she could no longer walk. She was reduced to moving around in a wheelchair. I am grateful that I can walk, and even run!

For some years, it was uncertain whether or not my husband and I could ever have children. I am very grateful for the joy and the privilege of being a mother!

I am grateful for such simple things. Some people get angry at me for asking for so little . They say that I am being too minimalist, that I should not be so self-denying or negative. They say, 'You need to dream bigger. You deserve more!'

On the contrary, my gratitude is huge for me! Where once I was hungry, now I have food to eat. I once was cold, scared, lonely, alone, physically ill, refusing to even speak, separated from my church and my faith.

Now I am truly alive, in mind, body and spirit! This is not minimalist and defeatist. This is the essence of life!

Sometimes, we get stuck in traffic and we get impatient. We get irritated if our favorite item is out of stock at the market. We hear something we do not like on the radio or television and we yell at the TV, as if that will change anything. We suffer from a deep discontent that someone has a nicer car or a bigger house or fancier clothes.

In those cases, I always go back to visualizing who I was, and how it was for me in my early years. And then I am profoundly grateful.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you! Stay grateful!!

Lord, I thank you for the life- affirming rebirth that I have found today, in my home, in my friends, in my faith, and in You!

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, November 18, 2011

The Least Among Us

" When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the sheep from the goats. . . . the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right:  'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.  . . .[But] amen I say to you, whatever you did not do for the least of my brothers, you did not do for me.' " [Matthew 25: 31- 45].

When I was a child, my parents would set before me a plate of food at dinner time. If the food was too sophisticated in taste for me, too adult in flavor, I could not eat it. But, even though there was plenty of other food in our house, I was given nothing else to eat. Not a piece of bread with butter, nor scrambled eggs, nor a bowl of cereal. I was hungry but my parents did not feed me!

Like all small children, I longed to feel loved and cherished. But no one hugged me or said, "I love you".  Instead, I was verbally abused, hit and neglected. I was thirsty for human comfort but no one gave me to drink from the well of human affection.

If I reported that I was cold, I was told that I was just complaining to gain attention, which I did not deserve. No one allowed me to go fetch a sweater from my room. The house was locked and no one gave me the key. I did not have the clothes I needed to stay warm.

When I was seven, I was diagnosed with a chronic lung disease. Treatment for this stopped when I was 14. We could afford to go to the doctor but I was no longer treated. I was sick and no one looked after me.

In this household of deprivation, I began to shut down in all ways. I hid in my room. I shut my emotions down. I stopped speaking. I gave up asking for more food at home. I tiptoed around quietly to escape notice. No one put me in prison by force, but I imprisoned myself. Yet, no one noticed that I had "disappeared". No one came to find me or to draw me out.

When I went away to university, I was the victim of a violent crime. My family did not rescue me and bring me home to heal. It was strangers who visited me, who took me in and gave me rest, who gave me meals, and allowed me to drink the milk of human kindness. I do not know what I would have done without them.

It has taken me many years to figure out how to respond to my past. I have tried to bury it--- believe me, deprivation and abuse never truly go away. You cannot wish the ugly past away. Even if you have processed it fully, it is always there.

It has hurt me deeply that I was treated this way. It hurts even more to realize who my family really was. Anyone can pretend that they love you. But the way in which someone may treat you is a very different matter. In this Reading, Love is a verb! Furthermore, whatever you do to those around you, you are doing TO Jesus.

I have had people say to me, 'Well, your family did not do this TO you". No, it is worse thatn that! This Scripture says that they were doing this TO Jesus!
I have tried many, many times over, to "confess" my family's sins. Sady, I was merely trying to "rescue" my family from their sins. After many attempts at this, a wise mentor told me that it does not work to confess the sins of another. A priest can absolve only YOU, of your own sins.

Ultimately, I have decided to respond by becoming the most loving, merciful and gentle person I can be. In other words, I respond to all the past neglect, cruelty and deprivation, by exhibiting the utmost love to others.

I allow others to drink deeply from the well of gentle affection, which I offer freely to all.

I reach out to those who are in their own personal prisons--- dark, lonely places of grief, of hurt, of despair.

I gather food, to give to those who have less.

Recently, in a kind of poetic justice, I gave away one of my own sweaters, to someone who needed it far more than I. This sweater came to me as a lovely gift, but it did not fit and it did not suit me. I put it aside. I kept asking God, "This sweater is not 'mine'. Whose is it?"

There is a wonderful lady in my life, who comes each week to help me around the house. One day, I showed her the sweater. It was still in the gift box with the ribbons and tags. I insisted that she try it on. The sweater fit like it was made for her. God had showed me that this was "her" sweater, not mine.

So I gave the sweater to her with a joyful heart. She cried when I handed her the box. She clutched the sweater between her hands and cried, "Happy! Happy!" I cried too. I had come full circle!  I had started out cold and rejected, with no sweater; but I had ended up joyfully giving away my birthday present.

How carefree it is to love the easy people in our life! How much more of a risk does it take to love "the least among us"? By loving others--- even those living life "on the edge", even those we would otherwise barely notice-- we are loving Christ!

And so, I have come full circle. In response to the hate and neglect and cruelty in my past, I have responded instead, as a matter of belief, with love, mercy and gentleness. In responding with love, I am rescuing myself from a life of re-living, and passing along, that hatred and cruelty. As I rescue myself from a continued life of pain, I am rescuing others out of love. I am becoming a follower of Christ.
Lord, let me love everyone around me, as much as I love You, with all my heart, with all my soul and with all my mind!

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


"  Be joyful in all ways! Pray continually; give thanks, in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the [Holy] Spirit's fire. . . . Hold onto the good. Avoid every kind of evil." [1 Thessalonians 5: 16-22].

A wise mentor talked with me recently about prayer. He told me, 'Always begin your prayer with a praise of thanksgiving. Always, be grateful, no matter how dark things may seem.'

I have not always understood the importance of gratitude.  Our attitude of thanksgiving, both in good times and bad ["in all circumstances"], can brighten our whole world, with hope, with nearness to God, even with joy-- despite the bad times!

Several years ago, I was going through a particularly rough period. I had accepted a new job in a different state.  But the economy was declining into recession.  My husband stayed behind in our old house and with his old job. Surely, we thought, this would not be for long and our old house would sell quickly. The weeks stretched to months. Then, tragically, my husband's mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We sold our old house at a loss to be nearer to her in the new state. We had to downsize into a small rented apartment.Then, my husband was unable to find a new job in the down economy. After four months of suffering, my dear mother-in-law died of cancer. We had hoped to start a family as a way of marking a new beginning and a new life for ourselves. Then we found out that we might not be able to have children. One night, our car was stolen. The last straw was when even my husband's beloved cat died!

Every day when I awoke, I faced my mirror and told myself My Troubles. It was a litany of complaints. Perhaps you could call it a Song of No's. My husband had NO job. We had NO house, like we used to. My husband had NO mother; and I had lost a dear soul who treated me like a daughter. We had NO savings because we had to sell our house at a loss. We might have NO children.

My mood went from sour, to down, to desperate. I was miserable and becoming depressed. I know I was even dragging my husband down.

Finally, my husband said to me, 'WHAT is wrong with you?!'  I sang him my Song of No's. Then he erupted, "I want you to tell yourself what you DO have. Stand in front of the mirror every morning and recite what is GOOD!"

I was so mad at him for saying this to me. I thought that he was not facing our new reality. But, I decided to try his new Song of Gratitude. In a week, I am telling you, I began to feel more hopeful about our situation.

I did not have my dear mother-in-law in my life any longer, but I was so thankful to have had her in my life for so many years. We were stuffed into a small apartment, but we DID have shelter.  My husband did not have a job but we never went hungry. It was so sad that our cat died, but she was over twenty years old and had lived a long and happy life. 

More than a few years ago, author Sarah Ban Breathnach came up with the idea to keep a Gratitude Journal. In a little notebook, you write down every day what you are thankful for. If you face a rough day, it can be very uplifting to re-read some prior entries.

Sometimes, instead of a formal grace before dinner, my family and I go around the table and recite something good that happened that day, or something that we are grateful for. This is another great way to 'Be joyful in all ways, give thanks in all circumstances and hold onto the good."

I do not at all mean that evil in the world does not exist. Nor do I mean that everything that happens to us is completely for the good. Tragedies do occur, humans make egregious mistakes or hurt each other, the world is filled with injustice.

BUT, there is something in my soul that cannot allow the tragedy, the awful mistakes, the hurt, the injustice, the disasters to win out. If we do not hold onto all that is good, if we do not pick up the threads of joy and gratitude all around us, and weave ourselves new beginnings --what DO we have?

If we take all that is tragic and evil and unjust into our hearts, and allow it to make a home inside us and to flourish, we put out the bright flame of the Holy Spirit! Then we let the evil and tragedy and injustice win!

Lord, let me discover the tiny flame of all that is good around me and let me hold onto the good. I pray that I may be joyful in all ways, that I may give thanks in good times and in bad, and that I may always hold You close to my heart!

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Burying My Talents

" A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his property to them. To one, he gave five talents [pieces of money], to another two talents and to another one talent, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five talents went at once and put his money to work, and gained five more. So also, the one with two talents gained two more. But the one who had received the one talent went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money."

"After a long time, the master returned and settled accounts. The man who had received the five talents brought the other five. 'Master,' he said, ' you entrusted me with five talents. See, I have gained five more.' The man with the two talents also came. 'Master,' he said, 'you entrusted me with two talents; see, I have gained two more.' His master replied to each of them, 'Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things. I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!' Then, the man who had received the one talent came. 'Master,' he said, 'I knew that you are a hard man. . . . So, I was afraid and went out and hid your talent in the ground.'  His master replied, ' You wicked, lazy servant!' " [Matthew 25: 14-26].

We are all born with talents, with gifts. Over time, if we are fortunate and have encouraging, supportive parents and teachers, we discover what those talents are.

I think I was about 8 years old when I wrote my first poem. My teacher asked us all to read our poems to the class. I got a favorable response. I was very proud of my poem, especially when I received an 'A' on it. I was so excited to discover something that I was good at.

In 9th grade, I was required to take a studio art class in the spring semester. At the end of the semester, the art teacher told me that I had talent and she urged me to continue taking art classes. I could not wait to run home and tell my mother that I showed promise in art. But, my mother told me, flatly, 'No! ' No daughter of hers would become an artist. (Recently, I told my son this story and he said to me, 'I'll bet you never drew your mother another picture.?!' You know what? He was right.)

You see, my parents were very old school. They were horrified at the thought of my being an artist. OR, a writer. By the time I was 15, they had my whole life planned out. They dictated what college I would attend, what I would study, what kind of graduate work I would do, what profession I would pursue, what kind of company and what kind of work I would dedicate myself to.

I was the dutiful daughter. I went to the college they dreamed of for me. I studied what they wanted me to. I pursued the graduate studies that they prescribed. I landed a job at the company where they wanted me to work, in the department they decided that I would work in. And I was miserable.

My gifts had became harnessed to my parents' conception of who I was. I was living their life, not mine. I tamed my writing, I "dumbed it down". My writing became essays in college, in the subjects that my family wanted me to study. I did stellar research in the graduate school they wanted me to attend. I domesticated my writing. I wrote lovely thank you notes for gifts received. I wrote epathetic sympathy notes. I "professionalized" my writing. I wrote clear and concise memos when I worked in an office.

My art became "dumbed down" too. I made beautiful flower arrangements. I doodled while in class or in office meetings. I designed my own Christmas ornaments. I decorated my apartment, then later my house.

I tried mightily not to allow my gifts to flow freely in whatever direction they might take me. I buried my talents. If someone noticed how well I could write, I sheepishly said that my writing was "useful". If someone noticed how artistic I was, I minimized my creative ability. I even denied it.

For years, in my parents' home, I was not allowed to exercise my gifts. Their admonition, "You cannot", became a fear that I could not.

So often, our fear of taking a risk holds us back from our gifts!

Then, the fear becomes self-fulfilling and we quit even trying. The fear becomes self doubt. We do not just fear exploring our gifts, we start to believe that we do not have the gift or talent at all. We lose our sense of self.

After some time, I started to feel guilty about not using my gifts more. But the gifts seemed too long ago and far away. Were they merely childish dreams? Were my gifts even real?

Then, I got to thinking, our gifts are given to us by God! What if someone Very Special in your life gave you an amazing gift? Would you bury it? Would you run away from it? Would you doubt that it was even for you? Would you forget about it, or fear that it was not even real?

If you did bury the gift, or doubt it, or fear it, or disbelieve it, HOW would that Very Special Someone feel? I bet that if we all regarded our gifts in that way, God would come to see us as asleep. Or timid. Or lazy. Or even ungrateful for what He has given.

It still takes tremendous effort to allow myself my God-given gifts. I spent so many years having been denied my gifts. Then, that was followed by a long period when I denied MYSELF my gifts. (Did I think that I did not deserve my gifts?)

I write now --and I write to each of you, with great love. I try to write openly, but humbly, about my life. I always aim to tell the Truth-- about my mistakes, about my successes and even more, about God.

I am also drawing again. I admit that when I gaze at that blank piece of paper, I get scared. I think, 'I cannot do this. I should not do this. Maybe I do not have what it takes. Maybe I am fooling myself.' But I light a candle (I am told that when you light a candle, the Holy Spirit is present.) And once I make a line or two on the paper, I can begin to draw again. Like I used to.

No, you cannot deny your gifts. You cannot bury them. You can try, like I did, to suppress them or dumb them down. But they do not go away. They are always there, like God, waiting for your acceptance, for your embrace, for your joy in their delight. They come from God.

The way I see it, if you cannot exercise your gifts for yourself, then give them to God. Let Him hold you close, as you take the risk to unleash your talents to the world. He will take you as far as He wants you to go.

If you do not accept and embrace your gifts, God will think that you do not love the gifts which you have been given. And he will think that you do not love and appreciate Him!

Lord, let me not ignore or bury my talents; but let me always offer my gifts up to You!

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Ready For God

Jesus tells the following parable: " The kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight, the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.' 'No,' they replied, ' there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to market and buy some for yourselves.' The virgins who were ready went in with [the bridegroom] to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. Later the others also came. 'Sir, Sir', they said, 'Open the door for us!' But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I do not know you.' Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know the day or the hour." [Matthew 25: 1- 14].

This parable purports to tell what the kingdom of heaven is like.  In this story, Jesus admonishes the careless maidens, "Stay awake!" By this truth, we are to learn that, when it comes to God's kingdom,  we must be prepared.

Christians believe that we are called to be followers of Christ. We believe that in this life, we must also be awake to, and responsive to, the call of God upon us here on earth. This means working hard to utilize our gifts for the benefit of others around us.  Christians also believe that, in the next life, we can follow Christ to Heaven, if we diligently seek to emulate Him. We also believe that Christ will one day come again.

That is a lot to be ready for!

I have to confess that for most of my life I was absolutely not ready. My parents took me to church, but we attended church only because it was the Right Thing To Do. My parents wanted us to be around the Right Kind of People, I think for social reasons. But attending church was not out of any faith-filled impulse, or deep desire to follow Christ, or to know God more deeply.

Just as our family roots in the church were shallow, in the same way, our roots in faith were flimsy and temporal. After I was Confirmed at age 13 and my grandmother died abruptly when I was 14, we just as abruptly stopped going to church.

All I heard growing up was criticism of people of faith. 'Churchgoers are hypocritical sinners', I was told. 'They need God more, because they are a lot less capable of taking care of themselves.'  Or --'All churches want is your money', I was told, 'and the church does not "give" anything in return' --(as if church were a financial quid pro quo!) In my mind, I was conditioned to believe that Christians were greater sinners than most, desperate for a panacea, and ultimately, losers.

As I got farther and farther from church, and from other Christians, and from my faith, I began to deeply doubt. I doubted the whole rational for church. I doubted why I would need God. I doubted if God was even there?

I come from a deeply dysfunctional family. No one taught me how to pray. I sort of raised myself, putting myself down for naps if no one else would, eating more food in the school cafeteria if I was not fed enough at home. I was raised to believe that God is not necessary, or maybe not even real, so therefore, you take care of your own needs. It all seemed sort of overwhelming to me, since I had no responsible adults in my life, and I did not even know that God was there for me whenever I needed Him. It did not occur to me that even if I was abandoned by humans, I was not alone.

And so when I left home at 18 to go to college, and then went even farther away for graduate school, I was totally unprepared for life! I did not trust others to help me and I did not have God in my life either.

My course of study in graduate school was dictated by, and paid for, by my parents. I found myself at the end of the first semester falling into despair. I was not utilizing my natural gifts, I was wedged into
someone else's conception of who I was.

One night, I was studying late into the night for exams. I took a break from my studies and reflected. Here I was, studying for a profession I had no interest in, alone in a far away city and all I felt was alone and misunderstood. Who was I? And what was I doing there, working so hard for something I hated ?

Then the most incredible thing happened. I had not at all conceived of my feelings of despair as a kind of prayer. But God must have heard me, because suddenly I felt the most strong, peaceful, vibrant Presence around me. It was a quietude that filled the room.

But I was confused and scared. I had never felt anything like this. I admit that I was sipping a bit of beer to calm myself down, so I could sleep before my exam the next morning. Was I punchy?  Was I so totally stressed that I was having a hallucination? Was I going crazy? I was kind of spooked by the whole thing, so I decided not to tell anyone. Then, as the years went by, I forgot all about it. You could even say that I repressed it.

Recently, the memory of this mystical event came back to me. Today, I fully believe that God was present at that moment, showing me something akin to "Be still and know that I am". But I was so ignorant, so totally removed from a life of faith, that I did not even recognize God when He came to me, to comfort me!

So-- how does one prepare for God, and for Jesus? How will YOU recognize Him when He comes?

I am no expert, but I can tell you what I have done. Since that desperate time, I have gotten married, to a Christian man.  We attend church regularly. You could say that I am "in community" with fellow Christians. My fellow parishioners give me context and perspective. They explain things.

I also pay attention to God. Instead of God coming to me almost unbidden at my desperate time, I am reaching out to Him in prayer. I am reminded of a sweet little song that my son was taught in Bible camp. Its refrain is, "I am a friend of God, I am a friend of God, He calls me friend." You cannot keep God in your life, as a friend, if you do not talk to Him, tell Him your troubles, thank Him for the blessings that you do have. So I pray regularly, every morning for 15-20 minutes in silence, and then throughout the day as things come up.

I also read Scripture. I never even owned a Bible until I was grown, married and a mother! I do not pretend to understand all of it. I am not a theologian or a Biblical scholar. To help me in delving into Scripture, I joined a Bible Study group at my church. I am still learning, still growing as a Christian!

Now, I am starting to get bolder as a Christian. I am trying to get out of survivor mode, and beginning to reach out to use my gifts in order to help others.

I am not a perfect Christian, but I am readying my lamp, to be a light to others, and to call God into my life! I pray that you will find ways to be ready for God, too, and to recognize and fully appreciate His presence in your life.

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

My Favorite Saint

November 1, 2011

All Saints' Day is November 1 in the Western Christian church. It is a day on which we celebrate the lives of all the Saints.

Recently, in my Bible Study Class, someone asked, 'Who is your favorite Saint?' As we all spoke in turn around the table, I had an answer ready before it was my turn to speak. Others said, looking sort of stricken, "You mean, I'm supposed to have a favorite Saint?"

Have the lives of the Saints become archaic, irrelevant? Does anyone even study the Saints any longer?

My favorite Saint, hands down, is St. Paul. You see, I am a convert to Catholicism. During the conversion process, I was assigned to read The Conversion of Paul [ See The Conversion of Saul, Acts 9: 1-22]:

According to this story, "Saul was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. . . . As he neared Demascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him: 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'  'Who are you, Lord?', Saul asked.  'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. 'Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.' Saul got up from the ground but when he opened his eyes, he could see nothing. For three days, he was blind and did not eat or drink anything."

When I first read this account during my conversion, memories of all my difficult years, growing up in a house of no faith, came rushing back. Growing up, I was taken to church until I received First Holy Communion at age 14. Thereafter, I asked to go to church, but was told no. My ideas to give to charity, or be tolerant of others who were different, were mocked.  At times, I went hungry and I was cold. I was verbally abused and sometimes physically abused. I have been the victim of a violent crime and was left to deal with it alone. I married a Catholic but the wedding became a big fight, and the marriage was barely recognized, my husband barely acknowledged. But, I never gave up on God, nor on my faith in Him!

 During my conversion, it was suggested that I meditate upon the image of Jesus, But when I tried to do this, I could "see" Jesus's robes, his hair and even his beard, but hard as I tried, I could not see His face. I was as thunderstruck by my past persecution, and as blind to the Lord, as Paul. I felt all the pain of my past, bound up inextricably with all the pain that Saul, (who became St. Paul), suffered.

During Saul's conversion, the Lord called upon a disciple, Ananais: "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name."

In fact, Paul did suffer. He even boasts about it.  In 2 Corinthians 11: 23-27and 12: 10, Paul says: "I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I have 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 sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen ; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea, and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Who is weak and I do not feel weak?. . . .Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses. That is why I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong!"

How much would You willingly and gracefully suffer for your faith?

Are there any Saints today? I wonder. . . . All Saints Day celebrates all saints, known and unknown. Perhaps there are more contemporary Saints than we realize. More persecution than we realize, that is not even reported. More people who have a steely bond with God, than we even notice.

The lives of the Saints inspire me deeply because I can see in their experiences all that they have suffered for me, in order that MY faith in God and MY belief in the Way can flourish today.

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Humble Shall Be Exalted

October 30

" Jesus said to the crowds and to His disciples: ' Do not do what the teachers of the law and the Pharisees do, for they do not practice what they preach. They impose heavy burdens and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. Everything they do is done for men to see. They make their phylacteries [Scripture boxes] wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets . . . . they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them 'Rabbi'. But you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth 'father' for you have but one Father and He is in heaven. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." [Matthew 23: 1-12].

Jesus is a radical teacher, isn't He. He declares that those who are humble will be exalted. But whoever exalts himself, on this earth, will be humbled.

Have you ever known anyone --perhaps a boss-- who lays down rules that he does not follow? He is a miserable, rotten individual. He expects exceptional work on his employees' part, but he liberally excuses his own errors. He expects perfect attendance on his employees' part but he routinely arrives late to work and leaves early. He expects an exemplary work ethic and attitude towards others from his employees, but he acts out angrily when things do not go exactly his way. He pounds his desk and yells over the phone at his lower level employees but he expects everyone else to show him utmost respect. He is very proud of his title and status but he treats everyone else like servants.

If anyone asks him about how his weekend went, he boasts about his many charitable works. He makes a big deal about his front-and-center seating at a gala charity event and about the many high profile people he knows. And yet, it seems that many do not want to be seen with him; in fact, employees often skip meetings which he grandiosely attends. He is ungenerous, unkind and not at all humble.

This is the kind of person whom Jesus describes in this Scripture. This kind of person is not just an ancient character out of the Bible. Sadly, many of us have met someone like this in our everyday, modern lives.

And we become infuriated that this kind of person seems to be succeeding in this world. WHY, we ask angrily, is this person so exalted?

Actually, Jesus is telling us that this kind of person is exalted-- only in his own mind.

In Jesus' book, it is the humble person who is exalted in the end. This is a radical kind of thinking!

The humble person, whom Jesus is talking about, sees a need and quietly fills it. She would be horrified to be in the limelight for this sort of contribution. High profile praise is not what she seeks, nor is this what motivates her. She is the co-worker who always stays late to finish up a project-- and without complaint. She is the mom who takes care of her mother and mother-in-law, while also cleaning her home, maintaining her garden, cooking dinner every night, tutoring children, volunteering at her children's school, helping out at the church pasta supper, contributing home baked cookies at the bake sale, minding the neighbors' houses while they are away, and accomplishing all of this with a smile and a sense of humor. But she is so quiet and unassuming about it, most people only notice what gets done, they do not particularly notice who did it.

Which kind of person do you want to be?

I want to be the woman of substance, who is quiet, unassuming, humble, loving and cheerful. I want to be the kind of Christian who serves because I have something to offer that helps another; not because I want others to notice and praise me, or shower high compliments upon me.

Even if no other person on earth notices what I have done, God notices, and I hope that He is pleased.

Lord, may I serve You humbly and lovingly, by serving others. May I always find my reward in pleasing only You, my Only Father!

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Deadly Punishment

"See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. . . If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off? . . . In the same way, your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost." [Matthew 18: 10-14].

I was in law school several years ago. There was a Legal Aid clinic in the law school. Students could volunteer there for academic credit. One of the guys I knew was helping to represent a man accused of a horrific murder.

I asked this other student: "HOW could you represent a man like that?" He said, "This man is up for the death penalty. I would rather save one man from deadly punishment, and let others accused of lesser crimes receive a penalty of life in prison." I realized that this student was trying to save the one lost sheep.

I asked, "But HOW can you draft legal arguments in favor of a man accused of murder?" He replied, "We are all innocent until proven guilty in this country. Everyone has the right to a vigorous defense.  Besides, Maybe he IS guilty? I say, What if he is innocent?"

Later, in the early 1990's, the Innocence Project was born with well respected defense attorney Barry Scheck, in conjunction with the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University. With the advent, and legal acceptance of, DNA testing, suddenly there were men being set free from death row, who were there for crimes they did not commit. I began to deeply doubt the justice of the death penalty.

Then, a few months ago, there was an article in the New York Times [August 29, 2011], describing "decades of research demonstrating that traditional eyewitness identification and procedures are flawed, and can send innocent people to prison." And yet, in so many court cases this inherently flawed "eyewitness evidence" is the heart of the case!

This so-called "eyewitness testimony" was recently the center of a Georgia case against an African American man, Troy Davis, who was tried for murder. Troy Davis admitted that he was at or near the scene of the crime that night. BUT there was no weapon found, there was no DNA evidence linking Mr. Davis to the crime. And yet, Mr. Davis was executed by the State of Georgia. Belatedly, seven out of nine the "eyewitnesses" claiming that Mr. Davis was the perpetrator later admitted that they lied, because they were threated by the real killer.

This is not only an injustice. It is an outrage! It is a shame to see an innocent man waste many years of his life in prison. It is a tragedy if he dies for a crime he did not commit.

Not only that, it is getting harder for defendants in violent criminal cases to obtain fair representation. Many defense attorneys in the worst violent criminal cases are receiving threats. This was the case in the horrific Cheshire, CT home invasion case. Walter C. Bansley III is the defense attorney for Cheshire home invasion defendant Joshua Komisarjevsky. Since agreeing to represent Komisarjevsky, Bansley  has lost friends, he has lost clients, he has had bricks thrown through his law office and he has had to move his office to a secret location.

So why would any attorney take a case like this? In an article in the Hartford Courant [September 15, 2011], Bansley is quoted as saying: "Why do it? Because I think the death penalty is barbaric. When it comes to this case, Komisarjevsky doesn't deserve the death penalty and there needs to be people like us to stand up for him. I don't think as a community we should be killing anyone under any circumstances."
Don't get me wrong. I hate what the Cheshire defendants did. (I was a victim of a violent crime myself and I live with the traumatic effects every day.) And I do not think that there is any doubt that the defendants committed this crime, since they were caught fleeing from the scene. But enough people died that day in the Petit home in Cheshire.  Enough.

How would imposing the death penalty in this case make us any better than what these defendants did on that day?

For a complete list of the countries still allowing capital punishment, please access the public page for this blog at

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Love Thy Neighbor

" A legal scholar tested Jesus with this question: 'Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?' Jesus replied, ' You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself. All of the Law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.' ".  [Matthew 22: 34- 39].

When I was a child no one hugged me or said that they loved me. I used to try to "trick" my mother into saying those precious words, "I love you."  Endlessly, I asked, Mommy, do you love me?" But the words never came.

So, I took myself underground. My soul became dry and shriveled. I was not receiving the life giving words of love that everyone needs. I said nothing. I hid in my room. If I came out of my room, I tried to make no visible moves. Instead of walking, I crept around and I floated by. I wanted to be invisible. I did nothing. I said Nothing. I became Nothing.

As I grew, LOVE became the most important thing in the world to me. If a relative asked what I wanted for Christmas, I said, 'Nothing.' Things do not matter to me. Money and possessions do not define me. All I ever wanted for Christmas was to break bread together, to feel joy and love at the holiday table.

As an adult, I try to embody Love each and every day. In fact, Love IS me. You cannot separate Love from me, nor me from Love.

This is what God is like. He IS Love. And we are to love Him with all our hearts and souls and minds.

But how to do that? With God, yes, Love is a feeling. It comes about in our gratitude for everyday blessings. It comes about when we pour our hearts out to Him in prayer. It comes when we experience His joy in a gorgeous sunrise or in the smile of our child.

But for God, Love is also a verb! Love means showing our neighbor, by our actions, the same affection and esteem as we show ourselves.

When I was in first grade, I finally got a glimpse of what Love is. My first grade teacher asked me to stay after school. When she said that, my heart was pounding. What had I done wrong?! But I was not in trouble. Instead, she asked me to help decorate the class Christmas tree. I was the only one asked to help. My teacher, Miss Brownstein, was Jewish. I felt special, honored, valued. I was no longer invisible.That day, I found out what Love is!

As an Adult, Love means showing others that they have a place in the world. Love means taking some risks. Several years ago now, I found out that Love means speaking up.

I used to work in a big office building, on an open floor full of cubicles. The department was in corporate finance and we dealt with millions of dollars every day. One day, a young temporary employee came to work in our department. She was very pretty. She was beautifully dressed. I even heard that she made her own clothes. She was a martial arts master. She practiced calligraphy. Her work was impeccable. But every day, I heard gossip and criticism about her. You see, she came from China. Her English was very good but not perfect. She had an accent. She looked different.

One day, I could take the harsh talk about her no longer. I stood up at my cubicle and announced, "How would YOU like to move to China with your six year old daughter and only a few possessions; try to figure out how to rent an apartment, get a driver's license, buy food, enroll your daughter in school?Get a job in a sophisticated financial services firm and handle millions each day? I wonder if you could even do it. I wonder if you would even dare try?"

There was dead silence after I had spoken. Then, the "ringleader" of the gossip paused and told me, "Wow! I never thought of it that way!" And I never heard another bad word about this employee. Not only that, I became her friend. I learned a lot from her.

How important is Love? It is the basis of everything. Forgiveness is Love. Peace is Love. Courage to speak up is Love. Patience is Love. Exercising our gifts is gratitude for God's Love. Faith is trust in God's Love. Joy is basking in God's Love.

I have taken to telling my son, 'If you are not sure how to behave, always do the loving thing.' The loving choice is not anger, impatience, hate, bigotry, violence, or fear.

God, I love You with all my heart and with all my soul and all my mind. I pray that I may embody Your love each day, in all that I do and say.

(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2011. All Rights Reserved.