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.