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.