Sunday, January 29, 2012

A Healing Spirit

" On the sabbath, Jesus entered the synagogue and taught. In their synagogue was a man with an unclean spirit; he cried out, 'What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who You are, the Holy One of God!' Jesus rebuked him and said, ' Quiet! Come out of him!' The unclean spirit convulsed him and with a loud cry, came out of him. All were amazed and asked one another, 'What is this? A new teaching with authority. He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him.'  [Mark 1: 21-27].

A faith-filled man loses his dear wife and he struggles valiantly to overcome his despair, and to raise their children alone. A young family loses a child tragically to an accidental death; they battle deep doubts about where God is in their lives.  A woman is still haunted from the abuses that she suffered in her youth; she finds herself angry and isolated.

My dear mother-in-law used to say that "We all have our crosses to bear."  I always resisted what she was saying in that expression. I did not want to admit the sins, the pain or the suffering in this world. I did not want to witness these, even in anyone else. They reminded me of my own pain-- a deep, searing flight away from a past that I could not face. I was afraid of the dark spirits inside me, that would surely lead me directly to the sins of anger, doubt, despair, fear, and endless self -condemnation.  And so, I pushed those dark spirits deep down inside.

What I was doing with my dark spirits in those days was to bury them. I "pretended" away the self who was a tiny, scared, cold, hungry, angry, physically insecure, spiritually and emotionally deadened, despairing young girl. That little girl lived inside me as I went through high school and college, found my first job and my first apartment, and met my future husband.

After I got engaged, I remember going to visit the priest in my fiance's parish, one day. We were going there to talk about getting married. I was dressed up in heels and hose and a pretty sweater dress that I had made myself. My new engagement ring glinted in the sun. The Rectory garden looked lovely that bright day in April and as we neared the Rectory entrance, I even caught a glimpse of a fluttering butterfly. Things were perfect, no?

No. Because as the years went on, all the dark spirits from my past, which I had neatly buried, merged with all the ensuing dark times: not very long after we got married, the death of my dear mother-in-law; the house we had to sell at a loss in a bad economy, the anxiety about finding jobs in the economic downturn; the difficulty in becoming parents- which was something we never imagined; a misdiagnosis of cancer- which was terrifying;  the deaths of both my parents and my best friend. All these trials, occurring one after another, over the many years after we married, began to overlap and accumulate and converge.

By a certain point, after all these set-backs, my life felt out of control. I descended into a kind of despair. I was overwhelmed and confused. My world seemed upside down and backwards. Why was I even here on this earth? How could I have suffered so much? The worst part was that I felt that I was in such a dark place, that I had lost sight of God. I was in danger of turning away from my faith.

A wise mentor told me to find a quiet place; and to meditate and reflect. Honestly? I thought he was a bit crazy. Wasn't this a waste of time? Or maybe, just maybe, I was afraid of what would come out. . . I asked him, 'What am I supposed to DO in that quiet place?' He said, 'See what comes out. You may laugh, you may cry, you may simply sit in the silence.'

What came out was astonishing. Horrible repressed memories came out. Excruciating pain. Total, exuberant joy. Deep sadness. The soothing peace of gratitude.

A year or so after I began my daily meditations, I went on a meditation retreat. There, I asked, 'What am I supposed to DO with all this past pain and sins that come out?" The answer is, 'Recite a mantra, in time with your breath. Seek the presence of the Lord.'

I chose a mantra something like, "Come, Lord." I was seeking the healing presence of Jesus, his words, his authority.

The process was described as when the sediment from a river rises to the surface. You watch it rise and float away. You acknowledge it and let it go. When a particular pain or grievous error of mine
surfaces, I examine and release it.

This sounds peaceful. It is not. Like the man in the Scripture above, I find it a convulsive process.  It is cathartic, but very healing. I try not to allow the pain and the sins to cling to me. I give them to Jesus. I ask Him to walk with me.

Seeking Jesus in the quiet can summon the dark spirits from deep within. Only He has the commanding authority to dispel them.

I love the dark, quiet of the chapel now. I know who Jesus is in my life, in my soul now. He is the Holy One of God. I give unto Jesus my tears, my pain, my despair, my hope, my faith, my joy!

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


Thursday, January 26, 2012

Seeking Happiness

"Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil. . . .He must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it. [For] who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed." [1 Peter: 8-13].

January is coming to an end. We have made our New Year's Resolutions, and being fully human, we have probably broken our resolutions many times already!

I believe that our New Year's Resolutions are all about seeking happiness. Maybe we decided that if only we could lose those extra pounds, we would be happy. Or maybe we decided that if only we could really stick to an exercise routine, we would be happy; but we punish ourselves if we miss a day at the gym. Or maybe, we ponder, happiness comes in saving a lot of money and becoming rich?

Certainly, these are valid goals, to eat a more healthful diet, to be more active, to become a wiser steward of our finances. But accomplishing these goals will not guarantee happiness. We can grab all the luxuries that life has to offer and still be miserable.

After all, I once told a friend about a man who has a wife, two children, three dogs, two houses and five cars. This friend quipped, "Oh, yeah?! Is he happy yet?" [Umm, no].

Happiness is elusive. We are human, and a gloomy, rainy day, or a rotten day at work, can send our mood plummeting. I believe that happiness is relative, though; it depends far more on gratitude than on a longing for what we lack.

Consider the happiness theory of Abraham Maslow, famous creator of the Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. Before we can truly seek happiness (fulfillment, self-actualization, creativity, acceptance), we all need to meet basic human needs. The most basic of needs, at the  very foundation of our happiness pyramid, he labels "Physiological" -- breathing, food, sleep, emotional and physical stability. Next comes "Safety"-- physical safety, resources, health. Next comes, "Love"-- belonging, family, friends. Next comes "Esteem"-- that is, self-confidence, respect, achievement. Only after we have gained all of these elements can we be free to seek happiness.

I have spoken before about my dysfunctional childhood. I would say to you that I sometimes went hungry; I was often cold; or too hot to sleep; I was scared and always on alert; I was not physically safe; my sleep was affected by my lack of safety; my chronic lung condition was neglected, so my breathing was affected; no one ever hugged me or told me that they loved me;  I had few friends; I felt worthless.  In short, I was miserable.

What does this mean for your life? For one, if you have all these things, food, ability to breathe, physical safety, health, family and friends, some measure of confidence--- then, you are rich indeed.

I was reminded of this recently when I received a prayer request for someone who is a double amputee. This person wanted only a surgical operation that would allow her to sit up in a wheelchair! This is where gratitude comes in! This was God's way of showing me that, despite my past hardships, despite how I struggle even today, I really have nothing to complain about. . . .

When I remember my prayers for this person. I am also able to pray for myself: Thank you, God for every breath, for my food, for my shelter, for my health etc.

Every day, I try to make it my purpose to care for those who have less, who have few or none of
Maslow's basic needs. This brings me back to Matthew 19: 16-21, where Jesus says, "Give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me".

I hear reports of the plight of the poor worldwide and I become sad, almost despondent. I read recently in the New York Times of the chronic food shortage in the country of Congo. In many families, the parents are forced to spread the limited food around on a rotation basis. Some days, some of the children eat, but some do not. And I think, what are we DOING about this? This is not happiness for these families. It is not happiness for me to witness this.

All of this brings me back to the Scripture for today: "Whoever would love life and see good days must keep his tongue from evil. He must seek peace and pursue it."  Now, I see fully that happiness does not depend on my appearance (heavy or thin). Happiness does not depend on my becoming fabulously wealthy or famous. It does not depend upon owning bigger, better, more things than anyone else on the planet.

Happiness comes from seeking peace. It comes from speaking (and doing) good, especially for others.
It comes from turning away from evil. It comes from basic things like breathing, eating, feeling safe, feeling a sense of respect for self and others, and belonging to friends and family. It comes from helping others to achieve these as well.

Many of these elements of happiness are FREE! Freely received by us; freely given to others.  We do not have to be breathtakingly beautiful or extraordinarily wealthy in order to seek peace, help others, avoid evil, cultivate love, nurture gratitude, value our gifts, or show acceptance of others.

Jesus says, "Come follow me". I pray that in seeking peace, avoiding evil, giving to others, expressing gratitude and finding love, that I will see Jesus --and that I will love life and see good days!

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

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Fishers of Men

" As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the waters, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me', Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him." [Mark 1: 16-18].

This Scripture is probably one of the most well-known and beloved in the Bible. Jesus' dramatic call, "Come, follow me", is one of the quintessential elements of Christianity.

Jesus' call is the call to be healed, a call to follow the Way, that leads to love, to peace, to a gentle community. I have spoken before in this space about my dysfunctional, upside down family. I have spoken out about the violence against me, the teachings I received against God, against charity to others, against acceptance of others. I was called ugly every day, I was called a failure. I was told, 'You think of yourself first. We do not give to charity.' I was taught to be suspicious of others.

I ended up alone and scared. Even as a child, I knew that my family did not seem to be saying the right things. All that they said contradicted the love and the security that I craved. And so, at age ten, I decided to retreat. I took a vow to stop speaking. I had given up.

Where is Jesus' call in my life now? I would say to you that it is, first, simply hearing others speaking my name! Jesus is in others greeting me with expressions of  total delight! You see, in my childhood, it was much better, much safer to be invisible. But when someone actually sees me today, and does not look right through me, it means that I am not invisible. I DO exist and I do matter!

There is a thrill in my heart when someone calls me by name; a feeling of joy, that I think will never go away. It is the thrill that comes from the love we have for one another, which is also the love that comes from Jesus!

Sometimes, I still feel worthless and useless. If I imagine that I hear the call of God upon me, I am tempted to dismiss it, because I think, WHY would God call me?! I am No One, I am a Nobody. This circumstance reminds me of the story of Samuel last week. It did not occur to him that this voice calling out to him could be God. If we are so unassuming that we think we have no value, will we miss the call of God and Jesus in our lives?

I went through this when I received the call to convert. There was an insistent, persistent preoccupation inside, with drawing nearer to God. I kept "hearing" in my head, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life" and, "Only say the Word and I shall be healed." It was an odd time for this call to come. I could think of so many other times when this call would have been so much more convenient. But it was there, and it was not going away.

I went to seek advice from a wise mentor. I asked, "Why would God call me? Why would I be called to come closer to Jesus by receiving the Eucharist? I am Nobody. I am only a woman, only a wife and mother. I am nothing special". I thought that, to be called, I had to somehow measure up. The mentor replied, 'Well, the first disciples were only fishermen! -- humble, uneducated, unknown at that time."

This is why, as we are called by Jesus, we need each other. We need to be in community. We can see Jesus best by His reflection in ourselves and in each other. If we cannot speak to one another about the call of Jesus in our lives, we might not recognize Him at all! It is in our prayers for each other, in our love for each other, that we truly recognize Jesus.

It is still painful and difficult for me to reach out. But if I want to expand the reach of Jesus in my life, I must challenge myself to embrace others, from all walks of life. We are called to treat everyone we meet as a son or daughter of God! 

We are all called to follow Jesus, yes. But we are also called to be "fishers of men", like Jesus. And so, I have become a Great Collector of People. Today, in my life, there is my house painter who is Russian, my carpenter who is Jamaican, the lady who comes to help me around the house who is Polish, my best girlfriend who is from Eastern Europe, two other best girlfriends who are each part Native American. I treat everyone as family.

There is some risk, and often a great deal of challenge in responding to the call of Jesus. In Mark 1: 19-20, James and his brother John, upon hearing Jesus' call, leave their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and follow Jesus. To follow Jesus, we must leave our comfortable life behind and "get out of the boat".

We may also have to leave our "fathers"-- that is, to leave our past behind, in order to become a follower of Jesus. Even as a young child, I was beginning to realize that my family had a very tortured sense of the world. As young as age six, I found myself wondering, 'What kind if family did I get?'

As I matured, I found that sometimes, I had to choose between my family's ways and Jesus' Way. That was painful. It still is.  I had to literally leave my father-- and my mother-- behind, and turn to a new Way. But I did not have to forge my way alone. I had Jesus to follow and emulate.

I also have God, who is always there! God, May I see Your gentle and loving ways in everyone I meet.

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

Monday, January 16, 2012

Remembering Martin Luther King

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." --Martin Luther King, in his "I have a Dream" speech, August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

I was alive when Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis. I still remember that day vividly. I was in grade school then. It happened on April 4, 1968. I was outside on the front lawn, waiting for what seemed like forever, to go to my grandparents' house. We had unusually warm weather for early spring. I was wearing spring clothes that day, something known back then as a "playset", because the shorts and top matched.

I  was lying down on the soft grass, closing my eyes and almost falling asleep in the warm sunshine. I had my little transistor radio with me (I am "dating" myself here! We had no Podcasts back then, not even a Sony Walkman).  Suddenly over the radio came a report that Martin Luther King had been shot in Memphis.  I sat straight up as I heard the news. I tried to understand what it meant.

We finally got in the car and went to my grandmother's house. The television was on. I stood stock still in front of the screen. The announcers were saying that Mr. King spoke out for the blacks. Some were hinting that the blacks would riot in the streets, or that we would have another civil war in this country over his death. That scared me.

I was sad that grown ups were saying this about a man who tried to help his people. I was confused over why everyone seemed so fearful of what he had been saying.

I had a family member who called people, with different skin color or ethnicities, all kinds of nasty names. My sibling and I would laugh at these names, the names that seemed so outrageous. Surely he was not serious? Surely he was only mocking about how a bigot would sound? This relative would then turn to us and say, "WHY are you laughing? I am deadly serious!" We would fall silent. Maybe this relative DID mean it. . . .

As I got a little older, I began to more fully understand the impact of Martin Luther King. I was a only a little Anglo girl, growing up in the white suburbs. But I had been bullied for years-- called names for being a girl with a smart brain; called "Four Eyes" for needing to wear glasses; tormented for needing to wear braces to correct my misaligned teeth. I was called traitor because my father was from a different country. I was told, "Go back where you came from! We don't want you here!"  I was called mean names for the shape of my nose.

I would get hurt and angry over this bullying. I shed bitter tears over the unfairness of it all. I could not help that my intelligence was put inside a girl's  body. Nor could I help the shape of my nose, the country of my father, the need for braces or glasses.

At a fairly young age, I figured out that if people could be so hateful to a little white girl, how must it feel to be a person of color in America? And what did this say about the grown-ups? Were we not supposed to treat all of each other as brothers and sisters of God?

Martin Luther King has become one of my heroes, because he spoke the Truth. He said that the United States of America had undergone a civil war, but blacks in our country were still not free.

I have a dear friend who is like a mother to me. She was active in the civil rights movement at the time. She tells me that at the time that Martin Luther King was speaking out, many other clergy were trying to silence him. Yes, clergy were telling him not to speak the Truth!

Even as a child, I knew the Truth about bigotry. Today, I tell my son stories about the civil rights movement. When he says things to me like, "Mommy, it's okay to be different!", I cry real tears, but they are tears of joy. He knows the Truth. He speaks it. He lives it.

Today he asked me, at what time did Martin Luther King die? When I asked why, he said, "Because I want to hold a minute of silence for Martin Luther King then." I did not know the answer, so we looked it up on Google.

The site that came up was Wikipedia. When we opened the site, the entire article about Martin Luther King was replaced by text that said, "We don't care, we don't care. we don't care.... etc." Filling the whole page. Someone had gone in and edited the article to become an article of Hate.

Very quickly, someone at Wikipedia wiped out those words. Then they set to the task of restoring the original article.

I cried when I saw how someone had defaced the piece on Martin Luther King. My son saw my tears, but I did not care! He needs to see those tears. He hugged me and tried to console me.

I told him, my voice shaking, "They murdered him because he dared to speak the Truth! I will never stop speaking the Truth! And you must grow up to speak the Truth too!"

It is so sad to me that, on the day in which we honor Martin Luther King, racism still lives.  King had a dream that his four little children would one day be judged only for their character and not the color of their skin.

I am still waiting for that day. I had hoped that by the time of my son's generation, we would know better, understand better, and love more.

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

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Here I am, Lord!

" The boy Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, near the ark of God. Then the Lord called Samuel. Samuel answered, 'Here I am.' And he ran to Eli and said, 'Here I am, you called me.' But Eli said, 'I did not call you; go back and lie down.' So he went and lay down. Again the Lord called, 'Samuel!' And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, 'Here I am; you called me.'  'My son,' said Eli, 'I did not call; go back and lie down.' Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. The Lord called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, 'Here I am; you called me.'  Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, 'Go to sleep and if you are called, reply, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.' '  When Samuel went to sleep in his place, the Lord came and revealed his presence, calling out as before, 'Samuel, Samuel.' Samuel answered, 'Speak, for your servant is listening.' [1 Samuel 3: 1-11].

This Scripture is from the Old Testament, from before the time of Jesus. Eli was a high priest who kept watch in the innermost room of the temple, where the ark of God was safeguarded. Samuel was dedicated to the service of God by his mother, Hannah. Eli trained Samuel in the ways of the Lord.

It always amazes me how close to God that our children are. I remember when my son was very young, perhaps only age six or so. He had just begun his formal religious instruction at our church. He had learned about how God is very powerful and all present. One day, my son asked, "Where is God?' I said, "He is everywhere, but you cannot see Him."

My son wanted to know, "Does God have eyes to see me?" I said, no, but He is all seeing.

So my son went into another room and shouted out to me, "Can God see me now?!" I said, yes. He was amazed. Then he went to the pantry that has only one window. He asked," Can He see me now?" I said, yes. Then he went into the powder room, with no window and asked, "Can He see me now?" I said, yes! My son wanted to know, if he hid in the deepest corner of his closet, could God see Him? I said, yes!

We may object that we are too young to see God. I have found it to be the opposite. God is available to all of us. Many years ago now, I was attending church faithfully, but I had not challenged myself to find a church and actually join as a parishioner--not only to commit myself to attending Mass, but also to receiving Communion as a full member of a faith community.

It was my son who came to me, concerned! My dear boy was worried about my soul! He said, "Mommy, why don't you go up with us for Communion?"  I dithered and waffled. "Well", I said "I was not born into this denomination; I don't want to go back to the church of my original denomination, in which I was raised; and even if I did that I would have to attend church alone because you and Daddy go to this church; maybe someday I will figure all this out. . . ." My son was not buying this. Week after week, he persisted with his questions.

God can come to us in any form. Sometimes, God calls our children first! God sent my son, to gently nudge me to come nearer to Him. How could I say no to my own son? Here was my son who had called me, and my own son who, by sharing his religious lessons, was helping me to learn about God!

God waits for us to be ready to respond.  Samuel, at the time of this story, did not yet know the Lord. The Lord had not yet revealed Himself to him. Perhaps the Lord did not feel that Samuel was ready.

Before my young son spoke to me repeatedly about participating in the Eucharist, I had thought that I was doing the best that I could with my faith. I thought that attending Mass weekly, with him and my husband, was "good enough". I suppose I was not ready to take the next step in my faith.

When my son began speaking to me regularly about receiving Communion, I did not recognize that this was really God calling me! Then, my life fell apart. My father died abruptly. He was gone in minutes, before the ambulance even came. It fell to me as the daughter to care for my elderly mother. Just as I took her on, my best friend was dying from cancer, a virulent form of the disease. She had fought bravely for years.  She was a young wife and mother. I was devastated. I was angry, this was not fair!

I was totally upside down and backwards. I had lost my "compass". Often I did not even know what day it was. I thought God was "gone". Some wise soul gave me advice: "God is NOT gone. You must meditate and pray. Do not be afraid of the tears."

 As soon as I began to pray on a regular basis, God came back into my life. But I did not understand what He was saying. I kept "hearing" the words "Only say the Word and I shall be healed." This is the call to Communion. I kept hearing, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life". This is Jesus' call to follow Him! I kept trying to reject this nagging conviction that I needed to finally choose a church and receive Communion again.

God persisted with me. But it was not a shout or a cacophony of noise.  God comes to us in the quiet, and only if we are listening. It can be a poignant feeling.  A whisper. A gorgeous moment in nature. He appeals to our senses. He appeals to us in the way we are most susceptible to noticing.  He can appeal to you night and day, but you must recognize Him for who He is.

What I felt was such despair, that I was necessarily drawn to the only One much wiser, much gentler, much more merciful that anyone on earth. I needed that in my life then. I still do. I need the infinite, the unconditional love of the Holy One.

I also needed the assistance of  my son, of my pastor, of my Bible teacher, of my family, to recognize God.  Samuel could not recognize God alone.  We cannot recognize God alone.

We recognize God every time we attend Mass with our fellow Christians; every time we receive the Eucharist; every time we pray for someone; or with someone. And we have only to answer His call!

Every day now, I pray in the morning. It is a wonderful, peaceful way to begin the day. The first thing I say to God is, "Here I am, Lord! Let me do what You will!" And now I understand that I can never predict how or when He will call me!

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

Friday, January 13, 2012

A Child's Hunger

" Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, 'Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life'  Jesus replied, ' There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.'
 'All of these I have kept,' the young man said. 'What do I still lack?' Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then, come follow me.' [Matthew 19: 16-21].

January is National Poverty Awareness Month.

In America, that is somewhat ironic, isn't it? January is the month when we run out to all the post-Christmas sales, and buy up everything we did not get for Christmas. As if there were not enough gifts under the tree already. . . . January is also the month when the nation goes on a diet, because of all the excessive eating we did from Thanksgiving until New Year's. January is the month when stores have sales on storage containers, so we can stash all our stuff in perfect plastic containers.

Do we even think of those who cannot put together dinner for themselves and the kids every night? Or of those who don't have twenty sweaters; in fact, they do not have even one?

When I was a child, we had a nice home and there was always food to eat. Nevertheless, at mealtime, I was given a plate of food-- and if I did not eat it, nothing else was given to me. For breakfast, it was oatmeal in the winter and cold cereal in the summer. The oatmeal tasted nasty to me, like some sort of cruel, thick paste with grit in it. My dad would tell me wonderful stories about Goldilocks and the three bears to get me to eat my oatmeal. I would take a few bites and gag.

This was not about a petulant teenager refusing to eat oatmeal if it was not "just right". This was about a two or three year old baby girl, strapped into a high chair, being force fed oatmeal by a parent.  There is something abusive about this, when the baby was choking and gagging and sobbing for the parent to stop. There is something cruel about this, when there was plenty of other food in the house that could have been offered that was equivalent, such as a piece of whole grain toast. Instead, the choice was force fed oatmeal-- or no breakfast at all.

I became obsessed with what I would be offered for dinner. As soon as I got up in the morning, at first light, I would ask my mother what was for dinner? What I really wanted to know is whether I would be able to eat that night. She would get irritated at me and tell me to stop asking.

Once, after Thanksgiving, I was at a friend's house. She offered me some holiday left-overs. I feasted on cold turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce and coconut custard pie. These foods tasted like the best things I had ever eaten. Then I went home because I heard my mother calling me for lunch. She was furious with me for having eaten and she sent me to my room. I was recently telling a wise woman in my life this story and she said, 'She punished you for being hungry.'

I used to have frequent headaches when I was a child. I could not focus in school. I was always cold. I was always exhausted. I was told, 'You cannot be cold. Why are you always so tired? What's wrong with you?' All of these symptoms are caused by hunger. My hunger was apparently my "fault".

I took to hoarding Halloween candy in a big shopping bag in my room. The bag was the kind you get at a fancy department store. One July, my mother found my stash hidden under the the upholstered chair in my room. The chocolate had turned white and the hard candies were sticky and gooey. She became angry. 'WHY are you keeping this?!", she said. Then she threw my food safety net away.

Today, I still get anxious if my shelves are getting bare, or if my shopping list is too long. I still eat half my dinner sometimes, and save the rest for lunch the next day.

After my husband and I got married, a stray cat who came to our door and never left. When I fed her, she would always leave some food in her bowl. Then, she would ceremonially scrape her paw around the bowl after she ate. She was "burying" her food for another time. When I put away some of my meal for another time, my husband says to me, "Stop burying your food!"

My point is, the fear of hunger never goes away, even if you are an adult, able to provide enough food for yourself. You can lift the child out of hunger but you cannot take the hunger out of the child. The scars are life-long.The fear of wondering where your next meal is coming from is always there.

Today, I feed everyone. I make a double batch of brownies and send some over to the neighbor who lost his wife. I pounce on a "Buy- One-Get-One Free" Special at the market and donate the extra one to someone in need. If I can get this special PLUS a discount coupon, my son and I do high-fives! Recently, I hosted an Open House at my home. I put a pot of coffee on, baked some cookies and opened my door. I told everyone, please do not bring me anything: no flowers, no scented candles, no candy.  Just bring an item for the town food pantry. My husband and I ended up bringing over 5 bags of food to the town pantry. The volunteers at the pantry were thrilled.

You may say, 'Why should I feed others? They need to help themselves.'  But, I say, when you feed others, you are feeding a child hope.

Perhaps this January, you are trying yet again to be Perfect: to lose weight, to save money, to get organized. These are all worthy goals.

But to be truly perfect, in God's eyes, you must give to the poor. Then you will truly have treasure in Heaven.

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

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Magi

" After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, 'Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.' When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed. . . He called together all the chief priests and scribes and asked them where the Christ was to be born, 'In Bethlehem', they replied, 'for this is what the prophet has written.' Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and make careful search for the child. A soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.'

The Magi went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. They saw the child with his mother Mary and they bowed down and worshipped him. They presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream: 'Get up', he said, 'take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.' "[ Matthew 2: 1-13].

January 8 is Epiphany, or Three Kings Day. It is the day when we celebrate the arrival of the Magi at the place where Jesus was born. It is also the day in the Christian calendar when the Christmas season officially ends.

I think that every Christian child must know this story. We think of the Kings bearing gifts and we realize that, in its simplest sense, this is a story that explains why we give gifts at Christmas time.

But it is a story about so much more than that. It is a story of secular kings worshipping a tiny baby lying in a manger. It is a story of the exalted royalty of this earth paying homage to a tiny, but divine infant resting in the humblest of environments. This contrast is a foretelling of Jesus' lesson of "The humble shall be exalted, and the exalted shall be humbled." [Matthew 23:12].

Who are the Magi? Some say that they were wise men, in the priestly class. I think of them as the intellectuals of their day. A dear relative of mine was recently admonished, "YOU are Christian??!! You are way too smart for that!"  I love this story of the Magi, because it tells me that wise men (and women) are indeed followers of Christ.

Others say that the Magi are Kings from various regions. This teaches me that Jesus is there for ALL of us, no matter where we are from. And so, it is fitting that we call him a King of all nations.

As the Magi went on their journey, the star to the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the baby Jesus lay. It is then that the Magi were overjoyed! I love this image! Here, I see that, like the Magi, we are all on a spiritual journey, seeking Jesus, finding joy. In that journey, the star is always ahead of us in our sight, and that star is the light of Jesus.

As we pursue our life as followers of Jesus, we need to keep our eyes heavenward, towards His light. But we are not alone in our journey. We travel together, as the Magi did.

Yet, there are dangers to us as Christians. There are those who wanted to kill Jesus, and there are those who will hate us and pursue us as His followers, as well. King Herod feared Jesus' power, which Herod knew would be far greater than any earthly power that he would have as king.

The Magi obeyed God, who came to them in dream and warned them not to return to Jerusalem. They did not obey their earthly King Herod's command, to return and tell him where Jesus was. There are times when we must "Give to God what is God's". [Matthew 22:21].

And so, the Magi did not return to Jerusalem as King Herod asked. They took a different route. I have had to do that myself in my journey as a Christian. I have had to tuck my cross necklace under my shirt at times, so as not to invite non-believers' mockery and blasphemy.  I have had to go off to church quietly and not rub it into the faces of the unfaithful in my life. I do not ever apologize for my faith, but I do not foolishly walk straight into persecution either. Sometimes detours in our journey are justified.

There are also dangers in those who will deny you your faith. King Herod wanted to find Jesus and kill him. Who are the Herod's in YOUR life, who would steal your faith, your gifts, your joy?  After I reached age 14, my family refused to take me to church. They were not joyful people, certainly not hopeful in placing their faith in God. They did not think much of my gifts either, and they did not allow me to to pursue them. I have learned in my walk as a Christian that I need to "outwalk" those deniers, and outsmart them, just as the Magi did.

The Magi fulfilled their destiny by going out and spreading the word about the Christ child. We are to do the same: to spread the Word, to live the Word, to follow the Way, despite the dangers.

The threat against Jesus, from Herod, foretells Jesus' ultimate Crufixion. But the Herod's of the world cannot win out over the abiding Power of Jesus' love, and His eternal reign. And Jesus will take us with Him, if we only believe in Him and follow His light!

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

Thursday, January 5, 2012

My Year in Words

" Only say the word and I shall be healed."

In the beginning, in my childhood, my home was an upside down and backwards place. The people who were supposed to feed me, did not. The people who were supposed to put me into my bed for naps, did not. The people who were supposed to keep me warm, did not give me a sweater.

Every day, I was called ugly. Sometimes I was hit. There were not proper boundaries between adults and children. I began to wonder who I really was?

At age ten, I took a vow of silence. There was nothing wrong with my voice. I simple decided to stop speaking.

This silence was an act of defiance. This vow said, "If you treat me this way, you cannot have me. I do not give myself to you. I am 'going away' ". So I retreated into myself.

This silence was an act of self-defense. I thought that if I ceased speaking, no one would notice me and They would leave me alone.

This silence lasted for years because for years, my situation did not change.

I did not become frozen in my verbal development, however. I would sit in my room and read and read and read. I read books from the library, I read the back of the cereal box, I read my brother's (boring) science magazines, I even read the dictionary. Today, I talk in a very "bookish manner" but I do speak.

On January 5, 2011, I started writing this blog. I did it on sort of a dare. I did it because I was kind of down and listless after Christmas. My husband said, "What you need is a blog!"

I went upstairs to our computer and twenty minutes later, Spiritual Devotional was born.

I have been astonished at the response -- and all on word of mouth. I have been read in 6 continents and in over 40 different countries. That's North America, the Caribbean, Western Europe, Eastern Europe, Africa, India, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. Every time I think that I cannot gain a reader in another country, I do.

When I stopped speaking, I gave up on humans. You could also say that I gave up on myself.

So it is a miracle that I am speaking again. It is an even bigger miracle that I am speaking to the whole world.

I really do not think that my story is that compelling. O is it my writing? What does the world see in me?

I believe that it is a spiritual hunger, the world wide over. I have prayed that the Holy Spirit will help me to write inspiring words. I have prayed to reach whoever needs to hear a message of hope. I have prayed that my blog will begin a world-wide conversation on the deeper questions of life.

This is, indeed, happening. You are asking how to be happy, how to face the sin we encounter every day, how to accept God in your life, how to forgive.

I do not have all the answers. I seek only to tell my story and I hope that it helps another soul who is struggling, as I am.

Who am I? I choose not to give my name. This gives me the freedom and the privacy to speak. But more than that, this blog tells a story, not so much about me, but about God and the universal human condition. It does not matter who I am. I am not trying to glorify myself. That status belongs to God.

Some would say that I am a Prophet. Well, Jesus calls all of us to be prophets-- to speak the Word to others, in order to make the world a better place. My aim is only to tell the Truth. I was told a lot of lies when I was a child. I am now a Truth Seeker. I want to share the truths I have found.

You notice that there are no ads on my blog. That is intentional. This is a ministry, and I want it to be a sacred, meditational space, a refuge from the clutter of our modern lives.

I respect my readers' privacy as well. I do not publish stat's on traffic sources, countries of origin etc.

Some have criticized my blog as not being a valid substitute for attending church or receiving the Sacraments, or being in community with other people of faith. I totally agree! This space is only a point of access to your faith and your spirituality. If my writing inspires you to meditate and pray, to attend church, or help a neighbor, to talk to your pastor, or or reflect on what your life is all about, then the Holy Spirit has done its job!

I publish a posting twice a week, once over the weekend based on Sunday's readings; and once during mid-week on various other topics of interest. I tend to follow a theme for each month. For example, Love in February, Lent in March etc. During July and August, I publish only once per week. I liberally reference Scripture chapter and verse to make it easier for you to transform each posting into a simple Bible study.

What does the future hold? I am thinking about maybe an app someday? Or a Podcast? Or even a devotional book for each liturgical year?  Right now, for me, the best place to be is fully in the present. The past is something that I cannot change, the future is something I cannot worry about. So regarding all these future ideas, I say, God will bring me to where He chooses me to go!

Dear Friends, thank you for your readership. Thank you for your faith. If you enjoy reading my blog, pass the link along!

It has been a great year, in word, AND indeed!

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

This vow of silence

Monday, January 2, 2012

Solemnity of Mary

" There were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said, to them,' Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. . . . Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.' When the angels had left them, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.' So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger. . . . They spread the word concerning what was told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed. But Mary treasured these things, reflecting upon them in her heart." [Luke 2: 8-19].

January 1 is the Feast of the Solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, The Mother of God.  How fitting that we should honor Mary with this day, in the midst of the Christmas season!

Mary has been honored with many names. Her name, Mary, means, "Star of the Sea", for she resembles to us a bright beacon of light in dark stormy seas. She has also been called Our Blessed Mother; Madonna or Our Lady; Mother of Mercy [Salve Regina]; Virgin Mother; Mother of God (as Jesus is God in human form); Queen of Peace; Treasure of the Lord; Holy Vessel; and Virgin Mary.

Catholics, somewhat erroneously, pray to Her. In reality, prayers to Mary are considered to be our supplications that Mary pray FOR us. As the Mother of God, she is imbued, we believe, with the power to intercede with God on our behalf.

Clearly, Mary is a compelling, and even a mysterious, figure. Maybe she fascinates us so much because relatively little is known about her. After all, Jesus has the entire Bible devoted to him and his teachings. Mary is steadfastly there, throughout the story of His life, a faithful, beautiful, holy, devoted Mother.

On this, Mary's Feast Day, I wonder who she really was? I reflect upon what Mary really means to me and to my life.

We know that Mary was young and pure when Jesus was born. Historians believe that, consistent with the times, Mary was probably about 14, uneducated, a simple peasant girl. When I think of Jesus' birth, I wonder at how it must have been for Mary to give birth in a stable? But, I do not despair of her lowly origins or her humble story! In fact, I admire her even more for this. Mary's life teaches me that God does not choose only the prominent, the wealthy and the well-connected, as his beloved servants. When I see how God moved in Mary's life, I feel that  there is hope for me!  I am a mother, a simple human being, a "Nobody"; but if God can choose Mary, He can choose any of us!

Mary was human, not part divine like her Son, Jesus. She was chosen by God, but she possessed no miraculous powers. She was a mother above all. She desired merely to raise her Son in God's peaceful, humble, gentle ways. Jesus, of course, changed the world! Mary, in her own way, changed the world, as well. Mothers can change the world, in the ways in which they raise their children. I am so drawn to that experience of motherhood! The world wants to denigrate and devalue motherhood. Mary teaches otherwise!

In this way, Mary is a beacon of Motherhood. To follow Jesus as a Christian, I sometimes fail miserably. Then I get upset with myself. I ask myself, 'Who am I to try to follow Jesus, one who is part divine?"  I fall down in my Christian journey, then I get up and I keep trying; and I hope that God loves me for that. But Mary is one I can turn to over and over again, because she is a mother and fully human, just as I am.

God knows me as a mother and He knows that I need Him every day if I am going to be a good mother. But in choosing Mary, God shows us that He needs us humans in order to carry out His plan. I may feel much less than worthy every day of my life, but knowing that God needs me, I am much more eager to rise to His call with grace and eagerness.

A mothers' walk is a difficult and fearsome journey. Mary felt fear, even before her journey as the Mother of God began. When the angel Gabriel came to her, to announce that she would bear the Son of God, Mary was afraid. How I want to emulate Mary in this instance because, no matter how terrified she was, she said, ' Yes!' to God!  Courage is not lack of fear. Courage is feeling fear and doing it anyway. Many days, I begin and end my prayers with, "Here I am Lord. Let me do what You will!"  In this way, I want to follow in Mary's journey. This means that sometimes, God's path is not at all what I had in mind. Oftentimes, to follow God's plan for me, I may be afraid, but I will myself to follow His call anyway.

How in the world did Mary obey God in this way? Well, she was totally open to God and His will. In Luke 1: 26-38, Mary replies to Gabriel, "Let it be done to me according to your word." Perhaps in these modern times, we would say that Mary is too subservient here. We would say that she is not being proactive in setting her goals for herself, or thinking creatively about her life. For me, what I see in Mary here is the guts to become an open and Holy Vessel to God's plan for her. How many of us have the courage to open ourselves totally to God in that way?

And in saying yes to God, her One True God, Mary defied the rule of Rome. How important it is as a mother to have the courage to "defy Rome"-- to go against what is popular or convenient at the time, and to stand for what is just and right! For if mothers do not stand against the materialistic, selfish, superficial ways of the world, their children will all too easily lose sight of God.

Mary raised Jesus but then she had to let him go into the world.. When Jesus was 12, he and his parents went to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover. His parents left after the Feast, thinking he was with them. When they realized he was not with them, they spent 3 frantic days looking for him. They found him in the Temple, talking with the priests. When they told him that they had been looking for him, he said, "Why. . . .? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's  House?"

Then, when he was an adult, she watched, heartbreakingly, as he was crucified. She had to witness his suffering and let Him return to God. As a mother, I want to raise my son at home, but then, I pray that I may be loving enough to give him to the world. My son is merely one whom I raise, and whom I borrow for awhile. But he is his own person, belonging ultimately to God, even from his birth.  Can I be so loving as to let him go, when it is time? And when I do let my son go, I pray that I may be humble enough to give him credit for his gifts, which are his, from God, and are not my gifts.

I wonder, how could Mary let go? I believe that she had to trust God! My own faith in God falters sometimes. I am only human. In the darkest of times, I wonder if God is still there and if all the traumas and deep pain I face could really be part of His plan for me? Mary had that faith and trust. Oh, that I had that faith and trust in abundance as she had!

But what I love most about Mary is how, in the Scripture quoted above, she is said to "treasure these things, reflecting upon them in her heart." I never want to become jaded by all the miraculous things in my life that God has to offer. Like Mary, I want to reflect upon all the instances of God's glory in my life: my major breakthroughs in faith, but also those tiny moments during the day when I can feel God's presence. I can treasure these things only if, like Mary, I spend time in reflection, treasuring the small but sacred moments in my day. This requires me to slow down!

God, You sent Mary into the world to become a Mother to us all!

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