Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Love is . . . Forgiveness

"Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. To our most bitter opponents we say: 'We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We shall meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. Throw us in jail and we shall still love you.  Send us your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead and we shall still love you. But rest ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer.' " [Martin Luther King, Jr.]

In the United States, February is Black History Month. This is a month-long celebration of black Americans who made an indelible contribution to this country. In the month of February, we commemorate the strength of African Americans, who for over 200 years in America, never had a recorded history. This piece is the last of three of the 2012 Black History Month celebration.

[Related posts: "Love is . . . Courage", January 8, 2012;  " Love is . . . . Truth",  January 8, 2012 ";  "Remembering Martin Luther King", January 16, 2012; and Martin Luther King, January 17, 2011].

I remember Martin Luther King, Jr. when I was growing up, but I have dim memories of his place in history. I was a young girl when he was gunned down in Memphis, TN in 1968. Some grown-ups saw him as a galvanizing force, a man of color who dared to speak the truth. Others, in my white world, saw him as a danger to society and to the established order of things. This dichotomy troubled me. Would blacks and whites so deeply disagree that we would see riots and even civil war in the streets, as some adults hinted?

There is no doubt that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a visionary.  His words are thrilling, and ring true even today. I know a woman who was a civil rights worker during King's day. She met him and heard him speak. She says that he had such charisma, she would have followed him anywhere.

What is Martin Luther King's legacy today? I have not begun to plumb the depths of his extensive writings. But his message is still modern and relevant in current times.

Martin Luther King said that "there are some things in our world to which men of goodwill must be maladjusted." [Love is . . . . Truth"]. In other words, Love is the discernment of injustice in our world.  If we accept the status quo, we accept 'moral degeneracy, bigotry, the insanity of militarism and self defeat.'

Love is also being brave enough to take action. ["Love is . . .  Courage"].  I think of the Tuskegee Airmen during WWII, who clearly saw that Hitler's assassination of millions of people was insane-- and who bravely decided to do something about it.

Love in the end, is Forgiveness.  For what end would we fight for justice, only to annihilate the enemy in the process? Do we not all want only peace, in the end?

How far would you go to achieve peace, in your family, in your church, in your workplace, in your neighborhood, in your town, in your country, in your world?

I confess that I had to learn love and forgiveness the hard way. My upside down, backwards family was a closed system. The blinds were drawn at our windows at all times, we were an intensely private people, and no one came in to shed light onto the darkness.

At age 4, I almost drowned in a neighbor's pool. My mother pulled me out just in time. My family dealt with every crisis with silence. We never spoke of this event again. I could not fight that repression . I learned to swim

At age five, I was told that I was too old for a nap. The fatigue overwhelmed me, though. I could not fight the fatigue and I could not win the argument over naps. I put myself down for naps from then, on.

At age seven, I was diagnosed with asthma. I did not want this disease that left me gasping for breath and coughing all night. I was told to sit in bed and not get up. I could not fight this, my body was fighting me enough. I learned to love to read and knit and listen to music.

At age ten, there were  daily arguments over making me eat the food put in front of me. The battles were becoming intolerable. I could not eat that gluey oatmeal, that cold mush that passed for cereal, the greasy hotdogs, the four day old roast beef for dinner. I ate what I could and left the rest. I learned to eat more lunch at school or more snacks at the neighbor's.

When a family member called me ugly on a daily basis, and sometimes hit me, I hid in my room, or if he invaded that space, I left the house.  I learned to walk away.

At age 14, my parents stopped taking me to church. I learned that I could still believe in my heart, even if I could not profess my faith

When I went away to graduate school, I was the victim of a violent crime. I was beaten and left for dead. I almost died that day. My parents visited briefly, saw that I was alive, and left me in that far away city. I learned the kindess of strangers. I earned top grades and graduated with honors.

I agree with Martin Luther King when he said, "We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you.  Beat us and leave us half dead and we shall still love you."

I agree, because I have lived these principles. Even as a child, I determined to live right, rather than to give in to the offenses against me. I loved my parents, even though they were wrong, and I had to suffer for it. There was no way I could become them. But to survive, I had to make peace. In loving them, I had to love enough to forgive.

HOW could I have done this as a mere child? I believe that my childhood determination was a sign of God's grace. It is also a testament to the human spirit-- the spirit in us that desires, that craves, peace and forgiveness. That longing, in the end, is for LOVE. Love defines us. Love makes us human. Love saves us.

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

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Color of Lent

" God said to Noah and to his sons with him: "I now establish my covenant with you, and with your descendants after you, and with every living creature that was with you [in the ark]-- the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals. . every living creature on earth.. . . This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you, and every living creature with you. I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant.  Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living ccreatures of every kind on earth." [Genesis 9: 8-16].

In this story from Genesis, God becomes distraught and angry at how the first humans on earth became wicked and disobedient. To save Noah, the only righteous man, God tells Noah to build an ark, and to go on board with all the creatures on earth.

Then, God floods the earth, wiping out all iniquity. When the flood clears, God promises that He will never again flood the earth. He sets a rainbow above the clouds as a sign of this covenant.

I was surprised to read this Scripture this week, for a Mass during Lent. I always thought of Lent as a dark, deep place. Lent is a desert, a gloomy cave, a hidden recess inside me, cradling the depths of despair. I dread Lent. I do not want to go into that place inhabited by my dark side.

I have written before in this space of my experiences of Lent. During March 2007, a dear family friend  died of cancer. Then a week or so later, my best girlfriend, who had been battling leukemia, found out that the cancer had returned. Two weeks later, my father died suddenly.

During Lent of 2008, my best girlfriend died, a young mother with a husband and two children.  This is the kind of experience when life feels so painful and so fruitless and so very unjust! You wonder where God is?

In late winter 2009, my mother-in-law died of cancer, which she had been battling for only two months. Then, just as Lent 2009 began, my own mother went to sleep one night and passed away.  

During Lent of 2011 and 2011, I have been concentrating on emotional and spiritual healing from my past traumas. This Lent, I am battling some serious health issues, also a legacy from my past.

So, what is YOUR Lent? And what color is your Lent? Do you feel as if you are drowning in a sea of gray? Do you see on the horizon only that sickening green-gray sky, that warns of a tumultuous storm? Or ominous thunder clouds and terrifying lightning?

In this Scripture, God promises us rainbows after the storm! I have actually witnessed this new promise myself! The first time, I thought it was a mere coincidence. My husband and I had traveled out West for a cousin's wedding. When I left work for my trip, I had just uncovered a major fraud on some of my customers, carried out by a client. A firestorm was brewing and I would be on vacation. Sure enough, when I arrived at our first destination, at a lodge at the base of a mountain, the messages were already starting to pile up for me in voice mail.

I barely slept that night. My husband was annoyed, urging me to forget this crisis and enjoy our trip. The next morning, I retrieved a message that my company had been sued-- even though I had discovered the fraud!

I went downstairs to check out at the desk and bring our bags to the car. I stepped out into the fresh mountain air and discovered a hug rainbow, stretching over the mountains! The arc of color seemed to go on forever. I asked, "God? Is that You? Will everything be okay?"

About ten years later, we had bought a house and I had become a mother.  I was not working because I was home caring for our baby. My husband was working hard, in a bad economy, to support us. We were packing for an expensive trip down South to visit in-laws, when we discovered a leak in the basement.  A call to the plumber confirmed our worst fears. We might have to rework the plumbing and the main line into the house. That could cost over $10,000!! That was certainly money we did not have.

Once again, I became distraught and could not look forward to our trip. I was anxious and down when we arrived on the ground. As we began driving down the highway to my in-law's, to make matters worse, it began to pour rain. Once there, we took the bags inside and said our greetings.

I decided that a walk might do me good. The rain was letting up. I went outside, and as I was tying my sneakers, I looked up to see the hugest rainbow I have EVER seen. It began behind the house and stretched out over the entire residential development. My son, my husband and my in-laws all came out to witness it.

I started to believe that God really can send me rainbows! I felt as if God had "made everything new". [Revelation 21-5].   I said, excitedly, "This is the day the Lord has made!' [Psalm 118].

We all have to face our Lent. We cannot ignore those dark times. The only way around the Lent in our lives is through it. In my case, my seasons of Lent have sometimes eased, to the point where I have almost forgotten them. In other cases, my seasons of Lent have left permanent damage.

Jesus proves in the Gospel of  Mark that we must at times enter the desert. Mark 1: 12 says, "The Spirit sent Jesus out into the desert and he was in the desert forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him."  I become scared and despairing at this image of Jesus battling Satan. I fear even more the battles with my own demons. Will I prevail? Will I sink into a lonely abyss.

But Jesus was not alone! He was with the Spirit and the wild animals, and the angels comforted him. Neither are we alone.

And at the end of our travails is a shimmering rainbow! That is God's promise. He will never let us down. That rainbow is the Easter, the Resurrection, at the end of the long, painful night of Lent. How good it will feel to witness it!

[Related postings: My Lent, March 12, 2011].

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

Friday, February 24, 2012

A World of Prayer

During Lent, Christians are called to spend more time in prayer, meditation and reflection.  I was never taught to pray as a child.  Now, I find that I cannot do without it!

During Lent, I have added a new feature to this space, called Prayer Requests. To send a Prayer Request, scroll down to the bottom of your screen and follow the instructions in the text. [I have asked for first names or initials only. You may also specify your country location].

This is an experiment, during Lent only. But if it is successful, this feature will continue.

Prayers labeled "Public" will be eligible to be published on a periodic basis in future postings! In this way, the Spiritual Devotional community can pray for each other.

If volume of requests warrants, I will arrange to have prayer requests sent to a monastery, or other religious community.

Event Note:  March 2, 2012 is World Day of Prayer!  The program this year is being set by the women of Malaysia. The theme is "Let Justice Prevail". Check out the website at worlddayof for more information, or Google "World Day Of Prayer International Committee".

Please check in your community for a World Day of Prayer event.  If there is no formal event in your area, I would love to imagine you spending a quiet moment in prayer that day, either in solitude or in community with others!

Prayers and blessings,

The Spiritual Devotional

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My Visible Faith

"Jesus said to his disciples, "When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the temples and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have [already]received their reward [from worldly praise]. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father will repay you." [Matthew 6: 106, 16-18].

Today is Ash Wednesday, the day that begins the season of Lent in the Christian church. On this day, Catholics, especially, go to church to receive ashes on their forehead in the sign of the cross. It is a sign of our repentence, a symbol of our deep commitment to following Christ.

Ashes on one's forehead are a very visible sign of being a Christian. There are other signs-- perhaps wearing a cross necklace, or placing a certain bumpr sticker on one's car. These days, it seems, Visible Christian have become targets of biased and even hateful remarks.

We have become largely a secular society. There has been intense debate lately in the United States over how visible Christians should be in our everyday life. Presidential  candidates are even trading barbs over who is a more "authentic Christian".

Then, there is the Reading from today, in which Jesus talks about those who would pray conspicuously in public. Is this wrong? Can we Christians feel justified to even pray out loud in public? Jesus teaches us in this lesson that we must pray humbly, in secret, in our inner rooms. Prayer is to be quiet, alone, in secret.

I heard a wonderful story in the last few weeks about a woman named Pam and her husband who were missionaries in the Philippines a few decades ago. Pam became seriously ill with dysentery. She lasped into a coma and received many strong medications. As she recovered, it was discovered that she was pregnant. Because of her coma and the medications, her doctors urged her to abort the fetus. But she had prayed for a son.

Pam asked God, " If you will give us a son, we will name him Timothy and we will make him a preacher." This reminds me of the story of  Samuel 1: 24-28, and how Samuels' mother Hannah brought Samuel to the priest Eli to be dedicated to God. Hannah said to Eli: "As surely as you live, my lord, I prayed for this child, and the Lord granted me what I asked of him. So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord."

The woman, Pam, in our story did give birth to a healthy baby boy. She did name him Timothy. Who is this Timothy? He is Tim Tebow, starting quarterback for the NFL Denver Broncos football team. And he prays in the field, kneeling down, head bowed, during games. This public prayer stance has been labeled "Tebowing". Young school children have taken to mimicking him, but there have been many raised eyebrows over this public prayer.

There have been furious criticisms of Tebow in the press, based on the Scripture from Matthew above, regarding not praying "on street corners". People are saying that he is hypocritical, or a show-off.

I say no. Tim Tebow is a seamless Christian. He refuses to make his faith a hidden part of him. He is not ostentatious, he is genuine in his faith. His life is dedicated to God. He makes no apologies to that.

I hate to see a world in which we are afraid to show ourselves as Christian. When I was fourteen, my family stopped taking me to church. I think my parents wanted me to be sure that I was not a "little heathen", unbaptized,  unconfirmed. But after those rites were accomplished, we ended our religious affiliation. My parents' "mistake", if you will, was to take me to a place where I would come to believe in God and in a sacred faith inside me.

My faith had been kindled in that church. When church was taken away, I took my faith underground. There was nowhere else for it to go. I became a fractured Christian, an Invisible Christian. This is still painful. "The desire for God is written upon the human heart". [Catholic Catechism, Part I].

As a young adult, I took to wearing my gold crucifix under my shirt. After I married a Christian, I pretended to my family that I was not going to church. when family came over, I hid my Bible upstairs.  Shall we deny this essential part of ourselves?

Jesus in this Scripture teaches us not to show off as Christians, when there is all show and no heartfelt faith. He does not teach us to hide in fear as Christians.

A dear friend used to admonish me, "God wants you to be yourself." On this Ash Wednesday, how far will you go to become a Visible Christian?

[ Related Posts: The Invisible Catholic, March 9, 2011; Is Christmas Illegal, December 21, 2011; A  Life Divided, February 3, 2012].

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

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Heal Me

" When Jesus again entered Capernaum, . . .so many gathered that there was no room left, . . .and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, 'Son, your sins are forgiven.'  Some of the teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, 'Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?' Jesus said to them, 'Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier to say: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven', or to say,' Get up, take your mat and walk?' But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.' He said to the paralytic, 'I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.' He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone. They said, 'We have never seen anything like this.' "  [Mark 2: 1-12].

This parable is another one of the many instances which the scribes and teachers of the law attempt to trap Jesus into blasephemy. The scribes see four men bring a paralyzed man to Jesus for forgiveness. The scribes are aghast, thinking to themselves, 'But only God can forgive out sins!'

Jesus reads their minds. He says to them, essentially, 'You think I cannot forgive sins? I can do more than that! I can heal you!'

I remember being confused about this myself. I grew up in a home with no faith. We attended church but this was only because this was the Right Thing to Do. No one taught me to pray. If my family could not figure things out by solely human effort, we were done. There was no other avenue for hope.

And yet, I sorely wanted to believe what I heard in church, that there is a God and that Jesus loves us. I did not pray much. I felt foolish and self-conscious. But I had a basic longing for a Higher Force, and for a gentle, prophet here on earth, who was Jesus God's son.

Life was difficult for me. Every family relationship that I had was dysfunctional. In those rare times as a child, when I did try to reach out in prayer, I talked only to God. I figured, He was "the boss", kind of like the Chairman of the Board, so to speak, of the Holy Trinity!

I thought I had everything together for the most part. I earned top grades in school, left for college, graduated with honors, went to graduate school. After grad school, I met and married my husband. I even became a mother.

Then my world spun out of control. My father died abruptly. My mother came to live near me and I had to find the strength to care for this frail woman, with whom I had such a complicated relationship. My best friend died, a young mother of two. My mother-in-law died. My father-in-law's health seriously declined.

All the pain of my past came back. I wondered what I had left to hold onto? What was even any good any longer?

I  had been attending church with my husband and son but I had never found the courage to convert. I found myself longing to talk to someone at the church about my faith. Ultimately, I decided to convert.

I was such a mess at that time. I was paralyzed with fear. Everything I had known was gone: my family members, my best friend. My life as I had known it was gone. The only thing left to embrace was the pain.

I thought that by converting, I would simply become closer to God and strengthen my faith. I left Jesus totally out of the equation1 I was not thinking particularly of healing. Like the paralytic, I had shown faith by reaching out to God. I had no idea that I had only to ask!

In one discussion during my conversion, I asked, "Who heals us , God or Jesus?" My mentor looked startled that I did not know this. He said, "Both!"

In the ensuing days, I kept "hearing": "Only say the word and I shall be healed!" I ran to my mentor at the church and asked him, What is this? He said, "This is Jesus, calling to you! This is the call to the Eucharist."

I knew I had to say yes. But there was so much pain, and I also knew that I was defying my family's World Order. They said that the Humans were in charge. I wanted, I needed to believe otherwise.

I was reeling on the day that my best friend died. I decided that it was time to receive the Eucharist. I went to Mass at dawn, in the darkness, to practice receiving Communion, with a tiny congregation, almost alone. I imagined all the wise Catholics in my life-- my mother-in-law, my best friend, my Nana, my cousin-- carrying me up the aisle to Jesus. I could feel their presence.

I realized in that moment that in order to heal, you must ask!  But you also need others in the community to carry you.

I was able to go up to receive the Eucharist at my best friend's funeral. Then, the next Mass or so, I sort of fell apart. I got massive "stage fright".  A mentor said to me, "We have gotten you from crawling to walking. C'mon, you can do this!" With my husband and my son surrounding me, I was able to resume receiving the Eucharist at each Mass.

I have heard others say about me, "Your faith has saved you." It is true. Unlike the paralytic, I am not instantly cured, but I am healing, a little more each day, with prayers to God, with Jesus' loving presence and with the strong arms of those who help me along.

What would you do-- running, crawling, being carried aloft, breaking through a roof, shouting, climbing a tree, praying deep from the heart --- to get to Jesus?  How would you ask for healing?

[Related post: The Touch of Love, February 11, 2012].
(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Love Is . . .Courage

"I want to fly!" [Tuskegee Airman C. Nappier, as a young boy].

In the United States, February is Black History Month. This is a month-long celebration of black Americans, who made an indelible contribution to this country. In the month of February, we commemorate the strength of African Americans, who for over 200 years in America, never had an accurate recorded history.

I was talking to my young son recently, after the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day holiday. He asked me, "Mommy, after all that Martin Luther King did for this country, is there still racism?" I said, "Sadly, yes." He replied softly, " Then I want you to go on your blog and tell the world about this!"

In his writings entitled "Strength To Love" in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers."

I had the opportunity this month to attend a talk by one of the surviving Tuskegee Airmen, that elite, all African American flying team, which ran cover missions for Allied bombers during World War II. My son had heard of them in school. I said, "They were at first told that they could not fly because they were black." My son said, very quietly, "That's the same thing they did to Amelia  Earhardt."

This talk was held in a town meeting room. The room was filled beyond capacity, standing room only. The audience was black and white, young and old. A group of kids was bused in from the city to hear this man talk, because he is living history.

His name is Connie Nappier --and his account was riveting. He remembers that when he was a tiny boy, he was walking hand in hand with his father. He looked up at the sky and saw a plane. He exclaimed, "I want to fly!" This drive to conquer the skies never left him.

At that time, blacks were considered physically and intellectually inferior, as well as cowardly. Numerous bogus studies had "proved" this. It took a lawsuit against the War Department in 1941 to force the issue of allowing blacks into the Air Force.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Hitler was strengthening his might and over-running entire countries. Young Connie Nappier had many Jewish friends in high school. His school was at least 70% Jewish students. He said to himself, "What that man [Hitler] is doing is crazy! What the Air Force is doing to bar blacks from service is just as crazy!"

After the 1941 lawsuit, The Tuskegee Experiment was born. It was entirely run by black trainer pilots and staff. Mr. Nappier said that the experiment was "designed to fail".

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt visited Tuskegee in 1941. Despite desperate pleas from her body guards, she insisted on taking a test flight with a black instructor pilot, one of those men believed by definition to be unfit to fly. She overrode her security detail and went for the test flight. She left the Tuskegee campus, determined to convince the President to support the Experiment.

Shortly after, the Tuskegee Institute was born. Many barriers to entry existed. Applicants needed at least a high school degree and ideally some college, at a time when education for blacks was restricted or unavailable. Mr. Nappier tells the story of taking and passing the entrance exam, only to be told that he had failed. He went back to the Captain at the recruitment center to protest. Mr. Nappier recited the exam line by line from memory to the Captain. Finally, he was allowed to re-take the test. And he passed.

In flight school, the Airmen taught themselves dog-fighting. No one trained them in this! They painted the tails of their aircraft brilliant red, to signal to friend and foe alike, 'We have arrived!'  Before the Tuskegee Airmen began to fly cover missions for WWII bombers, 30-40% of U.S. bombers were lost in crashes. Each crash meant the loss of 10-12 men. Once the Tuskegee Airmen began their missions, bombing pilots began to routinely request cover from them.

Last month, reknowned film maker Stephen Spielberg released his new movie, "Red Tail" about the Tuskegee Airmen. He requested funding from many film studios, all of whom turned him down. He decided to finance the making of this picture himself. The man who could get funding to make the movie "E.T.", and a movie about a horse in WWI, "War Horse", could not get funding for "Red Tail"?!

Which leaves me with the ultimate question? WHY did Mr. Nappier and his classmates argue so forcefully to be admitted to the Air Force? Why did these men take the risk to teach themselves dogfighting, and to engage in dangerous cover missions against a determined and cruel enemy, so far from home?

I say that their determination was fueled by the power of Love! Each of these men knew that the only powerful response to hate is to love and to love fiercely. They chose to put their lives on the line for this, and for their fellow Jewish men and women in Europe who were being annihilated by Hitler.

Love is not only refusing to accept what is wrong. Love is taking brave action against all that is hateful and evil in the world!

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

Saturday, February 11, 2012

The Touch of Love

" A man with leprosy came to Jesus and begged him on his knees, 'If you are willing, you can make me clean.' Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. 'I am willing', he said, 'Be clean!' Immediately, the leprosy left him and he was cured. "  [Mark 1: 40-42].

During Biblical times, leprosy was a dreaded and terrifying disease. Any person with a rash was required to see a priest, who would examine his skin. If the person was declared by the priest to be "unclean" with leprosy, he had to "wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face, and cry out, 'Unclean, unclean', . . . .and he must live alone outside the camp." [Leviticus 13:45-46]. Often a person with leprosy would be bullied and physically attacked, in order to drive him away from the community.

It is a desperate and hopeless feeling to be an outcast. I grew up in a family that was dysfunctional and hard-hearted. Not one of my family relationships was healthy and loving. No one hugged me or told me that they loved me.

I took to hiding in my room, but my room had no locks on the door; and I would get in trouble for isolating myself there.

I would go outside into the neighborhood, but the children would taunt me, calling me names until I cried.  Sometimes I would knock on a little girl's door, hoping that she would let me in or come out and play, but she would tell me no, and shut the door. Inside the house, I would hear the laughter of other children.

I learned to walk around silently, so that no one would notice me. In school, I would speak only if the teacher called on me by name. I shut down my emotions; anger or tears would only get me more unwanted notice. By age ten, I took a vow of silence. I began to have trouble eating and sleeping.

I kept myself from others, initially, in order to keep myself safe. Gradually, I began to keep myself from others because I saw myself as somehow fractured and debilitated. I did not seem to fit in anywhere.  Eventually, I found myself asking,  Did I-- could I--ever  belong to anyone or anything?

 I was raised in a home that did not believe in God or in the healing power of Jesus. I was raised in a home that worshipped only human endeavor. As a young adult, I used to think that maybe the problem was, I was unloveable. In other words, I blamed myself.

Therefore, I used to believe that I had to heal myself. I have tried so many paths to healing. I have taken up yoga. I have modified my diet to include home- made granola, yogurt, fresh salads, more fruit. I have embarked on regimens that included walking 2-3 miles per day in the fresh air. I have taken up knitting. I have listened daily to uplifting music. I have lighted scented candles every evening. I have written in my journal every day.

All of these practices have the capacity to lift our spirits, to make us more healthy, to help us to understand ourselves better.

But it is Jesus, and His infinite capacity for compassion, who is the truest path to healing and to peace! Jesus' willingness to actually touch the leper is daring. Thrilling. Supremely loving. Was He crazy? Or was He just deeply committed to a radical kind of love?

I am learning that, like the Untouchable in this Scripture, I am not going to begin to be healed, unless I ASK. Who is the braver one in this story, Jesus, for touching the leper? Or the leper, for approaching Jesus and asking for healing?

Jesus heals the leper merely by touching him! I still marvel at the incredible power that is released from a loving touch. Every time someone says my name, or hugs me, I start to cry, because these are signs of the love that I have always longed for.

I reveal my wounds, not to invite pity, nor to demand attention. I do not desire anyone's condecension for my plight. Neither do I wish to be place upon a pedestal, to be told that it is an honor to know me. I am a human being, striving to survive my wounds. We all have our wounds.

No, I show my wounds, only to reveal the awesome power of Jesus' capacity to heal us! Nothing I have ever tried on my own has healed me in the way that the power of love has!
We can be the ambassadors for Jesus' love, by the way in which we treat others. We can speak gently to a child, rather than speaking with impatience or anger. We can hug our friends and neighbors. We can extend a greeting to those who are lost, lonely, isolated from the community.

A gentle touch, a kind word of encouragement, a peaceful acceptance of others--- these are the truest measures of Love!  In following Jesus in these attributes, may my Love heal all!

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

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Blog News!

Dear Friends:

Periodically, I will update you on the status of this blog. Please review my entry entitled "My Year in Words", for a meditation on the first year of writing in this space.

I have upgraded some features on the blog recently, as you may have noticed:

First, I have added an icon on the top right, along the "tool bar", that allows you to follow the postings via e-mail.

Also, I have added an icon on the top right, along the "tool bar", that allows you to subscribe to this blog.

Finally, I have added a link to Bible Gateway, so that you can pursue further study of the referenced Scriptures, without having to exit the blog to conduct a separate search.

I have also reformatted the design to be more compatible for access to the blog from a smart phone. (I notice that this does not work well with the Blackberry device, but it seems to provide a cleaner design for the iPhone.)

Possible future features:

* an app that is smart phone friendly
* a drop down field for my readers to leave Prayer Requests

If you would like to keep abreast of the number of countries accessing this space, please refer to the text under "About Me."


The Spiritual Devotional

Love Is . . . Truth

" Everybody passionately seeks to be well-adjusted. We must, of course, be well-adjusted if we are to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities, but there are some things in our world to which men of goodwill must be maladjusted. I confess that I never intend to become adjusted to the evils. . . and to the crippling effect of discrimination, to the moral degeneracy of religious bigotry and. . . to economic conditions that deprive men of work and food, and to the insanities of militarism and the self-defeating effects of physical violence. Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted." [Martin Luther King, Jr. in his Strength To Love, 1963].

In the United States, February is Black History Month. This is a month-long celebration of black Americans, who made an indelible contribution to this country. In the month of February, we commemorate the strength of African Americans, who for over 200 years in America, never had a recorded history.

Lately, I have been reading some of the writings of Martin Luther King, Jr. The quotation above was written in 1963, almost 50 years ago, and yet these words still ring true today.

I have written before about how, when I was a child, I was taunted and bullied. A family member would call me "ugly", every day, and no one ever succeeded in stopping him. This taunting went on--- even when I went outside in the neighborhood, or even when I hid in my room. There was no escape.

The response from all the adults in my life? "You are too sensitive", they would say. So, of course, the taunting never stopped. The verbal abuse was allowed to continue, and even to flourish, because I was told, in essence, that it was "my fault" for being too sensitive. Sometimes, the verbal abuse escalated to physical abuse.

It got to the point that I did not know the Truth about myself. Even today, if someone insists that I am pretty, I run to the mirror, trying to discern what they could possibly be talking about. This personal distortion sets off a form of anxiety, because the compliment may come from a person who would never lie to me; and yet, I do not believe that they are telling me the Truth.

It got to the point as a child that I no longer felt safe with my family. If this kind of verbal and even physical assault could be allowed to continue in my home, then whom could I trust and where in the world would I be safe? I began to shut down, physically, emotionally and spiritually. I lived in fear.

It got to the point that I hated my sensitivity, that exquisite emotion that only seemed to get me in trouble. My self-confidence and self-esteem plummeted. I wondered what was wrong with me?

In those years, I was not receiving Love. I was receiving Hate. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it."

These days, I am working on learning not to accept what was said about me. I am telling myself that these were lies! I am learning not to blame myself for the hate, not to fall into the trap of calling myself "too sensitive". Recently, I wrote a poem that begins, "I am a deep emotion, suspended on a prayer, in a world suffused with meaning." I have begun to celebrate these things about myself!

Hate ignores human feelings. Hate abhors prayer, or anything remotely connected to the Holy One. Hate rends the sacred into the worthless, the meaningless. Hate mocks and devalues life.

Love, on the other hand, is Truth! If we are to love, we must discern the Truth about the ugly forces that are gaining ground in our world. We must not pretend that the status quo is either normal or acceptable.

And then, we must battle those dark forces. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "I never intend to become adjusted to the evils,. . . to moral degeneracy, . . . to insanities,. . . to physical violence."

Now, I know the Truth! I was never "too sensitive"! I was simply feeling deeply the pain of Hate. Crying out against Hate is never the wrong response. That pain in the face of Hate is the Truth! And the Truth longs for Love!

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

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Boast in the Lord

" When I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a great reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then, is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel, I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights [of monetary recompense] in preaching it. To the weak, I became weak, to win over the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that by all possible means, I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." [1 Corinthians 9: 16-23].

 Like St. Paul in this Scripture, I cannot boast. Everything I have, I have received as a free gift from God. Every breath is from God, my very life is from God. My deep, dark eyes and the crinkles around my eyes when I laugh, are from God. My heart loves my dear ones on earth; but in the end, my heart belongs to God.

My literary abilities are from God. Yet I have honed them over many years of hardship, holed away in my childhood room, hiding from humanity. I lavished my attention on my schoowork, so that I could understand the ways of the world.

When my homework was done, I read every book I could lay my hands on.  And when I had read every book at hand, I read the dictionary, beginning with the letter 'A'.

I used to be taunted by family and friends. They would say that I was "too smart". My intelligence came from God. I never understood why anyone would torment me for something that is a gift from God. Were they taunting God?

Now I speak the gospel in this space. I speak the Truth. I am compelled to speak the Truth, as a counterbalance to all the lies that were told about me. I was told that there is no God, or that if you had any talent at all, you did not need God. These are lies.

I was told that I am ugly, and a failure. I pray that these are lies, because God makes no mistakes. He made me the way I am. I may not be beautiful in an earthly sense, or successful the way we humans measure it. He made me the way I am on purpose. He loves me even though I am so very human and imperfect.

I do not charge anything for the meditations in this space. God is for everyone. His Word is free, to all who would listen.

And yet, writing in this space is not a burden. I do not require any earthly recompense. If I were paid as much as a million dollars for my writing, I would give it all away. Why? In receiving God's love and grace, I have already reaped untold riches. Not in any material sense, but in the sacred way in which I have developed a personal relationship with God. He encourages me and strengthens me in my daily walk.

St. Paul declares that he is all things to all people, so that he may save some. I am not so chameleon-like, nor so seemingly opportunistic. But as a child, I made myself Nothing so that no enemy could vanquish me. Being Nothing, I became universal. I belonged to no one and everyone.

At times, I have been so alone that I have counted no one as a friend. I have stared death in the face many times, and yet I lived. I have narrowly escaped trees falling on me, I have nearly drowned, I have struggled under a violent assault. I have had only a few dollars left to my name before I was paid again. I have eaten humbly of rice and beans for dinner.

But I have been comfortable in life, yet at the same time miserable. I have lived in a household of plenty yet, felt that I was in danger of losing my soul.

I have been weak, as you have been. But God sees my weakness and He lifts me up, He consoles the broken-hearted. He has made me strong, strong enough to break my silence and tell my story.

I desire only for the Holy Spirit to infuse my words with comfort and hope. I serve others here, I do not serve myself. Some have said to me that I will become famous, sought the world over. In truth, I detest the thought. I am only the Medium, I do not want to be the Message. I speak only as a lone voice, crying out. But I do not want my name to be known.

It is the Word that I want to be known. If you find God from entering this meditational space, then I have obeyed my calling, I have shared my holy blessings.

Love to all,  The Spiritual Devotional

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

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Life Divided

" I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs-- how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world-- how he can please his wife-- and his interests are divided. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way, in undivided devotion to the Lord." [1 Corinthians 7: 32-35].

This Scripture from St. Paul speaks to a time when early Christians thought that Judgment Day was imminent. They believed that Christ's Second Coming was going to happen soon --and that they had better be prepared. St. Paul urges his followers to be ready, by spending more time devoted to God.

This is a classic Christian dilemma: how to be in this world, but not "of this world"? We do live firmly rooted here on earth, and, being human, we are buffeted in all directions. We try to make a living, to raise our children, gather around for meals, embrace (or shun) the constant barrage of media, steal away some time for rest --and yet still, we must find time for  God. It is a divided time for us. This Scripture asks, 'What divides you from God?'

Unfortunately, this is not the only division that poses a challenge for us. Author Charles Murray in his new book, "Coming Apart" talks about how there is a widening cultural divide in America, between the elite and the working class.

Murray talks in his book about cultural divisions between working class whites and upper middle class whites, such as the widening divergence of what these distinct classes choose to watch on television, to eat for breakfast, or even where they choose to travel on vacation.

But to me, the most disturbing data in his book come from the General Social Survey, which shows in recent decades that marriage is down 36%, and that secularism (pointing to those who "profess no religion, or attend a worship service no more that once a year") has increased 21%. Frankly,these data scare me because if we do not have intimate human connections, and our deep faith, what do we have?

So, instead of asking, like Charles Murray, what divides us, I would like to ask, "What unites us?"

I am not a sociologist nor a political scientist nor an anthropologist. I can only speak to my own experiences. I can only speak to what has saved me.

I can say that when I was growing up, life was rough for me. I could not count on being fed consistently, being warm enough, or feeling safe. No one hugged me or said that they loved me. I grew to distrust people. Humanity did not save me. We stopped going to church when I was 14. I thought people got faith by going to church, so I was afraid that I had lost my faith. My faith could not save me, because I thought it was gone.

When I left home at age 18 to attend university, I found the saving grace of an education. I realized that I was given gifts, and I was given the opportunity to exercise them. Education saved me. Education, and knowledge of our incredible world, can save us, and unite us.

After I graduated from university and graduate school, I lived on my own in a big city. I threw myself into my work. I thought that my work would save me. But I ended up exhausted and lonely. My education could help me understand my world, but work alone was not enough to save me.

It was then that I met the man who would become my husband. I truly believe that God sent him to rescue me. I learned the saving power of Love. If someone truly loves you, then you have the courage to love others. We must learn to trust getting married again. Committed Love unites us.

My husband and I became parents. My son is everything to me. All children are precious to me. Every time I am out in town or in church, and I see a baby, I smile at the baby and at the parents. The smile for the baby is one of delight. The smile for the parents is a "knowing", the common bond of joy and hope for the future. Our children unite us.

Not too long ago, in a space of two years, I lost my father, my best friend, my mother-in-law and my mother. No, I refuse to say that our sadness unites us! I would rather say that our faith unites us. I thought my faith was gone, but kindly Christians showed me that my faith, although dormant, was still very much alive.

 I have been cold and hungry. I have almost died many times. I have been alone and in despair. I have asked myself What is this life all about? I have had to rebuild my life over several times. Each time, I have asked myself, "What do I have to hold onto?" No, it is not money or possessions. My work and gifts alone cannot save me, although they do give me purpose.

I have learned that all we really have is God -- and each other. If we do not have those, we have lost our souls. We have lost everything.

God, You have saved me through your Love. My faith in You saves me. My love for You and for others is my Salvation.

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