Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Starving Iniquity

" Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days, he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them, he was hungry. The devil said to him, ' If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.' Jesus answered, ' It is written: Man does not live on bread alone.' " [Luke 4: 1-4].

During the season of Lent, we are to pray. [Related blog posts, "Pray", April 4, 2011; "Transfiguration of Christ", March 5, 2012].

We are also called to give to others. [Related postings, "Give", April 12, 2011; "Giving My All", March 21, 2012].

As evident in this Scripture, we are also called to Fast. During the forty days in the desert, just as Jesus ate nothing, so we are to eat simply during Lent, and fast from meat on Fridays. Some Christians give up sweets or favorite foods to remind themselves of Jesus' obedience and humility as He fasted.

There are other ways of fasting, though. In essence, during Lent and at all times, we are called to refuse to feed our temptation to sin.

Like every other human being, I want to regard myself as someone who is not a Sinner. Or, I would like some "mitigating factors" to soften the blow, or even excuse me. AM I a sinner? Since we are all human, and by definition imperfect--- yes, we all are sinners!

When we think of sin, we often think of the Ten Commandments. This is a good start. Or, there are the Seven Deadly Sins, which have been around for many centuries.

However, we define it, the abhorrence of Sin, even the awareness of sin, seems to be almost obsolete today. Consider the Seven Deadly Sins, vs. today's culture:

There is Greed: Gordon Gekko in the movie, "Wall Street" famously uttered the line, "Greed is good". Recently the Federal government asked Michael Douglas, the actor who portrayed Gekko, to record a public service announcement setting the record straight, that Greed really is NOT good! Are we so used to Greed as something to be valued, that we need to be reminded of this? And, how many people do we know who believe that their worth in life is measured only by how much money they have?

I think that God wants all of His children to have just enough. God does not want us to live in utter poverty; neither does He want us to hoard an excess of assets. If I have extra blessings, I want to be generous.

There is Sloth: In a word, this is sheer laziness. God wants us to exercise our gifts, that is, to work to our potential, not just for our good, but for the good of others. I want to have the diligence and discipline to discover my gifts and to use them.

There is Wrath: In a word, this is Anger. I have known someone who was so filled with anger, that he was abusive and bigoted. I truly believe that he even hated himself. I want to be peaceful and patient with others.

There is Envy: This occurs when you resent someone for having something that you do not have. Not only are you burning up with resentment that you do not have this, you do not believe the other person should have it either. In our Western society, envy is a deep seated dissatisfaction with what we have. Advertisers prey on our sense of envy, to get us to buy things that we do not need or cannot afford. I want to be grateful for what I DO have.

There is Gluttony: This is nothing more than outright piggishness. When I am in the supermarket, I see an entire aisle devoted to soda and chips. Really?! If I find that I want something, I ask myself, do I want it, or do really need it?

There is Pride: We all probably know someone who thinks they are superior, because of their title, their wealth, their expensive car, their fancy house. This is Pride. There are those who would criticize me for being humble. Perhaps they believe that I cannot handle a showy, powerful lifestyle. But, I purposely live a humble and simple life. The world does not understand this, but God does!

Finally, there is Lust: Embedded in our culture-- in movies, in television, in advertisements--is the habit of judging women only by their looks or "sex appeal". This is so common, do we even notice it any longer? This is Lust! To judge others this way ignores a person's gifts, her intelligence, her emotions, her faith and soul. To focus only on "sex appeal", and ignore the rest of the person, leaves no room for God.
God, I pray that I may starve the monsters of Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy and Pride. May I seek Modesty, generosity, moderation, diligence, patience, peace, gratitude and humility.
[Related Post: "Confronting Sin", Sept. 3, 2011"].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hating This Life

" Jesus said, 'The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.' " [John 12: 25].

Last summer, I was on vacation with my family in a lovely little beach town. We were staying in a sweet, old-fashioned cottage, set on a picturesque harbor. The weather was fine. We went to the beach almost every day. We sunned ourselves on the cottage porch, we slep late and took naps. Really, I should have had no complaints.

And yet, one night, I cried myself to sleep! I was crying so hard, my husband woke up. He wanted to know what was wrong? I wailed, "I hate my life! There has got to be something better than this, maybe in heaven!"

I was focusing on the traumas of my past. At age 3, there was a fire in a relative's house. My parents went to inspect the damage and they took me with them. In the room where the fire had been, they told me, "See? No fire!" I was horrified at the smell of smoke and the dark smudges of ash on the wall. I still hate the smell of smoke.

Then, at age 4, I almost drowned in a neighbor's pool. As I sank, I thought, 'This is what it feels like to drown.' My mother pulled me out, choking and gasping. At age 5, I began kindergarten.  Already, I had the signs of trauma. I remember being afraid of everyone.

This was so, because I had no one in my young life to nurture me. I had trained myself to get out of diapers at age 2, tried to teach myself to read at age 4, put myself down for naps at age 5. No one in my family ever hugged me or said, 'I love you.'  My mother was loving one minute, harsh the next.  When I was 6, I came home one day and the family dog was gone. My mother had given the dog away. I remember asking myself, 'What kind of mother did I get?'

I was called ugly on a daily basis. Sometimes, I was hit. Outside in the neighborhood, the kids would taunt and bully me. I had no friends.

At age 7, I was diagnosed with a chronic lung disease. At age 10, my beloved  grandfather died. He was the only person I was close to at all. That was the year that I stopped speaking.

In the family, there was alcoholism, suicide, depression, abuse of all kinds. I went on to college, then to graduate school. In grad school, I became the victim of a violent crime. I almost died that day. My family left me in that university town to cope alone. Strangers helped me.

I did get married: a triumph. I am a mother: another triumph! I was not supposed to be able to do these things!

But, these layers of trauma and crisis and abuse tend to become cumulative. In the last five years or so, I have lost my father, my mother, my best friend, and my mother-in-law whom I loved. Other relatives are growing frail and ill, and I fear losing them as well. Each and every loss triggers painful memories of every past loss.

Is it any wonder why I cried out, "I hate my life!" ?

I have asked God so many times, 'Why does one person have to endure so much, lose so much, suffer so much?' I confess that I often fall into despair that these abuses and traumas have happened to me at all. This is where 'hating my life' comes into the picture.

The very next day, after I cried myself to sleep, I went to Mass in the tiny little chapel in the beach town where we were visiting. And what do you think the reading was for that day? Yes! "The man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life."  I had to believe that, since I had cried out to God the previous night, the very next morning, He had an answer for me!

My first thought was, Ok, so I am not supposed to like abuse, the death of family and friends, suicide, alcoholism, bullying, violence against me, family neglect, serious illness, etc.  If I did love these things about life in this world, wouldn't something be wrong with me? Put another way, then I would love all that is wrong with the world; this is not exactly the way to draw close to God and Jesus.

Several years ago, I was counseled to pray the Serenity Prayer every day. Does it work? I do not think you get instaneous results from this. Acceptance, leading to Serenity, is a process. I confess that there are parts of this prayer that I still strongly resist; such as, "Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it." I still have some work to do on acceptance and finally to reaching peace.

I am trying to tell myself that hating all that is wrong with this world simply means that I am longing for something much better. It means that I am longing for God and for His Son! You can hate all the sad, tragic and traumatic things of this world, but also love life. . . .

And, I do love life -- or I would not have fought so hard for all that is good in life. Where there was hate in my life as a child, I countered that with love, or I simply walked away. Where there was strife or even violence, I demonstrated peace and gentleness. I went to the light and left the darkness behind.

I once told someone that I have led a blessed life. When I said this, the person cried.  After all that I have been through, how could I say that? I say that because I have been saved so many times, by my faith in One more perfect, more sacred, more powerful that I could ever be.

Another time, I told someone, "The only thing that we have in life is each other." The person I was talking to looked stunned.

I had been feeling that yes, Heaven is way better than this life can ever be, but it is an awfully long time to wait for it-- a lifetime, in essence. I say, 'All we have is each other', because we create a bit of Heaven on earth every time we treat each other with deep love.

You could see my life as a testament to loneliness and abuse. Or you could see my life as a testament to the human spirit, one that sees life as oh-so- precious! I do not see the fact that I have this life at all, as inevitable. Nor do I see the love that we have for one another as inevitable. These are great gifts, to be treasured.

I have pondered these things for a long time now. I am starting to see that I lost so much-- a childhood, a sense of security and self-worth, any feeling of being loved and accepted.  But today, I can tell the world all that they have gained with God and with believing in His Son. I believe now that this is the true meaning of John: 12!

God, I have lost the world, but I have gained You! And that is more precious than anything in this life!

[Related Posts: "Seeking Happiness", January 26, 2012]

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Giving My All

"Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, was led by the Spirit in the desert, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil." [Luke 4: 13].

It is Lent; and during Lent, we fast, we pray and we give to the poor.

I have written before about prayer life during Lent. ["Pray", April 5, 2011; "Transfiguration of Christ", March 5, 2012, about meditational prayer]. We pray more deeply, more often during Lent. This comes from the Scripture in Luke 4, in which the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and tells Jesus, "If you worship me, it will be all yours." But we are not to worship Sin. Jesus says, "Worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only."

During Lent, we are also to give to the poor. In Luke 4:9, the devil leads Jesus to Jerusalem, to the highest point of the temple. The devil challenges Jesus: "If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, 'He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you carefully, they will lift you up in their hands. . .' ".

In these passages, I see the temptation of unbridled power. Who are WE to worship all the kingdoms of Earth, essentially bowing down to the pinnacles of human power, over the Power of God?  Who are WE to behave recklessly, then command God to save us? How do we, as humans, believe it is right to try to manipulate God that way? Do we think we are in charge of God?

In my family of origin, I never had any power. You would think that as the baby and the daugher in the family, that I would have been precious to them, coddled and catered to. No. I used to compare myself to a "hood ornament" on a car, I was that irrevelant! If I had Power, even today, I am so unused to it, I would not know what to do with it.

Instead, I decided to make Humility a virtue. I have written before about the power of giving. In my young life, I lost so much : I had no loving mother, no gentle father, no protective brother, no consistent serving of meals or medical care, no hugs and statements of love,  no ecouragement of my gifts, no nourishing of any faith in God. My mantra became , "The more I lose, the more I give." [Related Post, "Give ", April 12, 2011].

I have been thinking about Giving lately, during this season of Lent. I realize that my other mantra is, "There is no limit on generosity."

People say that I am the most loving, generous person they know. Is that so?

I used to think that I was so very generous. The danger is, there is a kind of pride that comes with that. This is the danger of giving. I want my giving to be humble, not ostentatious. I want my giving to be about emptying myself of my sin and greed and self-absorption.

 Generosity, I have learned, is not about giving away what you already do not need. Giving away what you do not want is a little bit like the child who hates broccoli and decides to give it up during Lent. That is no sacrifice!

Why do we need to sacrifice anyway? There is something in me that wants to keep things for myself, or to give only those things that I will not miss. How we want this giving thing to be easy!

But there is a very good reason to give to others. There is a discipline in giving to others. Giving is what tempers our pride in ourselves. I need to remembr who is in charge. NOT me, thinking I am so great with my material things. Do you know someone who treasures their fancy car, their designer clothes, their gourmet foods, their household help, their professionally landscaped gardens?

I need to keep bringing myself down a notch. All these fancy things, that we are tempted to define ourselves with, can go away in a nanosecond. If I lost everything I owned, then what amI left with? My sorry self.

It is not my works that should define me, either. I have written before about how our works do not save us. [Saved by Faith, March 17, 2012] How many folks have lost jobs lately, and found themselve staring in the mirror, suddenly believing that they have become Nothing. They were defined by their business suit, by their title, by their power on the job . When that is stripped away, what is left?

No. I want to be defined by my Love. Not love for myself. Not love for material tjnigs. Not love of power. No. Love for others, even for those who have a lot less than I do. Love, even for those who are difficult to love.

And so, I give. I think I give generously. I thought I was  generous, until I met my best girlfriend. She was diagnosed with a terminal illness. So many of her friends and neighbors helped her! Suddenly, I was placed in charge of coordinating the offers of help for my friend. I became overwhelmed in this crisis mode. Pretty soon, I needed help too-- picking my son up from school, making dinner. My friend, so seriously ill, sent over some food that a family member had given to HER. She shared what little she had, that SHE needed to feed her family, so I did not have to cook. THAT is the ultimate in generosity!

This reminds me of the story that my mother-in-law told of her days as a teacher. There was a food drive every year around Thanksgiving. The children of wealthy families gave meagerly:  maybe one tiny can of corn or beans. The children of  poor families gave generously: giant cans of fuit and vegetables, so much that the little children could barely carry it all.

I have lost so much. I know what it feels like to be scared and needy.  When I give, I want to give a true sacrifice. Like the widow giving her last mite [ Mark 12: 41 ]. Giving a true sacrifice is Love. Giving a tiny bit, that one won't miss-- is an insult. It insults the recipient. I think it also hurts God's feelings. We are all His children. We are to love one another deeply ,and give to one another, deeply. This is who I want to be!

I pray that I may I never limit my giving. To limit generosity is to limit Love. Just as God's love is limitless, may I emulate His love toward His children, and give freely from the heart.

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

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Saved By Faith

"Because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions [sin]. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith -- and this  [comes] not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that one can boast." [Ephesians 2: 4-9].

The Bible is rich with stories of people who were saved by their faith!

Consider the paralytic in Luke 5:17. " Some men came, carrying a paralytic on a mat. Because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, 'Friend, your sins are forgiven.' "

Consider the woman who wipes Jesus' feet with her hair in Luke 7: 44- 50. "A woman who had lived a sinful life brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. . . Jesus said to the woman, 'Your faith has saved you; go in
peace.' "

Consider the woman who reaches out to touch the tassel on Jesus' robe in Luke 8:43. "A woman was there who had been [ill] for twelve years, but no one could heal her. She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. . .'Who touched me?' Jesus asked. Then the woman came trembling and fell at his feet. He said to her, ' Daughter, your faith has healed you.' "

Consider the Canaanite woman whose daughter is suffering in Matthew 15:21. At first, Jesus refuses this Canaanite woman. He tells her: 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.' The woman came and knelt before him: 'My daughter is suffering terribly. Lord, help me!' Then Jesus answered, 'Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted,' And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

In the Reading in Ephesians 2, we are told that we are saved, but not by our works. I was not taught this! My family was suspicious of organized religion, and did not believe in all this "God and Jesus stuff". I was taught to worship human endeavors, not God. I was taught that only those who had nothing going for them would turn to God, and this was only as a last resort.

In my dysfunctional house, my mother could be loving one minute, cruel the next. A sibling called me ugly every day, and if I did not stop his verbal abuse, things would degenerate to hitting. I grew to fear him.  My dad was either absent, at work; or his manner towards me blurred the boundaries beetween adult and child.

I did not feel safe in that house. In my family's world, there was no God. We did not trust the outside world, so the only persons that  I had to look up to and try to please were my family. And I thought I had to "earn" their respect and good graces. I remember working in my mother's flower garden in order to "earn" the right to keep a pot of flowers in my room. When I was thirteen, I wanted a sewing machine, so I could learn to sew. I promised my mother and grandmother that I would do all the family sewing and mending, if only they would buy me that machine. At around the same time, I insisted on painting the sitting room and some exterior trim on our house, to "earn" my dad's gentle regard.

I had no idea that the One I was supposed to seek favor with was God! I did not need to work, to earn the gentility of this family who verbally abused me, turned on me, and treated me like something less than a precious daughter!

In my world view, God was not even in my sights! That totally changed when I was 13 years old, when my mother and grandmother told me that I was almost not born. During childbirth, my mother went into distress and she almost died. I almost died too. I suddenly realized there WAS a God! He had made sure that I was born. It did not take me long to conclude that, despite the unhappiness in my life, that I was here because God wanted me here!  And if He wanted me here, I had a purpose.  And here, I had worked so hard to earn the good graces of humans! I was wrong. They were not going to accord me any grace anyway. 

In the ensuing years, I listened to God and learned His lessons, not my family's. My family taught me not to give to charity. I was generous to all. My family showed me Hate. I learned to Love others. My family had only strife. I learned how precious Peace is. It was my  Faith that saved me. My Faith, my openness to God, helped me to make right choices.

I left home, first for college, then for graduate school. In graduate school, the unthinkable happened. I was the victim of a violent crime. A man came into my apartment. I fought him and things turned so much worse. He tried to strangle me. I found myself praying for my life. As I was losing consciousness, I cried out, "God! I don't want to die! I have so much more I want to do!"

People say that in life or death situations, that the past plays out in your mind. Instead, the Future passed in front of me. I saw myself as an accomplished student on graduation day; as a working woman in a business suit; as a bride in a beautiful dress; and finally as a mother with a baby in her arms. At that point, I still did not know my purpose, but God was showing me everything that I could become.

I prayed hard to be saved. Unaccountably, the assailant stopped strangling me. I had prayed to God with great fervor, believing that He could help me. My Faith had saved me!

You may doubt these stories in the Bible, about so many ancient persons whose Faith has saved them! You may say, Well, this is not real. You may say-- that idea about faith saving us is only Biblical hyperbole. These stories are only parables, right?! These are allegories. This happened so long ago, who knows if these scenarios are true? Could this really happen today?

People ask me often, HOW did I ever get through that painful childhood, or those terrifying moments with the assailant? I answer them simply, "It was my Faith"! Sometimes, that is all I had. But it was more than enough. My Faith was what pulled me out of dark places, what saved my life (literally), what transformed me into a loving, peaceful, gentle woman of deep convictions.

God, my Faith is Real! My Faith in You is what has saved me countless times! I pray that the world knows You as I do, as my Savior, my Father, my One and Only.

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

Being saved by faith is not merely Biblical. It is real! Unleash you faith. It can save you!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

My Irish Heart

" Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your Truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name." [Psalm 86:11].

I grew up not really understanding that I was Irish. This gave me a divided heart. It is an awful thing not to know who you truly are.

My mother was English and she raised us that way. My father spoke endlessly about "our English heritage" and about how the British were superior in every way.. Yes, we are part English, but she and my father neglected to talk about the Irish Catholic side of the family.  They were too numerous to mention and an "inconvenient truth".

If the Irish side of the family were mentioned, this was met with silence and eye rolls and sighs, and the subject was quickly changed. I learned that it was not okay to be Irish. I figured out pretty quickly that we were to pretend that we were not Irish. We were supposed to "pass".

When I was a little girl, my freckles would deepen in the summer. I would ask my mother where they came from? She would tell me, "From your Nana." I would cry, "Make them go awa-aay!" When I got older, as a young woman, I used to try to straighten my thick, curly hair with gel and a curling iron and broad brush strokes and a hair dryer. My hair would not "cooperate". I thought there was something wrong with my hair.

I grew to love scones and dark breakfast tea, salmon, new potatoes and spring peas; stone castles, tiny cottages, fragrant green meadows. I loved these before I knew they were Irish. How did I know to love these? I think one's culture is embedded in one's soul. I thought there was something wrong with me for loving these things. Essentially, I was blaming myself for being Irish.

Growing up, I could not be English, as I was told that I was. I just did not "feel it" inside. Neither was I to be Irish, that was not allowed. So I became Nothing. There grew a deep hole in my psyche.

Years later, as an adult, my great aunt studied me at a family reunion. She said to her daughter about me, "She has a lost look." Then, a dear friend told me, years after she had first met me, "You look like you cannot be yourself." And I thought I was faking it so well!

When you lose your culture, you lose your heart, your soul. You lose a shared history, you lose a physical landscape, you lose foods, songs, architecture, you even lose your faith or religious traditions.

There is such a deep, dark hole in my soul, I have found myself wondering in recent years, who or what could posssibly fill it? And the answer has come to me: "Only God is big enough to fill it."

This friend of mine who said that I looked like I could not be myself? She would tell me, "God wants us to be ourselves."  At the time, I thought that was hopelessly childish and naive. It turns out that she was right!

I have done a lot of work in recent years, trying to piece myself back together. It is painstaking work. The first thing I did was to try to reclaim my faith. To me, that was the greatest loss of all. As soon as I could say to myself, 'I AM Irish', my relationship with God came flooding to the forefront. I chose a church and I converted. I gave myself permission to be myself, at least with God.

I have learned that our culture is in our heart. Like our faith, it comes from God. Like our faith, no one can obliterate it, but we must pay attention to it, in order for it to flourish.

It is tremendously damaging, even traumatic, for one's heart to be divided culturally. There are Americans who say that we must all be only American, not Irish- American or African- American or Italian- American etc. These folks would say, 'If you love Ireland so much, why don't you go back there?' This is so harsh.

I do agree that we must all unite as Americans. And this is one of the most patriotic countries in the world. But unless you are Native American, we all come FROM somewhere. If we do not remember our roots, we are lost. With no cultural identity, we begin to twist into a downward spiral of depair. I know that I did.

Who we are, ethnically, culturally, is a gift from God!  It is never necessary to defend our looks, our culture, our ethnicity, our country of origin, to anyone. And if we deny these, we deny our gifts, we deny our strengths, we deny God!

The Irish wear a symbol called a Claddagh. It has two hands and one heart in the center. The two hands represent one hand in the Old World, one in the New World. But there is a a reason why there is only one heart. Because a heart divided against itself is a broken heart!

I have readers in 6 continents and all over the world. This St. Patrick's Day, I pray that you will teach your children who they really are! Whoever it is that you are, North American, South American, Eastern European, Western European, Asian, African, Middle Eastern-- God made you exactly as you are!  He wants you to be fully yourself, with no apologies and no self condemnation.

Perhaps someday, I will travel to Ireland. I will sip that dark breakfast tea, I will nibble on a scone, I will wander country lanes, and chance upon cottages or castle ruins. Perhaps I will find the Irish side of me there, in that green countryside.  But I am beginning to think that I do not need to even leave home for that. If I allow myself to be who God made me to be, I will discover the Irish in my heart.

God, teach me the Truth about myself, about how I am wonderfully and fearfully made in Your eyes. Give me an undivided heart, as I discover and cherish my true self, as you meant me to be!

Happy St. Patrick's Day! Eric Go Bragh! [Ireland Forever!]

[Related posting: "St. Patrick's Day", March, 16, 2011].

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

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Anger in The Temple

" Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts [courtyards], he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers amd overturned their tables. To those who sold doves, he said, 'Get those out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!' ". [John 1: 13-16].

The temple in Jerusalem received visitors from all over the world. But the courtyard was crowded with money changers who would exchange foreign currency into local money at usurious rates. Local currency had to be used by visitors to pay the temple fees. Cattle, sheep and doves were sold to visitors, for use as required sacrifices for visitors' sins.

In some senses, I see this Reading as one about boundaries. In other words, how seemly is it that a temple courtyard was turned into a greedy marketplace?  Is there nothing sacred?

I try to imagine a modern day equivalent. What if there were a large screen behind the altar in your church with scrolling advertisements? What if the only way to make an offering in the donation basket were to be forced to purchase a gift card for an exorbitant fee?

You see why Jesus was so angry!  Not only did he raise His voice, he made a whip, lashing it around to drive people. In dramatic fashion, He overturned tables. Imagine the shocked hush in the temple courtyard?

I never thought Jesus was supposed to get so angry! I thought he was supposed to be serene, gentle and peaceful all the time.

I once asked a pastor if God gets angry? I got sort of a startled reponse. Remember Noah's Ark, when God floods the world out of anger at the world's iniquity? Or how about Soddom and Gomorrah, when God destroys both cities because of His anger at their sin.

I grew up in a house where emotions were not allowed. If I got angry as a little girl, I was told, "Don't be!" If I was hurt or frightened, and I cried, I was told, "Stop crying. You are not hurt!" If there was too much exuberance in the house, I was told, "Pipe down!" I learned to suppress my emotions, whether they were fear or anger or even joy.

In my dysfunctional family, emotion was not only forbidden, it was dangerous. If I got angry or I wept, I would get noticed. Then the verbal or physical abuse would begin. I was small and only a little girl. I could not defend myself. Better to go invisible. I learned to deaden my emotions, to walk silently, to slip into and out of a room unnoticed.

I raised myself, really. At age four, I was trying to teach myself to read.  I put myself down for naps at age five. I found food in the school cafeteria or at neighbors' houses. Over time, I began to regard as my Father and Mother. I hoped that by being open to God, I could learn how to be a good person. Somewhere along the line, I got the notion that it is "unholy" or un-Christian to be angry. This notion did not have any verified Scriptural source. I was living in a religious vacuum, so where would I get accurate information about God?

I never did learn to handle my emotions, especially the negative ones like anger. People ask me, given my past, 'Where is the anger?' And, today, given my happy marriage and my delight in being a mother, they ask, 'Where is the joy?'

Reading this Scripture is actually a relief to me. Here, Jesus shows His anger fully. This anger feels "righteous" (right and just) to me. Jesus was morally outraged at how the sacred temple area was being treated. He should have been.

We have largely moved away from the concept of moral outrage today. We want everything to be acceptable, to be okay. We have become so tolerant and excusing of others' behavior, that there is no room for any standard, any boundary. As in the Reading about the temple, nothing is sacred, neither is anything forbidden. Where is the anger?

Anger is never okay if it is expressed for revenge.

Anger is never ok if it is an expression of hate.

Anger is never okay if it comes from self hatred, and it becomes bigotry or criminal violence.

Is it any wonder that I am afraid of anger?  Lately, I am trying to reconstruct an emotional landscape for myself. I am trying to become at peace with my emotions -- to own them, but not let them possess me.

I am starting to think of anger as a valuable barometer. Fear works that way too. God gave us all of our emotions, even the difficult ones, like anger and fear. These are the warning signs that something is just not right.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said that, "He who accepts evil, without protesting against it, is really cooperating with it." He also said,  "History will record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people but the appalling silence of the good people." He declared, "In the End, we will remember, not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends."

I now see Jesus' anger in a whole new light. There are certain things about our humanity that we can never--- should never-- accept. We must speak up against evil. A righteous [right and just] anger is a proper anger. We are required to express it.

God, I pray that I may use my anger to speak against the evils and injustices of the world. My anger, my fear, my sadness, my joy, all come from You!

[Related postings: "Love is . . . . Conscience", February 8, 2012]

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Freedom of Religion

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." [First Amendment to the Constitution, in the BIll of rights].

The United States of America was founded upon the principles of freedom of religion. In fact, this is the main reason that the Pilgrims came to the New World, in order to be able to practice their religion freely.  This means that the United States government cannot force upon its citizens one religion over another, nor can it prohibit our free exercise of our faith.

Today, the right to freedom of religion is being seriously eroded. Currently proposed universal healthcare legislation under the Obama Administration would force Catholic hospitals to offer contraception and abortion-inducing medications to patients.

In a recent speech, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York stated: "We are not trying to impose our teachings on anyone. We are simply saying, don't impose your teaching upon us and make us do as a church what we find unconscionable to do."  He urged all of us to "become more involved in politics as the church stands against government in a Freedom of Religion battle."

This is not a new debate. John F. Kennedy was put under enormous scrutiny as the first Catholic to run for President. Americans feared that as a Catholic President, in matters of conscience, Kennedy would follow the Pope and not the laws of this country. In a speech in Houston in September, 1960, as a candidate, Kennedy said, ""I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the President -- should he be Catholic-- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote. I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant or Jew; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace."

How surprisingly modern this speech is today! And that is exactly what Cardinal Dolan is saying. 

I have written before about how increasingly secular our society has become. [Related post:  "A Life Divided" Feb. 3, 1012.]  The number of people saying that they are part of no organized religion because they are "spiritual but not religious" has increased over fifty percent in recent years. Freedom of Religion guarantees that we are free to practice our religion, or to choose no religion at all.

But when the government imposes its practices and conscience upon a particular religion, that violates the First Amendment clause barring the government from prohibiting the free exercise of religion.

This Freedom of Religion battle affects us all. [Related Post: "Is Christmas Illegal?]. Kennedy said in the same speech: "While this year it may be a Cahtolic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been -- and may someday be again-- a Jew, or a Quaker, or a Unitarian, or a Baptist. Today, I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you -- until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril."

Do we really want to live in an America of religious persecution?  I grew up in a home that was deeply suspicious of organized religion and that held no faith in anything at all. I had to learn to hide my faith, tucking my cross necklace under my shirt, going off to church in secret, hiding my Bible in my house. "The desire for God is written upon the human heart". [Catholic Catechism]. My faith is an integral part of me! To fear professing one's faith is a downward slope to despair. It divided me into a public vs. private self, it fractured my soul. I have had to painstakingly piece my faith back together again. I have to repeatedly convince myself that no one will take my faith away. I do not wish this trauma for anyone.

In the end, what is the role of the church in society?

In the speech in Houston, Kennedy said: "I believe that we have far more critical issues in the 1960 campaign-- the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills, the families forced to give up their farms-- an America with too many slums, with too few schools. These are not religious issues-- for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barrier." Shockingly, we have the same issues today, fifty years later!

I leave you with the words of  Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.: "The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrevelant social club without moral or spiritual authority. " [Strenght to Love, 1960].

Harsh? To me, not really. This is what we are facing today: a church that, from secular pressures, is becoming marginalized and in danger of becoming irrelevant.

How willing are you - whether Christian, or Jew or Muslim or Buddhist or even atheist-- to stand up and battle for the right to Religious Freedom?

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

Monday, March 5, 2012

Transfiguration of Christ

" After six days, Jesus took Peter, James and John with Him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone.  There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. There appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking to Jesus. Peter said the Jesus, 'Teacher, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three tents -- one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.' Then a cloud appeared and enveloped them, and a voice caem from the cloud: 'This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!" [Mark 9: 2-7].

'Transfiguration" means a supernatural transformation in appearance. This is one of the many forms that Jesus takes during His time, and to my mind, the most awe inspiring one!

Each Lent, this Scripture is presented as a prefiguration of Jesus' glory to come, after his Ascension into heaven. I have interpreted this image to mean that God had a miraculous plan for Jesus .We are privileged to share this dazzling vision of Jesus and his sacred relationship with the Father.

This year, what I notice most about this passage is how the disciples react to this supernatural occurrence, by turning away to build some tents! Are they oblivious to Jesus? Do they so mistake the signficance of the event that they believe they must still prepare for this time of glory in a human way?

How often have I, in my life, spent more time turned away from the miraculous possibilities of the divine, feverishly "building tents?

I come from a family of no faith. They worshipped only human endeavor. If all efforts failed, we had no alternative plan. I did not learn to pray-- not first, foremost, or always.

My family was so dysfunctional, that I was traumatized by age three. All adults-- parents, extended family, teachers, neighbors-- failed me. Not only did I not have God, I did not have humans either.

I am a survivor. I faced stark choices from a young age. As I grew up, I think I slowly realized that I could either implode (destroy myself), or explode (destroy others), or find God.  I realize that this is a simplistic list, and not everyone can follow this script. But this is what I found in my own life. 

Over the years, I gradually found God. My grandmother was the only one who taught me to pray. When I was a child, she would have me kneel beside my bed, all scrubbed from a bath and in my pajamas, and recite the Lord's Prayer. I had no idea what it meant. I thought "hallowed be" had something to do with Halloween!

Years later,  as an adult, my past came crashing down around me. I decided to convert. I knew that if I did not find a church and work on strengthening my faith, I would be lost. A mentor advised me to meditate on an image of Jesus. I was rattled. I had always gone only to God.

I tried to imagine a picture of Jesus, but all I got was a hazy outline of his robes and hair. There was no face! What was wrong with me? I consoled myself that this is why it is called the "practice of prayer". I was extremely out of practice.

As I began to meditate every day, the past pains came rolling out of me like dark thunder storms. The pain became so huge, I did not know "where to put it". I could not put it on my husband and son (explode). I wanted so deeply to survive, I could not put it on myself (implode).  

I had to find Jesus in a more profound way. I found myself sitting in front of the Crucifix in my church.  I meditated upon Jesus on the cross.  As much pain as I was suffering, Jesus had suffered as well, and more. He, of all people, understood. And He was sent from God. I could give my pain to Jesus. There it would rest.

A few weeeks ago, I entered my church again, in order to meditate. I expected it to be empty. But the church was bathed in a golden light. Candelabra were at the altar. It was the Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. I stopped at the end of the aisle. I gasped audibly, "Ohh!" Then tears sprang to my eyes. The pain flowed freely. It was a profound and healing moment. Finally, I fully understood the call to meditate upon Jesus and His many forms.  I finally understood the even more compelling requirement to receive Christ in the Eucharist.

We all spend way too much time "building tents", thinking that that is all there is. We worship materialism and celebrity and the temples of human invention. We walk through crowds in the street and we feel alone. We sit in obeisance to the thrumming blue screens of our laptops, tablets, smart phones and desktops. We believe we are really connected, but instead we are lonely individuals, isolated in the ether of what only "seems" real.

This Lent, will I continue to furiously "build tents" on a windswep mountaintop, flimsy structures that cannot protect me. Will I be so distracted that I ignore the miracles of Jesus all around me?  God says to Peter, James and John, "This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!" to listen to Him, we need to seek Him.

Jesus transfigured Himself before His apostles. He can transform us, if we only dare to spend time wtih Him.

God, may I listen to Your Son and never turn away. May I bear witness to all of Jesus' glory in Heaven as I contemplate His miraculous Transfiguration.

[Related Posts: "Walking on Water", and "Transfiguration", March 20, 2011].

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

Friday, March 2, 2012

Let Justice Prevail

World Day of Prayer, March 2, 2012

According to the World Day of Prayer Program 2012, "World Day of Prayer is a world wide ecumenical movement of Christian women of many traditions who come together to observe a common day of prayer each year on the first Friday of March." This year, the women of Malaysia developed the program.  Next year, the women of France will present their Order of Worship.

I had the opportunity to attend this event in my town, along with numerous women from other churches in the area. Outside, the weather was a gray, late winter day. But inside the church, the light was soft and beautiful, and I felt at peace.

I present here an edited version of the World Day of Prayer 2012 Program:

Theme: Let Justice Prevail

Processional Hymn:  "Let Justice Prevail", written by Pearl Nirmala Richards, especially for this day.

Procession: Several women led the procession up the aisle, carrying the Crucifix, and the flag of Malaysia. Many of the women wore red, displaying a colorful entry.

Greeting: "Selamat datang", meaning "peace and welcome."

"The women of Malaysia extend greeting of peace and a warm wlecome to sisters and brothers all over the world, in the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."

Introduction and Call to Worship: "In Malaysia, we cherish peace. We are a diverse population. Welcome is important to us. Historic migrations of people from other parts of Asia and beyond have created an environment that challenges Malaysians to integrate."

Prayer of Thanksgiving: "Almighty and gracious God,we proclaim your great and marvelous deeds among all peoples."

Opening Hymn: "For the Healing of All Nations"

Monologue: The story of Irene Fernandez, Malaysian social activist and advocate for justice: "My name is Irene Fernandez. I was arrested after writing an article about the torture and killing of migrant workers in government detention camps in Malaysia, who were being sent to detention camps as undocumented immigrants. They were being. . . abused. As director of Tenaganita ("Women's Force"), I heard the cries of the migrant workers. I could not keep silent. For 13 years, I appealed to the courts to overturn my conviction. But we did not give up. I am grateful that the voices of migrant workers were finally heard."

Voices Seeking Justice:
"As Malaysians, we are very concerned about the state of the nation, and as Christians, we ask ourselves, 'Do we engage or stay neutral?' "
"Political affairs [have] become a moral responsibility for Christians."
"We are called to speak out in conscience".
"We are tested when there are restrictions imposed on how Christians use our common language to name God."
"We are tested when conflicts between religious law and civil law pull families apart. Are we to watch in silence?
"We believe that a clear, honest and caring attitude in matters that concern all of society is a part of the witness we owe one another.  "

Old Testament Reading: Habakkuk 1:2-4; 3:2, 17-19

Hymn: "How Can We Keep From Singing?"

New Testament Reading: Luke 18: 1-8: The Parable of the Persistent Widow and the Judge

Prayer: for the courage to stand up for justice, in the words of Alan Paton.

Intercessory Prayers:
"Lord, we pray for the leaders of our countries. Grant them the wisdom  to know and do what is right and just."
"O Lord, there are many of us who are oppressed and abused, isolated and silenced. We pray for those who are victims of inequalities, oppression, exploitation, violence and abuse."
"Gracious Lord, we pray for migrant workers, and for the weak, the poor, and the marginalized, that their cries for help may be heard."
"O God, may Christ dwell in our hearts through faith. Let us be rooted and established in love."
"O God, you have called us to be instruments of justice in a world of strife and false justice. We pray that you will make strong our hands and make clear our voices."

The Lord's Prayer: Sung in Malaysian, "Bapa Kami". [very moving]. Recited in English as well.

Closing Hymns: "Let There Be Peace on Earth", and "We Shall Overcome".

Worship Service (c)  2012 World Day of Prayer USA

Profound gratitude to the women of Malaysia who developed this program and who led us all in prayer this year! Blessings, peace and justice to all who prayed together today, all over the world!

Love to All,

The Spiritual Devotional