Sunday, May 27, 2012

We Are One

" I tell you that no one can say, 'Jesus is  Lord', except by the Holy Spirit. There are different kinds of gifts but the same Spirit. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but the same God works in all men. Now the body is not made up of one part, but of many. If the foot should say, 'Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body', it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. The eye cannot say to the hand, 'I don't need you!' If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? But in fact, God has arranged the parts of the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be! . . .  [in fact, even] those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable. Now you are the body of Christ and each of you is part of it. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. In the church, God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration etc. " [1 Corinthians 12: 3-26].

I am one body, but I am fractured. This is the way in which I was raised, one family member against another in a sort of "Cold War". This War was never discussed, it was just there. And, I was the one who seemed to be the battlefield.

I was diagnosed with a chronic lung disease at age 7. It was never treated past the age of 14. Everyone in the family pretended that my condition had simply disappeared. I am paying for that now. A simple cold virus is agony to me. I struggle with my breathing even under the best of conditions. My lungs are weaker but they are indispensable!

At family dinners, if I would not eat the 4 day old left-overs presented to me, I was given nothing else-- even though there was plenty of other food in the house. I was told, "Then you will go to bed hungry."  I learned not to eat, in order to stretch the food that I was given even farther. I am still trying to convince myself that no one will take my food away.

It was not safe in my house to go to sleep at bedtime. In order to protect myself, I would stay up late, reading by the dim light coming into my room from the hall. I would wait until everyone was in bed before I could toss my book on the floor and finally try to sleep. I am still dealing with poor sleep, all these years later.

By age ten, I had taken a vow of silence. I gave up on my family, and on the power of humanity to help me. I still get very anxious when I speak to others. I try to practice speaking, but I cannot get my rhythm down. I either interrupt, or I shut down and become silent again.

I never understood this reading in 1 Corinthians until now. You see, I am working hard to piece myself back together into a whole, integrated body.  Some days, I am not sure if I should work on my breathing; my eating; my sleeping; or my speaking. But I need all of those parts: my lungs, my rest, nutrients to feed my body, my voice and the right to speak. If I do not breathe, I die. If I do not eat, the same result-- I do not survive. If I do not sleep, my health is seriously damaged. If I do not speak and I isolate myself from humans again, I become depressed and I die within.

This idea of the one body with many parts is a metaphor for the church. If I think of my own parish, some are adept at organization, others at gorgeous floral decoration for the altar, some sing in the choir, some are Lectors who read the Scriptures at Mass. Where would we be without any one of those? The Mass would not be the same if any one of those were missing.

It was only a few years ago now that my Bible teacher told me, "We ALL have gifts! And God calls us to use these gifts. " I really almost did not comprehend what she was saying. If my family did not allow me the basics, what do you think they thought of my gifts? I not only did not know what my gifts were as a child, I did not know that I had them!?

Recently, it has been suggested that some religious sisters have been devoting way too much time to service to the poor, and not enough time to issues of the Culture of Life. I can understand that, these days, the issue of our right for the government not to dictate to the church, in matters of contraception and abortion, has become paramount. Many are needed in the church to respond quickly to these issues.

But other church members contribute valuably in so many other ways. If we denigrate the sisters who minister to the poor, are we not denigrating the "hands for not being an ear"?  More than ever, we need all parts of the church, to comprise a strong whole! We are many parts, but we are all one! If one suffers, we all suffer.

God, I pray that we are one, in mind, body and spirit. You have arranged all the parts of me, in just the way that You wanted them to be. The same God works in all of us. In the gift of the Holy Spirit, Jesus has breathed the life and the light of Truth upon us.

[Related posting, "Pentecost", June 13, 2011.]

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Healing Gifts

Life By The Spirit: " So I say, live by the Spirit. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." [Galatians 5: 16-23].

During the period between the Ascension of Christ and Pentecost, Christians are called to pray for the fruits of the Spirit. What a different world it would be if it were ruled by Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Faith, Self-Control. But humankind more often falls into the trap of the opposite: Hate, Strife, Anger, Mean Spiritedness, Evil, Violence, and Arrogance.

Humans are born with an innate spirit; and this spirit is intricately entwined with the soul. I know this firsthand because, in my childhood, I was in such a deprivation environment, that I was in danger of losing my soul.

In that house, no one ever hugged me or told me they loved me. I had no Love. Emotions were dangerous and forbidden. I was punished for being angry, I was scolded for being exhilarated. I learned to adopt an impenetrable gaze. I discovered in 9th grade that I had a gift for art. I begged to pursue further art classes. I was told flatly, 'Absolutely not.' I learned to draw in secret at friends' houses, and leave my drawings behind. Faith was not allowed either. I was told, 'We do not go to church.'

Love, gifts, emotions, faith: all of these together puts you terribly close to a working definition of the Soul. I am now working on reclaiming my soul. I can give love copiously, but cannot receive it. If I feel any emotions, they always seem too "loud".  When I sit down to draw again, I feel anxious. When I make my faith evident, such as by going up the aisle to receive Communion, I feel overwhelmed with fear.

This constitutes murder of the soul. It happened to me as an individual. But through history, it has been perpetrated against entire countries. We can learn a lot from history, if only we dare to face it. I think especially of "The Killing Fields" in Cambodia. In the 1970's, Cambodia was overrun by the Kmer Rouge. Young boys about my son's age were kidnapped and forced to join the Kmer Rouge Army.

Entire villages were rounded up and marched into the countryside. The Kmer Rouge targeted the country's educated and cultured class. Over 90% of this class was wiped out. It was a holocaust. In a cruel strategy, the Kmer Rouge sought to execute especially the artists of Cambodia. In Cambodian culture and religion, art is not merely part of the spirit; art IS the Soul and the Soul is art. In other words, the Kmer Rouge successfully conquered the country, and their chief method aimed to kill the citizens' souls.

This month [May 2012], a new book has been published about the life of Arn Chorn-Pond, a Cambodian who was forced into the Kmer Rouge army at age 9. [Never Fall Down,  by Patricia McCormick, Balzer & Bray/HarperCollins Publishers.]  In Cambodia, an entire generation has never heard the full story of the Kmer Rouge. The history was suppressed because of the pain, hurt, shame, and denial of a nation.

My regular readers know that when I was age ten, because of trauma and despair, I stopped speaking. I applaud Arn Chorn-Pond for the courage to tell his story, to speak the Truth. As humans, we long especially to be understood, to use our language for self-definition. Never Fall Down is an essential step in the journey of healing, both for him and for his country.

Ironically, it was art that saved Arn from execution, starvation, or a violent death. You see, he was a musician, drafted by the Kmer Rouge to play in a military band. This band was ordered to play loudly, in order to drown out the violence that the Kmer Rouge was inflicting on civilians. Although Arn was spared, he lost his mother and sister to the Kmer Rouge's killing sprees.

Those who had been rounded up by the Kmer Rouge and sent to refugee camps knew full well that the music would die, and that an essential part of the country's soul would perish. Arn remembers a little girl who told the soldiers, "I WILL play one last song, before you kill me!"

I had the privilege of meeting Arn Chorn-Pond in person recently. He is lean and wiry, with intense eyes that readily well up with tears. He spent years suppressing all of his memories of trauma and violence. He fell into a deep depression. His father was the one who advised him, "Tell your story or you will die!"

I spoke briefly with Arn about some of my own past traumas. Arn is a man who used to be wary, depressed, distrustful. Now he hugs everyone. Impulsively, he hugged me. It was a moving moment. We are kindred spirits, trying to reclaim our souls.

Arn spoke of Art. He said, "Art is for Love. Art is for peace, for reconciliation. It knows no boundaries." He began an organization in Cambodia called Cambodian Living Arts [], to revive art and music in Cambodia. On behalf of this organization, Arn reconnects with old Masters of music and the arts, some of whom he finds homeless in the streets. He wants the Masters to teach the young Cambodians, before the art and music are lost forever.

To resurrect the arts is to resurrect the spirit, is to heal the nation. He says that he "gets back" at the Kmer Rouge by giving Cambodian children musical instruments, not guns! He wants his country to be remembered, not for The Killing Fields, but for the Arts.

Like me, Arn is grateful to be alive. He is grateful that he escaped the Kmer Rouge and did not "become them." Like me, Arn is facing his memories, and reclaiming his feelings. All over the world, he is sharing his story of war and violence and lost souls; and he is hearing similar stories across many cultures.  By hearing other painful stories, he is releasing his own pain. Arn says, "The Kmer Rouge spared me, a boy. I came back [to Cambodia] a man."

Before I said goodbye, I promised Arn that I would tell the world his story. His parting words to me were, "Tell them about the book!" You have spoken, Arn and the world is listening.

The Truth will set you free! In all cultures, Art is the medium of the soul.  Art is Peace, Love, Healing, Gentleness, Spirit, and Faith. Art is boundless.

Resources: **
                  **  New York Times Book Review, May 13, 2012
(c) The Spiritual Devotional 2012. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Not of This World

Before His death and Resurrection, Jesus prayed to God on behalf of  His disciples: " [Lord], I gave [the disciples] the words You gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from You, and they believed that You sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those You have given me, for they are Yours. All I have is Yours, and all You have is mine. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to You. Holy Father, protect them by the power of Your name. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction. I have given them Your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of this world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that You take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. Consecrate them in the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world." [John 17: 8-19].

My life has followed the trajectory of this Scripture.

In my dysfunctional family, my relationships with my father, my mother and my sibling(s) were fractured. I always felt deep inside that I did not belong to them. I was not treated with enough gentleness and mercy and compassion to belong to this clan. So, who DID I belong to?

The children in the neighborhood would be kind enough one moment, then bully me the next. I could not trust them enough to call them "friend". My grandparents were gone by the time I was 14. Relatives in the extended family lived far away. The blinds and curtains in my house were always shut. I was told, "Everything that happens in this house remains in these four walls." Neighbors had no idea what was going on.

I did not dare to declare the truth. Sometimes, I was not even sure what the truth was.

I concluded that I belonged to no one in this world. I slowly began to shut down. I spent most of my day hiding in my room. I took a vow of silence when I was ten. This was as much about giving up on humanity, as it was about giving up on myself-- and the power of my words. I had trouble sleeping. I stayed up until everyone was asleep, until I felt safe enough to drift off. I refused to eat certain foods and was offered nothing else to eat. I began to fear long-term hunger. My chronic lung disease reared its ugly head and sometimes I had trouble breathing.

Then, when I was 13, my mother and grandmother told me the story of how I was born: My mother almost died in childbirth. As the doctors rushed her into emergency surgery, she heard them say, "Get the baby!" I was at risk of dying too, before I was even born. After knowing the truth about my birth, my life changed completely.

Now, in that moment of hearing my story, I knew I came from God. Suddenly, I belonged to Someone. I belonged to God. Hearing this story, I lifted my head up and looked heavenward. It was as if I "heard" something that no one else in the world believed about me. I heard my value, my preciousness, if not to anyone in my world, at least to God. He made me. He sent me into the world, He went to considerable trouble to make sure I was born. He sent me here for some purpose.

I believed that God sent me here. My life was no longer meaningless and accidental. In the environment of deprivation in which I grew up, I saw that everything I had came, not from humans, but from God.

We stopped going to church when I was 14. I would ask to go, and my mother would say, "We don't go to church. We already did that."  If my mother spoke of the power of the Almighty Dollar, I would whisper to myself, "You mean, Almighty God." If I dared to make God's Word audible, my family would make clear that they hated that. They would mock my generosity ("You take care of yourself first!"). They would tell me that church was a waste. Yes, Jesus said, " I gave them Your Word and the world has hated them [for it.].

All I ever wanted was Love. If no one could give me Love, then I would give Love to the world. I decided that I'd better get busy. I begged my grandmother to buy me a sewing machine. I volunteered to do all the family's sewing and mending. I tended my mother's garden, weeding and bringing beautiful flowers inside. My life became about Love.  At the time, I did not fully comprehend that this boundless Love came from God. I think that I was merely a child who wanted Love, and who was open enough to God to live in Love, despite my environment.

This longing for Love is really a longing for God. I know that now. He has protected me. He cannot, and will not, take me out of this world before my time. But He can protect me from evil. He saved me and brought me into this world. He protected me when I almost died in a violent crime. I prayed to God, and unaccountably, the man stopped attacking me-- and I lived. A few years ago, a huge tree came close to crashing down on me. I had my young son with me in a wagon. I pulled the wagon as hard as I could and I ran for my life. The tree fell only a few feet from us, tangled in live electrical wires.

I can neutralize all the ugliness in my life only by loving truly. This is what Jesus says about his disciples: "Consecrate them by the truth; your word is truth." To consecrate is to dedicate oneself to His Truth, and to Love, which come from God. When we ask God to consecrate us, we ask Him to make us Holy, to set us apart in the world for His purpose, and not for the agendas of the world.

If we do ask for God to consecrate us, then we must go out and speak the Truth. About 18 months ago, I decided to end my silence about my life. The Truth needs to be told. The Truth is about how Love is the ultimate Conqueror. No matter what anyone does to me or says about me, I will still Love. The Truth is Love. And God is Love.

I dedicate myself to Truth. I dedicate myself to Love. I dedicate my life to God. All God has is mine. All I have is God's.

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

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ascension Day

" I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. To each one of us, grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. What does "he ascended" mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions. He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. Then the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in faith and become mature. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is Christ.' [Ephesians 4: 1-14].

Today is the Feast of the Ascension. The Ascension occurs on the 40th day after Easter. I like the symmetry of this, since Lent is also 40 days.

But I get confused on the chronology here. Remember, I am a "new Christian". A dear friend used to say to me, "We are baby Christians, only babies in our faith."

Resurrection. Ascension. What do these terms really mean? I have heard my whole life, 'Jesus is our Savior'. What is a Savior and why do I need saving?

I know that Good Friday commemorates the day of Jesus' death. Witnesses at the Crucifixion, Mary Magdalene and the Apostles, saw Jesus breathe His last. Then they wept as they saw Him in the tomb. He really had died a human death.

On Easter Sunday, Mary Magdalene saw the stone in front of the tomb rolled away-- and the tomb was empty! Had someone stolen His body?

Where had Jesus gone? The Apostle's Creed says, "He descended into Hell. On the third day He rose again from the dead." I have always resisted this line of the Creed so completely! Jesus was holy and pure, without blemish. WHY did He have to go to Hell? I take comfort that He eventually ascended to Heaven, where He is seated at the right hand of the Father. But, why did He have to descend to Hell at all?

According to Christian belief, Jesus really did experience a human death. He suffered and died and was buried. [See the Apostle's Creed]. From there, He descended to the realm of the dead. He was not there for His own sins, as He was sinless. In the realm of death, he freed those righteous souls who had gone before Him, and who, before Jesus' coming, had no opportunity to rise to Heaven. 

After Jesus rose again from the realm of the dead, He was resurrected, on the third day (Easter). Various apostles saw Jesus after His Resurrection. They were terrified. Was He a ghost?(Related posting, "The Truth of His Wounds", April 13, 2012). But Jesus ate a meal with them. A ghost does not eat. He showed Thomas the hole in His side and the punctures in His hands. A ghost does not have wounds! No. Jesus had been resurrected. That is, He came back to life.

The child-like part of me wants Jesus to walk this earth with me forever. He did stay on earth after He died, to prove the miracle of His Resurrection. But he stayed only for a time. He tells Mary, "Do not hold onto me, for I have not yet gone back to my Father [John 20:17].

Jesus is seen again on the Road to Emmaus. ( Related posting, "Emmaus", May 7, 2011). Gradually, as the encounter Jesus again in their everyday lives, the apostles begin to believe in the miracle of the Resurrection. Every time I study these Scriptures, I like to think that I am gradually increasing my faith that Jesus is not truly gone!

After 40 days of Jesus being sighted here on earth, He ascended to Heaven. This is the Feast of the Ascension. Jesus is now united into One, His human person with His divine person. He is now seated at the right hand of His Father.

There are many miracles here. The fact that He died a human death and went to the realm of the dead-- and yet came back-- is one. I had a relative who said to me, as her health seriously declined: "When I die, stick me in the ground and forget it!" I flinched at that. My whole being recoiled: Nooo! I cannot believe that after a life of crisis, trauma, toil, sadness and so forth, that we die and merely go into the earth; or that we go to the realm of the dead forever. I need more hope than that. I need a Resurrection.

Another miracle is that Jesus walked among the apostles after His death. He did not go straight to Heaven. He came first to minister to them in their utter grief. I have felt sad so much of my life. I have always wondered, if I am not strong enough to comfort myself, could Jesus come to ME? In a word, yes. In John 20:19, when the apostles were hiding in a locked room after the Crucifixion, in grief and for fear of the Jews, Jesus walked through walls to get to them!

No less than astonishing is that Jesus descended into the realm of the dead, to rescue souls that had already passed from this earth! Jesus is our Rescuer, both on earth and even after our death!

I have had rescue fantasies so much of my life. Perhaps it is part of being human. Perhaps it is part of being female. More likely, it is because of the traumas I suffered as a child. In my play, I would pretend that my Barbie doll was a princess in distress. My Ken doll would always rescue her. But who would rescue me from this life I was trapped in?

I was captive to my family members' mood of the moment. My mother would be kind one moment, cruel the next. When I was a young child, my family would take me to church. But when I reached age 14, my mother said, "We don't go to church." I was '"as an infant, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there, by every wind of teaching, and by the cunning and craftiness of [people] in their deceitful ways." [Ephesians 4: 14].

Gradually, I have increased my faith, so that Christ has built up His spirit in me and I have become mature. [Ephesians 4: 12].   I am no longer a child.  Instead, I speak the truth in love. And that Truth IS Love. I do not have that inner wellspring of Love that others have gained, who grew up with a family rooted in gentleness, patience, humility and faith. But in speaking in Truth, by living in Love, I "will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is the Christ." [Ephesians 4: 15].

And if I falter, if I lack core feelings of worth, if I am sad, or lonely or in despair, I know that Jesus will walk along with me, even if I can hardly recognize Him at times in my pain. I know that Jesus will walk through walls to come find me. I know that He will descend to the depths of the realm of death, if only I believe in Him and follow His command to love others.

(Related posting: "Ascension of the Lord, June 1, 2011).

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

Monday, May 14, 2012

No Greater Love

" As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love. I have told you this, so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. This is my command: Love each other." [ John 15: 9-16].

Love is a strange thing. We think it is not supposed to feel like sacrifice, or even work. Work, obedience, sacrifice are not very fashionable these days.

We want Love to be a warm, fuzzy feeling inside, a hug, a smile. Sometimes, those are all that is needed.

But for Jesus, Love was the ultimate sacrifice-- His very life was given, to save us mortal souls, to pave our own way to Heaven, if only we can love as He did.

Is this even humanly possible, to love unto death as Jesus did? After all, we are only human. And yet, I have witnessed extraordinary human beings in recent history, making ultimate sacrifices:

In the United States, Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for civil rights around the country and paid for his life. He said: "If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don't want a long funeral. I'd like somebody to mention [on that] day, that Martin Luther King, Jr. tried to love somebody. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your side, in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others. so that we can make of this old world a new world."

In South Africa, Bishop Desmond Tutu resisted the laws of apartheid. He believed and lived the Scripture in Acts 10:34, where Peter says " I now realize how true it is that God does not show partiality but accepts people from every nation who fear him and do what is right." Bishop Tutu is credited with saying that 'The first mistake they made (whites) was that they gave us the Bible.' Why? -- because in the Bible is God and God is Love and Truth.

Also in South Africa, Nelson Mandela fought against apartheid and spent 26 years in prison. He could have been released sooner if only he had compromised his position. But he refused.

I wonder, could I possibly make such a huge sacrifice for Love?

And yet, on a much smaller scale, I did. I think of the painful and complex relationship that I had with my mother. She was insensitive at best, at times even cruel. But on the day my father died abruptly, all the years of love-hate crises between my mother and me melted away. I ran to my mother's side. A few short months later, she moved near me and I cared for her until she died.

Or, I think of my best friend who died of cancer. I spent countless hours, during her two year battle against the disease, organizing teams to carpool, to donate meals, to make library runs, to take her to chemo etc. At times, this involved time away from my own family, as my husband pitched in at home. I would not have had it any other way. In fact, my husband would tell me, 'Go to her! We are fine here.'

These were years of sacrifice out of my life. Somehow, I felt honored to be asked, though. Someone trusted me enough to ask me to love deeply. I stepped up my efforts at ministering, at loving. I was being obedient. But it felt like joy--  even though, in both cases, my loved one lost her life.

Am I superhuman or even a saint, to have taken my mother back after all those years of trauma? Am I to be placed upon a pedestal to have cared for my mother, at the same time as I organized the daily affairs of my seriously ill friend? I would only say what Peter says in Acts 10: 24, while he was visiting Cornelius. At Peter's entry into his house, Cornelius "fell at his feet in reverence. But Peter made him get up. 'Stand up', he said, 'I am only human, as you are.' "   I do not want anyone's reverence or worship. I do what I do out of Love, as a human who struggles just as you do.

We are all asked to make sacrifices, big and small, for the sake of Love. These days, I am taking care of my young son. Each weekday, I wake up at dawn, fix myself my first cup of coffee, then wake my son for school. It IS a sacrifice. I do not want to get up at 6:30 a.m.! But this daily ritual feels like Love.  It feels like Joy.

Jesus, in loving others as You have commanded, may the joy that I find in You be complete!

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

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Mother's Day

" The Lord says: As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted." [Isaiah 66: 13].

This Sunday is Mother's Day. This holiday began in the United States, unofficially, in 1872, at the urging of Julia Ward Howe who, during the Franco-Prussian war, agonized over the ensuing death toll, and longed for peace. I did not know that Mother's Day was actually a peace movement!

Then, Anna Jarvis in the early 1900's lobbied influential men in government to establish an official Mother's Day. Anna's mother had held a class in her church about women in the Bible; she ended the class by remarking that there were no days to honor women, and that there should be a holiday commemorating mothers. I did not know that Mother's Day began as part of the women's movement!

Through Anna's efforts to remember her mother's wish, by 1907, about 45 churches across the United States held Mother's Day celebrations. In 1913, Mother's Day was declared an official holiday by Congressional Resolution.

Ironically, despite the peaceful, even activist roots of the holiday, on this Mother's Day, motherhood has become controversial. Recently, a lobbyist for the 2012 Presidential campaign criticized Presidential candidate Romney's wife for being "only" a mother. The comment was made that Mrs. Romney has not "worked a day in her life!" Mrs. Romney, the mother of five sons!!!?

That comment provoked a firestorm of debate, especially amongst mothers. The comment was hastily retracted.

Several years ago, before my son was born, I worked in a skyscraper downtown. In the old days, I might have been called a "career girl". After I got married, I was for many years without children. I got puzzled looks and comments. Was something "wrong" with me?

The working mothers in the office thought that I did not "want" to become a mother. They eyed me suspiciously. Maybe I made them look bad in front of the boss, since I could always work late or could readily assent to last minute assignments for business travel?

The truth is, I longed to be a mother; but when this was to become a reality, whether I would continue working after the baby came, take time off, or simply quit-- all that was no one's business, as I tried to figure it all out.

Then one day, I announced that we were expecting a son. Suddenly, the working mothers came up to me, saying, "Congratulations! You are on our side now!"

I was confused and dismayed.  I had not changed. I was the same person, the woman who was trying to balance the desire to utilize my gifts with my deeply held dream to become a mother. Why was I being treated so differently?

Women are NOT on "teams". We do not "switch sides", depending on whether we decide to have children or not. I did not dream that motherhood could become a competitive sport.

But motherhood IS a competitive sport. American mothers bend over backwards to outdo each other in the sphere of ,motherhood.  On the cover of Time Magazine this week, is a photo of a mother breast-feeding a child who is about 3 1/2 years old. The caption reads, "Are you Mom enough?"  The subtext is that certain mothers, who take the time and dedication to breast feed their children long-term, (until toddlerhood), win the "Mommy wars".

All over America, there is shock over this cover photo. Some call the image "obscene" or even "child abuse."

The original meaning of Mother's Day is to celebrate mothers and to unite together as women. It was never intended as a day that prompts us women to become enemies.

Mother's Day is a difficult, even painful day for me. There is a hole in my heart over my childhood. My mother was one of those perfect moms: she was beautiful, with wavy dark hair, a slim figure and piercing blue eyes. But she was emotionally remote. Her home was perfect in every detail. There was not a piece of mail on the kitchen counter, and not a hint of mud on her floors. The place looked like no one lived there. I was afraid to sit down.

My mother never hugged me or kissed me or said, 'I love you.'  I feel like I never really had a mother. I tried to love her, even though she showed me no affection. For her, love was a verb only. She would take me to dance lessons, tennis lessons, choir practice, Girl Scout meetings. She executed motherhood flawlessly.

The day before my mother died three years ago, I kissed her on the cheek, and said goodby after a brief visit at her place. She looked pained, but tried to smile indulgently at me. The kiss was clearly for me, not for her. This is the last memory I have of her: a love unfulfilled.

To me, love is more than a verb. Yes, we have to meet our childrens' needs. But love is also messy. Love is sloppy kisses, and a kitchen dusted with flour after an afternoon spent baking cookies. Love does not look outward to others' opinions. Love looks only at the object of one's affection. Love is deeply held, focused, not worldly or calculated.

All over the world, we mothers all want the same thing for our kids-- world peace, a safe school, a good education, good medical care for our children, a safe place to live, freedom from violence for both ourselves and our children. We mothers are not enemies of each other! We cannot be on opposing teams. We need each other too much!

Perhaps when some folks see a mother, they see a loser, a lazy person who does not want to be out in the work force. This attitude towards mothers is skewed. Motherhood is not a "resume"! If being only a mother is not enough, who, then, do people think will be at home raising the next generation? If mothers do not devote themselves to their children during the early years, where are we going to get tomorrow's engineers, scientists, teachers, doctors, plumbers, builders etc.?

This Mother's Day, I pray that all women will be open in their love for mothers. I pray that all women will worship the Lord who gave us mothers-- our own mothers included! God places Love on our hearts, but mothers are the ones who bring that Love to fruition!

[Related Posting, :Sommnity of Mary", January 2, 2012; "Raising the Future", October 2011.]

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The True Vine

"Jesus said, ' I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower. He prunes every branch that does not bear fruit. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing. As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you. Now remain in my love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. This is my command: Love each other." [John 15].

If you are a gardener or a farmer, you know that, ironically, you must prune a plant in order for it to grow vigorously. Consider the rose bush in a garden. Each year, a morass of dead, woody branches appears at its base. But the top of the bush may be fully leafed out and covered with extraordinary blossoms. At the same time, a large and impressive branch may arc over the whole rose bush. This large branch may be vibrant and strong, but it has no buds on it to produce flowers.

A wise gardener does not prune the blossoms while they bloom, nor the rose hips that are the source of next year's blooms. He prunes only the dead roses, not the living ones. He also trims out some of the dead wood at the end of the growing season; but he needs to be careful because if he trims too much,  the rose bush will die. That impressive, over-arching branch that bears no blossoms or fruit? That is a branch that is capable of sucking the life out of the plant, to the detriment of the whole rose bush.

Branches that are cut off from the "vine" cannot survive. They die. In this way, we are called to remain in Jesus, the True Vine. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. We die.

To remain in Him, we must love others, as Jesus has loved us.

Jesus explains so simply to us that, to remain in Him, we are to follow His command to love each other.

I am a mother of a young son. As my son grows older and is in school all day, I realize that I cannot possibly explain every circumstance to him. He is going to encounter situations that I cannot imagine, and I will not always be there to guide him. In the last few years, I have found myself instructing him, "If you ever have to decide what to do, and I am not there with you, always choose the loving thing!"

If my son does choose the loving thing, over other choices, then I have passed my love on to him and he has chosen to remain in that love and to live in love. Then he will have true joy.

God, as our Father is teaching us these wisdoms, through His Son Jesus. He is passing on to us, as His children, this guidance: Love each other.

Sometimes, I make mistakes and I do not always live in love. I am only human!

Sometimes I get angry. Anger and Hatred are not Love.  Just as an earthly parent teaches me to control my anger, I would hope that my Heavenly Father, the vine grower, would prune me of my anger and show me the loving way. In 1 John 3:12, it is said, " Do not be like Cain, who murdered his brother. . .Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. Anyone who does not love remains in death."

Similarly, Greed is not Love. Greed says, 'All these things that I have gathered unto myself are mine, and more. I do not care if you suffer, I will not share.' In 1 John 3: 17, it is said, "Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?" I would hope that my Greed would be pruned and I would learn to be generous.

Yet. . . How it hurts when God prunes us! I may have to admit my faults. I may need to grow in different directions. Sometimes that is painful. I may have to humble myself and apologize-- to God and to those whom I have hurt. I feel guilty, I feel ashamed, when I do not behave in a loving way.

However, behaving in a loving way is. . . Truth! In 1 John 3: 18, it is said, "Dear children, let us not love one another with words or tongue, but with actions and in Truth. This is then how we know that we belong to the Truth. This is how we know that He lives in us; we obey his commandment to love one another."

And don't we all long for Life, for Love and for the Truth that Love brings? Don't we all long for the Joy that these bring!

Jesus, I long to remain in You, and in Your love. I desire only to belong to You and to Your Truth!

[Related posting, "Love is . . . Truth", February 8, 2012.]

(c) The Spiritual Devotional. All Rights Reserved.