Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Fulfillment of the Spirit

" Jesus returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him spread throughout the region. He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath Day, He went into the synogogue, as was His custom.  And He stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. Unrolling it, He found the place where it was written:  ' The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and to restore sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.' The eyes of everyone in the synogogue were fixed upon Him, and He began by saying to them, ' Today, this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.' " [Luke 4: 14-21].

Do you read this Scripture and wonder who Jesus is talking about?

The poor. The captives. The blind. The oppressed. Where do we find such people? These are not strangers in far away lands. No. . . .They are all of us!

My family was not poor when I was a child. We had means-- we had a home, we had a car, my father had a job, we had clothes and food, there were toys for the children, and books and music.

And yet, I was "poor".

In my heart, I was poor. No one ever hugged me or said, "I love you".

I had little to eat, not because of a lack of food in the household, but because of a lack of nurturing, from parents who did not care if I ate or not.

I left home too soon, before I was fully capable of supporting myself. I ate canned tuna for dinner, or rice and beans, and still I was always hungry. But I would not return home to ask for food. There was no going back.

In my soul, I was "poor". My parents would not take me to church. I thought that by taking away church, they could take away my Faith. Even as a young adult, I became afraid to enter a church, since this was forbidden in my family. I thought that it was good to obey my father and mother. It did not occur to me that my other Father would be looking for me and would always welcome me with open arms. I did not know that my heavenly Father could make me glad and show me how wonderful it is to be alive.

There was a poverty to my view of the future. I had no hope for tomorrow. At the same time, I could not even face my past. It was too painful. I was stuck in the present, trying to find food, to save money to make my escape, trying to keep myself out of harm's way. 

My trust in humankind began to wither. My poverty of spirit was so deep, I stopped speaking.

I began to act like a captive. I bargained for things for my room. I told them, 'I will tend to the garden, if I can just bring some flowers into my room.' I thought, maybe if I could look at something living and beautiful everyday, I will remember what it is to be alive. Because I was beginning to feel almost dead inside.

I tucked my Faith and my emotions and my gifts deep inside me, where no one could find them. In essence, I hid my soul. I became as Nothing. No one could touch my essential self. I was a self-imposed prisoner. I was oppressed, repressed.

I decided that I would rather split myself into various counterparts, than let any human being shape and mold me into their own image of me.  I became a house divided against itself. It did not occur to me that God could make me whole again. It did not occur to me that all these parts came from God, and that I was allowed to keep them, and no one could take them away.

And I was blind. Oh, so blind to the power of God. Because the family told me that there IS no God. Or that only losers and hypocrites need God -- who, in their eyes, was some kind of pathetic panacea, or mythical crutch. 

Really, God was always there, all those years. Only I did not always "see" Him. So here again, I was blind. I did not talk to Him, i.e., pray. No one had taught me to pray. And if I did talk to Him, conversationally, would people think I was crazy for talking to Someone I could not see? Someone I was not even sure was real?

And then my world collapsed. First my dad died. Then my best friend. Then, my mother-in-law. Then, my mother.

I needed strength to get through this. I could not do this alone. No mere human being could set me free, could release me from my oppression, could lift my blindness.

I asked God, "Father? Where are You? When I need You? Please come to me and show me that you are real."

And God came back into my life. Only He had really never left. But, I began noticing Him in my everyday life. I am no longer so blind to His power.

God has made me glad to be alive again. He has helped me to see Love and Hope where there used to be only poverty of spirit.

I am coming out of my prison, coming out of my shell. I can see daylight at the outer edge of the cave.

I am not whole yet. I have miles to go. But I can understand that God made each of us as One Body in Him.  All of our parts are valuable and beautiful. We need not hide in shame or in fear. God rejoices in all of us!

And no one can steal our soul. It is a beautiful gift. And it is ours to keep!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

I see God and feel His presence in my life.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

I Will Not Be Silent

" For Zion's sake, I will not be silent. For Jerusalem's sake, I will not be quiet, until her vindication shines forth like the dawn and her victory like a burning torch. Nations shall behold your vindication, and all the kings your glory; you shall be called a new name pronounced by the mouth of the Lord, a royal diadem held by your God. No more shall people call you "Forsaken", or your land "Desolate", but you shall be called "My Delight", and your land "Espoused". For the Lord delights in you and makes your land His spouse. As a young man marries a maiden, your Builder shall marry you; and as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride, so shall your God rejoice in you." [Isaiah: 62: 1-5].

For the Lord's sake, I will not be silent. For God's sake, I will not be quiet! These are such powerful words.

For, during long years, I did go silent. As a child in a cruel and abusive home, I gradually disappeared. And it seemed that no one noticed that I had systematically withdrawn.

I had a mother who, upon hearing my complaints of verbal abuse said, 'You are too sensitive.' I stopped going to her for "help".   

She said, "If you do not cry or get angry, the taunting will stop." I was to give my tormentor "nothing to go on". So I stopped showing emotion. I set my face like a rock, a hard and impenetrable stone.

The abuse continued. So next, I stopped feeling emotion. It was as if, in my childish reasoning, I thought humans could see through me into my very soul and detect what I was feeling. So I shut down my feelings. I became numb.

But the abuse continued on. I spent many hours in my room. I thought, if only I could hide there until dinner and bedtime. I lavished detailed attention on my homework, in order to stretch the time I spent in seclusion. But my tormentor would booby trap my room with raw eggs. I could not lay my head on my pillow or put on my slippers or open my closet door, without finding a trap.

And so, I escaped outside. I thought maybe the children in the neighborhood who would treat me kindly. But my tormentor incited the neighborhood children against me, and they would chant insults at me until I ran away.

I became like a frightened bunny forced to flee. I hid in the forsythia bush that sheltered me under its cool branches in the summer. In the winter, I created strong bricks out of snow and built myself a fortress, where I sat for hours, hunched down in the icy cold.  I wanted to live in that igloo. But as the sun sank low in the sky, I was very defeated, when I realized that I had to come in from the cold.

By age ten, I had stopped speaking. Some have suggested to me today that I stopped speaking because the facility for speech in the brain is located near the locus of trauma. Others have wondered, when I say that I stopped speaking, is that merely a metaphor or an allegory?

It is no metaphor. Nor was it an accident of trauma. I ceased to speak on purpose. It was a conscious decision. I reasoned, maybe if I engaged with no one and spoke to no one, the world would all just leave me alone. I had taken a vow of silence. I had given up on the power of humanity to care, to love.

But the abuse continued. At around age ten or eleven, I started bargaining over my food choices. I would eat applesauce but only if it was cold.  I would eat whole grain toast but not cereal. Soon, I was really eating very little at all. When I refused to eat, no one seemed alarmed. The family believed me when I said that I was not hungry. But the real hunger here was a gnawing at the soul. I had given up on the power of humans to nourish me. But worse, I had given up on myself.

Then my chronic lung disease took a bad turn, and I was having difficulty breathing. I had essentially ceased to live: not eating, not speaking, not breathing, not feeling, wanting no one and nothing.

It has been a long, dark journey back from the brink.

My wise counselor began first by telling me that I must speak. No longer was I allowed to remain silent.

I have come to believe in my heart that Silence breeds Evil.  In John 3: 18, Jesus said, " This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light, because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light, for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the Truth comes into the Light." 

In Acts 18: 9, the Lord came to St. Paul in a vision, saying, " Do not be afraid, keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you."

We are all called to speak the Truth!  We are all called to openly despair when our children are gunned down in school; when nations bomb their own citizens; when our brothers and sisters in other countries do not have enough to eat; when a homeless American man living out in the cold has no socks or warm boots; when the lives of 6.5 million unborn babies are sacrificed to abortion; when the inalienable right to religious freedom is dismissed as irrevelant and even illegal.

I have come to believe in the power of Peace, not violence. I have come to believe in the power of Love, not hate. I have come to believe in the power of  goodness, not evil.

I have begun to live by the words of Romans 12: 9-21:  to " Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.  . . . .[to] bless those who persecute, bless but not curse. . . [to not] repay anyone evil for evil. . ."  My mantra is "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Above all, I follow what Martin Luther King, Jr. said:  " He who accepts evil, without protesting against it, is really cooperating with it. In the end, we will remember, not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends."  

May you always speak the Truth and seek the Light. And in doing so, may God rejoice, and delight in You.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Dear Mr. President

January 21, 2013 is Inauguration Day for President Obama.

Here is a letter, from an American citizen, to the President:

" Dear Mr. President:

Congratulations to you, President Barack Obama, for entering a second term. These are a few of the things that I hope to be changed:

1) I want the soldiers in Afghanistan to come home.

2) I want a safe biofuel, instead of gasoline.

3) I want people to have good jobs, that pay a decent paycheck.

4) I want factories to stop dumping waste into rivers, because I heard people get cancer from drinking contaminated water.

5) I want schools to be safer. Especially, to not have padded cells to put kids into when they misbehave.

6) In some parts of the world, the government does not want girls to go to school. Everyone should get a good education.

7) I want people to stop hunting Tigers, which are an endangered species.

8) In some places like Egypt, corruption is taking over the President and making him even more greedy.

9) In a factory [in Bangladesh], there was a fire and the boss said to the workers to go back to work!

10) In some states, marijuana is becoming illegal. It should stay illegal.


An American citizen,
12 years old

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The Need For Martin Luther King

" If a man hasn't discovered something he would die for, he isn't fit to live." -- Martin Luther King, Jr.

This week, we celebrate the life of the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. grew up in the American South, a black upper- middle class male who was forced to ride in the back of the city bus, who was denied entry to the restaurants that his white counterparts enjoyed, and who received his education at a college reserved for blacks only.

And then, he became one of the most effective and celebrated civil rights activists in America.

Martin Luther King, Jr. put his cause ahead of anything else, even his own family and his own personal safety. He spent long hours reading, writing, meditating, crafting speeches, organizing marches, traveling to the "hot spots" of racial unrest. He was imprisoned, he spent time away from family, he faced death threats.

He understood from the very beginning that to make a real difference, we have to put ourselves on the line. On the night before he died, he said, "Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man."

King understood that some causes transcend all else. He explained, " If I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with this movement." 

And so, I have to ask myself, was Martin Luther King, Jr. a saint -- or a fool?

King was educated, he had a secure and respected position as a minister, he had a family. Who in this world would put himself at such risk, for a "cause" ?

As I think about it, we are all called to serve God, and His vision of a peaceful, loving world. As Jesus' disciples, we are called to give up everything to follow Christ, and to give 100% of ourselves.

In my eyes, Martin Luther King, Jr. was, in this sense, very much a saint.

Do you sometimes fear that there are no saints any longer?

We have seen God's servants in this world in the past. Men like President Abraham Lincoln, who said, "Whatsoever shall appear to be God's will, I will do." [Sept. 1862.] And, " One day, I went to my room, locked the door and got down on my knees before Almighty God, and prayed to Him mightily. I told Him that this war was His war and our cause His cause. I cannot explain it, but soon a sweet comfort crept into my soul." [ July 1863].

I myself take comfort, when I look around today and see others who would be saints. I see a determined lady like Daw Aung Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma), who in June, 2012 accepted a belated Nobel Peace prize for her work in her country against decades of autocratic military rule. Although her husband and two children escaped to Europe, she stayed behind, fearful that if she left her country, she would not be allowed to return to continue the fight.  Her children grew up without her, and her husband died of cancer in 1999. When asked how she could have given up her family for her cause, she said, quietly, 'Some things are more important. I love my country more than anything.'

The world needs more Martin Luther King's.  I realize that not all of us mortals are called to be saints.

But there are ways in which we can become more saint-like. Ms. Aung Suu Kyi has said, " The sweetest, the most precious of all, is the lesson I learned on the value of kindness. Kindness can change the world."

And persistence -- true saints may fall, but they pick themselves up and keep going. They never, never, ever give up.

I also have to ask myself if there is a consistency in my vision, and in what I choose to do in my everyday life? In Martin Luther King, I see the consistency of a man with a Divine purpose. He was seamless-- a divinely-called man, who lived every waking moment of his life in service to God's plan. He worked for peace, for justice, for love, for truth; and he was willing to die for these!

Any one of us can strive for Love, and can act persistently and consistently, according to God's Divine plan. And then, we just might be able to change the world!

[Related Postings: " Martin Luther King", January 17, 2011; " Remembering Martin Luther King", January 16, 2012. ]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Baptized With The Holy Spirit

" In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar -- when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea and Herod tetrarch of Galilee, the word of God came to John [the Baptist]. He went into all the country around Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John [spoke to the crowds gathered]: 'I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come. . . . He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.'  When all the people were baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as He was praying, Heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from Heaven, 'You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.' " [Luke 3: 1-3, 15-21].

 Sunday, January 13, 2013 is the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord.

I have always wondered-- what is the true meaning of "baptized with the Spirit". Christians, and especially born-again Christians talk about this all the time. They speak of times when, in difficult moments in life, they have appealed to the Holy Spirit and have been saved.

What is this Baptism, that seems to be so powerful?  John the Baptist speaks of the "baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins."  In 1 Peter 3: 21, it says, "Baptism now saves you, not as a removal of dirt [sin] from the body, but as an appeal to God for a clear conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus."

And what a powerful image, in this Reading, of the coming of the Holy Spirit! At the time of Caesar and Pontius Pilate, (not exactly the nicest rulers in the world), here is John the Baptist, going around baptizing people and preaching repentance! I wonder, what kind of a chance did John think he had here, against all that evil?

It turns out, a huge advantage over evil! Because, then comes this awesome image of Jesus Himself being baptized. The Heavens open up, the Holy Spirit descends upon Him and the voice of God speaks! So, what I say to this is-- 'I want some of that!'

In fact, as a baby, I was baptized. This decision was made by adults, not by me.  But in baptism by water, I DID receive the Holy Spirit!

Later, when I was in middle school, I made my First Communion. It is also in the Eucharist that we receive all of Jesus, including the Holy Spirit.

This Holy Spirit is a great power, that we receive in becoming Christians by baptism. It is still somewhat of a mystery what this Holy Spirit is. But, the best description I have found is when Jesus says in John 14: 15 -- " If you love me, you will obey what I command [i.e. resist sin]. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever-- the Spirit of the truth. The world cannot accept Him because it neither sees Him nor knows Him, for He lives in you and will be in you."

All this time, I thought that the Holy Spirit was "out there" somewhere? But the Holy Spirit is in me, counseling me all through my days! To access the power of the Holy Spirit, I have only to ask, i.e. to desire God and to pray for His helping hand.

Does it work?

Several years ago now, I was at the park with my young son, who was about three. Suddenly a dangerous wind kicked up. My son looked up at the sky and said, "I want to go home". We had walked to the park, which was around the corner from home. I put him in our little red wagon and we headed home.

By the time we reached the corner of our street, the wind gusts were roiling the trees above. I stopped at the corner and hesitated. We could see our house, but we still had a ways to go. My son screamed over the awful sound of the wind, "GO-oo!!!"

I don't know why, but I asked my son, 'Which way should I go?', meaning do I cross the street at the corner, or do I turn the corner and keep going? (Why was I asking my toddler this, anyway, except I was confused and petrified?)

At that moment, I heard an insistent whisper, "Cross here! Cross here!"

But this voice did not come from my son. He was screaming the opposite, ' Keep going, turn the corner!!!'

I disobeyed that gentle inner voice, and I turned the corner. Almost opposite our house, a huge maple tree split near the base and came crashing towards us! I found myself hauling on the wagon with all my might, with my son in it, running for our lives!  The tree fell within a few feet of us, with live wires all around us. We were unharmed, but terrified. Later, on the news, I heard that this wind was in actuality, a micro tornado!

Had I listened to the gentle voice within, I would have crossed the street at the corner. Then, the tree would have fallen away from us, and we would not have been in the path of such danger.

Some time after this incident, I asked my pastor, What was that Power, that had saved my son and me from certain destruction?

He said, "It was Divine Intervention. Someone is protecting you. It could be a guardian angel. It could be God's Grace . It could be the Holy Spirit."

I wondered about that. I mean, I had not even thought to pray. I did not have time to pray. I just ran.
But the power of the Spirit was there for me!

The Catholic Church believes that, "all those who, [even] without knowing of the Church, but acting under the inspiration of Grace, who seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill His will, are saved even if they have not been baptized."

Today, I believe with all my heart in the power of the Holy Spirit: through baptism, through prayer, through the Eucharist-- and through God's infinite Grace.

The Holy Spirit saves! I can stand here and say, I am living proof of that. . . .

[Related Postings: " Nativity of John the Baptist:, June 23, 2012; " The Baptism of the Lord, January 7, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013 All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

My Epiphany

" After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ' Where is the One who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.' When King Herod heard this, he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. Then Herod called the Magi secretly and sent them to Bethlehem and said, ' Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find Him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship Him.'  After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them, until it stopped over the place where the child was.  When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  On coming to the house, they saw the child with His mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped Him. Then they opened their treasures and presented Him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrhh.

Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.  When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. 'Get up', he said, 'take the child and His mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill Him.'  When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and vicinity who were two years old and under."  [ Matthew 2: 1- 16.]

This Sunday, we celebrate the Epiphany of the Lord.  We all remember the story, told countless times, of how wise men from the East came, following the star to the east, to seek the new King. In a humble manger, they found a lowly babe, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger.

This is a sweet, awe-inspiring image: the wisest men of the time, journeying for days, to seek the heavenly King. We have all seen sacred art depicting these "Three Kings" [there is no evidence that they were kings, nor that there were exactly three of them]. They bring glittering gold, and the costliest oils and tinctures.

The Magi are overjoyed to see the star in the east, and are in awe before the baby Jesus, with His mother Mary. But there is a darker side to this joyous tale.

King Herod, the earthly King at the time, is insanely jealous over the prospect of another King -- Jesus -- who is said to have come to rule all nations. Herod is power-hungry, and he orders that Jesus be killed. In fact, he does not mind if, in the process, countless young male babies are killed, in his quest for power.

Sometimes, I think we view this story as a 'fairy tale.'  But, I am beginning to see that there are some very real elements to this story.

How real is it, that human rulers are power- hungry, and are threatened by anyone else who claims a greater influence than theirs?

And how real is Herod's violence, in reaction to this perceived threat to his power? How often today do nations go to war; or do dictators bomb and kill even their own people, in order to prove their own strength of leadership?

I think often of the Magi's well-intentioned impulse, to shower costly gifts on the baby Jesus. They really do regard the tiny baby Jesus as a King! But, I wonder why the Magi thought that would impress God? Sometimes, we think that, in amassing troves of expensive things, we will prove our worth to God. But, all of the most valuable stuff on earth is worth nothing, compared to the awe and wonder in our seeing God, through the life of His Son.

This story also reminds me to consider how we treat the children in our world. The Magi traveled for days, with only a bright star as their compass, all for the simple goal of seeing a humble child. Since all babies are children of God, does this not make ALL children in the world so very precious? And yet, how does our world treat its children?

And finally, I give tremendous credit to the Magi for their long, faith-filled and dangerous journey. What if Herod had been able to uncover the Magi's scheme to outwit him? Could Herod not have  tortured and persecuted the Magi, until they broke down and revealed where to find Jesus?

An Epiphany is a sudden revelation of the Divine. An Epiphany is, in modern terms, a "wake-up call."

Even today, we are all on a long, faith-filled and dangerous journey towards Jesus. We can only trust, even in the darkest of nights, that we WILL find Him. Our life is not meant to be a long, dangerous journey to hoarding as much wealth as we can, while on the way, we step over anyone in our way to fame and fortune.

So, I wonder, what am I willing to do in my own life, right here and now, in this age, to follow the Heavens to find Jesus? What am I willing to do to protect Jesus in my heart? How far would I travel, to see Him? What kind of persecution or violence would I risk for Him? What kind of secular authority would I defy, to find Him?

This is my Epiphany:  that Jesus is King of the Universe-- no one else. And that His Peace, His Love, His Hope, His Joy, and the awe that He brings, are ALL worth far more than all of the material treasures that I could ever possess.

And, despite what anyone would say today:    Jesus is STILL worth journeying far for, still worth seeking despite an uncertain path, still worth fighting for. . . .

[Related Postings:  "King of the Universe", Nov. 26, 2012;  " The Magi", Jan. 9, 2012; "Epiphany", January 6, 2011.]