Wednesday, August 28, 2013

My Labor Day, Myself

" Come to me, all you who labor and are weary, and I will give you rest." [ Matthew 11:28].

Labor Day in America is the first Monday in September. On that day, we celebrate all those who labor and are weary. We also take a much needed rest from those labors.

So many of us are at work-- whether at the workplace or via electronic "tethers"-- almost around the clock these days. There must be a time when we leave our workplaces, turn off those devices and simply allow ourselves to BE.

We owe it to ourselves to fill ourselves up, so we can serve again with strength.

Even Jesus needed to take time away from His work. Many, many times in the Bible, Jesus went to the seaside, or up on a mountain or to the desert, to reflect and rest, and to pray.

So often, we modern human beings define ourselves by our work. We are at an event such as a wedding, a barbecue or a coffee hour; and the first question we are are asked is, "What do you DO?"

We define ourselves as a plumber, or a nurse, or a teacher, or a librarian.

In family gatherings, we define ourselves as So-And-So's sister, or aunt, or brother, or cousin.

Sometimes, I think that we hide behind our labels.

There were a variety of names in the Bible for Jesus Himself ----

He was known as Jesus, Yahweh, Emmanuel, Rabbi, Teacher, Son of God, Son of Man, son of Mary and Joseph, the Good Shepherd, Christ, Bread of Life, Head of the Church, the Alpha and the Omega, King of Kings, Lamb of God, Lord, Prince of Peace, Ruler, Savior, the True Light, the True Vine. . . .

But Jesus was so much more than the sum total of His labels. Jesus simply WAS.

He never became defensive about who He was.

He never allowed Himself to be reduced to mere labels. Even immediately before His Crucifixion, the governor asked Jesus asked, "Are you not the King of the Jews?" Jesus replied, "If you say that I am."

Summing up ourselves by only labels is about as effective as saying that Jesus was only a carpenter!

I believe that we hide behind our labels, because that allows us to avoid seeing who we REALLY are. All of our busy-ness, and preoccupation with our professions and our career, obliterates our True Selves.

When I was struggling with my faith and searching for a new church, I found myself asking who I really am?. . . A cousin wrote me a note that said, "Oh, I believe, in your heart, that you know who you really are!"

It was then that I grew tearful . . . . and I found myself wondering where God was? That longing drove me to prayer, and to an on-going conversation with God and, ultimately, to a relationship with God.

This Labor Day, I hope that, for a few hours, you will shed all of your masks and titles, and your generational slots on the family tree.  I hope that you will change out of your uniform, and all the designer clothes that you think define you. And I hope that you gaze at yourself in the mirror.

It is said that the eyes are the mirror of the Soul. When you gaze at yourself in the mirror, and quit trying to define yourself the way the Earthly World sees you, what will you find?

I believe that you may just find the God inside you!

[Related Posting, "Labor Day", September 6, 2011].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Putting The Last First

" Jesus went through the towns and villages, teaching as He made His way to Jerusalem. Someone asked Him, 'Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?' He said to them, 'Many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the master of the house closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us.' But he will reply, 'I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers.' Indeed, there are those who are last who shall be first, and some are first who shall be last.' " [ Luke 13: 22- 30].

Sometimes it seems like the "bad guys" in this world always win. I have at at times been haunted by this notion.

The greedy people seem to amass more and more wealth, not caring who they step over to get there.

Violence for its own sake seems to be overtaking our world. Now, in the news, there are cases of youths killing another human being, just to see what it feels like to kill someone.

I have "been there" in my own life, enduring those close to me seemingly getting away with cruel behavior. At the time, there did not seem to be a way out, or any justice.

I have gone to the Bible for answers and found Psalm 73: "I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence. From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits. They scoff and speak with malice; in their arrogance, they threaten oppression. This is what the wicked are like -- always carefree, they increase their wealth. Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure. All daylong I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.".

In other words, having spent my entire life doing the right thing, sometimes I have wondered, Why do I even bother?

The Scripture of today promises justice in the End, when those who behaved as if they were first on earth, end up last with God.

Psalm 73 confirms this: "When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me, till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny."

And yet-- waiting until our own Judgment Day seems an awfully long time to wait for Paradise.

What would the world be like if we did NOT wait for judgement day to put those who are Last, first? Let me tell you a story of a boy who devoted himself to putting the Last first, on purpose.

On the very first day that a certain boy went to school, his mother told him, "God made you smart and strong. If you have done your best with your school work, and you have time and energy to spare, be part of the solution; not part of the problem."

In kindergarten, the boy met another student, D. The boy was assigned to sit with D. at lunch. Every day, D. asked, "Are we going out to recess?"

D. could barely see out of his squinting eyes, to the point that he was partially blind. He struggled with his school work. Other students would snicker at D. Yet, every day, this boy patiently explained to D., that if it was sunny, there would be recess outside.

When lining up for recess, the students were required to stand on every other tile square in the cafeteria, to avoid shoving or crowding. The boy always made sure that D. was standing behind him in line. He told D., put your hands on my shoulders and follow me outside. Then, the boy played with D.

There was another boy in the playground, J. This student J. was also struggling in school. He had no friends. The boy played with J., since J. seemed so alone.

When other students tripped J. on purpose, the boy pushed them away and risked getting in trouble himself, to protect his friend.

At the end of the school year, the students were told to write something nice about each student. The students wrote about the boy: "He plays with the kids that no one wants to play with."  "He helped a girl who fell off the end of the slide, by helping her up and running to find the teacher". 

In fourth grade, the boy won a grab bag in a raffle. Another student won nothing. The boy saw the other student crying, and gave him one of the toys from his grab bag.

In sixth grade, the boy went with his class on a field trip to a State Fair. The boy kept winning prizes in various games of chance. His classmate won nothing. The boy spent his last dollar on a game of chance, and won his friend a stuffed animal.

The boy's mother donates hats and scarves to a local homeless shelter. The boy asked, what was his mother doing? When she told him, he went silently to the coat closet, and gave her his own hat and mittens. He told her, Give these to someone else who needs them more than I do.

The passage in Luke, that the Master of the house will close the door and say, ' Get away from me, you evildoers, I do not even know you' -- is terrifying. I cannot imagine God telling me that He does not even know me!

Those who commit violence and evil may say, " How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?" [Psalm 73].

Yes, God knows the Love or the Evil in your heart. And I know that God knows who this boy is. But, do YOU know who this boy is, who systematically puts the Last first?

This boy is my son. . . .

What a wonderful world it would be, if everyone would put those who are Last, first. I tell you, I have learned a tremendous amount from this boy, my only son. I have learned what True Love is.

[Related Posting, "The Last Shall Be First", Sept. 17, 2011].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013.  All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 19, 2013

My Baptism By Fire

" Jesus said to His disciples: ' I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on earth? There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished. No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on, a household of five will be divided, three against two, and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.' " [ Luke 12: 49-53.]

In this Scripture, we see how stern that Jesus can be. Here, He even seems harsh. This is not the gentle, peaceful Son of God whom most know and would recognize.

In this passage, our Faith is like a War, as it brings great division. This passage reminds me of Ephesians 6: 10- 17 -- " Be strong in the Lord and His mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's evil schemes. . . . Therefore, put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground. . . Stand firm, then, with the belt of Truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of Righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with readiness . . . In addition, take up the shield of Faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows. Take the helmet of Salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God."

I also recall Jesus saying, "I come not to bring peace, but I come with a sword," [Matthew 10:34]. This Scripture goes on to say, " A man's enemies will be the members of his own family. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me."

Jesus speaks of taking up our cross to follow Him. A cross is heavy, it is a burden, it leads to earthly suffering. The Cross also leads to heavenly Salvation.

What a stark choice to make! Yet, I have lived these passages. . . .

My parents brought me to church until I was age 14. Despite my baptism, my First Communion and Confirmation, we stopped going to church. They waited until both my grandparents were deceased, though. Not going to church would have provoked the ire of my grandparents.

I was afraid as a child, that if my parents took church away, then they could take my faith away. I almost became afraid of my mother, when it came to my Faith. She used to tell me that "Religion is the opiate of the masses." In her view, religion was a pablum for those too weak or unintelligent to figure things out on their own, or to take care of themselves.

When I was old enough to make decisions about my Faith on my own, I wore my gold cross necklace under my shirt when in her presence. In my own home, I hid my Bible upstairs where she did not go. I memorized The Armor of God, and would recite it to myself, before I had to visit her.

I could not be fully myself with my parents, because of the great divide between us over Faith. This was not a theoretical divide. I dared not confront my mother as a teen, but I would whisper Scriptural phrases to myself, to negate her rhetoric. If she said, Almighty Dollar, I would whisper, "Almighty God."

I had to keep a part of me separate from them, the part that was not materialistic, not intolerant of others; the part of me that was filled with Faith and believing in a Power higher than ourselves.

When I married a Catholic, my mother thought I was doing this TO her. My parents refused to stand in the receiving line at my wedding.

Any conversations I had with my sibling about church and Faith were met with a smirk. I was told, "Church is a waste of time and money." I could not be myself with my only sibling, even as adults.

I began my married life as a non-Catholic. I wanted to please my mother-in-law, but being a non-Catholic, I did not know how. Conversion to Catholicism was never anything I could discuss with my mother-in-law. I didn't want her to pressure me.

Then, on my mother-in-law's death bed, she told me that I would convert someday. They say that when we are near death, we are nearer to the Truth. I came away from her bedside concluding that she did not know what she was talking about.

Then, my dear mother-in-law did pass away. I was devastated. My father saw my grief and told me, "Well, you always have that Faith thing." I could see the pitying look in his eye. I thought he was patronizing me, and therefore, that he was patronizing my Faith. Obviously, I could not talk about my Faith with my father, with any sincerity.

I had to battle for my Faith. And yes, I finally did convert!

In the last few years, both my father, then my mother died. I have looked back on my life and what I have seen is that I was called to make a series of decisions, that forced me to choose between my family and God.

It does not seem fair that a mere child should be forced to choose between her mother and father vs. God.

Yet, I see now that Jesus was right-- we are all called to ask ourselves whether we love even our own families, even our father and mother, more than we love Him?

I can see now that I need to "Be strong in the Lord." I need my Belt of Truth. I need my feet to be firmly planted on the ground. I need my helmet of Salvation and the sword of the Spirit. This is what keeps my Faith strong, even among those who would attempt to talk me out of it.

I know now that "If God is for me, who can be against me?" [ Romans 8: 28-31]. Even though I grew up in a family who never told me they loved me, who exhibited more hate than love, I know now that " neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate [me] from the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus."

And so-- if you could not have both a faith-filled family AND God, who would YOU choose?

[Related posting, "In Battle For God", August 25, 2012].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 12, 2013

An Unexpected Day

" Jesus said to His disciples: ' Do not be afraid any longer, little flock, for your Father is pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your belongings and give alms. Provide money bags for yourselves that do not wear out, an inexhaustible treasure in Heaven that no thief can reach nor moth destroy. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.  Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come. Truly, I say to you, the master will put the servant in charge of all his property. But if that servant says to himself, 'The master is delayed in coming,' and begins to beat the servants, to eat, and drink and get drunk, then that servant's master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish the servant severely and assign him a place with the unfaithful. That servant who knew his master's will but did  not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be [punished] severely." [ Luke 12: 32-48].

There once was a boy who was raised by a mother of great Faith. She taught him to pray. His parents took him to church every week. They said Grace before meals.

This boy grew up to be educated at a fine university. He was very intelligent and capable, and he understood many things.

He married a beautiful, wealthy woman; and a couple of years after the wedding, the couple moved away, to seek their fortunes elsewhere. The young man's parents were saddened to see him go, but they wished him well. After all, they knew that they had given their son the keys to Faith, and an excellent education: all to prepare him well for his future.

The man resented all the things in life that he thought his parents had NOT provided him.  He thought that by marrying wealth, he could enjoy it for himself. But soon, he grew resentful that his wife's wealth was not his own. So he began to accumulate as much wealth as he could for himself.

Soon, the man and his wife grew to resent each other. It had become an unspoken contest, who had accumulated more. Love became confused with money. Their true love for each other dwindled.

Meanwhile, the couple had first a son, then a daughter. The daughter was fearful and rarely spoke. She seemed to get more than a few black eyes. She was walking in her sleep. She ate poorly and had few friends. No one seemed to notice that the household was more abusive than loving.

Every night, the man came home from work, and drank until he was quietly drunk. Then, his behavior towards the daughter became worse.

The man and his wife took the children to church. But as soon as First Communion and Confirmation were done with, they quit all that "church and God stuff."  Instead, the man and his wife found that it was money that made the world go around.

With the things they had accumulated, the couple felt superior to others. They did not believe in sharing anything with those in need. They taught the daughter to "take care of herself first" .

The daughter grew up and moved away. Her father was saddened that she rarely visited.

Many years later, the man awoke one day, and fell to the floor. He passed away instantly. He had not known the hour nor the day when the Lord would come. He had been taught in church how to please God, but he had not made sure to be prepared for God's will. He had not kept the thief at bay.

His daughter did not understand where her father might have gotten his ideas about life and love and  money. She traveled back to the place where her father had been born.

She went about, asking about her father's parents. Everywhere she went, she heard about how generous and loving and giving her grandfather was. He served in the Vestry of his church for many years. Her grandfather had gone back home to the farm where he had grown up and bought his brother a new horse. He bought his wife's brother a new boat for his fishing business, after the old boat sank. He paid for his wife's sister to attend school.  During the war, he had donated his brand new car to the war effort.

Her father's mother had knitted many items for the orphanage each year, so that each child had a gift on Christmas. She had visited her old village during the Great Depression, to deliver food to the families who were literally starving.

Her grandparents had been dead for many years. The daughter barely remembered her grandfather's face. She was a tiny girl when he had died. But their acts of Love and kindness lived on, in Eternity. They had chosen to be ready for when their Master came. They had done His will.

God knew what her grandparents had done. But the daughter also knew the treasure in her grandparents' hearts. This treasure, this Love, could never be stolen by a thief, could never corrode, or fade away, or grow moldy or be destroyed. This Love lived on, way beyond the years her grandparents had lived on earth.

And all because this Treasure was not any physical thing like gold or jewels, that have worth only if hoarded or sold for more gold. No, this Treasure came from God. And this Treasure has worth, only when given away!

[Related Posting, "The Hoarder", August 5, 2013].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Hoarder

" Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, ' Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.' Then Jesus said to the crowd, ' Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one's life does not consist in possessions.' Then he told them a parable. 'There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ' What shall I do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grains and other goods.' But God said to him, 'You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?' Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for the themselves but are not rich in what matters to God.' "Luke 12 : 13-21.]

I have told the story in this space before, of my own father who stored up his earthly treasures. It was as if he had a contest with himself about how much he could tuck away.  One morning, a few years ago, he awoke, and  had his first cup of coffee in the morning. Then he came to the room where my mother was, and she saw that he had broken out in a sweat, his complexion had turned gray and he could barely speak. She called for an ambulance, but before it arrived, he was gone.

Where the day before, he had been the picture of health, the next day, he died of a massive heart attack. And, so all of his hoarded treasure could not save him. And he did not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of his labor.

My father did not believe in generosity with his money or possessions. He and my mother used to tell me, 'We do not give our money away. You need to think of yourself first.'  They were telling me, do NOT to give to charity.

A Wise Advisor once told me that if you are ungenerous with your money, with your possessions, then you are ungenerous in all other ways.

Growing up, my parents never hugged me or said, "I love you."  Mother Teresa said that Sin is the inability to Love. My parents were stingy with their Love.

If I did not eat the four day old left-overs that passed for dinner, and my mother would move towards the kitchen to get me a piece of bread, my father would say to my mother, " That is IT! Do NOT feed her!" They did not nourish me with earthly food.

I tried to do as they did, and hoard what I needed. I hoarded some candy I had received for a holiday, by hiding it under a chair in my room. But that did not work. I forgot about the candy for months. It became hard and moldy. My mother found it and, furious with me, threw it away. But, I was hungry for a lot more than earthly food.

My father used harsh names for everyone. He seemed to be angry at the world. This attitude frightened me. Maybe he was angry with me? He was stingy with his compassion and tolerance for others.

He used to say that we were English, and that the English were superior in every way. But I knew that we were also part Irish, so that part about being English was not true. So, if part of me was Irish, was I supposed to lie about it ? He was stingy with the Truth.

I learned  a lot growing up, but not what my father wanted me to learn:

I learned that when you hoard your possessions, then you care more about things than God. Sometimes I was afraid that my father loved his money better than he loved me. Jesus said, [If you worship wealth], "you are not rich in what matters to God." St. Paul said, " Put to death the greed that is idolatry." [ Col. 3: 1-5].  

I learned that if you judge others, you do  not love. St. Paul said, " Here, there is not Greek and Jew, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all." [Col. 3: 9-11].My father's biases shamed me.  Who am I, to be better or worse than anyone else?

I learned that if you tell yourself little conceits to make yourself feel superior to others, then you are putting that Lie before God. St. Paul in Colossians says, "Stop lying." Mother Teresa said, If you lie, then you love the lie more than you love God.

I learned that if you refuse to do acts of charity, then you are not loving the God in everyone. Revelations says, " The good that you do stays with God". That is, your good works are not only for this life, but they follow you everywhere. Your good works are also Eternal because if you do good unto others, you do it for God.

Father Christopher M. Taino said, " I always think of the roadblocks that I put in the way of God. I hold onto anger, or pain, or jealousy or rage or bad habits or laziness; and [then], God is put second."

But when I give freely, generously, of myself to others, I love the God in others. Then, I am truly loving God; because what I give to others, I give to God.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.

St. Paul said,


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Race In America

Racism means, " prejudice or hate based on another's race".

We have heard a lot of rhetoric lately about race in America, because of the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman trial. [George Zimmerman, an Hispanic man in a neighborhood watch group, was found not guilty by reason of self-defense, in the shooting of 17 year old Trayvon Martin, a black male.]

A recent open letter to Zimmerman, on Facebook, has received a lot of attention. It states: " For the rest of your life, you are now going to feel what it's like to be a black man in America. People will cross the street when they see you coming. I bet you never thought that by shooting a black male, you'd end up inheriting all of his struggles."

Why do I have this nagging feeling that there is an undercurrent of revenge there?

As a white suburban mom, I have written in this space, that where there is hatred or violence or war, no one wins.  Now, why would I, as a white suburbanite, be so against racism?

When I was a little girl, I was told that my Nana was Irish.  But my brother and I were raised as English. If we mentioned Nana, we were told, "Oh, that." My father used to say, "The English are a superior race." I would ask, "But, why?" He would say, "Because they are."

So, I figured, if I was part Irish, and my Nana was shameful to the family, wasn't I shameful? Racism makes children feel worthless.

When I was about three, I noticed my freckles, that came from my Irish Nana. I cried, and yelled out, "Make them go away!" Racism makes children feel conspicuous.

It was not until I was an adult, out of university and married, that I sharply questioned my father, and found out that my Nana was the Irish housekeeper and nanny to my grandfather's household, before they married.

It has taken me the rest of my life to feel okay about being part Irish. I am still working on reclaiming my sense of self. Racism fractures a child's identity.

When Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, I heard talk amongst whites about how there would be rioting in the streets. I wondered if we would descend into civil war again? Racism makes children fear that the bonds of a civilized society are unraveling.

At university, I was the victim of a horrific and violent crime. I almost died that day. The first thing my family asked me was, "Was the assailant black?" But, it did not matter to me who the man was. The result was the same: I was wounded and too scared to leave my home. Racism over-emphasizes race and under-emphasize the effects of ALL violence.

At university, a black girlfriend went out for dinner and drinks with her friends. A policeman stopped her, as designated driver, for no reason. She did not have her driver's license with her. Suddenly, five police cars surrounded her car. She was handcuffed and taken to jail. In the black community, this is called, "driving while black." Racism overreacts, and imprisons.

All of these instances occurred decades ago. What is the state of race in America today?

A black salesman man goes door to door in a white neighborhood. A white neighbor calls the police, complaining that there is a black man in her neighborhood. What is his offense- "selling while black"?

A white couple is invited to a party, where all the other guests are people of color. When they enter, the other guests stiffen, and stifle gasps. The hostess, a lovely African American lady, takes the wife by the hand, calls her "Dear", and leads her to the buffet table. Everyone lets out a sigh of relief.

I learned a lot about my racism from my own family's prejudices. These experiences have profoundly changed how I interact with others:

A young lady comes to help me clean my house. Her English is fractured and painstaking. I always have bottles of Coke on hand just for her. She could be my daughter. She could be my Nana.

A couple of young men recently drove up to my house, in a big truck, to make a delivery. On a blisteringly hot day, I gave them cold sodas, then also cold bottles of water. These young men could be my sons.

President Obama said that Trayvon Martin could have been his own son. You know what, everyone we encounter are our brothers and sisters! Oh, by the way, the delivery guys were black. I was pretty sad to see their amazement, when I gave them cold drinks and told them to be careful in the heat. . .
I told them, I "mother" everybody!

We do not need to be finding ways to get back at each other. We need to be finding ways to get along.

There is hope for the future, though. I was talking to my teen son about one of his friends.  I told him that she is Korean. He asked, "How do YOU know?"  When I pointed out her shiny black hair and her dark eyes, he said, "Hunh, I didn't notice." My heart sang!

[Related posting, " St. Patrick's Day", March 17, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2013. All Rights Reserved.