Monday, January 27, 2014

Answering God's Call

" Now when Jesus heard that John had been arrested, He withdrew to Galilee. He left Nazareth and made His home in Capernaum by the sea.   .  . As He walked by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And He said to them, ' Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.' Immediately, they left their nets and followed Him. As He went from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee, and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and He called them. Immediately, they left the boat and their father, and followed Him." [ Matthew 4: 18-23].

The first several times I read this story of Jesus calling upon His disciples to follow Him, I loved the fact that these men were simple fishermen. But I thought that this story must be a myth, because who exactly would drop everything, even leaving nets in the water, and one's father behind, and go follow a man of uncertain purpose and authority?

The Bible is full of stories of men and women being called by God. Must they all be so holy as to drop everything when God calls, and to do absolutely anything He asks?

In the Old Testament, Abraham represents a shining example of faithful response to God's call.  In Genesis 12, The Lord calls Abraham to ," Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing." And what does Abraham do? Genesis 12:4-5 says, " So Abraham went, as The Lord had told him."  Abraham is 75 years old when the call comes! He leaves with his wife Sarai, his nephew and all their possessions.

In 1 Samuel 3, The Lord calls to Samuel. Samuel  cries out, " Here I am, Lord!"

For me, it is not that simple.

Remember Moses in Exodus 3?  In this Scripture, he witnesses the burning bush, that is ablaze but never burns away. Moses comes closer, out of curiosity.

In re-reading Exodus 3, I have to conclude:  I am a " Moses", not an Abraham.

The growth of my Faith as an adult began with curiosity. I once met an older lady, a friend of a friend. This older lady was simply dressed, an ordinary older lady, whom you could easily overlook. But even though her hair was gray and her clothes not especially stylish and her face bore some wrinkles, she positively glowed. I asked her what her secret was? She said that she knew The Lord. I said to myself,  'Whatever she has, I want some of that!'

The Lord's magnetism begins with the ordinary. An ordinary older woman. An ordinary bush, that burns but is never is consumed.

Once God gets our attention, He begins a conversation. For the fishermen, He sent His Son. They immediately responded.

Some of us take a lot more convincing.

Let me tell you, my friends, I have used just about every single objection that Moses used-- and this was even before I read Genesis 3-7!

In a time of great personal crisis, I began receiving more and more insistent calls to convert, and to renew my Faith in The Lord.

At first, I wanted to run away, or hide my face. Moses did this, and it did not work!  When I tried to hide, a priest told me," You can run, but you cannot hide!"

Then, Moses said, " Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring my people out of Egypt?" I tried this objection, too. I told the pastor, " I am a Nobody."  But the priest told me, " The disciples were only fishermen. Jesus was only a carpenter. Mary was only a young peasant girl, probably illiterate."

Next, Moses said to The Lord," Who ARE you?"  God replies, " I am Who I am." I have asked this question myself. Even Moses does not get any more detailed explanation than that.

So finally, after many months, I did what I thought was the impossible: I converted!

But God wanted more, it seems. After my conversion,  it came upon my heart to begin writing this blog. Most of my life, I had kept my Faith deep inside me. In my non- believing family, my Faith was unacceptable. How could I ever dare speak it -- let alone to the world?

Even worse, in my abusive childhood home, I had stopped speaking when I was ten.  Was not my uncertainty of speech a sure reason to avoid speaking out about my Faith?

Moses himself says, " O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past, nor even now; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue."  But God says to Moses, " Who gives speech to mortals?  Is it not I, The Lord?"

Finally,  Moses tells God," O, my Lord, please send someone else!" Haven't we all been there?!

Then, God says, " I will be with your mouth, and will teach you what to do".

And, FINALLY, Moses accepts God's call. Moses goes on to become one of God's greatest servants -- EVER!

O,  Lord, WHO am I, that You should call me? I am No One. WHO are You in my life that You would even notice me? I want to hide from You still,  but your call is so insistent! I stopped speaking for years as a child. And yet, you are using me to speak to the World!

May Your Grace bring to my lips Your Sacred Word. May Your Words fly to the hearts of all in the world who long to hear Your gentle voice.

Lord, here I am! May I be Your faithful servant.

[ Related Posting: " Here I am, Lord!", January 15, 1012; " Fishers of Men", January 21, 2012.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2104. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 20, 2014

How God Bends Time

" [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming towards him and declared, ' Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said,' After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because He was born before me.' I myself did not know Him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason.' And John the Baptist testified, ' I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on Him. I myself did not know Him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ' He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.' " [ John 1: 29-34].

Here is the first- person narrative of John the Baptist.  Jesus, Himself , was baptized  with water by John the Baptist. Because of Jesus' baptism, we also are baptized with water AND the Holy Spirit.

John The Baptist says in his testimony that Jesus " was born before me".  But in fact, John the Baptist  was chronologically older than Jesus!

How could John the Baptist possibly say that Jesus  was born before him?

I remember when I was a young girl. I had Barbie and Ken dolls. Barbie and Ken were only dating, in my little imaginary stories with them,  but one day, they would get married. I was sure of it.

Like so many young girls, all over the world, over countless generations, I day- dreamed of the man I would one day marry.

By the time I was in high school, I had " built" this perfect man, in my own imagination. This man was to have a certain color hair. He would wear glasses, preferably tortoise -shell. He would wear tweed jackets. Maybe he would smoke a pipe? I even imagined a name for him.

For so many years during high school and college and graduate school, this man never showed up in my life. I began my first job, and I rented and furnished my first apartment. I began to wonder if  I would get married, after all.

Finally, through a mutual friend, I met someone. He had that certain hair color that I had imagined. He wore tortoise- shell rimmed glasses. The day I met him, he was even was wearing a tweed jacket.

Now THIS was getting a little spooky!

From the first few hours together, I found out that we had gone to high school in the same town. We knew people in common. We had frequented the same pizza place, the same park and the same bowling alley, practically all of our lives.

Even at that first meeting, I felt like I had always known him. I felt like we had been friends from childhood. And yet, we had just met. I did not know him. But I " knew" him.

Over time, I got to know him still better. Turns out, he smoked a pipe in those days. I could NOT believe it!

After we had dated awhile, I casually told him that I had imagined him just so, for so many years. All the details were correct. Except for one thing: I had expected his name to be Paul.

He replied, with an intense stare," Oh! That is my Confirmation name!"

The Bible is filled with examples of how God can predict the future and bring to pass His plans and prophecies for us.

God can even bend time. He can make the past the future. He can know you before you even exist.

Psalm  139: 13- 16 says, " For you created my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb.  .  My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

It is said in the Gospel, that God can number all the hairs on your head.  [ Luke 12:7 and Matthew 10:20].

And so, the statement in Isaiah 49: 1 also makes perfect sense: " Before I was born, The Lord called me; from birth, He made mention of my name."

This statement in Hebrews 7: 3 , about Melchizedek, who gave bread and wine to Abraham and blessed him, makes perfect sense: " Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever."

The way in which we speak of God in the Doxology acknowledges God's power to span all time ---"As it was in  the beginning, was now, and ever shall be, [world without end], Amen."

And this is why I SO love God! His power is so very immense, that He can know us before we are even born. He can say that He knows that Jesus, His only Son, existed before John the Baptist -- even though John was born prior to Jesus.

Poet T.S. Eliot said, " We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. . . . What we call the beginning is often the end. And to make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from."

[ Related Postings: " Anointed with the Spirit", January 13, 2014; " Baptized With the Holy Spirit", January 11, 2013; " Nativity of John the Baptist", June 23, 2012; " The Baptism of The Lord", January 7, 2011.].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Martin Luther King's Dream

" I am happy to join you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation. Five score years ago, a great American [ Abraham Lincoln], in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation.  . . . But one hundred years later, the Negro [black man] is still not free.  . . . And so, we've come here today to dramatize a shameful condition. . . .No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until "justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream." [Amos 5:24].  I have a dream today! . . . I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; "and the glory of The Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together." [Isaiah 40:4-5]. Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!" [ From an old Negro spiritual].      ------ [ Martin Luther King, Jr.'s " I Have A Dream" speech, August 28, 1963, at the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.].

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a preacher. His father was a pastor, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was educated at Morehouse College. Then, he went on to the Theological Seminary at Boston University.

Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches were impassioned and seemed to flow so easily.

At the Lincoln Memorial on August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King had carefully prepared a speech that would rely on the historical and legal roots of the Civil Rights Movement. This was the largest March to date in the nation, when there had already been riots, lynchings, cross burnings, and fire hoses used in peaceful demonstrations, throughout the South.  King wanted to be on solid ground, he wanted to prove his legitimacy.

Martin Luther  King recited his speech. But then, Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, who was participating in the March, interrupted, calling out,  "Tell them about the dream, Martin!" [ New York Times, August 27, 2013]. She was calling King to "preach it", not argue it.

And Martin Luther King set aside his prepared speech. He began to preach, with ready Scriptural references. The "I Have A Dream Speech" may have been  improvisational: but King knew exactly what he was doing.

King was not a politician. He was a man of  God.  Before giving any speeches or writing any treatises to be used in the Civil Rights movement, King always spent time praying and seeking God. His advisors fully realized that King was dependent on seeking the Spirit. Before any new citizens' demonstrations, King urged his people on, with prayers and preaching.

He also knew exactly what he was doing in his last speech on April 3, 1968, at the Church of God In Christ Headquarters in Memphis, TN.

This speech is known as the "I've Been To The Mountaintop" speech. At that point, King had spent time in the Birmingham jail. He had witnessed the violence against citizens who had dared to stand up for Civil Rights. He had been stalked by the FBI; and even received death threats; and had been stabbed but had survived.

In the " Mountaintop" speech, King 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. And He's allowed me to go to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land."

There is a long, resonating history of going to the mountaintop in the Bible. Moses went to the top of Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. Moses went to the top of  Mt. Nebo where he could see the Promised Land,  but he died before he could enter there.  Jesus went to the mountaintop to give His Sermon on the Mount; and during what is called the Transfiguration, when Jesus appeared to the disciples, in a white light, as God's Son.

Martin Luther King allowed God to use him, even to the point of death. King relied on the Spirit and the counsel of the Lord to guide him. He knew fully that he was a servant of God, and that the Civil Rights movement was much greater than he was.

King knew that the fight was not just about him. He said, " Remember, if I am stopped, this movement is not stopped, because God is with the movement."

Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968,  the day after his " Mountaintop Speech".
Like Moses, King knew that he would never make it to the Promised Land. But he had led his people there.

[ Related Postings, " Martin Luther King", January 17, 2011; " Remembering Martin Luther King", January 16, 2012; "The Need For Martin Luther King", January 16, 2013 ].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Anointed With The Spirit

" Now Peter began to speak to them:  ' I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation, anyone who fears Him and does what is right is acceptable to Him. You know the message He sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ -- He is Lord of all. That message spread through Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed with the devil, for God was with him. ' " [ Acts 10:34-38].

I was brought to church as a young child and baptized when I was about age two or three. As soon as I made my First Communion and was Confirmed, my family stopped taking me to church.

My family thought that because we HAD gone to church and that because I was baptized, that -- thank Heavens-- I was not a " little heathen" any longer. By having me baptized and Confirmed, I was therefore a Christian.

But I knew nothing about being a Christian.

I had no idea that I was supposed to actually emulate Jesus, probably because my parents never bothered to do so. I would ask to go to church, but the answer was always no. You see, I had piety, even as a girl of 14.

Meanwhile, in my house, I suffered so many slings and arrows coming at me, I did not know how to cope.

My mother seemed to be perpetually sad, but also highly critical. She could cheerfully read me a book in the morning. But later in the day,  when I came home from school, she had given the family dog away.

I sensed her struggling with everyday life. I began to weed her garden without being asked. I began to help her bring in the groceries and put them away. I wheedled a new sewing machine out of her; then, in turn, every Sunday afternoon, I would do all the family mending.

At a young age, I had an early wisdom and understanding. I figured out, if all those cruelties were coming my way, I could neutralize all these negative ions by putting out some positive forces of my own.

When my brother hit me or stole my things or locked me in my room,  or as he called me ugly everyday, I knew enough not to go fist to fist. I was much younger and smaller. I had an unusual fortitude, to put up with all this abuse. But I also had right  judgment, not to match violence with violence.

I always say that I may be smart, but not THAT smart! How was I so wise and powerful?

These days, I like to quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who said about his fellow South African blacks, ''The first mistake they [white South Africans] made was that they taught us to read and they gave us Bibles.'

Well, the first "mistake" my parents made was, they had me baptized.  With my baptism,  I was anointed with the Spirit.

I never knew this, though!  I did not know about the source of my powers until decades later. All I knew was that somehow, Something or Someone was protecting me. Someone was prompting me to do or say the right thing, in the most difficult and even dangerous situations.

I was emulating what Jesus did, only I had no idea what that was. I did not have a name for it until much, much later.

Decades later, I chose a church and became a Catholic. I stumbled upon the Scripture: " Jesus went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed with the devil, for God was with Him."

I absolutely LOVED that passage! Those words spoke to me and I said to myself , " I want to do THAT"!

That is the moment when the Holy Spirit, which has been there for us since our baptism, becomes utterly clear.

This reminds me of how author Lorna Kelly says that, in talking with a friend about Jesus, Lorna herself absolutely fell in love with Him.

It feels like a foolish thing to utter, that I am totally fascinated and in love with Jesus. After all, Jesus is God's Son, a Divine Being.  (Some secular folks would deny that He is even real, especially today.) And yet, that is precisely what God intended when he sent His Son in human form!

God wants us to be charmed and fascinated by Jesus. He wants us to be intrigued by His Son, and desire to follow Him.

When Jesus was baptized,  God  "anointed Him with the Holy Spirit, and with power". [Acts 10:38].

Answering cruelty and harsh words, and psychic wounds, with Love and Wisdom and fortitude, is what gives us the upper hand. The Fruits of the Spirit give us power to overcome. With spiritual warfare, we go on the offensive with immense Love. The Peace within us puts us on control of any enemies.

In our baptism, we are given the Fruits of the Spirit: wisdom, understanding, right judgement, courage, knowledge, piety and awe of The Lord.  And like Jesus, we are called to go about doing good and healing all who are oppressed, by the power of those Fruits  ----- for God is with us.

[ Related Posting: " The Baptism of The Lord", January 7, 2011].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Worship of the Magi

" After their audience with King Herod, the magi set out. And behold, the star that they had seen rising preceded them, until it came and stopped over the place where the child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the star, and on entering the house, they saw the child with Mary His mother. They prostrated themselves and did Him homage. Then, they opened their treasures and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh." [Matthew 2:1-12].

It is the Feast of Epiphany, the day on which we commemorate the magi seeking the baby Jesus and paying Him homage.

In modern terms, paying homage means worshipping something or someone. I look around me and what I see is a lot of worship, but not of the sacred kind.

Young people, especially, seem to worship technology. They regard time spent in school, eating, or sleeping, and doing chores, as an interruption from what they really seek -- time using electronics. It has gotten to the point that young people fear human interaction. One young man, in an experiment forcing him to give up his smart phone, said he hated one-on-one conversations, because then he could not control his emotions or the trajectory of the conversation. Young people looking for a job need to be taught to shake hands and look the interviewer in the eye.

Or, we worship science and human endeavor.  I grew up in a family such as this, where there IS no God. What results is a tragedy, because when human imperfections fail us, without God we fall into self-blame, anxiety, and depression. What a terrifying world it is, without God to rely on when we fall down!

Or, we worship ourselves. We obsessively take self-portraits using our cell phones.("selfies"). We lose all sense of decorum and of our place in a community. We are so self-absorbed, we take selfies at funerals, or  in dangerous situations, while skiing or driving a car. We start with thinking it is all about us. We end with believing we are immortal.

Or, we worship our superior knowledge. I have seen some people become trapped in the fallacy that if they are materially successful in life, then they are smarter than anyone else. They worship their own power and control over the Universe. They believe that they have a duty to micromanage everyone. They continually try to play God with others. They forget that all that they have comes from God, not from their own superiority. They become alienating and arrogant. In the extreme, this kind of person can become a political dictator like Hitler who, in trying to control the world, ends up annihilating it.

Or, we worship money. My family believed in "Worship of the Almighty Dollar". Those who worship money, like my family, evaluate everything based on a cost/benefit analysis. Going to church becomes " a waste of time and money", because there is no scientifically measurable benefit from the investment of time and monetary donations. The primacy of money leaves no room for God. This world view produces people who see others as "human resources", not as living, breathing individuals. Those who put money first become opportunistic and heartless, cold and even cruel. They become devoid of humanity.

Or, we worship celebrity. The celebrity culture regards those who are gifted human beings, as gods. Few human beings, no matter how talented, can withstand that kind of  scrutiny.  The celebrity ends up believing that he or she is invincible. Then, they behave recklessly, like James Dean or Janis Joplin. Or, they quietly implode like Michael Jackson or Marilyn Monroe. Or, they explode in anger and lash out like Charlie Sheen or Alec Baldwin. ( " The Ten Angriest Celebrities" , Toronto Sun, November 8, 2013).

Or, we worship status. We believe that because of our title at work, or our supposedly superior ethnicity, that we are better than anyone else. This leaves us intolerant and judgmental, even racist. In the end, we are egotistical but alone, because no one can ever measure up to our ideal of perfection. We forget that we are only human, imperfect like everyone else.

Or, we worship our own bodies. This kind of person believes that she is superior because of her fitness or physique. Yes, we are meant to take care of our physical selves, but in the extreme, worship of the body becomes self indulgence, or pride, even pornography. Then, when we age and develop infirmities, are we left with self-loathing? When we obsess about our bodies, we forget what is in our hearts.

I ponder the magi and I think, would you or I today, do as they did? Would we don our best clothes, not to impress others, but to pay respect to the Son of God? Would we travel a long distance, following a faraway star, relying on a prophesy or rumor, never really sure who or what we would find in the end--   but embarking on the journey anyway?

Would we bring extravagant gifts, not to show off our wealth,  but to demonstrate how infinitely valuable this tiny baby is to us, today, tomorrow and for the rest of time?

Who do YOU worship?

[ Related Posting: " The Worship of Technology", June 5, 2013; " Epiphany, January 6, 2011].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.