Thursday, March 27, 2014
" When you pray, go to your in your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him." [ Matthew 6:1-8].
During Lent, we are supposed to pray, pray, pray. But, sometimes, prayer goes stale and dry.
I like to think of prayer as a practice or a discipline. Any athlete will tell you that "cross-training" makes you stronger and more capable of meeting challenges. If you switch out your types of prayer, you will find that your life with God and Jesus stays fruitful and rewarding.
I have spoken before about how, as we grow and learn, our prayer life matures and transforms. We begin, as children, learning to say the Our Father or Hail Mary, by rote.
A higher level of prayer is simply talking to God. A good way to practice this form of prayer is to remember the acronym A.C.T.S. -- Adoration, Contrition, Thanksgiving, Supplication ( asking God for what we need).
Contemplative Prayer is considered the highest form of prayer. You sit in contemplation, neither reciting words by rote, nor talking to God. You simply rest in God's presence.
Lectio Divina is a contemplative kind of prayer. It is a way of " Praying the Scriptures". Lectio Divina is Latin for " divine reading"; reading Scripture is reading Divine Words.
Lectio Divina is an ancient form of prayer. According to Contemplative Outreach, Ltd. [www.contemplativeoutreach.org], "This tradition of prayer flows out of a Hebrew method of studying Scriptures called Haggadah." Our Judaic brothers and sisters have passed this form of prayer down to us, as a beautiful way to hear what God is saying to us in the Scriptures.
To practice Lectio Divina, first you begin with Lectio, or reading. Consider using that day's Scripture or the Readings from Sunday's Mass. Ask yourself what word or phrase stands out to you from the text? Repeat that word or phrase to yourself, over and over.
Then, comes Meditatio or reflection. Pay attention to what God may be trying to say to you. Bring that phrase into your heart.
Then, comes Oratorio or response. Offer a prayer of praise or thanksgiving. Then, keep repeating the word or phrase to yourself.
Finally, comes Contemplatio or contemplation. Rest in God's presence. This is the place of healing and transformation.
A few weeks ago, I tried Lectio Divina, in a small group at my church. The Scripture we read was Matthew 6: 1-8 [ excerpted above].
As we read these verses together, I found myself focusing on, " Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need, before you ask Him." I said these words to myself over and over.
I thought back to how, when I was 14, my parents began to refuse to take me to church. I didn't understand; I though that by going to church each Sunday for my first 14 years, that we were " Believers"? Then, when they said to me, " Church? We don't do that any longer." -- I said to myself, ' You mean all those years, we were faking it? Then who is right: my parents or God?'
It is a terrible thing for a child to be so confused about faith that she feels that she has to choose between her parents and God. Maybe, all these years later, despite marrying a Christian and joining a church again, I still harbored that conflict, deep inside me?
But, during Lectio Divina, God's voice came through loud and clear to me: " Do NOT be like them. Your Father knows what you need, before you [even] ask Him."
How loving of God to reassure me, as His child. I WAS right all along, to marry a Christian and join a church! My Heavenly Father DID know what I needed, before I - - a mere child -- even knew. In contemplative prayer, God can speak to us, and call to us. I now know the true meaning of this Scripture. I don't need to worry about others' beliefs or forms of prayer. God, the Father, knows what I need.
In Lectio Divina, we have only to sit in the presence of God, and ask Him. Ask God, what do You say to me? He will answer.
For more details on Lectio Divina, go to www.contemplativeoutreach.org.
[ Related Posting, " The Progression of Prayer", July 29, 2013.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, March 23, 2014
" Jesus came to a Samaritan city called Sychar . . . Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired from His journey, was sitting by the well. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ' Give me a drink.' The Samaritan woman said to Him, ' How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?' ( Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans). Jesus answered her, ' If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who is saying to you, ' Give me a drink', you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.' The woman said to Him, ' Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?' Jesus said to her, ' Everyone who drinks of this [ well] water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give, will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.' The woman said to Him,' Sir, give me this water so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.' Jesus said to her, ' Go call your husband, and come back.' The woman answered Him, ' I have no husband.' Jesus said to her, ' You are right in saying, ' I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband.' The woman said to Him, ' I know that the Messiah is coming (who is the Christ). When He comes, He will proclaim all things to us.' Jesus said to her, ' I am He, the One who is speaking to you.'
We cannot live without water. We can skip food for weeks, and still live. But we cannot go for more than a few days without water.
Have you ever felt so thirsty, that you would do just about anything for a sip of water?
Jesus is using our physical thirst as a metaphor for how we thirst in a spiritual way. In this story in John 4, the Samaritans worshipped several pagan gods. Don't we wonder why the Samaritan woman couldn't be satisfied with just one husband? The Samaritan woman has many husbands, just like the Samaritans had too many false gods.
And so I ask you: What false gods do YOU seek, to quench your longings in life?
Perhaps, at the end of every hard day at work, you come home and have some beer or a few glasses of wine. You feel like you need it to take the edge off of your labor. The drink dulls the physical and emotional pain that you carry. We thirst for far more than the sweet- tart sting of wine, though. We long for Someone to heal our pain.
Or maybe, we shop endlessly. We tell ourselves that maybe THIS new pair of shoes or new sweater will finally be the one to make us feel beautiful, or make us feel like we belong. But we thirst for far more than what the latest fashion can bring us. We long for Someone to accept us, even if we are naked and alone.
Or, we long for a promotion at work. We convince ourselves that if we could only acquire more power, then we would have some control over our lives. But we are longing for far more than a title. We long for a Higher Power to show us the way.
Or, we spend our days looking forward to the next fabulous meal. We believe that we are nurturing ourselves best, when we feast on elaborate spreads. But we are longing for far more than physical sustenance. We are really seeking Someone to feed our souls.
In Mother Teresa's Missions of Charity all over the world, there is a cross of Jesus in every chapel, with the inscription, " I Thirst". Mother Teresa said, " From the Cross, Jesus cries out, ' I Thirst'. His thirst was for souls -- even as He hung there-- dying, alone, despised."
And so, we need Jesus to heal us and walk with us. We will not ultimately be healed by drink, or material possessions, or elaborate meals. No, these are false gods. As Jesus said in the desert, " One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." [ Matthew 4: 6].
But it was Mother Teresa who saw that Jesus also needs US. She said, " What does He thirst for? He was thirsting for our Love. Grow in that intimate Love and you will understand not only,' I Thirst', but everything. The fruit of Faith is the understanding of ' I Thirst.'
Mother Teresa concludes, " Today, God continues to call you. But do we listen? Have we heard His Voice in the silence of our hearts? Can you and I continue to stand by, a mere spectator? Or pass by and do nothing? I shall keep the silence of the heart with greater care, so that in the silence of my heart, I hear His words of comfort, and from the fullness of my heart, I comfort Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor. "
[ Related Posting: " And The Lowly Shall be Exalted, Sept. 1, 2013].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, March 16, 2014
" After five days, Jesus took with Him Peter, James and John, the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain to be alone with them. Jesus was transfigured before them, His face shown like the sun, and His clothes became as white as light. And there, Moses and Elijah appeared to them and were talking with Him. 'Lord,' Peter said to Jesus, 'it's good for us to be here. If You wish, I will make three tents here, one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.' He was still speaking when a bright cloud suddenly overshadowed them, and a voice came out of the cloud: ' This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him'." [ Matthew 17:1-9].
My born- again friends always talk about how the first step in becoming a Christian anew, as an adult, is to proclaim that Jesus is their Savior. At times in my life, I have found this sturdy, confident proclamation . . . well, kind of annoying. Okay, they ARE Christians, but do they have to go around challenging each others' depth of faith all the time?
Then, I think back to how my life was, as a child. My parents took me to a Protestant church. If questioned on a survey, my parents would have said, ' Yes, we are Christian.'
Okay, every Sunday we sat in church, looking cleaned up and dressed up. Our faces shone from the Saturday night's scrubbing, my father wore a tie and jacket, my mother wore a pretty dress and heels. If I wanted to as much as whisper, I was told to shush.
But, at home my father would come home from work and fall quietly into a sodden despair. Too often, he took that angst out on me. My mother would desperately try to control her universe, by becoming ever more harsh and cold towards us.
It confused me to no end that we called ourselves Christian. My parents put material things first, but the Reverend's sermons always said, " It is better to give than to receive."
In church, I heard, " Love your neighbor." But at home, I was told that Christians are hypocrites; and that various ethnic groups were inferior.
When I left home to go to college, then to graduate school, I studied business law. After a time, I began to understand that Jesus would at some point in His life, have to go from upstart prophet to a Man of God -- with a lineage and authority from the Highest Power.
Gradually, as I have grown in my spiritual life, I have realized that it does not work to call myself Christian, without accepting Jesus' authority from God, to lead me. A Christian without Jesus' authority over us, is mere posturing.
And this was an issue from the very beginning of Christianity. Then, as now, people ask, ' Who IS this guy Jesus, and what does He have to do with my life?'
Before His transfiguration, Jesus went into the desert, where Satan tempted Him. And Jesus, literally, passed many tests.
In Matthew 17, Jesus ascends a mountain, and God speaks to Him.
The earliest Christians would have been very familiar with the story of how Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, from the very voice of The Lord. They would have known Elijah as a prophet recognized by God. [ This is the meaning of the Scripture, " I have come, not to abolish the law, but to fulfill it." Matthew 5. ]
In Matthew 17, Jesus comes in that great tradition, of the mountaintop blessing from The Lord. We are told quite literally, " This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased. Listen to Him."
We are confronted with the authority of Jesus, and His authority comes from the Father.
And so, being a Christian follower is more than a mere title. It is more than the act of ticking off "Religious Affiliation" on a census form. Being a parishioner and attending church is not a pastime. It is not a"calendar event". Attending church is not a matter of keeping the kids busy and entertained for an hour, after Sunday morning cartoons.
Before the world knew Jesus, " In those days, there was no King. Everyone did what he thought was right." [ Judges 21:25.].
After Jesus came into the world and God declared, " This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him." -- we were granted the awesome privilege to declare whether we would follow Jesus -- or not.
Jesus' authority comes from God. Will you follow? Or disregard Him and walk away?
[ Related posting, " Not By Bread Alone", March 9, 2014].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, March 9, 2014
" Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to Him, ' If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.' But he answered, ' It is written, one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.' " [ Matthew 3: 1-4].
I grew up in a house where my family did not believe in God. Decisions were made based on what was the most efficient and expedient option. In most cases, decisions were based on a cost/ benefit analysis. In other words, what will this option cost, and will it bring the most benefit?
This is the wholly secular way of looking at the world. There was no concept that there is a Holy Spirit or a Divine Being, guiding us to do right. My family simply unilaterally decided to do what they felt like. My father would say to me, " Why do you care about what other people think?"
Nor was there any concept that there are dark forces leading us to a way that is tempting, but ultimately disastrous.
Does anyone in our secular world really believe in the devil any longer? Satan has become the stuff of Halloween costumes. Or, Satan has become a joke, like the times we say that there is a devil sitting on our left shoulder, haranguing us until we make a bad choice.
I spoke to my pastor once about what Catholics believe regarding Satan. He replied, " Well, we do not believe in a little red man running around."
But another pastor, in residence at my church in past years, posed a very provocative question: 'If we believe in the Holy Spirit, why can we not also believe in a Dark Spirit?'
Certainly, Mother Teresa believed in Satan. She responded to him as a real threat. She relied on the words of St. Teresa of Avila, who said," Satan is terribly afraid of resolute souls." Mother Teresa said that to overcome temptation requires a strong resolve. When faced with a temptation to sin, Mother Teresa would say to Satan, " I don't want it."
In the Scripture in Matthew 4: 10, Jesus tells Satan, who is tempting Him : " Get away with you, Satan!" In other words, we can declare, 'Go away!', or ' I don't want it!', when we are tempted.
I have read these passages in Matthew 4, every year for Lent. What I notice this time is that, each time Satan tries to tempt Jesus, Jesus quotes Scripture at Satan, to force him away. In Matthew
4:4, Jesus says, " It is written, ' One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.' " This passage actually comes from The Old Testament, in Deuteronomy 8:3.
And so, we really do need, not just physical bread for our meal, but the Word of God for the sustenance of our Soul.
We all have our weaknesses and our frailties. My "default mode" is Fear. This Fear comes from being the only one with Faith, in a harsh, non- believing family. Fear prevents me from becoming closer to God. Fear prevents me from reaching out and loving others, even before they think to ask for help.
I have chosen special Words of Scripture that I have memorized and quote to myself often: " Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you. . . . I have made you today a fortified city, an iron pillar, a wall of bronze. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail." -- Jeremiah 1: 8, 18-19.
During Lent -- and always -- you can find an appropriate passage in the Bible, to strengthen your resolve against whatever you struggle with. You can memorize this mantra from Scripture. You can recite the Word to yourself, to keep yourself fortified, and to guard against wrong decisions. For, we ARE meant to live by every Word that comes from the mouth of God.
[ Related Postings : " Fast", March 23, 2011; " The Courage to Speak", February 2, 2013.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, March 3, 2014
" Therefore, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet their Heavenly Father feeds them. And who among you, by worrying, can add a single hour to your life? And why do you worry about clothing? Will God not much more clothe you -- O you of little faith? Therefore, do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat?' Or ' What will we drink?' Or ' What will we wear?' Indeed, your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring enough worries of its own [tomorrow will take care if itself]. Sufficient for a day is its own trouble. [ Today's trouble is enough for one day]. [ Matthew 6: 25-34].
So much of what passes for "news" is actually gossip. We discuss endlessly what this famous person wore to the awards show, which designer clothing, whose fabulous jewels. Our examination in minute detail becomes envy. Or greed.
Or, we take photos of our plates of food when we eat out, then share the images of gluttony on our social media. Our friends, left at home with a bowl of noodles for supper, feel left out and deprived.
There is an awful lot of collateral damage to worry: Envy. Greed. Coveting. Despair.
I am certainly not mocking those with anxiety. The state of anxiety runs in my family. My grandmother had anxiety.
She used to stand in her kitchen and rap her wedding ring, mindlessly on the counter. I rarely saw her sit down. She was always finishing one thing and moving on to the next.
She grew up in the Great Depression. Her father died when she was young. When my grandmother died, my mother found an entire cabinet filled with canned goods, " just in case". Another cabinet contained many boxes of dry, powdered milk. None of this was even any good any longer. We threw it away.
You see now anxiety easily becomes Fear.
My mother inherited the anxiety. She figured that she could solve her anxiety by controlling her universe and everyone around her. Her anxiety became a raw attempt at Control.
No human being could possibly abide by all her rules. She became isolated and alone, because no one could ever measure up to her expectations.
My mother very pointedly did not believe in God. She believed in the supreme power of the individual. She used to say that Christians believe that God will provide, but that belief was just a flimsy excuse to be lazy or passive; or an excuse to mess up our lives and blame God.
But, when we make mistakes or fail in our attempts, we become more anxious, and even depressed.
If all we have going for us are our pathetic attempts to be like God, and rely on our "superhuman powers", then we do become failures. That is the surest path to self-hatred.
One day, a dear friend gave me my first Bible. I was flipping through the Scriptures and came upon Matthew 6. And my life changed!!
I realized that I CAN take things, one day at a time.
I could begin to see that, the fact that I cannot do everything myself means that I am only human. My human frailties do not make me a total loser.
My born again friends tell me to "give it to God". I never knew what that meant?
Now, I see that some things in life are too huge for me to resolve or judge alone. A friend dies way too young, of cancer, leaving two tiny children. God, I cannot begin to process this alone!
A man abuses his precious daughter all her life, then dies before he can even confess it. Where is there any meaning in her life -- or his-- without a God?
Today, I replace worry with prayer. A teen struggles in Math? I pray that he understands. An elderly relative is very ill? I pray that he find peace.
God, today has enough trouble of its own. Let me rest in Your Arms for today. Let me feel Your presence, as I walk with You tomorrow, and always.
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