Sunday, August 31, 2014
"Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly from the elders, the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed and on the third day be raised. Then Peter took Jesus aside and began to rebuke him, 'God forbid, Lord! No such thing shall ever happen to You!' Jesus turned and said to Peter, ' Get behind me, Satan! You are an obstacle to me. You are thinking not as God does, but as human beings do." Then Jesus said to His disciples, 'Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?' " --- [Matthew 16: 21-27].
There is an inevitability about Jesus' death that is personal and painful and chilling.
How much is the world immutably altered with the death of Jesus?
A pastor at our church once gave an Easter homily in which he said that, as a small boy, he used to fantasize about Jesus using His miraculous powers to walk down from the cross, and thereby, defy death.
Coincidentally to this Gospel this week, I am reading "Jesus: A Gospel Portrait", by Donald Senior, C.P. In this book, Senior says about Jesus' inevitable Crucifixion--- "Jesus could not change His message without destroying Himself. Yet, if He did not change, His opponents were determined to destroy Him."
How much more starkly could Jesus' options be stated?
I think about the times in my life as a child, when I faced such stark choices. I was a child filled with Faith in God, and in Jesus' loving ways. Yet, I grew up in a family so wholly secular, that their ways seemed cruel and harsh.
I was isolated. Any loving relatives lived far away. Or, even if I told them the truth, they would be highly skeptical of my claims, given my family's position in the community.
If I told a teacher, there could very well be recriminations and worse treatment, at home.
Or, if my claims of abuse were proved, I could be taken away from my family.
This was the cross that I had to bear as a child.
What were my choices then? Would I become just like my family, and therefore, deny God? Would I become as brutal as they were, in my assessments of others : calling persons of other ethnicities crude names; adopting my family's hate; mocking Christians for being weak and hypocritical for needing God?
I could not change to their ways. I desperately needed Love. I could not become Hate.
And, I was a mere child. Did I dare to challenge them directly? No. I was not that powerful.
Along the way, to protect the Love in my heart, I gradually hid my True Self. I shut down. It was not safe to show my True Self. Yet, it was unthinkable to change.
My True Self became like a tiny, vestigial fragment, frozen in amber.
In many ways, I lost my life. That is, my True Self shrank almost to Nothingness.
But I would have rather enshrined a tiny piece of my Truth, than inherit my family's entire World.
I would rather have minimized myself to the insignificance of an atom, than to become a full-blown human being of their rage and cruelty.
This is what it means to say, "What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" I would have had to kill my loving Soul, in order to inherit their World. A horrible bargain. I refused to do it.
As an adult, I suppose that I had other choices than to "take up my cross" and follow after Jesus.
I could have tried to numb the pain. Plenty of people do this, by abusing drugs or alcohol, or both. In this, I would have destroyed myself, perhaps to the point of Death.
I could have denied that this was my life. That would probably have led to some form of alternate reality, such as insanity.
I could have decided to end my life. Plenty of people commit suicide, because the pain is excruciating, and they desperately want to stop the pain. I fought so hard as a child to have a life and have it abundantly. I cannot do this, that is not what I have fought so hard for.
You notice that in the Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples that, "He must go to Jerusalem and suffer greatly, and be killed and on the third day, be raised." Then, when Peter objects to this prophesy, Jesus tells Peter, "You are an obstacle to me."
You see, denying the Cross is the secular response. We say, 'Nuh uh! Make it go away."
The sacred response is our Resurrection Faith. We say, like Jesus, 'Yes, I am going to carry my Cross of Pain, because I am going to my Resurrection!' In this way, we trust God to raise us up again.
I often question what to do with the Pain? The answer for me has been to use the Pain, to define my message, in order to help others. And so, I write in this space, not to complain about my life, but to praise God for His Grace in my life.
The only way to handle one's Pain in life is to walk through it, seeking your Resurrection at the other side. We become the Pain and by doing so, we surpass it. We conquer it!
[Related Postings : " Who Killed Jesus?", May 7, 2014.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Friday, August 29, 2014
Monday, September 1, 2014 is Labor Day.
Labor Day is a day to kick back from our work, get a day off and pig out at family barbecues. Right?
Labor Day is a day to support those laborers who unionized, and fought for fair employment wages and conditions. Right?
Labor Day is the last official day of the summer season. Time to sweep out the camper or cottage, close it down for the winter, and head home for work, or school. Right?
All of the above ARE right. But all of these totally miss the point, if you are a person of Faith.
Yes, God made the world, and on the seventh day, He rested. So we should, too.
Yes, everyone should have the human right to a clean, safe work environment, and wages that do not reduce one to the horrible status of slavery.
Yes, God made the seasons. And Fall is upon us; and so, go on to the next season, we must.
But what do Americans - and believers in God -- really believe about our Labors?
Disney executive Bob Iger delivered a commencement speech in May, in which he stated flatly that, in this lean economy, the best advice he could give for success was to follow your Talents. NOT to follow your Dreams. And you know what?! He was roundly criticized for this!
It is considered un-American to coach young people NOT to follow their Dreams. . . .
Yet, I happen to agree with Mr. Iger! When I was a tiny girl, my Dream was to be a ballerina. Many decades later, I am fairly short, I am not stick- thin and I have bad knees. As you can imagine, I did not become a ballerina.
One's Dreams can be gloriously fantastic. But they can fall far short of reality.
On the other hand, I was writing poems by the time I was 8. Once, when I read one of my poems aloud in my class at school, every single student stood up and clapped. They gave me a standing ovation. Today, I write this blog.
Mozart was one of the most famous composers in the world. When Mozart was 5, he was already composing symphonies.
Frank Lloyd Wright was a famed American architect. His favorite toy as a child was a set of blocks.
Then, there is my vacuum salesman and technician. He told me that when he was a young boy, he used to take apart his mother's and grandmother's vacuum cleaners, to see if he could fix them. Today, he is still doing that, in his grown-up career !
Our talents are our Gifts. Our Gifts come from God. Our Gifts are our in-born affinities and abilities.
The task of parents and teachers is to help young people find their true Talents. Then, our Gifts can become our Labor.
If we think that we can literally become anything we want to, then we are forgetting our God-given talents. If we think that we can mold a young person into something that WE want them to be doing, then we are playing God.
Even if we cannot make a living wage following our Talents and Gifts, then still ---no human being can make us into anything else. We do what we Love. We do what we are gifted with. If you love to sing, you may only sing in the Choir, but you are still serving God with your Gifts.
We ARE our Gifts.
Love your God. Love your Gifts. Love your Labor.
[Related Posting: " Labor Day",September 6, 2011; "My Labor Day, Myself August 28, 2013; " My Labor of Love", August 30, 2012; "Burying My Talents.", November 13, 2011].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
"Jesus asked His disciples, 'Who do people say that the Son of Man is?' They replied, ' Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.' He said to them, ' But who do you say that I am?' Simon Peter said in reply, 'You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.' Jesus said to him in reply, 'Blessed are you, Simon, son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.' -- [Matthew 16: 13-20].
Make no mistake, when Jesus asks His disciples who He is, Jesus Himself knows exactly who He is! But Jesus is testing His disciples, to see if they have a clear idea of who their Master is?
When Peter declares, 'You are the Christ', then Jesus names Peter as well, saying, 'You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.'
Unquestionably, when we come to know the Christ, then He knows US as well, from the inside, from the heart! He knows our place in this world. He knows our place in the Kingdom.
But how many of us truly know who we are, behind all those layers of masks and defenses? And how many of us truly know Jesus?
Rock lyricist and singer Jack White has a new CD out these days. One song, "Alone in My Home", speaks to the considerable blockades that we erect to keep ourselves untouchable. His refrain is, "I'm becoming a ghost; Becoming a ghost so nobody can know me."
This was my own way of operating, in my cruel and harsh childhood home. As I was not fed, I hoarded candy in my room, just in case, and I pretended not to care that I was hungry. Gradually, I stopped eating much at all.
My mother told me that the reason why I was verbally abused and physically struck was because I got angry, and cried. So I stopped feeling anything.
Over the years, I shut down completely. My strategy was, ' No one touches me and I touch no one.'
Tragically, something in our soul dies when we become a ghost. . . .
All this time, I suppose that God has tried to reach me-- many times. But I don't think that I was aware of His signs, because I was too preoccupied, keeping myself carefully hidden away.
Well into adulthood, my world came crashing down around me, from all the unexamined traumas and wounds. I ran in a panic to the pastor of our church. I told him that God was gone! I was so shut-down, I could not even feel God any longer.
The pastor told me to start talking to God, daily. To my astonishment, God replied immediately!
There was a price to this conversation with God. Every time I entered the quiet place where I spoke to God and I sat down, the tears began to flow. All of the pain and the fears, that I had held in for my whole life, came spilling out.
I was becoming Un-Masked.
I ran back to the pastor to tell him how afraid I was. He said, 'Sooner or later, you are going to have to come out into the open.' That statement left me totally terrified.
To this day, every time I enter my church, every time I receive the Eucharist , I am Un-Masked and I get tears in my eyes. I thought this meant that there was something wrong with me. I thought these tears meant that I was mortally wounded, so deformed that I could never heal.
Instead, I think this is how it is supposed to be. The tears are the visible sign of my layers of armor falling away. With God, I no longer have to pretend to be inhumanly strong. God can hold me up.
And so I ask you-- WHO are you, behind your shielding masks?
We can put up all the defenses that we want. We can define ourselves by our profession. By our ethnicity. By our country of citizenship. By whether we are parents, or widowed or single, or married. By our age. By our socio-economic status. By our bank account or the kind of home we live in. By our gender. By our education level. By what kind of car that we drive.
Do you see that these are all wholly secular things!? They matter immensely to the world.
But, I am starting to see that in the end, all of these things do NOT matter. Jesus does not want our cholesterol level, our skin color, our credit score, our designer shoes, our highlighted hair, our professional titles, our roster of Facebook friends, our ritzy address, or anything else that passes for worldly status.
Jesus wants us to recognize HIM.
And He wants to recognize US. He wants our Heart. Our Soul. He wants us stripped bare, Un-Masked. The way we will appear when we end our lives, stripped of clothes, possessions, an address, a job, etc.
Except--- Jesus does not want to wait until we approach the Kingdom of Heaven. He does not have that kind of time. WE do not have that kind of time.
He wants us NOW.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.
[Related Postings, "Who Are You?', August 22, 2011].
Monday, August 18, 2014
"At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, 'Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.' But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her. Jesus' disciples came and asked Him, 'Send her away, for she keeps calling out after us.' He said in reply, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, 'Lord, help me.' He said in reply, 'It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.' She said, 'Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.' Then, Jesus said to her in reply, 'O woman, great is your Faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.' And the woman's daughter was healed from that hour.' " --[Matthew 15: 21-28].
I was the baby in my family, and the only daughter. Even those few decades ago, when I was a tiny child, girls were to be seen and not heard. If my brother received any special dispensation --- a new car as a teen, a more expensive set of clothes --- I was to meekly acquiesce.
As the males in my family became more and more dominant, receiving the lions' share of all that the family had, my place became smaller and smaller. I shrank back physically. I began to slump, to droop. I spoke rarely. I gave no evidence of emotion. I helped out with the gardening and the cooking. I became invisible.
During all those years of being ground down to Nothingness, I still had my Faith. But what to do with that Faith? Wouldn't it get me noticed? In trouble? And so I kept my Faith as a small flame, a tiny ember, deep within.
That was my life in the 20th Century. Imagine what life must have been like for women at the time of Jesus, then? What a dramatic encounter here, out in public, between Jesus, a Jewish male, and a non-Jewish woman. At that time, as well as mine, women were to be seen, but barely. Women's place was largely in the home.
Even more dramatic was that the woman was a Canaanite. She did not belong to the House of Israel. In fact, the Canaanites were the peoples who fought the Israelites, for control of the promised Land.
The prophesy about Jesus' place as Redeemer of Israel, came when David had been anointed as King. The prophet Nathan told David that God had come to him in a vision and foretold: " The Lord will make you a house. . . I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. . . and I will establish his throne forever." -- 2 Samuel 7:4-17.]
Thus, Jesus was foretold as the One who came from the House of David, to save Israel and Israel alone.
The Canaanite woman confronts Jesus about this. She insists that Jesus help her.
But Jesus essentially says, "It is not right to take the food of the [Chosen Ones] and give it to the dogs [the enemies].
Only when the Canaanite woman insists in challenging Jesus further, does He relent.
I see in this Reading that, Yes, women are allowed our Faith. But we must insist! We must speak our Faith!
Many in the Church today still believe in women who are to be seen and not heard. They take great precedent from the Bible that the disciples were ONLY men.
Yes, BUT . . .
Donald Senior, C.P, in his book, "Jesus: A Gospel Portrait" states that the inferior status of women in the Bible resulted from the social mores of the times. He says, "The [women's] "inferiority" extended to religious matters. A woman was not permitted full access to the temple". --- No one would dispute today, that women can have full access to church or temple.
I would argue that the social mores of Jesus' time were never meant to be a firm commandment of God's message. In fact, Donald Senior says in his book: "[Women] are to be numbered with the disciples because the Gospels unanimously insist that the most faithful followers Jesus had were women." Senior goes on to say, "Jesus obviously did not feel compelled to follow the prevailing strictures demanding public avoidance of women."
In fact, I can see women with prominent roles throughout the Bible:
Never forget that the first recorded Hymn in history was sung by Miriam in the Old Testament! [Song of Miriam, Exodus 15: 1-18].
Never forget the valiant bravery of Deborah in leading men into battle in the Old Testament in Judges 4.
Never forget that for Jesus to be born, He needed a Mother in Mary.
Never forget that it was Mary who stood silently at the Crucifixion. It was the disciples who fled the scene. Or who publicly renounced Jesus. Or, who hid in a room "for fear of the Jews" -- [John 20:19].
Donald Senior points out that "the disciples are far short of ideal".
Women are not perfect, either. But we are not the after-thoughts in the Church. We are not merely the invisible hands, pouring the coffee and juice at receptions, ironing the altar linens, stuffing envelopes for mass mailings, decorating the sanctuary for holidays, organizing the Christmas pageant.
We are all this -- and more! Clearly, in Scripture, we are at the heart of the Church, just as Mary was. Just as Miriam and Ruth and Deborah and Rachel and Martha and Anne were.
Jesus knew this! He was not afraid to encounter us in the public square. He was not afraid to challenge us to speak up for our Faith. And, for that boldness in Faith, we were richly rewarded!
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, August 10, 2014
" After He had fed the people, Jesus made the disciples get into a boat and precede Him to the other side, while He dismissed the crowds. After doing so, He went up to the mountain by Himself to pray. Meanwhile, the boat [with the disciples] already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, He came toward them, walking on the sea. When the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified. ' It is a ghost', they said, and they cried out in fear. At once, Jesus spoke to them, 'Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.' Peter said to Him in reply, 'Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.' He said, 'Come.' Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when He saw how strong the wind was, he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, 'Lord, save me! ' Immediately, Jesus stretched out His hand and caught Peter and said to him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt? ' After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did Him homage, saying, 'Truly, You are the Son of God.' " -- [Matthew 14: 22-33.]
Today, if someone says: " He thinks that he walks on water", it is a criticism that the person has a big ego, so big that he has a "God-complex", or a "Jesus" complex.
Today, we may see inspirational posters in corporate offices, exhorting the work force to "get out of the boat"; or "leave the harbor", because only with risk comes financial reward.
But these contemporary examples are twisted versions of the Christian sense of leaving the boat.
In many ways, this Scripture of Matthew is a primer on How To Become A Christian.
First, Christians eat together, as a community. In this gospel of Matthew, Jesus feeds the crowd with only five loaves and two fish. Today, this ritual of being fed by Jesus has become the Eucharist. Eating together----How simple. How beautiful. How tender and elemental.
Next, like Jesus, we spend time in retreat, talking with God. This is our Prayer Life. How deep. How satisfying. How personal.
Then, we may ask, 'Are You really the personification of God? Prove it.' This is our Doubt.
And then, Jesus says, 'Okay, then get out of the boat.' How awesome! How spectacular! HOW terrifying!!!!!
Being Christian entails much more than showing up for Communion and talking to God. Being Christian means taking a risk.
Being Christian means putting ourselves "out there", out of the safer confines of the boat.
For me to be out in the open----out of the boat---- has meant taking many small steps, over time.
When I was a tiny girl, my parents had me baptized. Then, they made sure that I received my First Communion and was Confirmed. Immediately after my Confirmation, we abruptly stopped attending church. This put me on shaky ground with my Faith. Was I supposed to believe in God? Or, my parents?
It has taken me decades to "get out of the boat."
As a teen, I asked to still attend church. I guess you could call that putting my toe in the water. The answer was firmly, 'No'. Then, I had to figure out if I still believed, when my family apparently did not. I waffled.
It took me a lot longer to decide to wear a gold cross. At first, I wore it only when not with my family. Even when I was brave enough to wear it, I wore it under my shirt.
After I met my Catholic husband-to-be, I took to wearing the cross openly.
Then, I began to attend church again. His Catholic Church. I re-learned how to say The Our Father. I learned to say the Hail Mary. I was praying again, remembering others in my Intentions.
Then, I became engaged to be married. To the Catholic man whom I loved. My parents said, 'We did not raise you this way.'
We got married with a Catholic priest attending and saying his blessings. This was an even bigger risk. My parents refused to stand in the receiving line at my wedding.
My husband and I got our first apartment. My parents refused to give me any of the furniture stored in their attic. They said, 'You are part of HIS family now.' Now painful. Was I fully out of the boat now? Had I risked enough?
It turns out that so far, I had not risked much.
Because as I would walk home from the train station to our apartment, I began to notice a homeless man, weighted down with layers of shirts, pants and coats. He had scraggly hair, a scruffy beard and haunting eyes. Day after day, I ignored him. Was I afraid? Was I hoping that someone else would take the risk to say hello, or help him? Here must be where the fear and doubt about one's Faith creep in--- in that place where we meet the desperate gaze of another human being, and we want to look away.
One winter day, I could no longer stand to ignore this man. His beard and hair were totally covered with snow, from the blizzard that day. I thought to myself, 'What would I need, if I were in that circumstance?"
I told him, 'You must be so cold.' I asked him if I could buy him a cup of coffee? He answered me with a flicker of the eyes. The flicker of recognition, that maybe he was no longer so invisible. I asked him if he took cream and sugar? He nodded. I asked him if he would like something to eat? A blink of disbelief.
I ran into a corner store. When I came back out, he was waiting for me on the corner. I handed him a steaming-hot cup of coffee and a roll with butter. I could see the softening of his eyes. He had encountered my Faith. he had encountered my open heart.
Finally, at that moment, I had disembarked fully from the boat.
I may not have been literally walking on water. But I felt like I was floating inches above the ground. It was almost as if three people were present in that moment--
this humble man, Jesus --- and me. . .
Love is like that. Love elevates you. Love brings you out of yourself.
Love releases your Faith. In stepping out of the boat, you are suspended in time. And if you falter, you fear, you doubt, you question yourself, Jesus is right there to hold you up. And to urge you to do this again. And again.
I dare to Love.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, August 4, 2014
" When Jesus heard of the death of John The Baptist, He withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by Himself. The crowds heard of this and followed Him on foot from their towns. When He disembarked, and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured the sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached Him and said, 'This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.' Jesus said to them, 'There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.' But they said to Him, ' Five Loaves and two fish are all we have here.' Then, He said, ' Bring them here to me', and He ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied and they picked up the fragments left over -- twelve wicker baskets full." --[Matthew 14: 13-21].
There is a lot more to this simple story of Jesus, and the loaves and fishes, than meets the eye.
First, there is the almost conversational phrase, "When Jesus heard of the death of John The Baptist . . . . . " The fact is, that John the Baptist, an early prophet to Jesus, was Jesus' cousin. It was King Herod who had had John The Baptist beheaded as a false prophet. Already, King Herod had tried to find and kill every first born male at the time of Jesus' birth, in a failed attempt to assassinate the Christ. King Herod was trying to kill anyone who would worship anyone but himself-- even the Son of Man.
And so, of course, Jesus, being fully human, went off by Himself to grieve over His cousin. We have all done this! -- isolated ourselves in times of intense pain. . . .
How many times have I done this myself? As my harsh childhood took its toll, with the physical bruises, the verbal abuse, the command of my father to my mother-- 'Do NOT feed her!' -- I systematically shut down. I barely ate, I began to sleep poorly, I shut down my emotions, finally I stopped speaking.
I find myself at this stage of life, more and more alone. My father died first. Then, my best friend. then, my mother-in-law. Then, my mother. My instinct has been to retreat into myself again. I want to shut down and become that childhood ghost all over again. It is a familiar place. But it is not a place of healing.
It is telling what brought Jesus back from that far away shore. People needed to be fed. They needed to be healed.
I want to stay on that far-off shore, myself. Instead, every year since my father died, I have yielded finally, to the longing to return to his home country. I host my family there for a reunion.
Every year, I order wonderful sandwiches. I make a side dish. Or two. I invite everyone. Then, I fret.
What if too many unexpected guests show up? What if I do not have enough food for everyone? Sometimes, I even lose a little sleep over this.
Each year, I do a lot of unnecessary worrying. Because, a cousin brings a fresh salad. Another cousin brings a fruit platter. Another cousin brings a platter of dessert squares. This year, someone brought a crock-pot full of sweet beans. AND a pie. Many brought wine. Instead of having too little food, we have an overflowing bounty.
Last year, at the party, one cousin said, "You can feel the Love in this room." Another cousin said, "This feels like Christmas." I feel the Love, too. I am beginning to heal.
I have learned many things from this annual party:
Miraculously, there is always enough food- and it is not all dozens of the same dessert, with no entree or side dishes. This miraculous and varied bounty is what happens every time you get a community together.
There is a mystical and breath-taking sensation that comes from breaking bread together- it is like the joy of Christmas. You can feel the Love in the room.
My fears about not having enough food come from my rough childhood. The fears are not really about food. My fears are about having enough Love. And when a community gets together and breaks bread, there is always more than enough Love.
Jesus knew this. He breaks bread with us every week, in the Eucharist. He heals Himself in this way. He is whole again, seated at the right hand of the Father. He invites us in.
We are whole again, as well, when we break bread together. Jesus offers Himself. He heals us. He loves us.
And there is always more than enough Love, in our connection with each other --and with Jesus.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.