Sunday, December 28, 2014
"God sets a father in honor over his children. . . Whoever honors his father atones for sins, and preserves himself from them. When he prays, he is heard; he stores up riches who reveres his mother. Whoever honors his father is gladdened by children, and when he prays, is heard. Whoever reveres his father will live a long life; he who obeys his father brings comfort to his mother. My son, take care of your father when he is old; grieve him not as long as he lives. Even if his mind fail, be considerate of him; revile him not at all the days of his life; kindness to a father will not be forgotten, firmly planted against the debt of your sins-- a house raised in justice to you." --[Sirach 3: 2-6, 12-14].
This year, we lost the patriarch of the family, on my husband's side. After too many decades struggling with serious illnesses, he finally passed on to the Lord, this past summer.
This dear man lived far away from all of his kids and grandkids. He was very firm that, as he became more and more frail, he did not want to move away from the home that had given him so much joy over the years. But I also believe that he did not want to burden any of us, by moving in with any of us.
I had seen what it is like to care for my elderly mother, after the sudden death of my father. I had had no idea how very frail that my mother had become. My father had cared for her with barely a word on her condition.
His life had shielded me from the realities of her aging. When I took her back in my life, it become readily apparent that I was not up to the task of caring for her alone. Her frail legs would buckle under her. Her breathing became erratic. In her last few months, she could no longer walk. I had to find a place for her in a nursing facility, because I did not have the expertise to keep her safe.
But, although she was "alone" there, I never left her alone. I would bring her to my home every day, or I would visit her daily. Often, as I moved around the hallways at the nursing facility, I would greet other residents who had no one to visit them, even on Christmas Day!
People who do not know American culture, think that I am lying about this! The fact is, if some Americans have the money, they can "make the problem of aging go away." The adult children say, "Well, mother cannot do anything anymore, anyway." Or, "I have my own life." Or, "I left her with certified caregivers."
This cultural belief regarding our elders is in total defiance of what Scripture teaches! How have we come so far as to believe that it is okay to warehouse our elderly, as if they were some obsolete technology? -- when this Scripture so clearly says, "My son, take care of your father when he is old; even if his mind fail, be considerate of him."
In the case of our dear relative, all of his kids took turns traveling the distance, to his home in another region, to care for him. Each month, one of us would spend a week to ten days, living with him and tending to his needs. If a fellow traveler saw me at the airport with my husband and son, they would often ask, 'Oh, are you going on vacation for Spring Break?'
I would reply, 'No, we are going to take care of my dear relative.' The fellow traveler nearly always looked astonished. Often, what I would get was, " WHO DOES that anymore?"
Yes, it was hard work to care for my dear relative. We spent "vacations" barely sitting down-- refilling his water glass, fetching eyeglasses or a sweater, making meals, cleaning the place, doing wash, taking him to the doctor, dealing with medical equipment and prescriptions. We often arrived home more exhausted than when we started.
No, I am not a saint for doing this. Caring for our elderly relatives, as this passage makes clear, is an honor. It is also quite simply, required by the very status of my relative's "office" or station in life -- as my Mother. As the honored Patriarch.
In the case of my mother, I took her back EVEN though- Even though she was cruel and neglectful and harsh to me when I was a child. EVEN though she abandoned me at the worst possible time of my life, when I had almost died. Those EVEN-THOUGH's didn't work for me. They don't work for God, either. [Beware the folks who try to trap you with the "EVEN THOUGH'S". They kind of remind me of the Biblical Pharisees, who like to point out the rules, but forget all about Love.].
But what I --and my family-- gained, far outweighed the effort of caregiving. On our last visit before my dear relative died, he gave me one of the best gifts that I have ever received. He told me that he had always regarded me as another daughter. My eyes burst forth tears of Joy.
My cruel childhood family did not believe in even uttering the word "Love". They would mock me for asking for their Love. These words from my dear relative were the healing balm that I most needed!
But even more, I learned a tremendous amount, in caring for this man, and watching how he bore the sufferings of his illnesses, with a Christ-like Grace. He never complained. If he were gasping for breath, I would ask, 'Are you okay?' He would reply, "I will be."
A close friend of his marveled that, "You could just tell that he didn't want to waste time being negative, debative, or judgmental, when he could have a nice, pleasant conversation with a friend. He showed so little bitterness, or resentment about his plight in life. That is a very selfless act in itself!"
On the day he died, our patriarch expressed that he did not want to pass on, because he did not want to disappoint all of us, his family. I see that poignancy in Jesus, too. Jesus became very sentimental with His apostles at the Last Supper. He said, " I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you, before I suffer." --[Luke 22:15].
How we break bread with our elders in their last days counts as much as this Last Supper of Jesus with His dear apostles. In seeing and serving the Christ in our fathers and mothers, we honor the Christ who died FOR us.
Burying the Christ in our older loved ones, buries the Love of Christ in our hearts. We are the ones who become deadened and lifeless.
Loving the Christ in our older loved ones, opens us up to the Love of Christ in ourselves and in others.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, December 21, 2014
"The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, 'Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you." But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. . . ' But Mary said to the angel, 'How can this be, for I have no relations with a man?' And the angel said to her in reply, 'The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. . . ; for nothing will be impossible for God.' Mary said, Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.' " --[ Luke 1:26-38].
For millions of Christians around the world today, this was the beginning of the First Christmas. For Mary, Joseph and Jesus, this was simply their life.
After Mary had conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, there were whispers in her community about her, no doubt. Joseph, "being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ' Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife.'. "- [Luke 1: 20].
Mary was likely about age 14, a peasant girl, illiterate.
Magi from the East had told King Herod that a child was being born who would be King. Herod was so threatened by this new king, that he sent the magi to determine Jesus' whereabouts. This was no ordinary homage trip. In fact, King Herod wanted to kill Him.
When Joseph and Mary arrived in Bethlehem, there was no room at the inn. Jesus was born in a stable.
After leaving the manger where Jesus was born, the magi traveled on, in a different route, to avoid Herod. In a rage, King Herod ordered a census, to find and systematically exterminate all baby boys age two and under. Our First Christmas began with what was, essentially, terrorism.
The harsh qualities of Jesus' life went on from there. He was rejected and mocked when trying to preach in His own home town of Nazareth. People there said, "Is this not the son of Joseph, the carpenter?" -[ The modern day equivalent of, 'Who does this guy think he is?] Jesus said, "A prophet is only without honor in his hometown." His own family told Him that they believed he was deranged and had gone insane. [Mark 3:21].
Jesus went on to be publicly "tried", humiliated and executed as a criminal.
I have spent a lot of time this Christmas, meditating on what would be the "perfect Christmas". When I reflect upon that First Christmas, that Biblical story would certainly not be "it".
A few weeks ago, when I attended an Advent program of song and reflection with Dan Schutte, Mr. Schutte declared, "God messes up our plans." And YET, God has the perfect plan for our lives! We just don't always see it at the time. . . .
During this year, the dear patriarch of my extended family passed away. This is the first Christmas without him. We were "supposed" to be with the entire family on Christmas Day this year. But the trip to the Christmas dinner is a day's drive round trip. The house there will be full of relatives. We have been told, there is "no room at the inn", for us to stay.
I have railed against this! That is not fair, we have the "right" to be there with the rest of the family.
Well, the God's honest Truth is, Jesus never railed like that. "Christ Jesus who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, And being found in human form, He humbled Himself, and became obedient." -[Ephesians 2:6-8].
The Truth is, Mary did not assert her "rights" about how she was to conceive and how her baby was to be born-- not how, not where, not who He was to be. She simply said, "May it be done to me according to your Word."
In short, life is not all about how we want things to be! Life goes awry, we don't get to arrange the perfect tableau. It is not all about "making Christmas happen". Life is about letting Christmas happen TO us!
This Christmas, I pray that I may empty myself, may open myself to all of the strange and unexpected, and even unwelcome, twists and turns in my life, and may allow Jesus to come into my heart. My life may be far from perfect, but it is the life God gave me. And, He is guiding me by His plans for me.
"For I know the plans I have for you", declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." - [Jeremiah 29:11].
[Related Posting: "Holy Family", December 29, 2011].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, December 15, 2014
"Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her service is at an end, her guilt is expiated; for she has indeed received from the hand of the Lord double for all her sins. A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way for the way of the Lord! Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God! Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be made low; the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country a broad valley. Go up on to a high mountain, Zion, herald of glad tidings; cry out at the top of your voice, Jerusalem, herald of good news! . . . . Here is your God! . . . Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care." -- [ IS 40:1-5, 9-11.].
How I love all the Christmas Carols! But one of my most favorites is "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen".
The lyrics go, "God rest Ye Merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay, Remember Christ Our Savior was born on Christmas Day, to save us all from Satan's power, when we were gone astray; O tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy. O tidings of comfort and joy!."
It is not a modern theological concept to think of comfort on Christmas. If we think of comfort at all these days, it is in the earthly trappings of Christmas:
Oh, the hot cocoa!
The Christmas ham!
The warm Yule fire!
The roasted chestnuts!
The glittering ornaments!
The cashmere sweaters and sofa shawls!
The champagne and mulled wine!
The gourmet chocolates!
But this reading from Isaiah and from this Christmas Carol, speak of comfort from God. Christmas is supposed to be the most lavish, comfortable and joyous day in the Christian calendar. How much more comfort could we ask for?
I am beginning to see that all the creature comforts in the world will warm my heart only temporarily. Long after all the goodies are gone, the decorations are stored away in the dusty attic again, and I face Christmas bills that I dread to pay -- will my heart be empty again?
In Exodus 3, Moses meets God for the first time. Moses is so afraid that he hides his face. God tells him, " I have observed the misery of my people [who are slaves] in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land, to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey."
God leads Moses and his people out of a land of misery and bondage, to a land where "the rugged land shall be made a plain." God fills in the valleys and lays low the mountains for us.
In Jeremiah 30: 22, God tells His people: "So you will be my people and I will be your God."
God loves us as our Father. He wants us to lay our troubles at His feet. He wants us to cry out to him for comfort, but for far more than food and water and shelter. He wants us to really lean on Him.
He wants us to lift up our children to Him, and ask that they lead purposeful and loving lives. He wants us to ask Him for strength, when we feel that we cannot go on. He wants us to plead for Peace in our world.
It is such a tender image, that God is "like a shepherd [who] feeds his flock; in His arms he gathers the lambs. . . leading the ewes with care."
God sends us His Son, as an extravagant gift of Love for us! Jesus tells us, "I will never leave you an orphan". - John 14: 18.
We are hard-wired, as humans, to be unable to resist the awe and magic and joy of a baby. Go out into the world: go to a school, to a market, to a doctor's office and chance upon a tiny baby. I will wager that you will stop in your tracks. I will bet that you will become motionless, absolutely still, holding your breath! Perhaps you will even cry out with Joy!
God is offering us an irresistible, heart-stoppping, mystical, eternal Gift. His Son.
Will we become so enamored of the worldly trappings of Christmas, that we ignore the true Gift in our midst?
[Related Postings: "Christmas Joy!", December 23, 2011.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, December 7, 2014
"Do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day. The Lord does to delay his promise, as some regard "delay", but he is patient with you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Since, everything is to be dissolved in this way, what sort of persons ought you to be, conducting yourselves in holiness and devotion, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God. . . But according to His promise, we await new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells." - [ 2 Peter 3: 8-14.]
During this Advent season, I love to watch Christmas movies. Some of the movies that I love the most are not at all current. One of my favorites is "Christmas In Connecticut."
I watch the film credits and I see that the heroine is played by someone named Barbara Stanwyck. For years, I have said, 'Who in the world is Barbara Stanwyck?' I suppose back then, when movies were black and white, film-goers would eagerly flock to see her latest film. Today, few have ever even heard of her.
Only a few brilliant actors, actresses, musicians and bands can end up in the top echelon, famous in their time, and for all time. We remember The Beatles, obviously. But do we remember The Avons, or The Cleftones?
This notion of Time makes me think of my own life. All of the daily decisions and dramas loom large in my life right now. Broccoli for the dinner meal's vegetable, or green beans? Traveling to a relative's house for a holiday celebration, or staying home?
Then, I read this Scripture that, "With the Lord, one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day." That is, in the eons of time, we are but one blip in the whole trajectory of Time. We think we are so important, but we are each only one person, perhaps forgettable or even unknown to future centuries.
It is like that with the early Christian, John the Baptist. You have to take up your Bible and read about him, to realize that in his day, thousands followed him to hear his message of baptism. John the Baptist was one who was a great paradigm shifter in his time. But he was not "The One". John the Baptist was only, "A voice of one crying out in the desert." He merely prepared the way.
As popular as John the Baptist was, he was eclipsed by One, of whom John the Baptist says, "I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of His sandals." [Mark 1:1-8].
In John 1: 19-22, "Priests and Levites [were sent] to ask John the Baptist who he was. . . They asked him, 'Are you Elijah? . . Are you the Prophet? . Then who are you?' "
I must say that all this talk of the trajectory of Time makes me feel insignificant. Will I live but 70 or 80 years, and in the end, have not one iota of effect on this world?
More and more, what I get from the story of John the Baptist is that he knew his place in God's plan. John the Baptist was humble, and he understood his role. He was not Jesus, he made sure others understood that, he insisted upon it.
But, John the Baptist knew exactly what he had to do to prepare the way. He did not seem to mind that he was "not worthy", that he was even "a voice of one in the desert."
He was not looking for his 15 minutes of fame. He was not counting "hits" on his website. He simply spoke the Truth, because someone had to.
Even at that time, John the Baptist would have appeared a bit crazy, wearing camel's hair and a leather belt, his hair long and wild. He did not care how he looked. He was going to proclaim the Truth anyway.
If this all does not make you think about your place in this world, for the little time you have on earth, compared to the eons that this earth has existed -- maybe it should.
I don't want to ever give up on how little I can accomplish in my short life, in my tiny corner of the globe. The vast trajectory of Time needn't limit us in what we can do. Because, God does not limit us!
If we are called, like John the Baptist, and Moses, then God can fill in all of our gaps:
God: "Moses! Moses!"
Moses: "Here I am."
Moses hid his face.
Moses: "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?"
God: "I will be with you."
Moses: "What is your name?"
God: "I am Who I am."
Moses: "What if the Israelites do not believe me?"
God: giving him a staff that transforms into a snake, to use as a sign.
Moses: "But, I am slow of speech and tongue."
God: "I will teach you what to say."
Moses: " O Lord, please send someone else to do it."
God: "Your brother Aaron will speak to the people, and it will be as if he were your mouth, and as if you were God to him."
WE are like Moses and John the Baptist! It matters not if we look different, if we are slow of speech, if we are afraid, if we feel insignificant, if we are only one voice in a dry desert, or if One greater than us is yet to come.
This Advent, let God use you! Speak for the Lord!
[Related Postings: "Nativity of John the Baptist", June 23, 2012; "Prepare The Way", December 12, 2012; "How God Bends Time", January 20, 2014.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, December 1, 2014
"Here I am, Lord. Is it I, Lord? I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart." -- Daniel L. Schutte and New Dawn Music.
It is Advent, once again.
I used to believe, in my innocent childhood, that Advent comes at the end of the Christian calendar. Advent DOES come at the end of the secular calendar. But it marks the beginning of a new year in the Christian calendar.
All during Advent, as a little girl, I would mark the season, by sitting at my grandmother's piano and picking out the tunes to old-fashioned Christmas hymns. I could not get these songs out of my head!
On the walk to school each December morning, I would sing one song, maybe, "The First Noel." Riding in the car around town, with my mother at the wheel, I would urge her to sing another song with me, often "Silent Night".
I always believed that all Christian hymns were written hundreds of years ago. Not so. Take a look through your hymnal the next time you are in church. Many, many hymns were written by a man named Daniel Schutte.
I recently had the privilege of attending "An Evening of Music and Reflection" hosted by Daniel Schutte. And it was a magical evening, as darkness fell upon a late fall night.
Mr. Schutte began by reflecting on Advent as a new beginning. The word "advent" is defined in the dictionary as "the arrival of something extremely important."
Despite this being the coldest and darkest time of the year, Advent is a time of new beginning and hope. This sense of waiting, Mr. Schutte emphasized, came from the Jewish peoples' sense of a Promised Land, which was God's promise to His beloved people. And so, we owe our Jewish friends and ancestors a huge debt of gratitude for that sense of hopeful expectation of God in our lives.
Mr. Schutte's point was, that God made us to long for Him in hopeful anticipation. I think this must be why the whole season of Advent, with its shivering anticipation of the mysticism of Christmas, is worth far more to me than the one day of Christmas itself. Advent is about the hope, the excitement, the anticipation, the prospect of God's only Son, coming for us!
Mr. Schutte said, Advent is about "the wonder of God who loved us literally to death." He referred to the "love story between us and God." And he reminded us that we don't have to wait until Advent to seek the presence of God.
Interspersed with Mr. Schutte's commentary, he sang many of his songs, and invited us to sing along. The whole church resounded as one big, heavenly choir! At this point in the program, we sang, "Sing A New Song". I saw with new eyes the absolute joy of Christ's coming-- "Shout for gladness! Dance for joy! O come before the Lord!" [1972.]
Mr. Schutte spoke of the moments of happiness that we have in this life, as "but glimpses of Heaven". If those moments of pure joy are so beautiful, imagine how amazing Heaven must be! But to experience God's presence, we need to be open to Him all around us, during Advent and all year. Mr. Schutte asked a provocative question: "Are you afraid of God's unconditional Love?"
Sometimes, God's Love seems too huge to imagine, as big as the entire Universe. Mr. Schutte sang with us "Beyond The Moon and Stars" -- "Beyond the moon and stars, as deep as night, so great our hunger, Lord, to see your light." . This song reminds me of the story of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order, who one night climbed up on the roof. And when he saw the billions of stars, he wept. It is probably no accident that Mr. Schutte was a Jesuit seminarian; the Jesuits emphasize the continued discernment of God in your life.
The next hymn we sang was "Though The Mountains May Fall" --"Though the mountains may fall and the hills turn to dust, yet the love of the Lord will stand as a shelter for who will call on His name." . He wrote this hymn to remind us of the great love story between us and God, His Love that is truly a covenant of His care and shepherding of us.
Mr. Schutte told us that "Though The Mountains May Fall" is based on Isaiah 54;6-10 and 40:31-32. I have to say, that I have sung his hymns for decades, and never noticed the Biblical references at the bottom of the page, next to the copyright. These hymns are borne of Scripture, and they capture the emotion and the "God-sense" of his meditation on The Word.
Towards the end of the evening, Mr. Schutte quietly mused that, "God's Love is greater than any heartache, pain or broken trust. Even the darkness is holy because God's presence, His Grace are there." He spoke of what Mary must have felt, a young peasant girl; and how suddenly, this angel came to her, and changed her life forever. Mr. Schutte said, " God messes up our plans, all the time. He comes in unexpected ways. He doesn't just show Himself through Jesus, but through us!" We then sang, "Holy Darkness" -"Holy darkness, blessed night, heaven's answer hidden from sight, As we await you, O God of silence, we embrace your holy night."
We ended the evening by singing Mr. Schutte's most well-known work, "Here I am, Lord." As always, tears came to my eyes as I sang this beautiful ode to our own commitment to our Lord.
I pray that, in this Advent season, you hold in your heart, all of God's silence, His Hope, His promise, His call and His eternal Love.
[Related Posting: "Advent Rituals", Dec. 1, 2011; "Advent Defies Death", Dec. 6, 2012.]
[For more information about Dan Schutte's worldwide tour of music and reflection, go to www.danschutte.com.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2014. All Rights Reserved.