Thursday, December 31, 2015

New Year, New Me

" Brothers and sisters: Put on, as God's Chosen Ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these, put on Love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts, the peace into which you were also called one body. And be thankful!  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly." -[Colossians 3: 12-21].

Another New Year has come. We look back and the view is dim and disappointing. We look ahead, and the view is uncertain, even frightening.

Then, there is the annual pressure to remake ourselves, as if the turning of the calendar page requires, absolutely, a totally transformed self.

When I was a child, I was called ugly everyday. If I got a cavity in a tooth, I was called "Rotten Tooth". If my tormentor noticed my eyeglasses, I was called " Four Eyes." When I got braces to straighten my teeth, I was called "Crooked Teeth." When I got some teen acne, I was called " Pimple Face." Sometimes, these taunts were punctuated by physical punches. And this was all from my own family.

It is awfully hard not to internalize these taunts. My mother would tell me that I was being "too sensitive" over these verbal taunt. But, I could  not help crying bitter tears.

Her telling me that I was "too sensitive" only made me believe that all the taunts were true!

Today, I look in the mirror and I see only flaws-- the tiny fine lines developing around my mouth. A stray gray hair curling up all gnarly and unruly. I run to the mirror to pluck it out. My nose, too fine, too long, and uneven. I remember being called "Eagle Beak."

I am likely seeing things that no one else even notices today. But since the taunts were punctuated by physical hurt, what I notice only places me back in that place of fear. No, I am not vain. I am afraid that my (tiny) flaws will get me noticed and hurt again.

Then, I read this Scripture. HOW anyone as flawed and faulty as I am can be called "Chosen One" is a true mystery! But, also a great gift!

I really AM flawed. (Hint: We ALL are!) No matter how many times someone tells me that I am beautiful, beloved, a gift, Chosen, etc., I do not believe it. I really have to work at this!

What have I done to deserve these accolades? Well, nothing, really. I simply am God's daughter.

I feel so useless, so empty. There must be more to it than that? Beauty must be more than the right shade of lipstick, the special color of the year, the thick hair not yet gray. . .

This Scripture tells us to, "Put on heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness. Over these, put on Love, the bond of perfection. Let the peace of Christ control your hearts. Be thankful."

I have seen in my life lately that you cannot be thankful and unhappy at the same time! I am practicing Gratitude.

When I have a difficult moment, maybe when someone is cross with me, accuses me unfairly, acts selfishly, I pause and take some deep breaths. I "put on" compassion, peace, Love, patience, and so forth.

Notice that these do not flow readily from me! - (or anyone). It is a moment of suspended animation, where I breathe and wait in silence. I bid those peaceful and loving thoughts to come. It may take a determined effort to say the opposite of what I am really feeling at the moment.

But, I wait for the kindness, the gentleness, the humility, in the same way that we all wait for Spring to come. You know that this sweetness and gentleness is there, you just have to slow down and wait a bit. The gentle Spring always comes.

When I "put on" these glorious attributes, people say that I have a glow about me. That is the beauty in me! But the beauty is not from the sweater that I am wearing, the great hairstyle or a slim physique.

That beauty is not even about me at all! That beauty is God Himself, shining through me-- as Love, humility, gentleness, etc.

So, if you want a New You, New Year, you need a new wardrobe-- of Love, patience, Peace and gratitude. Put these on, and Christ will dwell in you richly!

[Related Postings: "A New Year!, 1/5/11; "A New Year", 12/30/11; "My Year in Words", 1/5/12; "My New Year's Resolutions", 12/26/12;   "New Year, New World", 1/1/15].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

My Tiny Christmas

"Thus says the Lord: 'You, Bethlehem -Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me, One who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from old, from ancient times.. . He shall stand firm and shepherd His flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic name of the Lord, His God; and they shall remain, for now, His greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth; He shall be Peace."  -- Michah 5: 1-4 A].

I have a very nostalgic view of Christmases past. My little town put up a lighted Christmas tree each year, near the Veterans' Park.  There was a Menorah, as well; and magically, on each successive night of Chanukah, another candle was lit.

We used to sing Christmas carols in the car, my family and I, as we went around town, running errands. We knew them all by heart.

We had a live Christmas tree in the house. When I entered the house, I could "smell Christmas!  It was intoxicating and mysterious and wonderful.

We trimmed the bottom of the tree to leave room for the stand and tree skirt. The extra branches lined the mantle, where we set up angel figurines, and choir girls and boys.

On Christmas Day, we went to church. Everyone in the congregation held a battery-powered candle as we sang Silent Light. I think pretty much everyone was in tears at that point.

Then, the whole family gathered at my grandparents' house -- aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents -- so many, we could barely fit around the table.

I knew this was a special dinner, because we had potatoes roasted with the meat, two kinds of fresh vegetables (two!) and dressing studded with sausage, chestnuts, apple and raisins. The dessert was set aflame, a task reserved for my stately grandfather. We dimmed the lights in the dining room, as we oohed and ahhed over the dancing blue flame!

Christmas today seems so much smaller. My grandparents and my parents are gone. My aunt and uncle retired down South. My cousins moved to a different region. My in-laws are gone. My nieces and nephews are out of university, grown and working.

Last Christmas and this Christmas, my husband, son and I will spend the day alone. That prospect could "kill" Christmas for me, if I let it!  How I mourn the BIG Christmases past! Is Christmas no longer as big and special as it used to be?

But then, I read and meditate upon this Scripture:   "Thus says the Lord, 'You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from YOU shall come forth for me, One who is to be ruler in Israel,' "  Literally, Bethlehem-Ephrathah is too small to even be counted as a place of origin!

And yet, in this small place of Bethlehem, was born a tiny baby, laid in a grungy, rustic manger, his only birth attendants the sheep and cattle lowing. Not only was Jesus' birth humble and poor, it was downright dangerous; since King Herod was systemically murdering all first-born males in a mad search to eliminate the child who would be called King.

I remember, once, when my son was about four, he looked up to the Heavens and asked me, "WHY does God have to be so big?!" I answered straight away, 'Oh! But, God is also so very small!" I reminded him of this when my church put up the creche that year, and we peered through the glass at the tiny babe, Jesus.

And so, I am concluding that it is not only alright, but completely fitting, that my Christmas should be tiny. I want my Christmas to be filled with those tiny moments of Joy and Peace that only the birth of God's Son can convey

This year, I am watching "Elf" with my son, for the umpteenth time. I am praying more, reaching out in tiny moments, to my friend Jesus. I am absolutely glowing as the music from the Christmas concert at my church washes over me, like the soft balm of Peace.  I am sitting in total silence and awe, in the dark, simply gazing upon our Christmas tree.

I am drinking hot cocoa. Oh, the resonance of that first sip! I am baking cookies for neighbors who are too elderly to bake any longer. I am knitting hats and scarves for the homeless shelter, because everyone should get a gift for Christmas!

I am helping a friend from church wrap the poinsettia planters in foil and ribbons; and arrange the flowers for the Christmas altar.  What a joyous honor!

I am planning to awake on Christmas morning, fully relishing that special Christmas morning feeling. Not that selfish feeling of, "Okay, what did I get?"

No, that feeling that I am special because God was bold and generous enough to share His only Son with us; all so that we could learn how to love and be loved!

No, Christmas is NOT all about a gaudy splash of outrageous extravagance. As the Grinch said, "Christmas came without ribbons. It came without tags. It came without packages, boxes or bags. . What if Christmas doesn't come from a store? What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?"

And so, I wish you all a very Merry (tiny) Christmas! Full of tiny moments of Grace, Peace, Joy, Love and Wonder.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Bountiful Table

"The crowds asked John the Baptist, 'What should we do?' He said to them in reply, 'Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.' Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, 'Teacher, what should we do?' He answered them, 'Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.' Soldiers also asked him, 'And what is it that we should do?' He told them, 'Do not practice extortion, do not falsely accuse anyone and be satisfied with your wages.' Now the people were filled with expectation, and all were asking in their hearts, whether John might be the Christ. . Exhorting them in many other ways, he preached the good news to the people." --[Luke 3: 10-18].

John the Baptist is known for going around, urging the people to "Prepare the way for the Lord".

This is what we Christians do during Advent-- we prepare for the birth of the Christ child. We may light candles each evening on the Advent wreath. We may pray more frequently or more fervently. We may prepare those special foods in advance of Christmas Day. Or, lift our voices in song as we sing favorite carols.

But there is more to preparation for the Lord than wreaths and prayer. When John the Baptist is asked, "What shall we do?, he replies, essentially, share what you have. Be fair, not greedy. Be satisfied.

This is valuable advice not only during Advent, but for our entire lives!

I remember at one time, when my husband and I had a neighbor who was Italian. This neighbor had a garden the entire width of his back yard. One day, he gave me some eggplant. I told him, 'I don't want your eggplant, I don't know how to cook it.' Not only did he teach me how to cook it, he sent me home with over half of what he had prepared. That night at dinner, my husband and I ate heartily. I saw that this neighbor was the most generous man I had ever met.

A week or so later, he gave me some zucchini. I gave him back some zucchini bread!

I have modeled my life on those exchanges, ever since then!

My son outgrew his down jacket from last year. I donated it to the homeless shelter.

A lady in my church knitting group gave me some yarn. I donated it to the town Senior Center. They gave me back tons of hand-knitted hats, mittens and scarves. I donated those to the shelter, as well. Some baby hats I donated to a mission to Haiti, and other hats to a home for unwed mothers.

I collect tissue paper, ribbons and stickers, so I can gift wrap the knitted items for the shelter residents.

Another lady donated some classical music tapes and CD's. I donated those to the local hospice.

Tucked into a bag of donated hats and mittens, I found a jar of pearl onions (?!) I donated those to the town food bank.

I have become a clearinghouse of items. Much of the time, these are dropped off on a green-painted table on my porch. People know me for the green table, my Table of Bounty.

I have received empty plant pots, destined for the community garden. I have received a big crop of healthful carrots, for a friend who had cancer at the time.

I have shared yummy left-overs with friends on fixed incomes.

Once, I received an uncompleted sweater, just the back of it, with the needles and yarn still attached. I turned it into a lap robe for the hospice!

I have collected blank greeting cards and wall calendars for the homeless shelter. I give gently used toys to the shelter's Family Center. Men's shoes are worth their weight in gold for the men in the shelter. I collect trial-size toiletries from my travels, for the folks who are ready to come in out of the cold.

Once, I received a lighted make-up mirror. I said, "Lord, what am I to do with this?!" It turns out that the shelter was glad to get it, for use in teaching its women residents how to apply make-up for job interviews! Ditto for a wall phone -- I wasn't at all sure why I had been given this, but the shelter was glad to get it!

I have donated unwanted furniture to a shelter for domestic abuse survivors.

I have donated a giant stock- pot to a man who cooks the annual barbecue benefitting the town food pantry.

I donated my mother's career clothes, after her passing, to Dress For Success, an organization that helps women get good jobs.

I am now collecting pocket calendars, to go to a village in Africa, so the villagers can track the rainy season vs. the good planting season. I have received pencils and over-the-counter medications for this village. Tucked into the box with the medications was a pack of disposable diapers. Those I donated to the shelter for unwed teens.

Christian books? --I stock those on the shelves in my church library. Yup! I organized that library. The book shelves are donated, too!

I never know what will show up next on my green table. But, I never turn down a donation. I know by now that what one person does not want, another is delighted to receive.  People who donate, drop off on my green table. People who need items, pick up from my green table.

"Share with the person who has none. Whoever has food should do likewise.  Be satisfied. Stop collecting more than what is prescribed."

Prepare the way for the Lord!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A Good Work In You

" Grace and peace to you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. . . I am confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it, until the day of Jesus Christ. " --[ Philippians 1: 2-6].

These words were written by St. Paul from prison! I am amazed at the Joy that Paul expresses here, despite his dire circumstances.

Paul wrote with brutal frankness about the hardships that he faced, all in the name of Christ:  "Five times I received thirty-nine lashes, three times beaten with rods, once pelted with stones, three times shipwrecked, a night and a day in the deep sea, dangers from journeys, from rivers, from robbers, from my own countrymen, from Gentiles, in the city, in the wilderness, on the sea, among false friends; {suffering} through sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure." -[2 Corinthians 11: 25-27].

I can relate utterly to Paul who, I think, must be my patron Saint. As a child, I was betrayed by my family, who called me ugly and a failure, -- often on a daily basis, in excruciating detail. I was not fed. I was cold. I was mocked for being a believer in God, for attempting to emulate Jesus in my gentleness, my compassion and in my encounters with others.

I very nearly drowned and was pulled out by the scruff of my neck and told, "YOU can swim." I suffered black eyes, I don't even remember from where, and was told, "Stop getting black eyes. You embarrass us."

It got to a point, I began to shut down. No! --I was not always joyful no matter what my circumstances. I was in battle. I became very serious. I stopped showing emotions. Then, I stopped feeling any emotions. I stopped speaking. I barely slept. I barely ate.

People today ask me, 'Why did you stop speaking? Was it an organic response to trauma?'
But, no. It was a deliberate decision. I had given up on believing in the capacity of humanity to give Love.

I did believe in God, since my parents had taken me to church for awhile. But as a child, I knew nothing much about Him. Except that I wanted to give AND receive Love. [ And, today I know that, that impulse, that longing for Love IS God. ]

But I was growing up in an environment where they wanted me to believe that they could make or break me. For them, there was no God. With no God, there is no Love. They acted as if everything came from my family, and so, everything they gave me could be taken away. And, at times they did threaten that. . . As a small child, I had necessarily relinquished all my power to them.

Only recently have I studied Philippians and come across this Scripture. What this means to me, now, is that God has begun a GOOD work in me! what my family told me were lies. I am NOT ugly, a failure, bad, like my family wanted me to believe. I am God's daughter, even if I feel like I belong to no one else in the world.

So many nights even now, I descend into despair over feelings of worthlessness. I feel deeply flawed and defective.  But, is that the abuse talking? I am starting to see that it is God who will complete me. And so, being incomplete without God, I AM imperfect; after all,  I am only human.  At those times when all those harsh words from the past come crowding around me, about being a failure or an embarrassment, I can call out to God, praying that He will strengthen me to keep improving my inner self.

I repeat to myself the words of Psalm 27: "The Lord is the stronghold go my life, of whom shall I be afraid?"

A few years ago, when I came upon the words of Jesus, " I will not leave you an orphan",  [John 14:18], I actually broke down and cried. I had been abandoned and rejected by my family, my entire life. I had raised myself. No human being had ever said those words to me.

What follows from this declaration is something astounding to me: God will never give up on us! Even if we sometimes want to give up on ourselves.

Sometimes, I don't see God at work in my life.  This is where the Faith has to come in. There can be long periods of dryness in my life, when nothing seems to be happening. I ask, 'God? Where ARE You?"   Often, it is only later, that I recognize His work in me, from the footprints He has left behind in my Soul. But, He is always there, if sometimes unseen.

 Since I had to raise myself as a child, I spent all of my time on my own survival. As an adult, I have had to (re-)learn when to go to bed, how to dress properly for the weather, how to eat well, how to speak up.  I feel so behind on life! But, I have Hope, because God never ceases His work in completing us.

Sometimes, I also wonder if certain past experiences in my life have gone wasted? I have taken a lot of detours, in trying to find my one True path. But with God, there are no wasted experiences, just opportunities for God to work in us and through us, to hone us to completion.

 Philippians 1 tells me that God does have a plan for me, if only I am patient and wait for His guidance; whereas, my family believed that we humans have to do everything ourselves, with no God. . . The latter attitude is a prescription for despair.

And, God never starts anything He cannot finish. He cannot quit the good work that He began in us, and He will insist that we not quit. I remember when I was undergoing the Conversion process, it was all so overwhelming, I wanted to quit! But God's call was persistent and unrelenting. He would NOT leave me alone.  I even went to the priest, to say, "I QUIT"! But,  HE would not let me quit, either!

Which leads me back to St. Paul's Joy-- We are to be confident, to have Faith, that God will carry us to completion. In that sense, we need not fear what is happening to us, or in the world around us. God is in charge, and He always has the Last Word!!

"And we know that God works for the good of all those who love Him and act according to His purpose." - [Romans XXX].

Peace and joy and grace be to all of you, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

[Related Postings; "Comfort and Joy", 12/15/14; "What is This Joy?", 10/1/14].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 30, 2015


"Jesus said to His disciples: 'There will be signs in the sun, the moon and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay. . . Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For, that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.' " --[Luke 21: 25-28, 34-36].

"We can never know about the days to come. But, we think about them anyway. And I wonder, if I'm really with you now, Or just chasing after some finer day. Anticipation is making me late, is keeping me waiting." --Carly Simon.

We often get that wistful feeling of longing, especially around Advent.
The word Advent derives from the Latin, for "arrival".  During Advent, we wait -- perhaps longingly -- for the coming of the Christ child.

Sometimes, I think that our longing for that perfect sweater, latest technology or shiniest bauble under the Christmas tree are merely secular-- but hollow and misplaced-- replacements for what we most long for -- the unconditional Love of God through His Son . . .

Sometimes, we cannot rest in confidence and Faith about the future. We become extremely preoccupied with the "anxieties of daily life". That was my own mother. She worried whether it might unexpectedly rain that day, or if the grocery bill would be too expensive, or if my father would arrive home late from work, thereby making dinner late. She never saw the big picture, she never found her Faith. Life was a daily trap of anxiety, dismay and worry.  As soon as she got through one day, another one loomed to worry over.

Sometimes, "our hearts become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness, and the day catches us by surprise like a trap."  This was my father. After commuting to his job and working long hours, he would come home and fall asleep over his dinner plate, not so much from exhaustion, but from his drinking before, during and after dinner. I still am not sure what pain he was trying to drown.

His last day DID catch my father, like a trap. He awoke one early spring day, had a cup of coffee with my mother. Then, he fell to the floor and died instantly, from a massive heart attack.

That day was a huge surprise to all of us. For him, it was a trap. My father had not been to church, received Communion or prayed in decades. He worshipped at the altar of Materialism. Not only was he not "right with God";  he was pretty sure that there was no God.

That day DID assault everyone in the family.  It was a shock. After all, we had all believed that my father was the healthy one, and my mother the frail one.

When my brother called me to relate the news, I actually uttered an expletive. I had moved a few hours away from home, when I had married. I had built my own life with my husband and my son. I had thought that I had insulated myself from the carousing, and the anxieties of daily life, that had characterized my birth family.

But when my father passed on so abruptly, my whole, carefully constructed defenses came crumbling down, as if they were a useless tissue- paper wall.

I felt fright. I felt dismay. I felt surprise. I felt trapped. I felt assaulted. My whole life was in disarray. It was the end of an era, and I was fearful for the future.

I had to begin praying for the strength to face the tribulations to come. My own mother had betrayed me and abandoned me in the past, at a time of life and death for me.  I KNEW, though, that as she sat grieving and shocked, and terminally ill herself, that I had to become her caregiver. I would not, could not abandon her, as she had abandoned me.

At the moment that I heard about my father, I thought, 'My life is over as I know it.'  I did not believe at the time, that things would get impossibly, beautifully better for me. I saw only darkness.

 I did take my mother back. She moved near me, and I took care of her for the last 12-15 months that she had left on this earth. We had a simple, sweet relationship, at the end. She could not stop wondering aloud, at the unending, unconditional Love that I poured over her.

Since then, friends and family, who know me well, say that I have totally transformed. They say that I am more joyful. They say that I look ten years younger. They say that I speak more confidently. They say that I am born-again.

You could say that I finally know who I am, in Christ. My rebirth has come with tremendous pain, however. When we are born again, as adults, we feel all of the labor pains this time, the pains that mercifully, we cannot remember from our initial entry into this world.

St. Paul says in Romans, "We know that the whole creation has been groaning in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Even we, ourselves, groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our body." --[Romans 8: 22-23].

I know what life means now. It is not about avoiding the tribulations and anxieties. It is all about leaning on God for the strength, that I may impart HIS Love. [Even when the recipient of that Love is difficult, wrong- minded and frail!]

Everyone, absolutely everyone has the promise to "stand erect, raise their heads, and know that their Redemption is at hand." -- [ Luke 21: 36].   We do not walk AROUND our trials, we walk THROUGH them, with Jesus at our side, and with the Hope of incomparable growth and rebirth!

[Related Postings: "Advent Rituals", 12/1/11; "Advent Defies Death", 12/6/12; "Advent in Song", 12/1/14. ]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Thing About Gratitude

" Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you, in Christ Jesus." -- [1 Thessalonians 5: 16-18].

The month of November has become known as a time of Gratitude. It was Oprah Winfrey who  popularized the concept of keeping a Gratitude Journal, a notebook where we can record, each day, those things for which we are grateful.

As 1 Thessalonians points out, we are supposed to "give thanks in all circumstances." We are to "pray continually  and rejoice always." In other words, an "Attitude of Gratitude" has less to do with Thanksgiving--- and everything to do with being a Christian, all year long.

If Gratitude keeps us centered on what God has given us, and not on those petty things that we lack, then Gratitude is a wonderful gift, indeed.

I have always practiced a very simple version of Gratitude. I am grateful to be alive. I am grateful to be able to breathe freely, because of my chronic lung disease. I am grateful for the food I have to eat. I am grateful for my home. I am grateful for my family and friends. I am grateful for the freedom to worship my God. I am grateful for my talents and gifts, and my freedom to use them.

Some will tell me that my Gratitude is puny. WHY, I am asked, do I dream so small? I am accused of being a minimalist, an apologist, a martyr, an ascetic.

So, the "danger" of Gratitude, if you will, is that we may not fully credit God with His powers to make all things possible. This is the attitude of, "IF I ask for almost nothing, I will never be disappointed."

BUT our God is a BIG God, and a God of risk-taking. He demands that we dream big, and then He admonishes us, "Ask and you will receive."  We are taught to knock on the door, and it will be opened to us. But, the person who dares not ask, will find a minuscule reward.

And so, we must not live out our Gratitude in fear, like the man who buried his talents in Matthew 25: 14-30.  For, this is a man whose Gratitude lacks Faith!

Likewise, we must not allow our Gratitude to become boastful or judgmental. Who has not encountered another, whose Gratitude announces, "Well! At least I am not like THAT guy!" We can fall into the trap of believing that our blessings prove that we are superior to others -- when actually, whether we are born lowly, or in the lap of luxury, is often an accident of birth.

Nor is Gratitude a sign of piety, when we make a big show of bestowing charity on others.  Mark's Gospel teaches: "Beware of the scribes who want to go around in long robes and seek respectful greetings in the marketplace. They have the front seats in the synagogues and the place of honor at banquets. [But] they devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers." -[ Mark 12: 38-40].

True Gratitude, as service, does not revel in names of donors emblazoned on buildings. True Gratitude becomes the Love of serving along WITH others, never ABOVE others.

Gratitude, to please the Lord, must be humble and quiet. Gratitude that becomes a loving and genuine service to others, is of the highest level. Because that kind of Gratitude is Love.

And so, HOW is YOUR GRATITUDE? Is it patient, kind, not envious, not proud? Is it not self-seeking, not easily angered, does it keep no record of wrongs? --Because when Gratitude becomes charity that has an agenda or keeps score, it is not Love at all!

Does your Gratitude rejoice with the Truth of God, which is Love? Does your Gratitude always protect, trust, hope, persevere?

Does your Gratitude ever fail?

OR, do you pray continually, giving thanks in all circumstances?  Does your Gratitude furl forth, like a Force of Sheer Love?

[Related Postings: " My Grateful Life, 11/24/14;  "Gratitude is a Verb", 11/14/12;  "Gratitude", 11/16/11; "Thanksgiving", 11/21/11].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Fig Tree

" Learn a lesson from the fig tree. When its branch becomes tender and sprouts leaves, you know that summer is near. In the same way, when you see these things happening, know that He is near, at the gates. But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father." --[ Mark 13: 24-32].

Immediately after Jesus was crucified and rose again from the dead and was seated at the right hand of His Father, the disciples believed that Jesus would come again.  After all, before His death, Jesus had told His disciples, "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that  where I am, you may be also." --[John 14:3].

 Early Christians wanted to know -- when would  the Second Coming occur, and how would they know it was happening?

Mark, in this Gospel, warns of the signs of the Coming, that "the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from the sky and the powers in the Heavens will be shaken."

Many have predicted the Second Coming before now, but any predictions must be as faulty as our human souls, since "neither the angels in Heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father [shall know]".

But, I submit to you that we do not have to wait only for Jesus' Second Coming.  For, Jesus is all around us today, if we only care to slow down and look.

Jesus' presence is as obvious as the fig tree. We recognize that summer is coming when the "branch of the fig tree becomes tender and sprouts leaves."

I remember one Saturday, when I was about three years old, walking through my little village with my parents. They whispered, and pointed at a black man walking through town. No doubt, he was also doing his Saturday errands. But my family acted shocked and disturbed that a black man was even present in our village. I remember being anxious for that poor man. Who would want to be pointed at and made so conspicuous? I didn't know what my family's attitude was, but it was clearly not Love.

Only years later did I come to know what that harsh moment was. It was Racism.

My family used to deride the poor, saying, 'Let them help themselves.'  My family had money, we were not starving. But they saw charity as, "giving our hard-earned money away.''  They saw the poor as 'wanting only to live off others.'  But I? -- Somehow, I understood that the poor simply had fallen on hard times; and that even one dollar to them would have been a small miracle.

Blaming others for being born poor was not Love. That attitude seemed greedy and selfish. I think I was about ten at the time, when I realized this.  Plain as day, I saw that a lack of charity was not Love.

My family used to boast that we were superior, since we were educated and had professional jobs. In my teens, I began to realize that not everyone had had the same opportunities for an education. Not everyone was born as intellectual. But they still had many valuable qualities as human beings. They were worthy of Love.

I think I was about 13 when I realized that narcissism is not Love.

I can see clearly, that when we fail to recognize Love around us, we fail to recognize Jesus.

These days, we fool ourselves into thinking that defending abortion is "Pro-Choice". But abortion is not Life or Love. It is Death.

We worship celebrities, with their fabulous homes, their stables of designer clothes and flashy cars. But, idolizing people for what they own is Greed.  And Narcissism. Not Love.

Now comes ISIS, trying to convince the world that their brand of vicious persecution and violence is right with God. Is this what we have come to-- when Love is Death, and Evil is flashy and alluring?

I truly believe that we ALL recognize Love for what it is. We also know full well what Evil and Hate are. Any child of three, or ten, or 13 knows this!

The signs of Jesus in our midst are obvious for all to see --- as plain as a fig tree unfurling its tender sprouts, signaling the coming of warmth and a fruitful harvest.

 But, do we dare call out the Little Fig Tree, and name it our loud, for what it is? Do we dare to recognize and embrace Love, and Jesus?

[Related Postings: "My Little Fig Tree", March 13, 2013].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Income Inequality

" Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.  A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling His disciples to Himself, He said to them, 'Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.' " -- [Mark 12: 41-44].

When I was a child growing up, I was chided for even thinking about giving to charity. My family mocked me: "We don't GIVE our money away!"   And they glared at me with derision and disgust.

If my family had donated even a large amount, I doubt that we would have missed it.

Years later, when I was away as a student, I had little extra spending money. One day as I exited the supermarket, a veteran asked me for a dollar to support Veterans of Foreign Wars. All I would receive in return was a small paper poppy.  I hesitated, then gave up my dollar.  That dollar would have been a cup of coffee. A tip in a diner on a rare meal out with friends. But once I had relinquished that dollar, I was amazed at how good I felt.  It was very freeing -- I felt lighter than air.

This is exactly what this Scripture is teaching!  Mother Teresa says, we must give -- and love-- until it hurts. Otherwise, it is no sacrifice at all.

In the verses leading up to this Scripture, Mark says, " In the course of His teaching, Jesus said to the crowds, 'Beware of the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation.' "

In Roman times, homes were built with a dining room (triclinium) and an atrium. When Paul came to Corinth, not everyone from the whole church there could fit into one triclinium for a house church meeting. The overflow had nowhere else to go but to the atrium, but that was outside. Therefore, for those who partook of the meal, there were two classifications; one, the upper classes who dined comfortably indoors and two, the lower classes who were shunted into the atrium. [Source: Jerome Murphy-O'Connor, "St. Paul's Corinth"].

This is the root of Mark's Gospel verses, chiding those who take seats of honor at banquets. The radical love of Jesus insists that ALL are equally welcome at the table, whether slave or free, woman or man!

Notice that in Mark, it is not the possessing of wealth that is evil in and of itself. What is evil is the gathering of wealth at the expense of the widows, the marginalized and the poor. It is also the hoarding of wealth that is evil. It is the refusal to share, it is the donation only out of one's surplus, that is a sin.

It is also evil to believe oneself superior simply by being wealthy. The scribes "go around in long robes and accept seats of honor at banquets." I grew up around folks like that, who believed they were better because they were capable of making more money. They would say, "Those people need to take care of themselves. Why should WE give them our money?"

Much has been made in the press recently about Income Inequality. Unfortunately, I do not believe that our society will change so radically as to pay a custodian the same wages as a surgeon or a CEO.

BUT, as Christians, we are taught to personally value the janitor as much as we value the CEO.  In 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about our gifts as being all equally worthy: "Now, there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, 'I have no need of you', or again, the head to the feet, 'I have no need of you.' "   We are ALL one body in Christ, and all parts are not only necessary, but vital, to the whole.

As we are one body, we are all inter-connected and responsible for each other! But, Pope Francis has said, that we are not only unwilling to assist the marginalized, we are, worse yet, ignorant of the great need of the poor--- He has said, " This [is] what happens today: If the investments in the banks fall slightly. . a tragedy. . . what can be done? But, if people die of hunger, if they have nothing to eat, if they have poor health, it does not matter! This is our [real] crisis today!"

As a Christian, I find myself giving my time and my possessions more and more to those who need it most. Each day, I am either taking care of my family, taking care of a neighbor in need, of the homeless, of the sick, and even of a village in Africa.

Where we are most challenged, as Christians, though, is to give -- not from our surplus but from our core. In Matthew 19: 22-24, a rich young man asks how he can get to Heaven. Jesus replies, "If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in Heaven."

The widow in this Scripture gives up her last two "mites", worth about a couple of pennies. She does not give much in monetary terms, but she gives "her all".

It is Jesus who gives us His All, His very body and blood, for us.  And so, giving "our all" is the very least that we can do, for HIM !!!

This Giving Season, I dare you to give not from your surplus, but from your core. I challenge you to give more than you possibly think you can; to honor the God who loves you more than you could possibly imagine !

[Related postings: "Stored Up Treasure, 9/30/12; "All or Nothing", 9/30/15.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Beatitudes

" Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.  Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in Heaven." --[Matthew 5: 1-12a].

The Beatitudes are among the most well-known and well-loved verses of the Bible. "Beatitude" means "blessing". These blessings of righteousness with (being in right relationship with) God, are pronounced as part of the Sermon on the Mount.

Quite simply,  Jesus is explaining what the Kingdom of Heaven is like, and what qualities we need to enter that Kingdom.

And His list is unlike anything that we would see or consider as a blessing, on this earth.

The Beatitudes pretty much sum up my childhood:

I was poor in spirit: that is, defenseless, vulnerable, lacking in any protection from my family, who should have been the ones to cherish and defend me. Instead, I was under siege by them. And so, my spirit began to falter; and before I was twelve years old, I had totally given up on humanity.

I mourned. The only relative who ever supported me and protected me was my grandfather. I remember one hot July evening, when he fell ill. We were staying over at his house that night. An ambulance came and took him away. From my bed in the room at the top of the stairs, I could see, out of the corner of my eye, the stretcher and the strong men lifting him down the stairs. Somehow, I knew I would never see him again. Sadly, I was right.

I was meek. When I gave up on humanity, I took a vow of silence. What did it matter if I spoke or not? No one was rescuing me, anyway. Why bother to ask?

I went hungry, physically. I refused food that was days old and almost spoiled. I was told eat that-- or you will have nothing. But my hunger was for far more. I wanted a family that would be right with God. This family never said, "I love you." They never showed Love, either.

My family was not merciful. I was hungry and not fed, cold and not allowed a sweater, hurt and told to stop crying.

But, something happened when I began to show mercy.  I was cold, but I knitted my brother a sweater, without being asked. I was not fed, but I baked sweets for our Sunday dinners. I was going to school with black eyes, but I mended my father's socks so they had no holes.

Something happened when I decided not to believe my family when they called out names at African-Americans, or declared that it is weak and pathetic to give to charity. I was "clean of heart", I saw clearly what Love was. This Love that I saw? --- It WAS God.

Something happened when I became the peacemaker in the family. If my father drank at night and was too far gone to help my mother, I was the one who cleared the table and helped with the dishes. If my brother wailed over the difficulty of completing his homework, I helped him study.

I was called ugly every day. I was called a failure when I was the victim of a violent crime, and wanted to come home to heal from my wounds. I was mocked when I asked to go to church. I was insulted, mocked for my Faith, falsely accused.

I used to recite all these trials, like a litany. For years, I was down, woeful, depressed and despairing, that all these things had even ever happened to me. I thought, why couldn't God have given me a better life?!

I used to go to Confession, and "confess" all that my family had done to me, as if confessing these things would make them go away.

In all these attitudes, I was way off base. When I "confessed" my trials, the priest would say to me, "And God loves you for this!" I thought he lacked any kind of compassion. Didn't he know how much I had suffered??

It is only recently that I have turned my trials around-- to see that I was honoring God by turning TO Him; and not using my trials as a contrary reason to turn AWAY from Him. If one person really does have to go through all this, she might as well do it for God!

God is closer to the meek, the peacemakers, the hungry, the insulted, and the persecuted. For, "God is close to the broken-hearted. Those who are crushed in spirit, He saves." -- Psalm 34:18.   I have begun to see that instead of being cursed, I am blessed with God's Love.

God is closer to those vulnerable ones, who need Him the most. He blesses them for the sufferings, which they endure on His behalf.

God will never abandon you. He blesses those who resolutely refuse to abandon Him, no matter what trials come against them. And your reward in Heaven will be great!

[ Related Postings: "Unlikely Blessings", 2/1/11].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 26, 2015

None Shall Stumble

"As Jesus was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, 'Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.'  And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more, 'Son of David, have pity on me.'  Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him.'  So they called the blind man, saying to him, 'Take courage, get up, Jesus is calling you.' He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus.  Jesus said to him in reply, ' What do you want me to do for you?'  The blind man replied to Him, 'Master, I want to see.' Jesus told him, 'Go your way; your Faith has saved you.'  Immediately he received his sight and followed Him on the way." -[Mark 10: 46-52].

In this story, Bartimaeus is physically blind. But, he can "see" the divinity of Jesus, perhaps sooner and more clearly than those in the crowd.

We have seen this type of Divine Irony in John 9: 2, when Jesus encounters a man who is blind from birth. His disciples ask, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?" The Pharisees refute that Jesus is the Son of Man. But, Jesus says, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."

I believe that we are all born a little bit blind. Physically, a newborn's sight is blurry or fuzzy. She can discern shapes, shadows and light. Spiritually, we are blind, as well; the only sense that we have of God is in the Love of our family, mostly from our mother and father.  A baby depends on being fed routinely, handled gently, assisted with the basics of life such as dressing and personal hygiene.

In my childhood, I did not receive these. When I was not fed, I went to the neighbors' houses, hoping they would feed me. When I was walking home from school in the rain, I hoped that a neighbor would see me and give me a ride. When I would go to school with black eyes, teachers would say, 'Oh! She is a tomboy!' But, no help came to protect me.

A child like this gradually begins to shut down. I started by crying a lot, hoping a neighbor would come to rescue me. Then, I began burying my emotions. I had trouble sleeping, because I was staying awake until everyone in the house was fast asleep. When I was ten, I stopped speaking -- by choice. I had given up on a rescue.

But, God was not done with me. He sent neighbors to feed me. He sent neighbors to give me rides to school. He sent a teacher, who asked me to stay after school to decorate the classroom. I was thrilled to be asked. Even more unbelievable to me, the teacher allowed me to choose a trinket from her prize box, a tin filled with shiny beads, buttons and little toys.

Every time we help someone, in even a small way, we give that person the hope that there IS Love --and there IS a God.

My parents took me to church for 14 years, then abruptly told me that religion was nonsense and there is no God. I call that "the day that my parents took church away."

What strikes me about this Bartimaeus story is the many who rebuked the blind man, telling him not to approach Jesus. They told him to be quiet. This story detail reminds me of my own family, admonishing me to stay away from church, because "we don't believe in that stuff."

This reminds me of our culture today, that makes having Faith seem irrelevant and even dangerous. I can understand now, that an essential part of being rescued from a bitter life is our Belief. If we don't teach our kids that, how long will we allow them to suffer?

And if we do not believe, then how will we know enough, like Bartimaeus, to even ask? Without Faith, the friends and neighbors who try to help us will seem like merely so many chance encounters; rather than a proof of God's Love, shining through others.

We need our Faith. We need to tune out the rebukers and the non-believers.

We need to possess the Courage to cry out to our God.

We also need to come to know our God. It was not until I had reached a milestone birthday in adulthood, that I even owned a Bible. I read with tears of Joy what Jesus promised to His disciples in John 14:18: "I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you."

I read with Joy, in John 20:19, that after Jesus' death, the disciples were in a room with doors shut, for "fear of the Jews", when Jesus came and stood among them. Jesus would walk through doors, to appear in our midst, to come to us!

I read with Joy today, in Jeremiah 31: 7-9, that the Lord says, "I will gather them from the ends of the world, with the blind and the lame in their midst, the mothers and those with child; they shall return as an immense throng. They departed in tears, but I will console them and guide them; I will lead them to brooks of water, on a level road, so that none shall stumble."

The Lord does not leave anyone behind. He saves the blind beggar. He saves the lame, the vulnerable mothers and the innocent children. He dries their tears and consoles them.

God forgets no one. Not even the mute, starving, numb, battered child. He leads on a level road, and He comforts everyone.

None shall stumble.

[Related Postings: "I Want To See God", Oct. 28, 2012; "Blind Judgment", April 1, 2014; "No Longer an Orphan"; May 24, 2014.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, October 18, 2015


" James and John, son of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to Him, 'Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of You.'  He replied, 'What do you wish me to do for you?' They answered Him, 'Grant that in your glory, we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.' Jesus said to them 'You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink?'  They said to Him, 'We can.'
When the [other] ten [disciples] heard this, they became indignant at James and John. Jesus summoned them and said to them, 'You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.' " --[ Mark 10:35-45].

There is a human tendency to treat God as the "Answer Man." We ask Him, as Janis Joplin did, for a Mercedes Benz. We ask Him to pave the way for a promotion at work. We ask that He bring us a designer wardrobe or a bigger house.

But, God is not like a genie, granting us three wishes.

Sometimes, what we want is not what is good for us. Sometimes, God has other plans, and a far different timing.

We believe that what we want is greatness. James and John believe that they want to be seated at the right hand and at the left hand of Jesus. But these disciples do not understand the cost involved.

Our society -- and Jesus' society -- believe that greatness is Power. Whether at work, as a parent, or as a neighbor, or family member, we humans believe that success means having the ability to judge, and ultimately, to control others. This is what Jesus accused the Gentiles of.

Yet, we read the Ten Commandments, and we see that each Commandment is written to lead us to humility, and ultimately to Love.

We read the First Commandment, "I am the Lord your God"-- and we need to ask ourselves, Do we believe that we are in charge of this world and this life? Do we worship at the altar of human achievement? Do we think we are greater than God?

We read the Second Commandment, " You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in Heaven or on earth below . . You shall not bow down to them or worship them."  We need to ask ourselves, Do we idolize amassing vast wealth, or coveting expensive items? Do we think that greatness is defined by owning more or better things?

We read the Third Commandment, "You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God." Do we think that we are great when we do not get what we think we are owed in this life; and then, we curse the God who does not supply us these things?

We read the Fourth Commandment, "Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy." We need to ask ourselves, Do we believe that Sunday is just like any other day, a day to indulge ourselves in luxury? Do we believe that we do not need God?

We read the Fifth Commandment, "Honor your father and mother." We need to ask ourselves, Do we honor the institution of marriage, and honor the man and woman who gave us life and raised us? Or, once out of the family nest, do we believe that we are greater than the family we came from?

We read the Sixth Commandment, "You shall not murder." We need to ask ourselves, Do we hate others, criticize and harshly judge? Do we think that our greatness lies in being rulers over all, lording our quick judgments over all, and making our authority felt? Why do we believe that we are greater, just by tearing our neighbor down?

We read the Seventh Commandment, "You shall not commit adultery." We need to ask ourselves, Are we made greater, by sneaking around, misleading others to believe that they are the only ones in our hearts?

We read the Eighth Commandment, "You shall not steal." We need to ask ourselves, Are we greater when we believe we are owed the paper goods and office supplies that we steal from our employer -- all because we feel entitled to a bigger raise and more employee recognition?

We read the Ninth Commandment, "You shall not give false testimony". We need to ask ourselves, Are we made greater when we gossip about others, spreading lies or half-truths and sitting in judgment over what they may or amy not have done?

We read the Tenth Commandment, "You shall not covet your neighbor's wife or his possessions." We need to ask ourselves, will we be made greater if we had what our neighbor has? Or, would our feelings of longing be the same, since what we truly long for is God?

We cannot be great, and at the same time, live a life that is "all about us."

This greatness that Jesus is talking about means being humble and serving others. This greatness comes at a cost.

It is a hard road, to take the knocks of life and realize that we are here to work for others, not to aggrandize ourselves.

We convert to this humility each day of our lives. The path is long and steep and narrow. But the reward is great -- it is an intimate relationship with Jesus Christ Himself.

[Related Postings: "Hate = Murder", 2/17/11;  "The Servant Life", 9/21/15; "And the Lowly Shall be Exalted", 9/1/13; "The Humble Shall Be Exalted", 11/14/11].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Wisdom of Fools

"I prayed, and prudence was given me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and comeliness, I loved her, and I chose to have her, rather than the light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep. Yet, all good things together came to me in her company, and countless riches at her hands." -- [Wisdom 7: 7-11].

Wisdom -- Is it in short supply today? Or, is Wisdom under-counted? Under-recognized, because we do not value Her enough to even discern Her presence?

This Scripture was written after the Israelites returned to the Promised Land after their Babylonian exile. Only, when the Israelites returned to Jerusalem, there was practically nothing left. Their Temple? -- gone. The city walls? -- gone. The houses of their prominent citizens? -- gone.

This verse in Wisdom was written to attempt to console the Israelites over their loss. This passage makes clear that, as much as the Israelites are devastated by the loss of their beloved Jerusalem -- scepter, throne, riches, priceless gems, gold, silver and splendor--  are of these are worthless, really:  merely "a little sand", "worthless mire".

What IS priceless, beyond any riches imaginable, is Wisdom.

Critics like to say that Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, are "conservative", set in their ways, the total opposite of counter-cultural.

But if you read these passages in Wisdom, Christians believe that wealth is mire. And gold is mere sand.  This belief is totally opposed to what anyone in the Western world would teach. You cannot get more radical than that.

All of those TV shows on the lives of the famous and fabulous? Pointless. All of the lives devoted to getting straight A's in school, and going on to work 80 hours per week, to accumulate the trappings of a wealthy lifestyle? Muck and mire.

And so, if we are not working feverishly to acquire more riches than the next guy, then what ARE we doing on this planet? It seems as if there are two kinds of people on this planet, Survivors-  those for whom life is a mad scramble for subsistence. Then, there are Acquirors, those for whom life is a mad scramble to amass way more than will they ever need.

Sooner or later, we will all be forced to ask ourselves the big questions. What is our purpose in life and where is our Wisdom?

NY Times Columnist David Brooks wrote about this in a piece on October 5, 2015. He said, "[We] feel a hunger to live meaningfully, but don't know the right questions to ask, the right vocabulary to use, the right place to look or even if there are ultimate answers to all."  We are losing our Wisdom.

We have also lost our cultural references. In schools, we teach students how to master Tests that are gateways to university and beyond. The result: All we have taught them is how to test well.

 Years ago, I went on a field trip with my son when he was in kindergarten. The kids on the hay ride were insisting that pumpkins grow on trees.  Then, when school was closed for Good Friday, students were asking, "What was Good Friday and what was 'good' about it?" In middle school, my son and his classmates read the Alice Walker short story, "Flowers."  When the narrative gets to the part about some bones lying in the woods next to a knotted rope, some of the kids insisted that the bones were from a dog on a leash. No one made the connection about a lynching.

The lack of Wisdom and cultural references is more than a mere aberrational, collective "blind spot". This deficit is dangerous. In a recent article, [WS Journal, 10/3/15], Lord Jonathan Sacks, former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth, said that the rise of Islamic State caught the West unprepared, but the "unpreparedness was not accidental."

Lord Sacks goes on to say, "Ever since the rise of modern Science, intellectuals have been convinced that Faith is in intensive care, about to die. . . When secular revolutions fail, we should know by now that we can expect religious counterrevolutions. Science, technology, the free market, and the liberal democratic state have enabled us to reach unprecedented achievements in knowledge, freedom, life expectancy and affluence. They are among the greatest achievements of human civilization and are to be defended and cherished."

"But, they do not answer the three questions that every reflective individual will ask at some point in his or her life: Who am I? Why am I here? How then, shall I live?"

"The result is that the 21st Century has left us with a maximum of choice and a minimum of meaning.. Religion has returned [and must return] because it is hard to live without meaning. That is why no society has survived for long without a religion."

We have, as a modern society, largely abandoned Religion; and Religion has become instead a brutish, narcissistic, ravaging substitute for what passes as Wisdom, shockingly carried out in the name of the Divine. . .  Heaven help us.

Into any deep vacuum, Darkness falls. Someone once said, "Teach your children WHO God is, . . before the world teaches him what God isn't."

Teach your children what really matters, the strengths and wisdom of the heart, the moral vocabulary to discern a life for the good, an abiding Faith in One much larger than ourselves.

[Related Postings: "Prayer For Wisdom", July 23, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 5, 2015

The Adam Effect

"The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a suitable partner for him."  So, the Lord God formed out of the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and He brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each of them would be its name. . . . but none proved to be a suitable partner for the man. So, the Lord cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, He took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. The Lord God then built up into a woman the rib that He had taken from the man. When He brought her to the man, the man said: "This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called 'woman, for out of 'her man',  this one has been taken." That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one flesh." -[Genesis 2: 18-24].

As  beloved as Pope Francis seems to be, there are plenty of sharp critics who dismiss his comments on global warming as, "political".

I would wish that everyone who has read Genesis 2, would also read Genesis 1!

In Genesis 1, God creates light to banish the darkness.  In The Gospel of John, this light is said to "shine in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." This Light is Jesus, who pre-dated Creation; and "He was in the [very] beginning with God." -[Genesis 1: 2-5].

In the next week, God goes on to create Day and Night, the dome called Sky, the stars in the sky, the dry land called Earth, the waters called Seas, plants yielding fruit, and the fruit with seeds in it, birds to fly across the dome, sea creatures, wild animals, and finally, humankind.

When I was in Biblical School, a question given for homework was, "Given the Creation narrative in Genesis 1 and 2,  what is your concept of Paradise?"

What I wrote was something that has never left my heart :

You see,  Adam in Hebrew means "man". And, "woman" in Hebrew is simply the feminine version of "man". Linguistically, man and woman are simply male and female versions of each other!

God made woman from the side of man. Men and women really ARE one flesh.

Given all this, Paradise means that there can not possibly be any violence or assault between man and woman. There would be no domestic abuse -- because, any violence would only mean hurting one's own self. St. Paul says in Ephesians 5, "Husbands, love your wife as Christ also loved the Church and gave Himself for it. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies."

There would be no child abuse -- because God made Adam and Eve to be fruitful and multiply. Therefore, all children come from Adam and Eve, and therefore, from God.

There would be no abortion. Consider, in the face of our Creation, our routine killing of infants who are "inconvenient". . . . We are eliminating God-given Life.

There would be no animal cruelty. God created these animals for Adam and Eve. He gave Adam dominion over the animals. God did not give Adam the license to maim or torture them.

There would be no racism. We are ALL God's children. As St. Paul said, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, tree is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." --[Galatians 3:28].

There would be no raking, slashing or burning of the landscape for minerals or metals, then walking away from a great big gash in the Earth. This Earth is given to us by God. We have dominion over it. But we have no license to destroy it. Even Leviticus 25 instructs God's people on crop rotation: "Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in their yield; but in the seventh year, there shall be a sabbath of complete rest for your land."

We Americans spend an average of one hour per WEEK outside. We are more glued to the virtual reality on our electronic screens, than we are aware of God's awe-inspiring Creation around us.

Do we truly understand and appreciate the breath-taking beauty of Creation?

When St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, was undergoing his spiritual conversion and self-examination, he went up to the rooftop one summer night. When he saw the billions of stars, he wept at God's majesty. When is the last time you wept at the sight of the night sky? Or, do we humans simply think that we own the sky and the Heavens ?

When Job struggled and battled against all the traumas and misfortunes in his life, God finally told him, "Where were you, when I laid the foundation of the Earth? . . . when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for Joy?" -[Job 38: 4-7]. Job replied, " See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?"

As Mother Teresa would say, "We forget that we all belong to each other." I would add, that we also forget that we belong to God and to the Universe that He made.  In abusing the Earth and each other, we make ourselves into gods, and in the process, we forget our place in the Universe.

No, friends, that reverence of each other and for the Earth is NOT socialism or communism. THAT is Love--for one another, for God and for our world!

[Related Posting: "Husbands and Wives", August 23, 2015].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

All or Nothing

" Jesus said to His Disciples, ' Whoever causes one of these little ones [my beloved followers] who believe in me, to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were put around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for your to enter into life maimed, than with two hands to go into Gehenna, into the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life crippled, than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna, where 'their worm does not die and the fire is to quenched.' " --[Mark 9: 42-48].

It is hard to read this Scripture, and not despair that Christianity is harsh and violent. What kind of God would want us to drown ourselves in the sea with a millstone around our neck? Cut our hands off to avoid sin? Cripple ourselves by cutting off both of our feet? Pluck our eyes out?

This kind of passage is why it is so dangerous to read Scripture for its absolute sense. We would end up with a God who possesses a criminal level of cruelty. And yet, God IS Love. . . .

To read this passage correctly, we have to comprehend the metaphorical level of the verses.

I used to work in an office in a downtown skyscraper. If the Boss asked one of us assistants to do any unpalatable job, such as to clean out the refrigerator in the kitchen, we all groaned. We dreaded the moldy leftovers, the half-eaten Chinese food, the wilted salad greens.

A co-worker of mine would say to the Boss, "Clean out the fridge? I would rather pluck out my eyes with a melon-baller! " THAT'S how much she dreaded the task-- (but, you understand, that she was not actually going to pluck her eyes out. . .)

What Mark is pointing out here, is the cost of being a Christian.

As Christians, we cannot remain neutral. There really is no such thing as "Neutral". In  "Revelation and the End of All Things", Craig Koester lays out the encircling visions of John's book of Revelation: of the reign of the Beast (representing extravagantly sinful Rome) vs. the Reign of Christ.

Koester says, "Some of John's readers found the proponents of false religious claims to be [merely] intriguing or innocuous, while others found them to be intimidating. The vision [of Revelation] does not allow readers the luxury of remaining neutral. Every person belongs to someone. The only question is whether one bears the name of the true God or the name of a counterfeit god."

I experienced this growing up in a family of non-believers. I had stark choices, but I did my best to always reach for the good, while walking away from what was evil. I did not emerge unscathed, however.

When my mother fed me barely edible leftovers, I would refuse to eat. My father would say, "Do not feed her anything else." I did not, in reaction, become gluttonous or viscerally angry. BUT, even today, in my own household of plenty, I still get anxious over where my next meal will come from.

My parents called me a failure. They never hugged me or said, "I love you." They watched a family member hit me and said, "Stop crying. You are not hurt." TODAY, I bear an essential sadness, and I fight a nagging feeling that I am a lone atom in a senseless world. I get nightmares about being attacked, or about being lost and abandoned. But, I live-- to my core -- the belief that the cure for feeling unloved is to love others fiercely.

My parents never made sure that my chronic lung disease was consistently or properly treated. As an adult now, I get bronchitis yearly; I have even had pneumonia a few times. I am out of breath every day, because of the scarring on my lungs. But, I never did hate my family for that. I pace myself, and try to help others daily. Sometimes the littlest gestures mean a lot.

I suppose many would ask me, HOW did I resist their cruelty, their intolerance, their hate, for so long? HOW did I not become them?

But that is just it, what choices did I have? I could have chosen to become just like them. But, a child does not want Hate, a child wants Love. It never made any sense to me to "cure" Hate, by spewing even more Hate.

I could have run away from home. But, a child alone on the streets with no food, shelter, or protection, faces just as cruel a world as the one which she has fled.

I sometimes get caught in a trap of regret. What if Child Protective Services had rescued me? But then, I would have ended up in a foster home. Would that have been any improvement? Or, would things have been so much worse for me ?

What if I HAD been able to tell a teacher or a neighbor? Would there have been an even worse backlash against me at home, if these adults did not believe me?

Acquaintances have said to me, "Some people [meaning, my own parents] should not have children."
Then, my other option is to be - - - Dead?

When it comes to regrets, I have to ask myself-- IF I could do everything all over again, would I have changed anything?

Given my choices?  No, I would not have changed anything. As Mark 9 says, I would rather cut myself into pieces, than to slip into Sin. Better to become broken and cling to God, than to "repay evil with evil".  Better to "overcome evil with good". -[Romans 12:17-21)

St. Paul says, in 2 Corinthians 12: 10, "Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ."

 I had the choice between the Beast and God. --- I chose God.

[Related Posting: "The Cost of Christianity", Sept. 9, 2013].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Servant Life

"Jesus and the disciples came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, Jesus began to ask them, 'What were you arguing about on the way?'  But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then, Jesus sat down called the Twelve, and said to them, 'If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last and the servant of all.' " -[Mark 9: 30-37].

As a child, I had an upside down life. When my older brother and my parents would argue over how my brother did not want to do his nightly reading for school, I would tell them all to stop arguing, that I WOULD do my brother's reading FOR him. The only trouble was, I was only in kindergarten, and could not read yet.

When my mother gave me something inedible for dinner, and my father told her not to make anything  else for me, I ate no dinner. Very soon, even at age five, I figured that I had better find food on my own during the day, or I would not eat.

And so, as so often happens in dysfunctional families, the child became the adult.

My family was perfectly well-off and well-known in the community.  Sometimes, I think, 'Why did I not tell anyone what was going on in my house?'  But, I came from such a well-educated, proper, well-dressed, "upstanding" family. Who would believe me?

I do not know how or when or why I decided to become the Peacekeeper in that house, but someone obviously had to keep the peace. No one else was doing it, so I took that on.

I knitted my brother a sweater-- the same brother who used to hit me and called me ugly every day. I weeded my mother's garden -- the same mother who would not feed me, and who called me a failure despite my straight A's.  I sewed my father a tie, and I hemmed his pants -- the same father who took his anger out on me.

Now, I ask you, in this kind of life, WHO is the greatest? Whom do you admire the most?

The little girl who went to school with black eyes and was told, "Stop getting black eyes, you are embarrassing us"? The little girl who kept loving and serving and hoping that maybe tomorrow, things would get better? (But all she got from the school librarian was, "You ought to smile more.")

OR, the family admired by the community, who kept the lawn and gardens immaculate, who kept their car waxed and shiny, who dressed their kids in cute matching outfits and who took their kids to piano lessons, Cub Scout meetings, tennis lessons, and Little League?

I think you know the answer. . .

People wonder if Pope Francis' humility is real? Or, is it just good public relations?

I have read about Pope Francis' early life as a cleric in Argentina. He was exiled from his Jesuit order for years, at one point, because of bitter factions in his order. Jesuits believe that if you are not negotiating a solution, then YOU are the problem. [Source:, "The Pope's Dark Night of the Soul", by Daniel Burke].

Francis lived, as Jorge Bergoglio, in a one room cell in Cordoba, at the Jesuit Residence. For years.

Another priest from Cordoba, Rev. Angel Rossi, knew Bergoglio. Rev. Rossi says, "It was like a seed planted in the hard soil of winter."

It was out of that dark exile that Jorge Bergoglio emerged, to become Pope Francis, and to teach us all about humility and mercy and Love.

Secular people don't always "get" Pope Francis. OR, Jesus' definition of success. The notion of the greatest being the most abject, humblest, poorest among us, seems counter to all human reason.

Yet, Jesus' mother, Mary, was an illiterate peasant girl. Jesus' father was a carpenter. Jesus walked from village to village, wearing sandals and breaking bread with tax collectors and sinners. He died a bloody, violent, ignominious death, betrayed by one of His own disciples. No one in this earthly world would call that a "successful life."

As Timothy Kesicki, President of the Jesuit Conference in Washington, D.C. has said, "Is the Crucifixion a promotion?"

And so, call me a failure that I did not believe my family, when they said there is no God. Call me a failure when I disobeyed their selfish creed to keep everything for themselves, and I donated to charity. Call me a failure when I knitted for the homeless shelter, and was told, "You need to take care of yourself first." Call me a failure when I tried to make peace, in a family bent on family warfare, by loving and serving them.

For, the meek shall inherit the earth.

[Related Postings: "And the Lowly Shall Be Exalted", Sept. 1, 2013; "The Last Shall Be First", Sept. 17, 2100; "The Humble Shall Be Exalted", November 4, 2011].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Losing Our Religion

"What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has Faith but does not have works? Can that Faith save him? If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well," but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it? So also Faith itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
Indeed, someone might say, "You have Faith and I have works." Demonstrate your Faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my Faith to you FROM my works." -[ James 2: 14-18].

America is losing its religion. Marriage is down 36% since 1960. Secularism [people claiming no religious denomination and attending worship as little as once per year] is now 59%, up from 38% in 1972-1976. [Source: Charles Murray, author of "Coming Apart."]

Frankly, America-- in dropping its religion-- is flaunting a nakedness that is all too obvious.

I cringe when people tell me that the Bible is obsolete . . . .This Scripture in James points to a heated argument that is just as relevant today as it was 2,000 years ago. I have have known more than a few friends and co-workers who say, 'You can be a good person and be an atheist.' This is exactly like the person in this Scripture who says, "You have Faith and I have works."

I grew up in a household of no Faith and no charity. My family members would say, "Let those poor people get jobs. They don't WANT to work!" When I would suggest that we had enough money to give to charity, all members of my family would shout me down in unison, " WE don't GIVE the money away!!"

But, it is not all as simple as telling a guy to get a job.  Father Gregory Boyle, a priest who works in one of the most violent sections of Los Angeles, wrote a book called, "Tattoos on the Heart". He writes, "Part of the spirit dies a little, each time it's asked to carry more than its weight in terror, violence, and betrayal. . . It is a toxic shame, a global failure of the whole self."  And yet, we dare to demand that these wounded souls, who cannot even take care of themselves, go out and get and keep a job? HOW is this even possible?

My family, without Faith, had no compassion. I believe that you CAN have some compassion as a non-believer. But that faithless compassion is not deeply grounded in the poignant expressions of Jesus.

It is Jesus who says, "Love your neighbor as yourself."- [Mark 12:31].  What this means, quite simply, is that we are responsible  for each other!

It is Jesus who says, "A new command I give you:  Love one another, as I have loved you." How big is this Love? -- even to the point of a harrowing death FOR us humans, who are by very definition faulty and broken.

Not long after I began delving into Scripture in a serious way, I came across Matthew 25:31-46: "Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are family members, you did it to me. Depart from me, into the eternal fire, for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me."

And so, every time my family did not comfort my tears, but blamed me for them; every time my family did not feed me when I was hungry; every time I was thirsty for their love, but they denied me; every time I was cold and they denied me a sweater and told me that I was not cold; every time my pained, lost eyes gazed out at them from my prison of fear, but they did not comfort me --- THESE they did TO Jesus.

My aunt --and godmother-- used to say to me, " But, you are their daughter!"--This all makes me think of Mother Teresa saying, 'Don't we know that we all belong to each other?'

And so, I watch a candidate for President declaring that he will build walls to keep "those people" out. I watch a candidate saying that "those people" are all rapists and murderers and drug dealers. All the while, I hear the cries of the refugees calling, "WHY are we being treated this way?" And, I think -- How has our world become so very cruel? Beyond our saying, "Let them get jobs", are we now saying, "Let them perish"? Far from being an esoteric, archaic theological argument, this is about as real as it gets. .  .

Without our Faith and our knowledge of Scripture, we cannot possibly know how very personal this all is. Abandoning the poor, the refugee, the victims of gang culture, the sick and hungry, means abandoning Jesus -- and all of humanity.

Martin Luther King, Jr. said in the 1960's: "Injustice is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." And-- "The poor in our countries have been shut out of our kids and driven fro the mainstream of our societies because we have allowed them to become invisible."

I was once Invisible. I would not dare to do that to another human being. Being invisible is a slow kind of agonizing death.

How shallow is our Faith? How deep is our callousness?

[Related Posting: "Show Me Your Faith", Sept. 16, 2012; "The Least Among Us', November 18, 2011.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The Blossoming Desert

"Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine recompense He comes to save you. Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag, then the tongue of the mute will sing. Streams will burst forth in the desert, and rivers in the steppe. The burning sands will become pools, and the thirsty ground, springs of water." --[Isaiah 35: 4- 7A].

I grew up in a staunchly anti-religion, anti-Catholic household. My parents were horrified when I married a Catholic man; just as disgusted as if I had declared that I wanted to marry a drug dealer or a man who beat me.

My life changed suddenly, the day my father passed away without warning, without even any prior illness. So much for doctors and diagnoses, treatments and second opinions. Was life really that abrupt? As soon as my father died, I had to move my frail, ill mother near to me. My mother, the Catholic-hater was IN my house.

My life had gone upside down. White was black, day was night, everything I had thought was true was a Lie.

I went to my pastor to seek help. We talked about my converting, since there was only one thing I knew for certain -- I HAD to draw closer to God.

And yet, the very idea of converting, right under the nose of my sacrilegious mother, totally terrified me!

I remember all this, because Isaiah 35: 4 was the exact Scripture that my pastor gave me to reflect upon: "Be strong, fear not! Here is your God."

I have to smile, looking back at all this; because, I had lived this Scripture. I guess I had always been too busy trying to raise myself up and avoid trauma; that, I had never had the luxury to reflect upon how God had saved me.

I spent a lot of time in the parish chapel during conversion, looking back upon my life, and pondering those times when God had quietly entered in and lifted me up.

I realized that my family was like the Pharisees in the story of Jesus healing the man who was born blind. My family judged others, denied the very existence of God, called believers as much as superstitious fools, and scoffed at the weak.

Jesus concludes in John 9: 39: "For judgment, I have come into the world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."

My family was spiritually blind, but I saw. I SAW, as plain as day, that blacks were not throw-aways, but folks with dignity and soul. I SAW that the poor were not stupid or hapless, but just struggling with some awful twists of bad fortune. I saw these as plain as day. Was this God's Grace, that helped me to see ?

Whatever I said, mostly my family ignored it or laughed it off. I suggested that we give to charity and was mocked: " We don't GIVE our money away!"

My family and I developed a "mutual deafness". They did not listen to me; and I could no longer "hear" or take in their insults-- the daily verbal assaults from a sibling about how ugly I was; my sibling hitting me and my mother telling me that I needed to stop getting black-eyes, because I was embarrassing her. I lived either at school or holed up in my room. I lived in the Silence.

All, all were hemming me in. I was shutting down. I blocked out the world. I stopped speaking. I was mute.

One day, though, I was invited to sing in the church choir. I thought this was a coincidence. I thought it was because the minister was only desperate to fill slots in the choir stall.

I may have largely stopped speaking, and stopped "hearing" the ugliness around me. But, I began to sing in rehearsal. I sang in my room. I sang in the shower. I sang walking or biking to school. I could not stop hearing this music.

I sang "The First Noel". I sang "The Doxology". I sang "Faith of Our Fathers." I proudly sang in church.

All that singing made me feel like dancing. I took ballet classes. I danced all the way down the front hall of my grandparents' house. I performed water ballet at the lake. I leapt and twirled around my neighbors' expansive front lawn. In my imagination, I was a leaping unicorn, a glimmering white horse. I skipped to school.

Where my heart had been dry as a desert, God was sparking a tiny rivulet inside me. I was blossoming, despite my harsh environment.

My God had placed a glowing ember of courage in my heart. I WOULD praise him, in my singing, in my dance. I would see the Truth of who the weak and the lame and the blind really were.

And in truly seeing the weak and the lame and the blind, I would myself be healed. I would be strong.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Inside Out

"When the Pharisees with some scribes gathered around Jesus, they observed that some of his disciples ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed, hands. --For the Pharisees, and, in fact, all Jews, do not eat without carefully washing their hands, keeping the tradition of the elders.  . . And there are many other things that they have traditionally observed, the purification of cups and jugs and kettles and beds. -- So the Pharisees and scribes questioned him, 'Why do your disciples not follow the tradition of the elders but instead eat a meal with unclean hands?' He responded, 'Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: ' This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; . . You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition.'
Jesus summoned the crowd again and said to them, 'Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile." --[Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23].

The Israelites, through Moses, received a litany of laws-- even beyond The Ten Commandments --
from the Lord their God. These laws protected them, and rightly so. "The Law of Moses was given to the Israelites when they were still a band of ex-slaves struggling to survive." -

When Jesus came, He came with one New Commandment, to love one another. As St. Paul explains, in Galatians, "Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law. . So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came.. . But now that Faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God." -[Galatians 3: 23-26].

So many times, I think that we have totally forgotten this one simple lesson, that we are ALL children of God.  In fact, Mother Teresa used to say, " If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other."

I found this out the hard way. When I was a girl, my own brother used to call me ugly every day, in excruciating detail. I was "Crooked Teeth", because I needed braces to straighten my teeth. I was "Pimple Face", because of my teen acne. I was "Eagle Beak", because of my aquiline nose. I was "The Brain", reduced to only one bodily organ, because I was a good student.

I used to get so angry at all these names. I was not so much angry because these accusations were true. I was angry because there was nothing I could do about them.

It seemed quintessentially unfair to tear me apart over something I WAS, rather than something I DID.  I vowed, through clenched teeth and tears and anger, to never pick on anyone, or judge anyone, over something they could not help. If I have done wrong, correct me. If it is about the superficial -- my nose, my skin color, my gender-- respect me, or leave me alone.

We live in a world, STILL, that runs by human rules. We "cling to human tradition." We latch onto appearances, but we forget what is in the heart.

We fear the black man, especially if he wears a hooded sweatshirt.

We revere the tall, white man with good, thick hair.

We assume women, especially attractive ones with full, flowing hair, are actually dumb.

Women paint their nails with polish, and apply makeup endlessly. But our polish contains toxic substances not regulated by the FDA, and our lipstick contains lead. We persist, thinking the cosmetics give us a big advantage in how people regard us.

Men exercise feverishly, building impressive muscles, believing this formula for strength will make them more attractive, socially and in the workplace.

I once knew a guy who just could NOT get a promotion. His work was flawless, his attendance perfect.. Men who had been employed well after him were getting promotions before him. The Truth: He was short-- and not all that handsome. What a shame.

Some folks insist that the Bible is not relevant today. Actually, we are fighting the same battles today, as Jesus did in Biblical times.

We have our biases still about what practices are "acceptable", about what practices will "protect" us, and will allow us to thrive -- the designer clothes, the fancy imported car, the handsome children, the huge mansion, the "right education", the executive title.

But, Jesus does not care about human convention.

We all have the capacity to burnish ourselves on the outside, but to give in to evil, greed, malice, deceit, envy, blasphemy, folly on the inside. We can have a beautiful exterior package, but a rotten core. Jesus makes his disdain clear, 'You hypocrites are far from me.'

Jesus turns our world on its head-- He turns us inside out, to reveal our hearts. He wants to know, not how much convention do we have on the Outside, but how much Love do we have on the Inside?

[Related Postings: "Clinging To Human Rules", Sept. 4, 2012; "The ABC's of Love",  April 27, 2013.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Husbands and Wives

" Brothers and sisters: Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives should be subordinate to their husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is head of his wife, just as Christ is head of the church, he himself the savior of the body. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so wives should be subordinate to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed Himself over to her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath water with the Word, that He might present to Himself the church in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. So also, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and his mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. This is a great mystery, but I speak in reference to Christ and the church." --[ Ephesians 5: 21-32].

There is a dangerous trend today of folks taking a few particular Biblical verses out of context, and using those isolated words to reject the whole of the Catholic/Christian church. The deacon who taught my Biblical School class last year used to say, "Learn and understand what the Catholic Church teaches, before you reject Her."

BEFORE we even get to the part where this Scripture that says, "Wives should be subordinate to their husbands", the very first command in this Scripture states: "Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ."   What this means to me is, in everyday relationships, and in marital relationships, forget the power struggle! So husbands, this statement, that wives should be subordinate to you, does not mean you have won some sort of battle of the sexes.

This Scripture goes on to say that the husband is head of his wife, just as Christ is head of the Church; BUT, that the husband must love his wife just as much as he loves his own body. In other words, the wife and husband are as one body.

And, the Scripture says, the husband loves his wife, even as Christ loved the Church and handed Himself over for to sanctify her. A husband's love for his wife is to be so deep that he sacrifices himself in body for her, keeps her in splendor, without spot or blemish, keeps her holy, and nourishes and cherishes her.

With husband is like Jesus, and the wife like the Church, is there anything that "Jesus" will not do for His "Church"?  No, Jesus is even willing to suffer and die for Her. Because Jesus and the Church are One.

The husband is so in communion with the wife, that he even leaves behind his own father and mother, and becomes one flesh with his wife.

There is a great mystery in this union, something so unexplainable, so perfect, so holy and sacred -- that we call it the Sacrament of Marriage. Being so holy and sacred, there is nothing that can separate such a husband and wife, not even death.

This is why the "casual hook-up" is so anathema to Christians. Saying, "I will live with you, but only until the rent gets too high for me, or until you will stop leaving your socks on the floor" -- won't cut it.

My own family called themselves Christian, but did not understand marriage. I remember when I went home to tell my mother that I was going to marry my soul mate, and my parents were horrified --because he is Catholic. They said, "Can't you marry someone else? Why don't you date others?"- and, "You cannot marry a Catholic because, then, you can never get a divorce."  My mother even asked me to "explain" what I saw in him?

At the time, I thought that would be like trying to explain the punch line to a joke. But it is even more deep and ephemeral than that. WHAT do I see in him? -- It is nothing in particular. It is everything.

It is like trying to explain the relationship between Jesus and the Church. It is like trying to explain God. You cannot. Can you?

How can I explain how I know exactly when my husband needs another cup of coffee? I hand him the cup and he stares at me, astonished, saying, "HOW did you know?"   How can I explain how, when I walk in feeling defeated, my husband says to me, "You need a hug!" How can I explain how I will hand my husband a tissue, even before he sneezes?

We have been married so long and are in such communion, that we look at spouses who live and work and travel apart, and we shake our heads. Neither one of us could live very long without the other. The times when we have been forced apart by circumstances have felt to me like I had had my right arm cut off.

It is beyond me how or why people criticize that. Isn't that what we humans long for our whole lives, to be in unconditional, spiritual and eternal commitment with someone? The only thing better than that is to be in communion with God.

In fact, just as husbands and wives are one body, so are Jesus and the Church. All of these relationships-- husband/wife, Jesus/Church--  point our way to God --- which is why, the mystical relationship between a husband and wife is a little bit of Heaven on earth.

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