Sunday, June 28, 2015

Blaming God

"God did not make death, nor does He rejoice in the destruction of the living. For He fashioned all things that they might have being; and the creatures of the world are wholesome, and there is not a destructive drug among them, nor any domain of the netherworld on earth, for justice is undying. For God formed man to be imperishable; the image of His own nature He made him. But by the envy of the devil, death entered the world, and they who belong to his company experience it. -- [Wisdom 1:13 - 15; 2: 23-24].

We Christians all know the Old Testament story of Genesis: How God created the earth and the skies and the water and the stars. How God made the first man, Adam, in His own image. How God then fashioned a soulmate for Adam, in the person of Eve. How Adam and Eve were promised a life in Paradise, a life imperishable.

But the devil was jealous, and came in the form of a snake. Once Eve, and then Adam, gave into temptation and ate the fruit, they partook of the Tree of Life. This gave them the knowledge of Good and Evil. But, despite the luring promises of the devil/snake, Adam and Eve did not become god-like. They knew only sorrow. They were banished from the Garden of Eden. They faced labor, trials, pain and even death.

And SO, Death is something God never intended to create. Death came from Sin.

In the Christian sense, Sin = Death. This is so because when we Sin, we cut ourselves off from the Life-giving forces that emanate from God. Sinning creates barriers to God.

I experienced this in my childhood home. I saw how my parents were confused about the difference between Love and Money; between God and Human Achievement. My family would say, "We worship the Almighty Dollar." BUT, money is man-made, and wealth is not meant to be a force to make us more God-like. If we worship money, we forget to worship God.

My family would say that Christians are losers because, possessing no talent or strengths on their own, they can only rely on God to make it through the day. BUT, when we worship human achievement, we forget that our gifts come from God. We forget to praise and thank God for our talents.

I believe that most Sin comes from this confusion. Sin goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden and the Original Sin of desiring to be God-like.

If I gossip or judge my neighbor, I am making myself God-like, because I am giving myself the title of Final Arbiter, the one and only Judge.

If I try to control another's behavior, I am making myself God-like, because I am pretending that I am in charge of the Universe.

If I hate my neighbor for who he is, I am making myself God-like, because I am questioning God as Creator.

If I grab all the material possessions I can, and deride the poor as losers, then I am making myself God-like because I am unilaterally deciding that everything that God made is MINE --- and NOT, as God intended-- for all of us.

If I decide that abortion and the death penalty are okay, then I am making myself God-like, because I am the one who gets to decide who lives and who dies.

If I get all hung up on beauty -- compulsively remaking my own looks, or judging someone else's-- then I am making myself God-like, since I am finding fault with what God has made.

If I lie, then I am making myself God-like, because in making up my own truth, I am forgetting God's Truth.

If I am jealous, then I am making myself God-like, since it is all about me and MY plan for myself; and I am forgetting about God's Plan for me.

Sin causes Death on Earth. When we tear around, trying to arrange events to our liking, trying to make others do things our way, trying to control the Universe and everyone in it, trying to egotistically chew up and spit out the environment, to lie and tell ourselves Untruths, to cheat and grab everything for ourselves -- we become anxious, depressed and lifeless. When we try to set ourselves up to be God, we fail.

AND the worst thing we can do is to fail at becoming God-like, then blame God for the trials and pains in our lives. Because if we blame God for all the misfortunes in our lives, then we are confusing Sin and Death --with God.

For God is NOT Sin and Death. Nor, are we God. To remember that is to gain Life.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Storm

"Leaving the crowd, the disciples took Jesus with them in the boat just as He was. And other boats were with Him. A violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern, asleep on a cushion. They woke Him and said to Him, 'Teacher, do You not care if we are perishing?' He woke up, rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, 'Quiet! Be still!' The wind ceased and there was great calm. Then, He asked them, 'Why are you terrified? Do you not yet have Faith?' They were filled with great awe and said to one another, 'Who is this whom even wind and sea obey?' " --[Mark 4: 34-41].

This weekend is Father's Day.

I think of my own father, gone for several years now. I was always impressed at how hard he worked. He rose at dawn, took a train to work. He worked 8 hours a day, for five days a week, for 11 1/2 months a year, for 37 years. Rarely, did he complain. He simply rose each day, and did the same thing, day after day, until dinner time and bed time.

On the weekends, he mowed the lawn, he painted the fence, he trimmed the hedges, he washed the car. I never saw him having any fun.

I am eternally grateful that he worked so very hard to provide for me and for the whole family. But, I wish he had been more present. It seemed like he was always absent, physically and/or emotionally. Or, he came home at night,  and had a few drinks. He took his anger out on me. Or, he breached the boundaries of a healthy relationship. Too many times.

I shut down gradually. First, numbing my emotions. Then, not eating. Not sleeping, keeping watch at night. Then, finally, I stopped speaking.

There are many, many of us "Invisible Children". We slip under the radar. We cannot tell the Truth. We cannot live with the Truth. So, we disappear.

No adult notices our downcast glances. Our raw physical hunger from not being fed. Even our black eyes are explained away. - "Oh, she's a tomboy."  Our silence is explained away. - "Oh, she's just very quiet."

The Invisible Children grow up. They turn away from human beings. Maybe they soothe themselves with drugs, alcohol, or other addictions. They also tell themselves that their traumatic life is all God's fault. And so, they turn away from God. . . .

We all have great storms in our lives, some of us more than others. I almost died before I came into this world. I have faced near drowning, fire, floods in the basement, trees coming down within feet of falling upon me, verbal abuse, physical abuse, medical neglect, violent crime, the deaths of my best friend, my parents, my in-laws, my husband's misdiagnosis with a terminal illness. Where does it end?

And who knows why all this happens to one person? I have heard people say, 'My lousy life is proof that there is no God. OR, God has forgotten and forsaken me.  If God were real, He would have rescued me by now.'

Actually, it is the opposite, God is there in spite of all the storms. He leads us through them.  I, for one, refuse to believe that God is doing this TO me. He loves us as His children. WHY would He torture us with trauma and grief and horror?

I used to resolve that, even if every human had let me down,  I still always had God. I still believe this! I figure, I have to trust someone, someday. I might as well start with God.

If you give up on God, then you really do have No One, Nothing. . . .

Yeah, life is far from perfect. Humans are far from perfect. I am far from perfect. But, God IS perfect, and I am clinging to Him as my lifeline!

In this Scripture, Jesus asks His disciples, "Do you not yet have Faith?" This scene is NOT about the Storm. It is about our Faith.

How big is your Faith? How big is your God?

(c) Spiritual Devotional. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Speaking In Parables

" To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? . . . With many such parables, He spoke to them as they were able to understand it. Without parables, He did not speak to them, but to His own disciples, He explained everything in private." - [Mark 4:26 - 34].

A parable is a a story with a hidden significance. It is often described as "an earthly story with a heavenly meaning."

Jesus, we know, spoke oftentimes in parables. I have often wondered why He would do this? After all, He is God's only Son, cannot He say whatever is the unvarnished Truth?

Sometimes, the Truth hurts. I saw this with my own mother. She spoke "in code". Perhaps she was a lady of "that generation, ladies who were not supposed to be too smart, too outspoken, too forward. If she wanted me to wear a raincoat, she would tell me, "It might to rain today." That was it, no further direction or information. If I came home soaking wet, she would look at me, astonished. Hadn't she TOLD me to wear a raincoat?

When my father died suddenly, after he and my mother had been married for 52 years, my mother could barely speak of it. She held her head up, lips tightly clenched, and kept working around the house- washing, cooking, cleaning. My father died almost 3 months to the day before his birthday. On his birthday, my mother told me, as we were eating sandwiches, "He would have been 75 today." Chewing my sandwich, I made a great effort to stay calm and focused. I nodded at her. I waited for more information, but as usual, there was none. That is what passed for her Grief.

About eight months after my father had died, came their wedding anniversary. My mother said to me, " It would have been our anniversary today." I said to her, "I suppose it feels like your time with him was only an instant?" My mother nodded at me, "It was not long enough." That was it, her Grief expressed, again, like the flick of a whisker.

 Jesus did not want to speak too plainly because the Truth about society, then, was too painful for people to confront directly.  Jesus always told the Truth, but the Truth came out in parables and ironies. It was a Truth that was softened around the edges, the only Truth that most people could stand hearing at the time.

 Jesus' parables turned the world order upside down. Jesus touched the leper. He spoke to Samaritan-- and a woman at that -- at the well. That was shocking for the time. He ate with the poor, and with the dreaded, extortionist tax collectors. His parables were dangerous, daring commentaries. The Pharisees believed that Jesus' parables were blasphemy.

In the Parable of the man born blind, Jesus healed the man with mud and His own saliva. The Pharisees threw the man out of the Temple, declaring that the man was born blind because he was a sinner at birth. Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." Probably, only a few of His listeners understood what He was really saying.

Would we say that at least the disciples understood exactly what Jesus was saying? After all, Jesus spoke to them "without parables. He explained everything [to them] in private." Well, Jesus did try very hard to help His disciples to see the Truth. But, even as Jesus recognized when the time had come for Him to enter Jerusalem, the disciples would have none of it.  Matthew 16: 21 says, "From that time, Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. [But] Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, 'God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You. . . .' "

It has been suggested that Jesus spun his Truths out slowly, so that He could remain on this earth a bit longer, for more listeners to hear His message.

It is also clear that the Parables were meant to give earthly metaphors and similes of the Kingdom of Heaven, because Heaven is a place that no mortal can fully understand or grasp. Try to fully explain an encounter that you may have had with the Divine. You will find that mere mortal words can do no justice to what you have seen or felt.

Some find the Parables and stories maddeningly ephemeral. I am thinking of Jesus appearing on the road to Emmaus, walking along with two disciples. His disciples did not recognize Him at first, so Jesus almost had to prove His identity by "explaining to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself." -[Luke 24: 27]. A friend of mine says that she is upset that Jesus' explanations are not in the Bible, and that she would give anything to have heard all that!

In the end, John closes his Gospel with, "And there were many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the [whole] world itself would not contain the books that would be written." -[John 21:25]. And so, God and Jesus are just that BIG!

I believe that this mysterious, infinite quality of Scripture is what makes it endlessly fascinating. The Scripture does bear repeating, re-reading, studying, hearing, speaking. Sometimes, I feel kind of stupid for not understanding everything in the Bible right away. Then, I think of Jesus' disciples, and I realize, they did not understand it all right away, either! We are mean to take Scripture bit by bit, "as we are able to understand it."

The parables are meant to unfold like beautiful flowers, like a sweet rain pouring down on us when we need God's Wisdom the most. We, too, do not always recognize Jesus on a difficult road. What a blessing, though, that Jesus and His parables are set forth right at our fingertips, in the greatest Book in the world!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Friday, June 5, 2015

The Body

" Brothers and sisters: When Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation, He entered once for all into the sanctuary, not with the blood of goats and calves but with His own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. For, if the blood of goats and bulls and the sprinkling of a heifer's ashes can sanctify those who are defiled so that their flesh is cleansed, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from dead works to worship the living God." --[Hebrews 9:11-15].

We humans have always faced the problem of how to rid ourselves of the stain of sin. A Christian person would say, 'We are all sinners'.  A secular person would say, 'We are all human, we all make mistakes.'

A bad mistake can hang over our lives like a heavy burden that never leaves our side, not in our waking hours, not in our sleep. How to "cleanse ourselves" of our sins, so that we can move on?

In ancient times, in the Old Testament, animal sacrifices were made on a ritualized basis, to cleanse the community of sin. Only the high priest was allowed to enter the inner sanctum alone for this sacrificial rite, wherein the bull and the goat were slaughtered and their blood sprinkled on the atonement cover.

In Leviticus 16, there is even introduced the concept of the "scapegoat" -- that is, one goat was chosen for ritual slaughter, by casting lots. The other goat was kept alive, and the high priest would confess the sins of the community, with laying on of hands, over the live goat. Once all of the rebellion and sins of the community were placed on the goat's head, the goat was released into the wilderness, to carry the evil away from the people.

The trouble with this ritual is that the high priest had to continually offer sacrifices for sin. This was a ritual without end. BUT, when Christ died on the cross, He died once and for all, for all of our sins!

I think that most people today would think that the concept of ritual slaughter, or of the scapegoat, is archaic. Certainly, we see few cultures today which still sacrifice animals to cover the sins of the community.

And yet -- we Christians are called to empty ourselves all the time!-- to sacrifice our ego and our physical comfort and our gifts, for the good of this world.

I think of my own childhood and how, despite the harshness of my family towards me, I made sacrifices in order to make peace. I routinely went hungry and had to find my own food. I was threatened with being put out of the house to fend for myself.  I was not allowed to go to church, but I hid my Faith in my heart.

My mother called me a failure, yet I weeded her garden and helped her put away the weekly groceries. My father took his anger, at his marriage, out on me; and yet, I simply absorbed his anger. Then, I helped him out around the house, painting the foundation of our house, hemming his pants, baking him his favorite cake. My brother called me ugly everyday, and my parents did not allow me to complain about this. And yet, I mended my brother's clothes, I knitted my brother a sweater, and I tutored him in English and French.

Years later, I have looked back on these times and I have said, to myself, maybe I was a Fool ?! What utterly ridiculous mistakes did I make, sacrificing myself so much for a family who did not even seem to love me? I have physical damage today, because of their medical neglect; emotionally, I fight despair and constant anxiety. A lot of things that render us human have died inside me, and it is a struggle to get them back. People hear my story and say, 'WHO would do that?!'

But St. Paul said, "As I see it, God has exhibited us apostles as the last of all, like people sentenced to death, since we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels and human beings alike. We [apostles] are fools on Christ's account, but you [Corinthians] are wise in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are held in honor but we in disrepute. To this very hour, we go hungry and thirsty, we are poorly clad, and roughly treated, we wander about homeless and we toil, working with our own hands. When ridiculed, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we respond gently. We have become like the world's rubbish, the scum of all, to this very moment." -[ 1 Corinthians 4: 9-13].

I sacrificed MYSELF body and soul for my family, and I have paid a dear price. Would I do it again? As I ponder this, I realize that I really had no choice. I was urgently seeking the Truth: Wisdom, Understanding, Right Judgment, Courage, Knowledge, Reverence, Wonder and Awe, leading to Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-Control.

In this reading from Hebrews, Christ becomes the One who passes through "the tabernacle not made with human hands"; that is, He is an eternal sacrifice, not made in a constructed temple; but the Son of Man offering Himself up, according to God's Plan. Through sacrifice, Jesus enters once and for all, into God's eternal sanctuary, and He leads the way for US.

Knowing this about how Jesus became the tabernacle and the ultimate sacrifice for us, how does this not transform you? How does this not make us One Body, all seeking the same Fruits of the Spirit?Are you a Fool to stand for Jesus, and all that is promised to us - Joy, Love, Peace?  Or, would you, too, empty yourself, all for the Truth of His Word?

[Related Postings: "The Truth of His Wounds",  April 13, 2012; "Corpus Christi", June 27, 2011; "Holy Body and Blood of Christ", June 7, 2012; "The Body and Blood",  June 2, 2013].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2015. All Rights Reserved.