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
" 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
" 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
" 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
" 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.