Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Millionaire's Dilemma

" Jesus told the crowd a parable:
'There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, 'What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?' And he said, ' This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, 'Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink and be merry!' But God said to him, 'You fool, this night, your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom do they belong?'  Thus will it be for all who store up treasure for themselves, but are not rich in what matters to God." --[Luke 12: 13-21.]

A Wise Woman tells me that those who are ungenerous with their money and their things, are ungenerous in matters of the heart.

I learned that the hard way, growing up.

Once I had reached about a year old, and could walk on my own, my mother stopped holding me or comforting me or soothing me in her arms. She never, ever hugged me or kissed me or said, "I love you."

I used to try to "trick her" into saying this. I would say, "Don't you love me, Ma?" She would reply, "WHY do I have to say this to you? Why can't you just see this for yourself, a mother's love for her child?"

There are those who would say, that that generation did not become all mushy and lovey-dovey, in their ways as mothers. You were just supposed to KNOW that your parents loved you, by all the things that they did for you.

But, in my case, my parents' actions did not convey Love either. If I fell and cried, at about age three, my mother would say, "Get up, you are not hurt."

If I could not eat the 4-day old leftovers for dinner, my father would say to my mother, "Do NOT feed her anything else." And, yet, our pantry was full. . . .

My older sibling called me ugly every day, intoning cruel taunts in my face, and rounding up the neighborhood kids to sing his mean chants at me. When I cried, my mother would say, "Stop crying. You are too sensitive."  ---Her silencing of me being the justification of a bully?

And so my sibling's abuse elevated to booby-trapping my room, and hitting me. I went to school in pink ruffled dresses and with ribbons in my wavy hair; -- but with black eyes. My mother said to me, "Stop getting black eyes. You are embarrassing us."

And if I told my mother that I was cold, and I asked for the key so I could go in our house to fetch a sweater, my mother would tell me, "You are not cold, stop acting up."

When I declared my major in college, my mother told me, "If you elect that major, we will refuse you tuition money."

Is it any wonder that my family was singularly ungenerous to others?

As a grown young lady, I would tell my parents, since we seemed to be so comfortable in life, that we ought to give to charity.  They would say to me, gasping in horror, "We don't GIVE our money away!" Oh, the glares I would get from them . . . .

In this Scripture, it is not so much the having of money that is evil, it is the hoarding of it.  You have heard the expression, "You cannot take it with you." Many interpret this to mean, to spend the money on oneself, to "rest, eat, drink and be merry."

But in the end, all the material goods hoarded by the rich man, in his giant barns, benefited him to naught. Jesus asks, " To whom do the [good things] belong [now]?"

We look at a billionaire like Bill Gates, who is systematically giving his money away, saying he does not think it is good for his kids to start out life, set for life. We call him "crazy" We say, "WHO would do that?" But keeping everything for ourselves limits the impact of our personal gifts and talents. It shrinks our world so that we do not need contact with other humans. In short, keeping it all for ourselves shrivels our soul.

The good things about life are like Love: meant to be given away.

Today, a dear friend calls me "the most generous person I know."

I remember vividly, the cold that would not fade away. I give away my sweaters, I knit for the homeless.

I remember the hunger. I donate to the town food pantry.

I remember the feelings of isolation, of being unloved. I hug others freely, even the marginalized who collect money on the streets.

I remember the fear, that I could not complete my education. I send pencils and paper and rulers and flashcards to a school in Africa.

I remember the taunts, being called ugly and a failure. I give encouragement to ALL I meet, even the stranger.

I remember my family's attitude of entitlement. I am grateful every day. I give others thanks, even if they are just doing their job--- bagging my groceries or cooking my restaurant meal.

For-- the most important things in life are being rich in "what matters to God". And I would call THAT Love!

[Related Postings: " Stored Up Treasure", Sept. 30, 2012; "The Hoarder", August 5, 2013; "The Shrewd Steward", Sept. 24, 2013.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, July 24, 2016


"And I tell you, 'Ask and you shall receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.  What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If then, you who are wicked (sinful, disobedient), know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in Heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?' " -- [Luke 11; 1-13].

I grew up in a cruel household. The pantry was full, but I was given inedible food to eat. By the time I was five, I awakened each morning, worried about who would give me food to eat, since it was not -- apparently -- going to come from my parents. If I fell and cried, I was told, 'Stop crying. You are not hurt.'  When a sibling taunted me and told me --daily -- how ugly I was, the adult's response was NOT, "That's not true! You are adorable!" I was told, "You are too sensitive."

A Wise Woman in my life these days tells me, that I was the little girl who thought she did not matter.

I told her, 'No. I was the little girl who gave up. On everyone.'

I gave up on the capacity of the adults in my life to nurture me, to pick me up when I fell down, to feed me, to be sure that I felt safe and loved.

Instead, I took care of myself. By age Five, I believed it was my own responsibility to find food to eat, to get enough sleep, to keep myself safe at night in my bed. I told my kindergarten teacher,  "I do NOT need my mother!" By age eight, I stopped feeling emotions. By age Ten, I stopped speaking.

My grandmother, before she died, had taught me how to pray. She taught me the "Our Father".  These words did not resonate with meaning for me. They were "Magic Words" to say, to pay tribute to Someone Impressive called God.  I felt virtuous in reciting them, but what did the words even mean? --"Our Father, who ART in Heaven. . ."-- who in the world WAS "ART"?

Eventually, when I met my Christian husband, I learned how to pray in a more spontaneous, personal way. But, it never occurred to me to ask God for anything for myself. I believed at the time that it was "more holy", more sacrificial, to pray for OTHERS. So, I would anxiously ask my husband if he ever prayed for ME. This is how I thought it worked, we all just prayed for each other. . . And so, if someone forgot to pray for ME, I guessed I was just out of luck.

But then, I wondered how in the world my anxious thoughts -- 'How and where am I going to find a reliable car to buy?';   'Will we EVER become parents?' -- etc., became things that actually came to BE? I guess I thought I was just "lucky". --My way of seeing was -- "Yeah, we found the perfect house. I guess we just lucked out. Big time."

And, for so many years, I felt so terribly guilty about asking for anything for myself. Besides, God can read minds, can't He? A thought, a worry, an emotion, a fleeting thought, can instantly be read by Him as a Prayer. We don't even need to tell Him anything. Doesn't He know it all, already?

What I am finally coming to realize, though, is that God simply wants to hear from us!

We are all children of God, aren't we? What if your son or daughter were grown, and out of the house? What if they had a tough time now and again --perhaps being a little short on funds before the next pay check, or getting into a little fender-bende- type car accident. Even IF they figured it all out by themselves, wouldn't you want your child to check in with you? To tell you what happened, and how they felt about it all? To seek some reassurance? To feel nestled in your Love?

At the same time, this Scripture teaches me that, IF we are created in God's image, then we need to seek each other out, listen and be receptive to each others' needs.

The story of the child who requests a fish, but receives a snake, reminds me of a dear friend. Her family asked what she needed? She asked her family for a new microwave. She was given, over successive gift-giving occasions, anything BUT.  . . She was given a TV, an electric blanket, a make-up mirror, a camera.

Just as God always listens to US, and is receptive to our needs, we at least owe this to our friends, neighbors, relatives. Sometimes, when a friend is crying, we don't need to give her a meal, a gift certificate, a sweater, a plant, a balloon, a candle, a referral to a professional, or tickets to a concert. We need to give her simply a Kleenex and a hug. Oh, and our Love.

That totally right-on, appropriate, fitting, apt response is as close to God as you can get! THAT divine, cosmic, spirit-filled, loving reaction IS the God in all of us!

[Related Posting: " The Persistent Widow", Oct. 20, 2013.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

The Martha Complex

 " Jesus entered a village, where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed Him. She had a sister named Mary, who sat beside the Lord at His feet, listening to Him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to Him and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.'  The Lord said to her in reply, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.' " - [ Luke 10: 38-42.]

There really is a Martha in contemporary times today.  Her name is Martha Stewart. She executes flawlessly: her favorite word is "Perfect"; she cleans her home until it is spotless and shining; her iced cookies have not one smudge; her kitchen shelves are pristinely organized; even her domestic chickens are washed and fluffed to perfection.

I call this "domestic voyeurism", because I don't know of any woman on earth who can do all of this perfectly and still have not a hair out of place. When I watch Martha, it is with a bit of admiration mixed in with a lot of Guilt. Why cannot I be so very perfect and busy in all that I do? No wonder so many of us women go from admiration to guilt to envy to irritation when we hear her name? What one, mortal woman can do so much as she does? She has set an impossible standard.

Martha's secret is that she has a large staff that does all these things FOR her.  She does not really personally keep up the pace set forth in her monthly calendars, as published in her magazines.

My relief when I heard this was palpable.

It is very difficult today to shake off The Martha Complex, however. We ALL have it, mostly women, but men too. I think it has a lot to do with all the technology we have today.

It was believed, when all these machines and gizmos were invented, that humankind would be freed up from manual labor and drudgery. We relished the thought of what we would do with all our free time?

Instead, today we have become servants to the technology. Everything beeps at me now. The clothes dryer in the basement dings. My son calls out instantly: "Mommy!"  As if something dire will happen, if I don't respond right away. The coffeemaker beeps when the coffee has finished perking. The dishwasher pings incessantly when the wash cycle is over. My cell phone dings and pings if I have a new e-mail or a text.  Bosses contact employees at times way after hours, as if nothing can wait until morning. I call this "The Electronic Tether."

I make endless lists of things I must do, ought to do, should do. The trouble with To-Do lists is that they never end. Every time I cross one thing off the list, I need to write down five more To-Do items. Every time I have five extra minutes free, I ask my husband, 'What should I be doing NOW?' He always says to me, 'Can't you just sit down?!'

We measure our self-worth in Facebook friends and Likes; in Linked-In contacts; in Twitter feeds. Our day reads like a resume of accomplishments : Turn off alarm, make coffee, exercise, walk dog, make kids' lunches, check e-mail, texts, cell messages, voice mail, watch headlines on TV or on-line, search for car keys, put out outgoing mail. . . I am exhausted before I even leave the house.

We are losing what it means to be human. We have neither time nor place for the free exercise of emotions. It is go, go, go, execute flawlessly, move onto the next task, keep moving, and so forth. We worship at the altar of Science, Tech, Engineering, and Productivity.

Sooner or later, though, we crack -- either individually or as a society. In Biblical times, Martha was seen as extremely diligent but sort of foolish. Today, if I asked anyone who is the heroine in the story, I believe most of us would say Martha, NOT Mary. Undoubtedly, we would find Mary selfish and lazy.

I am pondering what this means as a society? I am finding that people today actually start to apologize for crying; or for laughing so hard that they have to stop what they are doing. Kids are so used to communicating electronically, that they are incapable of making a phone call, or sitting knee- to-knee, and having a personal conversation.

As Christians, we are being taught here to slow down. If we rush around in our busyness, we will miss a lot of very important things. Emotions. Tender moments. Deep personal connections. Even Jesus Himself.

I don't need to justify my day, moment by moment, to anyone. My life is not a resume or an agenda. I have people in my life who want to call and ask me, 'What did you do today?' -- Did they want me to say that today, I discovered a cure for a deadly disease? That I washed and fluffed the chickens to perfection? What I really want to say is, 'I did nothing. Nothing.'

Sitting. Meditating. Praying. Ruminating. Talking to God. Noticing the flowers or the birds or the rain or the butterflies.

This lure of busyness is an addiction. Start with sitting in a chair, doing nothing, other than maybe noticing your surroundings, talking to God, for 15 minutes a day. I don't know if you can do it for that long. I am not even sure that I CAN do it.

BUT, IF that is what it takes to go from a "Doing Christian", to a "Being Christian"  -- then you have to start somewhere!

[Related postings: "Are You Martha or Mary?", July 21, 2013; "Rest?! What is That?!", July 18, 2015.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

I AM the Samaritan

" A man fell victim to robbers as he went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. They stripped him and beat him and went off leaving him half-dead. A priest happened to be going down that road, but when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. Likewise a Levite came to the place, and when he saw him, he passed by on the opposite side. But a Samaritan traveler who came upon him was moved with compassion at the sight. He approached the victim, poured oil and wind over his wounds and bandaged them. Then, he lifted him up on his own animal, took him to an inn and cared for him. " --[Luke 10: 25-37].

The story of the Good Samaritan is a well-known and well-loved Bible story. But, there is a little known fact, buried in plain sight, in this story. You see, the victim was likely Jewish. The individuals who passed the stranger by, and who even deliberately crossed the street to avoid the scene, were, shockingly, a priest and a Levite-- persons of faith, pillars of the Jewish community.

The one man who was moved with compassion and who stopped to help the victim was Samaritan.  The followers of Judaism, and the Samaritans, hated each other, because each viewed themselves as followers of THE only true form of Jewish faith. To followers of Judaism,  Samaritans were the outcasts.

This parable concludes: "WHO is my neighbor? "

For Jesus, everyone is His neighbor. Jesus kisses the leper. He converses with the Samaritan woman at the well. He eats with the corrupt and greedy tax collectors. As Fr. James Martin, SJ has said, "For Jesus, there is no 'Other'. "

In today's America, blacks largely do not talk with whites. They rarely live in the same neighborhood, for one thing. The Jewish families live in their own enclave. I have had a Jewish lady tell me pointedly, that in "her day", her daughter would never have been allowed to be friends with me, to eat a meal together, or to invite me over to their home.

Muslims are shunned and even feared. In an ice cream parlor recently with my son, I read the name tag of an employee there and it was a Muslim name. I looked in his eyes when I made my choice, and he looked back at me in fear.

Now, in the media, I read that "playdates" -- i.e., parents scheduling time for their kids to play together-- is a subtle but determined way for parents to be sure their children are socializing with the "right families." And the "right families" are the ones with the same socioeconomic class and ethnic group as their own. Once, when my son was about four, he wanted a playdate with a little girl in his class. The mom told me, No, because your son is a boy and my daughter is a girl. --Seriously?!

For the longest time, I had this vague feeling that there was something "wrong" with me. I mean, I talk to strangers. I help anyone who needs something, as much as I can. I shun no one, I treat everyone the same. I have hugged a homeless man. I have shared a giggle with a Muslim woman who had the most fabulous, glittery silver shoes, that I have seen in a long time. (There is nothing like two women bonding over shoes; it is a connection that spans all religions, races, countries, classes.) I have complimented an older lady I did not know, when I crossed paths with her in the market. I told her that she looked amazing!

And where does this determination to treat everyone with Love come from? I know that, as a tiny girl, called ugly every day, going to school with black eyes, and being teased about it, hiding in my room after school in fear, staying up in bed until every else in the house was asleep -- I learned what it is to be marginalized; to wonder if it is better to shout out the desperation or to become invisible; what it is to feel the wounds of abuse; to roll in the shame and humiliation; to cringe in the corner, for fear of just who is going to walk into the room.

In Deuteronomy 30, Scripture talks about how "the Lord your God will circumcise your heart."  This resonates with me, because I am realizing that, only if your own heart has been broken, can you look deeply into the heart of another -- and see Yourself, staring right back at you. Even more, you see the eyes of Jesus, who said, 'Whatever you do unto others, you do unto me.'

Recently, Pope Francis spoke about the marginalized and the poor, calling them "the treasures of the Church." He called the disabled and the poor to pray for "the rich, for those who are now laughing, for those who like to be adored, for the hypocrites, for wealthy people who make merry with large banquets without realizing that at their doors there are many eager to be fed the leftovers of their table."

Perhaps,  the marginalized, the humiliated, the poor, the abused, the wounded, are feared and hated, because their very life is a reproach to those who would ignore the wounds, cross to the other side of the street, and walk away, feeling important.

Today, I AM the Samaritan.  I, with a broken heart, treat everyone the same; not because there is "something wrong with me". But, because everyone is my brother and sister.  I cannot help myself, I give Love to all.

For Jesus knew, that when you have been shattered, when you have sacrificed ALL, and you have nothing else left on this Earth-- the Love that remains in your heart is not just the only thing, it is EVERYTHING.

[Related Posting: "The Good Samaritan",  7/13/13.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.