Monday, October 31, 2016
"At that time, Jesus came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town.
Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see Him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. When He reached the place, Jesus looked up and said, 'Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.' And he came down quickly and received Him with joy. All who saw this began to grumble, saying, 'He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.' But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, 'Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone, I shall repay it four times over.' And Jesus said to him, 'Today, salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.' " --- [Luke 19: 1-10].
Sometimes, we read these stories in the Bible and we wonder, Are they REAL?
I can tell you that for me, the story of Zacchaeus IS real. . .
My teen son was Confirmed in our church this past spring. The preparation took two years. . . He had weekly homework; weekly Biblical readings; community service requirements; films to view, such as "God is NOT Dead"; essays to write; retreats to attend; books to read and review.
AND, he had to select a Saint's name. After some long and hard thought, my son came to me and said that he had selected the name "Matthew". I asked him why? He said, "Matthew was a tax collector who extorted money from people. I have learned that Money is just paper."
During the long and sometimes difficult process, my son often became discouraged and frustrated. We talked about how, after Confirmation, he would become an adult member of our church. I reminded him that what is taught in the Bible is not just "a dress rehearsal", a myth, or "performance art." We are supposed to live it. Every day. . .
His eyes widened. He blurted out, "THAT is so HARD!"
There were times he was resistant to completing the homework. I asked him about this. He said, 'Maybe I am afraid that I am not good enough to be a Christian.' I said, "We all feel this way, but God forgives us always. You are His son, too."
Then, my son started trying to bargain with me. "Well, I will do the work, but I don't want to put on a red robe, and walk down the aisle with everyone looking at me." I said, "I know how you feel. BUT, are you arguing with the Archbishop, or the Pope, on the order of the Confirmation sacrament?"
There were times when our son said that he did not believe he could do this. I cried over this. My husband shed tears, too. Would our son become lost and lose his way?
Finally, his Big Day came. Our son had completed his work. We drove to the church and told him to go inside. He had to be there early, to put his robe on and to line up.
When we parked in the church lot, however, I did not think he would get out of the car! I began to pray.
Our son told my husband and me, "Maybe I need to do this alone." I was crushed. I had been imagining his Confirmation, ever since we had had him christened as an infant. But I had to let him go. If he was going to be an adult in the church, I had to let him be a man.
My husband and I sat quietly in the car, not knowing what to do next. A few minutes later, our son unexpectedly appeared, like a vision in his glowing red robe. Our son said, "I changed my mind. I want you to be there."
I said to my husband, "Quick! Take his picture! By that tree, right next to our car." --[I was thinking, we need to capture this moment of awesome Conversion, for posterity !]
My husband said, "That is an awfully funny-looking tree. Is it dead? It's losing all its bark!"
I cried out, "O. My. God. THAT is a sycamore tree!" I told my son, "Remember the story of Zacchaeus, the tax collector? And your Confirmation name is Matthew, the tax collector?" My son beamed. He knew that story, from all of his Scriptural studies.
I am sure that Zaccheus had gone through many of the things that my son had experienced in his own Confirmation/Conversion -- self- doubt, frustration, fatigue, resistance, even bargaining with God.
But God forgives all of our missteps, in our walk towards Him. For God, in His Mercy, sent His Son, to seek and to save what is lost.
And THAT is how my son went from his place beside the sycamore tree, to his place at the altar; where he saw and received Jesus.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, October 24, 2016
"Jesus addressed this parable to those who were convinced of their own righteousness and despised everyone else. ' Two people went up to the temple area to pray; one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector. The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself, 'O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity -- greedy, dishonest, and adulterous -- or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.' But the tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, 'O God, be merciful to me a sinner.' I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former; for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will he exalted.' " --[Luke 18: 9-14].
I grew up in a family, whose nightly dinner table conversation mirrored that of the Pharisee. -- "We are NOT like the other families, we are so much better than they are."
My father would say, " Our race [ethnicity] is far superior than any other on earth." When my sibling and I laughed out loud at him, our dad would chide us, "I am deadly serious! Why are you laughing?"
The nightly conversation would go on and on. . . " great unwashed immigrants, who cannot afford the meat such as we have on our table." -- "The immense amount of taxes we pay, enough alone to raise a family." -- "They cannot even afford to send their kids to better schools."
You notice that in this Scripture, the Pharisee speaks his prayer to himself. My family certainly preached at the altar of Human Achievement. It was "All About Me"-- "my" achievements, "my" material wealth, "my" position in society.
A lot of this kind of talk has been dominating the 2016 Presidential Election -- and not to the betterment of our country.
One candidate speaks as if only HE can fix our Nation's ills. When confronted with accusations of adultery, he protests, "But it was never as bad as THAT guy!"
The other candidate speaks highly disparagingly of Christians in general, and of Catholics in particular. She hints that Christians must not be very bright to believe all that stuff. She calls those who disagree with her values, "a basket of deplorables."
We have gone through decades of history in which the character of a man did not seem to matter, as long as he possessed the technical skills for the job. Now, we have reaped what we have sown, with leaders who build themselves up by tearing others down. . .
This Scripture hammers home that character DOES count. Our society will not be a better place if we simply pay lip service to the rules, all the while narcissistically offering up the Religion of Self.
Specifically, Humility counts.
Humility means that we are ALL Sinners. In secular terms, if you will, we ALL make mistakes and we are all flawed. We ALL need to learn to make apologies, not excuses.. .
Even more, Humility means that all that we have and all that we are-- are dependent on God.
I am not superior, if I have more money than you, a nicer car, more votes, more Facebook likes, a tonier zip code, more fabulous vacations or a higher tax bracket.
All of these pluses on my side of Life's Ledger do not make me a more valuable person, and certainly do not mean that I have all of Life's answers.
Because, as with my life-- at one moment, one can have nothing to eat, at another moment, one can have plenty to eat. At one moment, one can worry about how to be able to pay all the bills, at another moment, one can have enough money to be generous to others.
I have had Everything in Life. I have had Everything taken away. I have gone from top of the world, to the lowest low.
The one constant in life is God, our Creator, our Nurturer, Our Redeemer. If we are humble enough to cry out, 'God! Be merciful to me for I am faulty and weak.' -- then we earn a place in His Heart.
[Related Posting: "Way Better Than You", 10/27/13.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, October 17, 2016
" Jesus told His disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary. He said, 'There was a judge in a certain town who neither feared God nor respected any human being. And a widow in that town used to come to him and say, 'Render a just decision for me against my adversary.' For a long time, the judge was unwilling, but eventually he thought, 'While it is true that I neither fear God nor respect any human being, because this widow keeps bothering me, I shall deliver a just decision for her, lest she finally strike me.'
The Lord said, 'Pay attention to what the dishonest judge says. Will not God then secure the rights of His Chosen Ones who call out to him day and night? Will He be slow to answer them? I tell you, He will see to it that justice is done for them speedily.
But, when the Son of Man comes, will He find Faith on earth?' " -[Luke 18: 1-8].
Prayer. . . . .It seems like such an antique, outmoded practice.
In his new book, "Getting Religion", Kenneth L. Woodward says that "Americans now journey toward adulthood, not through relationships formed by families, neighbors, teachers and pastors, but through the effort of discovering an inwardly derived, original and authentic self, one autonomous from institutionally structured relationships."
In his review of this book, D.G. Hart says, "Young Americans today don't have teachers or pastors to shape their belief. They think of religions as a solo quest for an authentic self." -[NY Times, 10/4/16].
So--- to whom do we pray ? The Power of Self? At its extreme, this world view means that everything is relative, and that nothing has intrinsic value or integrity.
How vastly different is our view of spirituality today, than in this Scripture, where Jesus tells His disciples of the necessity to pray always, to God.
Today, we think that if we could just create the most amazing "Vision Board", with images of all our hopes and dreams, if we could just imagine and strive and be our best self, then, the Universe just has to cooperate and bless us with whatever WE propose for our lives.
Uhhh. It doesn't work that way. We have largely given up on the power of Prayer. In its place is the untethered, wholly deified power of Self.
My experience in the last few months with Prayer has been humbling, however.
Recently, I have befriended two former "Lost Boys of Sudan." They have prevailed upon me to help them start a foundation to rebuild their village in South Sudan.
We spent this past summer designing a logo, building a Facebook page, creating an email account, and flyers. All of this was meant to get word around about our effort.
We were going to launch all of this in the Fall, when folks had returned from summer vacation. I prayed over the summer, 'I hope our social media efforts will result in fruitful fundraising.' I thought, we really need at least $5,000 to meet just one of our first-year goals for the village.
While still on vacation, I received word that an anonymous donor had granted us $5,000!! And that was well before our Fall launch became a reality!
After my initial meeting with the two Lost Boys, one came to me, worried: 'We really need more people on our team." I fretted and prayed, 'God, if you really want me to do this, please send help. A doctor is needed to advise on medical issues. And a builder would be good, since I know nothing about building a school in Africa.'
By our first Board Meeting this Fall-- you guessed it! . . . . A doctor had agreed to join the team. And, the doctor mentioned that a friend of his wanted to join the effort. As we waited in a conference room to start our meeting, in walks the doctor's friend. Oh-- and by the way, this friend IS a builder!
At our meeting, we had decided to collect ballpoint pens for the older students in the village. I am not sure how many older students will need pens, but I calculated roughly ---- if there are 1,000 students in the village, maybe half would need a pen. So, I prayed, 'God? Where am I going to get 500 pens?' I had not put out the donation bins yet for our collection. I was worried that the bins were too small, or the flyer not colorful enough, or the posters not creative enough.
The night that I dropped off the bins and posters, I got a note from a team member: her place of business had donated some pens. EXACTLY 500 of them! They filled the trunk of her car.
Now I ask you, What efforts had I made in all this? I had contacted no human being about my needs for this village. I had made a lot of effort -- logo design, social media, flyers, posters, donation bins.
But, that effort had yielded nothing. Everything came before we launched a thing. . .
This experience has left me humbled and in awe. Persistence is steadfastness in Faith. If we did not believe, we would not keep asking God.
Like the widow, we are frail, imperfect human beings; and our physical and psychic strength may not be enough to allow us to find justice.
But, if we pray always without becoming weary, our God will not be slow to answer.
I will never be ashamed of my Faith, nor weary in Prayer. . . because I do not want to contemplate a world devoid of Faith.
[Related Postings: "The Persistent Widow", 10/20/13.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, October 9, 2016
"As Jesus was entering a village, ten lepers met Him. They stood at a distance from Him and raised their voices, saying, 'Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!' And when He saw them, He said, 'Go show yourselves to the priests.' As they were going, they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice. . . He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, 'Ten were cleaned, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?' Then He said to him, ' Stand up and go. Your Faith has saved you.' " --[Luke 17: 11-19].
During Biblical times, leprosy was highly contagious and had devastating outcomes. If a person became infected with leprosy, he had to isolate himself, and he could not return until he proved to the priest that he was clean.
But this story is about so much more than the miraculous healing delivered by Jesus. This parable is also about Gratitude.
It is telling in this story that the outsider, the Samaritan, is the one who recognizes the true miracle of this moment, and who returns to thank Jesus.
I had a poignant conversation with my son a few months ago. I was asking him to sort through his old school books. Literally, when school started up again, there would be no room on his bookshelf for his new textbooks.
As he stacked up the great riches of books, he asked me about the Mission that I am involved in to help a village in South Sudan. He said, "Do the children in the village have books?" I said, "Well. No."
He asked, "Do they have a school?" I said, "They do, but it is not big enough. Some students have to learn outside, under a tree; and when it rains, they cannot go to school."
On and on our conversation went --"Do they have pencils?" I said, "No. Not until the Mission sent pencils. And when the children heard that there were pencils, they ran from all directions, and lined up." My son said, "For a PENCIL?" I told him, softly, " Next Mission, we are sending pens."
We talked further. I said, "No desks, they sit on the ground. No library. No calculators. No school nurse or doctor. No pharmacy to go get aspirin, if you have a headache. No bandages, if you get a cut. No clean water, until the Mission donated a well a couple of years ago. Not enough food; if there is a food shortage, the men who work the fields eat first; women and children and elderly may go hungry. No electricity. They have a generator, but no gasoline. No cars, they walk everywhere. No asphalt roads, just dirt roads in the village. No jobs or stores."
I concluded, "And, you don't want to do your Math homework. Do you know how blessed you are?"
My son was shocked.
He finished stacking the books. Then, he said, "I want you to give these books to someone who does not have any books."
This son of mine was a kid who used to break a pencil in frustration and slam it on the floor. Then, he would tell me, "I want another pencil." He would lose his school books, his fall jacket, his boots, his mittens.
He would argue over doing Math homework. He would grumble over reading and homework.
After our talk, my son does his homework with little to no complaint. He doesn't snap his pencils. He is even helping me to create flyers for our Mission, and to take photos for the Mission Facebook page.
I am working on correcting my own lapses of Gratitude. . . like the time only recently when I was very irritated that the sweater I was trying to order was out of stock. Then I scolded myself -- I have so many sweaters, how can I DARE complain?
It took "Outsiders"-- the villagers with their lives in this tiny African village-- to totally change my perspective.
Gratitude is elastic. The more I have, the more I covet what I really don't need. The more I have, the more I take for granted. But in this little village in South Sudan, the children are overjoyed to be given a simple pencil.
Anytime I am dissatisfied, or pity myself just a little bit, God shows me a person who has SO much less than I do. THEN, He goes further, and asks me to help them!
We can learn so much from our humble brothers and sisters, who are grateful for the brilliant stars, when we long for expensive diamonds; who eagerly eat a piece of bread, when our food markets throw food away daily; who have no books, when we put books by the side of the road, hoping a passerby would take them.
We can learn so much!
[Related Posting: "Gratitude", November 16, 2011.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.
Wednesday, October 5, 2016
"How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen! I cry out to you, 'Violence!' but you do not intervene. Why do you let me see ruin; why must I look at misery? Destruction and violence are before me; there is strife, and clamorous discord. Then the Lord answered me and said: 'Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily. For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; if it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late. The rash one has no integrity; but the just one, because of his Faith, shall live.' " --
[Habakkuk 1: 2-3; 2:2-4].
Habakkuk was an Old Testament prophet in Judah, or Southern Israel, at the time when Babylon was growing in absolutist power and would soon overwhelm Judah by force. The Book of Habakkuk is estimated to have been written between 612 and 588 B.C.
And yet how very modern are its words. Habakkuk 2: 6-10 continues, "Woe to him who piles up stolen goods and makes himself wealthy by extortion! How long must this go on? Will not your debtors suddenly arise? Will they not wake up and make you tremble? Then you will become their victim, because you have plundered many nations. Woe to him who builds his realm by unjust gain to set his nest on high. You have plotted the ruin of many people."
We experience the very same lament today. . . The few become extremely rich by child labor, bribery, corruption, and greed. Nations are plunged into violence and civil war, their mighty leaders raining down bombs and chemicals on its citizens, in the name of absolute power.
Habakkuk cries out, "How long, O Lord, must this go on?"
This Book is short but very interesting to read, because it is a conversation between a prophet, and his God.
God's answer is hard to take in our secular world, when we are impatient for answers and for Peace. God says, "For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment; if it delays, wait for it."
It is extremely difficult to wait, when all around us is chaos. But, this is the very strategy that I adopted in the tumultuous house where I grew up. . . I bided my time, and I waited.
At night, I waited and watched until everyone went to sleep, and until when it was safe for me to go to sleep.
If I was not fed dinner, I waited until daybreak, when perhaps I could find a neighbor who would feed me.
I sometimes went to school with a black eye, so I hid in my room and played music. Or, I sat under a majestic pine tree, on her bed of sweet-smelling needles. I watched and I waited.
I knew that I had to get my education, if I were going to leave home and support myself, as soon as I was no longer a minor. Much of my childhood, I spent in my room, studying; or when studying was done, reading everything I could get my hands on. I needed to know as much as possible to make it in the world on my own.
I took odd jobs as a young girl, babysitting, pet sitting, at $1 per hour. I saved every penny; I built a nest egg for when I could safely leave.
I left an escape kit at a girlfriend's house, in case things got too much for me to take and I had to leave suddenly.
But I also had a clear vision.
I would also lie in the grass, flat on my back, watching the clouds scudding by, and I would daydream. I was crafting a dream, about how my life could be, in the future.
I would meet my soul mate. Then, it would be through him, that I would gain another family. He would understand me completely, and would love me unconditionally.
I thought I would meet him in High School. No. . . . I thought I would meet him in college. No. . . . I thought I would meet him in Graduate school. No. . . . I had to wait for him many years.
I thought he would be blond and have blue eyes. I fancied his name would be Paul. I met my husband, and he was all that. Oh, and his Confirmation name was Paul.
I dreamed of a vintage home, filled with antique furniture and my own needlework, with a bit of land and gardens of beautiful flowers. We did find that home, but we waited and waited-- it happened half a dozen years after we got married.
I thought our child would be a boy, blond and blue-eyed, fun-loving and healthy. I had to wait for him, too -- we waited 15 years. He obviously did not show up when we expected him. But, when he finally arrived, he was just as I had pictured, and he was perfect for us.
We do not know what Habakkuk wrote on that tablet for his vision. I can only guess that he longed for Peace. For justice. To be finally free of the violence. For a safe and comfortable home. For a chance to use his gifts to make his world better.
As our world spins seemingly out-of-control, with the beheadings, the maiming and killing of children, the hunger both physical and spiritual, and the egotism of our world leaders, we feel out-of-control, too.
But God tells us to write down our vision. To wait for it.
We CAN reach for our own vision, a glimpse into the Kingdom of Heaven, right here on earth. IF we have Faith, that is --an unerring belief in the power of Ultimate Love-- we can spread our vision beyond the four walls of our homes. We can take that Love wherever we go.
And we can take comfort that God is in control, as we await His Divine Vision.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2016. All Rights Reserved.