Saturday, January 28, 2017

Sermon on the Mount

"Consider your own calling, brothers and sisters. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were noble of birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. . . . So, as it is written, 'Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord.' " - [1 Corinthians 1: 26-31].

In Matthew 5, Jesus went up to the mountain and began to teach His disciples. One of the most famous components of His Sermon on the Mount were what is called "The Beatitudes."

The Beatitudes (literally, the Blessings) are a series of contrasting conditions of the human spirit:
Those who are poor in spirit will [inherit] the Kingdom of Heaven;
Those who mourn will be comforted;
Those who are meek will inherit the land;
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied;
Those who are merciful will be shown mercy;
Those who are clean of heart will see God;
Those who are peacemakers will be called children of God.

I never knew about the Beatitudes when I was growing up. Yes, we went to church, until I was about age 14. I don't know what my parents learned there, sitting in the pew each Sunday.

But I didn't get any teaching of the Beatitudes -- from church or from my parents.

And yet, I lived the Beatitudes.

I was the peacemaker in the family. My mother and father did not get long. My brother was cruel to me. My mother sided with my brother over me. My father favored me over my mother, so my mother resented me. And him. . . My father complained about my brother to our mother.

I learned, early on, to stay out of the way. I was meek. I hid in my room a lot.

But, on a sunny days, my mother would say, "Go outside!! It is too nice to be inside, in your room."

Outside, my brother rounded up the neighborhood kids to bully me. They called us rich. Well, their families did not have a lot, and we had more. But that was not my FAULT, and it was not something I was in any way responsible for. I wasn't going to boast about it. It had nothing to do with ME. I certainly did not lord it over them. I just wanted to be liked-- or not liked -- by who I was.

The neighborhood kids would taunt me about my good grades. I could not help it that I had been given "smarts", or the diligence to work hard in school. But, I would not boast about my intelligence, it was how I was born.

I was the merciful one. When my brother hit me, I would go sit under the pine tree in a neighbor's yard. I would not strike back. My mother seemed weary all the time. I weeded her garden. I did the mending.

I was, by definition, weak. I was the baby and the only daughter. I was the smallest one in the household. And yet, my family seemed to take me as a "rebuke". Maybe because I was humble, not thinking I was so great for all the material things they had, which they believed would burnish their reputation.

Paul said, in 1 Corinthians, that "God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something."  Certainly, my family thought they were "Something"-- way better than others, superior in every way. They spoke as the Pharisee did in Luke 18:11, "God, I thank you that I am not like other people -- robbers, evildoers, adulterers."

When I mentioned to my parents that we had enough to give some to charity, I was met with scorn and derision. I was despised for this. Not knowing what I was really saying, I was regarded as someone who counted for nothing, "reducing to nothing, those who are Something."

I was a "foolish" child, intelligent but not educated in the ways of the world. Like an "idiot savant", if my parents would excoriate the black man, I would proclaim that the black man could not alter the color of his skin. Or that, I as a female, could not help that my strong brain was born into a female body. My parents were horrified. It was as if I had spoken blasphemy.

Yet-- instead, God had chosen ME, the weak, the foolish, the lowly and despised, to shame the powerful, the strong, the so-called "wise"of the world.

Innocently, I did not know why what I was saying was so "wrong". It seemed that my family hated me. All I knew is that I did not belong. It was as if I had been born into the wrong family. Little did I know that I was there to shame them, to reduce them --who believed they were Something-- to Nothing.

It has taken me years to figure out that I was the righteous one ("right with God"). My family had mirrored the upside-down, radical world of the Kingdom of Heaven, where the powerful are stripped bare and reduced to Nothing; and the meek shall inherit the earth.

I was called ugly almost daily; and a Failure. Just as Matthew 5 says, "They utter[ed] every kind of evil against [me] falsely because of [Jesus]. "

But I am blessed. I am exhorted to, "Rejoice and be glad, for [the reward] will be great." I am promised that I will be satisfied, I will be shown mercy, I will be called child of God. I will see God.

[Related Postings: "Unlikely Blessings, 2/1/11;  "The Beatitudes", 11/13/15]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Land of Gloom

" Anguish has taken wing, dispelled is darkness: for there is no gloom, where but now there was distress. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shown. You have brought them abundant joy and great rejoicing, as they rejoice before you as at the harvest. For the yoke that burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their taskmaster, you have smashed." -[Isaiah 8: 23- 9:3].

In this Scripture passage, Isaiah warns of conditions where corruption by the rulers has generated weakness, and infighting in its leadership; and where the poor have suffered from class disparity.

But Isaiah also speaks of the time when a great Light will come to dispel the darkness, where the land of gloom will become a place where "anguish has taken wing."

We live today,  in times where political corruption and infighting has made American leadership weak. Too many citizens still live in poverty and hopelessness, whereas our leaders busy themselves with greed or egotism.

This political debate reminds me of when the disciples were arguing with each other over who was the greatest among them? Jesus sternly reminds them that the least among all, and the servant of all, is the greatest.

I remember when I was growing up, and my family would talk disparagingly of the poor or the immigrant. My father had jeering names for them all-- blacks, Latinos, Jews, the Polish, Italians.
My sibling and I would laugh at him, because his name-calling was so extreme; we thought he must be joking.

But my father would say, "Why are you laughing? I am deadly serious!"

I grew up with no allies. Only my grandfather, who died when I was ten. My sibling used to verbally abuse me. My mother would say, "You are too sensitive." So then, his abuse escalated to hitting me. I would hide in my room. My mother gave me scoldings for being "anti-social". So, emboldened, he would round up the neighborhood kids to bully me, and booby trap my room. My dad took his anger out on me.  My mother let the abuse continue. She took to calling me a Failure. She threatened to disown me.

I have learned that Hate readily escalates, if it is not nipped in the bud. When Hate and Fear rule, we become less than human.

Even as a child, I became a collector of people -- a "Fisher of Men." My family ruled people out. I ruled them in. I had to, to survive.

Mrs. Conway used to feed me generous snacks when I went hungry. Mrs. O'Brien let me swim in her above-ground pool with her daughter. My friend Meggie's mom used to give me rides when she saw me walking in the rain.

We have lost the capacity to be Fishers of Men. If a person wears the "wrong" kind of shoes and drives the "wrong" kind of car, we speculate on their political party or their social class. We even dismiss them as "deplorable" or untouchable. Not only do we denigrate them, we refuse to speak to them. We make sure our paths never cross. We shove them into neighborhoods which we never enter.  We render them invisible.

We argue over who is the greatest leader of our time. But we forget who is the Greatest King of all time.

Above all, we forget that we are all connected. We belong to each other.

No matter how divisive our times, I will not stop talking to everyone and anyone. We are all brothers and sisters, inextricably connected.

Before you torch someone who is against abortion, for example, take the time to learn that the Pro-Lifer may have that view because she was almost never born, and faced death many, many times over. Understand that she is not a "religious fanatic" or an ignorant person whose 'backward ideas' must change. It is just that, in a very personal and gut-wrenching way, she learned the abiding Truth that ALL life is precious.

Realize also, before you hate someone who has had an abortion, that perhaps she found herself in a precarious position as a result of prolonged abuse. She was young, distraught, uncounseled.  She is today in constant trauma over the abortion, haunted both awake and asleep, with visions of the child who never came to be. I have known women like this in my life. It is painful to witness.

We must figure out, once again, how to be Fishers of Men; how to sit down, eye-to-eye and soul-to- soul and really communicate. We must begin again, to rule others IN -- not out.

Jesus broke bread with sinners and corrupt officials. There was no one so beneath him, that he could not engage with them.

We  must cast out our nets and pull others towards us, not against us. Our very survival depends upon it.

[Related Postings: "Come After Me", 1/27/11; "Fishers of Men", 1/21/12; "Putting Out in Deep Water", 2/10/13; "Fishing Manual", 1/24/15].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Faithless In America

"Listen to me, you coastlands, hear this, you distant nations! The Lord called me before I was born, while in my mother's womb He named me. . . And now the Lord says, who formed me in  the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, for I am honored in the eyes of the Lord, and my God has become my strength-- He says, 'It is too small a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.' "  --[Isaiah 49: 1-2, 5-6].

When I was a little girl, Sundays were a sacred time, set aside for church and family.

We went to church every week. Afterwards, all the aunts, uncles, cousins, my parents and sibling would gather at Grandma's house. She would cook a big meal, everything from scratch, including home-baked pie or cake for dessert.

Then, when I turned fourteen, my grandparents gone, my aunt and uncle moved away, we abruptly stopped going to church. I will never forget that first Sunday when I asked my mother eagerly if we were going to church?

She said to me sternly, "We don't do that any longer." It was then I started hearing that religion "was the opiate of the masses." Believing in God was for the losers who were incapable of succeeding on their own.

I cannot tell you how bereft I felt. It was as if I had been plunged into a black hole. I also felt betrayed. You mean, all that stirring verse about God being present, and everything being right in the end in His Universe, was one big lie?

No God ?-- then, no Peace, no Hope, no Justice. The way I saw it, if the humans alone were suddenly in charge, the world was in big trouble.

This is but the experience of one little girl, who grew to inhabit a sad wisdom, of what it feels like to have no Faith.

Since then, this waning of our Faith has overtaken America itself as a country.

America was founded on religious freedom. Our Declaration of Independence says, "All men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these, Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Our currency, and our courthouses, declare, "In God We Trust."

Reminiscent of Isaiah 49: 6, [ "I will give you as a Light to the Nations"], our Statue of Liberty is engraved with the famous poem by Emma Lazarus: "Give me your tired, your poor, your hungry, yearning to breathe free. . . I lift my lamp beside the gold door!"

At the founding of our country, George Washington said, "It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible."

Benjamin Franklin siad, "I was never without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that He made the world and governed it by His Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing of good to men; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished and virtue rewarded either here or hereafter."

Abraham Lincoln, during the Civil War, said, "In regard to this Great Book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this Book. But for it, we could not know right from wrong."

President FDR said, "No greater thing could come to our land today than a revival of the spirit of religion -- a revival that would sweep through the homes of the Nation and stir the hearts of men and women of all faiths to a reassertion of their belief in God and their dedication to His will, for themselves and for their world."

John F. Kennedy said: "Let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking [God's] blessings and His help, but knowing that here on earth, God's work must truly be our own."

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Remember, if I am stopped, this movement will not stop, because God is with the movement." And, "Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned with that now. I just want to do God's will."

TODAY, I cannot imagine a public figure or politician talking like this! It would be shocking if a politician spoke this way. Indeed, the words would make national headlines, as a scandal.

In an article entitled "Civil Religion in America", 1967, Robert Bellah, the author talks about how, even in secular and public life, there has always been a simple version of Religion guiding us. What he calls The Civil Religion in America assumed that 1) there is a God; 2) there is a life to come; 3) there is a reward to virtue and a punishment to evil; 4) there is value in fighting against religious intolerance.

What I am stunned at today is that our society seems to no longer hold these precepts as automatically understood.

Consider the words of Hillary Clinton, about the religious voter: "Deep-seated 'cultural codes', religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed." As if we could change God's Word?

Consider the words of Donald Trump: "The religious right adores me, by the way." As if people of Faith are nothing more than a "special interest group", or a demographic.

I feel like that little girl again, bereft because her church was taken away, and because her Faith in all things sacred was denied.

As you watch the Presidential Inauguration this week, keep your eyes fastened on the Bible used to administer the oath of office. Listen to the oath itself and see whether the new President will swear to uphold the Constitution, "So help me, God."

IF we, as a Nation cannot even stipulate that there is a God, that there is a life to come, that there is value in fighting religious intolerance, then WHY are we going through the motion of a President swearing on the Bible, and saying, "So help me, God." ??

[Related Postings: "Freedom of Religion",  3/7/12; "Free to Believe", 7/3/15.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Enduring Wisdom of Martin Luther King

Martin Luther King's birthday is celebrated this year on January 16, 2017.

We live in a far, far different world than it was in April, 1968, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed. Perhaps we tend to think that a man such as King was merely a man of his time? But, true visionaries speak Wisdom that is timeless.

Yes, King did write about a specific, anguished time in American history. But I find that many of King's writings are startling prescient.

What would Martin Luther King, Jr. think about our world today?

Certainly, he would barely recognize the vast extent of our technology.  WHAT King said about Technology: "Science and technology have enlarged man's body. The telescope and television have enlarged his eyes. The telephone, radio and microphone have strengthened his voice and ears. The automobile and airplane have lengthened his legs. The wonder drugs have prolonged life. . . We have genuflected before the god of Science only to find that it has given us the atomic bomb, producing fears and anxieties that Science can never mitigate. These transitory gods are not able to save us or bring happiness to the human heart. But in spite of these astounding new scientific developments, the old evils continue and the age of reason has been transformed into an age of terror." --[Strength to Love, 1963].

ON the myth of government being the solution to all our problems: "There are those who seek to convince us that only man is able. In the Renaissance and subsequently the Age of Reason, some men gradually came to feel that God was an unnecessary item on the agenda of life. . . . [Some men] have the strange conviction that by thinking, inventing and governing, they will at last conquer the nagging forces of evil. This idea, sweeping across the modern world like a plague, has ushered God out and escorted man in, and has substituted human ingenuity for divine guidance. But, the old evils continue and the age of reason has been transformed into an age of terror. Selfishness and hatred have not vanished with an enlargement of our educational system, and an extension of our legislative policies " --[Strength To Love, 1963].

ON the fracturing of human connections: "All too many of those who live in affluent America ignore those who exist in poor America; in doing so, the affluent American will eventually have to face themselves with the question, that Adolph Eichmann chose to ignore: How responsible am I to the well-being of my fellows?"

AND, "A riot is the language of the Unheard."

ON our current desire towards Isolationism: "ALL life is interrelated and in a real sense, we are all courting an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly." -- "The destiny of the United States is tied up with the destiny of India and every other Nation. Can we stand idly by and not be concerned." --

"Man through his scientific and his technological genius has made of this world a neighborhood. And now we are challenged through our moral and ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood."

In the late 1990's, scientists discovered some proof of the theory of Entanglement-- that when a scientist "pokes a particle, another one far away can instantly respond to the touch -- without any messages passing through space, as if the two particles were one." -[Popular Science, 8/29/15].  Many scientists have come to believe that there is a Consciousness in the Universe that ties everything together. AND so, we are beginning to prove, literally, that Martin Luther King was right!

Finally, ON Hope, a political slogan bandied about a lot by both political sides: " I have become more and more convinced of the reality of a personal God. In the midst of outer dangers, I have felt an inner calm, and known resources of strength, that only God could give. In many instances, I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of Hope. God IS a living God."

[Related Postings: "Martin Luther King's Dream", January 15, 2014; "Race in America", August 1, 2013; "The Prophet: Martin Luther King", January 15, 2015; "The Need for Martin Luther King", Jan. 16, 2013; "Remembering Martin Luther King", Jan. 16, 2012; "Martin Luther King", Jan. 16, 2012.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Power of Yes

" The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them, in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them." --[ Luke 2: 16-21.]

We live in an extremely negative world -- have you noticed?

Negative makes the nightly news, the video stream, the online headlines. What is positive lately rates barely a mention.

We live in a very binary world -- have you noticed? It is black/white; either/or; yes/ no.

When I was growing up, immigrants such as Italian, Irish, French, Hispanics, were bad. People like us-- English and here for generations-- were good.

Education was good. The trades -- plumbers, electricians, construction workers -- were bad.

Being wealthy --able to pay vast sums for your kids' education, traveling to exotic locations, eating gourmet food, wearing expensive clothes -- was good. Being poor was bad.

As I was being raised by my family, I was told what was bad about me -- I was told to never wear certain colors; I was told where NOT to go to school (only THIS side of town); what not to study; where not to live (only THIS side of the river); how to behave ( suppressed emotions); who to be friends with and whom to avoid.

Apparently, my sum total of inborn impulses was wrong, wrong, wrong.

I was told that there was no God. I was responsible for everything that happened to me. There could be no mistakes, no accidents, no twists of fate. Every blip of my day was my fault, a disaster of my own making. This was a dangerous recipe for anxiety and depression. We cannot make ourselves Gods, masters of the Universe. We are not that powerful. . .

When I became Catholic, I came to confront Mary. SHE was the embodiment of the Power of Yes. Mary-- a peasant girl, probably no more than 14 years old, probably illiterate --- said, 'YES". The world has never been the same since.

Mary said, "Yes", to God. You would have thought that this was the beginning of a Princess sort of life. After all, she had been chosen by God.

But, far from it. When Jesus was 12, he disappeared one day. His parents found Him after three days of searching, at the temple in Jerusalem. When Mary said to Him, " Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you",  Jesus said, "Why were you searching for me? Didn't you know I had to be in my Father's house?"

Jesus was thronged by crowds in His ministry. His disciples professed their undying fealty, yet didn't seem to completely understand understand Him when Jesus was alive and preaching. Jesus died a horrible death, and was hung up like a common criminal.  You would think in our modern terms, that He was an utter failure.

But, He was a Divine Success.

Mary was a woman without sin. Yet she suffered terribly as she "lost" her son to His ministry, when He was so young; and she watched Him become surrounded by enemies, suffer and die on the cross.

As I gain maturity as a Christian, I am starting to see that Life is  a to more complicated than back and white.

Is the LBGT community all "bad"? Have they all utterly turned in their Sin away from God? I see many in that community who ARE believers and who want to approach the table of Mercy.

Are all women who have had an abortion irredeemably wicked, forever? I know of women in this circumstance who cannot erase the overwhelming guilt and shame over what they have done. They wish they could take their action back; because, asleep and awake, they are haunted by the specter of it.

Are ALL priests infallible, and without sin? Or, are some all too feeble in their humanity?

The Power of Yes never guarantees a perfect Journey.  If we are to truly open our hearts to God, in the way Mary did, we have to give up the illusion of control over our own lives.

The Power of Yes is the power of Faith.  We go where God asks us to go. We trust that, even if the road is perilous, God will lead us, and He will have our backs.

Our journeys may be messy, exhilarating, inspiring, depressing, long, boring and frustrating. But, if we say 'Yes' to God, we are never alone.

[Related postings: "The God of the Possible", 12/18/16].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017.  All Rights Reserved.