Monday, March 27, 2017
" Brothers and sisters: You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth. Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, for it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says, 'Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.' " -[Ephesians 5: 8-14].
As a girl, I lived in a sweet little Cape-Colonial style home in a leafy suburb. We had the proverbial white picket fence, and a climbing vine of red roses on the south side of the garage. In June, the roses' scent drifted up into the open window of my bedroom. My lace curtains would billow in the breeze, and I could often smell the scent of newly mown grass.
This sounds like Heaven. . . except there was a War going on in my house -- a War in which I was the helpless prey.
Throughout most of the house, my mother had put up rolling blinds, sheer curtains and heavy draperies, in the living room, the dining room, and the master bedroom -- three layers to keep the world out.
My mother told me several times, "What happens in this house, stays inside these four walls." Perhaps some would regard this as comforting family solidarity. For me, it meant that I could not find any help "in the outside world."
When I cried, because my brother hit me or verbally abused me daily, my mother would say, 'Stop crying, the neighbors will think I beat you.' So then, I would cry harder, hoping someone would come knock on the door to see if I was alright -- but no one came.
I knew at a young age that there was a constant barrage of darkness coming at me. As a tiny girl, I could not safely expose their acts of darkness, "those things done by them in secret." Would the repercussions at home, if I told, become worse than the abuse itself?
I could have thought myself "in the right" to become angry and vengeful towards my family; to live the rest of my life bitter and hostile in my life and towards others. But then the darkness, which I would have taken on, into myself, could have destroyed me. I wanted to survive. I wanted to Live.
It was more important to me to live as Light than to be "right".
Instinctively, I decided then, that I had to become the Light. I had to somehow neutralize all those dark forces coming at me, by becoming purely Good.
Somehow, I knew to bring cut flowers into my room from my mother's garden -- red roses, Lily of the Valley, fresh lilacs, irises, begonias. These were not darkness, these were Light from God's garden.
I began to tend my mother's garden, weeding and fluffing the beds. Watering and edging. I would bring begonias and geraniums in clay pots into my room over the winters. I would pluck off the dried- out leaves and blossoms, water the plants and encourage their growth. I would turn their flower heads towards the sun.
I wanted to make beautiful things. I learned to knit, to embroider, to sew, to needlepoint. I made a needlepoint kneeler cushion for my church. I knitted a sweater for my brother. I sewed a skirt for my mother. I crafted a hand-made silk tie for my dad.
When I turned 18, I moved out of the house. I went away to school. I paid my respects to my family at Christmas and Easter. But otherwise, I rarely returned home. I kept the peace. But, I did not go back for more abuse.
When, as an adult, I told my pastor about the cruelties of my childhood, he said quietly, "I am amazed that you did not BECOME them." But, No! I took no part in their fruitless works of darkness.
Some may call me a fool for responding this way to my family. But, decades after my childhood, I read in Romans 12: 17-21 -- "Do not repay evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath. . . Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
I still believe, from the depths of my Soul, that I must be the Light. Darkness pre-existed the Light at Creation, but Light vanquished the darkness. John 1:2 says, "He [Christ, the Light of the world] was with God in the beginning."
When Adam and Eve ate of the Fruit, they hid in shame. Darkness is the cover for "fruitless works", "shameful things done in secret."
But, Light produces every kind of goodness, righteousness and Truth. I WAS the Light, I AM the Light. My Light comes from Christ. No kind of darkness can extinguish my Light. My Truth, which is the Light, IS the Love that can come only from the heart -- and from the wellsprings of God.
I did not need to receive earthly Love to know Love. I knew it instinctively, from the heart. --"The desire for God is written upon the human heart. This invitation to converse with God is addressed to humankind as soon as he comes into being. Only in God will he find the Truth and happiness he never stops searching for." -[Cat. 1:27].
Christ IS the Light, who was temporarily extinguished, yet who came back from seeming Nothingness and-- He now lights the whole world. It was BECAUSE of Christ's crucifixion and Resurrection, that Christianity became an unstoppable force.
"Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice. God never ceases to call everyone to seek Him, so as to find life and happiness." --[Cat. 1: 30].
[Related Postings: "Come to the Light", 3/18/15; ]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, March 20, 2017
" Jesus came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to this son Joseph. Jacob's well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, 'Give me a drink.' His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to Him, 'How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?' --For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.--
Jesus answered and said to her, 'If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink', you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.' The woman said to Him, 'Sir, you do to even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water?' Jesus answered and said to her, 'Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.' "--[ John 4: 5-42].
The Samaritans lived in Samaria, to the North of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, in what is now mostly the West Bank. The Samaritans claimed that they were the only "true" original Israelites who had stayed in the Land of Israel, vs. adherents to Judaism who had been merely returnees from their exile to Babylonian Captivity, bringing back an "adulterated version" of the religion.
That Jesus, as an Israeli Jew, was expected to not associate with a Samaritan is made very clear. In fact, some Biblical scholars believe that the Samaritan woman at the well had to travel over 1/2 mile back to her village to fetch water from the Samaritan well.
Our modern selves want to cry "Injustice" at this discrimination. But we would be hypocrites to do so!
Growing up, I remember much family talk pointing out people's differences. This was not a matter of neutral observation. My family judged others simply for being different than ourselves.
Calling someone Latino, Polish, Italian, Irish, Jewish etc, was clearly a pejorative. My father would lecture us that our race (English) was a superior race. When my sibling and I laughed at this absurdity, my father would say, "What are you laughing at?! I am deadly serious."
Today, even in our "modern times", evangelical Christians treat Catholics as "the wrong kind of Christian." Protestants don't intermingle with Jews or Muslims; they don't even interact with Christians of different denominations.
World leaders, of England, of France, of America, of Holland run on isolationist platforms.
School children in American inner cities attend schools where the roof leaks, there is inadequate heat and rats run through the hallways. A suburban student would not even recognize their urban brothers' and sisters's schools as belonging to the same country.
When I went to college many decades ago, I met more than a few white students who had never seen a black person before. These students would whisper to me, asking for advice on how to behave around people of color. I would bet there are plenty of people in America still, who have never seen a person of another ethnicity or color before.
In many instances, when a person in America finds out that a long-time friend voted in the last election for the "wrong candidate", that "friend" stops speaking to the other. The relationship abruptly ends. We cannot even TALK to each other any more?!
People mischaracterize Christians as those who point fingers, spend their lives as the Morality Police and generally judge others harshly. Actually, in this Scripture, the one true Christian, Christ Himself, approaches a Samaritan (the "wrong kind of Jew"), he interacts with a woman in public (another no-no), AND he converses with a sinner -- all in the same woman!
I am reminded that Sin is nothing more than separation. When we separate ourselves from God, when we separate ourselves from each other, that is the beginning of Sin. Adam and Eve descended into Original Sin when they separated themselves from God's command, and they hid from Him in shame.
If Sin is separation, then we as humans need to do a lot more work on ruling people IN, not ruling them out.
Jesus teaches us that no one is "untouchable". Rules that separate us are meant to be broken. He conversed with the Samaritan woman at the well. He kissed the leper. He broke bread with tax collectors.
I talk to everyone and I treat everyone the same, with kindness and respect-- the guy who is homeless; the guy in a wheelchair who can't walk and who can barely speak; the baby who is preverbal and has nothing to say; the Muslim woman in a head scarf; the Jewish lady who runs the Kosher deli at the market. I don't stand on ceremony or shy away because of societal labels.
Neither did Jesus. . . We need to dispense with the labels and talk to each other. And that begins with a simple, Hello.
[Related Posting: "The Living Water", 3/23/14].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, March 13, 2017
" After six days, Jesus took with him Peter, James, and John the brother of James, and led them up to a high mountain by themselves. There, He was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as the light. Just then, there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said, to Jesus, 'Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters -- one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.' While he was still speaking, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, 'This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!' "- [Matthew 17: 1-5].
Jesus' Transfiguration is a prefiguration of His Glory at the right hand of God. I think of it as one of God's most dazzling signs of both His own authority, and of His Son's -- both in the Kingdom of Heaven AND in the here and now.
How often do we humans draw closer to God and His Son, only during times of trouble? When life is going well, do we almost forget about God and how much we need Him?
I had grown up in a home where I was baptized, Confirmed, then received my First Communion, only to be told, 'We don't go to church anymore. We don't believe in "that stuff" anymore.' My family shifted 180 degrees, and they began mocking people who believed in God.
Then, when I hit a rough patch in my adult life, I found myself becoming closer to a co-worker, who spoke a lot of God. She would tell me things like, 'You are never going to get yourself out of life's trouble spots without God in your heart.'
Talk about confusing. The messages I had received at age 14 from my parents, about God being "an opiate for the masses, being a sorry crutch for people who were such failures, that they could not achieve anything in life by their own wits -- these beliefs were smashing up against my co-worker's Faith in God.
At one point, she invited me to her church, to a series of evening programs for women. The program was about Grace. We women read Scripture, prayed together, sang hymns and discussed the meaning of the Biblical passages.
Along the way, I met an older lady named Mae. She was not beautiful like a model-- let's face it, who amongst us ordinary mortals IS? She was no longer young. Her face was lined with wrinkles. Her figure was "mature". She dressed modestly. She even told me about the many hardships in her life.
But, I was captivated by her for one simple reason. She positively glowed. There was a definite "aura" about her.
I told my co-worker, "Whatever she has, I want some of THAT"!!
I have lost track of Mae since those days many years ago. But, I think of her often. And I will never forget her.
Her unforgettable Light is really what launched me on my spiritual journey to become closer to God, and to seek Jesus.
All of which raises the question-- can ordinary people become "transfigured with Light", like Jesus?
Yes, they can. And they DO. I think of Moses, an ordinary man, in the Old Testament. Exodus 34: 29-34 says, "When Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant, because he had spoken with the Lord. . . And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant."
Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary says, " Near and spiritual communion with God, serious godliness puts a luster upon a man's countenance." Keil and Delitzsch Biblical Commentary says, "The sight of the glory of Jehovah, though only the reflection of it, produced such an effect upon Moses' face, that the skin of it shone."
Paul says in 2 Cor. 3:18, "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit."
I have learned, through various tough times in my life, to draw ever closer to God and to Jesus. I have learned that my wits alone are not enough to sustain me and to get me through ll the ups and downs of Life.
These days, people say they see a radiance about me that they have never seen in me before. I cannot take credit for it, though.
For, this radiance, this Light, is not ME -- but it IS my God.
[Related Postings: "Transfiguration of Christ", March 5, 2012 ].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.
Saturday, March 4, 2017
" At that time, Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards He was hungry. The tempter approached Him, 'If You are the Son of God, command these stones become loaves of bread.' He said in reply, 'It is written: One does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.'
Then the devil took Him to the holy city, and made Him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to Him, ' If You are the Son of Man, throw yourself down.' . . Jesus answered him, ' Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.'
Then, the devil took Him up to a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to Him, ' All these I shall give to You, if You will prostrate yourself and worship me.' At this, Jesus said to him, 'Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall worship and Him alone shall you serve.' Then, the devil left Him and, behold, angels came and ministered to Him." -[ Matthew 4: 1-11].
It is an interesting concept that during Lent, we are tempted, and yet we resist.
Lent is a "desert time" in our lives, a season when we come face-to-face with what tempts us to Sin.
Of course, those temptations are ALWAYS there. But, during Lent, we fast and pray, and we become even more sensitive to the line between Sin and Holiness.
Three main temptations to Sin are set forth in this Scripture: misplaced hunger and impatience; pride and insecurity; and the desire for power.
I believe that how we fall into temptation says a lot about our individual weaknesses, and about those things we need to work on to reap a spiritual life of plenty.
Jesus says that "One does not live on bread alone." [Deuteronomy 8:3]. When I read this, I ask myself, if I become impatient that the supermarket is out of my favorite brands of food, OR if I speak rashly to the waitress not bringing my meal quickly enough -- what is my REAL hunger here?
In the supermarket, I expect the shelves to always be stocked with what I want to buy. If my favorite item is out of stock, I become angry and impatient. It has taken me a long time to realize that, I am expecting perfection here, I am expecting things to always go a certain way for me.
But isn't that a misplaced hunger? When we long for perfection, we are REALLY longing for God Himself. To calm that misplaced hunger, I try to calm down and seek the nourishing "word that comes from the mouth of God."
Jesus also says, "Do not put the Lord your God to the test." -[Deuteronomy 6:16]. Sometimes, I compulsively ask God for signs. I sit in traffic and say, "If there IS a God, the light will turn green and I will get to my destination on time." OR, " God, IF You are there, You better resolve this situation like THIS, because I am facing a real mess."
But isn't that worshipping myself, in a sense? Apparently, in these situations, I think I have a better solution than God Himself. Instead of relying on my Faith in God, I am treating Him like the Answer Man. I am praying over a bad circumstance AND I am directing God for a certain solution. AND I am turning my prayer into a sort of misguided loyalty test.
I am prideful in believing that I can demand my self-devised solutions from God. I am being insecure regarding God's power over my life, when I demand an answer as a barely disguised loyalty test; when, instead, I need to be able to trust in Him for HIS plan. Saying to God, "IF you really exist and you really love me, you will give me THIS", is NOT Faith. It is Pride.
Jesus finally says, "Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only." -[Deuteronomy 6: 13]. Have you ever noticed how, in times of trouble, we humans want to be in charge? We look at " the world and all its splendor", and we take credit for it all ourselves.
When we feel out of control and trapped in an ugly circumstance, we want to puff ourselves up, to make ourselves look better in relation to others.. We may want to show off our power, by boasting about our money or our possessions. We may want to devise easy solutions that are designed to show us in the best possible light, but that have nothing to do with God and His kingdom.
But, isn't that forgetting that true humility comes from realizing that everything comes from God?
True power comes from serving God, not from serving our own selfish desires or behaving like we are in control of the Universe.
So often, we Christians dread Lent because we fear that this is a season of self-punishment.
Instead, I am reframing Lent as a season to recognize my own temptations : misplaced hunger/ impatience; pride/insecurity in God; lust for power over things I cannot control/ false soothing with materialism.
This Lent, I challenge you to explore where YOUR greatest temptations lie? AND to lean on God and on the Spirit as your Strength.
[Related Postings: "The Test", 2/14/16; "The Desert", 2/25/15; "Lenten Meditations", 2/27/13; "The Color of Lent", 2/27/12; ].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
"Zion said, 'The Lord has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.' Can a mother forget her infant, be without tenderness for the child of her womb? Even should she forget, I will never forget you. " --
[Isaiah 49: 14-15].
As we grow older, we often look back on our younger days, as a deep well of unconditional Love, a source of inmost confidence, and a trove of precious memories.
I am always envious of people who can look back on the happy memories of their childhood. This is not something I ever had.
Instead, I was abandoned, rejected, threatened with ostracization, belittled and disparaged.
I was called ugly on a daily basis. I was hit. I was not regularly fed. I was called a Failure. I was unsafe at night in my bed. I was sent away as a young adult, and told to "figure out how to make it on your own."
All this from my biological family who gave birth to me, and who were supposed to nurture and celebrate me.
Years later, when I told my aunt/godmother about some of this abuse, she gasped, "BUT! You are their daughter!" I had to laugh. That designation -- "daughter" -- meant nothing to them. They treated total strangers with more politeness and kindness than they showed me.
I will be very blunt here. In many cases, this kind of lifelong abuse not only destroys the adult survivor's ability to function daily. This abuse also destroys the very Soul.
When the earliest familial bonds are destroyed before they can even be established, it is almost impossible for the survivor to trust ANYONE. And, that Anyone includes God . . . .
The first time I read this Scripture, I cried. I suddenly realized the Truth of how precious I was always supposed to be. I meditated on that tenderness of a mother for her child. I knew in my heart that that is what had been missing all of my life. This tenderness is what a "normal" family automatically exhibits.
That kind of Love emanates from deep within the Heart. That Love comes from God. That Love IS God.
My heart, so shriveled and dry, never even knew that this kind of Love is the way it is SUPPOSED to be!
I can completely understand how a survivor could turn away, even from unconditional Human Love. That depth of Love seems so very infinite and frightening, that it seems like it cannot ever be contemplated, let alone ever achieved. When I finally started to open up and allow myself to notice my emotions, they seemed terribly LOUD. The unconditional Love from my husband and my son seem so BIG, that I become intimidated and shut down. I overwhelm. That level of Love doesn't even seem "real".
I can also understand why a survivor could distrust humans, AND also reject God. God is supposed to save us, to rescue us, and make us whole. HOW could a God, who loves me so perfectly, have left me to face down the Evil and the hurt, completely alone?
What I can tell you is that there were times when ALL I HAD was God. If I had rejected Him, there was absolutely not one Soul on my side. So, even when I had doubts, I pushed myself to cling to the Hope that maybe He was real.
I can also tell you that, when I look back at the nightmare of my Life, God WAS there. He was there in the ride I was given to school, when my mother pushed me out the door in the pouring rain. He was there when I was so hungry, I could not sleep, but when a neighbor would give me a sandwich and a glass of milk for a snack. He was there in the teachers who noticed me, encouraged me and told me I was beautiful -- even when I felt so very ugly.
I read this Scripture with a totally different view than most. Most people know what a mother's tenderness truly is. The comparison to God's tender Love is an easy leap for them.
For me, I could have read this Scripture as a mockery of that kind of Love, that was so consistently and evilly denied me. I could have read it as a lifelong excuse to remain angry, bitter and hateful.
BUT INSTEAD--- I choose to read this passage as an affirmation that God is BIG enough to be both my Mother AND my Father! He can and does shower me with such tenderness, with the Divinely- Created Love, that ALL of His children do rightly deserve.
And so, THAT is Who God became to ME. . .
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.