Sunday, June 25, 2017
"Jesus said to the Twelve: ' Fear no one. . . . And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. . . Even all the hairs on your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. Everyone who acknowledges me before others, I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father." -- [Matthew 10: 26-33].
I was raised in a cruel household. No one ever hugged me or said, "I love you."
No one showed me any Love either. I was fed inconsistently. At age five, I would have to figure out, if I was not going to be fed that night, where would I find food?
A sibling used hit me and would tell me how ugly I was. Often.
I would cry, and complain to my mother. She would say, "You are too sensitive. If you show no emotion, he will leave you alone." But, he didn't. His verbal abuse escalated to physical abuse. . . to rounding up the kids in the neighborhood to join in bullying me.
My father took his anger out on me, breaching boundaries that should never be breached between father and daughter.
Decades later, my world went upside down, because my father had died suddenly. I had moved far away to protect myself, but my father, even in death, because of his death, was once again breaching the boundaries I had so carefully constructed.
So, I went to our parish pastor. He wrote out the Scripture references to the Conversion of Saul in Acts. I felt like he was a doctor, writing out an Rx. My pastor said, "You need to find a way to get closer to God."
I said, "I feel like they killed my soul." The pastor looked me straight in the eye, and said, "They cannot do that. You can kill the body but you cannot kill the soul. It's in the Bible." He did tell me that my soul had been very, very wounded. But it IS possible to heal.
When I read this Scripture at home, I felt like Saul -- struck by lightning, fallen off "my horse", blind with pain and grief for the person I had been, fearful for what was to come.
But, as with the Conversion of Saul, (Acts 9: 1-19), many hands came to help me as I was blind, stricken and barely able to eat or consume drink. I was helped up bodily. My soul would survive.
I then started therapy. One of the first things the therapist did was to ask me to shut my eyes and imagine myself as a little girl.
As soon as I closed my eyes, the image of that little girl came back. She was wearing a sweet smocked dress, lace-topped white socks and Mary-Janes. She had black eyes. And she was crying.
I burst into tears at the sight of her. Not because I could feel her pain, or because my tears burned at the sight of her tears. No, it was because I thought my family had killed her.
I gasped because that tiny girl was ALIVE. Inside of me. They had NOT killed her.
It took a lot of reading, praying and meditating before I came across Matthew 10. But, I see now the Truth of it: "You cannot kill the soul."
Even more important, I keep repeating to myself: " Fear no one. Do not be afraid of those who [may] kill the body, [for] you cannot kill the soul."
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.
Wednesday, June 21, 2017
" Do not forget the Lord, your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery; who guided you through the vast and terrible desert with its seraph serpents and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground; who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock and fed you in the desert with manna, a food unknown to your fathers." - [Deuteronomy 14B-16A].
It is said that the Israelites wandered an extra forty years, lost in the desert, because when they first saw Canaan, The Promised Land, they refused to enter it. The Israelites had no faith that this fortified land could be theirs. Only Caleb told Moses and their people: "We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly [conquer] it." --[ Numbers 13:30.]
But the majority of the scouts sent to explore Canaan concluded, in fright, that The Promised Land was unconquerable.
Even as the Israelites fled back into that harsh desert, God guided His people "through the vast and terrible desert, with its seraph serpents and scorpions, its parched and waterless ground."
How different my life would have been, had I had Faith only in myself!
This philosophy of Human Achievement was the very basis of my parents' thought. If I couldn't accomplish something, I "wasn't trying hard enough". My failure was all my fault.
This Worship of Human Achievement has come to fruition today, in the modern "new-age" thinking that, 'IF we dream it, we can do it.' The motto is, "THINK. BELIEVE. ACHIEVE." Or, "IF you think it, it will come to be."
Yes, I agree that if we are unwilling to do the work, if we lack the confidence to even try, we will go exactly nowhere. This was the Israelites' fatal error-- Relying only on the potential of their own manpower, they concluded that The Promised Land was not conquerable. Thus, they did not even try.
But the "THINK. BELIEVE. ACHIEVE." philosophy lacks one very critical element: God Himself.
The belief, that we can accomplish only what we humans can effect by our own hands, is limited thinking, indeed. This philosophy is egotistical in that we overestimate our own abilities. To the extreme, this philosophy can lead to serious anxiety and depression, as we continually try to make big things happen on our own, then fail at every turn.
Or, we can simply stop trying to accomplish anything since we are afraid that we will never be capable of accomplishing our goals.
I think back on my childhood, and I wandered in a metaphorical desert, just like the Israelites. I had inconsistent access to food. I was endangered, by the abuse at the hands of my mother, my father, my sibling. These were "my scorpions and serpents".
As a tiny child, I put myself down for naps, I found food, I hid anywhere I could to avoid the abuse -- in the bushes, on the rooftop, up on a high hill.
But how could I have furnished these things for myself, if it had not been for God? By the power of the Holy Spirit, I was given what I needed to survive. Neighbors gave me rides to school in the rain. Neighbors or friends' parents gave me snacks that were more like a meal-- bread and butter, glasses of milk, chicken soup. Oh, this was like water on "the parched, and waterless ground."
This was like manna from Heaven, such as the Israelites ate. They were allowed to eat only what they could gather and eat in one evening. They could not keep any for tomorrow.
I had to learn, as a child, to have Faith that if my parents did not feed me, food would come from Someone Else. I had to eat what I had found or been given that day, and let go of the rest, for tomorrow was another day. By Faith in God, I was able to accomplish much more than I could for myself!
Today, I am not bitter about these experiences. Bitterness would only cause me to wander for decades in a self-imposed desert of exile. What I cannot do for myself, by myself, either God will provide; OR, God will help me to endure the burden.
But these traumatic experiences have made me very grateful for what I DO have -- food to eat, a safe place to rest my head, someone at last to tell me that I am loved, a home free from physical violence, verbal abuse, emotional abuse. . .
No, I do not forget the Lord my God, who brought me out of the desert. I do not grumble and complain; and I do not live in extreme Fear. I replace my Worry with Prayer. For, as Paul says in Romans 8:15, "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to Fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, "Abba, Father."
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.
Saturday, June 10, 2017
"Brothers and sisters, rejoice. Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in Peace, and the God of Love and Peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the holy ones greet you." -- [2 Corinthians 13: 11-13.]
I wonder? -- When is the last time you gave, or received any encouragement?
Or, any of the other Fruits of the Spirit? -- Love. Peace. Joy. Patience. Kindness. Generosity. Gentleness. Self-control. Faithfulness.
As St. Paul says in Galatians 5: 22, "There is no Law against such things."
But, you would think there WERE such a law, against these things.
Believe me when I say, I grew up in a house with the all of the Vices, which are the opposite of the Fruits of the Spirit.
Drunkenness. When my dad drank, things got ugly.
Immorality. Such as when my dad abused me.
Hatred. When my parents expressed their hatred of different political groups or ethnic groups or classes.
Discord. When my parents argued and lost sight of what their children needed from them.
Envy. When my dad became self-loathing over what others had that he didn't.
Anger. When my dad became bitter over how his life was turning out.
Selfish Ambition. When my parents put their personal ambitions over Love.
Arrogance. When my dad told us daily that we were superior to anyone else on the planet.
Murder. When my parents' Hate became murder of the Soul.
Idolatry. When my parents idolized "The Almighty Dollar" over "Almighty God."
Greed. When my parents kept all the Blessings they had to themselves, and refused to help the poor.
Lying. When my parents told me I was a Failure, and allowed my brother to call me Ugly on a daily basis. A girlfriend told me, years later, "These are Lies, Satan's Lies, all Lies."
All of these rise well above what a Secularist would call "Being negative." These are far more than "Being negative." These are habits and behaviors and beliefs that deeply offend God.
This offensiveness comes from the fact that all of these behaviors and beliefs totally negate God's Love.
I had to learn that drunkenness brings immorality, deceit, lust and ugliness. Today, I rarely drink. I can see what it does to human relationships.
I had to learn to treat my own body and the body of others as a Temple, a Holy Vessel.
I had to learn that Hatred is murder of the Soul.
I had to learn that argument and anger may "feel" powerful; but are in reality more like a massive truck spinning its wheels at a high pitch in deep mire. You may be making an impressive noise, but you are going nowhere. Not only that, you are digging yourself in, deeper and deeper.
I had to learn that the only Person I need to please, where my next step is concerned, is God.
I learned, from years of humiliation, an abiding Humility. I am on this earth only as long as God says I am, and I am merely His instrument on Earth, until the next life.
I learned to make money irrelevant, or my parents would us it as a weapon of behavioral modification, otherwise known as blackmail. It is immensely freeing to understand that Money can buy food or medical care or a place to live; but beyond that, Money can absolutely corrupt until you forget your fellow man OR God.
I had to learn that sometimes when you have no food, no money and not one friend, others' Greed is the enemy of survival.
I had to learn that the only Truth that matters is God's Truth. And if it is not Love, it cannot be the Truth.
As a world, if we do not tap into Love, Encouragement, civil discourse, Joy, Kindness, Goodness, Gentleness, Generosity and Self-Control, I honestly do not know how long we will survive.
We must strive to encourage one another, live in Peace and Love one another -- OR, we will die trying.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.
Tuesday, June 6, 2017
"When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit . . ." --[Acts 2: 1-11].
Pentecost in the Old Testament, called "The Feast of Weeks", took place 50 days after the offering of first fruits at Passover. Eerdman's Dictionary of the Bible says, "In later Judaism, the festival became associated wth the giving of the law and the making of the Covenant at Sinai."
Just as Judaism celebrates a seminal moment in its founding, with the giving of the law at (the Jewish festival of ) Pentecost, so Christianity celebrates its own founding at Pentecost with the bestowing of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is the hardest person in the Trinity to understand. But, arguably, we could not be Church without it. While God is seated on the throne in Heaven and sometimes seems so very far away; and while Jesus came down from Heaven in human form but is now gone from Earth-- nevertheless, the Holy Spirit is alive and present in our daily lives to guide us.
When speaking of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said, "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of Truth, which the world cannot accept, because it neither sees nor knows it. But you know, because it remains with you, and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you." --[John 14: 15-18].
The Holy Spirit has been called "The Spirit of Truth; the Spirit of holiness; the Spirit of Life; the Spirit of glory; the Spirit of wisdom and understanding; the Spirit of Grace and supplication; the Spirit of judgment and fire."
The Holy Spirit is our Advocate and Teacher, who helps us to remember how to be children of God and children of the Promise. The Holy Spirit recalls the teachings of Jesus and helps us apply them to our daily life.
The Holy Spirit gives us wisdom and understanding. He especially conveys Love. He leads us to the Love of God which is Infinite and Unconditional.
I must say that without the Holy Spirit, I don't think I would be alive today. Or, IF alive, I would be amongst the "walking dead."
I was brought to church as a young girl, baptized, confirmed and given my First Communion. Then, my parents abruptly took church away, telling me, "We don't believe in that stuff."
My parents taught me NOT to give to charity. They tried to teach me that the only thing valuable enough to worship was "The Almighty Dollar." They taught me Hate towards anyone different than ourselves-- the immigrant, the poor, the marginalized. They taught me to think of myself FIRST. They mocked and taunted Christians, as losers and hypocrites.
Even worse, our household was marked by jealousy, bitterness, conflict, rivalry, and greed. Every family member abused me in some way-- medical neglect, abandonment, physical abuse, verbal abuse, emotional abuse such as blackmail and bribery, rejection and argument. No one ever hugged me or said, "I love you." I wasn't fed consistently. I went to school with black eyes.
And yet, Somehow, I did not BECOME them. Where there was hatred, I shone forth Love. Where there was injury, I bestowed mercy and pardon. Where I was not fed, I baked and cooked for them. Where there was ugliness, I tended my mother's flower garden and brought Beauty indoors. Where my family doubted the existence of God and tried to convince me of this, I brought my Faith underground, never speaking of it verbally, but living it in gentleness and Hope for the future.
The home where I grew up was dark and sad. My parents were "deathly sad", and lifeless in emotion. There was no Joy. Their language was darkness and despair, most of the time. If they spoke emphatically, I somehow knew, "if I do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." -[1 Corinthians 13:1].
HOW did I know all these things? I tell you, that that "SOMEHOW", that Someone, was the Holy Spirit; drawing me to Love, and away from Hate, bitterness, blasphemy, futility, despair and trauma, and harm to the very soul.
I recognized that voice, that call of Love. I shrank in fear from the voices of Hate and abuse.
In Luke 1: 54-55, Zachary sings: "Thus he remembers his holy covenant, the oath he swore to our father Abraham that he would grant us, free from fear, to be delivered from the hands of our enemies, to serve Him in holiness and virtue in His presence, all our days."
The Holy Spirit drew me TO Love, away from my enemies who endangered me; and TO God, who became my Father and my Mother. I never knew Love, only Hate and abuse; and yet, the Spirit taught me all about Love. And so, I learned to walk towards Love, to crave Love, to give Love to others, despite the desert of the soul in which I lived.
I knew I was in a bad place, a soul-crushing place, at the time. But I planned for the future, a future of Love and possibility and Hope. It was a desert which I had to travel through, on my way to a place of Peace and Love. I knew this desert was not my final resting place, that better things were in store. I would pass through the desert but I would not let it crush me.
John J. Navone, SJ, in his book, "Triumph Through Failure", says, "Only the Spirit of a God who is Love can empower us to transcend the malice, hatreds, and inhumanity besetting us . . . Only the Spirit of God can enable us to . . . create the possibility of a new future, un-poisoned and
un-embittered by hate-memories. . It rejoices in the personal beauty, courage and grandeur of soul, of those who preserve their identity and integrity, and transcend the hatred of their persecutors."
Navone goes on to say, "The redeeming power of memory [of that Infinite Love upon which our very survival depends], which impels the shepherd to search, the father to run to his son. . . IS the impelling, yearning force of a Love which restores what has been lost."
From my earliest days, I had been at risk of ending up a very lost child. But in finding the Holy Spirit, I was FOUND again.
[Related Posting: " The Shepherd's Voice", 5/8/17; "Unscripted", 5/15/16; "I Live by the Spirit", 5/19/13].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.
Thursday, June 1, 2017
" Jesus raised His eyes to Heaven and said, 'Father, the hour has come. . . I revealed Your name to those whom You gave me out of the world. They belonged to You, and You gave them to me, and they have kept Your word. . . The words You gave to me I have given to them, and they accepted them and truly understood that I came from You, and they have believed that You sent me. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world, but for the ones You have given me, because they are yours, and everything of mine is Yours and everything of Yours is mine, and I have been glorified in them. And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to You.' " --[John 17: 1-11A]
This Scriptural passage seems tautological, i.e., circular and repetitive. But the repetition is rhythmic, and serves in a beautiful way to remind us of the total unity of God and Jesus, with and in US.
Jesus IS God. Jesus comes from God and returns to God. We have been given to Jesus, and Jesus has been given to us.
This perfect Unity is a beautiful mystery. And yet, the most difficult verse of all says, " Now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world." -[John 17: 11A].
Somehow, we must all be resigned to living in this world, no matter how confusing, troublesome, or traumatic.
Growing up, I received plenty of conflicting and even wrong advice from my parents. I was a gentle and loving child. I was eager to love others, and to show all the different kinds of people whom I encountered, my sweet, gentle and compassionate self. But my parents would say, "Oh, this one is a low-down immigrant. That one is uneducated or poor."
Or, I would suggest that we give a donation to charity now and again, from our bounty. But I was swiftly told, " We don't GIVE our money away."
My response as a child was simple. I ignored their advice. They were jealous, judgmental, bitter, full of jostling and strife, bickering, angry and prideful.
I took it upon myself to do helpful chores around the house. This would keep the Peace, I thought, as I weeded my mother's garden, knitted my brother a sweater, and mended my father's socks.
If things were still not peaceful, I would leave the house and sit high on a hill, breathing in the sweet air and singing softly to myself. When I had regained my Peace, I went home again.
Somehow, as I have become an adult, I have taken it upon myself to try to figure out the World.
This whole current controversy about FBI Director James Comey? -- DID former President Bill Clinton really poison the Justice Department investigation of Hillary Clinton's emails? OR, did he simply talk about their grandchildren, as reported in the press? Did Hillary really delete 30,000 emails that were simply about their daughter's wedding or about Hillary's yoga practices? Or was she hiding something a good deal more sinister? Did James Come really rely on false intel from the Russians about a supposed "secret deal" between the Clintons and the Justice Department, not to indict Hillary? Or, as the New York Times reported earlier, did Comey reveal details of the investigation of Hillary only under the threat of other NY FBI agents warning him, 'Go public, or WE will.' ?
I tell you, with all of my reading three newspapers per day, my constant checking of Facebook, CNN.com, Fox News, Bloomberg, and any snippet I may happen to hear in a coffee shop or at the market -- I am exhausted!
I have commiserated with friends over whether the truly difficult people in my life are Evil, ignorant or mentally unstable. My friends and I have concluded, after literally hours of fruitless discussion, that we have no idea.
Recently, I wrote a note to my cousin, who lives in a different country. I wrote that, given the state of affairs lately, our attitudes have shifted a LOT. I said that, "We feel that we have a nice home, financial stability, each other and our son. We try to 'stay right with God.' We try to do good in our community and our world. There are so many things we cannot control, like incomprehensible school curriculum, or nasty politics, or our son's future. So we take each day as it comes, we do the best we can with what we can control and we leave the rest to God."
I sent this note as a kind of wake-up call, that I have kind of given up on this world. I am just going to eat right, take care of those whom I encounter, of friends and family but otherwise, give it all UP.
So, my cousin wrote back : "A model we should all live by!"
I was kind of stunned at her reaction. I thought my message was one of failure and defeat. . .
The truth is, my message is one of surrender TO God. I cannot figure this crazy world out. BUT, as a flawed human, I am not supposed to do that!
Yes, I am a citizen of this world, and I work hard to be a blessing to others. Of course, we are IN this world.
But, we humans are ALL incomprehensible at times, difficult, and yes, at times sinful. I cannot explain the world, or save the world. I alone cannot even save myself.
Only God and Jesus can do that. . .
"[My followers] have believed that You sent me. I pray for them. I do not pray for the world, but for the ones You have given me, because they are Yours, and everything of mine is Yours and everything of Yours is mine."
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.