Saturday, July 29, 2017

A Heart For Wisdom

"The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night. God said, "Ask something of me and I will give it to you." Solomon answered, "O LORD, my God, you have made me your servant, king to succeed my father David; but I am a mere youth, not knowing at all how to act. . . Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong. For who is able to govern this vast people of yours?"
The LORD was pleased thst Solomon made this request. God said to him: "Because you have asked for this --  not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies,  but for understanding so that you may know what is right -- I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now." -- [1Kings 3:5, 7-12].

Wisdom is in short supply, today.

What passes for governance by Wisdom is actually no more than an attitude of "I am RIGHT, and you are wrong. SO I win and you lose." With this self-centered version of Wisdom, we ALL lose.

No, I am not taking sides, here. I see this narcissistic version of Wisdom on both sides of the political aisle. The only winners are those who take down the opposition. Meanwhile, we are a nation with no defensible borders, no viable healthcare, a military with planes that don't fly and service members who refuse to die for each other because they judge who the other soldiers claim to be.

In my family, my parents spent an inordinate amount of time defending why the World was wrong but they were RIGHT. ---But, why were THEY- so very faulty and human- the Arbiters of All?

In this Scripture, we see that Wisdom comes from God, not from Man. The great ruler and king, Solomon, is humble enough to realize that he often does not know how to act. He himself does not define the universe of Wisdom, by decree or by human law.

We also see that Wisdom is the ability "to distinguish right from wrong." What is Right is NOT what is expedient at the moment. Nor is it "all relative". There is a principle of Wisdom that is enduring and even Divine.

Wisdom also comes from "an understanding heart." The Heart of Wisdom is compassion, empathy, even Love. And God IS Love.

If it does not come from God, and it is not Love, how can it be Wisdom?

My parents spent a vast amount of time and effort gathering, hoarding and counting up riches. They thought they were smarter, quicker, stronger than anyone else. Their philosophy was, 'To the victor go the spoils. All others are on their own.' At its extreme, this philosophy means 1) that if you have few resources, you are to be derided in your weakness; 2) that there is no reason to share any resources, because the poor "did it to themselves. If they wanted to be richer, they would accomplish that."; and 3) that we have responsibility only for ourselves, not for each other.

My parents spent a lot of time feeling superior to others because of their access to medical care and nutritious food. They felt sure that because of what THEY did, they would have a long, healthy life. They did not realize that they occupied this life only at God's will. Until, one early spring morning, my father woke up, drank his coffee and fell over, dead. He thought he had all the answers. But, if you look at a life like Solomon's, what my dad needed was not all the Answers, but the humility to pose all the Questions.

In the end, Wisdom is an understanding Heart. This is what is missing today. There IS no coming together our World, there is only a splitting apart. Sin is disunity, it is idolization of Self over God, over Community and Love.

In my family, there was no Love. No Love was ever expressed. No Love was ever shown. Once you suffer that deficit of childhood Love, it is almost impossible to gain it back. That Love, stored deep within the Heart, is the Treasure which you seek endlessly, but can never grasp.

Solomon was so very right to pray for Wisdom. For Wisdom is "an understanding Heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong." And THAT is a precious Blessing, indeed.

[Related Posting: "Prayer for Wisdom", 7/23/11; "Precious Wisdom, 10/15/12; "Mysterious Wisdom", 2/12/17 ].

(C) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Inexpressible Spirit

" Brothers and sisters:  The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes with inexpressible groaning.  And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because He intercedes for the holy ones according to God's will." -[ Romans 8: 26-27].

Prayer is -- or should be-- a regular part of the life of Faith.

I grew up in a "nominally Christian" home. Yes, we attended church each Sunday, and we called ourselves Christians.

But as soon as my grandparents had both died, my parents stopped taking us to church. When I asked to go to church, my mother told me, "We don't do that any longer."

We were like the "the seed sown on rocky ground. . . who hears the word and receives it at once with Joy. But he has no root and lasts only a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the Word, he falls away. [OR like] the seed sown among thorns. . . who hears the Word but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the Word and it bears no fruit." --[ Matthew 13: 1-23].

I was never very certain of why we quit going to church? Maybe because, when my grandmother was so forlorn after my grandmother's death, she blamed God, and she died of a broken heart. Maybe my mother bitterly blamed God, too?

Or, maybe once my parents reached a certain financial comfort in the World, they thought they did not need God. I know that they spent a lot of time mocking faithful Christians, gossiping that these Christians were hypocrites because the were the GREATEST sinners; OR, that these Christians were so lame, they could do nothing on their own, and in their weakness were childishly dependent on God.

It was my grandmother who taught me to pray. She would sneak in the nightly Our Father with us, if she was minding my brother and me for an overnight visit. At first, I felt foolish and self-conscious.

When I became a teen, I confess, I began to believe as my parents did: that I had so much going for me, and life was pretty conquerable, so why did I need God?

It was only when I became an adult, a wife and mother, that life began to weigh on me. My own parents had died, I had to settle their affairs, my husband needed me to keep things rolling along at home with our young son and our home. A best girlfriend became seriously ill with cancer and she lost the battle. She left behind a husband and two young children. It all became too much for me to handle. The world had turned upside down.

I went to the pastor of our church and told him, ' Everything is confused and in the "wrong place". I don't know which end is up. I have never felt this way before. I think I need to get closer to God, but I don't know how.'

Now, I know that there is a joke about the Catholic who goes to his priest for advice; and the priest says, "Say three Our Fathers and five Hail Mary's, and call me in the morning."

Yes, Catholics pray their memorized prayers. But we also simply "Talk to God." This is exactly what my pastor told me to do. I said to him, "I was never raised in the church, I don't know all those Catholic prayers." He reassured me, "Just talk to God."

So every day, I sat in our church, in the alcove near the Tabernacle.  I poured my heart out-- my fears, my hopes, my tears.

When I went back to see the pastor, he was pleased. He said, "I see you here at the church just about every day praying near the Tabernacle ." Then, he told me to be confident to pray during the day, as events unfold.

I asked, "Can an emotion be a prayer?" He replied, "Yes".  I asked,  "Can a fear or a worry be a prayer?" He said, "Yes."

What I was getting at was that, sometimes I did not even know what specific intention to pray for.  All I knew was that I was upset or confused and I needed reassurance or wisdom. This is what Romans 8:26-27 means when it says, "For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes with inexpressible groaning. And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit."

All we need to do is to cry out to God, and the Spirit (the Advocate, the Teacher, the Counsellor) will intercede for us.

Once, not too long ago, I was praying in the chapel, and a woman came in and knelt beside me. I had seen her before at church but I didn't know her. I didn't even know her name. We introduced ourselves, and she asked me to pray her special intention FOR her. Then, she promised to pray for ME.

I stammered, "But I don't know you! I don't know what your troubles are."

She touched her hand to my arm, and told me, "You don't have to know mine, and I don't have to know yours. The Spirit knows and that is more than enough."

And so, we prayed together.

[Related Posting: "Ask", 7/24/16;  "The Progression of Prayer", 7/29/2013.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Fruitful Seed

"Hear then, the parable of the sower. The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the Word of the Kingdom without understanding it, and the evil one comes and steals away what was sown in his heart. The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the Word and receives it at once with Joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time. When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the Word, he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the Word, but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the Word and it bears no fruit. But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the Word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit. . ." -[Matthew 13: 1-23.]

In ancient Biblical times, society was largely agrarian. Every man and woman knew where their food came from, and knew that they were dependent upon seeds being sown in rich soil, or there would be no fruit, no harvest.

In this parable, the sower is Jesus, or God. And the seed is the Word of God.

We have all known people who had every advantage in life, but they are unhappy and they have fallen into deceit, abuse, jealousy, rage and cunning, hatred, greed, and strife.

We have to ask ourselves why?

I think of my own parents, who resembled the example of the Seed sown among thorns. My parents were intensely preoccupied with how much money and valuable possessions they had, relative to others who were neighbors, friends, co-workers. Certainly, one could spend an entire lifetime competing for more money, working, hoarding, striving, counting the pennies and dimes, stingily doling out pennies for food, for church donations, for charity.

My parents each had relatives -- mother, grandmother -- who were devoutly faithful. These women believed in the Bible, read the Bible, lived the Bible. And they taught their children about the Christian Way.

The Christian Way is simply this: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind." This seed of Christianity was planted in the Old Testament in Deuteronomy 6: 4-5.

What Jesus has given us is the Second Great Commandment, which is "Love your neighbor as yourself." --[Matthew 22 36-40].

In Deuteronomy 6, Moses hears the Lord tell him: " Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise."  

The saddest homily I have ever heard is when my pastor spoke of anguished parents who came to him, saying that they had taught their children about the Love of God and of neighbor. But that their children did not follow what they had been taught.

There is a big misconception about Christianity and that is, that we are sheep, and we "blindly follow" what we have been told about our Faith. Not so!

God is so generous, that He allows us Free Will to follow Him, and His Word, with an open heart -- Or not.

There are egregious examples of this -- such as how my own parents heard the Word from their mother or grandmother, and yet they never lived out that Love. They never hugged me or said, "I love you." Nor did they show me love. They did not feed me consistently, they left my serious medical condition untreated for years, they allowed me to endure verbal and physical abuse at the hands of a relative. They were preoccupied with their standing in society and with building up their wealth.

It is wholly wrong to blame Christianity or God for this! My family heard the Word, yet made a choice to focus on "worldly anxiety and the lure of riches." The seed of Love planted within them had no chance.

Similarly,  there are those who blame God for their "tribulation or persecution." These are folks who don't realize that God gave all of us Free Will to EITHER descend into Evil, OR to pick ourselves up and love Him and others no matter what our circumstances.

Perhaps, when a person with shallow Faith is buffeted by misfortune, he resorts to retaliation. Once, I had a pastor say to me, "Do you want to reject Jesus because your Life did not turn out as you had hoped?" [Ouch!]

In 1 Thessalonians 12: 15-22, Paul preaches: "Do not repay Evil for Evil. . . Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances;  . . . . Do not quench the Spirit. . . . abstain from every form of Evil."

If an ill wind in life blows over us, and thereby we abandon our Faith and our Lord so readily, how deeply rooted is that Faith? If the Sin that God warns us about washes over us like a tidal wave, why do we blame God? If we have such deep troubles from someone raining evil down upon us, why do we plot to do it back?

It is very disturbing to have family, who have made such wrong choices-- especially if we are the ones bearing the effects of their wrong behavior, on a daily basis. But I don't blame God for that. I do pray on a regular basis for those family members of mine who rejected God and His Love. It haunts me to think of where they are now, after their passing. But they did what they did, and that is all in God's hands now.

The sower sows his seed upon ALL of us. We ALL have the same chance to soften our hearts, to love others, to reap a more peaceful and loving life.

"For He makes His sun to rise on both the evil and the good, and He sends rain on the just and the unjust." --[Matthew 5: 45.]

[Related Posting: "The Evil Seed", 5/24/13; "The Bountiful Seed", 7/14/14.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Finding Rest

" Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light." --[Matthew 11: 25-30].

My teen son is nearing the end of his years in high school. I notice that when he approaches his school work, some of the work-- such as Math and History -- seems like so much drudgery. In other subjects, such as Music and Science, he does work very hard, but the work for him is so joyful, that it does not seem like work at all.

This is what Jesus means when he says that the yoke is easy. Yes, the "oxen" are still pulling the plow, but with our gifts from Jesus, and with the Peace and understanding from Jesus inside us, the work becomes a passionate pursuit.

In my family growing up, work was a source of anxiety. Not believing in any Higher Power, my family believed in the Worship of Human Endeavor.  IF they succeeded at something, it was all because of their own strength and individual talents. BUT, IF they failed at anything, they blamed themselves bitterly. What had begun as an objective work-project became a subjective field of self-blame, self-condemnation and guilt. This trip down Anxiety Lane leads directly to depression, angst and loss of confidence.

Their work was also a big source of competition --  Who had more money? Who was more successful? Whose house/country home/boat was more expensive, more lavish, more impressive? What had begun as the honest integrity of hard work became jealousy, bitterness, and feelings of personal failure.

Work also was a big source of parental pressure. My work and grades, and those of my brother's, reflected on my parents' worth, or so they believed. Once in high school, my brother and I each received an A-,  on a school project or an essay. To which my mother reacted, with steely-eyed determination: "Next time, you WILL get an "A".  What had begun as simple homework, had become parental rejection and emotional abuse.

In my family, my brother and I were expected to be at least as successful than my parents -- if not more so. Work was a MIGHTY Yoke, as my brother and I worked in fear that our success would not measure up. Our greatest fear was in being a Failure, not only in Society's eyes, but even more -- in our parents' eyes. Our work, far from being a passion, kept us up at night, afraid over the next raise promotion, leadership on a project, and so forth.

The source of all that Fear, Rejection, Verbal Abuse, Anxiety, Depression, Jealousy, Bitterness, Angst and Lack of Confidence? The source of all that is Secular Society's formula for Success.

In America, the Dream is a mansion, an expensive car, private school for the children who will assuredly be top students, country club membership, exotic vacations, and a beautiful spouse. In America, Success means that you take "One from Column A", "One from Column B", and so forth. Success in the secular sense is a Formula.

It is considered Un-American, if not down-right crazy, to claim that you do not even want any of these things. Or that, Happiness is found elsewhere.

For me, I have had Money. And I have had Love. I would rather have Love.

For me, I have relied totally upon myself, to achieve the most in Life, and I have been anxious, depressed, stressed and jealous. I would rather seek Patience, Contentment, Peace, Generosity, Faithfulness, Love and Self-control.

It is far from easy to define these qualities as "Success" these days. Not with the constant bombardment of social media feeding our insecurities; and the relentless onslaught of advertisements offering up our Failures, and shilling products that will supposedly transform us overnight.

I am NOT whole and perfect, in and of myself. I need a Higher Power to complete me, to show me the way, past my faults and insecurities to a place where I am stronger, more peaceful, more loving, more patient, more joyful.

I need to lean on Jesus, and to learn from Him, who is "meek and humble of heart." There, I shall find my Rest.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Welcoming the Stranger

"One day, Elisha came to Shunem, where there was a woman of influence, who urged him to dine with her. Afterward, whenever he passed by, he used to stop there to dine. So, she said to her husband, 'I know that Elisha is a holy man of God. Since he visits us often, let us arrange a little room on the roof and furnishing for him with a bed, table, chair, and lamp, so that when he comes to us he can stay there.' Sometime later, Elisha arrived and stayed in the room overnight.
Later, Elisha asked, 'Can something be done for her?' His servant Gehazi answered, 'Yes! She has no son, and her husband is getting on in years.' Elisha said, 'Call her.' When the woman had been called and stood at the door, Elisha promised, 'This time next year, you will be fondling a bad son.' " -[ 2 Kings 4: 8-11, 14-16A].

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a Catholic himself, used to joke that there really wasn't a Catholic way to do everything. For example, Scalia said that there is no "Catholic way" to barbecue a hamburger!

And so, I would NOT say that there is a Christian/Catholic way to decorate our homes. BUT, if there is a specifically Christian home, it is in a way that is comfortable and welcoming to everyone, including strangers.

In this Scripture, a woman provides Elisha a simple bed, a table, a chair and a lamp. Whether you live in a big home or a small apartment, it is simple to furnish your residence with a table for dining, a comfortable chair, a lamp and a place to rest.

Welcoming the Stranger figures prominently in the Bible. In Genesis 18, Abraham sits at the entrance of his tent and sees "three men".  Abraham welcomes them, bows to the ground, has water fetched, and commands his wife Sarah to make bread. It turns out that the three men are angels!

In 1 Kings 17, the widow of Zarephath encounters Elijah who is traveling. Elijah asks for some water and a piece of bread. The widow replies that she has only "a handful of flour in the bowl and a little oil in the jar; and behold, I am gathering a few sticks that I may go in and prepare for me and my son, that we may eat it and die [that I am so impoverished]."

Elisha, a holy man of God, tells her, "Do not fear; go, do as you have said. . . For thus says the Lord God of Israel, 'The bowl of flour shall not be exhausted, nor shall the jar of oil be empty, until the day that the Lord sends rain on the face of the earth [and ends the drought]."

And of course, the bowl of flour that shall not be exhausted prefigures the Eucharist, which confers the Body of Christ, the Bread that is everlasting.

In the Gospel of Matthew 10: 37-42, Jesus says, "Whoever receives YOU, receives ME." In other words, receiving the Stranger means receiving Jesus!

Also, "Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet, will receive a prophet's reward." In other words, the widow of Zarephath in giving all that she has remaining to welcome Elisha, receives the reward of an endless bowl of flour, until the drought terminates.

When I was a child, I grew up in a cruel and abusive home. I relied on the kindness of Strangers to feed me, to give me rides to school in the snow and rain, to treat me lovingly, to give me milk and cookies, and warm soup, and bread and butter.

I remember every single kindness of these neighbors, teachers and even strangers!

What does pain me, though, is what Jesus says in Matthew: "And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because the little one is [also] a disciple -- amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward."

What pains me here, dear friends, is that whatever it is that my family did unto me -- physical neglect, verbal abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, emotional blackmail, medical neglect, sexual abuse -- THESE my family did unto Jesus Himself! [cf: Matthew 25: 36, "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat."].

Truly, I suffered; and I did not retaliate, so that in my bitterness, I would become just like them. No, I turned the other cheek and I bore it all and tried to love them. And so, in my sacrifice, I am the one of whom Jesus speaks when He says, "Whoever loses his life for my sake, will find it."

Remember this, friends-- Welcoming the Stranger is much, much more than hospitality, home decorating, cooking, or staging a party. . . When we welcome the Stranger, we might just be entertaining Angels! ["Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so, some people have entertained angels without knowing it." -- Hebrews 13:2].

Welcoming the Stranger is life-giving. It is life-saving. For, it IS Love.

[Related Posting: "The Kindness of Strangers", 7/5/13].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.