Monday, November 27, 2017

I Was Hungry

" Jesus said to His disciples. 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for the least brothers of mine, you did for me. . . For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison and you did not care for me. Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for these least ones, you did not do for me.'  " -- [Matthew 25: 31-46].

I grew up in a house where we had plenty of food but where, if I could not choke down the stale food I was fed, my father would instruct my mother, "Do NOT feed her." Not even a bowl of cold cereal or a scrap of toast.

I grew up in a house where, if I told my parents that I was cold, they would not allow me to fetch a sweater. I was told, "It is not cold."

I grew up in a house where, when I was five, I would tell my mother that I was tired and that I needed a nap; but, I was told, "You are five.  . . too old for naps. You are not tired."

At five, I found myself looking for food, putting myself down for naps, and sitting on the radiator to keep warm.

Why, then, was I so shocked, when I went to university over a thousand miles from home, and I was the victim of a violent crime, so violent that I nearly died-- that my mother told me I would be "a failure" if I came home for physical and emotional recovery?

I was left so injured that it was hard to get out of bed. I could not cook meals for myself. I was sleeping very little in the aftermath. I stayed home from classes for two weeks and got very behind in my school work.

Why was I so shocked that I was left alone and injured, with no family to care for my very real needs? This situation I was in was merely the end stage of the abuse and neglect I had suffered my entire life.

I remember at times looking out my apartment window, wondering if there was anyone out there who could possibly care about me? It just so happened that I lived right next door to a convent. On Sunday afternoons, I would see the nuns in the convent garden, in their black habits, walking arm in arm on a sunny day. I thought, if I became desperate, would I knock on their gate and ask for help?

But I didn't have to! You see, a miracle happened. I was in my first year of classes and barely knew my classmates, but word got around and I received so much help -- meals, offers to stay over with classmates until sleep returned at night, classmates who took notes in class for me, rides to appointments.

Years later, I can still look back and say that the simplest gestures meant the difference for me between life-robbing despair and a new hope for the future. These smallest acts in fact ensured my survival.

There is a cliche today about "Paying it Forward". But, this notion of loving others because of how you have been loved, is actually Biblical.

I feel nothing but deep sadness at the thought that, when my family treated me that way, they were doing these things TO Jesus Himself.

But I cannot dwell on that.

Today, even on days when I probably am the one needing help myself, I try to help others. I give encouragement. I hold the door for someone. I reach an item on a shelf for a fellow shopper at the market.  I bake a pie and give half the pie to a neighbor who does not cook.

On days I feel strong, I volunteer at my church. I go to a Prayer Group and pray for others. I help a neighbor with her garden.

I have learned that even at times when we are not so strong, we can always give, even in a small way.

I have learned that what seems a small gesture to me, may be a matter of survival to the one on the receiving end of a kindness.

I have learned that, as one who has received a lifetime dose of feeling invisible, someone simply greeting me by name is a bigger thrill than anyone could imagine. ((A hug is even better! ))

I have learned that if you do not care for--  or about- - others in small ways, then the end result surely will become overarching, abject cruelty on a large scale.

The seeds which you plant, whether Love or Hate, become huge and systemic. Even mere indifference is too harsh a stance for me. Martin Luther King said, "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter."

I choose Love.

[Related Posting: [ "The Good Samaritan", 7/13/13].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 20, 2017

The Five Talents

" Jesus told His disciples this parable:
'A man going on a journey called in his servants and entrusted his possessions to them. To one, he gave five talents; to another, two; to a third, one -- to each according to his ability. Then he went away. Immediately, the one who received five talents went and traded with them, and made another five. Likewise, the ones who received one went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master's money. After a long time, the master of those servants came back and settled accounts with them. [The master said to the first two], 'Well done, my good and faithful servant. Since you were faithful in small maters, I will give you great responsibilities. Come, share your master's joy.'
[But the one who had received one talent buried it in the ground out of fear.] His master said to him, 'You wicked, lazy servant! Should you not have put my money in the bank so that I could have got it back with interest on my return? Now, then! Take the talent from him and give it to the one with ten. And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside.' " --[Matthew 25: 14-30].

In this parable, a Master entrusts all that he has with his servants. He goes away, having to trust and believe that the servants will wisely manage the wealth which he has given them.

The Master in this Scripture passage is God. And WE are His servants, the recipients of many gifts and talents.

In our earthly world, we measure each other by how gifted we are. We seem to give greater value to whoever has more talents. But here, God simply gives to each, according to his ability. He treats each servant the same way, expecting them each to do his best with what he has.

And, we seem to believe in this world that we can be or do anything we want to. Many ignore the fact that our gifts come, not from ourselves, but from God.

When I observe someone with many talents, I praise -- not HIM, but God.

Then I ask, How is that person using her gifts?

I know that members of my family used their talents to make as much money as they could. Then, they were not very generous with sharing that plenitude with others. They criticized others who were not as talented, blaming them for being losers and takers.

But God the Master says, everyone must put whatever talents they possess to work. God also says, To everyone who utilizes his God-given talents, He will give more responsibility.

And yet, my family resented those with fewer talents, saying, 'WHY should I help them? They should help themselves.'

As a little girl, I was bullied for being so smart. This made me become very quiet. I did not want to make others feel bad if they were not quite as smart. I didn't want to be criticized for something that I could not help, which were the gifts given to me by God.

I wanted to bury my talents. But the person I should have been worried about was NOT my classmate or my peers. The Person I needed to please was only God.

Some may say, 'But, I have such small talents!'

To that I say, I am smart and educated. But I am only a housewife.  And yet, I knit hats and scarves for the homeless. I write inspiring words. With my rich vocabulary, I encourage and uplift others. I bake some extra bread or cookies which I share with neighbors who do not cook. I tend my flower garden and give bright flowers to neighbors who need some cheer. I bake for bake sales.

I realize that when I was trying to bury my talents, I was really being rude and ungrateful to the God who gave me such beautiful gifts.

I realize that if I am jealous that my gifts are not like others' gifts, that I am really questioning God's wisdom.

I realize that if I praise another human being for being responsible alone for his breathtaking talents, then I am really giving God no credit at all.

I realize that if someone uses their talents for Evil, then that is an ugly distortion of God's Will for us -- His Will for us to use our talents for Good in this world.

And when I resent that I have so very much responsibility, I try to remember that God gives more talents and more responsibility to those whom He can trust in smaller matters.

So, when God trusts me with much, I say, "God? With Your help, I've GOT this!"

[Related Posting: "Burying My Talents", 11/13/11; "Talents from God", 11/19/14].

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Inconsistent Light

" Jesus told His disciples this parable:
'The Kingdom of Heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to see the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones, when taking their lamps, brought no oil with them, but the wise brought flasks of oil with their lamps.
Since the bridegroom was long delayed, they all became drowsy and fell asleep. At midnight there was a cry, 'Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!' Then all the virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' The wise ones replied, 'No, for there may not be enough for us and you. Go instead to the merchants and buy some for yourselves.' While they went off, the bridegroom came and those who were ready went into the wedding feast with him. Then the door was locked. Afterwards, the other virgins came and said, "Lord, Lord, open the door for us!' But he said in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, I do not know you. Therefore, stay awake, for you know neither the day nor the hour.' "--[ Matthew 25: 1-13].

My parents identified themselves as Christians. If you had said to them that maybe they were Jewish, or Buddhist or Hindu? -- they would have been baffled and would have even argued with you.

We went to church weekly, at least until I was 14. I was baptized and Confirmed and received my First Communion.

Every Sunday after church, we all went to my grandparents' house for a big Sunday dinner. Every year, we put up a huge Christmas tree, and sang Christmas Carols. We ate ham for Easter, and enjoyed an Easter egg hunt with the cousins.

But this parable makes clear that being a Christian means more than carrying around an empty lamp. Christians shine their Light on others. They do this consistently.

There has been a lot in the news lately about famous celebrities, people in power behaving vastly differently behind closed doors. They may go through all the motions of their Faith, going to church or synagogue, observing their denomination's rituals, celebrating the religious holidays. In public, they are respected and even idolized.

It was this way in my family. In public, they drove newer cars, wore fine clothes, kept an immaculate yard, dressed my sibling and me in adorable clothes, sent us to the finest schools. My family was respected and admired.

But the shades to our house were always drawn. My mother would tell me, "What happens in this house stays in the four walls of this house."  What was happening was rage, drunkenness, hatred, racism, envy, physical, emotional and all other kinds of abuse. They did to believe in God. They never said they loved me. They did not show it, either.

They were a people like those spoken of in 2 Timothy 3: 1-4: " [They] will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous [speaking lies about others], without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God-- having a 'form of godliness' but denying its power."

People such as these are not full of Life, they are a living Death. Their Light is snuffed out, darkness envelopes them.

Even as a girl, I always tried to model Love and Light by doing good deeds, being patient and kind, walking away from their abusive acts. But this Light never seemed to rub off on them.

My father reminds me of the servant in Matthew 24: 48 -- "Suppose that the servant is wicked and says to himself, 'My Master [God] is staying away a long time, and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The Master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites."

One early spring day, my father awoke, had a cup of coffee, collapsed and died of a massive heart attack.

My first reaction was shock. Then, I tried to go confess to my parish priest all that my father had done. Week after week, I returned to tell him what my father had done. I told my priest that I hoped that God would have some mercy on my father? The priest told me, "It doesn't work that way, you cannot confess the sins of another, expecting that other person to be absolved."

In the same way, the ten wise virgins could not light the lamps of the foolish ones. The foolish ones had the chance to shine their Light for the bridegroom, but they did not. We cannot directly create a light and a relationship with God FOR someone else. We can model that behavior, but we cannot do it for them.

In the end, the bridegroom shuts out the unprepared virgins. He declares, "I do not even know you." Chilling words. . . .

But, if we treat God and Jesus as if we do not know them, how do we expect them to react to us?

[Related Postings : "The Seamless Christian", 12/2/12/]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Is Humility Obsolete?

" The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. . . All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries [Scripture boxes], and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation 'Rabbi'.  As for you . . . you have but one teacher, and you are all brothers. You have one Master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted." --[Matthew 23: 1-12].

Humility has been defined as "modesty", "meekness", even "unassertiveness".

And yet, I have heard a priest define "Humility" as recognizing that everything we have comes from God.  

People who don't understand Humility misperceive it as a lack of confidence, or being down on yourself. In fact, as C.S. Lewis said, "True humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less."

Humility is one of the traditional Fruits of the Holy Spirit. That is, if we live in communion with what the Advocate teaches us, in accordance with the Gifts of the Holy Spirit -(Wisdom, Understanding, Prudence, Fortitude, Knowledge, Reverence and Awe), we will reap the Gifts of the Holy Spirit -- one of which is Humility.

I have seen the burgeoning use of the Internet in my lifetime. Yes, Social Media executives have touted the "transparency" of Social Media. And it is true, that under the microscope of Social Media, we have managed to "out" many bad actors, from heads of state to celebrities.

But the widespread use of the Internet has also unleashed a superficial side. We have "manufactured celebrities", now. Their faces, and the details of their lives, have been blasted far and wide. But we are hard-pressed to identify what beneficial works they have contributed to our world.

As a child, my family repeated the Myth that we were "superior" in every way. We were English, after all. Educated. We lived in a leafy suburb. We were not poor. We dressed beautifully. We had impressive vocabularies. Family members had jobs with big titles. We drove nice cars. We went to church dressed in fancy clothes.

You would think that I would have "bought" that Myth, swallowed it whole.  Instead, in a way, I rebelled. This Myth propelled me to want to know all sorts of people -- the Italian family who lived in a two story house around the corner; the Jewish family with the black standard poodle, who lived next door; the the black custodian at our church who came to my grandmother's house to help with the heavy housework like waxing the floors and washing the windows; the kid in my fifth grade class whose dad was a prominent local rabbi.

I wasn't any better -- or any worse -- than anyone else.

As I grew up, I hated it when people told me things about myself that I had nothing to do with. "Oh, you're so smart", as if that is something I had DONE. No, whatever intellectual gifts I had came from God.

"Oh, your family as money." Well, that was not anything I had DONE. It did not make me better than anyone -- OR worse. It was an "accident of birth".

"Oh, you have such beautiful thick hair." Again, I was born with this. It did not "make me so great".

And if I DO act generously or compassionately or with piety, I have no hidden agenda. I have had people say to me, "NOBODY is THAT nice."  I am loving and generous to others, because I want to be. I do not expect anything in return. I am not "showing off". I don't need my name on any plaque or bulletin announcement.

Today, I am teaching my son to be the same person, whether out in public or behind closed doors. I don't want him to appear spectacular on the outside, but harbor a greed, a superiority, an intolerance or  an ugliness on the inside.

Oh, how God hates Hypocrisy!  I think of the times when we found out how truly ugly a person was on the inside, when he used to have a truly stellar reputation -- that kind of Betrayal hurts the entire community.

I teach my son that we don't choose our actions based on impressing anyone.  We don't boast about how much we give to charity or about the number of people we help. We give Love, we give generously, and we give quietly.

For it is God who knows who we are in our hearts. And He is the One counts the most, in matters of the Heart.

[Related Posting: "The Seamless Christian", 12/2/12].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2017. All Rights Reserved.