Monday, December 17, 2018

Two Cloaks

"The crowds asked John the Baptist, 'What should we do?' He said to them in reply, 'Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none. And whoever has food should do likewise.' Even tax collectors came to be baptized and they said to him, 'Teacher, what should we do?' He answered them 'Stop collecting more than what is prescribed.' " -[Luke 3: 10-18].

John the Baptist came before Jesus, and he was a prophet who foretold Jesus' coming. John the Baptist said, "I am baptizing you with water, but One mightier that I is coming. I am not worthy to loosen the thongs of His sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." -[ Luke 3:16].

The constant presence of fire signaling the presence of God began in the Old Testament, with the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments, writ upon a stone tablet and handed down to Moses, were the embodiment of God and His Word.

It was God who commanded Moses in Sinai regarding how to construct the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was a box of acacia wood, plated with gold. It had rings at the four corners, which encircled the poles used to carry the Ark on four men's shoulders.

The tablet was stored in the Ark of the Covenant. The sacred tablet traveled with Moses and his Chosen People wherever they went. Exodus 13:20-22 reports, "The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light. . . The pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night did not depart from before the people."

Even in Exodus 6: 7, God tells His people, "I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God." In other words, in Covenant and in actual presence, God never leaves our side.

In this Scripture in Luke, Joh the Baptist explains that by dousing followers in water, he is washing away their sins. But, when Jesus comes, He will baptize you with fire.

This fire is the Holy Spirit, the Being and presence of Jesus after His crucifixion, death and Ascension. Jesus Himself explained that the Holy Spirit is the Advocate, by reassuring His disciples, "If you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever- the Spirit of Truth. The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans. . . . If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching." -[John 14: 15-23].

Of course, John the Baptist spoke indirectly, and the people were confused. They had not witnessed the whole of Jesus' life; in fact, Jesus had not even appeared yet. And so the people asked, "Now, what should we do?"

It seems that John's advice was so utterly simple. But I have been around people my whole life who had no understanding of "What To Do."

When I was growing upas a small girl, I was cold, and I asked my mother for a sweater. But she told me, "You are not cold!" And she did not allow me the key to go inside and fetch a sweater. And when I was fed 4-day old food, I was told, "Eat this, we will give you nothing else."

Jesus' teachings are to love one another. Simple as that. We had sweaters in our house, but I was not allowed a sweater, and so I shivered. We had fresh food in our house, but I was forced to eat stale food, and so I went hungry because my father said, "Do NOT feed her."

The Spirit of Truth is not a mystical, unapproachable doctrine. The Truth is God's Word, and the basis of God's Word is to "Love one's neighbor as oneself."

The Truth is no farther than one's own lips and hands and daily activities. It is told in Deuteronomy 30:14, "But the Word is very near you, in your mouth and in your heart, so that you may obey it."

The Truth is NOT the greed in our modern, industrialized society, in how we show off, and count up,  how many cashmere sweaters we own, how many designer boots, or pieces of jewelry. The Truth IS when we have two cloaks and we give one away.

The Truth is when we have food, and we share with our neighbors, who don't have enough means to make it through the end of the month, and so, they go hungry.

The Truth is NOT using our greater power to extort or intimidate or crush those who have less. People who do this are not "winners" or more "successful".  They do not speak the Truth, they egregiously lie with the falsity of greed, abuse of power, and temporal worldly gain.

And Love is the surest path to Joy! St. Paul, in Ephesians, says, "Rejoice in the Lord always. I say it again: Rejoice! Your kindness should be known to all. The Lord is near. Have no anxiety at all."

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

[Related Postings: "The Voice of One", 12/5/16;  "The Relevance of Baptism", 1/12/15; "Baptized With the Holy Spirit", 1/11/13; "Prepare the Way", 12/10/12 ].


Monday, December 10, 2018

Off Script

"Brothers and sisters: I pray always with joy in my every prayer for all of you, because of your partnership for the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work in you will continue to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ. . . And this is my prayer: that your love may increase ever more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value. . ." -[Philippians 1:4-6, 8-11].

My son wonders why I worry so much about him?  I tell him that, "Worry is the province of motherhood (and fatherhood)."  I don't fret over him because I want to script his life or control his every waking moment.

I want him to have a good life, not one fraught with recklessness or poor judgment. A life of Joy, and of discovering his gifts, to be employed for the sheer delight in it. . . but also a life of exercising those gifts for the benefit of others.

Just when I feel slightly guilty or foolish about all these motherly concerns, I remember that these are the things that God wants for my son, for me, and for all of US.

I am all too capable of becoming too anxious over my son's progress. I think this stems from the lack of Faith in my family growing up. I was taught that there is no God, that we are solely responsible for ourselves. If something negative happens in life, it is all our own fault. And the only person who will dig us out of that hole is . . ourselves.

The presumptions in this world view are inspiring, yes. We can strive and work and progress, and each person is limited by only their own individual efforts and talents.

But, the hidden message in these presumptions is that if you find yourself in serious trouble, it is your own fault for landing there. And no one will help you dig yourself out.

I cannot live in a world where everything is humanly possible but where you "deserve exactly what you get." I want a world where there IS a God, and where He wants the best for us. I want a world where all things are possible, not just because of my human effort, but also because of God's Divine guidance.

I say "guidance" because God expects us to be active and to use our God-given efforts and talents. People misperceive Christians as helpless folks who sit around waiting for God to make all things happen.

But as much as we work and strive and finagle, we humans are a faulty, weak lot, given to mistakes, failures, ego and frustrated efforts. I am not big enough, strong enough to hold up the world. I need God to fill in my blanks, to complete me.

I was talking to another mom recently and I said that my son, now 18, has completed the expected stages in life. He has rolled over, sat up, crawled, walked, learned to feed and dress himself, learned to read, to swim, to ride a bike, has learned long division and learned to fish and use a computer. All of these developmental stages are like a script for a young life. By six months, they sit up, by nine months they crawl, by 12 months they walk.

Now he is 18 and in university. And there is no script! And he is away from home much of the time! How do I know if he is still progressing? And what does "progressing" even mean? What does he study? Who is he friends with? How does he spend his free time? What will his future be?

The other mom told me, "Now is when God comes in. And Faith. God leads our children on a suggested path. It is up to your son to 'talk to God' and walk the walk."

Then a third mom chimed in. She quoted Philippians 1:6 - "God, who began a good work in you, will carry it to completion." In other words, God's intent is never to begin a good work in his children and then let it drop.

Believing in God's best intentions for us and having Faith that His Love will guide us is what has given me comfort, when I am anxious about how incomplete I feel, or how worried I feel about my shortcomings, or about the uncertainties of my son's future.

What I pray for my son is this: "I am confident of this, that the One who began a good work in you will continue to complete it. And this is my prayer: That your Love may increase more and more in knowledge and every kind of perception, to discern what is of value, and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ."

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Be Vigilant

" Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the Earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man." - [Luke 21: 34-36].

During Advent, we wait in joyful hope for the birth of the baby Jesus.

In these times of terrorism, dire predictions of the end game of climate change, roiling masses of displaced people attempting to migrate yet being turned away, lies masquerading as Truth, self-absorption, greed, and abuse or power -- Aren't we all ready to say, "Bring it ON! Let Jesus come - Sooner rather than later" ?

We know that we will be judged on our personal Final Judgment, when we die. But as Christians we also know, that Jesus is also promised to come at the End of Time.

We know that when we are judged, whether when we die, or upon the Second Coming, "Those who have done right shall rise to Life; the evildoers shall rise to be damned." -[ John 5:29].

There are those who proclaim with certainty when the End of Time will come. But that is just as foolish as claiming that we know or can foretell the day or hour of our own death! We cannot predict with any accuracy when we will die, nor when Jesus will come again at His Second Coming.

I do not believe that this uncertainty is a prescription for Fear. No, I do not believe in a God who wants us to be anxious or afraid every hour of the day and night. Every time we say the Our Father, we repeat: "We wait in JOYFUL HOPE for the coming of our Savior Jesus Christ."

The "epilogue" to the Lord's Prayer says: "Deliver us, Lord, from every evil, and grant us peace in our day. In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety as we wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ."

 Christians do believe in an ultimate Justice that will overcome all the evil in this world. So often have I despaired, like the author of Psalm 73, saying, "I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They scoff and speak with malice; in their arrogance, they threaten oppression. This is what the wicked are like - always carefree, they increase in wealth."

Yes, there are times of earthly justice, such as instances when an abuser receives 99 times 99 years in prison; or when a man who cheats people out of their life savings goes bankrupt with fines and goes to prison for the rest of his life.

Sometimes, cynically, we wait for this earthly justice and it doesn't happen. A secularist would say, "Well, that wicked man got away with it. He did evil all his life, then he died. He will never pay the price" Well, maybe in this life. . .

But at our Final Judgment, and at the Second Coming, "Our Lord will judge us accordingly. Each person will have to account for his conduct. How well each person has responded to the prompting of God's grace will be made clear. Our attitude and actions toward our neighbor will reflect how well we have loved our Lord." - [Father William Saunders]. . . because whatever we have done to the least among us, we do TO Jesus. -[Matthew 25: 41].

It is as if the evil ones have already grabbed all the riches and comfort for themselves in this life, so they will be denied those in the next life. Father Saunders says, "Those who have rejected the Lord in this life, who have no remorse for sin and do not seek forgiveness, will have condemned themselves to hell for eternity."

It can feel very overwhelming to think about how to prepare for this final test! I have told my son that the mark of a mature Christian is what he does when he thinks no one is looking.

There are no secrets on the Final Day. One's life is an open book. But I also believe in a forgiving God. We all make mistakes. I never hesitate to apologize to my young son, so he knows that everyone makes mistakes; but it's how you pick yourself up again and try to make it right that counts.

I once said to my pastor that waiting for Heaven was simply too long to wait. How about a little bit of Heaven right now? He replied that we see the in-breaking Kingdom of God every time we devote ourselves to the hard work of loving others - not proffering greeting cards or empty phrases like, 'Have a nice day!'; but, digging in and getting our hands dirty, donating a bit more than we think we can; taking initiative to call someone or offer assistance.

And so, we are active in Spiritual Warfare, and mindful of how much we love, because of the hour and the day, no one knows.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 26, 2018

I Am King

"Jesus said, 'My Kingdom does not belong to this world. If my kingdom did belong to this world, my attendants would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not here.'  So Pilate said to him, 'Then you are a king?' Jesus answered, 'You say I am king. For this I was born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the Truth. Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice.' "-[John 18: 33B-37].

Self absorption has crept into so much of our culture, that we barely recognize it any longer.

Everything is individualized - individual pan pizzas, custom online jeans, Selfies, Facebook pages, individual Twitter accounts on which we can weigh in on topics at any time of day or night. Even in the news in the last day or so, human-edited embryos so we can design our individualized baby.

I think Jesus would be horrified.

This all-about-me Universe declares that "I am King" (or Queen).  To have the world's attention bestowed upon us in ultimate admiration has become the epitome of success. We boast about our Twitter feeds, our 'Likes' on social media, the number of followers on our online accounts.

We even puff up our own importance in solving the world's problems. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "There are those who seek to convince us that only man is able. Their attempt to substitute a man-centered universe for a God-centered universe is not new. It had its modern beginnings in the Renaissance and subsequently in the Age of Reason when some men gradually came to feel that God was an unnecessary item on the agenda of life. [But] man is not able to save himself or the world."

King also talks of the folly of passing more and more laws to save ourselves. He wrote: " Men have usually pursued two paths to eliminate evil and thereby save the world. The first calls upon man to remove evil through his own power and ingenuity in the strange conviction that by thinking, inventing, and governing, he 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."

As Jesus declares, "My kingdom does not belong to this world." This world is our world and in many ways, we have made a mess of it.

These days, even the "Truth" is relative. My Truth is my own, we say, and you can have your own brand of Truth, but there is no absolute Truth.  There is so much individualized spin, often we cannot readily discern who is lying and who is being accurate.

Such is the stuff and nonsense of the human world. But Jesus says, "For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the Truth. Everyone who belongs to the Truth listens to my voice."

John 1 says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. . . full of grace and Truth."

The Word in John 1 IS God's Son Jesus. He is made flesh and dwells among us. Jesus testifies to the Truth, He embodies the Truth, He IS the Truth.

And the Truth is that God is Love. "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is Love. Whoever lives in Love lives in God, and God in him." -[ 1 John 4:8].

Who is the King of the World? Not any human who strives to place himself above all others. Not any human who believes that he can do all, control all, solve all, manipulate all, by solely his own power.
Not any human who believes it is all about him, with no humility or love for those he serves.

"If anyone wants to be first, he must be the last of all and the servant of all." -[Mark 9:35].

[Related Postings: "Who is YOUR King?', 11/20/16; "Christ the King", 11/24/13; "King of the Universe", 11/26/12.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Poor Widow

"Jesus sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling His disciples to Himself, He said to them, 'Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.' " -[Mark 12: 41-44.]

Up until recent times, widows were usually poor. Women in ancient times were not educated by their families, and had no means of support other than what was provided by their husbands. If her husband died, a woman was left with no ongoing financial means.

When we think of a widow, we think of an older woman wearing black, appearing grim, quietly working, or perhaps clasping her hands together in distress.

Certainly, the stereotype of a widow is of someone whose contribution is almost worthless, or who cannot give at all. But in this Reading, a poor widow is praised for giving a small sum that is actually "her whole livelihood."

When I was growing up, I would ask my parents if we could give to charity. Certainly, we had more than enough, and therefore, we would be giving out of our surplus. But my parents would act horrified: "We don't GIVE our money away!"

At dinner time, I would hear them talking about how people are lazy or just want a hand-out. They would say that people who are poor ought to work a little harder, or maybe they were grasping for too much; maybe they shouldn't want a car but should take the bus.

Meanwhile, I might have just exited from Sunday School, (which they had driven me to); and heard,\ the lesson, "It is far better to give than to receive."

Years later, when I was an adult, my best friend had been diagnosed with cancer. She was in her early thirties and had two small children.

She called me with the devastating news and asked if I could pitch in to help her, her children and her husband.

At the time, my father had passed away abruptly. My mother was living miles away and it was becoming clear that she would not be able to live any longer in her suburban home. She could not drive, and her own health was failing. It was up to me to gently convince her that she had to sell her house and come live near me.

At the same time, my husband was working many long hours to support me and our son. And our son was struggling with school. My own health was uncertain with all the stresses of life at the time.

When my best friend called, most people would have said no. I said, Yes.

As I look back, I realize that I was helping my friend for months before her diagnosis - picking her kids up from school if she felt tired and run-down, running out for milk or other items at the store.

When my parents found out about this, they were furious - 'You take care of yourself FIRST.'

It has taken years of hindsight for me to realize that, like the widow, I was unable to give much when my friend called. In my situation in life at the time, I think I was the one who needed help!

But I called around, and I gathered a dedicated team to help out. I gave everything I could, even though I was under duress and spread thin to begin with.

Sometimes these days, I see people who are asked to give and their attitude is, "Why SHOULD I?"
Or, "Someone needs to give to ME."

I give, whether I am able to give a lot or a little. I give because what I have is what someone needs. I give because I can always give something - sometimes a little, sometimes a lot.

I give because Jesus understands that sometimes my "little" is my All; and that giving from the heart, giving from one's deficit and not from one's surplus, is the most sacrificial giving of all.

I give, for all the times someone gave to ME, and I really, really needed it.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Heart and Soul

"The Lord our God is Lord alone!
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself." -[Mark 12: 28B-34].

There are over 600 Commandments in the Old Testament. But when Jesus came, His Commandments were summarized in the Commandment, above. This Commandment can be summed up in one word, Love.

I suppose one could reduce the Rules For Living into the Ten Commandments, but each Commandment - Thou shalt not kill; Thou shalt not steal; This shalt not bear false witness - all come down to one unifying command, to Love.

To love the Lord our God, alone, means to not make anything else a god in one's life - not material goods, not fame, not power, not money, not one's physical beauty, not one's all consuming hobby or pastime, not one's vast command of facts and figures and regulations, not one's work title or accomplishments, and so forth.

There is no "I" in God.

We are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all mind and with all our strength.

I remember one evening my husband came home from work, seeming dejected. I asked what was wrong? He told me that a big boss had asked him, "What ARE you?" He had replied, "Uh? A guy?" This boss was not satisfied. So he replied, "Uh? American?" Finally, my husband became aware that the boss was asking about his religion. He replied, " Oh. I am Christian. Catholic."

The boss said to my husband, "YOU are way too smart to be Catholic." My husband replied, "Boss, you have a LOT to learn."

Folks misperceive us Christians. They assume we are privileged, powerful, wealthy and classist. But this Commandment begs otherwise. God wants every part of us. We as Christians are supposed to be ALL in - giving our hearts to Him - not to money, jewels, fame, prestige, power. He wants us to love Him and love each other, as much as He loves us.

God wants our soul. He does not want us to "sell out" to an evil program that seeks to mislead us into thinking that absolute power will make us invincible.  He does not want us to "give anything" to have worldly control, massive amounts of possessions, or abusive power.

God calls us with our minds. He does not want us to follow Him blindly; otherwise, how would we put our intellect to bear, to love and help a neighbor in need?  How would humankind ever have discovered penicillin, or invented solar power, or researched cures for cancer, without the considerable determination of the mind? The impulse to help others is the impulse to love, and Love comes from God and God IS Love.

God wants us to love one another with all our strength. In this area, I think of Habitat for Humanity, the organization that brings together many hard workers to sweat and labor in building homes for the disadvantaged. If we are not working hard to help each other, we are not following the Commandment to love with all our strength.

Folks misperceive us Christians. They assume that we are rule-bound, judgmental, intolerant, haters.
But we are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. God knew that as humble, unassuming and gentle as He would expect us to be, our temptation is to always take just a little bit more for ourselves and leave a little bit less for others.

Anyone who uses Scripture to carve out anyone, as "not worthy" of God or of our Love, is mis-using the Bible and torturing Christianity. In God's call to love one another, there ARE no exceptions.

When I sent my son off to school for the first time when he was about 5, I told him: " If it isn't Love, don't do it, don't say it, don't believe it, don't promote it. Always do the loving thing. When you are done with your work, use your extra strength to help your classmates or the teacher. Put yourself in others' shoes. What if that were you? What kind of response would you hope for?"

"If we have no Peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other." - Mother Teresa.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Divine Eyes

"As Jesus was leaving Jericho with His disciples and a sizable crowd, Bartimaeus, a blind man, the son of Timaeus, sat by the roadside begging. On hearing that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, 'Jesus, son of David, have pity on me.' And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he kept calling out all the more. . . Jesus stopped and said, 'Call him.' So they called the blind man, saying to him, 'Take courage; get up, Jesus is calling you.'  He threw aside his cloak, sprang up, and came to Jesus. Jesus said to him in reply, 'What do you want me to do for you?'
The blind man replied to Him, 'Master, I want to see.' Jesus told him, 'Go your way; your faith has saved you.' Immediately, he received his sight and followed Him on the way." -[Mark 10: 46-52.]

A prominent man in the community where I grew up once told my mother, "When people read the same article in the newspaper, they see and understand what they want to."

It is true that we all bring our own personal biases and experiences to events in life. We all see things through our own individual lens.  In many ways, we are ALL blind, like Bartimaeus.

Consider the case of the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. In the absence of reliable eyewitnesses or any physical evidence regarding the alleged attack on Christine Blasey (now Ford), we really cannot know with legal certainty what happened.

But many vociferously argue that this was a case of an accomplished man, falsely accused, in a travesty of justice. Just as many vociferously argue that this was a case of an assault survivor who was physically attacked and then dismissed out of hand.

Or consider the case of the man who sent more than a dozen pipe bombs to political figures of the Democratic party. This man, Cesar Sayoc, had his picture all over the news after his arrest.

While some may have seen a demon, what my son noticed was the expression of utter despair and sadness on Soyuc's face. My son, who is studying Psychology in college, said, "That man looks so sad. Someone has to ask him what happened to him in his life, that he would commit something so evil?"

How could a young person like my son demonstrate such compassion for a man who committed acts so heinous?  The straight answer is that my son sees with different eyes.

Jesus Himself said to His disciples, "This is why I speak to them in parables: 'Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. . . For this people's heart has grown callous; they hardly hear with their ears and they have closed their eyes. . . ."

What Jesus wants us to do is to see with Divine Eyes. This does not mean that we are clairvoyant or can see into another's soul.

It does not mean that we excuse another's wicked behavior.

It does mean that, as much as we are feeble and only human, we strive to see the whole person, the person who in pain cries out by sinfully hurting another. My son said, "Someone like that needs our help."

Jesus also said, "For judgment I have come into this world so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind."

There is a great tendency today for us all to be "armchair experts". We are like the Pharisees who live by The Law and who think we have all the answers, but who are so wrapped up in the Rules, that we don't see the whole person or that we don't realize that life is a whole lot more complex than "black and white rules". The Pharisees may believe they have all the answers but in fact, they are "blind."

We judge a caravan of migrants coming to cross the Southern border of the U.S. We fear that they are all gang members, murderers and terrorists. Or, others of us may see only the poor and desperate, who ought to be given a chance at a new life. But in fact, we do not know each and every person in the caravan, their stories, their triumphs or mistakes. We assume we know everything about the Constitutionality of illegal migrants' children born in the U.S. Well, we are not Constitutional scholars.

And in fact, that is not who Jesus wishes us to become. Jesus does not want more people who are expert reciters of the Rules. What Jesus wants is more people with a Heart. . . . people who are humble enough to admit they don't have all the answers. People who can try to love the Sinner but hate the Sin. People who can see that just another soundbite on the news is not necessarily the Truth.

Because the Truth is known- - not just by what is told but by what is untold. As my son saw with Divine Eyes, "Who can truly know the inner workings of a man's heart?"

We want to believe that more and more Rules bring us to enlightenment. But, in fact, only The True Light brings us to true Light and to true sight.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrestled with this idea in his book, Strength To Love, when he said: "How can Evil be cast out? The first [path] calls upon man to remove evil through his own power and ingenuity, in the strange conviction that by thinking, inventing, and governing, he 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."

In fact, the tale of Bartimaeus ends, not with him suddenly acquiring superhuman vision or all the answers to life, but by him receiving his sight, "and following Jesus on His way."

Jesus tells Bartimaeus, "Your Faith has saved you."

Martin Luther King said, "Modern man. . . has turned his attention [away] from God and the human soul to the outer world. 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. Selfishness and hatred have not vanished with an enlargement of our educational system and an extension of our legislative policies. A once optimistic generation now asks, in utter bewilderment, 'Why could we not cast it [evil[ out?' [But], in His magnanimous Love, God freely offers to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Our humble and open-hearted acceptance is Faith. So by our Faith we are saved."

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Humble Leader

"James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to Him, 'Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.' He replied, 'What do you wish me to do for you?' They answered Him, 'Grant that in your Glory we may sit, one at your right and the other at your left.' Jesus said to them, 'You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?' They said to Him, 'We can'.
Jesus said to them . . . 'To sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared. . . You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.' " -[ Mark 10: 34-45].

I used to believe that God was my personal "Answer Man". I would pray to Him, "God, please let me get a good grade on this test. Then, maybe people will respect me and I will be happy."

But all that happened was that my mother insisted that I help my brother with his homework! This brother of mine, who called me ugly, in infinite detail every day and who laid traps for me in my bedroom.  . . I thought that God was not answering my prayer!

But He did answer me. He was showing me that lording my intelligence over my brother would not make me any greater, or eliminate my brother's meanness.

I used to pray to God, "Lord, please let me get this job right after I finish college. Then I will be independent and not need to rely on anyone else, who might be mean or cruel to me."

But all that happened was that God sent me a helpmate and a lifelong spouse. This man loved me unconditionally; but God also was calling ME to love and care for my husband as a doting wife.
I thought that God was not answering my prayer!

But He did answer me. He was showing me that love is not just about someone loving ME. Love is about caring for and serving others.

I used to pray, "God, send me a child borne of my husband and me, so I will be like everyone else and have a child just like us."

But all that happened was that God sent me a child to adopt. This child was mine, but not mine; a child to love as my own but also a child who desperately needed parents. I thought that God was not answering my prayer!

But He did answer me. He was showing me that having a child is not about MY need for appending a doting child to my side; but about nurturing and serving a child who needs ME.

I used to pray, "God, my early life was filled with such severe pain and trauma. How can I go forward in life with such wounds? Who or what could ever heal me?"

But all that happened is that he sent me a friend from Africa, from a village where his people were dying for lack of water, from lack of food or medical care, who believed that the world had forgotten them, and maybe God had forgotten them too. I thought that God was not answering my prayer!

But He did answer me. He was showing me that my wounds are serious but there are others who suffer just as much if not more. And THEN he asked me to help the people in this African village!

Sometimes when we pray to God, it is US-centered. We cry out in pain and we want the pain to go away. We think that God is sending us non-sequitur replies. But usually we get unexpected answers,  when we are asking the wrong questions.

I thought I could overcome my trauma by meeting the right people who knew how to be kind and compassionate. Or, I thought I could isolate myself, not needing anyone, but relying on myself, my gifts, my education, my talents, to ease the suffering that life has heaped upon me.

But, to follow Christ is NOT to become great and superior, and to sit in glory at the right or left of Jesus, or to inherit a throne. To follow Christ is to encounter persecution, abuse, suffering, hardship, sacrifice, and rejection.

To follow Christ is NOT to isolate oneself from the difficult situations or persons in life. To follow Christ is to encounter the difficult people, even to engage with them, to emerge intact and even to help them.

A true leader does not exercise authority over someone, take all the glory and trappings of material wealth for himself, or promote himself above all others.

A true leader comes to serve, not to be served. A true leader makes sacrifices for others, not because of any honor accruing to him, but because of all the good accruing to others.

The disciples believed that Jesus came as a powerful, glorified ruler who would free them from the oppression of  Rome. Instead, Jesus came to free them from the narcissistic oppression of the Self.

As Mother Teresa said, "If you judge people, you have no time to love them."

If your heart is full of yourself, and full of disparaging others around you, then there is no room to love and to serve. . . . because whoever wishes to be great must become the servant of all.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Spirit of Wisdom

"I prayed, and prudence was given to me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and comeliness I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep. Yet all good things came together came to me in her company and countless riches at her hands." -[Wisdom 7: 7-11].

 My mother used to equate Love to money. She confused the two. She used to try to condition my behavior on an offer of money. My mother and her own mother would tell me, 'I will give you my piano, and I will pay for you to take lessons, IF you will study piano and if you will play for me.'
But I bristled, because I knew that the only reason I would become devoted to the piano was if my devotion came from within myself. I was too young to have that discipline and so, reluctantly, I said No.

When I was at University, my mother would say to me, 'I will not pay for your tuition, IF you study this subject.'  But,  I bristled, because I knew that I would not be able to abandon my individual gifts, and to adopt other gifts which I did NOT possess- just because she threw money at me. I couldn't just wake up one day and become someone else, with a wholly different set of skills and abilities, just because she was paying me to do so.

As a young person, I had to give up on the influence of money. Money had to become irrelevant to me. "I deemed riches nothing." And so, the influence of wealth became as mere sand or mire to me. Any fool could have money. Any unscrupulous person could weaponize wealth. But I realized it takes a lot to grow from the inside.

My parents used to disparage those of color, and immigrants, and ordinary folks. They used to idolize the wealthy, the powerful, the extravagantly successful. But I bristled, because what if you were born poor and could never escape the yoke of poverty? Was it that person's fault? Did that make the person invisible? Or worthless?

I had to make celebrity or power or class irrelevant to me. And this was incredibly freeing to me, because suddenly no person was, by definition, off limits. I found that everyone has a story, and a path. I saw everyone as a potential friend, unless they showed me otherwise.

My parents used to feed me four day old food, when I was a child. They had other, fresher food in the house; but if I did not eat what was put before me, my father would say to my mother, "Do not feed her." I had to give up any sense of gluttony or misplaced worship of food. I learned that food can be weaponized, and so, food no longer had any hold over me.

My sibling used to taunt me daily, dishing out a litany of how ugly I was: my teeth were imperfect and I needed braces, my skin had occasional blemishes, I wore eyeglass to read, I wore the "wrong" styles. Over time, my teeth straightened, my skin cleared up, my eyeglasses became fashionable, fashions changed. I came to realize that my sibling's comments had far less to do with my appearance, and were far more indicative of his resentful attitude towards me. I had to give up any ego regarding my appearance, it wasn't worth agonizing over.

I am in middle adulthood now. I eat to live, I don't live to eat. I do not spend all my days figuring out how to amass priceless gems or vast stores of material goods. I have been poor. I have been well-off. Whatever my situation, I deal with it. I have had to eat rice and beans. I have been able to dine like a queen.

Through all this, I have sought what is timeless and priceless: Wisdom.

I have prayed to be able to discern what my path is. I have sought pure, unconditional Love, the kind that only God can bestow. Wisdom comes when you have been stripped of everything else: youth, beauty, riches, power, jewels, high class, renown, epicurean foods, designer clothing, vast swathes of real estate, superior strength.

What you have, when you have lost everything, is God. Wisdom is found in God's Word, which is Love.

Sometimes, all you have is God, is His Love, which is Wisdom. And that is not only enough- it is everything.

[Related Posting: "Prayer for Wisdom", 7/3/11]'

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Child-Like Wonder

"And people were bringing children to Him that He might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He became indignant and said to them, 'Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.'  Then He embraced them and blessed them, placing His hands on them." -[Mark 10: 2-16].

To accept the Kingdom of God requires a child-like outlook.

Not childish. . . As St. Paul says, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things." -[ 1Corinthians 13].

There really IS such a thing as maturing as a Christian adult, but at the same time retaining a child-like wonder in one's Faith.

I see a lovely innocence in children. Young children do not accept anger or cruelty. When my son witnesses inconsiderate behavior, he wonders, "Why would that person behave this way?"

Young children appreciate Love and they expect it. A cynical adult will assume that others will behave with anger or greed, often before they even know that person or see how they behave.

Amongst moms I know, we discuss the timeline of that loss of precious innocence. In my part of the world, innocence starts to fade away around the age of 8 or 10. We moms mourn that loss of innocence, with an inner grief. We know the world will never be the same for our children. We want to soften the blow for our children, but we also want them to become realistic about our World.

What softens the blow for Christians is that we do not have to wait until the next Life or the Final Judgment Day for that in-breaking Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God can be NOW.

If we adults take the time to talk to the kids around us, I believe we can retain some of that child-like wonder. We cannot take our Faith seriously and believe in an Infinite and All-Present Divinity, without a child-like suspension of disbelief.

I have had amazing conversations with my son, as he has grown up. What strikes me the most is that he does not accept things as they are, the way a cynical adult would. He asks piercing questions, and he has the will to work for change.

When my son was a pre-schooler, he looked up at the sky and said, 'How many stars ARE there, anyway?' He would run to the window each night to look for the moon. He would urge me, "Mommy! Come look! It's the moon!" It was a miracle to him every single night.

When he was in grade school, he saw a news report about a padded room used in schools to isolate students who act out. He asked me, "Wait. Is that even legal?" When I said yes, he replied quietly, "When I am an adult, I am going to work to ban those rooms so no kid has to go in there."

When my son was thirteen, I realized that he had taken Health class and knew where babies came from. So I sat him down and told him what abortion was. He listened quietly and began to cry. I said, "You are old enough to begin to know what this world is capable of."  He said, "Do they really kill babies?"

When my son was in middle school, he saw video of some children in India, picking through garbage to salvage what they could for sale. He asked me, "Wait. Is that even real?" When I said yes, he replied quietly, "Then I am going to play my trombone in a concert and raise money, because those kids should not have to pick through garbage for a living, they should go to school."

When my son was in high school, he asked me about the death penalty. I explained that, as punishment for certain extreme crimes, the state can put the criminal to death. My son was angry. He said, "Only God can take your life away. The state has no right to do that."

How many of us adults simply accept Abortion. Or, desperately poor children. Or, the death penalty. .

How many of us accept racism, sexism, assault, war, violence, greed, abuse of power? We say, Well, that's just the way it is- the way of the world.

But through the eyes of a child, we ought to be asking, WHY do these things persist in our world? Because these are not Love! And how can we bring more Love into our world?

And we ought to be going out at night, looking up to the sky, and recognizing the moon and the stars for the miracles that they are, and dreaming of the possibilities in the same way that our children do.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Tarnished Gold

" Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance." -[ James 5: 1-6].

Where there is injustice, there are the cries of the poor.

Today in many parts of the globe, slavery still flourishes. Or what amounts to slavery- because after the harvest worker pays for lodging and food at exorbitant rates, the worker has little to live on, or even goes into debt to the landowner. We in the developed world believe that slavery is abolished, but many in the world continue to live under these conditions.

This is the meaning of the verse: "Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud.  . . You have murdered the righteous one." The practice of putting workers into debt so that they starve or are thrown into debtor's prison is deemed here to amount to murder.

A Christian might say, 'What does this have to do with me, I don't imprison or enslave others?'

OR, a Christian may say, 'I don't need all these clothes or my old laptop. I will give these to those who have so much less.'

OR, a Christian may say, 'I will buy my goods from those who don't pay its workers slave wages.'

Or, a Christian may say, ' I will not accumulate or hoard so much wealth. I will give the money I used to waste on extravagant shopping, to charity.'

But this verse is also about a whole lot more than being a charitable Christian, who is a good steward.

It is about Divine Justice.

This Scripture in James takes me back to Job 21: 7- "Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?'

But, it also takes me to Psalm 37: "Never envy the wicked! Soon they fade away like the grass and disappear. Trust in the Lord instead. Be kind and good to others; then you will live safely here in the land."

I knew from a very young age that I had to counter Evil with Good. I had to wage Spiritual Warfare, by utilizing Love and kindness. I also had to bide my time until I could leave my ugly situation in life, and become independent.

It is all too easy to despair these days. The poor are mocked and shunned. The rich seem to be callous and hateful. We idolize all that is gilded and egotistical and shiny.

Rich politicians are scheming, greedy, self-centered. Celebrities hoard wealth, even flaunt it. Look at our favorite magazines, social media sites, cable shows; they all worship materialism, fabulous wealth, designer-everything. We see homes that are 10,000 or 20,000 square feet for a family of 3 or 4; yet our inner city schools are crumbling and rat-infested.

Psalm 37 says, "Stop your anger! Turn off your wrath. Don't fret and worry - it only leads to harm."

Yes, Christians are clearly called to work to stand up for the marginalized. But, we also know that those who have "lived on earth in luxury and pleasure" at the expense of others, have already received their reward in this life. And nothing in this life shall last. Clothes are worn down and discarded, homes may become ruins, gold and silver tarnish. In the end, the greedy will suffer for their avarice and narcissism, in the next Life.

I do not know how I could live in this world without the knowledge that God always has the last word! For every powerful person who "seems to be getting away with murder", God knows what this person is committing and He is remembering. As for me, I keep doing well by doing Good.

"Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him to help you do it, and He will. Your innocence will be clear to everyone. He will vindicate you with the blazing light of justice shining down as from the noonday sun." -[Psalm 37].

Monday, September 24, 2018

Cultivating Peace

" [Jesus and His disciples] came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, He began to ask them, 'What were you arguing about on the way?' But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then He sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, 'If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.' "- [ Mark 9: 30-37].

"Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice." -[James 3: 16].

I sense a great longing for Peace today. Of course, worldwide Peace cannot be single-handedly accomplished by any one of us.

Mother Teresa said, "Love begins by taking care of the closest one - the ones at home."

I love this vision of ever-widening circles of Love. I begin first at home, ensuring that my husband and my son are out of the elements, fed, clothed, and nestled in feelings of Love and comfort.

Then, I check in regularly with my neighbors. Maybe one is a widow, a bit low in spirits and in need of a visit. Maybe one is a single dad, and he and his kids miss the home-baking of their loved one, who died.

Then, I donate to my community, perhaps giving to the town food pantry or providing warms hats and scarves to the city shelter.

Every day, all that I do is to help others. The only time I do something for myself is when  I eat, sleep or rest to regain my strength. I try each day to "undo" the traumatic effects of my childhood- - because in doing good, I can do well.

But the doing good, in and of itself, is its own reward. I feel uplifted by my own quiet outpouring of Love, outward into a world so full of jealousy, hatred and pride.  I never do good, by preening and hoping others will notice. In fact, I am horrified at the thought of someone shining a spotlight on me for what I have done. No putting my name up on a building. No item in the church bulletin mentioning me by name.

St. Therese of Lisieux said, "God tells me - Give, give always, without being concerned with the results." And so, I release my acts of Love into the Universe, and I believe that God will carry them to exactly where they need to go.

I am surely not the only one who can do this. The fact that these acts of Love came from my hand is incidental to me. I myself am not the Message. I am only the medium by which Love is carried.

I am simply the vessel which pours out the blessing. There are many who are more talented than I am, or who have talents I cannot begin to possess.

I have come to believe that you cannot serve fully, if you let yourself get in the way. That is, you cannot serve fully, if you let your SELF get in the way.

Sadly, some Christian churches are filled with "devoted servants" who volunteer at every call to serve, but who secretly do these things out of ambition or desire for power.  Or, these "devoted servants" truly believe that their gift or ministry is the "greatest"of all in their church.

But, I have to be surprised at this - how to compare the Eucharistic Ministers to the Choir or to the Deacon? The Mass is not the same without either one of these.

This tendency reminds me of the disciples arguing which one of them was the greatest?

True giving, true Love has no "agenda".  Love is freely given and expects nothing in return. Love is not boastful. Love does not say, "You OWE me for what I have done."  Love is not jealous, saying, 'What I have offered is best.'  Love is not bitter, saying, 'Look how much I have given and others have given less.' Love does not keep score or tallies.

Love is not conditional or discriminatory- 'I will give only to these folks but not to others.'  Love does not look for certain results. Love is not begrudging, saying, 'Why do I have to do this? Why is it always ME?'

I believe that if we long for Peace, we need to look for Love, freely given - without ambition, lust for power, resentment, or jealousy.

(c) Spiritual Devotional

Monday, September 17, 2018

The Bruised Servant

"The Lord God is my help, therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame. He is near who upholds my right; if anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together. Who disputes my right? Let that man confront me. See, the Lord God is my help; who will prove me wrong?" -[Isaiah 50: 5-9A].

I grew up in a dysfunctional household.

My brother would verbally abuse me, daily.  My mother would say to me, "If you don't cry, he won't do that. You are too sensitive." Unchallenged, my brother began to hit me.

I went to school with black eyes. Everyone saw my bruises. My mother, when asked, would say, "Well, she is a tomboy."

I gradually shut down, numbing my feelings, ultimately taking a vow of silence when I was ten.

The teachers would contact my mother, telling her, "She barely speaks." My mother would tell them, "She is NOT shy, she is just reserved. Still waters run deep."

I stopped speaking because I had decided that no human could ever give me the Love and caring that I needed.

When I was fourteen, I was not physically safe, the medical care for my chronic lung condition was ended, the verbal abuse continued, I was not being fed on a consistent basis.

I had lost everything, really. Then my parents refused to continue going to church. They took that away, too.

Yes, I set my face like flint. I knew that I did not deserve this treatment. I was a child . . their only daughter . . the youngest. I was not the shameful one.  I had a right to be treated with respect.

I knew that I was trapped for the next several years, I was their dependent. I began hoarding food in my room, in case I wasn't fed. I began to hoard the little money that I earned from babysitting.

I tried to make things better at home as much as I could. I weeded my mother's garden. I knitted my brother a sweater. I did some small painting jobs around the house for my father.

Was I trying to buy their kindness? I don't know. Maybe I was just desperately trying not to become bitter and angry the way they seemed to be.

After awhile, I realized that NO ONE could take God away from me. They could take away my physical safety. They could take away my health. They could take away my food. They could take away my dignity. They could take away my church. But out of all those things that make us human, they could never take away God.

Over the years, I have felt God's presence at times of anxiety, at times of real danger, and at times of joy and peace. "He is near who upholds my right."

I am way stronger with God than without Him. "If anyone wishes to oppose me, let us appear together. Let that man confront me."

In many ways, I have "lost" my life. I fear going places alone. I have had trouble sleeping, eating, speaking up. My chronic lung disease needs constant vigilance. I need to lead a very simple life. I have had enough trauma and damage already over the years to fill a lifetime.

But, I insist that I was fighting for what was right. "Who will prove me wrong?"

And as Jesus says in Mark 8, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake  . . will save it."

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018.  All Rights Reserved.

Monday, September 10, 2018

To Speak Anew

"People brought to Jesus a deaf man who had a speech impediment and begged Him to lay His hand on him. He took him off by himself away from the crowd. He put a finger into the man's ears and, spitting, touched his tongue; then He looked up to Heaven and groaned, and said to him, 'Be opened.' And immediately, the man's ears were opened, and his speech impediment removed, and he spoke plainly . . .The [people] were exceedingly astonished and they said, 'He has done all things well. He makes the deaf to hear and the mute speak.' "-[ Mark 7: 31-37].

I grew up in a house that was highly dysfunctional - alcoholism, verbal abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, bitterness, jealousy, greed, blackmail. . .

Even at a young age, I decided no one was going to protect me or meet my needs, so I would have to accomplish this myself. When I was five, when my father would say, "Do not feed her, I would eat a gluttonous meal in the school cafeteria, or I would find food at the neighbor's house.

At five, if my mother said, "You are five, you are not tired", I would put myself down for a nap.

I got tired of running and crying to my mother about all the taunting and abuse. She told me, "If you don't react, you won't gain attention and the taunting will stop."

It became my responsibility to defend myself. No human being was going to do it.

Thereafter, I would not show any feelings when the abuse started up again. When nothing got any better, I became afraid that if someone could even "see" my feelings inside of me, the abuse would renew. So when I was 8, I numbed my feelings.

By age ten, I had stopped speaking. I had become invisible.

Walking softly, showing no emotion, not speaking, I was certain, would eliminate me as a target. I also stayed up at night until everyone in the house was asleep.

My vow of silence was not a speech impediment. Nor was it a holy vow. My Silence was borne out of fear of being noticed. My Silence was also borne out of despair that any human being could love me or protect me.

My Silence lasted several years. I rarely spoke and if I did, I was annoyed at myself for "slipping up".

The power in this Scripture is that Jesus, through His Love, notices the Invisible. Not only does He notice them, He makes them Visible again.

And He loves them. He does not blame them for their afflictions. He does not judge them for being poor, disabled, desperate and alone.

This is a far cry from Jesus' world then, or our world today, where too often, Power speaks loudest.

I can tell you that no mere human intervention saved me. Teachers were alarmed and told my mother that something was seriously wrong. My mother dismissed them, saying, "She is just quiet."

No compliments from teachers or parents made me blossom. A volunteer in the school library once told me, "You have a beautiful smile. You ought to smile more." I thought- She has no idea what it is like to be me.

It took meeting the man who would become my husband to reach me. My pastor a few years ago told me that God works through others here on Earth to show us His Love.

It is a miracle that I would be open enough to receive this man's Love. Something blossomed inside of me. I slowly began to trust again.

A friend of my mother's told me at my wedding that she had never seen me so happy. I had truly blossomed and become a vibrant young woman.

The words I spoke to my husband were words of Love. And God IS Love.

Yes, God DOES "make the mute to speak". -[Mark 7: 37].

"Thus says the Lord: Say to those whose hearts are frightened: Be strong, fear not! Here is your God, He comes with vindication; with divine recompense He comes to save you. Then the tongue of the mute will SING." -[Isaiah 35: 4-7A].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Evil From Within

"Be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deluding yourselves. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this:  to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world."  -[James 1: 21B - 22, 27].

Many who decry organized Religion and who call themselves "Spiritual but not religious" are critical of the outsized role of Ritual in the Church.

It is true that Jesus called out the Hypocrite above all else, the Pharisees and scribes who ritually washed their hands and sanitized their cups and vessels, all the while engaging in Sin from the heart.

In Mark 7, Jesus said, "You disregard God's commandment but cling to human tradition."

In Isaiah, it is written: "This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines human precepts."

In my family, we called ourselves "Christians" because we attended services in a Christian church.
Our names were in the roster of congregants. We decorated a Christmas tree, and wore brightly colored spring clothes for Easter. My family gave money to the church regularly. We received Communion and we had a Bible on the bookshelf at home.

But my family was Christian in demographics only. My parents disdained those without money. They disdained the poor, the immigrant, the uneducated. They were very far from loving their neighbor as themselves. They gossiped, they were jealous, bitter, superior in attitude.

They were not Christian as a matter of Heart.

Their Christian "Cover" enabled them to appear upstanding citizens in the community, all the while they were neglecting my medical needs, not feeding me, not keeping me physically safe, verbally abusing me, blackmailing me, emotionally abusing me and so forth. If I were to complain, who would have believed me?

Religion that tramples upon the widow and the orphan, that operates in name only and clings to Ritual without purity of Heart - is dangerous.

We see this thin veneer of Religion, in the allegations of priest abuse for over 70 years in Pennsylvania.  This level of abuse is not without precedent. There have been cases of Church abuse of children and the poor in Ireland, in Canada in the orphanages, and in Boston, as well.

To be fair, this kind of abuse has occurred in many Protestant churches over the years.

In PA, priests covered their victims with the Crucifix. They ordered the children to "confess their Sins." This is a perversion of holy Ritual, stemming from a misbelief that the Ritual alone will cover the Sin. But a Ritual devoid of a pure and undefiled Heart only deludes, and causes deep harm. An empty and perverse Ritual such as this is blasphemy.

The Catholic Church viewed the Sin as coming from a temptation arising within the child. The Church removed the priests from the temptation, that is from the child and from his or her location.

They face the fact that the Sin came from within the priest himself.

Jesus said in Mark 7: "Nothing that enters from the outside can defile that person; but the things that come from within are what defile. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile."

From the abuse in the Church, from inside the priests involved, came evil thoughts and unchastity. What resulted was not just a physical assault on the child, but theft of the child's trust and murder of the child's Soul. From within the priest came depraved behaviors: the preying upon innocent children, the arrogance of the deceitful cover-ups, the folly of blaming the victims in requiring them to confess "their Sins". From within the Church came the malice of putting Ritual and the reputation of the priests ahead of tender care for the children.

As the Church itself went to elaborate lengths to cover up the depravity, the Church itself became defiled. Empty Rituals went on week after week during Mass at the altar, even as depravity and deceit rolled on and on. . . for 70 years.

Immoral and depraved priests must be removed, not just moved around. And the tender care of the children must begin anew and with Heart. If this does not happen, we will have no Church.

(Related Postings: "Clinging to Human Rules", 9/4/12; "The Evil Seed", 5/24/13.)

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Joined as One

"Brothers and sisters: Live in Love, as Christ loved us. . . He who loves his wife, loves himself. For no one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the church, because we are members of His body. For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh. " - [ Ephesians 5: 2A, 25-32].

 When my husband and I were married, we were in our late twenties.We were so young and innocent! I thought marriage was eating dinner together every night; dividing up who would wash the dishes and who would dry and put away; negotiating which side of the bed to sleep on; sharing that last bite of cake or pastry.

Nothing quite prepared me for the challenges of being united "Till death do us part."

Okay, it wasn't so hard to put myself aside if my husband had a cold and wanted to stay home and cocoon, but I was planning a fun night out together. I felt honored to stay home with him and bring him hot tea and an extra blanket.

What was much harder was navigating the lifelong vow that we were now "one person."

My family reacted viscerally and angrily that I was marrying a Catholic. First they tried to talk me out of the marriage.

When they could see that my fiancé and I were adamant, they took another tactic - they began shutting my husband out.

I was invited to a family get-away, but he, pointedly, was not.  When my husband lay sick in a hospital bed on Christmas Day, with a potentially dire diagnosis, there was no sympathy visit from my family. My parents went on with their holiday travel, saying, 'You don't need us.'

Here is where I confronted the true meaning of leaving one's father and mother, and joining one's spouse, and becoming one flesh.

I had to explain to my family that when they cut my husband out of family trips, they were doing that to ME. When they left my husband in a hospital bed with a life threatening diagnosis, they were abandoning ME.

And so, I had to make the tough choices. I had to firmly reject their invitations. I could not go away with my family, alone. There was no longer any "alone". My husband and I are ONE.  The cost of this was that I had to leave my father and mother, and much of my allegiance to them, behind. I would still respect them and take care of them when they were old and ill. But I could not allow them to divide my marriage.

This heartfelt example of a husband and a wife joined together forever, in one body, is a fitting metaphor for us AS Church. When we proclaim we are Christian, we are joined in one Body.

The implications of this are staggering!

For, if we are one body, there can be no ostracizing or marginalization of any one group. One cannot say, You are a woman . .  a person of color. . . a foreigner, a poor person . . . a prisoner . . . an addict . . and say, 'You do not belong.'

If anyone does demean or shut out a particular group, that hatred is an act that demeans ALL of us.

And as one body, if there is scandal, or Sin, or corruption within, then these affect us ALL.

We are witnessing this with the abuse scandals within the Catholic Church, but there are many examples of abuse within Protestant churches as well.

Scandals whiplash church communities. Pastors who were there today are suddenly gone tomorrow. There is a real gap in ministry. Who will celebrate marriages and funerals? Parishioners no longer trust any priests or pastors fully. Priests are spat upon when out in public, because it is assumed that all priests are either abusers or enablers.

There have been calls for Pope Francis' resignation over the latest abuse scandals, because it is said that he knew all about it, but did nothing.  When tickets were allocated for Pope Francis' trip to Ireland, silent protesters reserved big blocks of tickets that they never intended to use, so that turnout would be low.

In my parish this Sunday, a second collection was supposed to be taken. This is often for mission work in Africa or Asia, for support of school tuition, or programs supporting immigration aid. This second collection was not taken. Some organization that does valuable work is, therefore, not reaching the budget it needs.

Some Catholics are still attending Mass, but are refusing to donate anything to weekly collections until they see justice done for the abuse survivors.

A pastor told me that it will take a generation or more for the Church to recover from these scandals. With increased secularization, I wonder, do we have that kind of time?

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, " In a real sense, all life is inter-related. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason, I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the way God's universe is made."

Or, as Mother Teresa once said, "We forget that we belong to one another."

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, August 25, 2018


"Wisdom has built her house, she has set up her seven columns; she has dressed her meat, mixed her wine, yes, she has spread her table. She has set out her maidens; she calls from the heights out over the city: 'Let whoever is simple turn in here; To the one who lacks understanding, Come eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed!' " -[Proverbs 9:1-6].

In this Age of Technology, we know, and track a ton of data. Mapping engines take photos of our home and car in the driveway, and draw inferences from these and from our postal code, about how we might vote in the next election. We can find a date or a mate, by paying for an algorithm to tell us with whom we may be compatible. We sign up for fashion quizzes, to test if we are a Classic fashionista, a Romantic, a Bohemian.

But lots of data do not amount to Wisdom. That amazing quiz show contestant, who won about $1 million, could hit the buzzer signal with lightning speed, and he could rattle out the correct answers with unerring accuracy. But that did not mean he was wise, only smart.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. said in his book "Strength To Love", "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 his life. But, . . unless humankind is guided by God's Spirit, his new-found scientific power will become a devastating Frankenstein monster that will bring ashes to his earthly life."

Implicit in Wisdom is our sense of our own place in History and in the Universe. Wisdom assumes we possess humility - even a sense of Awe.

I see this paradigm in the book of Job. After Job falls ill, loses his property and children, loses his friends, curses the day he was born, sees his friends blame his ills on "Sin", complains to God, cries out that he hates his life: God answers Job, "Who is this [man] who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?"

"Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? . . Have you commanded the morning, since your days began. . Where is the way to the dwelling of light. . Has the rain a father. Who has the Wisdom to number the clouds? . Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars?" -[Job 38].

Then, Job answers, "See, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?. . . I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. Therefore, I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." -{Job 40: 3-4; 42: 1-3].

I do believe that we are born foolish, but if we can "get out of ourselves", then as the years go on, Wisdom is possible.

Wisdom is way more than those inexpensive wall plaques that proclaim "Gratitude", or "The Beach Life."

Wisdom is a 'knowing". It is getting beyond the Selfie, and beyond the worry about our weight or our bank account or our social standing. It is, like Job, seeing past our sometimes ugly Life's circumstances, and realizing that we are not in control of the Universe, but that there is a cosmic symmetry out there which we can only partially grasp.

Wisdom is about not just blaring the Pain, but sharing the Pain, because a burden shared becomes lighter. Or, just maybe, someone else has it just as bad - or as good - as we have it.

Wisdom says, we may know the Facts of Life, but we have no idea how to really live.

Professor Ellen Davis, Duke Divinity School said, "We do not speak much of Wisdom in contemporary mass culture. We value people who are 'smart', pursuing prestigious academic degrees for ourselves and high test scores for our children. In the end, our failure to value wisdom may be the most consequential difference between modern industrialized culture and the culture the Bible seeks to advance, and the difference could be deadly. . . No culture has been so burdened and even endangered as ours by the proliferation of knowledge that is not disciplined by the search for wisdom."

In the end, knowledge without compassion, without a heart of Love for others, becomes merely another weapon in a cold Industrialized Age. I fear that this is an Age I don't want to live in. Davis concludes, "Those who listen to the cry of divine Wisdom and 'gain a heart' are enabled to hear the cry of the vulnerable, which is inaudible to so many."

[Related Posting: "Prayer for Wisdom", 7/23/11].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Live In Love

"Brothers and sisters . . . All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ. So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in Love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us." -[Ephesians 4: 30-5:2].

I grew up with a constant negative diatribe coming from my family - - this waiter was too slow, this neighbor was a loser, this driver must be "an immigrant" because he did not know how to drive, this guy was a leech on society because he had no education. . . Gossip, slander, bitterness, intolerance, racism, malice. This is the diet which I was fed.

I tried, even as a child, to keep the peace. But I was called ugly; a failure; naive to believe that Love could make life better.

My pastor heard my story and was amazed that I turned out to be loving, generous, patient, tolerant and kind. We really ARE what we "eat".

Today, we have Social Media. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says that a free and open exchange is crucial to a democratic society, that when people can express themselves,  "Together, we can change the world."

Instead, what I see is that Social Media has given a platform to - and magnified - ALL kinds of expression. . . not just good and Loving and hopeful speech, but "bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling, malice."

It is the loudest and most extreme voices which get heard. But after awhile, I don't even hear the messages of hate or negativity an longer. Those messages are a tsunami of despair, each voice drowning out the other, all of it drowning me in an ocean of numbness. All I hear is the yelling. I want all bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, reviling and malice to just go away.

I want people to stop micromanaging how I talk, what I wear, how thin or heavy I am, what kind of car I drive, where my kid goes to school, every time my elocution is not so perfect . . .

It is enough to make me want to just draw the blinds closed, lock the door, and stay home. We can do that, you know. We can get groceries delivered, we can order anything in the world from Amazon, we can even telecommute.

Or, I want to scream back. If someone yells, get in their face and yell louder. Take to the streets, protest something or someone each day. Lord knows, there are enough causes and injustices out there, waiting for a loud voice. I might as well chime in.

But I don't think that worldly retreat, or shouting louder, or hating back, is what God made us for. God IS Love, We are "imitators of God", made in His image. We are meant to Love others.

People seem to believe that Christians simply lay down and accept whatever is dished out, meekly. So not true! Jesus, in genuine anger, overturned the tables of the usurious money changers at the temple. He called plenty of His challengers "hypocrites", "fools", "naive",  "thieves", even "Satan".

But, in all of the Bible, I do not see Jesus being bitter, or displaying hate, malice or vicious anger. I DO see Him speaking the Truth. Jesus was never afraid of the Truth, which He spoke very plainly, and without regard to His own earthly Life.

We see this even in His own Crucifixion. He would not cringe from speaking the Truth. He called out his opponents accurately and unflinchingly. He was flogged and given vinegar to drink. His clothes were stripped away. He carried His own Cross. Still, He would not yield to the mob's blasphemous version of His Life.

This kind of ultimate Love is a steely bond with the Truth. It is a reckoning that one can never- -will never-- dilute the Truth or descend into hypocrisy, or bend to popular sentiment, just for power, prestige, money or public regard. Even an angry mob, out to crucify Jesus, could not change His Message.

You don't need shouting, ugly rumors, malice, bitterness, rage or envy to stand up for the Truth. Speak the Truth, and the Truth speaks for itself.  The Truth, plainly spoken, is Power enough.

[Related Postings: "Banish the Fury", 8/9/15"]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Bread Of Life

“ Jesus said to them, ‘ My Father gives you the true bread from Heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from Heaven and gives life to the world. So they said to Him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’  Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will never hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.’ “ - [John 6:24-35].

I grew up in a family that had plenty of food, a well-kept home, closets of beautiful clothes, many beautiful furnishings. And yet, I suffered.

Despite plenty of food in the house, when I was fed four-day old leftovers which I could not eat, I was told, “Eat that or you get nothing else.” There was other food in the kitchen but I would overhear my father telling my mother, “Do not feed her.”  The next day, I would go to a neighbor’s house, looking very hungry.

I was more than physically hungry, though. My family never hugged me or told me, ‘I love you.’  When my sibling verbally abused me on a daily basis, if I complained I was told, “You are too sensitive.”

I learned from this that if you are physically hungry, you won’t be able to fall asleep at night.

I learned from this that if no one ever says, “I love you”, you don’t expect anyone to love you. You begin to believe that you are by definition, unloveable.

I learned from this that there are many kinds of hunger, not just for a meal to fill the belly; but also, for a soft touch or a soft voice to reassure and fill the void in the human heart.

I learned from this that there is a spiritual hunger, a longing for something or Someone who is Infinite; for an organizing principal that begins to make Life more understandable.

I learned from my childhood experiences not to trust the lure of Things. My mother tended to bribe me - - ‘If you do this my way, I will give you this or that.’   I had to learn that Things have temporary value, and that Things can be weaponized.

I do believe that God gave us each other. People who have strong social ties are less anxious, less depressed, more healthy and tend to live longer.

My pastor always says to me, “Stay in community.”  But I learned that people can have agendas, can be mean and ugly and abusive.

We all have times when we can offend others, be selfish, show jealousy, be greedy. Paul teaches: “Bear with one another, and forgive one another if anyone has a grievance against someone.” - [Colossians 3:13]. And, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” - [Ephesians 4:2]. If we all behaved perfectly toward one another all the time, we would not have to learn this.

I am someone who was hit with a lifetime of trauma in my childhood. I have had to ask myself over all my years, ‘Who or what do I have on my side, unconditionally? In the clinch, if I have no one to feed me, to love me, to rescue me, who or what is on my side?’

I have learned that if I buy something new, the lure of that something shiny and new lasts about 24 hours. I have learned that I can be in a house filled with beautiful things and feel very empty.

I have learned that if I depend utterly on others, sooner or later they will disappoint me. Certainly, I will disappoint them. Or, they may become sick and die. Waiting to see them again in Heaven can be a long time to wait.

I have come to see that Who and what I have is Jesus. He walks beside me through all the joys and sorrows of Life. Who I have is the Father, God, Who walks in a pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. [Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” ] - Exodus 13:22.

God’s presence is always there, leading the way. God’s Son is the Bread of Life.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018


“Brothers and sisters: I, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through Love, striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of  peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” - [ Ephesians 3:1-6].

If anyone of us believes in one God, or a Higher Power, we believe that we were all created by God. And as we were created by God, a little bit of God is in all of us. God as our Creator, presides over all of us. And God, our Creator works through all of us.

My parents did the minimum to raise me as Christian. I was baptized, received my First Communion and was Confirmed in the Church. Then, we were done. I was not allowed to go to church any longer.

It took marrying my husband for me to find another church and return to attending Sunday services. My parents were furious that I returned to church. But I have to be grateful that they introduced me to God at a young age. By the time they took church away, it was “too late”: I was already a believer.

My parents were socio-Christians - I.e., they could not at all identify as Buddhist, Jewish, Hindu, etc. They believed that Christianity taught right from wrong, and enabled you to meet “the right kind of people”. They were Christians of a certain race and class, in the same way that you would belong to a social club.

I don’t know why I understood at a young age that, since we were all created by God, we all possess inherent dignity. Maybe I developed this understanding, by the power of the Spirit.

And because I knew that we all possess inherent dignity, then it hurt me deeply when my father would yell at people from the driver’s seat of the family car, heaping racist indignities on other drivers. If a driver in front of him drove too slowly for him, or started through a green light a bit too late, he would label the other driver with ethnic sobriquets - even if he had no idea whether the person really was Indian, Italian, Polish, Jewish or whatever.

My father’s racism assumed that we ought to all be the same. . . that if someone were not white and well-off, then there was something wrong with them; that the “non-conforming” person needed to either change, or failing that, get out of the way.

Somehow, I figured out that since we all came from God, since God moves “ over all, and through all and in all”, that I needed to work on approaching others “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with others with Love. . . striving to preserve the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”

That is why, the belief today that being equal should mean “being the same”, hurts my feelings just as much as my father’s racist rants. Young people today find it abhorrent to even acknowledge that someone is female, or is a person of color, or comes from an under-developed country. I find unity in celebrating people’s differences, loving others BECAUSE of their differences, not DESPITE of their differences.

God is in all of us, and works through all of us, no matter who we are, where we come from or what we look like. That is the source of humility, patience, Love, gentleness, peace - and ultimately, of Unity. Truly, there can be nothing more beautiful than that. . .

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Rest Awhile

"The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught. He said to them, 'Come away by yourselves to  deserted place and rest awhile.' People were coming and going in great numbers, and they had no opportunity even to eat. So they went off in a boat by themselves to a deserted place.' -[Mark 6:30-34].

When the computer was invented, the belief was that it would replace human effort. Instead, we humans are all now tethered to computers and hand-held devices, 24/7, 365 days per year.

Twenty-five years ago, when I went on vacation out of the country, I was unable to retrieve my voice mail messages from work, from an outlying area. My boss wasn't happy, but I did a little happy dance. My time away would be a true vacation, not just working from a different location.

Today, there are few places on the planet where we are unreachable. And if there is no wifi or cell phone reception, we fume and cuss.

We Americans truly believe that we are free, but there is no freedom when we are on the "electronic leash" at all times. Admit it, we are all slaves to technology.

If we go to a place that requires us to place our electronic devices in a basket by the door, we get angry and anxious. I admit that if I have a spare few minutes before the next meeting or task, I automatically start punching buttons on my smart phone, even if I just checked those sites five minutes ago.

The electronic age sets up an expectation in me that I SHOULD be able to complete tasks at lightning speed, and thereby gain a bounty of free time. Instead, automation simply makes the pace faster, and the expectation is that I ought to be dispatching with even more tasks, even more efficiently.

When I talk with friends about what I did over the weekend or on my vacation, I am expected to come up with a list of my amazing feats and adventures. If I dare to say that I did "Nothing", I am met with gasps - as if I cannot possibly be that lazy? Or maybe I am half-dead?

I confess that there are many days that I have barely any opportunity to eat. I have a small bowl of cereal in the morning, I don't get lunch, by dinner I have a massive headache. But believing that the world cannot possibly go on without me if I stop to eat, is a kind of hubris - as if I believe I am some kind of god, who is omnipotent and indispensable.

I confess that often the only way I get a true rest is if I travel far away from home, to a remote place where there is not much to do except eat, sleep, and watch the clouds go by. In other words, I have to take myself away from the noise, the constant mental and emotional stimulation, the temptation to accomplish more and more.

To be a "busyness addict" is harmful to one's health, ultimately. I am starting to believe that if I could figure out my motivation for my constant activity, maybe I could begin to cure it.

Do we fear that everything will fall apart without us? That is egotism.

Do we believe that people will admire us more if we constantly achieve? That is pride.

Do we fear what human closeness will happen if we slow down? That is anxiety.

Do we worry that if we don't do it, no one will? That is fear borne out of a lack of Faith.

Do we believe that no one else can do it as well as we can? That is narcissism.

My greatest concern is over the young people who have been reared on electronic devices. We have raised a generation who cannot seem to sit still "doing nothing", without a device in their hands, for even five minutes.

This generation pronounces Mass "boring", and declares that they cannot possibly sit through it. They expect instant, point-and-click results. If instant results don't arise, they give up. They actually fear face-to-face conversations, because they cannot read body language or facial expressions, and human contact is too unpredictable and uncontrollable. It feels much easier to click on screen icons than to deal with the messiness of human interaction.

Jesus calls his apostles - and ALL of us -- to "Come away and rest". Rest is not a waste of time, nor self-indulgent. Rest refills our cup, so that we have the energy and focus to be present, and to serve others.

Sometimes, I catch myself almost thinking that eating, sleeping, resting, breathing deeply and thinking things through, are a waste of time. BUT, these are what make us human. Becoming a rote "processor" is what computers do.

God doesn't love a computer. He loves YOU, in all of your human, faulty, messy glory. Sooner or later, even a machine breaks down.

Come away and rest while.

[Related Postings: "Come Away and Rest", 7/22/12; "A Simple Summer", 6/25/14; "Finding Rest", 7/8/17.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Shake the Dust Off your Feet

"Jesus summoned the Twelve and began to send them out two by two.  He instructed them to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick - no food, no sack, no money in their belts. . . He said to them, 'Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave. Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them.'  So they went off and preached repentance." -[ Mark 6: 7-13].

It is said that God never forces Himself on us. God may be insistent, may make His presence known in a pervasive way. But we have Free Will to decide whether we will believe in Him, or not.

Jesus taught His twelve disciples to travel together. Walking life's journey as a Christian is a difficult and even perilous road. My pastor's advice to me was always, "Stay in community." It is not that Christians are to isolate ourselves or remain cliquish only with our own kind. But we do need each other for fellowship, for encouragement, for solace. Being Christian is not a solo trip.

I am struck by Jesus' advice that, "Whatever place does not welcome you or listen to you, leave there and shake the dust off your feet in testimony against them."

It is certainly not Jesus' advice to remain meek and to never speak up. To the contrary, Jesus tells His disciples to "go forth and make disciples of all nations." -[Matthew 28: 19]. There is nowhere in the world that is off limits in our journey to speak and live the Truth.

But, Jesus never says to get in others' faces, to heckle or to scream, to corner and trap, to threaten or publicly shame. Jesus says, "Shake the dust off your feet." In other words, whatever place is hostile or resistant, we are to shake that rejection and unreceptiveness off of our Selves and move on.

There is no prideful belief that simply because we speak the Word more loudly, more forcefully and more often, that we will convince anyone more readily. The responsibility for a person's beliefs lies within himself.

Jesus talks about why He sometimes needs to speak indirectly. It is not because He is a coward or too timid. He says, "This is why I speak to them in parables; 'Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand.' " In other words, only some are ready to hear the message of Truth.

I look back on my life as a child. My parents did not ever say they loved me. They did not show me love, or they would have never refused to feed me, or let me be hit and go to school with black eyes. They would never have thought it was fine for me to stop speaking. They did not know how to love.

I suppose I gave up speaking for the same reason that Jesus fell silent on the cross. He was dealing with a heckling crowd that became a restive crowd, that became a murderous crowd. Angry faces going nose to nose turn ugly rapidly, then become murderous violence that can never be reversed.

I may have let my lips stop speaking, but my hands spoke volumes of Love.  Not receiving any Love, I turned to demonstrating what Love is, by showing it in my deeds.

My brother hit me. I knitted him a sweater. My mother told me I was a failure. I weeded her garden, set the table, dried the dishes, helped put away the groceries, mended the clothing. My father took his anger out on me. I sewed him a silk tie. I painted a spare room while he was away on a business trip, so he didn't have to do it when he came home.

No, I was a child, but I was no fool. I taught Love by giving Love. If no one else in that house was going to Love, well, by God and for God, I was going to! If no one else in that house was going to allow me to feel Love, then I would find that Love by creating it.

I also took the long view. I was so young and dependent on my family for shelter and so forth. But I bided my time. When I was thirteen, I was saving every dollar I could earn. I was barely home during those days, except to eat whatever food was offered, and to sleep. By 18, I left home for university and came home rarely. I was shaking the dust off my feet.

Like the disciples, I had to go out into the world with very little, except my Faith.

So often, I thought I was alone, but the ethereal Jesus was beside me all along. Jesus was in the food given to me, the rides offered, the friends who believed in me, the mentors who helped me in school and at work, the encouragement from co-workers, the deep and abiding love of my soul mate and husband.

I was not weak and timid to walk away from hate and abuse. I was courageous enough to understand that I deserved far better, and that I could walk towards that Love with a clear conscience and an open heart.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.