Sunday, January 28, 2018

Divided In Love

"Brothers and sisters: I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.  But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided.  An unmarried woman . . is anxious about the things of the Lord. . A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. I am telling you this for your own benefit, not to impose a restraint on you, but for the sake . . of adherence to the Lord without distraction." - [1 Corinthians 7: 32-35].

People who know little about Christians and Christianity think, perhaps, that we Christians just sit around all day praying, waiting for the Lord to give us all that we need in life -- that somehow we Christians simply pray, and bountiful food, sufficient money, trustworthy friends, a beautiful house and healthy children simply fall into our laps.

I wish . . .

The reality is, we go to work at our jobs, just like everyone else. We fret over our kids passing Algebra II. We worry over worldly things such as whether we have enough money at the end of the month when the bills come due.

And yet, in this Scripture, Paul says that he "should like you to be free of anxieties."

As I try to lead my life as a Christian, I am divided.

This internal division is about a lot more than the human effort that it takes for me to be patient after a long, trying day; for me to live with joy even as I wash the same clothes and dust the same furniture  each week.

This internal division, for me, is how to "live for the Lord."

Many years ago, a dear friend called me with very sad news. She had been diagnosed with a devastating disease. She asked me to help her manage some everyday things for her family since she would be out of commission for quite some time.

Instantly, I said yes. But the reality was that I have my own family. I began to juggle furiously, devoting myself to her and her family during the day when my son was at school and my husband was at work; then frantically trying to get caught up at home in the evenings.

I was anxious, yes, because I was divided. How could I serve my own family, but also "love my neighbor as myself" when it came to my dear friend's very serious need?

I was only one person. What if I had been called to the Religious Life and had never married? I would have had no husband or son to be concerned with.

I had a random thought one day, that my efforts to help my friend and her family, borne out of total Love and commitment, could have been my Life. I had found such deep satisfaction and contentment in being devoted to this other family. I was happier than I had been in years. Despite my utter sadness at my friend's serious illness, I felt that I was doing what I was meant to do. Why did God not call me to be a nun or religious sister? A missionary?

I confided this to a cousin and she told me that my great grandmother back in the Old Country had entered a convent when she was a teen. She became ill, however, and had to leave the Convent. She met her future husband and never went back. My grandmother was their daughter.

So my feelings that I COULD have been an unmarried woman devoted to missions of selfless Love, were not far off.

I told my pastor this, at the time. He told me that he was proud of me for my zeal to love God by loving others. But that, since I had married years ago and have a son, my husband and son must come first.

I follow this today, as best as I can. If my son needs me at home because he is sick, I don't return that call from a church committee right away. I make myself present to my son.

If my husband needs me at home for some reason, I skip the Prayer Meeting.

Do I feel anxious about not doing both? Even a bit guilty? You bet.

Sometimes, I fall into the trap of believing that being a Christian means only being out in the world doing good.

But Pope Francis says that, "Family is the First Church."

And I live by what Mother Teresa said about family:

"People are so busy, so occupied that they have no time to even smile at each other. They have no time to enjoy each other, to be together, to smile, to pray together, no time. Father and mother very busy, children are left to themselves. No one in the house; the old people are put in some institution. When you come home, you sit in front of the television, as relaxation a little bit, but you again have no time to talk to your children, to talk to your family people. - - How can we love Jesus in the world today? By loving Him in my husband, my wife, my children, my brothers and sisters, my neighbors, the poor.  . . Love begins in the family. Peace begins in the family."

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Casting My Net

"After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God. As He passed by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen. Jesus said to them, 'Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.'  He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then He called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed Him." -[Mark 1: 14-20].

Back in the day, Sundays were reserved for family. My grandparents, my aunt, uncle, cousins, my parents, my sibling and I all went to church. Then, we all gathered at my grandmother's house for a big Sunday dinner.

For fourteen years, I sat in the oak church pew next to my brother. I listened to the hymns and tried to sing along. I listened to the Reverend preach that Jesus loves us, and that He died for us. I mostly did not understand the notions of Redemption, Resurrection; and I had no idea where Heaven was. All I knew was that Heaven was some impossibly beautiful and perfect place, somewhere past the outermost reaches of deep space.

When I turned 14, both my grandparents had passed away. My uncle and aunt stopped driving from the next State over, to come to church with us. I asked to go to church, but was told, "We don't do that anymore. We don't believe in that stuff anymore."

But it was too late. I was "hooked" (pun intended). I was a Christian. But a Christian in limbo. No way to get to church clear across town. Too afraid to admit my Faith since, if I even so much as uttered God Bless You, I would get a snort and the hairy eyeball.

My sibling was determinedly NOT a Christian. He daydreamed in church, complained vociferously about going to church and every church service was pure misery for him. He wiggled, he wriggled, he constantly poked our mother to ask what time it was?

We heard the exact same things in church. We were exposed to the exact same curriculum in Sunday School. But I was a Christian and he was not.

The metaphor of fishing is very apt. A fisherman could cast his net out in the deep seas for days and weeks on end, and catch barely anything. The fisherman cannot WILL or force the fish to jump into his net.

The fact that my parents stopped taking me to church took its toll on me. For decades of my life, I was afraid to express any interest in my Faith. I took my Faith underground. I wanted to wear a gold cross, but I didn't dare. I wanted to read the Bible but I didn't dare.

For decades, I thought that my parents could take my Faith away simply by taking church away.

What I learned decades later is that that is not possible. I felt like my parents tried to take my Faith away, but it was there all along. . .

Nor is it possible for anyone to GIVE you your Faith. Christians believe that we are born with the desire for God in our hearts.  But it is up to the individual Christian to know what to do with that. I can see this in my sibling. My parents "gave" him a Christian upbringing, but it did not create in him a deep Faith.

God can call us and call us, but we do not have to listen or heed the call. Simon and Andrew and James and John dropped their nets and followed Jesus. I notice that Zebedee and his hired men stayed behind. Maybe Zebedee and his hired men were not ready.

Jesus talks about this in Matthew 13: 13-15: Jesus says, "This is why I speak to them in parables: Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do to hear or understand. For this people's heart has grown callous; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes."

To be a Fisher of People, as a Christian, I am called to simply cast my net. Some may respond, others may not.

There is a big difference between Proselytizing and Evangelizing. Proselytizing means forcing one's Faith on another. But, that is impossible! No one can give you your Faith, and no one can take it way. anyway, how strong could one's Faith be if it were a forced act? Would God even want us if our Heart is not in it? A faked Faith is hypocrisy.

But, Evangelizing means being an "ambassador for Christ". Simply trying, the best I can, to live in a Christ-like way, is enough. . . trying to be patient, kind, helpful to others, humble, loving, gentle, tolerant, generous.

I said, "Trying. " I am not "Holier than Thou." I am human. I make mistakes. As St. Paul says in Romans: "For we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

Certainly, there are prominent people today who call themselves Christians, who fall very short and are egregious sinners. Some would say that Christianity itself is a terrible thing, when so many so-called Christians are indulging in evil and even criminal behavior.

But my heart is sad to think that we should condemn all of Christianity, for the reason that there are some Christians who are sinners. Christianity does not make people immune to Sin. Christianity is never to be used as a Shield or a mask to distract from truly horrendous behavior . That, friends, is a misuse of Christianity.

Being a Christian does make me more aware of how I am perceived and how I conduct my life. I don't want to be one of those Christians who has a Fish bumper sticker on my car, but who stoops so low as to cut other cars off, weave and speed in heavy traffic, or shockingly, commit road rage. I don't want to claim I am a Christian, all as I lie and cheat and hoard and steal my way to the top, stepping on everyone I can on the way up.

I remember many years ago, when I was first starting my Journey to find and nurture my Spiritual side. I met an older woman who had her share of wrinkles and gray hairs. But she positively glowed. In a word, she was beautiful!! I  took one look at her and asked, "What is your secret?" She told me that she was a Christian and she prayed daily on the things she herself could not control in her life.

I walked away a different person. I told a girlfriend who was with me, "I want what SHE has!"

Now THAT is an ambassador for Christ. Quite simply, the embodiment of the Light, casting out darkness. Not fire and brimstone speeches, not shouting slogans louder than anyone, not acting as judge, jury and executioner. Simply BEING - Love, Light, Hope, Faith. . .

[Related Posting: "Come After Me", 1/27/11; "Fishers of Men", 1/21/12; "Putting Out in Deep Water", 2/10/13; "Answering God's Call", 1/27/14; "Fishing Manual", 1/24/15].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Martin Luther King, Jr. - The Man

" Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly." - Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is January 15, 2018.

I have had, in the past, the opportunity to talk with an elderly woman who actually knew Martin Luther King, Jr.  She told me that everyone thinks King was very tall, probably because of his booming voice and his emphatic style of speech.

But, King was really not very tall. In fact, he was 5' 7".

My friend, who knew Dr. King, worked in the Civil Rights movement with him. She told me, "I would have followed him anywhere." Why? - Because despite his average (physical) height, he was larger than life, charismatic and dynamic.

I want to believe that the fight for Civil Rights was ALL about Martin Luther King, Jr. himself.

But King was humble. Dr. King once said, "Remember, if I am stopped, this movement is not stopped, because God is with the movement." King knew that there are certain God-given absolutes, certain things that are absolutely wrong such as slavery and racial bigotry. These absolutes, being God-given, cannot expire or go away.

Since those absolutes are never-ending, then these Truths belong to ALL of us. Then, it must be, that ALL of us are responsible to fight for Justice and that ALL of us are responsible for each other.

I always wanted to believe that since Martin Luther King was fighting for an inviolable Truth, that he himself was perfect. But, he was not. . .  History records that when Martin Luther King was on the road, FBI Head J. Edgar Hoover had his agents record King having intimate relations with a woman who was not his wife. Then, Hoover made sure to call King's wife and play the recordings over the phone for her.

We live in a time when we know that slavery is absolutely wrong. We have legislation that prohibits racial profiling, racial discrimination, and acts of racial hatred. These Truths are absolute.

But the road from Abolition to true racial equality is long. It is always the case that there are God-given, inalienable Truths - - and then, there is man himself.

Martin Luther King said, "There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us."

America has made some huge mistakes along the way -- obviously, the Jim Crow laws where white America tried to convince itself that "separate but equal" was good enough.

I believe that we are at a point in America's history when another significant Truth is being uttered aloud - that all women deserve respect and opportunity. In today's climate of sexual harassment, abuse and downright assault, we are once again speaking out about an inalienable Truth.

The continuum of inappropriate behavior of men towards women ranges from innuendo, to verbal harassment, to all out assault.

Martin Luther King said, "It is true that [not all] behavior can be legislated and legislation cannot make you love me, but legislation can restrain you from lynching me and I think that is kind of important."

When Oprah Winfrey interviewed some of the women involved in the Time's Up movement, she asked, "Once somebody's been accused of sexual harassment and loses their job, should they ever work again?"

Reese Witherspoon replied, "I am not here to make that decision." Shonda Rimes said, "I was raised in a world in which I believe that there has to be a belief that people can grow, change and learn and know better. I mean, NOT if you've committed a crime. You need to go pay, do your time for your crime. . . but at a certain point, there has to be room for reconciliation."

Reconciliation, forgiveness, have become almost like dirty words in this country. We seem to fear that "Forgiveness" means that somehow, the wrong action has suddenly become something "okay". Martin Luther King said, "Forgiveness does not mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning."

All of which raises the question, IF Martin Luther King, Jr. had been alive today and his infidelity had been disclosed widely on social media, would that infidelity have negated everything that he stood for?

And, do we even feel up to the task of ultimately judging him that way? We humans are a complicated amalgam of the awful and the amazing. . . .

Discovering an egregious wrong, naming it aloud, processing the pain, speaking the Truth in courage, weighing the evil against the good -- all of these constitute a process, a long walk of hurt and of Truth and of  Love. But we cannot hope to make progress in this world unless we can name the Truth and begin the painful conversation.

As Black-ish actress Tracie Ellis Ross said, "I think the one thing I would say is, like, everybody's gotta do some listening."

(Related Posting: "Martin Luther King", 1/17/11; "Remembering Martin Luther King", 1/16/12; "The Need for Martin Luther King, 1/16/13; "Martin Luther King's Dream", 1/15/14; The Prophet: Martin Luther King", 1/15/15; "What Would Martin Luther King Say?", 1/14/16; "The Enduring Wisdom of Martin Luther King", 1/8/17.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

The Mindful Follower

" When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King Herod, behold, the Magi from the East arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is the newborn King of the Jews? We saw His star at its rising, and have come to do Him homage.' When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled. . Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Christ was to be born. They said to him, 'In Bethlehem of Judea.' .  Then Herod called the Magi secretly and sent them to Bethlehem, [saying], 'that I may too go and do Him homage.'  And behold, the star that the [Magi] had seen at its rising preceded them. They were overjoyed at seeing the star. They saw the child with Mary and His mother. They prostrated themselves and did Him homage . . . and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they departed for their country another way." -[ Matthew 2: 1-12].

This story of the Magi traveling thousands of miles to find the newborn King is one of the most popular passages in Scripture.

We wonder even today who these Magi were? Some scholars say they were Jewish men who remained after the Babylonian Exile. Other scholars say they were astrologers who had special knowledge of ancient manuscripts and prophecies, but who also knew how to navigate by means of constellations.

Whoever they were, arguably the Magi were the first "followers" of Jesus.

The word "Followers" is troubling to us today. We modern people want to believe that we are each incalculably unique. We want to believe that we are "in charge of our own destiny". We don't want History, political forces, or spiritual wisdom to buffet us, to force us to change or to cause us to transform.

But we are misled when we think about that word, "Follower".

When I consider the Magi, I think of the long, arduous trip they made, over thousands of miles. That is not a trip undertaken lightly. That Journey is filled with intent, filled with an eagerness and an expectation of joy. This is not a journey that is blind-eyed, or accidental, or passive.

This journey is an active, strenuous, determined one. This is a journey that seeks the Light, no matter what obstacles are in the way, no matter how long it takes, and no matter what personal strength it requires.

As "Followers of Christ", the Magi are intentionally and mindfully seeking Jesus.
This tells me that here can really be no "Accidental Christians".  Or, if there are accidental Christians, their journey does not last long, as the obstacles pile on. That is why St. Paul says, "I have fought the good fight."

It can be dangerous to be a Christian. The Magi had to know that Herod was an evil and violent ruler, who had no intention of paying homage to Jesus. Herod wanted to know where Jesus was, so he could kill Him. Jesus' being called a new King meant that Herod felt threatened and wanted Jesus gone.

Far from being "Followers" in the modern, passive sense, the Magi thought for themselves. Many, many at the time questioned that Jesus could actually be the Messiah. Even the disciples had times when they did not "recognize" Jesus, or truly understand who He was. A Christian, as "Follower" needs to be able to discern who comes from God -- and who does NOT. Being a "Follower" cannot mean passively accepting whatever one is told. The Magi DID know exactly who Jesus was, and they went to great lengths to find Him.

Being a "Follower" means taking risks. The Magi defied King Herod and did not return to tell him where Jesus was. I often wonder what fate the Magi would have faced, if they had been caught "covering" for Jesus' identity and His whereabouts?

Being a "Follower" means "Keeping one's Eyes on the Prize". The Magi walked thousand of miles towards the star. They could not be dissuaded by the threat of King Herod's violent leadership. (It is said that Herod killed even some of his own family members.) Apparently, the Magi also offered precious gifts to Jesus, befitting royalty. The Magi were not stingy or faltering with their worship. They were unerring towards the Light, and they did not let Fear derail them.

Today in China, the government is baffled by the steadfast bond which their Christian citizens have with God. This bond far outranks any loyalty that Chinese Christians have, as citizens to their government. Chinese officials say that they cannot wield any consequences against the Christians, that will cause them to waver in their Faith. Nothing touches them, the government officials complain. We close their church, they open another one. We fine them or surveil them, it does not matter.

The Magi risked it all, to seek and find Jesus -- Herod's wrath and violence, a long uncertain journey, defying their secular king, proffering precious gold and frankincense and myrrh.

As this Christmas Season ends, I have to ask myself - Am I all in?

(Related Postings: " My Magi Journey", 1/6/16; "The Epiphany of the Lord", 1/6/15; "The Worship of the Magi", 1/4/14; "My Epiphany", 1/5/13"The Magi", 1/9/12; "Epiphany", 1/6/11.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, January 1, 2018

A World of Family

" Brothers and sisters: Put on, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another. And over all these put on Love, that is, the bond of perfection.  And let the Peace of Christ control your hearts, the Peace into which you were also called in one body. And be thankful." --[Colossians 3: 12-21.]

Each Christmas, I feel so very deeply the dysfunction in the family I grew up with. My mother, who was so emotionally fragile, anxious, depressed, feeling as if she alone was responsible for the Universe. My father, who was so bitter and angry, taking his anger out on me, retreating from the world in resentment, as if all that he felt he was owed in life would always be out of  his reach. My sibling, hating me because he believed I was the favorite, but that special attention made manifest only in how I had become the scapegoat for all that was distorted in our family.

 In my youth, I wanted the Holy Family to be perfect. Even if my own family was so very imperfect, I searched for the perfect model of Family.

But as I matured, I realized that I am so very flawed; as is everyone around me. I began to almost resent this Perfect Family. WHO can ever match their perfection? I spent years in dismay at the family I had been given.

Today, I look around my world and I see very little "heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance [letting small rebuffs go]". I saw no Love as a child. There is so little Peace in our world.

We persist in shouting our beliefs at each other, interrupting so as to destroy any possibility of dialogue, as if saying the same thing over and over, only  louder and louder, will convince anyone.

As I re-read the story of the Nativity, I realize that the Holy Family, although Divinely created, is not entirely "by the script".  They were not "perfect"! What a relief!

Joseph was a lowly carpenter. Mary was a peasant girl, probably a teen, probably illiterate. When Joseph found out that she was pregnant, he almost walked away from Mary. But resolved to stand by her and marry her.

Jesus was, therefore, adopted! In the recent past, some may have seen adoption as shameful, a failure in a relationship. Here, however, adoption is a blessing. A miracle!

I always wanted Jesus, Mary and Joseph to "live happily ever after." But, by the age of thirteen, Jesus had left home to learn and preach in the Temple. His parents, alarmed at His disappearance, searched for Him for days. (And so, in modern terms, would we say that Jesus was a runaway?)

When His family found him at the Temple, it was not a joyful reunion. "Someone told Him, 'Look, your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.' But Jesus replied, 'Who is My mother and who are my brothers?' Pointing to His disciples, He said, 'Here are My mother and My brothers.' " -[ Matthew 12: 47-49].

And SO, Jesus began His ministry by regarding ALL as His Family.

It pains me to hear the maligning of the Christian Faith, as so very intolerant and petty and narrow. For this is nowhere in the Bible, nor in Jesus' beliefs. Jesus' life began with the Holy Family. Jesus lived His life thereafter, regarding the whole world as His Family.

Jesus did not marginalize those whom Society feared or distrusted. Jesus touched and healed a leper. -[Matthew 5].

Jesus did not ostracize those in Society who were powerful and abused that power. He dined with tax collectors, those greedy men who charged taxes and then, extorted premiums for themselves. -[Mark 2: 15].

Jesus encountered a woman, out in public, at Jacob's well, and a Samaritan woman at that, and a woman living with a man not her husband. And yet, Jesus spoke to her openly and compassionately.

Today, those who would say that Christians are a hard-hearted, intolerant, hateful lot, are not following the Jesus whom I know.

Martin Luther King himself preached this, when he said, "In a real sense, all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny."

Or, as Mother Teresa once said, 'Do we forget that we belong to each other?'

And so I see, that it does not matter if I come from a perfect family or not; it does not matter if I am faulty and all too human.

We are "all one body". If only we all acted this way. If everyone is my Family, and we are all inter-related, then everyone is my Beloved. Then to all, I will endeavor to show "heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

And above all, Love.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.