Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Be Dazzled

"Jesus took Peter, James, and John and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His clothes became dazzling white, such as no fuller on earth could bleach them. Then Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, and they were conversing with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, 'Rabbi, it is good that we are here!' . . . He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified. Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; from the cloud came a voice,
' This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.'  Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone but Jesus alone with them." --[Mark 9: 2-10].

This story of the Transfiguration of Jesus has been retold countless times, and also depicted in paintings many times. In this Scripture, we see Jesus in Divine Light, literally.

The Transfiguration comes in the Gospel of Mark, at a time after Jesus asks His disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" -[Mark 8: 27]  During this time of Transfiguration, God makes explicitly clear that Jesus is more than a prophet (Elijah), and One far surpassing the Law (Moses).  In fact, Jesus is God's Son.

It has been said that Peter, James, and John need this moment of Transfiguration to hold onto, before the slow and inevitable march to Jerusalem, where Jesus undergoes His agonizing Crucifixion.

I look back on my Life, and I would say that I NEED to see this moment of Transfiguration, myself!

Life can be terrifying, exhilarating, frustrating, joyous, tragic, and peaceful.  Life IS a wild ride.

I need to be able to see that there is Someone Else and Something Else, besides and beyond all that I see here. Surely, we cannot simply struggle, and then die. There has to be more to Life than heartache, bitterness and death.

I remember when my mother was fading away from a terminal illness. Instructing me on her final wishes, she told me, "There will be no funeral. When I am gone, just stick me in the ground and forget it."

I was horrified. Didn't she believe in anything Eternal, Divine, Glorious?

I look around me, and I see a lot of us humans beings, going to great lengths to "Be Dazzling". -- Glitter. Skin rubs. Bling. Jewels. Shiny new cars. Rhinestone studded nails. Hot treatments, for the ultimate hair shine and glow. Glowing tans. Facials with exfoliation and hyaluronic acid to promote a dewy complexion. Chemical highlights in our hair to mimic tresses that have been sun-kissed.

But the Transfiguration is not about cosmetic bling. It IS about a lasting change from within.

Not one of us human beings on Earth can probably come close to Jesus' Transfiguration. He is truly Divine. The rest of us just long for the Divine.

But I have to believe that my understanding of the Life to Come will inform my everyday Life, and transform me from Hopeless to Faith-Filled.

I have learned that the greatest inner Light comes from the Love which we give to others, and from the Enduring Hope that living in Love can transform us totally.

I have often thought that Heaven is an awful long time away. What if I cannot wait for Joy and Divine Glory?

A mystical and magical alchemy comes over me when I live with the expectation that God's unconditional Love is inside of me, and that Love can emanate out to others, right here on Earth, right now.

Jesus' Transfiguration is a great Promise for the Life to Come. But it is also my call to shine my Light on others, in the here and now.

No, Heaven cannot wait. My Heaven is now.

[Related Posting: " Lightness of Being", 3/13/17; "Transfigured", 2/22/16; "This is My Son", 3/16/14;  "Transfiguration of Christ", 3/5/12; "Transfiguration", 3/20/11.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Angels and Beasts

"The Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness, and He remained in the desert for forty days, tempted by Satan. He was among wild beasts, and the angels ministered to Him.
After John [the Baptist] had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God." -[Mark 1: 12-15].

The desert is a very dry place. A person wandering in the desert is parched, perhaps lost, so very thirsty. Very hungry.

A person in the desert is weak and vulnerable. Any tests that arise could mean a serious trauma, or even the End.

I look back on my life, and I feel like I was in the desert during all of my childhood, and much of my adult life.

I faced many "tests" - as a child, being fed four day old food and being told, "Eat this, or go hungry, you will get nothing else." My mother offering to fix me a plate of eggs, and my father commanding her, "Do NOT feed her."

Being hit by a sibling, and my mother telling me, "You are too sensitive." Going to school with black eyes and my mother explaining, "Well, she is a tomboy."

When we went to the lake in the summer, I would sit in the prow of my grandfather's metal fishing skiff, cross-legged. My sibling believed that I was the "look-out" for rocks and lily pads. Instead, I had turned my back on my grandfather and sibling, both literally and figuratively.

I was pretending that I was not myself, but secretly, a Native American Princess. The pines in the shadows of the forest seemed dark and velvety, luring me in. I imagined that I would run away, and live amongst the wild animals. Deer and even bears would be kind to me, even if no human was capable of Love. I would fashion a tunic out of woven bark, and forage for wild berries and nuts. I would sleep on beds of soft, green moss, and carve my very own canoe out of a fallen log.

Of course, when our time at the lake was done, I had not run away. Instead, I returned to my year-round home and to my trials.

Before reading Mark 1:12-15, I thought I was somehow being "punished" in life, by having trials. But it was not God punishing me. . . Maybe it felt like my family was punishing me, making me the scapegoat.

But we all have trials in life, as well as moments of incredible joy and hope. None of us is immune from the Desert.

I must have had invisible angels ministering to me. . . All those years when I was most hungry, a neighbor fed me. When I was walking home from school in the rain, a neighbor gave me a ride. When I was most down, a mom told me I had a beautiful smile. When I was alone, I found a friend.

I have fought for so many years for the right to be fed. For the sense of security to be safe in my own bed. For someone to not only say, "I love you", but to show it.

But these merely bring me to "stasis", to a place of equilibrium, to a place where I am not dizzy from hunger or exhausted from fear.

What my emergence from the Desert means is far more than just food, water and warm clothing. The wilderness has honed me to see what is really important in my life. I have "eyes to see and ears to hear" - [Matthew 13:16].

I am extremely grateful for those "angels" who ministered to me. They helped me to survive.

As Jesus learned, I don't need over-arching levels of Power to recover and be successful in life. I do not need an unending supply of gourmet food, in order to flourish.

What I need is Faith that in the midst of this life of storms and wilderness and desert, that there IS  deep, unconditional Love available to me.

It was only after Jesus had emerged from the wilderness, that he began proclaiming the gospel of God.

It has been only since I have emerged stronger from my own journey in the wilderness, that I have been able to say that I want my past experiences to mean something.

I refuse to believe that, the sum total of Life means, you experience trauma, then you die. My experiences will mean something only if I can give to others who are hurting, that healing, unconditional Love that I never received.

I want to turn my past hunger into feeding others. I want to turn my past shivering-cold into giving others a sweater or a coat. I want to turn my past thirst into life-giving water.

Out of the depths of my wilderness, I want to find Healing; and in the process, to help others to heal.

[Related Posting: "The Desert", 2/15/15; "The Test", 2/14/16; "Tempted", 3/4/17].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Untouchables

"A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down, begged him and said, 'If you wish, you can make me clean.'  Moved with pity, He stretched out His hand, touched him and said to him, 'I will do it. Be made clean.' The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean." -[ Mark 1: 40-45].

In the Old Testament, Leviticus 13 warns that if a person has leprosy sores, he must go to a priest for a diagnosis. If a priest declares him as unclean, the person with leprosy must go around crying out, "Unclean, unclean!" He must also live apart, dwelling away from others; there he remains, outside of society, a man marked and judged by his sores.

In Mark 1: 40-45, the Astonishing happens : Jesus reaches out and touches the leper. Having been asked by the man with leprosy to cure him, Jesus declares, "I will do it!"

All of this reminds me of my childhood, during which my father would lecture me about avoiding the unclean, "the great unwashed immigrants" - anyone different that us, really; Polish, Italians, the Irish, Asian, people of color. My father would lecture us that we were English, and the English were superior, and don't ever forget that.

I was horrified by this. Every time I was in the car with him, and he would yell out an ethnic epithet at someone, I would cringe.

You see, I myself, was the brunt of bullying, by classmates and neighborhood children, for the shape of my nose, for my complexion, for the braces which I wore on my teeth, for the glasses I wore beginning in fifth grade. It did not take me long to realize that these were things about myself that I could not help.

Judge me on whether I am kind. Or whether I am patient, loyal, diligent, tolerant, gentle, etc. On things I can control.

It all became so very ridiculous when the kids began to taunt me because I was getting good grades, and was "too smart." I became afraid to speak in class, for fear that I would be bullied if I knew the answer.

It did not take me long to vow that I would never judge anyone for the things they could not change about themselves.

In this Scripture, Jesus does not just heal the leper. Jesus TOUCHES him. He touches the the leper, the unclean man whom everyone was so afraid of, that they sent him out of town.

This has gotten me to wondering, How are people who are different treated today? Who are "The Untouchables" in our world today? --

The Immigrant, especially from places such as Haiti or Africa?
People of Color?
People from " the wrong zip code"?
People from the "wrong political party"? There are Democrats who will not speak to a Republican and vice versa.
People of the "wrong religion" - Christian? Or Jewish? Or Muslim?
The Homeless?
People with mental illness?
People from rural America?
People whose first language is not English?
The elderly?
The disabled?
People who need housing or food assistance?
People who have no college education?
People who drive "the wrong kind of car"?
People who are survivors (as if you could "catch" whatever trauma they have been through)?
People who have been labeled the "Deplorables", for their beliefs?

Recently, a friend told me that she visits a dear old friend almost daily. This friend is very ill, and all the rest of her long-time friends have stopped contacting her. And why? Because this very ill woman no longer looks the way she used to. How utterly tragic. My friend visits her, and sits with her, almost daily. They watch TV, they have tea, they chat. What they "do" is unremarkable. What Love they exchange is Miraculous.

I think of myself as one of the most non-judgmental people you could ever meet. But everyone once in awhile, I "check my attitude". Am I a  bit more stand-offish or less kind to someone who looks different, or comes from different circumstances than I do?

If I catch myself drawing back from someone because I am judging them from the Outside, I am ashamed. . . Because Jesus would never judge from the Outside.

Jesus judges by the Heart.

[Related Posting: "The Touch of Love", 2/11/12].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.)

Saturday, February 3, 2018

A Restless Life

" Job spoke, saying: Is not man's Life a drudgery? Are not his days those of hirelings? He is a slave who longs for the shade, a hireling who waits for his wages. So I have been assigned months of misery, and troubled nights have been allotted to me. If in bed I say, 'When shall I arise?', then the night drags on; I am filled with restlessness until the dawn. My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle; they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind; l I shall not see happiness again." --[Job 7: 1-4, 6-7].

As a young person, it was a relief to leave home at age eighteen, and rarely return home. My life had been full of trials and tribulations --  almost having died before I was even born; having been traumatized by the aftermath of a fire in my grandparents' home when I was about three; near drowning in a neighbor's pool when I was four; finding food for myself, and putting myself down for naps when I was five; being diagnosed with a chronic lung disease when I was six; enduring verbal and emotional and physical abuse from my father, my mother, my sibling; ceasing to speak when I was ten; not having a friend to defend me. Being the victim of a violent crime and nearly dying, when in my twenties; a tree falling at me and nearly taking me out during a sudden wind shear. . . .

Every day, I am grateful that I am still here, relatively healthy, with a family -- a husband and son-- who love me.

But now that I have food, safe residence, even Love, I wonder, Why did I ever have to endure all that? I still have nightmares, my sleep is restless, where is God in all this?

Some Christians would argue that we suffer from trials and trauma because we have sinned. This is a central question in Job. But, a person may be faith-filled, devoted to God, and yet still face suffering. It is not true that an innocent person never suffers.

And it is not true that those who are suffering are necessarily being punished for Sin. Nor is it "proof" that a person who is suffering must have done something wrong.

I am safe now, yes. Blessedly safe.

But even in this miraculous technological age, Life can be drudgery. I may wash clothes by machine but I still fold and iron by hand. I buy pre-peeled vegetables and de-feathered chickens, but I still chop and dice and stir, to cook a meal. I may have a lawn mower but I still weed and plant by hand. I still wash and comb my hair by hand. I still haul trash out by hand, recycle and file and organize papers by hand.

Every time I so much as "blink", it seems like Day has turned to Night. Or, that the weekly pages in the calendar have turned to Monday, yet again.

I make friends, I lose friends. I earn money, then the money is gone for taxes, for expenses and bills. I have relatives, then the relatives get old, they get sick, they die.

Every week, I wash the same clothes, I wash the same dishes; each spring, I pull the same weeds, then the weeds come back and I pull them again.

After some time, I begin to wonder, as Job did -- What is the point of all this drudgery, and even pain? Do you ever hear the alarm go off on a Monday morning and wish you could just go back to sleep - maybe wonder what it would be like to sleep forever?

But, the challenges of the day beckon. And Reality sinks in quickly. For half a second, I am happy to see the morning sun. . .until my consciousness registers that the problems which I wrestle with are still there, waiting for me, perhaps daring me to tackle them.

A thinking, contemplative person asks, What is all this drudgery and trauma in Life even FOR? WHY must I suffer so?

In Job 38-41, God addresses Job. He tells Job, essentially, how can any human being - who being human, by definition, is limited in insight and Wisdom - know the "why" of the pain? How can any man argue with God over what we deserve in Life, when God knows us better than we know ourselves?

I have wasted countless hours, days, weeks and even years wondering WHY, in this whole wide Universe, that I "deserved" such pain and trauma?

What God tells Job is this: "Do you send the lightning bolts on their way? Do they report to you, 'Here we are?' Who has the wisdom to count the clouds?" -[Job 38: 35-37]. God put billions of stars in the heavens, are we responsible for them? Who can even count them?

In other words, in this vast and incomprehensible Universe, we humans cannot ever know all the mysteries of Life.  I am too limited to understand the reasons for the Universe. Do I even have the right to ask why? If I did ever find the answer, would that ever change things for me?

These days, I wonder about my longing for Someone or Something bigger than myself. My restless dissatisfaction about this Life portends my longing for the Infinite, for a Universal time and place where I am loved, no matter any circumstances.

And so, the Question is not WHY? The question becomes WHO can soothe my Soul? WHO can heal me and help me find my place in the Universe?

I can walk this journey alone. Or, I can know that God is big enough for my pain. This I know in my heart. God never promised me an easy Life. But, He did say, "I will walk with you."

(Related Posting: "Hating This Life", 3/25/12; "Job", 2/8/15; "Accepting Hardship", 5/25/16.]

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.