Saturday, June 23, 2018

Called By Name

" When the time came for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown His great mercy toward her and they rejoiced with her. When they came on the eight day to circumcise the child, they were going to call him Zechariah after his father, but his mother said in reply, 'No. He will be called John.' But they answered her, 'There is no one among your relatives who has this name.'  So they made signs, asking his father what he wished him to be called. He asked for a tablet and wrote, 'John is his name,' and all were amazed. Immediately his mouth opened, his tongue freed and he spoke blessings to God. . . All who heard these things took them to heart, saying, 'What, then will this child be?' . . The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the desert until the day of his manifestation to Israel.". -[ Luke 1:57-66, 80].

I never liked my name. It is "plain-Jane", simple and old-fashioned. There is really no way to dress it up. That was my mother's agenda all along, to give me a name that could not be cutesied up, or abbreviated- just a simple, straightforward name.

My mother said she just liked the name and, besides it sounded good with my last name. My dad said he thought they chose my name after a relative in his genealogy, on his mother's side.

In this Scripture, Elizabeth and Zechariah go against tradition by not naming their son after the father Zechariah.  When Zechariah, a high priest, goes into the inner sanctum of the temple, suddenly an angel appears who tells him that he and Elizabeth will have a son, despite their advanced years, and that they will name him John. John means "Yahweh is gracious."  At the announcement by the angel, Zechariah protests that he does not believe that he and Elizabeth will have a son. Thereafter, Zechariah becomes mute.

As the child John grows strong in spirit, he spends time in the desert, until he emerges ready to speak for the Lord and prophesy.

My husband says he loves my name because it sounds powerful. I never felt very powerful as a child. In the face of abuse, dysfunction and trauma, in fact, I gradually shut down- - first not showing my emotions, then numbing my emotions, then barely sleeping, then barely eating; and finally, I took a vow of silence. I had come to the conclusion, at the age of ten, that I did not believe in the capacity of humans to love or show compassion.

It took many years of silence before I was able to leave home; and before I finally met the man who gave me unconditional love. Finally, I began to believe in the power of Love, again. I began to sleep well, eat well, and to speak.

Twenty years into our marriage, I found myself in a personal desert. In the span of a few years,  my parents died, my father-in-law lost his second wife to cancer, my best friend died, and all the terrible memories of trauma came flooding back.

I began to meet with my pastor for Spiritual Direction. I knew I was in a dark place and in battle. I would need God. I could not do this alone.

I asked how I could rebuild my trust? He said, Start by trusting that the sun will come up each day. Start by trusting that night will come and the sky will get dark. Start by trusting that after a long day at work, your husband will come home to you.

I did become stronger in spirit. At first, it was so gradual, that I barely noticed. After awhile, people I knew told me that I was transforming before their eyes, becoming stronger and more confident.

At my last meeting with my pastor, I was ready to move on. It turns out that he was ready to move on, as well - he had been assigned to a new parish. It was then that he told me that as a young seminarian, he had been assigned to a church named after a saint - and that saint name WAS my first name.

This saint was one of the women who surrounded Jesus, who walked with Him and ministered to Him. She was, in essence, one of the first female disciples. Suddenly, my name made perfect sense. Perfect, like John's name meaning, "Yahweh is gracious", because of God's great grace in bestowing a son on such elderly parents.

I was emerging from the desert, and ready to turn my pain into Love for others. I gradually acquired the strength of spirit to give to others, not just to draw living force from others.

These days, I have a husband and a son. I knit hats and scarves for a city shelter. I give food to the needy. I call friends who live alone. I plant flowers for neighbors. I bake cookies for friends who have no time or talent for baking. I am on the Board of a foundation that helps a tiny village down a dirt road in Africa - a village that thinks the world has forgotten them.

And yes, I speak of the mercy of God who has brought me from a kind of living death, to vibrant life.

Sometimes, your name becomes you. But sometimes, you become your name.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights reserved.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

A Tiny Seed of Faith

"Jesus said, 'To what shall we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable can we use for it? It is like a mustard seed that, when it is sown in the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on the earth. But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.' " - [Mark 4: 26-34].

Faith "is the substance of what we hope for and the certainty of what we do not see." -[Hebrews 11:1].

Today, so many loudly decry this thing called Faith. Today, many compare Faith to a belief in Unicorns, in the Tooth Fairy, and in The Easter Bunny. (Although, when it comes to Christmas, we enthusiastically post signs around our homes declaring "Believe" - when we mean that magical, albeit perhaps foolish, belief in Santa Claus.) Faith has been relegated to the dust bin of mythology, fantasy and childish thinking.

Faith is, quite simply, a belief from the heart, of what we CANNOT see.

I would posit to you that even an ardent Secularist believes in things he cannot see: Consider our belief and hope that the sun shall rise tomorrow. We "know" that the sun is there in the morning, even if it is obscured by a deep swathe of clouds. Consider our belief that a woman is pregnant just because of a positive pregnancy test. Even though an ultrasound would detect nothing in the first few days, we believe in, and hope for, the tiny life growing inside the woman.

It is not delusional or fantastical to believe in things we cannot see. We humans beings have faith in the unseen every day!

Gallup Polls since the early 1960's have consistently shown, that 90% of Americans polled believe in God or a Higher Power. The same Gallup Polls have shown that 72% believe in angels and 71% believe in Heaven.

To live without Faith, however, is to live in a "horizontal world".- [Catholic Transcript, October 2012]. In that world, we rely only upon ourselves as humans, in a world rife with frailties, confusion, violence, war and despair. We humans are capable of such glorious successes but also of such dramatic failures.

I grew up in a home without Faith. If I merely mumbled, "God bless you", when someone sneezed, I was greeted with a glaring look. After age 14, I was not allowed to go to church. I ended up living my Faith in my daily life, but unable to express it verbally.

Where there was strife, envy, greed and hate, I would mend the family clothes, tend the garden, knit my sibling a sweater, and help with the dinner dishes.

For years, I did not understand how I got this Faith, when apparently no one else in my family did? For years, I was under the mis-impression that you got Faith by sitting in church. When my parents took church away, I was in a panic that they were taking my Faith away. I didn't realize that that cannot happen, because we are all born with a seed of Faith inside of us.

The Catholic Catechism says, in its First Articles, "The desire for God is born within the human heart."  It is an integral part of me. No one can take it away. I cannot apologize for it, any more than I can apologize for the texture of my hair, the timbre of my voice, or the tone of my skin.

In this parable, Faith is like a tiny mustard seed. You see, you don't need vast amounts of Faith, just a tiny seed. If  nurtured, this seed can grow into a towering plant.

A novice might not recognize this "desire for God." But I believe that it begins with the desire for something larger than ourselves. On a starry summer night, I might look up at the sky and feel a sense of awe that there are more stars than I can count- and probably billions more that I cannot see.

I do know that as a child, I longed for that unconditional Love that is so healing to the Soul. But my parents did not believe in God, so they likely did not believe that I had a Soul. Years later, I learned that God IS Love -- and so really, my longing for Love was a deep desire for God, and for an earthly expression of that Love by my parents. I could have become bitter and angry that I never received any Love from my parents, and in the process, I could have rejected God, too. But I am a survivor, and abiding Love from God is what has saved me in this Life.

Perhaps it was my Faith in a much brighter picture, and Hope in a more loving future, that kept me going all those years. I would say that that Faith and Hope probably came from God, too, because the odds were surely against me in a scientific and statistical way. Was I a fool to believe that I could one day rise above all the trauma, and come to thrive?

If you believe only in a statistical, data-driven, scientific world, I ought to be in jail, harming myself, in an abusive relationship, to be an abusing mother myself, addicted to drugs, alcoholic, homeless, and on and on. But I am not.

I am a miracle! And all because of that tiny seed of Faith and Hope and Love.

[Related Postings: "The Mustard Seed", 10/16/13].

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, June 4, 2018


"On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the Passover lamb, Jesus . . .  sent two of His disciples and said to them, 'Go into the city and a man will meet you, carrying a jar of water. Follow him. . . . Then the master of the house will show you a large upper room furnished and ready. Make the preparations for us there.'  The disciples. . . found it just as He had told them. While they were eating, Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, gave it to them, and said, 'Take it; this is my body.' Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, and they all drank from it. He said to them, 'This is the blood of the covenant, which will be shed for many.' " - [ Mark 14: 12-16, 22-26.]

The word "Eucharistia" means Thanksgiving in Greek, but this nomenclature does not appear in the New Testament. Some versions of 1 Peter call the Sunday meal of the Lord, "love-feast". - [Allan J. McNicol.]

Many denominations also call this Communion.

Most Christians perhaps do not realize that The Last Supper of the Lord was the very first Communion. Or that the very first Communion occurred on the last day before Jesus' Crucifixion, and at the eve of Passover.

Passover was connected to the Israelites' Feast of Unleavened Bread, a feast prescribed by God, to Moses [Exodus 23]. The Unleavened Bread was the first sheaf of wheat presented at the harvest.

Passover refers to the Israelites' practice, again prescribed by God, to splash the blood of a sacrificial lamb over the family's doorway, to protect against the final plague of the murder of the firstborn son. The Israelites believed that this sacrifice protected them from the shadow of the Angel of Death passing over their household.

When the Israelites finally made it to the Promised Land of Canaan, it was at the time of the celebration of their Passover. The next day, the Israelites joyfully began to eat of the bountiful harvest of the land!

So many implications flow from a Christian celebration of the Eucharist. We eat this meal on Sunday, the Lord's Day. How natural it is, therefore, to understand how one ought not sully the sacredness of the day with physical labors, frivolity or indulgence in misdeeds. Sunday truly IS the day which the Lord has made!

The Eucharist or Communion is a family meal and a "Love-Feast". No wonder we say "Peace be with you", before receiving the Host.

The Eucharist is a Communion. The church service is a "family reunion". We are all brothers and sisters. We cannot deny one another. We ALL belong to each other. We cannot be Christian and believe otherwise. We cannot say, I will fraternize with THIS person but not that one. Even our Jewish brothers and sisters are our beloved ancestors.

At the Eucharist, we all eat from the same Host and we all drink wine from the same cup. We are all one body, and we all share in Christ's body and blood.

The Eucharist is Thanksgiving, love-feast, family meal, and sacrifice, all bound into one Divine event. With the coming of Christ, there is no longer a need to sacrifice the blood of animals yearly to protect from the Angel of Death. Jesus, God's First-Born and Only Son, made that sacrifice once and for all. We all now share in His Death and Resurrection. Jesus died and rose to Heaven, so that now we, very imperfect, humans have that possibility, as well.

In the Eucharist, we share the characteristics of Jesus. We consume and embody His Peace that passes all understanding, His unconditional Love, His will to love and to serve others. Each week, after Communion, I exit church feeling so at peace, ready and willing and able to confront any struggles that arise in my daily life.

In the Eucharist, we do not celebrate an empty ritual. Instead, as at the Jewish Passover, we gather with  family and friends to RETELL and to REMEMBER our being set free by the grace and Love of God.

I think back to my own family and how they raised me. My best understanding is that their feeble faith was like John 14: 17: "The World cannot receive Him, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him".

After I received my First Holy Communion, my family ceased taking me to church. I had "graduated" from the requirements and was told to move on. My family considered me a "Christian" - and yet, how was I such, if I could not join in weekly Communion with my Christian family?

My family told me that I was set apart, better than others, amongst the privileged few. But, there can be no true Communion without all equally present and sharing in the one meal.

My family told me that I owed no one any special respect or help. Their attitude was, "Let them help themselves." But, in the Eucharist, we are all brothers and sisters. As one family, we cannot disown any members. Even if we unilaterally declare that some groups do not "belong", the One Body of Christ declares otherwise.

IF we dare to call ourselves Christians, IF we partake in the Communion supper, IF we take on the characteristics of Jesus in the Host and the wine, IF we consume and embody the capacity to love everyone unconditionally, THEN there can be no racism, no sexism, no poverty, no class divisions, no abuse, no estrangement, no jealousy, no division, no violence, no greed, no war.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.