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.

Monday, July 9, 2018

In Weakness, Strength

"Brothers and sister: That I, Paul, might not become too elated, because of the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me. . . Three times, I begged the Lord about this, that it might leave me, but He said to me, 'My Grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.' I will rather boast most gladly of my weaknesses, in order that the power of Christ may dwell with me. Therefore, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and constraints, for the sake of Christ; for when I am weak, then I am strong.' "  -[2 Corinthians 12: 7-10].

I have struggled mightily with this concept of being strong when I am weak. It makes no sense that one's weakness could become true strength.

This weekend, I was watching an interview with the actor, Michael J. Fox. The interviewer asked him 'Would he rather be remembered for his movie roles, such as in "Back to the Future"; or, for his foundation that has raised nearly $1 Billion for Parkinson's research?'

Astonishingly, he chose his work in financing Parkinson's research. In other words, he chose his "weakness" - -his disease - - over his strength - - his gift for acting.

As he talked about the legacy of his Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, I suddenly found myself asking, 'Why was HE chosen?' - You notice that I did not ask, 'Why was HE burdened? OR, Why was HIS life ruined?'

This is exactly what St. Paul spoke of when he wrote, "For when I am weak, then I am strong." Michael J. Fox took his greatest weakness, and turned it into his greatest strength.

St. Paul, summing up his life, recited a long litany of personal traumas and disasters: "Five times I received forty lashes minus one., Three times, I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open seas. In my frequent journeys, I have been in danger from my countrymen and from the Gentiles, in danger in the city and in the country, in danger on the seas and among false brothers, in labor and toil and often without sleep, in hunger and thirst and often without food, in cold and exposure . . . Who is weak, and I am not weak? " - [ 2 Corinthians 11: 24-29].

I have often engaged in a similar litany: Nearly lost my life as I was being born, so I almost never saw this life at all. My mother nearly died giving birth to me. Nearly drowned when I was four. Diagnosed with a chronic lung disease when I was six. Numbed my emotions when I was 8. Stopped speaking when I was ten. Lost the only family member who loved me unconditionally, my grandfather, when I was ten. Went to school with black eyes from physical abuse. Was not fed. Barely slept. Cold winters. Suffered emotional, verbal and sexual abuse. Was forbidden to go to church or to receive Communion. Nearly died in a violent crime. Twice, falling trees nearly killed me. Gained a son, but nearly lost him. In two years' time, my best friend, then also a dear family friend, my father, my mother and my dear mother-in-law, all died.

You would think that, when I recite this litany, that I am unhappy and complaining about my life. But, no. What I see is the in-breaking Kingdom of God. I was able to endure all this, a trauma or crisis almost every year of my life, because God's Grace upon me was sufficient!

I tell people my story and they say, 'Oh! My Lord, how did you survive?' And I say, 'I would not have survived, if I did not have my deep Faith. My favorite Scripture is, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the Faith." - [2 Timothy 4:7].

I tell people, 'Things were so bad, I stopped speaking.'  Yet, the encouragers in my life tell me, 'But you were not burdened, you were chosen. That was a blessing, not a curse.'

I tell people, ' When I finally worked up the courage to return to the church and walk up that long aisle to receive the Eucharist, I was shaking, overwhelmed, terribly emotional.' Yet, the encouragers in my life tell me, 'Everyone should feel overwhelmed and in awe at receiving the Eucharist.'

As I look back, I am fully aware that my life is a testament to the presence of God. I see the hand of God in the doctor who saved my life as I entered this world. I see the face of God in the neighbors who fed me, or in the friends and strangers who helped me after I nearly died in a crime - when my own family refused to let me come home.

The Truth is, God never wants us to suffer. But when we do suffer - and in this life, we do - the crisis provides an opening for God's Love and Grace to enter even more fully.

The meaning of the word, "Crisis", IS disaster, but also, "crossroads or turning point".  God's Power is made perfect in our weakness.

I am living proof of God's Power and Love. I have been told that I "ought to be" dead, maimed, homeless, in jail, addicted, in danger from domestic abuse, terminally ill, unable to love or to trust, suicidal, or abusive to others.

But, no. I am a miracle. . . Because in my own weakness, with God's loving Grace, I am strong!

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Abundant Generosity

"Brothers and sisters: For you know the gracious act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, for your sake he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. Not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality, your abundance at the present time should supply their needs. Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed. At the present time, your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need." -[ 2 Corinthians 8: 7, 9, 13-15].

Several years ago now, I was on vacation with my parents. We were driving along a country road but we had not packed any lunch. By mid-afternoon, we were famished. We stopped at a country market. They sold packaged snacks but no sandwiches or lunch items.

We picked some ice cream bars out of a freezer. When my father went to pay, he was short by a dollar or two. The owner would not take a credit card.

My father said to the proprietor, "Oh well. I am short only a dollar or two, it doesn't matter." Clearly, my father expected to walk away with all of the ice creams, but not pay the full amount. He felt owed.

The proprietor became angry, saying, " It matters plenty to me. Surely, you can see my point of view! If I sold all my goods for a few dollars short, I would be out of business in a short time. I cannot give my goods away."

My father was impeccably dressed. It was obvious that he had plenty of resources. We could have shared fewer ice cream bars and surely not starved before we got home.

I related this story to a wise friend. She said, " Your father showed an abysmal lack of generosity." It was all about his immediate desire for an ice cream. But the proprietor's shop had few customers, it was dusty and poorly lit. Obviously, the shop owner depended on every penny to survive. My father could pay what he owed, or buy fewer treats. His abundance could supply the proprietor's needs.

I grew up in this ungenerous environment. Once, my father went careening back to the store where he had bought a case of sodas. One of the cans for some odd reason was sealed but totally empty. Something had gone awry at the factory. My father chewed out the store clerk: "How dare you sell me an empty soda can?!" The young clerk asked if he wanted a refund? The refund was 10 cents! Ten cents! My father was retired at that point and living an extremely comfortable life. He certainly could afford to lose ten cents. No one was purposely cheating him. Or, he could turn the empty can in for the 10 cent recycling deposit.

I see so much of this ungenerous attitude today. We possess this visceral attitude that somehow the poor are taking from us, when we have so much abundance, what more could we possibly need to buy?

When immigrants come to this country, what are they taking from us? Even with a green card, without citizenship, they cannot vote. Undocumented immigrants cannot receive welfare benefits.  With or without a green card, they don't take our jobs - they perform jobs we largely don't want, such as picking produce, caring for our elderly, or busing our tables in restaurants. Or, they perform jobs where there is a true shortage of American workers, such as doctors, nurses and STEM experts.

By my parents un-generosity, I learned to be generous. I do not begrudge others. I do not hold onto what I have because it is "mine", when others are in need. I do not give, with an agenda in mind, that if I give so much, you must give so much in return.

My father felt "owed", when he had more than he could use. I believe that things have a way of evening out over time. I don't keep score. Sometimes, I am down, and in need. I need to borrow a cup of sugar or an egg. I need your time, to console me or to give me advice. Other times, I am in abundance and I give.

Recently, I told some friends that I had helped a relative with her schooling "because, because . . ." And my friends chimed in, "Because you can."

Yes! I could. So, I did! That is generosity. That is Love.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights reserved.