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.