Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Humble Leader

"James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to Him, 'Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.' He replied, 'What do you wish me to do for you?' They answered Him, 'Grant that in your Glory we may sit, one at your right and the other at your left.' Jesus said to them, 'You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I drink or be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?' They said to Him, 'We can'.
Jesus said to them . . . 'To sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give but is for those for whom it has been prepared. . . You know that those who are recognized as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.' " -[ Mark 10: 34-45].

I used to believe that God was my personal "Answer Man". I would pray to Him, "God, please let me get a good grade on this test. Then, maybe people will respect me and I will be happy."

But all that happened was that my mother insisted that I help my brother with his homework! This brother of mine, who called me ugly, in infinite detail every day and who laid traps for me in my bedroom.  . . I thought that God was not answering my prayer!

But He did answer me. He was showing me that lording my intelligence over my brother would not make me any greater, or eliminate my brother's meanness.

I used to pray to God, "Lord, please let me get this job right after I finish college. Then I will be independent and not need to rely on anyone else, who might be mean or cruel to me."

But all that happened was that God sent me a helpmate and a lifelong spouse. This man loved me unconditionally; but God also was calling ME to love and care for my husband as a doting wife.
I thought that God was not answering my prayer!

But He did answer me. He was showing me that love is not just about someone loving ME. Love is about caring for and serving others.

I used to pray, "God, send me a child borne of my husband and me, so I will be like everyone else and have a child just like us."

But all that happened was that God sent me a child to adopt. This child was mine, but not mine; a child to love as my own but also a child who desperately needed parents. I thought that God was not answering my prayer!

But He did answer me. He was showing me that having a child is not about MY need for appending a doting child to my side; but about nurturing and serving a child who needs ME.

I used to pray, "God, my early life was filled with such severe pain and trauma. How can I go forward in life with such wounds? Who or what could ever heal me?"

But all that happened is that he sent me a friend from Africa, from a village where his people were dying for lack of water, from lack of food or medical care, who believed that the world had forgotten them, and maybe God had forgotten them too. I thought that God was not answering my prayer!

But He did answer me. He was showing me that my wounds are serious but there are others who suffer just as much if not more. And THEN he asked me to help the people in this African village!

Sometimes when we pray to God, it is US-centered. We cry out in pain and we want the pain to go away. We think that God is sending us non-sequitur replies. But usually we get unexpected answers,  when we are asking the wrong questions.

I thought I could overcome my trauma by meeting the right people who knew how to be kind and compassionate. Or, I thought I could isolate myself, not needing anyone, but relying on myself, my gifts, my education, my talents, to ease the suffering that life has heaped upon me.

But, to follow Christ is NOT to become great and superior, and to sit in glory at the right or left of Jesus, or to inherit a throne. To follow Christ is to encounter persecution, abuse, suffering, hardship, sacrifice, and rejection.

To follow Christ is NOT to isolate oneself from the difficult situations or persons in life. To follow Christ is to encounter the difficult people, even to engage with them, to emerge intact and even to help them.

A true leader does not exercise authority over someone, take all the glory and trappings of material wealth for himself, or promote himself above all others.

A true leader comes to serve, not to be served. A true leader makes sacrifices for others, not because of any honor accruing to him, but because of all the good accruing to others.

The disciples believed that Jesus came as a powerful, glorified ruler who would free them from the oppression of  Rome. Instead, Jesus came to free them from the narcissistic oppression of the Self.

As Mother Teresa said, "If you judge people, you have no time to love them."

If your heart is full of yourself, and full of disparaging others around you, then there is no room to love and to serve. . . . because whoever wishes to be great must become the servant of all.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Spirit of Wisdom

"I prayed, and prudence was given to me; I pleaded, and the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepter and throne, and deemed riches nothing in comparison with her, nor did I liken any priceless gem to her; because all gold, in view of her, is a little sand, and before her, silver is to be accounted mire. Beyond health and comeliness I loved her, and I chose to have her rather than the light, because the splendor of her never yields to sleep. Yet all good things came together came to me in her company and countless riches at her hands." -[Wisdom 7: 7-11].

 My mother used to equate Love to money. She confused the two. She used to try to condition my behavior on an offer of money. My mother and her own mother would tell me, 'I will give you my piano, and I will pay for you to take lessons, IF you will study piano and if you will play for me.'
But I bristled, because I knew that the only reason I would become devoted to the piano was if my devotion came from within myself. I was too young to have that discipline and so, reluctantly, I said No.

When I was at University, my mother would say to me, 'I will not pay for your tuition, IF you study this subject.'  But,  I bristled, because I knew that I would not be able to abandon my individual gifts, and to adopt other gifts which I did NOT possess- just because she threw money at me. I couldn't just wake up one day and become someone else, with a wholly different set of skills and abilities, just because she was paying me to do so.

As a young person, I had to give up on the influence of money. Money had to become irrelevant to me. "I deemed riches nothing." And so, the influence of wealth became as mere sand or mire to me. Any fool could have money. Any unscrupulous person could weaponize wealth. But I realized it takes a lot to grow from the inside.

My parents used to disparage those of color, and immigrants, and ordinary folks. They used to idolize the wealthy, the powerful, the extravagantly successful. But I bristled, because what if you were born poor and could never escape the yoke of poverty? Was it that person's fault? Did that make the person invisible? Or worthless?

I had to make celebrity or power or class irrelevant to me. And this was incredibly freeing to me, because suddenly no person was, by definition, off limits. I found that everyone has a story, and a path. I saw everyone as a potential friend, unless they showed me otherwise.

My parents used to feed me four day old food, when I was a child. They had other, fresher food in the house; but if I did not eat what was put before me, my father would say to my mother, "Do not feed her." I had to give up any sense of gluttony or misplaced worship of food. I learned that food can be weaponized, and so, food no longer had any hold over me.

My sibling used to taunt me daily, dishing out a litany of how ugly I was: my teeth were imperfect and I needed braces, my skin had occasional blemishes, I wore eyeglass to read, I wore the "wrong" styles. Over time, my teeth straightened, my skin cleared up, my eyeglasses became fashionable, fashions changed. I came to realize that my sibling's comments had far less to do with my appearance, and were far more indicative of his resentful attitude towards me. I had to give up any ego regarding my appearance, it wasn't worth agonizing over.

I am in middle adulthood now. I eat to live, I don't live to eat. I do not spend all my days figuring out how to amass priceless gems or vast stores of material goods. I have been poor. I have been well-off. Whatever my situation, I deal with it. I have had to eat rice and beans. I have been able to dine like a queen.

Through all this, I have sought what is timeless and priceless: Wisdom.

I have prayed to be able to discern what my path is. I have sought pure, unconditional Love, the kind that only God can bestow. Wisdom comes when you have been stripped of everything else: youth, beauty, riches, power, jewels, high class, renown, epicurean foods, designer clothing, vast swathes of real estate, superior strength.

What you have, when you have lost everything, is God. Wisdom is found in God's Word, which is Love.

Sometimes, all you have is God, is His Love, which is Wisdom. And that is not only enough- it is everything.

[Related Posting: "Prayer for Wisdom", 7/3/11]'

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

A Child-Like Wonder

"And people were bringing children to Him that He might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He became indignant and said to them, 'Let the children come to me; do not prevent them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it.'  Then He embraced them and blessed them, placing His hands on them." -[Mark 10: 2-16].

To accept the Kingdom of God requires a child-like outlook.

Not childish. . . As St. Paul says, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things." -[ 1Corinthians 13].

There really IS such a thing as maturing as a Christian adult, but at the same time retaining a child-like wonder in one's Faith.

I see a lovely innocence in children. Young children do not accept anger or cruelty. When my son witnesses inconsiderate behavior, he wonders, "Why would that person behave this way?"

Young children appreciate Love and they expect it. A cynical adult will assume that others will behave with anger or greed, often before they even know that person or see how they behave.

Amongst moms I know, we discuss the timeline of that loss of precious innocence. In my part of the world, innocence starts to fade away around the age of 8 or 10. We moms mourn that loss of innocence, with an inner grief. We know the world will never be the same for our children. We want to soften the blow for our children, but we also want them to become realistic about our World.

What softens the blow for Christians is that we do not have to wait until the next Life or the Final Judgment Day for that in-breaking Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God can be NOW.

If we adults take the time to talk to the kids around us, I believe we can retain some of that child-like wonder. We cannot take our Faith seriously and believe in an Infinite and All-Present Divinity, without a child-like suspension of disbelief.

I have had amazing conversations with my son, as he has grown up. What strikes me the most is that he does not accept things as they are, the way a cynical adult would. He asks piercing questions, and he has the will to work for change.

When my son was a pre-schooler, he looked up at the sky and said, 'How many stars ARE there, anyway?' He would run to the window each night to look for the moon. He would urge me, "Mommy! Come look! It's the moon!" It was a miracle to him every single night.

When he was in grade school, he saw a news report about a padded room used in schools to isolate students who act out. He asked me, "Wait. Is that even legal?" When I said yes, he replied quietly, "When I am an adult, I am going to work to ban those rooms so no kid has to go in there."

When my son was thirteen, I realized that he had taken Health class and knew where babies came from. So I sat him down and told him what abortion was. He listened quietly and began to cry. I said, "You are old enough to begin to know what this world is capable of."  He said, "Do they really kill babies?"

When my son was in middle school, he saw video of some children in India, picking through garbage to salvage what they could for sale. He asked me, "Wait. Is that even real?" When I said yes, he replied quietly, "Then I am going to play my trombone in a concert and raise money, because those kids should not have to pick through garbage for a living, they should go to school."

When my son was in high school, he asked me about the death penalty. I explained that, as punishment for certain extreme crimes, the state can put the criminal to death. My son was angry. He said, "Only God can take your life away. The state has no right to do that."

How many of us adults simply accept Abortion. Or, desperately poor children. Or, the death penalty. .

How many of us accept racism, sexism, assault, war, violence, greed, abuse of power? We say, Well, that's just the way it is- the way of the world.

But through the eyes of a child, we ought to be asking, WHY do these things persist in our world? Because these are not Love! And how can we bring more Love into our world?

And we ought to be going out at night, looking up to the sky, and recognizing the moon and the stars for the miracles that they are, and dreaming of the possibilities in the same way that our children do.

(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Tarnished Gold

" Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries. Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten, your gold and silver have corroded, and that corrosion will be a testimony against you; it will devour your flesh like a fire. You have stored up treasure for the last days. Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure; you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter. You have condemned; you have murdered the righteous one; he offers you no resistance." -[ James 5: 1-6].

Where there is injustice, there are the cries of the poor.

Today in many parts of the globe, slavery still flourishes. Or what amounts to slavery- because after the harvest worker pays for lodging and food at exorbitant rates, the worker has little to live on, or even goes into debt to the landowner. We in the developed world believe that slavery is abolished, but many in the world continue to live under these conditions.

This is the meaning of the verse: "Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers who harvested your fields are crying aloud.  . . You have murdered the righteous one." The practice of putting workers into debt so that they starve or are thrown into debtor's prison is deemed here to amount to murder.

A Christian might say, 'What does this have to do with me, I don't imprison or enslave others?'

OR, a Christian may say, 'I don't need all these clothes or my old laptop. I will give these to those who have so much less.'

OR, a Christian may say, 'I will buy my goods from those who don't pay its workers slave wages.'

Or, a Christian may say, ' I will not accumulate or hoard so much wealth. I will give the money I used to waste on extravagant shopping, to charity.'

But this verse is also about a whole lot more than being a charitable Christian, who is a good steward.

It is about Divine Justice.

This Scripture in James takes me back to Job 21: 7- "Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?'

But, it also takes me to Psalm 37: "Never envy the wicked! Soon they fade away like the grass and disappear. Trust in the Lord instead. Be kind and good to others; then you will live safely here in the land."

I knew from a very young age that I had to counter Evil with Good. I had to wage Spiritual Warfare, by utilizing Love and kindness. I also had to bide my time until I could leave my ugly situation in life, and become independent.

It is all too easy to despair these days. The poor are mocked and shunned. The rich seem to be callous and hateful. We idolize all that is gilded and egotistical and shiny.

Rich politicians are scheming, greedy, self-centered. Celebrities hoard wealth, even flaunt it. Look at our favorite magazines, social media sites, cable shows; they all worship materialism, fabulous wealth, designer-everything. We see homes that are 10,000 or 20,000 square feet for a family of 3 or 4; yet our inner city schools are crumbling and rat-infested.

Psalm 37 says, "Stop your anger! Turn off your wrath. Don't fret and worry - it only leads to harm."

Yes, Christians are clearly called to work to stand up for the marginalized. But, we also know that those who have "lived on earth in luxury and pleasure" at the expense of others, have already received their reward in this life. And nothing in this life shall last. Clothes are worn down and discarded, homes may become ruins, gold and silver tarnish. In the end, the greedy will suffer for their avarice and narcissism, in the next Life.

I do not know how I could live in this world without the knowledge that God always has the last word! For every powerful person who "seems to be getting away with murder", God knows what this person is committing and He is remembering. As for me, I keep doing well by doing Good.

"Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust Him to help you do it, and He will. Your innocence will be clear to everyone. He will vindicate you with the blazing light of justice shining down as from the noonday sun." -[Psalm 37].