Thursday, May 16, 2019
"Jesus said: 'My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me. . . No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of my Father's hand. The Father and I are one.' "-[John 10: 27-30].
On the popular TV show, The View, Joy Behar ridiculed Christians for saying that they "hear Jesus' voice." Bear said, "It's one thing to talk to Jesus. It's another thing when Jesus talks to you." She went on to say that hearing voices is "a mental illness."
I have to say that when I decided to join my church, and my pastor was talking me through the process, he told me how to pray. After a few attempts at this practice, I ran back to him, "spooked" because I was getting answers! He chuckled and said, "Oh. I think you'll get used to it."
This "conversation" with Jesus is called Prayer. We humans may feel so limited that we believe that a conversation with Jesus is merely a one-way dialogue. We beg Jesus for forgiveness, or for personal favors, such as enough money to pay the bills, or an A+ on a test - but many of us are completely astonished when Jesus actually answers!
I have been meditating upon what Jesus' Voice is like, or what He is conveying?
Could I get confused if His Voice seems to point me in one direction, only to find it may be a false turn?
Certainly, Paul talks about the cacophony of voices in the world that can mislead or even wound. In
1 Corinthians 13: 1, Paul says, "If I speak in the tongues of men and angels but have not Love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal."
I am finding that the simplest way to discern if God is working through someone or if He is telling me which way to turn, IS THAT - when the message is not rooted in Love, it is not God!
These days, so-called friends have said some cruel things to me. They berate me or are unkind or they judge over things they know nothing about. If I listened to everything the world told me to do, or told me about myself, I would be spinning and twisting as if buffeted by dangerous winds from all directions.
Becoming a Christian, growing as a Christian, is a long, hard walk. My pastor explained to me that we all have the Holy Trinity inside of us. The longing for God - Something or Someone greater and more eternal than ourselves- is innate; and we possess the capacity for His unconditional Love deep within us.
But anger, jealousy, bitterness, impatience and so forth threaten the fulfillment of that unconditional Love. When I hear those cruelties, I have a visceral response, because that is not what God wants for me, and that is not God speaking to me!
I have been whipped around by the viciousness of the world lately. Someone makes one small, unintentional mistake or utters something unwittingly insensitive, and that person is driven to the edge of society. This viciousness is flamed by social media and lives on forever in the cloud. The person who erred is never forgiven and never allowed to redeem himself.
But then again, complete strangers have spoken the Word of God to me, have lifted me up with their kindness and wisdom.
That is, that must be Jesus' Voice! That Love and compassion is what I shall follow:
"I heard the voice of Jesus, say, 'I am this dark world's Light; Look unto me, thy morn shall rise, and all thy day be bright. I looked to Jesus, and I found in Him my Star, my Sun; And in that Light of life I'll walk, Till traveling days are done." -[Hymn: "I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say."]
[Related Postings: "She Talks To God", 4/23/18; "The Shepherd's Voice", 5/8/17; "Hearing the Shepherd's Voice", 4/19/16".]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Monday, May 6, 2019
"Simon Peter [and the disciples] went out and got into the boat [to go fishing], but that night they caught nothing. . . Jesus said to them, 'Children, have you caught anything to eat?' They answered Him, 'No.' So He said to them, 'Cast the net over the right side of the boat and you will find something.' So they cast it, and were not able to pull it in because of the number of fish. So the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, 'It is the Lord.'
When the climbed out on shore, they saw a charcoal fire with fish on it and bread. . . Jesus said to them, 'Come have breakfast.' Jesus came over and took the bread and gave it to them, and in like manner the fish.
Jesus said to Simon Peter, 'Simon Peter, do you love me more than these?'
Simon Peter answered Him, 'Yes, Lord, you know I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Feed my lambs.'
He then said to Simon Peter a second time, 'Simon, do you love me?'
Simon Peter answered Him, 'Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Tend my sheep.'
Jesus said to him a third time, 'Simon, do you love me?'
Peter was distressed that Jesus had said [this] to him a third time, and he said to Him, 'Lord you know everything; you know that I love you.'
Jesus said to him, 'Feed my sheep.'
And when He had said this, He said to him, 'Follow me.' "
-[John 21: 1-19].
This Scripture is laden with symbolism: when Jesus' ministry began, he appealed to the disciples to leave their nets and become "Fishers of Men". This meal on the shores of the Sea of Tiberias mirrors in a poignant and earthly way, the Last Supper which became the basis of Communion for Christians. Upon Jesus taking the bread and the fish, and giving it to His disciples, Jesus is recognized for who He is. The great number of fish in the net has been numbered at 153, the number of different kinds of fish believed to be in the sea at that time; meaning that Jesus and His disciples fish for ALL, not just for some.
But the most important and poignant part of this Scripture is when Jesus says, "Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep."
In the series, "Jesus: His Life" aired over Easter week on the History channel, Biblical scholars argue that Simon Peter, having denied Jesus three times before His Crucifixion, returns to fishing believing that he is a failure; and that the Way, the Truth and the Life are over.
Imagine Peter's astonishment when the Risen Jesus appears at the shore. Not only does Jesus literally feed His disciples, he commands them to go forth and to, "Feed my lambs."
This ministry of nourishment can be found in this meal of fish and bread, and more crucially, in the meal of the Eucharist. But, this ministry of nourishment expands into a worldwide command to love others- when Jesus tells His disciples, "Follow me."
Jesus makes the command to love others directly personal. Nothing can be more clear than the explicit connection with Jesus established in Matthew 25: "And He will answer, 'I tell you the truth, when you refused help to the least of one of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.' " -[Matthew 25:45; New Living Translation.]
I read the news and social media today - and what I read is judgment, hard-heartedness, hate, jealousy, scapegoating, contempt, abuse, harassment, ego, selfishness, racism, violence and so forth.
Yes, there is good and evil. Yes, we must fight for justice.
But, however it is that we approach the poor, the ill, the marginalized, the folks who stumble badly - THAT approach is what we do to Jesus Himself.
Christians "have an irresistible love for the down-trodden, the sick, the wretched, the wrong, the outcast and all who are tortured with anxiety." -[Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "The Cost of Discipleship"]. We do not judge such as these, instead we share their burdens and we work to alleviate their sufferings.
Nor do we respond with violence, verbal or otherwise, at being rejected by the world. For the world does reject us for refusing to accommodate its selfishness and greed, its vicious judgment of others, its bitterness and war. "The disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it upon others." -[D. Bonhoeffer].
A Christian judges others for their struggles or their mistakes- at his peril - because, "Every idle word which we think so little of, betrays our lack of respect for our neighbor, and shows that we place ourselves on a pinnacle above him and value our own lives higher than his. . Let us see whether we have tried to win popularity by falling in with the worlds' hatred, its contempt . . For if we do, we are murderers." -[D. Bonhoeffer.] For as we display anger with our brother, or judge him despite the immensity of our own sins, we assert ourselves as God.
Consider the sum total of all news and social media content. . . what percentage of it amounts to contempt, anger, egoism, and the inserting ourselves as a false God in society?
Because, in the end, only Love vanquishes all sin, all evil, all fear, all rejection and abandonment. Jesus proves this, as He loves and forgives Peter three times- that Love of Jesus triumphing over Peter's thrice denials before the cross.
Because, "Who needs our Love more than those who are consumed with hatred and are utterly devoid of Love?" -[D. Bonhoeffer].
[Related Postings: "Feed Me", 4/11/16; "Do You Love Me?", 4/14/13.].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Wednesday, May 1, 2019
"On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of [crucifixion], Jesus came and stood in their midst and said them, 'Peace be with you.' When He had said this, He showed them His hands and His side. The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, 'Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' " -[John 20: 19-31].
On the morning of the first day of the week- - Sunday - - Mary of Magdala "came to the tomb early in the morning while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb." -[John 20:1-9]. Jesus in physical body was gone! He had risen!
That evening, the disciples hid in fear in a locked room. They were terrified that they, too, would be crucified. It seems hard to believe that the disciples were not out right away, preaching and healing and converting unbelievers.
But, it is clear from their actions and demeanor, even before the Crucifixion in the Garden of Gesthemani, that the disciples were confused, overwhelmed, and fearful. It is quite possible that they did not even comprehend what had just happened.
Yes, Jesus had told them for a long time, how He had to suffer and die and return to His Father. But, when someone says that to you, there is an air of unreality, as if it is all a dream or perhaps a nightmare. That cannot BE, the disciples likely agonized.
The central story of Easter is that Jesus came to walk among us, to show us in human form the unconditional Love of His Father. The other enduring part of the story is that there is another life to come, in Heaven, which is made possible to us because of Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension.
The disciples' reaction to this is very much a mirror of our own reactions - incredulity; unawareness of its Truth; somnolence, as in the way the disciples literally fell asleep in the Garden of Gesthemani; confusion even as to Jesus' identity. And yes - Fear.
It is one thing to have an idea of the Divine, and of another Life in the supernatural. It is another thing to live it and confront it and experience it. Imagine Mary of Magdala's utter joy, but total shock, upon discovering that Jesus was simply gone!
But, imagine also the terror of the disciples when they realize the true cost of being followers of Jesus. He paid with His Life. The disciples could very well do the same.
The dawn of Easter brings the "dawning" realization that devotion to Jesus cannot be half-hearted. Jesus wants all of us, in the same way that He gave all of Himself, to us.
I see plenty of Fear in faith communities today. Synagogues and mosques and churches are being bombed and being subjected to mass shootings. I cannot in any way mock the Fear of the disciples. Their fear, OUR fear, are well-founded in some ways.
God and Jesus do not want merely a Sunday devotion. They want us to devote our lives- and our Life - to them. Our walk with Jesus merely begins on Sunday, but it continues on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday . . .
And Jesus walks WITH us: Jesus the wounded, Risen Christ, who walks through walls to reach us, who calls us all disciples because, "As the Father has sent me, so I send YOU."
The world's churches and mosques and synagogues, by rights, should be filled with worshippers, who literally stand up to be counted. The Faithful are not called to hide in the dark, in fear.
The Faithful are called to come out in the light, to BE the light.
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about "Cheap Grace" vs. "Costly Grace." "Cheap Grace" is the kind of Faith that requires us to merely sit in church on Sundays and sing hymns. "Costly Grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again. . . It is costly because it costs a man his life, because it cost God the life of His Son."
Bonhoeffer goes on to write: "The messengers of Jesus will be hated to the end of time. They will be blamed for all the divisions which rend cities and homes. Jesus and His disciples will be condemned on all sides for undermining family life, and for leading nations astray; they will be called crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace. The disciples will be sorely tempted to desert their Lord."
And WHY would a Christian ever contemplate such a journey, such a Grace Walk? Because Jesus shows us His wounds, and as He shows us the Truth of His wounds, He shows us that He is one of us, and we belong to Him.
[Related Postings: "Peace Be With You", 4/8/18; "Without a Doubt", 4/26/17; "Fear", 4/4/16; "The Benefit of Doubt", 4/29/14; "His Divine Mercy", 5/17/12; "The Truth of His Wounds"; "Doubt", 5/1/11].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Tuesday, April 23, 2019
"On the first day of the week, Mary of Magdala came to the tomb early in the morning, while it was still dark, and saw the stone removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and told them, 'They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don't know where they put Him.' So Peter and the other disciple went out and came to the tomb. The other disciple ran faster than Peter and arrived at the tomb first. When Simon Peter arrived after him, he went into the tomb and saw the burial cloths there. Then the other disciples also went in, and he saw and believed." -[John 20: 1-9].
"Easter" is a word that refers to, or means The Dawn.
The discovery of Jesus absent from the tomb is made at dawn. Easter is quite literally, the dawning of a new age, when early Christians saw and believed that there is a whole lot more beyond our limited sight, than what we can perceive in the natural world.
Easter is THE demarcation between early inklings of who Jesus was, as He himself prophesied, and a time when the disciples came to understand proof of Jesus as Divine.
It is not as if Jesus did not warn His disciples. In Mark, the earliest Gospel account, Jesus tells His followers, "the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and teachers of the law, . . He must be killed and after three days rise against." -[Mark 8: 31-33].
Jesus also tells his disciples: "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill Him, and after three days, He will rise." -[Matthew 17: 22-23].
And in John 2:12-22, when Jesus overturns the tables of the greedy money changers at the temple, He says, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." His listeners said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" But Jesus was talking about the destruction of His body, and his rising from the dead to new life.
Jesus' disciples and His listeners had varying degrees of disbelief and unbelief. Easter is an unfolding, of layers of meaning and revelation for the disciples - AND for all of us. I used to feel foolish for not really understanding the full meaning of Easter.
But now I am beginning to realize that the unfolding of Easter is all part of our growth as Christians.
When I was a child, I used to hear the priest in my church say that "Jesus died for us." I thought that was horrible. Who wants to hear about the aftermath of a grisly death, on a day so full of the life of spring and promise? How can the violent end of one man save lowly ME? It made no sense. It was just too awful, especially since that one Man was God's only Son!
I still cannot watch any reenactment of the Passion. It wounds ME. But I am starting to understand that the Crucifixion is "supposed" to wound me! Jesus is a part of me, I share in His Passion. Whatever Sin I commit, crucifies Him a little bit more. Any Sin against me, is a crucifixion of Jesus. Each time I receive the Eucharist, I receive a tiny bit of His body and blood, like a healing balm for my human weakness and temptation.
It took the deaths of my best friend, my father, my mother, my mother-in-law and a dear family friend, all in a span of two years, for me to finally live out the simple Truth, that Jesus went to Heaven before us, so that we can follow Him. He established the way: literally the Way, the Truth and the Life. I don't have to live in despair that this Life of sweat and violence and evil is all that there is. Beyond our human capacity, lies a supernatural world that possesses far more than we could ever imagine in this Life.
I understood from a young age, that doing Evil in exchange for Evil, only hurts myself, AND Jesus. I have always tried to be part of the cadre of humans who offer compassion and peace.
But, it has taken me a lifetime to understand that in this Life we all suffer. It took me getting to this Easter to finally see - perhaps to accept - that there is no escaping the trials and suffering of our human existence. Whatever it is we humans all suffer is merely a matter of degree- some suffering horribly, others less so.
I used to spend a good part of my day, reciting the litany of every bad thing that has ever happened to me. My litany was a chorus of grief, a lament over the trauma of my life. I believed that all these bad things should not happen to me, or to ANYONE. I was capable of getting depressed simply that these bad things ever occurred.
I don't know what I was expecting? Christians are meant to carry their own crosses. My dear mother-in-law used to say all the time, "We all have our crosses to bear." I used to see that as a platitude. A nice saying that you would discover on a wall plaque. It seemed hollow of meaning. This Easter, I see the profound Truth in it.
Every human on this planet has the experience of feeling deep Joy, but also awful despair. But we Christians do not carry our crosses alone. We have each other. And we have Jesus, who suffered the greatest agony ever. He understands our agonies, more than anyone. He walks with us.
Each Easter, I encounter a new Dawn of revelation, of what Jesus meant to us over history, and of how today, I can live with Him in my daily experience. Each Easter, I am a new creation, as I rediscover Jesus in a new way.
Each Easter, I encounter the Dawn that conquers the darkness.
[Related Postings: "Easter Joy!", 4/23/11; "Easter Redemption", 4/7/12; "Roll Away the Stone", 4/17/14; "Crucifixion Redux", 3/20/16; "The Triumph of Easter", 4/15/17; "Killing Him Softly", 3/27/18.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, April 14, 2019
"Morning after morning, the Lord God opens my ear that I may hear; and I have not rebelled, have not turned my back. I gave my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who plucked my beard; my face I did not shield from buffets and spitting. The Lord God is my help. Therefore I am not disgraced; I have set my face like flint, knowing that I shall not be put to shame." -[Isaiah 50: 4-7].
Palm Sunday, in a word, hurts my feelings. The reading of the Passion evokes in me such pain and deep sadness.
Even though we all understand that the Resurrection comes in the dawn, nevertheless, the whole ugly, bloody scene of the arrest, the false trial, the nailing onto the Cross, and Christ's suffering, hurt me to the core. The point when Jesus utters, "My God, why have You abandoned me?!" is probably my lowest point.
Each year, I ask if the Crucifixion was a one of a kind event, or if Jesus would be just as likely to be crucified today?
Each year, I tragically conclude that, yes, Jesus would just as readily be crucified today.
Jesus' trial was a sham. He had broken no Roman laws. Even Pilate said, "I find no fault in this man." -[Luke 23:4]. The trial was on the Sabbath, and was arguably illegal. The judges were high priests who determined that Jesus had committed blasphemy but that was not a Roman offense, only a religious one. It was only under Roman law that execution was warranted.
The high priests accused Jesus of the wrong things, with misleading questions: Asking if He was King? But Jesus replied that He would sit at the right hand of His Father, no earthly King, he. The high priests accused Jesus of blasphemy for saying he would crush the temple and raise it up again in three days. But, Jesus was referring to the Truth of His Resurrection from the tomb after three days, something the high priests could not have foreseen.
The Roman governor Pontius Pilate addressed the crowd three times, "What evil has this man done?"
What ensues next is what I call mass psychology - the crowd began to cry out, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" and "Away with this man!"
I see our world today enmeshed in mass psychology, especially on the Internet. Collective calls for mob justice can build and roll on social media, into a veritable tsunami.
In our upside-down world, a good person or movement is labeled bad. Or, an evil person is revered because he is wealthy or powerful.
Powerful people in Jesus' time saw His goodness as a threat. The Romans held all the political power in a very violent way. It was believed that when the Messiah came, he would be a King or a Judge, as in the Old Testament time. In other words, the Messiah was expected to be a political leader. Jesus walking around preaching that He was the King and brought forth by God was a direct threat to Rome.
Jesus said, "Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." - [Matthew 10:34]. This is not a literal sword, but the sharp divide between those who are powerful and evil vs. those who are good and holy.
Disrupters like Jesus can rarely last long in our world. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "The world doesn't like people like Gandhi, They don't like people like Christ; they don't like people like Lincoln. They killed him. Here was the man of nonviolence falling at the hands of a man with hate, [But] thank God, Good Friday is never the end." -[From The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr].
There are powerful forces today, like Rome, who possess absolute power, and whose power corrupts absolutely. Any differences of opinion, religious beliefs or ethnicities (e.g. Rome vs. Jews vs. Jesus), is hemmed in, curtailed and ultimately crushed.
Rome's Hope was that Jesus was just one Man, and that they could stop the movement by eliminating the Man. Herod and Pilate conspired to crush Jesus and His movement by crucifying the Man. They believed they were buying stability. They had no idea that Jesus' crucifixion would spark a conflagration.
Once Rome crucified Jesus, and His Resurrection was told as the miracle that it is; once early Christians traveled far and wide - on Roman roads, after all!- Jesus' story became the Way, the Truth and the Life.
And there was nothing stopping Him - for all of Time.
[Related Postings: " Killing Him Softly", 3/27/18; "Our Own Role in the Passion", 4/10/17; "Why Did Jesus Have to Die?", 8/31/14; "Who Killed Jesus?", 5/7/14.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, April 7, 2019
"Now a man was ill, Lazarus, from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. So the sisters sent word to Jesus, saying, 'Master, the one you love is ill.' Jesus said to His disciples, 'Let us go back to Judea.' When Jesus arrived, He found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb for four days.
When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him. Martha said to Jesus, 'Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now, I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give to You.' Jesus said to her, 'Your brother will rise.' Martha said, 'I know He will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.' Jesus told her, 'I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.' When Jesus saw her weeping, He became perturbed and deeply troubled, and said, 'Where have you laid him?' They said to Him, 'Sir, come and see.' And Jesus wept. So Jesus, perturbed again, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone lay across it. Jesus said, 'Take away the stone.' Jesus cried out in a loud voice, 'Lazarus, come out!' The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands. So Jesus said to them, 'Untie him and let him go.' " -[ John 11: 1-45].
At a very dark point in my life, I went to see the pastor of my church. In the last two years or so, my father had died abruptly (we didn't even know he was sick); then a long-time family friend died, someone the family referred to as "Aunt"; then my best friend died; then my father-in-law's beloved wife died; then my mother died.
I felt as if I were swirling in a black hole, descending, falling down, down, down. Yes, you could say it was as if I were in a cave.
I found myself telling my life story to my pastor:
* When I was born, I almost died before I made it out of the womb. My mother nearly died in childbirth. BUT, the doctor's hands saved me.
* When I was about three, there was a fire in my grandparents' house. I was traumatized to see the charred walls and smell the acrid smoke in the air. BUT, no one was home at the time, and no one was injured. Damage was limited to one corner of one room.
* When I was four, I nearly drowned in a neighbor's pool. BUT strong arms lifted me up, to life-giving air. It was my mother who saved me.
* When I was five, the serious dysfunction of my parents meant they were not feeding me consistently. BUT, neighbors fed me and I did not starve.
*When I was six, I was diagnosed with a chronic lung disease. My mother's chain smoking worsened the scarring on my lungs. By the time I reached age 14, my parents were no longer taking me to the doctor for this disease. BUT several years ago, I found a devoted doctor, who even made house calls. His treatments put me back on a path to better health.
* When I was ten, my beloved grandfather died. After that blow, and years of abuse in my childhood home, I stopped speaking. My pastor said, You speak eloquently now.
* When I was in my twenties, I was the victim of a violent crime and nearly died at the hands of my attacker. As I felt my breath slip away, I prayed to God. The attacker loosed his grip on me and left. I lived.
* When I was in my early 40's, I was bringing my son home from the park, pulling him in his bright red wagon. I hesitated at the corner nearest our house, the wind was beginning to howl. I heard a "voice" say, "Cross here". . in other words, do not continue on straight, but cross the road, now. I was confused. I said to my son, "What did you say?" But he had said nothing. A tree fell across the road and I pulled the wagon at top speed. The tree fell only a few yards short of us. My son and I did not have one scratch. I believe that voice was my Guardian Angel.
*And now, I had lost many of the most important people in my life.
After I had recounted all this, my pastor turned and said to me, "You have had a lot of resurrection in your Life."
I was stunned. I had seen only trauma, terror and loss. I had never even seen the resurrection!
There are people today who say, 'Get over it. That is in the past. You cannot be defined by all the bad things that happened in your past.'
My answer to this is, even Jesus wept. He grieved along with Mary and Martha. He deeply felt the poignancy. Even WITH the possibility of resurrection in the next Life, it hurts. Jesus allowed himself to feel pain. He did not deny the raw emotion. The tears conveyed His humanity, his compassion.
Even when our resurrection comes, we remain in "the cave" for a time, scarcely believing that our resurrection has come. Just as Jesus has to beckon Lazarus out of the dark cave, Jesus has to cry out to us in a loud voice, "Come out!"
But what I also see is that we can be permitted our resurrection, not just in the next Life, but in this one. We don't have to stumble around in the dark, half blind, to find the Light, either. We are not alone. Jesus beckons. He exhorts us, He leads the way.
At the darkest of times, we can believe that somehow, with Jesus' help, we can overcome.
In fact, if we believe only in the individual, human effort to help ourselves, we vastly diminish the possibilities of resurrection. We don't need to rise up again, alone, and we ought not to. It is a haunting pride, as humans, to believe that we can raise ourselves up again, solely by our own efforts. As Thomas Merton says, in "The Seven Storey Mountain", "How could I love God, when everything I did was not done for Him, but for myself, and not trusting in His aid, but relying on my own wisdom and talents?"
And then, if we do rely upon God and Jesus for our resurrection, we see "the Lord [who] opens a way in the seas and a path in mighty waters, who leads out chariots and horsemen, a powerful army. Remember not the events of the past, see I am doing something new! Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? " -[Isaiah 43: 16-21].
[Related Postings: "Fear", 4/4/16; "Raising Lazarus", 4/3/17."]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Saturday, March 30, 2019
" Jesus addressed this parable: 'A man had two sons, and the younger son said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of your estate that should come to me.'
So the father divided the property between them. After a few days, the younger son collected all his belongings and set off for a distant country. When he had freely spent everything, a severe famine struck that country, and he found himself in dire need. So he hired himself out to one of the local citizens who sent him to his farm to tend his swine. And he longed to eat his fill of the pods on which swine fed, but nobody gave him any. Coming to his senses he thought, 'Here am I, dying of hunger. I shall get up and got o m y father and I shall say to him, 'Father I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son; treat me as you would one of your hired workers.'
While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him. His father ordered to his servants, 'Quickly bring the finest rob; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Take the fatted calf and slaughter it.' "
- [Luke 15: 1-3, 11-32].
We live in an age when social media has enabled us to scrutinized others' lives with infinite detail. Ordinary citizens, as well as big media, weigh in on everyone's relative merits. It is as if we believe ourselves to possess the ultimate powers of judge, jury and Arbiter. Some of the enumerated demerits are deserved. Others are exaggerated or completely false.
Imagine a celebrity who, it was found out, abused women or children. We would be horrified. But imagine that we discover that this abuser was himself abused as a child. The celebrity's act of abuse is still horrifying. But things get more complicated when we learn about how haunted the accused is from his own past.
Imagine a celebrity who, it is found out, used corrupt means to earn more money. We would call out that behavior with vehemence, for the greed and evil that it is. But imagine that we discover that this greedy person is also struggling with drug abuse? The corruption is still wrong. But things get more complicated when we learn about the addiction.
In Luke 15, the older son does not run off to a life of dissipation, he does stay with his father and do the right thing, supporting his father's orders and working hard. The older son is visibly angry when the father welcomes home the dissolute son.
The older son says, "Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends."
But the father says to the obedient son, "My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found."
I think that the son with whom you most identify says a lot about you. I was once like the older son, a dutiful daughter who always did the right thing. And yet my brother, who made mistakes and sometimes made a mess of his life, was always receiving help and special treatment.
I felt angry and self-righteous. Why did I not receive more, when I was the one who was loyal and sober-minded?
It did not occur to me that I had already "won" by living my life in good standing. But my brother, who struggled, felt pain and believed he could not ever measure up, was "dying on the vine", and felt like he could do no right.
You see, there is a big difference between being Right and being Compassionate. Said another way, there is a big difference between Justice and Mercy.
In a world of only Justice, we can only harp on what everyone did wrong. We can never let anyone live down that one moment when he made a horrible mistake or did something awful. We can never allow anyone to have an epiphany moment, when a person has gained hard-won perspective and can see the awful mistake for what it was.
In a world of only Justice, even a plea agreement or a prison term can never let anyone move on and try to live a life that makes amends. Instead, we hunt the person down for the rest of his life; we corner him and trap him and flog him endlessly. We take away all his future earnings, we hound him in public, we always return to that one horrible chapter, while never allowing the possibility of redemption.
At the same time, in a world of only Mercy, every act is morally relative. We "live and let live". We declare, "I am the one in charge of my own life, to hell with anyone else." It is individuality run amok.
We need both Justice and Mercy, friends. Justice establishes Right from Wrong. Mercy allows us to overcome our sins.
God sees us in all of our complexity, virtues and faults alike. God allows us to name what we did wrong, in the same way that the younger son says, "I have sinned against you and Heaven." God allows us to change our ways and to reap rewards from our redemption.
God allows us the free will to make a mess of our lives, but to also own those mistakes and to be given the chance to rise again. He allows us to move past the dark chapters into the Light.
[Related Postings: "The Prodigal Son", 3/10/13; "The Prodigal Daughter", 9/15/13; "To Forgive is Divine", 3/9/16.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Tuesday, March 26, 2019
"Jesus came to a town of Samara called Sychar . . . Jacob's well was there. Jesus, tired from his journey, sat down there at the well. It was about noon.
A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, 'Give me a drink.' His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, 'How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?' - For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans. - Jesus answered and said to her, 'If you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.' The woman said to Him, 'Sir you do not even have a bucket and the cistern is deep; where then can you get this living water?'
Jesus answered and said to her, 'Everyone who drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.' "-[John 4: 5-42.]
In Biblical times, the well was a gathering place. People drew life-giving water, they shared news, they socialized, they met friends and strangers alike.
What is striking about this story is that Jesus- a Jewish rabbi or teacher- directly addressed a woman, who was also a Samaritan. Jewish people actually believed that any contact with a Samaritan would contaminate them. But also, a male in those times would never approach or address a woman in public.
The woman of Samaria addressed this directly with Jesus, saying, "How can YOU, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?"
By addressing the Samaritan woman directly, and by even accepting a drink of water from her cup, Jesus purposely ignored the social conventions of separation.
There is more. Jesus continued His conversation, asking the woman, "Go, call your husband." The woman replied, "I have no husband." To which Jesus replied, "You are right when you say that you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you are with now is not your husband." This Samaritan woman was not considered "respectable" by society. Yes, she might have been shunned by society, but Jesus confronted her directly.
It occurs to me that, in our modern times, we have also fallen into the desert of separation from each other. It would be all too easy to mock the "Olden Days" of the Biblical era, when a man and a woman could not address each other in public; or when a person of one religion or class could never mix with someone who is different.
But even today, Muslims and Jews do not mix, women and men do not mix, Republicans and Democrats do not mix, upper class people refuse contact with lower classes, blacks and whites do not speak to each other. Mother Teresa said, "If you judge someone, you have no time to love them." Mother Teresa also said to love your neighbor; then, sadly she asked, 'Do you even know your neighbor?'
Sin also separates us from God. Isaiah 59: 2 says, "But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God."
Despite our race, our gender, our social class, or even our Sins, Jesus addresses us directly. He KNOWS us. We cannot and must not hide our face from Him. He knows our strengths, our weaknesses, our Sins. And yet He offers us His Love and forgiveness.
I have spent many years feeling broken and humiliated from childhood abuse. I have always put up a good front. I never wanted to burden anyone with my traumas or my brokenness. I have "fetched water" with a brave face on - run loads of wash, worked for a boss, raised a child, swept my front porch, weeded my garden, volunteered at my church, cooked dinner, paid bills, etc. - all the while pretending that everything was perfect with me. No would could see my wounds if I did not reveal any cracks.
But, the hardest I have ever cried in the last several years was when I read Psalm 139: "O Lord, You have searched me and You know me, You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down . . . Before a word is on my tongue, You know it completely, O Lord. . . For You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . . "
This same sort of feeling of "unmasking" comes over me when I enter my church. Do we not, all along, desire simply to be seen for who we really are?
It can be frightening to become "unmasked". But it can be a life-changing relief, as well. Suddenly, we don't have to put on a false front any longer. We can bask in that awesome feeling of being loved, despite - or maybe, because - of all our faults and our foibles.
The endless fetching of earthly water, says Jesus, will quench our thirst for a day. But the water which Jesus gives will become a spring of water leading to eternal life.
The Love of Jesus will heal us and lead us to deep springs of peace and strength. Our encounters with Him will enable us to ask, "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.' -[Psalm 139: 23-24].
[Related Postings: "The Woman at the Well", 3/20/17; "The Living Water", 3/23/14;.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Thursday, March 21, 2019
"Jesus took Peter, John, and James and went up to the mountain to pray. While He was praying, His face changed in appearance and His clothing became dazzling white. And behold, two men were conversing with him, Moses and Elijah, who appeared in glory . . . Peter and his companions had been overcome by sleep, but becoming fully awake, they saw His glory, and the two men standing with Him. As they were about to part from Him, Peter said to Jesus, 'Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.' But he did not know what he was saying. While he was still speaking, a cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, 'This is my chosen Son; listen to Him.' After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone.". -[Luke 9: 28B-36].
This story of Scripture is arguably the most beautiful in the Bible. Many would misinterpret this event as the moment when Jesus is taken up in glory, after His crucifixion. But, actually, no one witnesses Jesus' Resurrection. Jesus is laid in the tomb one moment and is gone before daybreak. It is Mary Magdalene who rushes into the tomb, fully realizing what has happened, that by Jesus absence, a miracle has occurred.
In Luke 9 here, Jesus is on the mountaintop, praying, and dazzling in appearance. Jesus' appearance is described as "His glory."
In the end of this "Transfiguration", a voice speaks from a cloud, saying "This is my chosen Son; listen to Him." This disembodied voice is, of course, God. I always hoped that if God's voice came from out of a cloud, that He would have a lot more to say than the tautological and the obvious, "Here is my Son."
But the truly significant import of this statement is that God does speak to us mere mortals, if only we could listen and recognize who He is. After all, Peter, James and John are initially asleep and come very close to kissing the Transfiguration entirely.
And God in His Trinity points clearly to Jesus as His Son, in case anyone could doubt. This statement of God's is God's deliberate and firm affirmation of who God IS, in and of Himself, and in His Son.
Peter, helpful and pragmatic, proposes pitching tents. What a completely ordinary and earthly response to a wholly dazzling and supernatural moment. Not only does Peter betray his quotidian self, he apparently means to stay on the mountain awhile if he is building tents.
But Jesus and His disciples are meant to descend the mountain and do the difficult work of encountering other human beings.
In his book, "The Seven Story Mountain", Thomas Merton writes a beautiful metaphor about the Transfiguration. He writes that "Grace" is God's own life, shared by us. God's life IS Love.
Merton goes on to say, "The soul of man, left to its own natural level, is a potentially lucid crystal left in darkness. It is perfect in its own nature, but it lacks something that it can only receive from outside and above itself. But when the light shines on it, it becomes in a manner transformed into light and seems to lose its nature in the splendor of a higher nature, the nature of the light that is in it."
"So the natural goodness of man, his capacity for love which must always be in some sense selfish if it remains in the natural order, becomes transfigured and transformed when the Love of God shines in it. . . . Christ established His Church, among other reasons, in order that [humankind] might lead one another to Him and in the process sanctify themselves and one another. For in this work it is Christ Who draws us to Himself through the action of our fellow men."
Loving one another is incredibly difficult. Think of fractured relationships, bias, hatred, jealousy, war, abuse, conflict, egoism, manipulations. But loving one another is our WORK. We perfect ourselves on a spiritual level by loving others. We draw closer to the model of Jesus, the more and better that we love. We inspire others, in our Love, to work on loving more fully and more perfectly.
And to know Jesus and to try to imitate His virtues, is to draw closer to Jesus and to God.
Many today believe that Christians are intolerant, rules-bound, judgmental people who cannot possibly love someone who falls short of the glory of God.
The reality is that our job is to love one another, and to "lead one another to Christ."
One cannot love another if we hold ourselves apart as either superior or inferior to those around us. In this work of Love, we are in the trenches together.
Others may believe that the holiest Christian remains on the mountaintop, dazzling in glory but too transfigured to ever relate to someone who is all too imperfect, all too human. Yes, there is a place for the contemplative, cloistered life. But the vast majority, along with Jesus and the disciples themselves, descend from the mountaintop and confront the spiritual warfare that is Love.
Others still, believe that they are, in their natural state, a fine, very serviceable crystal. But, not believing in God, or deriving light from His Love, they won't fully perfect their spiritual potential.
In fact, Merton states, "Indeed, outside of Him [God], there is nothing." Later in his book Merton writes of the time "in which he was to become conscious of the fact that the only way to live was to live in a world that was shared with the presence and reality of God."
Merton concludes from his realizations that "God has willed that we should all depend on one another for our salvation, and strive together for our own mutual good and for our own common salvation."
It is perhaps a shocking revelation today, that we shall all find our salvation together, or otherwise, we shall all perish together. In this age of personal identity and of individual needs overshadowing any sense of the collective community, the notion that we "should all depend on one another" is counterintuitive and even astonishing.
For we all possess the capacity to absorb the Divine Light, and to reflect it back unto the world. In fact, that is precisely why God placed us on this earth. But we cannot ever experience our own spiritual transformation or transfiguration, if we believe that we are individual cells, alone in the world and totally disconnected from each other - or divorced from the Divine Being.
Merton concludes, " We are born with the thirst to know and to see Him [God], and therefore it cannot be otherwise."
God's voice, emerging from a cloud, proclaims, "This is my chosen Son." - But will we listen?
[Related postings: "Be Dazzled", 2/27/18; "Transfigured", 2/22/16; "This is My Son", 3/16/14; "My Transformation", 2/24/13; "Transfiguration of Christ", 3/5/12; "Transfiguration", 3/20/11.]
(C) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Wednesday, March 13, 2019
"Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and when they were over, he was hungry. The devil said to Him, 'If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.' Jesus answered him, 'One does not live on bread alone.'
Then he took Him up and showed all the kingdoms of the world in a single instant. The devil said to him, 'I shall give you all the power and glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I may give it to whomever I wish. All of this will be yours if you worship me.' Jesus said to him in reply, 'You shall worship the Lord, your God, and Him alone shall you serve.'
Then, he led Him to Jerusalem, and made Him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to Him, 'If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: 'He will command His angels concerning you, to guard you,' and 'With their hands they will support you.' Jesus said to him in reply, 'You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.' " - [Luke 4: 1-13].
This Scripture forms the very basis of our Lenten practices. Because of Jesus' hunger, we give food to the poor. Because of the devil's holding out the temptations of power, we intentionally minister to the powerless, the sick or the imprisoned. Because of the devil's holding out the temptations of testing God, we strengthen our Faith.
But this Scripture also represents a warning about how to live. This account of Jesus, wandering the desert for forty days and forty nights, may seem like an exaggeration or even a metaphor, but its lessons are all too real.
Christians may not believe in a devil cast as an actual red man running around, with horns and a wicked grin. But, just as we believe in a Good and Holy Spirit, so we also believe in a Dark Side.
In the first temptation, the devil entices Jesus to turn a stone into bread. What is this about?
This is about our fixation on materialism and greed. We want all the bread, as much as we can grab for ourselves, and we want it now. It is also about the real temptation of taking shortcuts to gain the most "bread" for ourselves.
Perhaps we are thinking, WHO would do that?!
In the news this week: Paul Manafort, President Trump's former campaign manager, has been sentenced to many years in prison, for conspiracy, for witness tampering, and for bank fraud, and for hiding income overseas to evade taxes; and has just been indicted in NY state for mortgage fraud, such as inflating the value of properties or falsely stating material facts about the property in order to get a more favorable loan.
As the judge in his case said, this is about greed. "Why? Not to support a family but to sustain a lifestyle at the most opulent and extravagant level" - referring to more homes than anyone could possibly live in, custom suits, expensive clothes.
Legal commentators have said that this was about "gaming the system".
Also in the news, arrests and charges against prominent people for conspiracy and bribes, aimed at gaining college admissions for their sons and daughters. Again, "gaming the system". Taking the easy way out of the college process. Magically turning stones into bread.
Also in the news, actor Jussie Smollett being indicted on 16 felony counts for allegedly staging a hate attack on himself; the motive reportedly being that he wanted a big pay raise.
I am often left wondering, 'WHY would people who are already intelligent, accomplished, and so very blessed, be tempted to commit these crimes?' Don't they already have everything?'
In my mind, while these folks may be richer, more prominent, more accomplished, they are just as prone to temptation as anyone else.
All of us are also just as prone to the temptations of power and of pride. A person who tests God and demands things, as proof of Divine Existence, is entitled - plain and simple. He thinks that even God owes us something.
It is all too easy to fall for the half-truths and the lies of temptation - "Everyone does it." "Anyone who gets things by hard work and honesty is just a patsy." "You have had some rough times in life, you deserve this." "No one will know." "You will never get anywhere unless you play the game." "This is just the way the world is." "The rules are unfair, how can a guy ever get ahead." "You will get everything you ever wanted." These half-truths and unctuous platitudes are no different than the devil telling Jesus, "All of this can be yours."
We are sucked in on a slippery slope of half-steps: "If donating money is merely 'getting into someone's good graces', then an outright bribe is no different- RIGHT?" "I am in so deep now, I might as well keep going". "If I take this money now, I can always repay it later and no one will notice."
My son is in his late teens now. I talk to him a lot about the things that are priceless and that no amount of money can buy - Love, hard work, respect for others, humility, patience. I tell him, Anyone can walk right over even his own mother to grab more power. Anyone can have more money than you, or a shinier car, or more fancy homes. These don't impress me - at all.
What I AM impressed with is the person who walks away from the corruption of power, from the greed, from the egotism that engenders entitlement, and from the lure of the easy way out.
I tell my son that we must all be vigilant against the Dark Side. Even if you have it all, the temptation is always there. No one is above the peril of temptation. No one.
And if you have perhaps less than you desire, but you fall for the easy way out, then you lose everything.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Tuesday, March 5, 2019
" Jesus told His disciples a parable, 'Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? . . . Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own? How can you say to your brother, 'Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye,' when you do not even notice the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite! Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye.' " -[Luke 6: 39-15].
When I read this Scripture, I have to laugh. Yes, Jesus does have a sense of humor. He also has a perfect sense of the ironies of life.
I can imagine this story, in Luke 6, as part of a modern-day comedy routine, it is that fresh and modern.
We contemporary folks tend to dismiss Scripture as awkwardly worded with its thee's and thou's; or, as filled with archaic advice.
The fact is, the Bible is filled with advice that is just as relevant today. In Matthew, for example, Jesus teaches, "Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear . . . Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? . . . Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, [for] each day has enough worry of its own." -[Matthew 6:25-34].
And then, we encounter Luke 6. Jesus asks, "Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit?"
Martin Luther King, Jr. said essentially the same thing in his statement at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama: "The reason I can't follow the old eye-for-an-eye philosophy is that it ends up leaving everybody blind. Somebody must have some sense, and somebody must have some religion." He gave the example of driving from Atlanta to Chattanooga with his brother one night. The cars traveling in the opposite direction were not dimming their lights, and so King's brother vowed, "The next car that refuses to dim the lights, I'm going to refuse to dim mine."
King told his brother, "Wait a minute, don't do that. Somebody has to have sense enough on this highway to dim the lights, and if somebody doesn't have sense enough to dim the lights, we'll all be destroyed on this highway."
In other words, somebody has to have sense enough to be kind, first.
I am struck lately about the amount of judgment and hate speech emanating from so many sources. [Of course, evil and criminal acts can, and must, be investigated and punished by the proper authorities].
Most of the news that is broadcast today is ALL about pointing out the splinter in the other guy's eye. One political side will expose corrupt behavior about the other side. So, the other side will ratchet things up with an expose about the first guy's behavior.
The news media even has a name for this - "What about-ism". News item: "What about the Republicans. Look what they did wrong." Next news item: "What about the Democrats. Look what THEY did wrong." What about, what about, what about. Endless counter charges, no solutions.
We can go along this way forever, until we are ALL blind.
The danger is that in my personal life, I can be lured into the same pattern of speech. In my daily life, I am finding that I have to fight to stay objective, and fight to insert positive observations into my talk. Consuming too much "blaming speech" tends to tempt me to lose sight of self reflection and discernment about my own behavior.
In Luke 6, Jesus suggests "Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye."
In other words, we have strayed very far today from the concept of minding our own frailties, first, before we excoriate the other guy.
We have also strayed very far today from the concept of removing the splinter from our brother's eye. In other words, instead of minimizing our own sins, or of skewering the other person, maybe we ought to pitch in and help the other guy to be a better person - in other words, help the other person to lighten his burden of blindness and darkness.
Because, in the end, taking care of our own soul and of our own spiritual health, does not always mean rubbing it in that we are right and the other guy is so very wrong. Spiritual health means sometimes exercising Mercy over self-righteousness.
No one likes a hypocrite. Jesus says as much here, very plainly - "You hypocrite! You do not even notice the plank in your own eye!"
After all, we are ALL sinners. And in a never-ending spiral of recriminations and hate, do we even see clearly enough to stop rejoicing at another's faults, long enough to put our energy into solving the real problems at hand?
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Wednesday, February 27, 2019
"Jesus said to His disciples: 'To you who hear, I say, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless whose who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic. . . Do unto others as you would have them do to you. . . Stop judging and you will to be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. . For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you.' " -[Luke 6: 27-38.]
Children are "held captive" to the conditions under which they are raised. As long as they reside in their parents' home, they remain subject to the conditions there.
In the home where I grew up, I was hit; I was not fed consistently; I was told there is no God; after I reached age 14, my chronic medical condition was no longer treated; if I said that I was cold and needed a sweater, I was told to stop 'acting up just to get attention.' I went to school with black eyes.
In any situation in life, whether a child or an adult, we have a choice - to respond to conditions with either Hate or Love.
I was the younger child and the only daughter. I knew I had no power. I knew that I had to bide my time until I was old enough to make my escape. This would take 1) saving money, because a bit of savings make you beholden to no one; and 2) getting my education, because that is something no one can take away from you.
But I also knew that if I stayed angry and vengeful, I would be the one to lose. So, as the old expression says, I chose to "lead, follow or stay out of the way." Often, I would lead by making peace. If family members argued, I would pitch in to share the work load; even as a child, I would mend clothing, tend the garden or run mail to the postal box.
Or, I would "follow", by going on family outings I did not care much for, or sitting quietly waiting for time to pass.
Or, I would "get out of the way", literally by stealing off to sit under a pine tree in a neighbor's yard, or by spending many hours in my room, reading books, singing songs or doing needlework.
Sometimes, anger and Hate overwhelm the human psyche. We explode with emotional force, destroying everything in our path, including ourselves. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "A riot is the language of the unheard. . . Riots are massive temper tantrums from a neglected and voiceless people."
There are those who intentionally live a life of riot, and schemes to overpower. They believe that this violent resistance equates to strength. These are the folks who seriously misinterpret and underestimate the Christian who walks in Love. Christians are seen as weak, foolish, and naive.
Those who level this charge often quote Luke in this Scripture - "To the person who strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one as well, and from the person who takes your cloak, do not withhold even your tunic." In other words, this Scripture is taken to mean that in a case of any conflict at all, a Christian will lay down and capitulate.
But, I have heard one brilliant interpretation of this version, that if a person offers the other cheek, then witnesses will see the attacker slap the person both front and back-handed. And if the attacker takes the person's cloak AND his tunic, then the person will be left naked. And so, in this instance, who appears worse in others' eyes, than the attacker himself?
Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "True nonviolent resistance is not unrealistic submission to evil power. It is rather a courageous confrontation of evil by the power of Love, in the faith that the recipient of violence . . . may [prompt] a sense of shame in[side] the opponent, and thereby bring about a transformation and change of heart." He also said, "There's a great deal of difference between
non-resistance to evil and nonviolent resistance. Certainly I am not saying that you sit down and patiently accept injustice. I'm talking about a very strong force, where you stand up with all your might against an evil system. You are resisting but you come to see that tactically as well as morally it is better to be nonviolent."
Martin Luther King talked about how "the world doesn't like people like Gandhi. They don't like people like Christ, they don't like people like Lincoln". This is because their pure Love acts as a powerful rebuke to the Haters.
King always urged his civil rights activists to never retaliate or respond with violence or hate. During the protests in Birmingham, Alabama, Police Chief Bull Connor used firehoses with water pressure so strong, the bark peeled off trees, and one civil rights activist was propelled by the force of the water into the side of a building. When young teens joined the protests, the nation could see Connor turn his dangerous tactics onto children. At that, the world began to truly see the Evil in the perpetuation of the segregated South, for what it was.
Martin Luther King called the power of nonviolent resistance, "Creative Suffering." In Birmingham, the city ran out of jails and paddy wagons to transport and arrest protesters. As many as were jailed, more came streaming out to protest. Just as in the same way, in Rome, they ran out of crosses and they nailed Christians to fences; and yet, the Christians were not extinguished. If anything, the violent persecutions made the Christians even more determined.
King said, "Hate is just as injurious to the hater as it is the the hated. Like an unchecked cancer, Hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate is too great a burden to bear."
In the end, King said, "The great tragedy is that Christianity failed to see that it had the revolutionary edge. You don't have to go to Karl Marx to learn how to be a revolutionary. I didn't get my inspiration from Karl Marx; I got it from a man named Jesus, a Galilean saint who said He was anointed to heal the broken-hearted."
And so, in my own Life, I engage in Spiritual Warfare, by loving others radically. I refuse to destroy myself by Hate. As St. Paul said, I do not "repay evil with evil but repay evil with good."
King said, " I don't care who you are, I don't care where you live, in every one of us there is a civil war going on in your life. Every time you set out to be good, there's something pulling on you, telling you to be evil. . . trying to get you to hate. "
But NO, I fight the good fight, I keep the Faith. I LOVE, as a strategic countermove calculated to neutralize Hate. My Love is a strong light that illuminates the Evil around me, and delineates that Evil for what it is - a cowardly, destructive force that cannot win in a world where God always has the last Word.
[Related Postings: "I Hate Evil", 3/18/18.]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
[Quotes from "The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr., edited by Clayborn Carson, 1998).
Monday, February 18, 2019
"Cursed is the one who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season, but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.
Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose hope is the Lord. He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream: it fears not the heat when it comes; its leaves stay green; in the year of drought it shows no distress, but still bears fruit." -[Jeremiah 17: 5-8].
The first time my husband came to see me at my parents' house, he was uncharacteristically quiet. Usually relaxed and telling stories, full of humor and life, he shut down, sitting on the couch hunched over and silent.
I attributed this to his nervousness over meeting my parents in their home for the first time.
But his change in demeanor continued, visit after visit. I asked him, What came over him when he entered my family home?
He confessed, ' Their house is like a quiet death. Lifeless. Lacking compassion or Love. No joy, full of grim outlooks, like everyone just came from a funeral.'
It took me awhile to even see what my husband was talking about. I guess I was used to it, all my life. I wasn't even sure the reason for the lifelessness.
Until it hit me- I grew up in a home lacking in Faith. My mother used to lecture my sibling and me about how Christian were the worst sinners of all. She said Christians sat in the pews on Sundays, but drank, lied, stole, and cheated on their spouses every other day of the week. She called Christianity, "the opiate of the masses." In other words, it was a sucker belief system, designed to have people become complacent- satisfied with mediocrity or even misery- because the people were trained to ignore the desperation in this life, in promise of a better life in the Great Beyond.
But she did not believe in God or the Great Beyond. She thought it was all a fairy tale, a foolish myth to prop up people who were not capable enough to succeed in life on their own.
My mother worshipped at the Altar of Human Achievement. If someone suffered a tragedy, she blamed them for being weak. There were no "accidents", only fools.
Yes, she trusted fully in human beings. Because in the book, there was No One else to rely on.
I will always remember the day when my mother told me that she had almost died in childbirth with me, and I had almost never been born. She praised the skill and excellence of the obstetrician. I had not doubt she told the truth here, but I also believed that God had guided the hand of that doctor that day. There is no inevitability about Life! - I was born, but could have just as well died that day, and my mother as well! And so, when I heard this story of my birth, I silently professed, "Praise God."
Without Faith and Hope, my mother turned to despair. When anything went wrong in Life, she blamed others. Or, she blamed herself. She turned to anxiety, because if she could not do it all by herself, she thought there was No One to turn to.
When she died several years ago, my mother was anxious and depressed. She had no Hope. I came to see, as she navigated life, that it was her efforts alone which she drew upon. And, of course, when we understand that we humans are so faulty, and have such limited perspective, just getting through the day becomes fraught with peril.
I don't know why I suddenly understood as a young girl, that there is a God, and that He was always there at my elbow, walking with me in good times and bad. I came to see that I don't have to do everything myself perfectly. I can become as proficient as I can at what I need to do. I can strive for excellence . . .
But if everything fails, I am not alone! I trust God and I have Hope in Him. I have Faith that, like a tree planted beside a deep stream, I can draw deeply from the presence of God.
The presence of God is not just a shallow, isolated belief. I have had many prayers answered, both for myself and for family and friends.
God is a source of Joy, because I can let my worries go, and let God take over at the point where my abilities fade in fruitfulness. Where I leave off, God begins.
In times of grief, chaos or crisis, I am strong because I "borrow" strength from God. It is not I who is strong, alone, but who is strong in leaning on God. He is the One who makes me strong.
[Related Postings: "A Living Death", 6/30/12; "Dry Bones", 4/7/14.]
(C) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Tuesday, February 12, 2019
"Last of all, as to one born abnormally, Jesus appeared to me [Paul]. For I am the least of the apostles, not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God, I am what I am, and His grace to me has not been ineffective. Indeed, I have toiled harder than all of them; not I, however, but the grace of God that is with me. Therefore, whether it be I or they, so we preach and so you believed." -[1 Corinthians 15: 1-11].
In this Scripture, Paul calls himself "the least of the Apostles." He is not talking about his station in life, as the first-named apostles were largely fishermen.
Paul is talking, not about what he was, but about what he DID. In the early days of the church, he was someone who persecuted Christians. He went on to a cathartic conversion (Acts 9). Paul had to work harder as an apostle, because everywhere he went, he had to combat the power of his previous reputation.
Paul calls himself "abnormally born", because he never knew Jesus when He was alive on earth. Paul knew Jesus only as "the Risen Christ." Paul considers this as not organically grown, but in a way, derivative, or second generation. And yet, arguably Paul became the most traveled apostle, and certainly highly respected for all the obstacles hat he overcame.
I return to this verse often, especially today. I wonder what History would have been like, or what the present day would be, without the deeply sinful and flawed men and women, who went on to change the world?
I think of King David in the Bible who had an affair with Bathsheba and who even arranged the death of her husband Uriah, in wartime battle. From the branch of David, came the root of Jesse.
I think of John Newton, who wrote the beloved hymn "Amazing Grace". Newton was a notorious slave trader in the mid-1700's. He was not particularly religious, and so his story is even more miraculous from that standpoint. In 1748, his slave ship was caught in a dangerous storm. Newton cried out to God for mercy and his ship was saved. He went on to study theology and became ordained in the Church of England. He is best remembered for the hymn Amazing Grace.
Or, I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., who - History shows - was a known womanizer who had many affairs, despite being married with four children.
Or, I think of Thomas Jefferson, who penned the history-changing words, "all men are created equal" - who owned slaves his whole life, and who carried out an affair with a slave he owned, Sally Hemings, and fathered children with her.
In current news, Jermaine Wilson, the mayor of Leavenworth, Kansas, was in prison in maximum security for dealing drugs. He had lost the ability to see his infant son. He sat in prison and plotted how to redeem himself. This included reading stories in the Bible about how "God uses people who made mistakes."
We want our heroes to be flawless. Well, they are not. Neither are you. Neither am I. Welcome to the human condition.
In no way do great second-acts wipe clean the sins of the past! Today, forgiveness and reconciliation are greatly misunderstood. We erroneously believe that if anyone did anything wrong, that forgiveness means that the bad act never occurred! That is foolish. We all need to live in community, and we need to call each other out for our mistakes, whether for everyday errors, or for egregious sins. If we all had amnesia over Sin, we could not battle the Evil which we could not even name.
Forgiveness does not equate with ignoring the Evil that went on. Pretending Evil does not exist is just as foolish as committing the Evil to begin with. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "He who passively accepts Evil is as much involved in it as he who helps perpetrate it."
But Christianity believes in Redemption. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God. Forgiveness is a "process" - ideally, we call out the immoral act; the person recognizes his sin, then asks for forgiveness; then, the transgressor works to CHANGE in the future.
Today, I detect a viciousness in calling out others for their sins and misdeeds. Once we call out a sin, we can never move past it. We drive the transgressor "outside the city gates", as if the person is forever marked with the sign of Sin. The transgressor can never live down his misdeed, can never pay his debt to society, can never live openly or freely. The transgressor cannot make a living, and loses his wife and his financial stability. He is hunted down and destroyed.
In America, former prison convicts cannot get credit or find a job. People who file for bankruptcy have a very hard time obtaining a place to live, let alone buying a car or even finding a job. We treat people who acted very badly as if they were scapegoats, forever hounded and cornered, and flung off a cliff.
We erroneously believe that people are either all good, or all bad. We judge everyone by the one worst thing they did, many years ago. We give no chance to the person to grow, to change and to find a way to become good again.
What would our world be like if everyone with the capacity for greatness were to be hounded, cornered and destroyed? Is every single mistake "unforgivable"?
Jesus said, at His crucifixion, "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do." And three days later, he rose again.
Out of loss and even violent Sin comes Redemption.
[Related Posting: " Confronting Sin", 9/3/11].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Tuesday, February 5, 2019
"But do you strengthen yourself for battle; stand up and tell them all that I command you. Be not crushed on their account, as though I would leave you crushed before them; for it is I this day, who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land. . They will fight against you but not prevail over you, for I am with you to deliver you, says the Lord." -[Jeremiah 1: 4-5, 17-19].
In my childhood home of cruel dysfunction, I gradually shut down, over a period of years.
My mother would admonish me about my brother's taunts, and his hitting of me. She told me, "If you do not react, he will not do those things. You are too sensitive." So, I concluded, this abuse was all my fault.
He would singsong ugly names at me. I would get angry or cry. Since my mother did not stop him, his abuse expanded. He would get physical - he would hit me. I would go to school with black eyes. My mother would tell me, Do not get any more black eyes, you embarrass me.
I tried to stop his abuse. First, I practiced showing no emotion. His abuse continued. Maybe he could "see my emotions" inside of me?
Next, I practiced feeling no emotion. His abuse continued. Maybe it was my fault because I spoke to him? I stopped speaking altogether.
My family had means. We were not poor. My mother fed me four-day old left-overs. I gagged on it. I largely stopped eating.
My family sent me to school in fancy dresses, fancier than most of the school girls. But I had black eyes and rarely spoke.
I stayed awake at night, until all in the house were asleep. I thought it was safer not to sleep when they were still up and prowling about.
I did not believe in the money they threw at me to try to control my behavior. My life was scripted - what colors to wear, what school to attend, what to study, with whom to be friends, where to work, what department to work in. If I did not do as they said, they would withdraw money and threaten abandonment.
When I began dating, they would hiss at me if they disapproved: "This is not how we raised you." All because I was a different denomination of Christian than my beau.
So, I could not believe in their blackmail, or their money, or their materialism, or their superiority over others, or their deeply cold hearts.
What could I believe in?
Years later, my father died abruptly one early spring day- here one moment, gone the next. Suddenly, I was free. A long-time friend said I looked ten years younger.
I ran to speak with my pastor. How could I begin anew? My pastor told me he was amazed at how I had turned out.
I told him, "I believed in Love."
When a lifetime of crushing memories came down on me like a sudden downpour, a lifetime of trauma hitting like a tsunami, I had to find a way to strengthen myself for battle all over again. Trauma visits in spiraling rounds of grief and fear- the first experience is the real life one, the next experiences come in flashbacks and nightmares.
One day, I sat in a church pew and opened the Missal. The page fell to Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born, I dedicated you." I read on about the fortified city, the pillar of iron, the wall of brass. Tears fell on the page. I didn't have to be their daughter, I was God's child.
I memorized these words, I recited them to myself each time I felt weak from the horrible memories.
Since that day, I have studied the Bible. I know the meaning of what St. Paul says in Corinthians about Love: "If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have Love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. If I comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have faith so as to move mountains, but do not have Love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast, but do not have Love, I gain nothing."
For all their educated lectures, all their worldly assets, their weekly trips to church, their standing in the community, their self-satisfied belief in their own abilities - without Love to give, or Love in their hearts, my parents were sad, clashing, self-important cymbals, signifying nothing.
During my childhood, I walked away from their abuse, I displayed Love where they showed Hate, I gave grace and patience where they gave jealousy and bitterness.
All that they had, their beautiful home, their respect in the community, their lovely material things - were temporary.
But, Love? Love never ends.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Wednesday, January 30, 2019
"Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord must be your strength." -[Nehemiah 8: 8-10].
It is very difficult today to admit that one is a Christian. I am not talking about the prospect of violent persecution. That kind of severe backlash is all too common in our world, as it is.
What I am talking about is the constant commentary about Christians, even in the supposedly enlightened developed Western world.
I am hearing of a new movement among Christians, which is essentially a vow to live under the radar as a Christian; because it is all too difficult to explain that, being Christian does not mean that one is ignorant, uneducated, backwards, or superstitious.
Misperceptions about Christians die hard. In the early days of the church, some observers believed that Christians were so "unnaturally" joyful, that they must be either drunk, or insane.
In today's world, Joy is in short supply. To be joyful is to be labeled foolish or seriously in denial.
HOW can one ever be joyful- (Pick one)- 1) With this American President?; 2) With global climate change?; 3) With pervasive racism and patriarchy?; 4) With nuclear weapons in the hands of madmen?; 5) With gender inequality and even sexual assault?; 6) With layers of poverty and despair in our society? - Oh, I could go on and on.
The inventors of social media, such as Mark Zuckerberg, sincerely believe that outlets such as Facebook open the world to a global discussion, and have the capacity to "change the world." But in many ways, social media has promoted the negative, the scurrilous and the downright dangerous.
Today, people who are joyful are viewed with suspicion. Joy has become synonymous with naivety.
Today, St. Paul's advice to the Colossians seems antiquated and ridiculously idealized: "Therefore, as the elect [representative] of God, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other and forgive any complaint you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues, put on Love which is the bond of perfect unity."
Today, as Pope Francis has said, we have become the Gotcha Police. The news and social media are rife with calling out others' bad behavior.
In a recent column in the New York Times, David Brooks commented: "Back in the old days, morality was about loving and serving others. But now its about displaying indignation about things that other people are doing wrong."
We seek to gain daily points in gloating over the mistakes and sins of others. We believe that we are elevated, only to the extent of tearing others down, and in a very public way. Jesus was perhaps the greatest warrior against sin and corruption, but I have never read of one instance where he broadcast His finding of personal Sin across the land to humiliate another, or publicly gloated over it.
Jesus was compassionate, kind, loving, humble, gentle, forgiving, joyful and patient. And yet, He quite fiercely fought against injustice and corruption, with all He had. In fighting the corruption and sin of Rome, He gave His very Life. No one would call Jesus, with all of His compassion, humility, joy or kindness - weak. No one would call Him deranged. Or on the wrong side of the Fight.
Or naive. Jesus knew exactly what Sin was. He was resolute and powerful in the battle against Evil.
I truly pray that today's Christians are not afraid to shine their Light onto the world. Matthew says, "Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick. Let your light shine so before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father . . in Heaven."
Many cannot understand why or how Christians can be so joyful? Or they cannot understand why this joy is not misplaced, or a sign of weakness. The answer lies in our Faith.
For God always has the last word. We say to God: "Yet, You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel. My body and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart." -[Psalm 73: 23-26].
We pray, as St. Paul did, "I have fought the good fight. I have kept the Faith. I have completed the race."
[Related Postings: "Rejoice!!, 12/18/17; "Comfort and Joy", 12/15/14; "Got Faith?", 11/28/12].
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Sunday, January 20, 2019
"Remember- if I am stopped, this movement is not stopped because God is with the movement."
Martin Luther King, Jr. did not just "cast himself" as a man of God - He WAS a Baptist minister at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
No, he did not always preach in a church, but his speeches bore the unmistakeable cadence of a Baptist preacher.
King's roots in Baptist culture ran deep, so deep that he counted Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson as an inspiration AND a friend. Often, when King was on the road, he would call Mahalia just to hear her sing.
It was Mahalia Jackson who prompted Martin Luther King to the heights of preaching, during the 1963 March on Washington. King had written a well-thought out and logical speech. But when King stumbled a bit over a complex sentence, Mahalia Jackson called out, "Tell them about the area, Martin!"
It was then that King improvised, crying out, "Go back to Mississippi . . to Alabama . . to South Carolina. . to Georgia. . to Louisiana. . to the slums and ghettos. . "
We would not have Martin Luther King, Jr. in all his greatness without Mahalia Jackson, and without the Baptist church.
Yet - almost lost to history is the personal story of Martin Luther King, Jr. King cast himself as a family man, with a beautiful wife and four children. But there was a darker side.
The FBI considered King equal to a Communist for his beliefs. The FBI surveilled him and recorded tapes of King having intimate relations with women who were not his wife. Then, the FBI would call his wife at home, and play the tapes over the phone.
There are even whispers that King was abusive to some of the women he was with.
We long for our heroes to be perfect. I know I DO. But I don't know any human being who is perfect.
In this day of #MeToo, I wonder, would the long tendrils of social media dig up the dirt on Martin Luther King, if he were alive today? Would the newest rights movement - #MeToo- chew up and toss out Martin Luther King?
As a woman who has had my full share of #MeToo moments, I can never accept, condone, excuse or forget what some men have done to women.
And yet - I cannot foresee nor accept a world without Martin Luther King.
As a Christian, I live with the power of Forgiveness. Martin Luther King, himself, said- "Forgiveness does NOT mean ignoring what has been done or putting a false label on an evil act. Forgiveness is a catalyst creating the atmosphere necessary for a fresh start and a new beginning. . There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us."
As a Christian, I remember the story of David and Bathsheba. King David is relaxing on the roof of his home, while his army is off fighting in other nations, when he spies the beautiful Bathsheba. Despite knowing that Bathsheba is already married, he sleeps with her. Then he commands his military chief to put her husband on the front lines, so that the husband is killed in battle. David is well aware of the depths of his evil sin.
And yet, King David goes on to be the root and ancestor of Jesus Himself.
There are other stories in Christian lore of, for example, the author of the hymn Amazing Grace, John Newton. Newton was an evil slave trader, who went on the become a minister, and the author of this beloved hymn. He underwent a complete conversion, which allowed him to change history.
In his book, "Just Mercy", Bryan Stevenson asks, 'Can a man be summed up entirely by the worst thing he has ever done?'
Christianity recognizes fully our Sin. It also recognizes the power of Redemption. Forgiveness never accepts the Sin, but forgiveness does mean a process of working THROUGH the Sin and coming out the other side.
I once went to my pastor because of the weight of the abuses that had been heaped upon me as a child. I was living a kind of Spiritual Death. It was as if the abuses inhabited me like a dark Spirit that would not leave. I asked my pastor, "Is there anything that is unforgivable?" To my utter surprise, he said, "No! Because Jesus forgave absolutely everyone, even his crucifiers."
Suddenly, I saw my chief abuser as a complete human being. Nothing could even condone what he had done. But I saw my abuser as a man hounded by torment, a pain that caused him to carry out unspeakable things. He became far more than the embodiment of the Sin itself. He became all too raw and human.
As I contemplated this, the burden lifted from me. A friend told me that I looked ten years younger.
IF a person commits a terrible Sin . . IF he recognizes his Sin and is willing to atone for it - CAN we ever allow him that redemption, and the possibility to accomplish all that is good in the world ?
This is the challenge of Christianity. Without that process of atonement and redemption, how many good people will we sacrifice at the altar of eternal Unforgiveness?
How many Martin Luther King's and John Newton's will we never even know about?
[Related Postings: "The Need For Martin Luther King", 1/16/13; "Martin Luther King's Dream", 1/15/14; "Martin Luther King", 1/17/11; "Martin Luther King - The Man", 1/14/18; "The Enduring Wisdom of Martin Luther King", 1/8/17; "What would Martin Luther King Say?", 1/14/16]
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2019. All Rights Reserved.
Tuesday, January 1, 2019
"Mary set out to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, 'Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.' " -[ Luke 1: 39-45].
Mary, mother of Jesus, has been identified as the "handmaid of the Lord". In Luke 1: 38, when the angel Gabriel came to Mary to announce that she will bear the Son of God, Mary replies to Gabriel: "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."
A handmaid is a female servant in ancient times. She may have been at times a slave, or a lowly employee. In some stories of the Bible, she is the consort of the mistress's husband.
In 1985, Margaret Atwood wrote the widely read, "The Handmaid's Tale", a dark inversion of the Biblical story, in which powerful, abusive leaders subjugate women, forbidding the women to own property, to work, to manage their finances or even to read. The Handmaids become a fertility class, organized and subjugated, to repopulate the earth after world-wide infertility.
And now this Christmas season, Professor Eric Sprankle, Minn. State University, has posted on social media that "the virgin birth story is about an all-knowing, all-powerful deity impregnating a human teen."
Besides the immense unfairness of overlaying our modern sensibilities upon an ancient story and expecting a different result, the Atwood and Sprankle interpretations are subversions bordering on blasphemy.
At the same time, I know more than a few Christians who are amused by these misguided interpretations.
At Mary's meeting with Gabriel, she famously says, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."
Mary also says, "For nothing shall be impossible with God." -[Luke 1:37]. In accepting with joy her assignation as Mother of Jesus, Mary recognizes the Infinite Possibility of God. This is not a grim "sentence", it is the possibility of redemption and healing in the corrupt world of Rome.
After Mary gives birth to Jesus in the stable, Wise Men from the East visit to pay homage. Luke 2: 18 says, "After they had seen the child, they spread the message they had received about Him. But Mary treasured up all these things in her heart." Mary knew the special, even Divine qualities of her experiences. And she marveled over them.
Not only did Mary consent, she was honored, she marveled at this event, she was in awe.
Many who are not Catholic forget to keep reading their Bible until they stumble upon the Magnificat, also known as the hymn of praise of the Virgin Mary.
In Luke 1: 46-55, Mary sings glory to God: "My soul magnifies the Lord"- i.e., Mary's soul is a Light to reflect and amplify the glory of God.
"And my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; Because He has regarded [held in utmost esteem] the lowliness of the handmaid; for behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed." Mary is no victim here, she has willingly accepted the honor bestowed upon her by God. All generations shall call Mary blessed, because God has esteemed the "lowliness of His handmaid." God has stooped low to make Mary great.
"And His mercy is from generation to generation on those who fear Him. He has shown might with His arm, He has scattered the proud conceit of the heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty."
Mary is no subjugated and abject victim here. She is a heroine, who is lifted up from lowly status, to become the Mother of Love, and the Mother of a worldwide, eternal movement to topple corrupt power and to elevate the lowly. Through Mary, God has "scattered the proud in [their conceit], and has put down the mighty from their thrones. . . the rich he has sent away empty."
The rich, already being filled with their own conceit, have no room for God. They have already possessed more than enough bounty in this Life, and so they do not thrive in the Next.
Mary is the epitome of, "The humble shall be exalted."
Mary is no passive subject, but an active catalyst for spiritual and social change. To say she is nothing more than a victim of Divine violence is a total mischaracterization and misreading of the very words on the page.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said, "Mary is like a magnifying glass that intensifies our love of her Son." If we all could emanate only half of her Light, we would live in a vastly brighter world.
(c) Spiritual Devotional 2018. All Rights Reserved.