Wednesday, December 11, 2019

What is old, is new! What goes around, comes around!

An Advent story to ponder . . .

Once upon a time there was a thief. He wasn’t really good at it. Not a professional at all. He was just a poor man, with hungry children and a wife who labored hard. He worked sometimes, but more often than not there was no job to be had and so no food either for hungry mouths. It pained him to see his wife and children suffer so and angered him that there was no pity in the kingdom, no kindness or generosity in his neighbors. He took a chance, a big chance, and stole some food. The king’s law was death by hanging if a thief was caught. He got away with it often. He took bread, apples, and flour when he could and sometimes a ribbon or two for the one he loved so.

But he wasn’t good at it. He was just poor and hungry and desperate, and finally he got caught, with the bread in hand. He was jailed and sentenced to be hanged until dead, in public for all to see, as a warning to others. He was desperate, for life, for his family, and for their future. In jail the night before the execution he told one of the guards in confidence that it was a shame that he would die tomorrow, for a secret, a great secret, and a skill would die with him. Too bad he couldn’t tell the secret so someone who could use it wisely or get it to the king, who certainly would be interested in it.

The jailer said that he’d be happy to take the secret of the dying man. And so the man told him: “I can take a pomegranate seed, plant it in the ground, water it, and make it grow so that it will bear fruit overnight. My father taught it to me, as his father taught him, for generations. But tomorrow it dies with me.”

The jailer could hardly believe his ears and immediately brought word to the king. The next day, before the execution, the king arrived and had the poor man brought forward. “Let me see you do this marvelous thing,” the king commanded. And so the man asked for a spade, dug a hole, asked for a pomegranate seed, and then turned to the king and spoke: “This seed can only be planted by someone who has never stolen anything in his life or someone who has never taken anything that did not belong to him by right. Of course, I am a thief, caught stealing bread for my children and wife, so I can’t plant it. You’ll have to have someone else do it.”

The king turned to his counselor and commanded him to plant it. The man froze and stuttered: “Your majesty, I can’t.”   “What do you mean you can’t?” the king uttered.

The counselor explained. “Once, when I was young, before I was in your employ, I took something from a house where I was staying. I returned it, of course, but I can’t plant it.”

The king was annoyed and turned to his treasurer and commanded him to plant it. The man went chalk white and shook. “I can’t, your majesty,” he confessed.

“What, you, too?  What have you done? Have you stolen from me?”

“No, no, my king,” he protested, “but I work with figures, calculating all the time, and it’s easy to make mistakes, and I am forever trying to balance accounts, taking from here to put there. With huge sums of money, land deeds, contracts, and so on it’s easy to overlook something. Besides I often have to make deals with people so that better deals can be made later. Its business, sire.”

The king turned to another, and instinctively the next man shrunk away from him. It was the poor man who spoke next. “Your majesty, perhaps you could plant it yourself.” This time it was the king who hesitated. So many things went through his mind. He remembered stealing from his father in anger, impatient to be king himself and wanting that power and freedom, that access to wealth. The poor man spoke boldly, “Your majesty, even  you cannot plant the seed, you who are mighty, with power over life and death; you who have wealth and much more than you need to live on; you who make laws that destroy even the poor who are desperately hungry and caught in the web of others’ greed and insensitivity. You can’t plant the seed. You are a thief. Why are you so hard on me, a poor man who stole bread to feed his family? You are going to hang me, leaving others in need with no recourse.”

The king stopped. He heard, thank heaven, and repented of his harshness and injustice, his callousness and disdain for others. He pardoned the man who reminded him to first change the laws and then to work at making life worth living for so many in his kingdom. The king was impressed with the poor man’s wisdom, cleverness, and understanding and took him into his employ. Things began to change, or so the story goes. Would that it were true for all those who hear this tale told today.
Original source unknown.
(previously posted)

 Found in Advent Christmas and Epiphany . . . Stories and Reflections on the Sunday Readings by Megan McKenna. Orbis Books, 1998. "The Pomegranate Seed” is a story found in many folktale traditions.

Advent Joseph


 Among so many Madonna & Child paintings, it seems that artists have tended to leave Joseph out, let alone thought of painting him actually holding the baby... but Georges de la Tour painted this beautiful picture of Joseph with Jesus holding a light for him to work by.
Catherine Alder
Advent Hands

I see the hands of Joseph.
 Back and forth along bare wood they move.
 There is worry in those working hands,
 sorting out confusing thoughts with every stroke.
“How can this be, my beautiful Mary now with child?” 
Rough with deep splinters, these hands,
 small, painful splinters like tiny crosses
 embedded deeply in this choice to stay with her.
 He could have closed his hands to her,
 said, “No” and let her go to stoning.
 But, dear Joseph opened both his heart and hands
 to this mother and her child.
 Preparing in these days before
 with working hands
 and wood pressed tight between them.
 It is these rough hands that will open
 and be the first to hold the Child.
I see the hands of John,
 worn from desert raging storms
 and plucking locusts from sand ripped rocks
 beneath the remnant of a Bethlehem star.
 A howling wind like some lost wolf
 cries out beneath the moon,
 or was that John?
 This loneliness,
 enough to make a grown man mad.
 He’s waiting for this, God’s whisper.
“Go now. He is coming.
 You have prepared your hands enough.
 Go. He needs your servant hands,
 your cupping hands to lift the water,
 and place his feet upon the path to service and to death.
 Go now, John, and open your hands to him.
 It is time.”
I see a fist held tight and fingers blanched to white.
 Prying is no easy task.
 These fingers find a way of pulling back to old positions,
 protecting all that was and is.
 Blanched to white. No openness. All fright.
 But then the Spirit comes.
 A holy Christmas dance begins
 and blows between the twisted paths.
 This fist opens
 the twisted fingers letting go.
 Their rock-solid place in line has eased.
 And one by one the fingers lift
 True color is returned
 And through the deepest of mysteries,
 The holiest of holies,
 O longing of longings
 Beyond all human imagining
 this fist,
 as if awakened from Lazarus’ cold stone dream
 reaches out to hold the tiny newborn hand of God.

A Time of Light . . .

Blessed Are You Who Bear The Light

Blessed are you
who bear the light
in unbearable times,
who testify
to its endurance
amid the unendurable,
who bear witness
to its persistence
when everything seems
in shadow
and grief.

Blessed are you
in whom
the light lives,
in whom
the brightness blazes ___
your heart
a chapel,
an altar where
in the deepest night
can be seen
the fire that
shines forth in you
in unaccountable faith,
in stubborn hope,
in love that illumines
every broken thing
it finds.

Author: Jan Richardson                                         
From Circle of Grace/

Monday, December 2, 2019

The Student Santa!

The students were having their briefing about how to be a good ‘Santa Claus’. The Christmas season was gearing up in the department store, and Alex was here on his first day as a ‘holiday-job Santa.’

‘Whatever you do, don’t frighten the children,’ the manager told them sternly. ‘Not even if the parents want you to!’

Armed with this advice, Alex started his first day.  The very first child that arrived, parents in tow, screamed blue murder the moment he set eyes on Alex’s fine new Santa outfit and long white beard. Nothing would pacify him. Not the parents’ admonitions to ‘be a brave little boy’, and not Alex’s own attempts to console the crying child.

Eventually, in despair, Alex hit on an idea. He began to peel off his ‘uniform’, bit by bit, starting with the white beard. The child stopped crying, and watched him, fascinated.  The red hood was removed, and a young and rather embarrassed face came to light. The glasses were removed, and two twinkling, youthful, blue eyes appeared. The red robe was discarded, and underneath it was an ordinary young man in blue jeans and sweatshirt.  The child looked on in amazement, until he was soon laughing and relaxed.

Once the relationship between them had been established, Alex started to put the ‘uniform’ back on again, and as he did so, he told the little boy a story of how, a very long time ago, God had come to live on earth with us, and so that no one would be frightened, God had come in very ordinary clothes and lived the life of a very ordinary child.  The boy listened, wide-eyed.

Soon, it was time to move on. The next ‘customer’; was waiting. The boy‘s parents moved away, rather disgruntled. ‘What a shame,’ they said. ‘It spoiled all the magic.’

‘The end of the magic, perhaps,’ mused Alex, ‘but the beginning of the wonder.’

Source Unknown
Previously posted

An ADVENTure of Holy Waiting , , ,

"We are not restful people who occasionally become restless. But we are restless people who occasionally become restful.” (Henri Nouwen)
Advent is the liturgical season when we pay special attention to the mystery of waiting. In our American culture, we have a real problem because most of us Americans don’t like waiting, and we certainly don’t see waiting as something to celebrate. We live in a culture that cooks its food in microwaves, or we can choose the “drive thru,” ; we measure time in microseconds or even nano-seconds. It’s not that we do not wait.  We may spend hours waiting in lines at airports, at doctor’s offices, on the highway in traffic, at the grocery store checks-outs – we even have to wait in the Self-Serve check-out lane or Express Lane!  Recently, I saw a clip that even bank tellers may be eliminated with some type of digital technology so no waiting would be needed. “Everyone knows that Americans hate to stand in line. It’s contrary to the basic American values of independence and self-determination. While standing in line may   not threaten life, it certainly threatens liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” (T. Stawar)

I invite you to just lean back in your memory of your everyday experiences and recall where you wait: for your medicine, or for it to take effect, for your meals, for a phone call, a visit, or a letter. Or you wait for the result of your tests, or for healing. (Pause) Think of a time you waited and how you felt. Turn and tell someone where you have waited – share how you felt. How did it change you?

We wait because we have to – sometimes we have no choice but to wait. And we may wait impatiently, looking at our clocks, calendars, watches  – or maybe we even find ourselves complaining – if not verbally, then we may hold it in and do some “internal global whining.” Our culture tends to view waiting as an inconvenient necessity or as an outright injustice that stems from a variety of factors, for example:
• We see time as a resource to be controlled and allocated for our own personal gain and convenience.
• We allow time to run our lives, hurrying to and from scheduled appointments and on to the next appointment.
• We see waiting as a certain sign that something is wrong that should have been fixed but was not.
• Our entertainment, from television, to radio talk shows, to movies has created an illusion that all problems are resolvable in something less than two hours or even less than that.
• Our culture tends to prize action more than meditation, speed rather than slow progress and arriving rather than the journey.

So in our culture, waiting sometimes bores and often irritates us however we may find that at every stage of our lives some new forms of waiting are involved. However the Scriptures teach us that if  we approach waiting in the right spirit, waiting is a creative moment when we grow spiritually.  When we wait, we are in touch with an essential aspect of our humanity which is that we are dependent on God and on one another.  It is also an act of love since, by waiting for others; we pay them the respect of letting them be free. Waiting is a mystery – God waits and nature waits – so that when we as individuals wait we go beyond ourselves and enter into sacred life-giving process, experiencing that we are made in the image and likeness of God. This is why Advent is a time of celebration.

Advent is the season when we remember with gratitude creative experiences of waiting in our lives or the lives of people we have known, the people who have waited for us at one time or another.  We also remember the great waiting experiences in human history, in the Scriptures, and especially in the life Jesus. Today, we have come to reflect on faithful waiting.  Henri Nouwen writes that, “Faithful waiting is the antidote to fear and self-doubt.  It is believing God can accomplish in us something greater than our imaginings.”

Waiting teaches us to live life in increments, in small pieces rather than large chunks. Waiting teaches us to measure our progress slowly. It is hard to trust in God’s time - Kyros time – God’s  slow unfolding time.  God’s time is different from our time - Chronos time - time of clocks and calendars.  On God’s time, we are often waiting for the bigger picture but must be content with each small piece.  When we are waiting, we put one foot in front of the other every morning and evening.   Henri Nouwen says that sometimes we have enough light only for the next step.  Faithful waiting teaches us patience. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the fullest in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.  Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere.  The moment is empty.  But patient people dare to stay where they are.  Faithful waiting means nurturing the moment.

1. So as we reflect on the gift of waiting, faithful waiting, it calls us to be patient – which invites us  to trust that often times there is no quick fix.  When we have to wait without knowing the answers, without knowing what’s ahead, we are nudged into a new perspective.  Waiting without immediate solutions presents us with an opportunity to lean into the unknowing, to let go of the false promise of a quick fix, and to grow in patience.  At this time in our lives, there are many who wait for peace.  Jim Forrest, a member of Fellowship of Reconciliation, has compared the labors of peacemakers to those of the artisans who built the great medieval cathedrals, working generation after generation on projects whose completion most would never see. 

2. Patience invites us to trust in the fullness of God’s time. It is hard to wait.  We often want to take our lives into our own hands and make things happen – possibly right away! Scripture ask us to trust in the fullness of God’s time.  If we recall  Chardin’s prayer:  “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.  We are, quite naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end without delay.”  It is said that there is rightness about God’s time:  ripeness, maturation, a waiting that is worth it.  (Nature is a wonderful example of God’s time – (the seasons, the ebb and flow of the oceans, the gestation period of a child in the womb).  Patience is a standing invitation to trust in God’s timing.

3. Patience opens us to what we call active waiting.  Most of us think of waiting as something very passive, a hopeless state determined by events totally out of our hands.  If the bus is late.  We can’t do anything about it, so we have to sit there and just wait.  It is not difficult to understand the irritation that we feel when somebody says, “Just wait.” (Sometimes I think of the 500+ people that wait in line each evening at St. Ben’s meal program in Milwaukee, WI – they just wait.  And if they cause a problem while they're waiting, then they are removed.) But in the Scriptures, there is no passivity in waiting. Those who are waiting are waiting very actively.  Active waiting means to be present fully to the moment in the conviction that something is happening where we are - and that we want to be present to it.  A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, who believes that this moment is thee moment.

4.   Patience gives us time to be available to others. Waiting presents us with opportunities to isolate ourselves and do “global whining” or to realize that we have time to be available to others.  When  we wait, we often find that we are not waiting alone.  Patience gives us time to be available and to connect us with others.  We can never experience the richness of empathy, the intimacy of shared joy and sorrow, or the solace of friendship without taking time to be available for others.  There is not a short-cut to our experiences.  Waiting gives us the chance to be open to each and every slowed-down experience.

So this week, let us ask for the grace to be open to Advent opportunities to practice holy waiting, and to grow in being restful in our restlessness!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Let the ADVENT- ure begin!

Five year old Johnny was in the kitchen as his mother made supper. She asked him to go into the pantry and get her a can of tomato soup. But he didn't want to go in alone. “It’s dark in there and I’m scared.” She asked again, and he persisted. Finally she said, “It’s OK — Jesus will be in there with you.” Johnny walked hesitantly to the door and slowly opened it. He peeked inside, saw it was dark, and started to leave when all at once an idea came, and he said: "Jesus, if you’re in there, would you hand me that can of tomato soup?” (Original source unknown)

These four weeks of Advent begin as never before, with a time as individuals, as a faith community, as a religious congregation, as a church, a nation, and inhabitants of this planet earth ~we all are faced with standing in liminality – an in-betweenness - hoping against hope that God is in the darkness of it all!  Like Johnny, we, too, need to be courageous and creative and call out to our God to hand us what we need in this time of doubt, confusion, apprehension and fear while walking in this space and time of uncertainty.  

In her book, Journey of the Soul, our own Sister Doris Klein, describes this liminal experience:  She writes:  "When we face those times of uncertainty in our life, the scene is often blurry.  Things we were so sure of suddenly make little sense. The answers we thought were clear now seem lost in a distant fog, and we wander aimlessly, unable to regain the focus we once believed we had. Our confusion is unsettling. Doubt, like vertigo, distorts our balance as we fearfully wander in a vast and empty inner wilderness as we wrestle with the darkness, a rush of panic washes into our hearts our breath becomes shallow and, with each question, the judgments seem to escalate.”

We are not to lose heart.  Author Clarissa Pinkola Estes assures us  . . . “We were made for these times,” she writes.  “People everywhere are concerned and deeply bewildered about the state of affairs in our world.  Ours is not a task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.  Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world will help immensely.” Yes, we are made for these times and as a people, a church, a nation, a world, we need generous, creative, imaginative people whose zeal can be ignited by the vision of a daring and not quite rational undertaking. 

We are made for these times – and we must dare to become imaginative and creative so as to confront the dark forces that keep our minds and hearts hostage.  When we live in liminality, we need to be able to take risks without worrying about the consequences.  Henri Nouwen once wrote, “Faithful waiting is the antidote to fear and self-doubt.  It is believing God can accomplish in us something greater than our imaginings.”

Now is the time for hope to be born again in the faces and hearts of our children and young adults, and where we all stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us as pillars of passion, heralds of hope, and voices with vision where it will spread around the earth, brightening all things. For we have been made for these times and as Paul writes to the Corinthians: That in God we are enriched in every way, and that we are not lacking in any spiritual gifts as we wait for the revelation of Christ Jesus. 

It is here in this time that we are to be watchful, alert and awake so that we will encounter our God in our midst to create from the chaos as in Genesis. Advent is a season that invites us to cross over the threshold from darkness to light, from anxiety to a holy serenity, from emptiness to abundance, and to wholeheartedly turn to seek God who is already in the turning!

Yes, we are made for these times and called, invited, chosen, and challenged to be alert, awake, prepared and vigilant.  So when God breaks into our lives in unexpected ways during this Advent season and we feel confused, anxious, frightened, or we find ourselves grasping for hope — let us be ready to ask God to just hand us the tomato soup or whatever we may need to be at ease and to be faith-filled as we live into this liminality – for God is already here among us.