Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The little man with a ginormous mission!

On October 4th, the feast of St. Francis of Assisi will be observed.  This man, small and fragile in stature, was able to move the political and religious worlds much like a “spiritual tsunami” which has lasted over 800 years.  It was with these words heard in the little village church while praying before an ancient crucifix: "Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin” that Francis turned the world upside down. We have all received from his spirit again and again to teach us the values that have empowered so many over these hundreds of years to carry on his mission, his dream, his call.

Today we know that there have been so many ways in which the memory of Francis is ever before us.  Besides the women and men orders that live in religious community and commit to his way of life, there are also all those other images, books, etc., that keep the life of the Poverello before us.  For instance, how many of us have Francis in our gardens?  Yes, and yet here are a few more items that have been created to remind us that he once lived and changed the world: books (both novels and biographies), films, classical music, poems, blessings, chapels, churches, songs, wineries and vineyards, pet blessings and even tags for identification.  Everything short of action figures or video games! And most of us can recite the St. Francis Peace Prayer; however, research has attributed the present form to Cardinal Francis Spellman from 1949.  So I leave you with some links to information about Francis and a reconfiguring of the prayer once again.  So let us ask Francis to intercede for us and our world as we experience our nation and our planet “falling into ruin” for so many reasons.  Let us pray together:
A Franciscan Prayer for Peace
Lord, make us instruments of your Peace.  In a world all too prone to violence and revenge, We commit ourselves to the Gospel Values of Mercy, Justice, Compassion, and Love; We will seek daily to promote forgiveness and healing in our hearts, our families, and our world.
Where there is hatred, let us sow Love; Where there is injury, let us cultivate Peace. Fear and distance prevent people from recognizing all as sisters and brother; tensions lead to violence and mistrust; We will strive to honor the dignity that God places in each and every human person.
Grant that we may not seek to be understood as to understand; To be loved as to Love.  Our failure to understand the other can create exclusion in all its negative forms – racism, marginalization of those who are poor, sick, the immigrant; it can also create situations of domination, occupation, oppression and war.  We pledge to see the way of solidarity, to create hearts, homes, and communities where all people will experience inclusion, hospitality, and understanding.
For it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned and in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Let us pray: Lord God, create in us;
- The capacity to hear and understand the voices of those who suffer from every form of violence, injustice, and dehumanization;
- The openness to receive and honor people from other cultures, languages, religious traditions, and geographical regions;
- The creativity to explore new ways of community and dialogue through music, poetry, performing arts, and mass media;
- The audacity to undertake the building of communities of forgiveness, healing, and reconciliation. To God who is above all and in all are the glory and the honor.  Amen.

Habit of St. Francis    

Monday, September 24, 2012

God of autumn, the trees are saying goodbye to their green, letting go of what has been. We, too have our moments of surrender, with all their insecurities and risk. Help us to let go when we need to do so.

God of fallen leaves, lying in coloured patterns on the ground, our lives have their own patterns. As we see the patterns on the ground, our lives have their own patterns. As we see the patterns of our own growth, may we learn from them.

God of misty days and harvest moon nights, there is always the dimension of mystery and wonder in our lives. We always need to recognize your power filled presence. May we gain strength from this.
Amen. (Terry Hershey)

Visual/audio meditations:







Monday, September 17, 2012

Between a Rock and a Hard Place!

Many etymologists trace the origins of the idiom to Greek mythology. Legends were written about a treacherous area at sea where sailors would find themselves stuck between Scylla, a monstrous multi-headed beast atop a cliff, and Charybdis, an enormous whirlpool. Going in either direction meant certain death, creating an incredibly difficult dilemma for the sailors to face. This story led to the creation of the expression "between Scylla and Charybdis," which referred to being in an inescapable predicament. 

As I ponder this phrase, I think of the Gospels from this week and next week: Mark 8:27-35 and Mark 9:30-37 respectively.  In the first Gospel reference, Jesus is on his way (in a few short Chapters from now) to Jerusalem with his trusty disciples.  He asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” Mark then has Jesus reveal the prediction of his Passion. As the Anointed One – his life will lead to suffering and eventually death. This does not make the gang too happy, especially Peter who tries to say – “this ain’t gonna happen on my watch!” They were hoping for someone to come and overtake the Romans and their reign of power.  However, this is not how Jesus’ Kingdom reign will unfold.

In the Second Gospel reference, the guys are arguing who is the greatest since Jesus will soon be “out of the picture” or “off the radar.” Again, Jesus steps in and reveals his suffering and death for a second time, and that following him is not about being the greatest but the least; it’s not about being first but last; it’s not about being a person of power, control, prestige, or success – it’s about being like a child – (in the Mediterranean culture) that is, having no status, or considered equal to a slave.  So how do we see these readings through our Western cultural lens or hear them through the Western cultural filter?

Well – as I ponder the question, “Who do people say I am?” – We can easily flip into our individualism, self-reliance, independence from others, and personal competence stance.  So if we were to reflect on this question: Who do people say we are?  What will be the response? Will others describe what we do or what the essence of our Self really is?  Or what if we would address this to God? Or the Holy One? What do we believe that God would say to us if we asked –“God, who do you say I am?” Would we have the courage, trust, and humility to receive God’s reply?  Oftentimes God does tell us who we are by those who we share life with, or those we play with, or work with, or pray with.  

Also, what about that “greatest” squabble among the disciples?  Seems to me that living in a superlative mind set is all about competition, striving, climbing, never being satisfied with being good enough.  Just recalling the past Summer Olympics, one reporter stated that it was all about stronger, longer, higher, and faster at everything.  Didn’t you find yourself sometimes exhausted after watching some of those races, meets, and competitions?  

Again, what does all this have to do with our lives now?  I believe that some recent news events have placed us individually and collectively between a rock and a hard place.  Let us recall the mass shootings at the theater in Aurora, CO, at the screening of The Dark Knight, where 12 people were killed and 58 were injured; or the Sikh Temple shooting on Aug. 6th in Oak Creek, WI, where 6 people were killed and 4 others were seriously wounded; and the recent killings in Benghazi, Libya, when angry mobs stormed the U.S. consulate and killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others.  Are we not between a rock and a hard place where we have to discern how to react or respond with each event?  Will we harbor animosity and seek revenge or retaliation? Or will we be about reflection, or understanding, and be in solidarity with those who hold pain and suffering?  The choice is always ours as we stand between a rock and a hard place.


An old Grandfather said to his grandson, who came to him with anger at a friend who had done him an injustice, "Let me tell you a story.   
I, too, at times, have felt a great hate for those that have taken so much, with no sorrow for what they do. But hate wears you down, and does not hurt your enemy. It is like taking poison and wishing your enemy would die. I have struggled with these feelings many times." He continued, "It is as if there are two wolves inside me. One is good and does no harm. He lives in harmony with all around him, and does not take offense when no offense was intended. He will only fight when it is right to do so, and in the right way.
But the other wolf, ah! He is full of anger. The littlest thing will set him into a fit of temper. He fights everyone, all the time, for no reason. He cannot think because his anger and hate are so great. It is helpless anger, for his anger will change nothing. Sometimes, it is hard to live with these two wolves inside me, for both of them try to dominate my spirit." The boy looked intently into his Grandfather's eyes and asked, "Which one wins, Grandfather?"The Grandfather smiled and quietly said, "The one I feed."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

"We've Got A Song To Sing!"

Author, Wayne Dyer, in his book “10 Secrets to Inner Peace,” writes that one of the secrets to inner peace is: “Don’t die with your music still inside you.” Today, technology keeps all of us on our tip toes and challenges us to be digital people, especially in the area of computer hardware and software related to entertainment.  We find that an entire music collection can be downloaded on an audio digital device slightly thicker than the width of a credit card.  Upon this writing, the 6th generation of iPod was circulating.  We are now into the 8th generation of iPods (Nano).  At that time these audio devices had a high capacity for memory, were handheld, resilient to shock if dropped, could withstand vigorous movement, and could hold 20,000 songs - - which means that at 4 minutes per song,  a person can listen eight weeks straight without hearing a repeat.

God, too, has downloaded our own “song of purpose” within each of our hearts.  It takes a lifetime for each of us to discover our song and share its melody with all whom we encounter.   In the Gospel of the Beatitudes (Matthew 5: 1-12), we are presented with Jesus’ “Song of the Beatitudes.”  When Jesus preaches the Beatitudes, he is saying to each of us: Be surprised by what’s a blessing in your life.  It’s not always a blessing to be full of success or to win all the time.  In fact, we have to almost turn upside down all our notions of blessedness if we are to hear this “Good News” of Jesus.

“So to follow Jesus is a dangerous thing.  To follow Jesus is to follow the one who turns the world upside down even the political and religious worlds.  Jesus’ idea of discipleship is not about giving people answers but leading them into that space where they will long and yearn for God – for wisdom, for healing, and for transformation.  Following Jesus is a winding route that leads always and everywhere to a place where a ‘nice’ person would not go, to moments of integrity we would so much rather do without.” (Tony Gittens)

Scholars are rethinking the original Greek translation of the words, “Blessed are you. . .” and they write that possibly a better translation may be: “Walk on! Walk forth!” -  If this is true, then, the Beatitudes take on a different tone of encouragement and determination.  God cheers us on so that we might stand tall and hang in there in pursuit of justice and peace. So let us walk forth with the poor in spirit; walk forth with those who mourn.  Let us walk on as disciples with the meek, and those who hunger and thirst for nonviolence.  And let us walk on and be filled with courage and determination, and be transformed into people who will turn the political and religious worlds upside down because we, too, sing the song of peacemakers.

So  perhaps, we are much like the iPod . . . for we, too, are handheld by our God; we, too, can endure vigorous internal and external movements that shake us up so that we will not get too settled into complacency.  We, too, have a high capacity for memory, especially remembering God’s dream and purpose for us, and we are programmed to be resilient to shock through supportive prayer, compassionate friends, and purposeful pondering, through times of quieting and deep listening.

So what is the Good News for us today?
Let us be open to the graces of this powerful Gospel reading.
Let us, through the power of the Spirit, claim our song!
And let us, with God’s grace, choose to become Beatitude-People who are willing to Walk On – to Walk Forth in the name of our God who inspires us and unsettles us to go the distance in the pursuit of justice and peace. 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Golden Rule

A reflection based on Matthew 7:6, 12-14

There is a story of a Rabbi who disappeared every Sabbath Eve, “to commune with God in the forest,” – so his congregation thought.  So one Sabbath night they appointed one of their cantors to follow the Rabbi and observe the holy encounter.  Deeper and deeper into the woods the Rabbi went until he came to the small cottage of an old Gentile woman, sick to death and crippled into a painful posture. Once there, the Rabbi cooked for her and carried her firewood and swept her floor. Then when the chores were finished, he returned immediately to his little house next to the synagogue. Back in the village, the people demanded of the cantor, “Did our Rabbi go up to heaven as we thought?”  “Oh, no,” the cantor answered after a thoughtful pause, “our Rabbi went much, much higher than that.”  
- Joan Chittister in There  Is a Season 

This Gospel reading of Matthew comes near the end of the Chapter on the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus tells us that the Law and the Prophets is contained in the well-known proverb, “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you.”  Our Rabbi in the forest certainly lived out this command. How often have we heard this expression of the “Golden Rule” and been challenged to look into our actions to see if we live out this teaching?

The “Golden Rule” is professed by all the great world religions. On the Internet over 750,000 sites are dedicated to the “Golden Rule.”  Although, some are companies/businesses – but many are related to religious principles.  This “Golden Rule” is found in many of the texts of various religions as well.
Buddhism – “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.”
Confucianism: “Try your best to treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself, and you will find that this is the shortest way to benevolence.”
Native American Spirituality: “All things are our relatives; what we do to everything, we do to ourselves.  All is really One.  (Black Elk)
Pima Proverb: “Do not wrong or hate your neighbor.  For it is not he/she who you wrong, but yourself.”
Yoruba: (Nigeria) – “One going to take a pointed stick to pinch a baby bird should first try it on himself/herself to feel how it hurts.”

For many centuries this life maxim has been influential among people of diverse cultures.  It can best be interpreted as:  “Treat others only in ways that you’re willing to be treated in the same exact situation.”  To apply it, we need to imagine ourselves in the exact place of the other person, on the receiving end of the action.  If we act in a given way toward another, and yet are unwilling to be treated that way in the same circumstance, then we violate the rule. The “Golden Rule,” has roots in a wide range of world cultures/religions, and is well suited to be a norm by which different cultures could appeal in resolving conflicts.  As the world becomes more and more a single interacting global community, the need for such a common standard is becoming more urgent.  

To live the “Golden Rule” effectively, we need knowledge, imagination, and grace.  We need to know what effect our actions have on the lives of others. We need to be able to imagine ourselves, vividly and clearly, in the other person’s place on the receiving end of the action.  

“Golden Rule” thinking has expanded as human identification and connection with others has increased.  Today, especially, through the Internet, world news, and global media, people identify with millions of individuals they do not know personally – groups that often are worldwide in scope. Think of how the world became aware of the need for relief efforts of tsunami victims, or of the hurricane survivors, or of drought and earthquake refugees.  Can we not begin to invite our children to become citizens of the world with an awareness of global issues so that they can choose to make a difference? Some of the issues that they will have to face as adults will not wait upon their intellectual skills and compassion. The time is now – always now - Some of these needs and concerns are: stewardship of our planet’s resources; the gap between the rich and the poor; hunger concerns ; Aids epidemic; water rights in the Great Lakes and elsewhere; immigration; sexism, racism, capitalism; Third World Debt;  Health Care; the role of the Church and the voices of the faithful, Capital Punishment – just to name a few.

The Gospel reading invites us to look outside of ourselves towards others, and notice the way that we are towards them, and the way that we treat them.  Let us pray that we can accept and be open to this call of the “Golden Rule” and live it out, - letting it get under our skin, and under our heart - knowing that hearing the call may be the beginning of opening ourselves to the work of Jesus in our hearts and actions especially towards others across our planet.

“A man once stood before God, his heart breaking from the pain and injustice in the world.  ‘Dear God,’ he cried out, ‘look at all the suffering, the anguish and distress in your world.  Why don’t you send help?’ God responded, ‘I did send help.  I sent you.”  (David Wolpe in Teaching Your Children About God)