Friday, June 28, 2013

God's Presence!

God loved stories so much, that God became one!

The term nesting dolls (Matryoshka) refers to “a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other.” There are usually eight dolls, with one being the smallest at the innermost core of the set.  This is an amazing image of how we have many sizes of stories and secrets within us.

The largest doll may often represent our public self. This is the image we wish to project to those with whom we live, work, play, and gather for friendship so as to be accepted, understood, and loved.  This large life-like doll contains all the sacred learnings from each inner nesting doll.

The nesting doll can also be an image for the art of discernment.  Discernment invites us to plumb the depths of our inner selves where we encounter the secrets and stories nesting within us.  It is in our inner search where we gently sort through our values, likes, dislikes, intuitions, insights, fears, illusions, dreams, hopes, learnings, and wisdom with the fingers of our mind.  We then make our way to the smallest doll that represents our authentic self at our center where God’s mysterious presence has always nested.

Eventually, we move out from this sacred center to the outer world, only to reflect on all that we experienced on our journey inward, and then we gather up all the wisdoms from our sacred stories which will sustain us on our ever unfolding story of life.

Monday, June 24, 2013

"Herald" Was His Name!

Feast of John the Baptist, June 24  
The story is told that in Valladolid, Spain, where Christopher Columbus died in 1506, stands a monument commemorating the great discoverer.  Perhaps the most interesting feature of the memorial is a statue of a lion destroying one of the Latin words that had been part of Spain’s motto for centuries. Before Columbus made his voyages, the Spaniards thought they had reached the outer limits of earth.  Thus their motto was “Ne Plus Ultra,” which means, “No More Beyond.”  The word being torn away by the lion is “Ne” or “No” thus it reads “Plus Ultra.”  Columbus had proven that there was indeed “more beyond.”

Today, we celebrate the feast of John the Baptist, whose witness and voice called his hearers to a baptism of repentance and to recognize the “more beyond” in his prophetic message; the “more beyond” rules, regulations and religious customs,  the “more beyond” predictable practices, and certainly the “more beyond” an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth!

From the beginning of his life to the end, John the Baptist was a living witness to God’s unconventional and unpredictable ways of acting.  Elizabeth, his mother, was “more beyond” the age of childbearing when she conceived.  Her relatives and neighbors rejoiced at God’s intervention on her behalf, but they had very definite ideas about how things should go after that.  Religious convention prescribed how the rite of circumcision and naming were to proceed.  

Here in our Gospel, all of Elizabeth’s family and friends gathered around her for the purpose of circumcising the child.  But they also decided that her newborn child would be named Zechariah Jr., after his father.  And then in this awkward moment, Elizabeth’s voice is heard in the wilderness of promise and possibility, and she says: “No, no, the child’s name will be John.”   Which translates, Yahweh is gracious. 

These people are faithful Jews, good people and lovers of God.  But at this moment, God is about to reveal a mystery that has never as much as entered their minds or hearts.  God was preparing to do something new.  Something “more beyond” their imaginations.  God and not social convention was to give John his name.  Perhaps the miraculous and unusual circumstances surrounding John’s conception, birth, and naming are clues as to God’s plan for this child who will be a prophet – one chosen to be voice and heart, call and sign of the God whose design for the world is justice, compassion, forgiveness, love and peace.

In every age God sends prophets to remind us how God desires to be involved in our lives.  Prophets do as much as they can to carry out their purpose, which is to interpret the will of God and to proclaim it to the people.  They stand in our midst and tell it like it is, speaking disturbing words that people don’t like to hear.

We might ask - Who are those in our time who have been called to be the prophetic voices to speak disturbing words that people don’t like to hear?

Let us remember, Bishop Oscar Romero:   He wrote . . . “Do not consider me, please, an enemy; I am simply a pastor, a brother, a friend of this Salvadoran people.  One who knows their sufferings, their hunger, their anguish.  It is in the name of these voices that I raise my voice to say: Do not idolize your wealth!  Do not horde it to let the rest die of hunger! I speak in the first person, because this week I received notice that I am on the list of those who are to be eliminated next week. But let it be known that no one can any longer kill the voice of justice.”

Sr. Dorothy Stang -  a Notre Dame de Namur sister, who worked among the peasant farmers in the Amazon and who was assassinated in February 2002.  In her journal she wrote, “O God, we have given all.  I have even sacrificed my home, country, family, my trust to work among your people.

God, my lover and Creator, I love You but I don’t understand why they (ranchers and military) seek to destroy our simple life-joy-caring among the people.  I never came to create hate or division but to build love, confidence and caring among a beautiful abandoned people.  Does this have to be part of life’s struggle?”

Finally, John Dear, priest and peace activist, who once was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.  His challenge to us all is to be contemplatives of non-violence, be students, teachers and visionaries of non-violence, be activists of non-violence, and be prophets of non-violence and stand publicly for peace.

So what is the Good News for us today?
Let us be open to the graces of these powerful readings.
Let us be open to risk the “more beyond” our comfort zones so that we, too, can be voice and heart, call and sign of the God who unsettles us.
Let us pray for all who are called in our time to be prophetic and speak words of challenge that people don’t want to hear.
And let us pray that John will intercede for our world today so that we, too, will choose to live “more beyond” violence, greed and power and truly live peace, be peace.   

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

May I Have Your ID, Please?

Once upon a time there was a country ruled by a king. The country was invaded and the king was killed but his children were rescued by servants and hidden away. The smallest, an infant daughter, was reared by a peasant family. They didn't know she was the king's daughter and she dug potatoes and lived in poverty. One day an old woman came out of the forest and approached the young woman who was digging potatoes. The old woman asked her: "Do you know who you are?" And the young woman said, "Yes," I'm the farmer's daughter and a potato digger." The old woman said: "No, no, you are the daughter of the king." And the potato digger answered back “I’m the daughter of the king?"  "Yes, that's who you are!" And the old woman disappeared back into the forest. After the old woman left the young woman still dug potatoes but she dug them differently. It was the way she held her shoulders and it was the light in her eyes because she knew who she was. She knew she was the daughter of the king.

Recently I had to renew my driver’s license. The form wanted to know who I was so that the computer would recognize me. I had to fill out a form that wanted me to identify myself so I would have a valid license. The form asked for my weight (of course), the color of my hair and eyes, my present address, if I would need glasses or contacts for driving, what was my legal name and date of birth, my social security number, my present address, city of residence, country of citizenship, background regarding convictions with license suspended, physical impairments, or if I ever suffered a seizure or blackout while driving, and a photo was taken to be sure that all the above information matched with my face!

However, I thought: Did they really know who I was?  They didn't ask me about my favorite color, my favorite flavor of ice cream, or my favorite kind of music. They didn't ask about my education background, what job positions have I held, if I had ever visited another country, where was my favorite place to visit, did I speak another language, what type am I on the Enneagram or Myers-Briggs Inventory, or the talents of my Strength-Quest interview, if I am Republican or Democrat or conservative or liberal, or vegetarian, or prefer non-gluten, and if I have a twin.  There is so much to know about who I really am.  Hey, I could have been a daughter of a king!  

Jesus was the Messiah – the Anointed One – and yet they are not too sure about his ID! And he needs to take an inventory or simple survey of what is being said and believed about him. 

In our Gospel this Sunday, Jesus asks his followers, “Who do the crowds say I am?”- He somehow is doing an interview with his followers to listen to what the outsiders are saying of him.  He is told that they remind him of the other prophets – yet he is more that who they were.  The religious leaders find him to be too much for them, and they consider him a rebel, a blasphemer, and a threat. But the poor, the sinners, the despised and those without rights were welcomed by Jesus, and invited to experience “up close and personal”  God’s unconditional love for them. For them, he was the one they had long awaited!  Jesus didn't fill out any form to be submitted to the religious or political leaders to establish his credibility or identity.  He just loved his way through all the complexities of life at that time.  Yet, he took time to stop, reflect, pray, and inquire if the mission was being proclaimed for all to hear . . . and how receptive were his hearers.

So what is the Good News for us this week? Let us reflect on the two questions in the Gospel and tweak them for our reflection:
Who do we say God is for us? 
Who would God say we are?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Gate Crasher!

“You have your own brave story.  Risking the anger and the ridicule of those around you, cloaked in their shallow respectability, you broke through their righteous ranks, slipping your silken veils past their long stiff robes, gate-crashing the patriarchal party, bearing, tight to your bosom, your rich and precious perfume. . .

They did not know who you were, only what you had done. It was enough to leave them aghast at your intrusion and your daring. But you were driven by something far deeper – a passion that poured right out from your belly and flowed into warm tears that fell upon the feet of Jesus. Your tears were your story, told for the first time to the man who looked upon you with compassion – illuminating your soul, and revealing all the longing breaking from within it. 

With eyes that penetrated he knew who you were, and he loved you for yourself. . . The lovely smell of your perfume rose from the feet of Jesus, assailing with floral bouquet the outraged dignity of the dinner guests. Disapproving, brows furrowed, they mumbled about the poor and the wanton, inappropriate waste of expensive oil poured on the body of Jesus.

So you knelt, expectant of compassion, at the feet of the one who knew you and loved you for yourself and for your inner truth. Like the perfume you unstopped, it was for you a moment of release as all the crushed and wrapped up pain within you dissolved, all the insults and blows of the years you had borne, faded now – dispelling all despair forever in a moment of grace and honesty. Now you are free – your story told, your love revealed to all of us.

Our invitation is to look deeper than we do, to intuit and honor what so often lies beneath a surface of denial, anger and diminishment, grace pulsing to break through.”

From: Soul Sisters by Edwina Gateley

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Love Like Lightning!

Story: “Who is closer to God,” the seeker asked, “the saint or the sinner?” “Why the sinner, of course,” the elder said. “But how can that be?” the seeker asked. “Because,” the elder said, “every time a person sins they break the cord that binds them to God. But every time God forgives them, the cord is knotted again. And so, thanks to the mercy of God, the cord gets shorter and the sinner gets closer to God”

Liturgically speaking, this Sunday we celebrate the Eleventh Sunday in Ordinary Time. The Gospel for this Sunday is from Luke 7:36-50.  The woman in this story has often been confused with Mary of Bethany (John 12:1-8) and also with Mary Magdalene. The woman in the story has no name; she is called a sinner and there is no reference to substantiate this.  I share with you a beautiful reflection by Macrina Wiederkehr.  Let us step into this gospel and try to imagine ourselves as Simon, the Pharisee and then the woman washing Jesus’ feet.  Ponder what it was like to take on the person of each one as you heard Jesus speak to you.

Too Small a Love
Like lightning at dawn, the All-Powerful One came, electrifying, energizing, frightening, shattering, crashing into my morning prayer!  Totally unprepared for this kind of interruption, I froze on my knees both in wonder and terror. There was no morning silence left, no comforting darkness to enfold me, only those flashes of light that make hiding impossible.

It wasn't exactly a surprise. I was expecting God this morning but not like this. I was waiting for peace. I was looking for that quiet reassurance that silence sometimes brings. I was listening for a sound of wings hovering over me surrounding me with care, convincing me of presence and protection.

But this? Oh, this was awful! God stood there with terrible, penetrating, loving eyes, saying only: “Your love is too small!” Standing that close to truth felt uncomfortable, unbearable and I tried to hide my face the way I often do when truth gets too close. I tried to hide the pieces of my terribly divided heart. But then the lightning came again. And God was standing there even closer than before holding the pieces of my heart with such tenderness still saying, “Your love is too small.”

With that last bolt of lightning, a great calm came over me and I felt free the way I always feel, when I’m finally able to own the truth. God gave me back the pieces of my heart without trying to fix them up or mend them. The Holy One looked at me with trust, with total confidence as if to say, “I’ll be here when you’re ready to begin the transformation of your heart, for we both know, your love is too small.  That’s why your heart is so divided.  That’s why the pieces never seem to fit.”

I took the pieces back with reverence. My tears proclaiming the truth of all I felt. There was no pressure, no force just the God of morning asking for my love. And now, every time I see those flashes in the northern sky, I hear again, a voice saying simply, “Your love is too small.” And I weep; I weep at the possibility of who I could be.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

"Grief Relief ~ Jesus Style"

The story is told that once a young boy was about to have open-heart surgery. To prepare him the surgeon said, "Tomorrow I will look at your heart."  Smiling, the boy interrupted, "You’ll find Jesus there."  Ignoring his remark, the surgeon continued, "After I have seen your heart I will try to repair the damage."  Again, the boy insisted. "You are going to find Jesus in my heart." 

The surgeon who had suffered losses in his own family, and was still in pain from a failed marriage, felt very distant from God. He replied in a chilling tone, "No, what I’ll find is damaged tissue, constricted arteries and weakened muscle."

The next day he opened the boy’s chest and exposed his heart.  It was worse than he expected; a ravaged aorta, torn tissue, swollen muscles and arteries. There was no hope of a cure, not even the possibility of a transplant.  His icy anger at God began to surface as he thought, "Where is God? Why did God do this?  Why is God letting this boy suffer and cursing him to an early death?"

As he gazed on the boy’s heart he suddenly thought of the pierced heart of Jesus and it seemed to him that the boy and Jesus shared one heart, a heart that was suffering for all those in the world experiencing pain and loss; a heart that was redeeming the world by love.

Struck with awe at such goodness, such redemptive unconditional love, tears began rolling down the surgeon’s cheeks, hot tears of compassion for the little boy. Later, when the child awoke, he whispered, "Did you see my heart?"  "Yes," said the surgeon.  "What did you find?" the boy asked. The surgeon replied, "I found Jesus there."

This Sunday’s Gospel presents us with the tragic story of a widow who is about to bury her only son. The death of a widow’s only son means that the source of her livelihood, of food, of care, of clothes, of a home, is now gone. His death means utter poverty and a hasty death for her. In the story, Jesus is moved with deep compassion for her, and says to her, “Do not weep” - which means, “Don’t be afraid, don’t be sorrowful, I’m going to help you now.”  He moves forward, touches the coffin and everyone stands still. He tells the young man to get up – arise! Then the dead son sits up, and begins to speak. Here in this most profound stillness, with an invisible laser-like movement of grace, Jesus gives the son to his mother. I often wonder what it was like for the young man to open his eyes and see only Jesus. Truly, he found Jesus there! What were his first words to his mother? I also imagine that Jesus may have had a premonition – an inner knowing - that this holy moment is a foretelling of what he will one day do from his cross – that of giving his own mother into the care of John. 

So here we are with this nameless widow, whom we know at the time of Jesus, had no voice, no 401K, no Social Security benefits, no regular payments from a spouse’s Life Insurance, no weekly newsletter on “Tips for Getting Through a Crisis,” or any Grief Relief support group. But what we do know is that Jesus raised her up too!  He gave her back to the community, to her son, to herself.  

So let us ponder this week, When in our lives have we experienced being “raised up”?  What experience, event, person, vision, story, poem, image, occasion, opportunity, chance, gift, moment, place, adventure raised us up with feelings of acceptance, belonging, being forgiven, being listened to, understood, and loved? Let us find Jesus there! Let us be aware this week for all the ways that we practice “raising up” others. Let us find Jesus there.  And when we are recipients of being “raised up” by another, let us find Jesus there.

A story of "rising" from the landfill.

“For Grief” by John O’Donohue, from To Bless the Space Between Us

When you lose someone you love, Your life becomes strange, The ground beneath you gets fragile, Your thoughts make your eyes unsure; And some dead echo drags your voice down where words have no confidence.

Your heart has grown heavy with loss; And though this loss has wounded others too, No one knows what has been taken from you when the silence of absence deepens.Flickers of guilt kindle regret; For all that was left unsaid or undone. There are days when you wake up happy; Again inside the fullness of life, Until the moment breaks, And you are thrown back onto the black tide of loss.

Days when you have your heart back, You are able to function well, Until in the middle of work or encounter, Suddenly with no warning, You are ambushed by grief.

It becomes hard to trust yourself.  All you can depend on now is that, Sorrow will remain faithful to itself. More than you, it knows its way, And will find the right time to pull and pull the rope of grief, Until that coiled hill of tears has reduced to its last drop. Gradually, you will learn acquaintance, With the invisible form of your departed; And when the work of grief is done, The wound of loss will heal, And you will have learned to wean your eyes from that gap in the air, and be able to enter the hearth in your soul where your loved one,  Has awaited your return, All the time.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Trust Your Sense of Judging Melon!

A businessman needing to attend a conference in a faraway city decided to travel on country roads rather than the freeways so he could enjoy a relaxing journey. After some hours of traveling he realized he was hopelessly lost. Seeing a farmer tending his field on the side of the road, he stopped to ask for directions. “Can you tell me how far it is to Chicago?” he asked the farmer. “Well, I don’t rightly know,” the farmer replied.
Well, can you tell me how far I am from Fond du Lac, WI?” the businessman questioned again. “Well, I don’t rightly know,” the farmer again replied.“Can you at least tell me the quickest way to the main road?” The exasperated businessman asked.“Nope, I don’t rightly know,” the farmer again answered.“You really don’t know very much at all, do you?” blurted the impatient businessman.“Nope, not much, but I ain’t lost,” the farmer calmly answered.

Part One: Here is another reflection from my retreat journey. So the story goes . . . “Can you tell me how far . . .?” That was a question that often lingered in my mind and heart before, during, and after my retreat. On the way to my retreat, I traveled north on the freeway, thinking that I would by-pass the road construction that appears like the flowers once spring has entered our hemisphere. No luck. Shortly upon my journey, there were rows and rows of orange barrels, workers with hard-hats and green vests, and company trucks parked along the road creating their own parking lot. So I had to be alert to the change in lanes, the new signs that were temporary, and the traffic that didn’t like being confined to only one lane. Unfortunately, I missed my exit going north since the new markings were tilted from the wind, and the orange barrels were also scattered, making it somewhat questionable if my exit was really open. So I knew that the next best thing was to shift into “Plan B”, which was simply to take the next exit and turn around and hit my desired exit going south. But lo and behold, upon entering the next exit going north, the ramp now was reconfigured with a round-about – again inviting me to test my driving and reading skills, while trying to not lose sight of the ramp I needed to go south. Well, with a smile and a wave to the other drivers, I eased my way to my ramp and headed south. Whew! I wondered if this was a sign of what was to come.  Would I be asking God - Can you tell me how far within am I to travel?  What is your desire for me? To what signs do I need to be alert? What is being reconfigured in your dream for me? 

Part Two: Upon leaving the grounds at the end of my retreat, I headed to the office to submit my payment. I casually asked the woman at the desk, “Can you tell me what the name of the road is heading east that takes me down into the valley from these bluffs? I’ve taken it before, but can’t remember its name or number. I believe it was a left turn.” She said, “You want 162 South.”  Ok – I would go with that and upon heading east for only a few short miles I came across 162 South, but it was now a right turn.  Hmmmm. This didn’t feel right or look right, for I remember a Stop sign, some fences, and the road umbrella-ed with beautiful maple and oak trees. This road, 162 South, was none of this. Hmmmm. Maybe those guys in the green vests and orange barrels have reconfigured this road too. So I made the right turn onto the road and didn’t recognize anything, any place, and there were no signs to let me know the place to which I was headed, and there were not too many roads that intersected with 162 South. So I thought, hmmmmmmm – guess this is a new adventure heading east. So I began “expanding my world view” now enjoying the beauty of the bluffs, and the greenery and wild flowers. Still no town or village – besides, I didn’t have a GPS, or a Pillar of Fire or a Pillar of Cloud – only my little direction gauge on the dashboard, my trusty map, and my inner compass – my own inner GPS – my intuition. After a number of miles, I knew this was not the road I had always taken when leaving the bluffs, but thought it would offer me some new perspectives and experiences.

Eventually, I thought of the wisdom statement from a meditation site:  “Trust your sense of judging melon.”  None of us go to “Melon School” to learn how to select just the right melon to place on our table for a sweet ‘n juicy treat. Somehow we already have that inner knowing about which melon is the best – we trust our eyes, our fingers, our nose, our grip in holding the melon, and our taste buds when samples are made available. Like my capacity to judge melon, I now had to trust my eyes, nose, mind, body, and inner knowing that I would eventually find the freeway. 

So it could be that the next time I would find myself in the bluffs of North West Wisconsin seeking a road of which was part of my comfort zone, I may just want to take another route – “a road less traveled,” which would offer me new learnings that I would have missed if I didn’t get “hopelessly lost” in the trust of God, nature, and road signs which were probably put up by those workers who attended “Orange Barrel School.”

I close with two quotes from Dag Hammarskj√∂ld who must have traveled back roads as well: “How long the road is. But, for all the time the journey has already taken, how you have needed every second of it in order to learn what the road passes-by.” And “The longest journey is the journey inwards.”