Thursday, January 28, 2016

Wintering . . .

Within the grip of winter, it is almost impossible to imagine the spring. The gray perished landscape is shorn of color. Only bleakness meets the eye; everything seems severe and edged.

Winter is the oldest season; it has some quality of the absolute. Yet beneath the surface of winter, the miracle of spring is already in preparation; the cold is relenting; seeds are waking up.

Colors are beginning to imagine how they will return. Then, imperceptibly, somewhere one bud opens and the symphony of renewal is no longer reversible. From the black heart of winter a miraculous, breathing plenitude of color emerges.

The beauty of nature insists on taking its time. Everything is prepared. Nothing is rushed. The rhythm of emergence is a gradual slow beat always inching its way forward; change remains faithful to itself until the new unfolds in the full confidence of true arrival.

Because nothing is abrupt, the beginning of spring nearly always catches us unawares. It is there before we see it; and then we can look nowhere without seeing it. 

(Thresholds/To Bless the Space Between Us by
John O’Donohue)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Our Inner Journey . . .

The River Birch in winter.
“There is no pain or sorrow
which comes to us that has
not first passed through the
heart of God.”   -Meister Eckhart

The river birch with its salmon-colored shaggy bark is very hardy – able to withstand frost and wind, and to thrive well in damp riverside soil. About the only thing it cannot tolerate is shade. Shedding its bark is a natural developmental characteristic – the peeling of paper-thin layers makes room for new growth to happen. If the peeling is premature, the tree will become “wounded” and fail to grow.

Sometimes along our journey of life, we come to an awareness that we need to be healed from our inner wounding that resides deep in our soul space. This healing is always a challenge, a process, and a sacred adventure! Much like the river birch trees, we, too, have layers of old wounds that need to be peeled away, each in its own time.

To set out on this inner quest, we (unlike the river birch) learn to befriend the shade – our shadow self, who truly is our teacher – inviting us to name our fears, doubts, pains, and illusions. In so doing, we gently peel off layers placing all into God’s loving embrace.

With each inner “pilgrimage”, we gather courage and integrity to go ever deeper to enter our wounding with grace and faith. We then let grief have its way with us, allowing our tears to bless us as they carry away our hurts.

The River Birch in autumn.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

St. Agnes Day ~ Jan. 21~ Reflection

Someone once wrote: If you were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

This is a question to reflect upon today as we celebrate a true Christian martyr, the spiritual inspiration of our founders and exemplification of selfless devotion to God.  As I pondered this question and its connection to the call to being a faith witness, it reminded me of the time I was living in Menomonee Falls. One day, two very young men from the new Open Bible Church appeared at my door with their bibles in hand and asked me, “Have you chosen Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” 

This resulted in a twenty minute sharing of conversion stories and Scripture texts– and when they departed, I reflected on how skilled they were in locating just the right passage to prove their faith and convictions; I admired their desire to give testimony to the power of God in their lives, their eagerness to have me make a commitment, and their overall tenacity!  So I asked myself, would I be able to do what they are doing? How do I witness the Word and Wonder of God?

Today we gather to remember and to celebrate St. Agnes of Rome, under whose patronage CSA was founded and called into being.  She declared herself Christian in a pagan society and committed herself to remain virgin in a patriarchal culture.  She gave testimony that she had chosen Jesus Christ as her Lord and Savior with the public sacrifice of her life.

Much of her life and death are surrounded by legend, but early writings tell us that Agnes was born into a wealthy and powerful Roman Christian family and, according to tradition, she suffered martyrdom at the age of 12 or 13 during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian on January 21, in the year 305. 

The story is told how the Prefect Sempronius wished Agnes to marry his son; for women at that time were property of the State and had children to promote the State's agenda.  But Agnes refused and remained adamant that she had consecrated her virginity to Jesus Christ.

Her refusal was considered an act of treason and punishable by death.   At that time, Roman law did not permit the execution of virgins, so Sempronius had a naked Agnes dragged through the streets to a brothel.  In one version of the story, it is said that as she processed through the streets, Agnes prayed, and her hair grew and covered her entire body.

Some also asserted that all of the men who attempted to rape her were immediately struck blind.  She was sentenced to death with many other Christian companions who refused to worship the Roman gods and to pay homage to the emperor as divine.

Legend has it that Agnes went unshackled to her death because all the irons were too large for her wrists.  According to some accounts, when Agnes was led out to die, she was tied to a stake; however the bundle of wood would not burn or the flames parted away from her.  As a result, the officer in charge of the troops drew his sword and beheaded her.  

Agnes grew up in a patriarchal culture, whose religion included many gods – a religion of laws, customs, and prescriptions that no longer had the power to define her.  Agnes chose a new way of life – a life of virginity.  She was resolute in choosing her own power in Christ to define her new identity.

She is one of seven women commemorated by name in the prayers of the Liturgy of the Eucharist.  She is the patron saint of gardeners, young girls, engaged couples, rape victims, and virgins.  For her steadfast faith, she has been honored as a martyr.
The word “martyr” comes from the Greek meaning “witness.”   Originally, the term referred to the Apostles who had witnessed the events of Jesus’ life and who died violently for their faith.  However, as more early Christians were executed for their faith, “martyr” soon came to mean those who firmly believed in Jesus and were willing to sacrifice their lives for the Gospel. They found a treasure in this new way called, Christianity. Truly their search for this new Kingdom required a great price at this time in history.

Agnes, like many of the early Christian martyrs, is referred to as a “red martyr” as she shed her blood for Christ. Throughout the history of the Church, there have been many of these brave women and men who chose death, rather than to forsake Christ.

So, we may ask . . . are there martyrs today?  Is there heroic and courageous witness for faith happening in our lifetime?  Are we brave, steadfast, and worthy enough to be counted among their ranks as genuine witnesses to our faith?

Indeed, there are new witnesses of faith who have been killed because they professed their faith, promoted Christian values and convictions, held fast to a stance of social justice and non-violence, or who were voices for the poor, the least, the last, and the lost, or who died at the hands of persons with hatred for the faith.  These witnesses bring us both hope and inspiration that God’s reign is truly alive in and among us, calling us to reflect on our own lives and willingness to sacrifice genuinely and selflessly.

These modern Christian witnesses most certainly are the new heroes and she-roes of our times who work for social justice at risk to their own lives – Let us recall:
• Oscar Romero of San Salvador, a champion of the poor who was assassinated while celebrating liturgy;
• Jean Donovan, Sisters Dorothy Kazel, Ita Ford, and Maura Clarke, murdered by Salvadoran government troops in 1980;
•  S. Dorothy Stang, SSND, who in Feb. of 2005, was murdered in the Amazon because she was outspoken in her efforts on behalf of the poor and the environment.      
• In April of 2014, Jesuit priest, Fr. Frans van der Lugt, 75, who served the poor and homeless in Syria for 50 years and who refused to leave the war-torn country and was beaten and killed by two bullets to the head.
• In Sept. of 2014, three Italian women religious, Bernadetta, age 79, Luica, age 75 and Olga, age 82 years of age) were beaten, raped, and stabbed to death in Burundi, Africa as a result of a botched robbery and, other reports assert, that it was because their convent was built  on the perpetrators’ ancestral land.
• And today, we undoubtedly, remember our own women of faith –CSA Sisters Maureen Courtney,(45) Jenny Flor Altamirano, (26) and Teresa de Jesus Rosales,(24) who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time – young women who gave testimony with their lives as they lived justice in action and faith-filled generosity.           

So what is the Good News for us today?
• Our God continues to invite everyone to live with hope, trust, courage, and faith.  We are all called to be new witnesses of the Risen Jesus living the Beatitudes in this earthly community. 
• As in the reading from Romans, we celebrate all witnesses who risk everything and refuse to be separated from the love of God; may we strive to model their zeal, courage, and conviction.                                           
• That like Agnes, when we find ourselves standing naked in our vulnerabilities, limitations,  powerlessness, doubts, dilemmas, and decisions that affect the social, economic, cultural, religious, and political challenges of life – may we more and more learn to call upon the Spirit for guidance, grit, and grace - for it is in God that we live and move and have our being.   
• That like Agnes, we are all called to claim our new identity as women and men of faith in the 21st century – we pray to be attentive and open to the signs of our time, while  remaining faithful to our own integrity as individuals, as a congregation, and as  People of God in the church and world community.

So let us ponder again the question of the day: 
If we were accused of being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us?

Presented 1/21/15

Monday, January 18, 2016

Days of Grey, White, and Cold . . .

O God of all seasons and senses, grant us the sense of your timing             
to submit gracefully and rejoice quietly in the turn of the seasons.

In this season of short days and long nights,
of grey and white and cold,
teach us the lessons of endings;
children growing, friends leaving, loved ones dying,
grieving over,
grudges over,
blaming over,
excuses over.

O God, grant us a sense of your timing.
In this season of short days and long nights,
of grey and white and cold,
teach us the lessons of beginnings;
that such waitings and endings may be the starting place,
a planting of seeds which bring to birth what is ready to be born—
something right and just and different,
a new song, a deeper relationship, a fuller love—
in the fullness of your time.

O God, grant us the sense of your timing.

Taken from Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Remembering Martin Luther King, Jr., January 18, 2016

"After preaching at Washington Cathedral on March 31, 1968, King went to Memphis in support of sanitation workers in their struggle for better wages. There, he proclaimed that he had been “to the mountain-top” and had seen “the Promised Land,” and that he knew that one day he and his people would be “free at last.” On the following day, April 4, he was cut down by an assassin’s bullet."

Prayer for Martin Luther King, Jr.

Gracious God, you create us and love us; you make us to live together in a community. We thank you for Martin Luther King, Jr. and all your children who have been filled with your vision for our lives and who have worked to make bring your vision into reality. Fill us with your vision. Guide us to live by your vision, working to build the beloved community where everyone is welcomed, all are valued, power is shared, privilege is no more, and all your children know wholeness and well-being. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Free at Last! Free at Last!
God grant that right here in America and all over this world, we will choose the high way; a way in which men will live together as brothers. A way in which the nations of the world will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. A way in which every man will respect the dignity and worth of all human personality. A way in which every nation will allow justice to run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. A way in which men will do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. A way in which men will be able to stand up, and in the midst of oppression, in the midst of darkness and agony, they will be able to stand there and love their enemies, bless those persons that curse them, pray for those individuals that despitefully use them. And this is the way that will bring us once more into that society which we think of as the brotherhood of man. This will be that day when white people, colored people, whether they are brown or whether they are yellow or whether they are black, will join together and stretch out with their arms and be able to cry out: “Free at last! Free at last! Great God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Martin Luther King quotes on Leadership

"A genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder of consensus.

We must concentrate not merely on the negative expulsion of war but the positive affirmation of peace."

"Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows."

"I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. That is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."

"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."

"Ten thousand fools proclaim themselves into obscurity, while one wise man forgets himself into immortality."

"Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?"

"I came to the conclusion that there is an existential moment in your life when you must decide to speak for yourself; nobody else can speak for you."

March from Selma to Montgomery, March 1965


Cana Up Close and Personal . . .

Some years ago my niece, Debbie, and her husband-to-be, John, invited me to do the “reflection” at their wedding ceremony.  I was thrilled and honored. However, to gather their sacred story, I asked if I could interview them beforehand. They accepted my request and this is what we did. 

The three of us met one evening and I had two glass pitchers placed in front of them.  One was filled with water, the other one was empty. When we settled in, we prayed and then began our sharing. Each time either one answered my question, they poured water into the empty pitcher until it was filled to the brim. 

Here are a few of the questions I asked them:
• John, what are the gifts that you see Debbie brings to your marriage? 
• Debbie, what are the gifts that John brings to your marriage?
• John, how does Debbie help you grow to be a better person?
• Debbie, how does John help you grow to be a better person?
• What are your hopes and values?
• What do you hold sacred in your relationship?

On the day of their wedding, I placed the glass pitcher filled with the “waters of their friendship” in front of the podium. I also had a second “empty” pitcher alongside the one with water. Thus when I began my “reflections” and re-telling of our night of sharing, I poured some water from the filled pitcher into the “empty” pitcher.  However, with each pouring of the water into the second pitcher, the water was noticeably turning red like a rich wine!  The crowd began to have a soft hum and strained to see the water turning red.

You see, I had put a large amount of red food coloring in the second pitcher (no one could see it since both pitchers were placed on a red cloth) and with each addition of water, the “wine” like water began to fill the pitcher.

I went on to say that as we all witness Debbie and John’s marriage ceremony, we also witness that the “waters of their friendship” were becoming transformed into a rich wine of faith-filled married love.  This transformation continues to deepen for a life time.  And it has – their story continues to spill over with generosity and love for their precious children,  friends, relatives, and for all whom they serve through their work and relationships.

So what is the Good News today?
What "waters" in your life are waiting to be transformed?
What is the "rich wine" that you share with family, friends, co-workers, etc., that brings healing, hope, compassion, peace, or forgiveness?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

The Wedding Guest . . .

In John’s Gospel, we get a glimpse of what our God does best and enjoys the most.  Our God enjoys being with people in the ordinary and extraordinary times of their lives. God desires to be a “guest” in the everyday happenings of our lives. We need only to have an open spirit and listening heart.

John’s Gospel is filled with many levels of meaning and there are always a great many symbols throughout his writings.  But in today’s reading, I would like us to reflect on the fact that Jesus was invited to this wedding celebration at Cana. This is the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. Here he is not the host of the wedding feast, but a guest like everyone else. Jesus’ ministry opens with him as the recipient of a gesture of hospitality. This beginning of his ministry is played out in an intimate, personal, and familial setting. With the sensitivity of his Mother, he is informed that the wine at the wedding feast has run out.  He is moved to respond not only to the lack of wine but to free the young couple and their families from embarrassment and shame.

In his divine wisdom and creative imagination, he notices six stone water jars standing dutifully at the entrance of the home. These jars held 20-30 gallons of water. The water was used by the Jews for purification rituals of washing their feet upon entering the home, and washing their hands after each course of the meal.

It is here, within these water jars, that the power and the presence of God are experienced. Scarcity becomes abundance; shame is released and honor restored; the ordinary becomes the extraordinary, for simple water now becomes choice wine!

Let us pray that as we stand much like the stone jars, that God’s words of blessing may touch the waters of fear, anxiety, doubt, or resistance in us.  May the “waters” be transformed into the rich “wine” of courage, serenity, confidence, faith, and mercy.

Cana Wine
By Irene Zimmerman, SSSF

“The weather’s so hot and no more wine’s to be bought in all of Cana!
It’s just what I feared . . . just why I begged my husband to keep the wedding small.”

“Does he know?” Mary asked.
“Not yet. Oh, the shame!

Look at my son and his beautiful bride!
They’ll never be able to raise their heads again, not in this small town.”

“Then don’t tell him yet.”

Mary greeted the guests as she made her way through crowded reception rooms.
“I must talk to you, Son,” she said unobtrusively.

Moments later he moved toward the back serving rooms. They hadn’t seen each other since the morning he’d left her . . . before the baptism and the desert time. They could talk tomorrow on the way to Capernaum.

She spoke urgently, her words both request and command to him: “They have no wine.”
But he hadn’t been called yet! He hadn’t felt it yet. Would she send him so soon to the hounds and jackals? For wine?

Was wine so important then?
“Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.”
Her unflinching eyes reflected to him his twelve-year-old self telling her with no contrition: “Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

She left him standing there . . . vine from her stock, ready for fruit bearing . . . and went to the servants. “Do whatever he tells you,” she said.

From across the room she watched them fill water jars, watched the chief steward drink from the dripping cup, saw his eyes open in wide surprise.
She watched her grown son toast the young couple, watched the groom’s parents and guests raise their cups.

She saw it all clearly: saw the Best Wine pouring out for them all.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Baptism . . .becoming our purpose!

Baptism of Christ
 by Daniel Bonnell
Author, Dawna Markova: (I Will Not Die an Unlived Life)
 “In the thousands of moments that string together to make up our lives, there are some where time seems to change its shape and a certain light falls across our ordinary path.  We stop searching for purpose, we become it!”

In 2002, Baptist pastor, Rick Warren published his book, The Purpose Driven Life.  In the first year of its publication, there were over 11 million copies sold.  Within 4 years there were over 30 million copies in English sold and eventually it became an international bestseller and it has been translated into more than 50 languages.  In its descriptive summary, it is stated that in this best-seller, author Rick Warren will help you understand God’s purpose for your life, so that you can learn to live the life for which you were created. 

 Why has this book been so popular?  Could it be that in today’s culture where we are often teased, tempted and somewhat tormented with media messages that tell us we don’t have enough, we are not good enough, and that we are not enough makes people eager to have someone help them understand God’s purpose and path for them? Or could it be that we fear to slow down and be still attempting to avoid pondering the questions that everyone eventually faces in life, and these are, Why am I here?  What is my purpose?

In our Gospel today, Jesus had been walking around with the same questions – yet, something happened to Jesus when he was baptized in the Jordon by John.  He was changed.  Something dramatic happened – the heavens opened, the Spirit came upon him, and there was cloud-talk and the voice said, “You are my beloved.  With you I am well pleased.”

That’s what changed Jesus.  From then on Jesus realized who he was and what his purpose was!  He was the Beloved of God and he would be faithful to his beloved God, no matter what and that is just what he did for the rest of his short life.  With these intimate and consoling words, “You are my beloved,”- Jesus was changed forever and charged with the energy of the Spirit as he came up from the waters of the Jordon.  

As John Dear writes:  “God does not mince words or make small talk.  God gets right to the heart of the matter.”  Jesus is the Beloved of God.  And for the rest of his life, he will understand himself and his mission in the light of this revelation and this relationship.  He will live his life in a relationship of intimate love with God.  He accepts it, honors it, and welcomes it.  He will remain true to his identity until his final breath.

As baptized followers of Jesus, we, too, stand in readiness, in vulnerability, in authenticity as we hear in our depths that God says to each one of us, “You are my beloved.”  We, too, are charged by the Spirit to claim, accept, honor and embrace who we are – for we are beloved! 

We, too, are called to claim our purpose, our vocation like Jesus.  We, too, are to hear the voice again and again – each time being more attentive to its intimacy.  It comes from a deep place; it is soft and gentle.   We, too, have to hear that voice and claim for ourselves that the voice speaks truth, our truth and tells us who we are – for we are beloved!

As Christians, we are all called again and again – over a lifetime- to a particular direction and purpose.  A vocation takes a lifetime.  Our vocation grows and changes as we come into a greater realization of our own journey of faith. 

We are all challenged, like Jesus, to go forward into the world and call people to God.  To trust God even when everything falls apart and even when death approaches.  Living as the beloved of God means that we live every day rooted in that intimate relationship of love.  It means treating ourselves as God’s beloved and treating one another as God’s beloved as well. 

This being beloved carries personal, spiritual, interpersonal, social and global implications.  If we take this seriously, it means that we as God’s beloved have to be open to the shocking and wonderful news that every other human being in the world is also a beloved daughter or son of God – it means that we are all one; we all are chosen; we are all called to bring sight to the blind, release to those held hostage, light to those who wander in darkness, and justice to those who are oppressed or marginalized. 

As followers of Jesus, we share in his baptism, his ministry, his death and resurrection.  It means that just as Jesus heard the cloud-talk-affirmation, “You are my beloved,” God says to each one of us, “You are my beloved:” God is loving us, affirming us; God delights in us and calls each of us into our true identity and our true purpose. 

Monday, January 4, 2016

An In-between Space . . .

The Thin Place
All we need to do is turn on the Internet, television or radio and we are bombarded with commercials encouraging us to find a “thinner” us. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, NutriSystem, and a plethora of newly designed fitness equipment promise to magically transform us and lead us to our inner, thinner self. But this is not the thin place to which I refer.
On one occasion I reflected on John Shea’s writings in the guide for the Sunday Gospels, entitled, “Finding the Thin Place.”  His teaching included the following short story:
A woman returned from a trip to the isle of Iona. When her gardener heard where she was, he quietly said, “Iona is a thin place.” “A thin place?” she asked. “There is very little between it and God,” the gardener explained.

Shea concluded with this question: “Are there thin places where the usual thickness between the sacred and the profane is only a fine membrane?” I stepped back into my inner self to reflect on this story, holding gently but profoundly this essential question. I then “leaned into” all those moments in my life where I experienced that fine membrane and contemplated some of those “thin places:” waiting for results after a medical exam; reading an  email notifying me of the death of a friend; receiving a phone call about the illness of a dear companion. Through my thoughts journeyed all the people who have struggled with the loss of a job, marriage difficulties, and financial problems, all while trying to remain faith-filled amidst such chaos in our church, our culture, and our government.

What if, in that painful “thin place,” God was present all the time? What if, when we are most vulnerable and feel not in control, God moves in with  powerful grace and we find ourselves in a “thin place,” finally able to acknowledge that God is here with us and that we are not alone?
Recently, I had the privilege to visit with some of our older sisters who have “retired” from active ministry and are now dealing with a number of physical limitations.  As I listened, they spoke in “essences” . . . that which is really needed, important, valued, and essential.  They live very close to the “thin place,” unencumbered by the distractions and obstacles that often cloud our vision. Their words and insights are wise and comforting; their voices, soft and gentle.  Yes, they live very close to the “thin place,”  and when I left their presence, I knew that I too, like the woman in the story, had truly visited a “thin place.”

Saturday, January 2, 2016

An Epiphany!

Over several hundred years, Christian imagination, legend, and tradition have embellished Matthew’s story – for in his revelation he does not tell us that  the Magi were wise, or men, or kings, or that there were three, or that they were from the Orient, nor does he speak of their mode of transportation, and he certainly misses the mark by not providing names of the Magi  . . . it is not so much the details that are important; it is the meaning of Matthew’s message.

Among Matthew’s Jewish community, they were finding it difficult to accept that God came for all, and not just a few. They were clinging to the idea that if you want to follow Jesus, to be one of his disciples, you had to first be a Jew.  And if you were male, then you had to be circumcised; then if you were to become Christian, you had to continue to fulfill all the rules of the law.  This is why Matthew writes this story . . .this is the mystery, that God is now revealed to all nations, and God has come to transform all of human history, all peoples of all times.

These Magi were Gentiles- (non-Jews –not part of the Chosen People); they were from the Persian priestly class from the East, which is present day Iraq and Iran.  They were star-gazers who observed the movements of the planets and stars.  They were wisdom figures, interpreters of dreams, skilled in medicine, natural science and astrology.  This was condemned by the Jewish religion. 

 In the ancient world, it was believed that the Magi could foretell the future from the stars, and they believed that a person’s destiny was determined by the star under which the person was born.  Scholars do not know which star the Magi saw, but it spoke to them about the entry of a king into the world. 

The Magi represent the whole Gentile world.  According to medieval legends, they were named Melchior, Balthazar, and Gaspar. Each of them came from a different culture: Melchior was Asian, Balthazar was Persian, and Gaspar was Ethiopian, representing the three races known to the old world at that time.

Author John Shea writes that there is a legend that the Magi were three different ages. Gaspar was a young man, Balthazar in his middle years, and Melchior a senior citizen. When they approached the cave at Bethlehem, they first went in one at a time. Melchior found an old man like himself with whom he was quickly at home. They spoke together of memory and gratitude. The middle-aged Balthazar encountered a teacher of his own years. They talked passionately of leadership and responsibility. When Gaspar entered, a young prophet met him with words of reform and promise.

The three met outside the cave and marveled at how each had gone in to see a newborn child, but each had met someone of his own years. They gathered their gifts in their arms and entered together a second time. In a manger on a bed of straw was a child twelve days old.

The message is that Christ speaks to every stage of the life process – the young hear the call to identity and intimacy, the middle-aged hear the call to generativity and responsibility, and the elders seek to hear the call to integrity and wisdom. We all seek to find the Christ in each stage of our own lives and the gift that is given us is that we find ourselves as well.