Sunday, April 30, 2017

Seeing Is Believing!

Seeing God

We cannot see you
and yet in so many ways we have seen you,

We cannot touch you
but we have experienced and felt you.

You have been in the full moon
and the early morning mist,
the bright blue sky
and the cool night air
after a scorching day.

You are the rock
that anchors us in uncertain times,

You are the hope
that keeps us going on a road with few signposts,

You are the presence
when we feel disoriented and estranged.

You are the compassion
that knits us even to strangers,

You are the justice
that tugs at our complacency,

You are the joy
that unexpectedly overwhelms us,

You are the love
that banishes all fear.

We praise you for revealing yourself to us
in all these ways -
and for Christ, your full revelation.

~ Suellen Shay

Thresholds: A Book of Prayers, 2011

Monday, April 24, 2017

In the breaking of the bread . . .

The Road to Emmaus ~ Caravaggio
 EMMAUS JOURNEY (Luke 24: 13-35)

All was chaos when he died.
We fled our separate ways at first,
then gathered again in the upper room
to chatter blue-lipped prayers
around the table where he’d talked
of love and oneness.

On the third day Cleopas and I
left for the home we’d abandoned
in order to follow him.

We wanted no part of the babble
the women had brought from the tomb.
We vowed to get on with our grieving.

On the road we met a Stranger
whose voice grew vaguely familiar
as he spoke of signs and suffering.

By the time we reached our village,
every tree and bush was blazing,
and we pressed him to stay the night.

Yet not till we sat at the table
and watched the bread being broken
did we see the light.

Irene Zimmerman, osf
From: Woman Un-Bent

It's all in the hands. . .

“The Kitchen Maid with the Supper at Emmaus” by Diego Valázquez  c.1620

The poet Denise Levertov was inspired by this painting to tell the story of the
Servant Girl at Emmaus.

 She listens, listens, holding her breath.
 Surely that voice
 is his—the one
 who had looked at her, once,
 across the crowd, as no one ever had looked?
 Had seen her?
 Had spoken as if to her?

 Surely those hands were his,
 taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
 Hands he’d laid on the dying and made them well?

 Surely that face—?

The man they’d crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
 The man whose body disappeared from its tomb.
 The man it was rumored now some women had seen this morning,

 Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
 don’t recognize yet with whom they sit.
 But she in the kitchen,
 absently touching the wine jug she’s to take in,
 a young Black servant intently listening,

 swings round and sees
 the light around him
 and is sure.
-Denise Levertov

Emmaus ~ "Aha"-lleluia!

This Sunday’s Gospel is the account of the disciples walking to Emmaus. After the experience of the crucifixion of Jesus, they headed out of town ASAP! They were disappointed, disillusioned, disoriented, and disbelieving of the women’s message of Jesus’ resurrection. They expected Jesus to do great things and overtake the political and religious leaders – their hopes in Jesus were sealed away in the tomb with a two ton rock positioned at its entrance.

As they were walking, they were extroverting, debating, and probably taking part in “global-whining” as to what they had recently experienced with shock and terror in Jerusalem. Along the road, Jesus meets them and they are described as having eyes cast down and hearts slow to believe. In other words, these disciples were probably experiencing their own unique form of post-traumatic stress. But it is Jesus who gets them to attend to what they experienced, to recall and remember what was written in the Scriptures, and to stir up their juices of empowerment once again.  The rock was slowly being moved from their hearts, and  their eyes were gently opening to the Mystery that was walking with them.  Then, noticing that it was nearly evening, they asked Jesus to stay with them, and they would chip in for the supper at the near-by inn.

It was then at table, in the blessing of the bread, and it’s being broken and shared once again, that they recognized him.  And what’s more, they noticed that their hearts were on fire!! I am told that someplace it is written that the Jews at that time believed that there was a “connection” between one’s eyes and one’s heart – So eyes cast down leads to sad and slow to believing hearts.  Yet, in the presence of the blessing and bread breaking – their eyes were opened and their hearts were set on fire! Jesus – “aha” “aha-lleluia” – He is alive – just as the women said! So they set out at once to return to Jerusalem, and “the rest is history” as the saying goes.

So what is the Good News for us?  “There are times when we too have our hopes and expectations disappointed. We may feel that God has not treated us fairly or has abandoned us, and we are left in a state of bewilderment and confusion. Our challenge then is to accept, perhaps with difficulty, that God has not abandoned us, but is leading us to a new understanding of what our life is about. To a greater or less extent an experience of disorientation is inevitable until we get our bearings again.”

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Thomas, One of the Good Guys!

Painting by Caravaggio
This Sunday, in some places, is called, “Thomas Sunday.” Our Gospel for our liturgies includes John 20:19-31. It is the story of a week after the Resurrection event, when the disciples are crowded together again in the upper room - this time with Thomas present. He was absent from their first experience of Jesus’ appearance to them in the upper room.  So here they are again for another time of gathering to process what they have experienced and how to move forward beyond Jerusalem!

So often Thomas is associated with doubting, especially in relation to faith.  Although we hear in the other resurrection Gospels that other disciples doubted as well.  Let us not forget Mr. and Mrs. Cleopas who skipped town after the crucifixion and were “found out” on the road to Emmaus when the Stranger caught up with them.  However, the finger is often pointed at Thomas and we might hear the expression, “Doubting Thomas” in some gatherings.

As I reflected on this Gospel, I thought that Thomas is like many of us who sometimes just need to take leave of all the tensions, trauma, and “too muching” of highly intense events. We then struggle to get back to balance and our inner center. He just witnessed the betrayal, arrest, crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus, whom he loyally followed for three years. Don’t we all have our own individual and unique ways of holding our pain and the ache of our grief?

Perhaps the disciples searched for Thomas, and upon finding him invited Thomas to gather with them once again as they shared their experience of the Risen Jesus. He may have felt hurt, or jealous, or  still be in pain upon hearing that Jesus appeared in the flesh to them and he was absent.  He knew what he saw and experienced as the Roman soldiers pierced the side of Jesus and nailed him to the cross. It was too much for his person to hold!  He needed space far away to let the pain of it all weave through his weary spirit.

But this time, he was in need of some facts – pie charts, bar graphs, graphics, and possibly a spread sheet with more data!  So often in our own journey of faith, have we not murmured  . . . “OK, God, show me a sign and then I’ll believe it . . .” Thomas is all of us who in our faithing have to be invited by our God again and again to trust and to risk being loved unconditionally. 

Jesus came in the way that Thomas most needed.  He instructed Thomas to put his hand in his side and fingers in the place of the nails if that is what Thomas needed.  We don’t know if he did.  But he did as with laser speed move to a deeper place of belief and exclaimed, “MY LORD and MY GOD!!"  This was Thomas’ own moment of inner rising!

So let us pray this day that the hand of God touch into the wounds of our world.  Are we not weary with the violence, wars, injustices, and deaths that humanity has inflicted upon itself and creation? 

Let us also pray that we let God’s fingers probe our minds, hearts, and spirits to release us from anything that keeps us in doubt or resistant to receiving God’s grace, mercy, and unconditional love. Peace be to all of us!!

Hendrick Terbrugghen, Doubting Thomas, Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, 1604

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Rolling Away the Stone with Easter Energy!

When dawn stands still with wonder, when birds jubilate in the trees, when buds hurry into blossoms and grass starts wearing green – I always know that Easter wants to come again.

But deeper yet and richer still when Jesus, imprisoned in me, asks me to roll away the stone that locks him in, then Easter wants to come again.

So, let it come. It’s one dawn past rising time and Resurrection is the wildest news that’s ever touched this crazy mixed-up world. It says, yes! When everything else says, no! It says, up! When everything else says, down! It says, live! When everything else says, die!

Easter’s standing at your door again, so don’t you see that stone has got to go? That stone of fear, of selfishness and pride, of greed and blindness and all the other stones we use to keep Jesus in the tomb.

So here’s to rolling stones away, to give our Lord the chance He needs to rise and touch a troubled, lonely world.

Some call it Resurrection. It’s wild with wonder. It’s beautiful and real, intent on throwing life around – it touches and it heals!

Yes, Easter, you can come – an angel of life I’ll be.  I’ll roll the stone away and set you free.

(From Seasons of Your Heart by Macrina Wiederkehr)

Alleluia ~ Shout our happiness!

Easter Exultet
Shake out your qualms. 
Shake up your dreams. 
Deepen your roots. 
Extend your branches. 
Trust deep water 
and head for the open, 
even if your vision 
shipwrecks you. 

Quit your addiction 
to sneer and complain. 
Open a lookout. 
Dance on a brink. 
Run with your wildfire. 
You are closer to glory 
leaping an abyss 
than upholstering a rut. 
Not dawdling. 
Not doubting. 
Intrepid all the way 
Walk toward clarity. 

At every crossroad 
Be prepared 
to bump into wonder. 
Only love prevails. 
En route to disaster 
insist on canticles. 
Lift your ineffable 
out of the mundane. 
Nothing perishes; 
nothing survives; 
everything transforms! 
Honeymoon with Big Joy! 

~ James Broughton ~

(Sermons of the Big Joy)

Friday, April 14, 2017

A day of rest . . .

Jesus dies . .
Image by Michael O'Brien

 In John O’Donohue’s book,
Anam Cara,
he writes about death.

“Death is a lonely visitor.
After it visits your home,
nothing is ever the same again.
There is an empty place at the table;
there is an absence in the house.

Having someone close to you die
is an incredibly strange and desolate experience.
Something breaks within you then
that will never come together again.

Gone is the person whom you loved,
whose face and hands and body
you knew so well.
This body, for the first time,
is completely empty.

This is very frightening and strange.
After the death many questions
come into your mind concerning
where the person has gone,
what they see and feel now.

The death of a loved one is bitterly lonely.

When you really love someone,
you would be willing to die in their place.
Yet no one can take another’s place
when that time comes.
Each one of us has to go alone.

It is so strange that when someone dies,
they literally disappear.
Human experience includes
all kinds of continuity and discontinuity,
closeness and distance.

In death, experience reaches
the ultimate frontier.
The deceased literally
falls out of the visible world of form and presence.

At birth you appear out of nowhere,
at death you disappear to nowhere. . . .

The terrible moment of loneliness in grief
comes when you realize that
you will never see the deceased again.”

John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom, (New York, HarperCollins, 1997) p.207
Jesus is laid in the tomb
Image by Michael O'Brien

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Good Friday ~ And it was night . . .

Crucifix at Jesuit Retreat Center Oshkosh, WI

Stripped of godliness,
hands hammered open,,
arms yanked wide,
the crossbeamed Christ
pours himself out
till rivers run red with
wine enough to satisfy
century-cries of thirst.

Irene Zimmerman, OSF
Woman Un-Bent

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

You are friend . . .
Used with permission ~ Image by: Fr. Bob Gilroy, SJ
Servant Freed

I stand in the darkened fissure of the stable,
lit only by the glowing face of
the boy-child.   
Parent eyes glistening with holy wonder,
while heavened stars point to
mangered Messiah.                                                                                 
I listen, I wonder, I breathe, for I am only servant.

I stand in the darkened temple portico
observing those of the Law encircling
the teacher-child.                                                                    
His face radiates with purpose and passion about God’s call!
I listen, I wonder, I breathe, for I am only servant.

I stand in the Cana garden among the six stoneware water jars.                      
His mother moving his mission,
“Do whatever he tells you.”
Waters of purification touched                                                 
with words of transformation
become intoxicating wedding wine.               
Speak these words over me . . .
fill me to the brim with courage
as I listen, as I wonder,
as I breathe, for I am only servant.

I stand along the steep grassy edges
of the partial rocky hillside,                                                               
His face emits energy with each spoken,
“Blessed are you!”                                   
I listen, I wonder, I breathe, for I am only servant.

I stand in the upper room, corner-concealed,
yet his eyes beckon me to move    
within his touch.
His carpentered hands accept each foot
as with the artistry
of fitting roughhewn wood.
With tender, soothing, healing - intimate knowing,
he bends to wash my feet.

Upon this embrace -
God-light, God-love streams
into my very soul-                     
I listen and hear
within me:                                                                                                                                               
Untie her.                                                                 
What do you want me to do for you?                                            
Pick up your mat.                                                                 
I do not condemn you.                                                             
You are worth more than many sparrows.                          
You are no longer servant – you are friend.

I wonder, I breathe . . .

Holy Thursday . . .We remember, we celebrate, we believe . . .

Image by: Ford Maddox Brown

"Do This In Memory of Me. . ."

Lent has officially ended, and if we were to describe this night and the days following this service throughout Holy Week, we could respond by saying it is a sacred time in which - we remember, we celebrate, we believe.

Holy Thursday is a day of story-telling about God’s deep love for us. God puts on an apron and washes the feet of his friends.  A simple gesture of profound significance. Jesus desires to show his disciples how much he loves them before he takes leave for the events in the garden and beyond.

He desires this humble service to be carried on again and again – as if handing us the towel to wash the feet of those among us in need of love, healing, tenderness, forgiveness, acceptance, justice, and freedom.

Once upon a time when I was attending a Holy Thursday service at a parish in Milwaukee, I observed that there were chairs set up in the aisles along with pitchers of water, basins, towels, and an attendant at each station.

So when it came time for the ritual of foot washing, everyone in the congregation participated. I found myself entering into the movements and happenings with such emotion, I could feel it deep in my throat and spirit as if God were kneeling before me with towel in hand and saying:

“As I have done so you must do.                                                   
Learn to bow                                                      
Learn to kneel.
Let your tenderness encircle                               
everyone you meet,                                
Wash their feet                                                      
not because you have to,                                          
because you want to.”

During this time, I watched husbands and wives wash each other’s feet, children washing the feet of their parents. Children washing the feet of their brothers and sisters as well.  I saw sons and daughters washing the feet of their elderly parents. 
And I observed an acceptance and welcoming by parish members of all those who may have possibly come for the first time to church or who were new to this ritual of remembering, celebrating, and believing.

To tell you the truth, what I was experiencing and observing was a ritual of total unconditional love expressed through each one participating in this washing and it spilling over into the entire congregation to be further shown through gestures of hugs, and smiles, and words of gratitude. It was so profound for me, that I cried throughout the whole experience, and especially as my feet were washed by one of our sisters.

How holy is this?  “This night is about bread and wine, about bodies and blood, about feet and washing, about intimacy and unbounded, unexpected love, about a God who bends before us hoping that one day we will treat each other with the same regard and dignity that God has always lavished upon us.” (Megan McKenna, Lent)

It is written that Jesus told so many stories that he became one. This week, we will have the privilege to listen to Jesus’ journey of unconditional love through the readings of the Passion and the other Scriptures that speak to us of God’s faithfulness to humankind. In a way, we are to be filled up with the wisdom of the God who dwells with us and within us.

For it is told that this story of God’s love “is a truth so large that we can only touch one part of it at a time. We have to let ourselves encounter it bit by bit, without expecting that we will comprehend the whole story.  We can never grasp this mystery; we can only allow ourselves to be grasped by it.”

So I would like to conclude with a short story that speaks to us about remembering, celebrating, and believing. 

Story:  The story is told that there was a small group of monks living in the high mountains of a faraway land. Early in the dark hours of morning, they would gather in the chapel. One of the monks would rise and begin the readings of the day, and then there would be a silence. Then some of the monks would leave and return to their cells.

Again, the Scriptures would be read, followed by a long pause for silence and more monks would leave. The Scriptures would be read again and again, allowing the monks to hear and absorb each word of the readings.
And when there was no one left in the chapel, the reader would read the Scriptures one more time to the emptiness of the chapel – listening to its echoes and the Spirit, and then he would close the book and leave. Each monk would reflect upon the Word of God, and then later, they all would gather back in the chapel to share what they had heard and how it had impacted their lives. (Meagan McKenna)

So as we take leave tonight and return to our “cells,” much like the monks in our story,  let us remember the words we have heard throughout this evening’s ritual; let us cherish the gift of the sacred Bread and Wine as we continue to celebrate God’s unconditional love, and let us pray in gratitude for the experience of the washing of hands/feet, and may we believe that  our joy, hope, and faith will spill over again and again into our lives and into the lives of others  . . .as we give voice to what we have shared this evening and how this sacred Mystery has impacted our lives.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Spy Wednesday . . .Kisses of Betrayal

Image by J. O'Brien

Reflection: #1
This is the day that stories speak of Judas Iscariot as moving to the “dark side” to conspire with the religious leaders to betray Jesus and hand him over to be arrested. I often think of the writings of Megan McKenna and a particular story she tells within a story. It goes like this:

Megan was driving the back roads of Ireland’s countryside listening to the radio. There had been a short-story writing contest and the stories submitted were to be limited to thirty words.  As she was listening to the stories being presented over the radio – the following entry was read:

“Welcome home, son!
Hello, father.
It is so good to see you.  It’s been a long time.
Yes, father, a very long time.  It was hard.
Hard as nails.  Hard as wood.
I know.  What was the hardest?
The kiss, father, the kiss. (long pause)
Yes.  Come in and let me hold you.”

Megan continues with her story – “I nearly drove off the road.  Within seconds I was crying and had to pull over.  It hit me hard.  I was overwhelmed by the realization that sin is evil and terrible, and some sin is more evil and more terrible . . .” (From LENT by Megan McKenna)
Also, let us be aware of the “kiss of betrayal” in its many subtle forms . . .

Reflection: #2
This Wednesday is sometimes referred to as “Spy Wednesday” in Holy Week because the Gospel selection for the day tells of the secret negotiations Judas has with the religious authorities about betraying Jesus.  Here we are in this liminal space – meaning an in-between space – a threshold, so to speak, moving us from darkness to light, from death to life, from close friendships to betrayals and back again.  Last week in the Scriptures, we heard of Jesus turning the tables over of the money changers in the Temple.  Today’s readings tell us of the night of the sharing of the Passover meal – a table of friendship that will be “turned over” with the betrayal of Judas.

I often reflect what that may have been like for him and the others who shared so much of their lives, hopes, feelings, fears, and gifts. We, too, are often challenged with choices of darkness and light, good and evil, fear and courage, doubt and faith. In her book, Radical Gratitude, Mary Jo Leddy writes that we are “set up” for challenge in our culture. The pull of consumerism for instance, she says: “This artificially induced dissatisfaction afflicts all types and classes of people. It is manifest in the unhappiness of the rich … in the anxious strivings of the middle class, and in the bitter resentments of the poor who sit and watch the young and the restless and the bold and the beautiful drive their cars.”

Also this hum can find its way into our very psyches, for it whispers to us - “I don’t have enough which becomes I am not enough which becomes I am not good enough.” Maybe this is what Judas heard within and became consumed by something that turned over his table of intimate relationship and unconditional love shared with Jesus. Let us all pray for the grace to be people of authenticity, integrity, and trust. 

Poem: The Cold Within by James Patrick Kinney

Six humans trapped by happenstance
In Dark and bitter cold
Each one possessed a stick of wood,
Or so the story’s told.

Their dying fire in need of logs,
The first woman held hers back.
For on the faces around the fire,
She noticed one was black.

The next man looking cross the way,
Saw one not of his church,
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes,
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use,
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store.
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy, shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from sight,
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group
Did naught except for gain
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.

The logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without,
They died from – THE COLD WITHIN.

Holy Tuesday

May I live this day

compassionate of heart,

clear in word,

gracious in awareness,

courageous in thought,

generous in love.

John O'Donohue 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Every Week is Holy!

O God, we pray for all those in our world
who are suffering from injustice:

For those who are discriminated against
because of their race, color or religion;

For those imprisoned
for working for the relief of oppression;

For those who are hounded
for speaking the inconvenient truth;

For those tempted to violence
as a cry against overwhelming hardship;

For those deprived of reasonable health and education;

For those suffering from hunger and famine;

For those too weak to help themselves
and who have no one else to help them;

For the unemployed who cry out
for work but do not find it.

We pray for anyone of our acquaintance
who is personally affected by injustice.

Forgive us, if we unwittingly share in the conditions
or in a system that perpetuates injustice.

Show us how we can serve your children
and make your love practical by washing their feet.

                                                             Mother Teresa

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Holy Monday . . .

Anointing in Bethany (John 12:1-11)

Solemnly, Mary entered the room, holding high the alabaster jar. It gleamed in the lamplight as she circled the room, incensing the disciples, blessing Martha’s banquet. “A splendid table!” Mary called with her eyes as she whirled past her sister.

She came to a halt at last before Jesus, bowed profoundly and knelt at his feet. Deftly, she filled her right hand with nard, placed the jar on the floor, took one foot in her hands and moved fragrant fingers across his instep.

Over and over she made the journey from heel to toes, thanking him for every step he had made on Judea’s stony hills, for every stop at their home, for bringing back Lazarus.

She poured out more nard, took his other foot in her hands and started again with strong, rhythmic strokes. She felt her hands’ heat draw out his tiredness, take away the rebuffs he had known – the shut doors, the shut hearts.

Energy flowed like a river between them.  His saturated skin gleamed with oil. She had no towel!

In an instant she pulled off her veil, pulled the pins from her hair, shook it out till it fell in cascades, and once more cradled each foot, dried the ankles, the insteps, drew the strands between his toes.

Without warning, Judas Iscariot spat out his anger, the words hissing like lightning above her unveiled head: “Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”

 “Leave her alone!” Jesus silenced the usurper. “She brought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial.”

The words poured like oil, anointing her from head to foot. 

From: Woman Un-Bent by Irene Zimmerman

(Previously posted 2016)

The Time is Now . . .

Christ in the Wilderness  by  Ivan Kramskoi

The Master gives himself up
To whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
And he has nothing left to hold on to,
no illusions of the mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn’t think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life,
therefore he is ready for death,
As a man is ready for sleep
After a good day’s work.
-Lao Tzu

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Stage is Set . . .

( Matthew 21:1-11)

The stage is set
and everything washed clean
in a rain of sunshine.
Hands reach out
to calm a skittish colt,
bewildered by its burden.
The Son of David
rides a rainbowed road
that rocks with hosannas
(Irene Zimmerman, OSF)


Monday, April 3, 2017

Enfold me, God . . .

I weave a silence on my lips,
I weave a silence into my mind,
I weave a silence within my heart.
I close my ears to distractions,
I close my eyes to attentions,
I close my heart to temptations.
Calm me, O God, as you stilled the storm,
Still me, O God, keep me from harm.

Let all the tumult within me cease,
Enfold me, God, in your peace.

(Author Unknown ~ Celtic Tradition)

The God Quest . . .


I have found You
Without warning
In places of surprise
In the gathering of thousands
In the face with open eyes
In the houses of the suffering
In the solitude of prayer
In bitter disappointments
In the blessings of each day
Though there have been glimpses
The quest will never cease
For when I think I’ve found You
You have taken quiet retreat
Inspiring new horizons
Infinity beyond
The paradise of promise
For You
My soul still longs.

Excerpt from: Where God Hides by Liam Lawton