Saturday, December 29, 2018

A New Year's Prayer . . .

FOR CLOCKS AND CALENDARS                                                                                                        and any digital keepers of time!

Generous God, Holy One, you who live outside of time, and reside in the imperishable moment, for you have poured out an abundance of gifts and blessings of every sort and kind upon this world from the beginning of time. Now we ask your blessing this New Year's Day (Eve) upon your gift to us of time into the new year. Bless our clocks, watches, tablets, Smartphones, and all digital keepers of time . . . You who kindly direct us to observe the passing of minutes and hours. . . May they make us aware of the miracle of each second of life we experience.

May these our ticking servants help us not to miss that which is important, while you keep us from machine-like routine. May we ever be free from being clock watchers and instead become time lovers. Bless our calendars, these ordered lists of days, weeks and months, of holidays, holy days, fasts and feasts and all our special days of remembering.

May these servants, our calendars, once reserved for the royal few, for magi and pyramid priests, now grace our homes and our lives. May they remind us of birthdays and other gift-days, as they teach us the secret that all life is meant for celebration and contemplation.

Bless, O God, this New Year, each of its 365 days and nights. Bless us with new moons and full moons. Bless us with happy seasons and a long life. Grant to us, O Holy One, the new year's gift of a year of love. Amen.
 (Author Unknown)

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Let us welcome the New Year !


Standing at the Gates of the New Year

Sacred Mystery,
Waiting on the threshold
Of this new year,
You open the gates
And beckon to me:

“Come! Come!
Be not wary of what awaits you
As you enter the unknown terrain,
Be not doubtful of your ability
To grow from its joys and sorrows.

For I am with you.
I will be your Guide.
I will be your Protector.
You will never be alone.”

Guardian of this new year,
I set aside my fear, worries, concerns,
I open my life to mystery, to beauty,
To hospitality, to questions,
To the endless opportunity
Of discovering you in my relationships,
And to all the silent wisps of wonder
That draw me to your heart.

I welcome your unfailing Presence
And walk with hope into this new year.

From: Out of the Ordinary by Joyce Rupp

Monday, December 17, 2018

Our God stepped into humanity!

Light looked down and saw darkness.
“I will go there,” said light.
Peace looked down and saw war.
“I will go there,” said peace.
Love looked down and saw hatred.
“I will go there,” said love.
So God,
The God of Light,
The Prince of Peace,
The King of Love,
came down and crept in beside us.

(Rev. John Bell)
from Cloth for the Cradle by the Iona Community Wild Goose Worship Group

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Advent-ing and Reflecting . . .

Ignatian Examen for Advent

The Grace of Gratitude
I speak from my heart telling God why I am grateful,
being very particular and naming specific things:
gifts, people, events, blessings
How do I wait with gratitude?

The Grace to See
I walk with God through the experiences of my day
(or past year) giving thanks where I have grown,
and noticing where I have stumbled.
Where do I need the gift of light?
How do I wait with a discerning heart?

The Grace of Freedom
I ask for the grace to awaken my memory to anything from
my day (or past year) where God is inviting me to greater
freedom and peace.
I spend some time listening to my heart.
How do I wait in peace… in silence… listening?

The Grace of Mercy
I ask to feel hope, knowing that God will always give me
forgiveness. I ask God’s mercy in personal words that come
from my heart.
How do I wait in hope and with trust this
Advent Season?

The Grace of Transformation
I listen to my heart for invitations to change the way I pray,
live, work, love, play, relate, serve, or define success.
What deep desire within me is waiting to be
uncovered, discovered, or recovered this
Advent Season?

I pray the Our Father that God’s Kingdom reign in my life.

Examen adapted by William Watson, S.J.
Advent Reflections

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

An Advent story to ponder . . . What is old, is new! What goes around, comes around!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Advent~Waiting Time!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 6, 2018

God of the Seasons . . .

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.

From Guerrillas of Grace by Ted Loder

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

For Your Presence, We Give Thanks . . .

Father, Mother, God,
Thank you for your presence
during the hard and mean days.
For then we have you to lean upon.

Thank you for your presence
during the bright and sunny days,
for then we can share that which we have
with those who have less.

And thank you for your presence
during the Holy Days, for then we are able
to celebrate you and our families
and our friends.

For those who have no voice,
we ask you to speak.
For those who feel unworthy,
we ask you to pour your love out
in waterfalls of tenderness.
For those who live in pain,
we ask you to bathe them
in the river of your healing.

For those who are lonely, we ask
you to keep them company.
For those who are depressed,
we ask you to shower upon them
the light of hope.

Dear Creator, You, the borderless
sea of substance, we ask you to give to all the
world that which we need most—Peace.

prayer - maya angelou

Original source unknown

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Advent ~ Welcome, First Sunday!

In late September of 2015, Yogi Berra died at the age of 90. He was a great Major League baseball catcher, manager, and coach.  He was also known to be quite a character.  Besides his baseball competency, Berra was renowned for his impromptu pithy comments, malapropisms, and often unintentional witticisms, known as "Yogi-isms". 

I am sure that we are familiar with some of the quotes attributed to Yogi Berra; even though he says: “I didn’t really say everything I said.” These countless expressions are memorable because most of them didn’t seem to make any sense; yet, at the same time, they contained powerful messages that offered not just humor but wisdom.
I’d like to share a few:
• Never answer an anonymous letter.
• The game isn’t over until it’s over.
• Always go to other people's funerals; otherwise they won't go to yours.
• It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility.

It makes us think and sometimes laugh, but I believe there are some witticisms that relate in particular to our Advent readings.  The expressions offer us a unique perspective and “theology” of how to view our liturgical journey over this Church year.

All three of the readings this Sunday are powerful messages of wisdom, as well as pronouncements of encouragement and hope for the future.  The “end time” texts that we have been hearing in the final days of Ordinary Time have now spilled over into today’s readings.  In our Gospel, Jesus proclaims, once again, a message to “stay awake” as he prepares for his next steps toward his Passion.  Here, he is clearly anxious about the future, as he paints a bleak picture of the end of the world. It is a Gospel that is difficult to hear and understand. 

Still, Jesus offers us the encouragement to stand firm against the tribulations which will lead to chaos, disorder, and distraction. We are to be vigilant and pray for the strength to survive all that is to happen. Jesus is always inviting us to be attentive with faith, courage, and resiliency as we face the distractions, denials, and disorders in our culture, in our personal lives, and in the global disturbances around us.

It is challenging to be alert, to be present to the moment with a hopeful heart. It is difficult not to let “the anxieties of daily life” absorb us. It is far too easy to get lost in the particulars of endless tasks, plans, meetings, and so many other interruptions and distracting choices that sometimes whirl us with frenetic energy.

A stance of spiritual watchfulness is what we are invited to cultivate during this period between the first and second comings. As many wisdom figures in our tradition have insisted, God often blesses us with opportunities to know God more intimately, but we can easily miss them by simply not paying attention.
A Yogi Wisdom to ponder from our Gospel: “You can observe a lot by watching.”

The prophet Jeremiah was waiting and hoping for an ideal descendant of King David who might bring security and justice to God’s people. This first reading takes us back to an anguished, dark moment for the Jews when Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem. Their world was falling apart, and their lives were in jeopardy. The enemy was sweeping in from the north; and in those days, it was better not to be taken prisoner, so there is little doubt that many were tempted to despair.

But, in the midst of this chaos, Jeremiah speaks a prophecy - an inspired word about the future: I will make a virtuous Branch grow for David ... Judah shall be saved and Israel shall dwell in confidence. Jeremiah’s prophesy to Israel and Judah is that God's Chosen One will bring about a reign of justice, righteousness, and safety.

A Yogi Wisdom to ponder from the Jeremiah reading: “It’s hard to make predictions when you don’t know what the future holds.”

Paul is writing to the new Christian community in Thessalonica.  In the first years after the resurrection, the early Christians were preoccupied with awaiting the imminent return of Christ.  Paul was no exception, and he prays they might be strengthened in their faith and abounding in love as they wait patiently for the end time to occur.
A Yogi Wisdom to ponder from Paul’s writing: “It’s like Déjà vu all over again.”

This week, Christians begin a new liturgical year and enter into the rich and ancient four-week season of Advent.  However, perhaps for a number of American Christians, Advent passes virtually unnoticed, as the celebration of "Christmas" as a secular and intensely commercial feast begins the day after Thanksgiving.  Yet, the time of Advent offers us an opportunity to dive deeply into a counter-cultural time of quiet reflection, a space of hopeful and patient waiting and discernment about how God's incarnation has meaning and is at work in our world today.

Our faith tells us that God communicates with us whether we know it or not by continuously creating and redeeming us.  We are being “spoken to” continuously by our God who desires us to notice that life communicates God to us. Advent beckons us to intentionally carve out a sacred space and time for quiet reflection, patient and hopeful waiting while observing, watching, and pondering what the future may hold. As one author counsels,
• ”in an age of speed, nothing could be more invigorating than going slow,
• In an age of distraction, nothing can feel more luxurious than paying attention, and
• In an age of constant movement, nothing is more urgent than sitting still.” (Iyer)

Before the middle of the fourth century, there were no liturgical seasons, such as Advent or Lent, or any idea of a "liturgical year.” The great feast of Easter was the central focus of the Christian year, along with the Sunday gatherings, considered "little Easters."  Advent is first noted around the year 350, about the same time that Christmas is first mentioned as being celebrated. The date of Christmas might well have been placed near the winter solstice as a replacement to the pagan solstice celebrations of the Roman Empire.

As in the other yearly liturgical cycles, the readings of this Advent season reflect a movement through the four weeks from a cosmic in-breaking of God in the first Sundays to the more intimate stories, including Mary as a central figure, in the fourth Sunday, all of which prepare us for God's incarnation in the most unexpected and unpredictable manner -- as an infant in an occupied country to a poor and unwed teenager.

Advent invites us to set out on a great journey - to follow in the footsteps of Christ in all of his mysteries, so that we can live as he lived and truly be disciples of God’s mercy and compassion. These mysteries are stories to encourage our hearts, their meanings and wisdom are to permeate our being, and their truths are to sustain us through the long haul. 

Advent invites us to do more than simply commemorate Christmas; it invites us to embrace a larger vision. Advent draws us to prepare to live the mystery of the Word made flesh here and now. "Life is Advent."

So perhaps Yogi Berra is a teacher for us in this in-between time, offering an opportunity for us…
• to cultivate a spiritual watchfulness and a patient waiting,
• to stand firm in our faith,
• to be present to the moment with a hopeful heart,
• to reclaim our space and time of quiet refection of the mystery of the Word made flesh here and now,
• to realize that we will truly need courage, compassion, resilience, wit, and wisdom.

A Yogi Wisdom to ponder as we take leave today on this First Sunday of Advent: “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going, because you might wind up somewhere else.”

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Advent Soup!

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

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

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

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

In our nation of abundance, let us not forget that over twenty percent of the children in our nation live in poverty.   And in comparison with other industrialized nations, we have more high school drop outs, more violent crime among youth, more poverty among the elderly, more medically uninsured citizens, and the widest gap of income between the rich and the poor.  Again, like Johnny, we need to call out to God and risk entering the darkness of these realities that cause us to ponder the scarcities and the inequities of our social system. 

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 24, 2018

You ~ We Can Make a Difference!

End Time ~ Make a Difference!
If each grain of sand were to say:
One grain does not make a mountain,
There would be no land

If each drop of water were to say:
One drop does not make an ocean
There would be no sea

If each note of music were to say:              
One note does not make a symphony,
There would be no melody

If each word were to say:
One word does not make a library
There would be no book

If each brick were to say:
One brick does not make a wall,
There would be no house

If each seed were to say:
One seed does not make a field
There would be no harvest

You do make the difference
Begin today and make the difference
~ Author Unknown

Earth . . .Teach Us to Live in Gratitude!

If the only prayer you ever say in your whole life is “thank you,” that would suffice. ~ Meister Eckhart

As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them. ~ John F. Kennedy

For each new morning with its light, 
For rest and shelter of the night, 
For health and food, 
For love and friends, 
For everything Thy goodness sends.  ~  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Creator hear us, for we are your children.
Father we thank you for all that you have given us.
We thank you for the lessons that you have taught us and
for the life that you have allowed us to lead.

We thank you Mother Earth for your beauty and sustenance.
We thank the masters of this universe
for their guidance, protection and direction.

Father we thank you for the white light that surrounds us, and for
that same white light which transmutes all negativity
into love and healing.

We thank you Father, for the healing of our souls,
the healing of the Earth and for the healing of all humankind.
We call upon the power of the universe, to
allow us happiness, prosperity, healing and love.
We call upon the power of the universe for
good relationship to all things.

We call upon the power of the universe, for sacred direction,
sacred protection, sacred correction and sacred connection.
We call upon the power of the universe for magic and miracles.

We honor you Creator, as we honor all things seen and unseen.
We honor you Creator, as we honor our ancestors, 
as we honor ourselves.

~ Grant Redhawk - Two Feathers - Native American
(Original Source Unknown)

Friday, November 23, 2018

Gratitude - 1, 2, 3!

God comes to us disguised as our lives! (Richard Rohr)

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow." (Melodie Beattie)

1. Sometime ago, I was sharing with someone who at one time had been homeless.  He told me of how often he would long for a sandwich.  So he would hang out at fast food restaurants to collect the discarded ketchup packets.  Then (if he was lucky that day) he would find a slice of bread and squeeze out the remaining ketchup from the assorted packets to make a ketchup sandwich.  He went on to tell me of the day that a gentleman noticed him and offered to take him to a near-by restaurant and buy him a hamburger.  He told me that it was one of the hardest decisions he ever had to make.  He said this is how it went down with his ordering: Did I want a white or whole wheat bun? Did I want a single burger or the deluxe double burger?  Did I want cheese on my burger?  Did I want my burger somewhat rare, medium, or well done?  Did I want onions on the burger?  Raw or fried?  Did I want lettuce, tomato, and mayo on the burger? Finally, did I want to have fries? Oops – what size order of fries?  Small, medium or large? Then it was the decision of what to drink.  As a result of all this burger decisioning, it took him at least 15 minutes to place his order.

2. Another experience I had was with that of a person who had survived the genocide of Rwanda. The Rwandan genocide was the 1994 mass slaughter of an estimated 800,000 people in the East African state of Rwanda. In my inquiry as to how she and her family escaped and survived she said: “We only had each other and that gave us courage.  We prayed at first to find a cup for drinking.  But eventually we turned our prayer into a request for a cooking pot.  Then all of us could eat, drink, and share.”

3. A Jewish folk tale:
A story tells of a man who went to the office every day in his expensive car, and made important decisions and signed big contracts.  Often, the important man would enjoy business lunches with his clients, and would try to distract the attention of his influential guests away from the unsavory spectacle of the beggars on the streets of his city.
One evening, after a hard day making money, he packed his briefcase to go home, where supper would be waiting for him.  As he was locking his desk for the night, he caught sight of a stale sandwich lying abandoned at the back of the drawer.  Without much thought he crammed it in his coat pocket.  No need for it to go moldy and mess up his desk.  And on the way out to the car park he saw a street beggar on the steps, huddled in an old blanket.  ‘Here, my friend’ he said to the beggar. ‘Here is something for your supper.’ And he gave him the stale sandwich.
That night, the man dreamed that he was away on a business trip.  After the day’s meeting, he was taken with his fellow directors to the town’s most luxurious restaurant.  Everyone gave their orders, and settled down with their drinks before the meal to look forward to a convivial evening.
The orders arrived. Pâté de foie gras.  Medallions of venison.  Lamb cutlets with rosemary and garlic.  The dishes being brought to the table brought gasps of delight from all the company. Then his own order appeared.  A waitress set in front of him one small plate, on which was served a stale sandwich.
‘What kind of service is this?’ the man demanded, enraged.  ‘This isn’t what I ordered! I thought this was the best restaurant in town!’
‘Oh sir,’ the waitress told him, ‘you’ve been misinformed.  This isn’t a restaurant at all.  This is heaven.  We are only able to serve you what you have sent on ahead while you were alive.  I’m very sorry, sir, but when we looked under your name, the best we could find to serve to you was this little sandwich.’ (Retelling of a Jewish folk story-Original Source Unknown)

How would you describe gratitude? For what are you most grateful?
How do these stories make you feel?
What is disturbing or unnerving for you in the stories?
What is true for you in these stories?
How have you been a person of generosity in your life?
Have you ever been a recipient of someone’s generosity?
Where in your life have you encountered trauma or tragedy and came through it with a few scars but with great wisdom?
(Previously posted 2012)

Monday, November 19, 2018

Prayer of the Heart . . .

God of My Life

I give You thanks and praise that I have life, and trust that my life is filled with touches of Your love. You have given me a heart that wants to be happy, and You have placed in me a desire to make a difference. Quiet the fears and distractions of my heart long enough for me to listen to the movement of Your Spirit, to hear Your gentle invitation.
Reveal to me the choices that will make me happy.  Help me to discover my identity. Let me understand how best to use the gifts You have so lovingly lavished upon me in preparation for our journey together. And give me the courage to choose You as You have chosen me. God of my life; God of the journey, let me know myself and let me know You.  In this is my happiness.  Amen. (author/source unknown)

Friday, November 16, 2018

A Reflection for Monday, November 19

"What do you want me to do for you?"

“I see you,” Jake says to the tall, blue-skinned, native woman, Neytiri, in the futuristic, sci-fi epic movie Avatar. The greeting implies a connection beyond seeing with only the eyes.

The phrase “I see you” is used throughout the film to communicate a deep respect for the whole being. Not only does Jake learn to truly see Neytiri, but he also learns that deep-seeing leads to revering- respecting – or holding in the highest regard - the interconnectedness in all of life. (Liz Budd Ellmann, Mdiv)

artist unknown

I suppose you may wonder what this introduction has to do with the story of Blind Bartimaeus in our Gospel? There is a cast of characters in this story, some desiring to see, others desiring to be seen. However, it is Jesus who truly sees with a laser-like vision who has a “deep respect for the whole being” of all whom he meets on his journey toward Jerusalem.

Jesus is surrounded by his disciples, and some “groupies” who act as security guards. Possibly some consider themselves the “in-group”. Or some may have been healed or forgiven by Jesus and now they have joined in the group. 
And yet, there are those in the crowd who see what they want to see and sort out who Jesus should see. They seem to be in charge of “crowd control” and they tell Bartimaeus to keep quiet. Could it be that they are “blind” as well?
Now Bartimaeus has a prime “box seat” right at the edge of the city where many people pass by. He is a street person, sitting in the dust. However, this is a strategic position for someone who needs alms, food, or any other small treasures that will sustain his life for one more day.

His hearing is keen and he becomes aware that Jesus of Nazareth is here. Possibly he has heard of this man of miracles. He shouts to Jesus desiring mercy and compassion. He seems to “see” with his eager spirit and anxious heart.

Even though the crowd considers him invisible, and tries to silence him, he doesn’t give up and calls to Jesus again, louder still . . . and this time, Jesus stops and asks the crowd to bring Bartimaeus to him. Upon Jesus’ request, this crowd immediately has their eyes opened as well as their minds and hearts. Could it be that now they, too, truly see Bartimaeus with a deep respect for his whole being?

It is said that he threw off his cloak and sprang up. This had to be pure God energy. Who of us can sit for hours and all of a sudden throw off our “securities” and spring up to our feet to stand tall in our very selves? 
Having abandoned all his possessions, and especially his cloak – which was his begging bowl by day and his tent by night . . .  he now stands before Jesus in his nakedness and vulnerability. Jesus truly sees him with a deep respect and honors him by asking him what he desires.

The beggar responds, “I want to see again.”  According to some commentaries, the Greek translation has “to look up” as his response. In other words, Bartimaeus desires to look up and all around him so that he no longer needs to be limited to a certain space, or way of living, or be a recipient of ridicule, or not be seen for who he truly is.

Jesus says that his faith has healed him . . . not a faith of dogmas, or commandments but a belief that his life matters, that he matters to God, and that God believes in him. Bartimaeus then moves from the side of the road to join the parade on the road to Jerusalem.

So what is the Good News for us as we ponder this Gospel?
Here are a few questions to consider  . . . 
• When and where in our lives have we felt invisible, excluded, or rebuked for who we are? What was our response?

• Have we ever considered a time in which we were “blind of heart”? How did we respond to this awareness and did we change our lives in any way?

Let us pray:
Let us look up and all around us to see with a deep respect all those whom we may unconsciously pass by. Let us respond to them saying: “I see you.” And may we grow in our learning “that deep-seeing leads to revering the interconnectedness in all of life.”

Let us ask God to truly see us, and give us sight to where we most need healing, forgiveness, and unconditional loving kindness. 
Let us be open to stand tall in God’s grace as we hear the words of invitation, “What do you want me to do for you?” . . . because God says, “I see you.”

Thursday, November 15, 2018

A Thanksgiving Day Pondering . . .

Image by James C. Christensen
Let us begin by pondering the question: How are the Pilgrims of the first Thanksgiving and the lepers in our Gospel similar? Well, both groups were “outsiders” and “insiders.”

The historical events leading to the first Thanksgiving celebration can sound like a mini-series for a television drama. In the early 1600s, persecution, imprisonment, and death were the punishments awaiting those who separated themselves from King James’ rule of the Church of England.  The Pilgrims found corruption and practices that were in conflict with the Bible, and they desired to escape from England and find a place where they could worship freely.  They would become “outsiders” of the Church of England.

After two other attempts, they set sail on the Mayflower in September of 1620. There were approximately 41 of these Separatists aboard, who called themselves the “Saints,” – they wanted complete separation from the Church of England.  There were others, whom they called the “Strangers.”  These were hired men, servants, soldiers, and others who wanted to start a new life in a new land. 

After sailing for 65 days, the ship arrived in November of 1620 at what would become known as Plymouth Colony. The first winter was devastating to the Pilgrims.  Many had died during the long, difficult winter.  Of the 110 Pilgrims and crew who left England, less than 50 survived the first winter.

In the following year of 1621, Governor William Bradford proclaimed a day of thanksgiving. The colonists celebrated it as a traditional English harvest feast, to which they invited the local Wampanoag Indians.  Now, the Pilgrims could be considered the new “insiders,” and we could possibly view the Wampanoag Indians as the new “outsiders.”  And so, as we say, the rest is history.

In our Gospel, we have “outsiders” and “insiders” as well.  Today’s Gospel is from Luke – which is often called the Gospel of Mercy and Forgiveness.  Jesus is making his way to Jerusalem – and in a few Chapters, we will read that he is in the final months of his life on Earth. He knows all too well what it is like to be an “insider” and an “outsider.”

In this middle place between Galilee and Samaria is a borderland where lepers dwelt. Here, Jesus encounters ten men - all lepers, who, with their weakened voices, call out to him, “Master” and beg for mercy . . . they desire human compassion and dignity.

As lepers, they were rejected from society, and they could not participate in worship. They were treated as outcasts and were required to live outside the city in leper camps, forced to ring a bell or shout “unclean” to warn others to keep away as they walked the streets. These lepers were the most miserable of all people, believing that they had been cursed both by God and humankind. 

In this time, leprosy was a permanent and external condition of shame, clearly evident in the disfiguring lesions covering the victim’s skin. Because lepers could not participate in worship, most people believed that the disease was due to sins that the individual had committed. The Jewish people couldn’t imagine a worse torment than not being able to worship God – for it was the most holy act of their lives. 

These ten “outsiders”– were a band of nine Jewish men - and one a foreigner, a Samaritan – who was even more of an “outsider” – a double outcast, because he was a leper and a Samaritan.  These men would normally not be in relationship with each other, but the fate of a terrible disease forced them to band together. 

When Jesus saw them and heard their faint cry for mercy, he doesn’t tell them to go and wash in the Jordan seven times; He doesn’t touch them as he did for the single leper earlier in his ministry. No, Jesus asks them to turn toward Jerusalem and sends the lepers on their way, knowing that his word will do its work. The faith-filled lepers, who will soon be “insiders,” are cleansed as they travel to meet up with the Jerusalem CDC! (Center for Disease Control).

To understand the reactions of these healed men, we must first consider that the Law of Moses provided that someone who was afflicted and then healed of an unclean disease was to go and show himself to a priest to verify the healing. This “presentation” was, in essence, his ticket of re-admission into the Temple and restoration of his place within the community of God’s people.
The nine who presented themselves were doing exactly what Jesus told them to do – but, Jesus had a dual purpose: when the priests verified that these lepers were healed, they were unintentionally affirming the divine authority of Jesus - the one who had healed these men, and the priests would not be able to deny that. For in the cultural world of Jesus, it was believed that God alone is the one who heals.  How clever of Jesus!

So, the ten head off to see the priests. Except for one of them, who turns around and goes back. It’s the Samaritan who returns to Jesus. As a Samaritan and an outcast, he knew he couldn’t follow the others. Samaritans worshiped on Mt. Gerazim, and Jews worshiped in Jerusalem. He had no need to be officially pronounced clean and welcomed by the priests; so instead, he confides in Jesus, giving his best offering of gratitude for Jesus’ gift of divine mercy.

The Scripture states that he is shouting his gratitude . . . his loud voice signifies his complete healing and the intensity of his praise. Jesus pronounces him healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  He is restored to wholeness – and no longer seen as a foreigner but in God’s merciful eyes is accepted, welcomed, and loved unconditionally. Truly, Jesus’ mission was to be in towns, villages, and in-between spaces to proclaim that God is a God of mercy and compassion who loves us "totally, tenderly, tenaciously!"

It is written that in the ancient Middle East, to say “thank you” is to end or complete a relationship. The Samarian knew he was in the “wrong” place at the “right” time. He would not be able to be in relationship with Jesus again – the boundaries were clear.   Yet, his heart was in the right place at the right time! This Samaritan is no longer an “outsider” – now, he is blessed to be a “near” sider – he is near to God’s heart of mercy – he is near to God as disciple and friend  . . . the God of forgiveness, healing, and compassion.

This would seem like a good place to end the story. However, there is more to this story.  But what of the faith-filled nine? 

Perhaps we can find them in the final chapters of Luke’s Gospel – living their newly restored lives with their families and friends; worshiping at the Temple; having a place to call home – and no longer being “outsiders;” and, forever aware of the God with the gaze of mercy who restored them to health, to society, and to the Temple.  They now live lives of generous gratitude.

Therefore, when it came time to obtain a colt for Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, and the owners were told, “The Master has need of it,” these owners, once the outsiders, give in gratitude to the Master.

When the time came for the Hosanna Parade through the streets of Jerusalem, these once outsiders, now walk and run in gratitude among the people with shouts of Hosanna happiness.

And, when the time came for Passover to be prepared, the man with the water jar, once an outsider, now generously gives his upper room in gratitude to the Master.
And the rest is history, and more, much more. . .

So what is the Good News for us today?
• For Luke - Jesus is the God of compassion, forgiveness, and mercy for all people whether rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, slave or sinner, winner or loser, saint or stranger. With Jesus there are no boundaries, borders, barriers, boxes, or biases.

• Let us pray for all whom this day experience being an outsider in our church, in governments, in society, and in nations throughout our world. May the God of mercy bless them with courage and integrity to shout forth their message and find meaning in their suffering.
•  For ourselves – our community, families, friends, may God’s grace, mercy, compassion. and wisdom accompany our lives as we strive to live with purpose and in gratitude day by day. 

• So let us pray:  “Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity.... It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melodie Beattie

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Ice Cream 2.0!

Ice cream
(Author Unknown)

Last week I took my children to a restaurant.  My six-year-old son asked if he could say grace.  As we bowed our heads he said, “God is good. God is great.  Thank you for the food, and I would even thank you more if Mom gets us ice cream for dessert.  And with Liberty and justice for all!  Amen!"

Along with the laughter from the other customers nearby I heard a woman remark, “That's what's wrong with this country.  Kids today don't even know how to pray.  Asking God for ice-cream! Why I never!"

Hearing this, my son burst into tears and asked me, “Did I do it wrong? Is God mad at me?"

As I held him and assured him that he had done a terrific job and God was certainly not mad at him, an elderly gentleman approached the table.  He winked at my son and said,  "I happen to know that God thought that was a great prayer."

"Really?" my son asked.
 "Cross my heart," the man replied.
Then in a theatrical whisper he added (indicating the woman whose remark had started this whole thing) - "Too bad she never asks God for ice cream.  A little ice cream is good for the soul sometimes."

Naturally, I bought my kids ice cream at the end of the meal.  My son stared at his for a moment and then did something I will remember the rest of my life. He picked up his sundae and without a word, walked over and placed it in front of the woman. With a big smile he told her,
 "Here, this is for you. Ice cream is good for the soul sometimes; and my soul is good already." 

Giving all . . .

In the days when an ice cream sundae cost much less, a 10 year old boy entered a hotel coffee shop and sat at a table. A waitress put a glass of water in front of him.

“How much is an ice cream sundae?”

“50 cents,” replied the waitress.

The little boy pulled his hand out of his pocket and studied a number of coins in it.

“How much is a dish of plain ice cream?” he inquired. Some people were now waiting for a table and the waitress was a bit impatient.

“35 cents,” she said brusquely.

The little boy again counted the coins. “I’ll have the plain ice cream,” he said.

The waitress brought the ice cream, put the bill on the table and walked away. The boy finished the ice cream, paid the cashier and departed.

When the waitress came back, she began wiping down the table and then swallowed hard at what she saw.

There, placed neatly beside the empty dish, were 15 cents – her tip.

Author Unknown