Thursday, May 31, 2018

In Ordinary Time . . .something extraordinary . . .

The Auction

A wealthy man and his son loved to collect rare works of art.  They had everything in their collection from Picasso to Raphael. When the Vietnam conflict broke out, the son went to war. He was very courageous and died in battle while rescuing another soldier. The father was notified and grieved deeply for his only son.

About a month later, just before Christmas, there was a knock at the door.  A young man stood at the door with a large package in his hands. He said, “Sir, you don’t know me, but I am the soldier for whom your son gave his life. He saved many lives that day, and he was carrying me to safety when a bullet struck him in the heart, and he died instantly.  He often talked about you, and your love for art.” The young man held out his package. “I know this isn’t much. I’m not really a great artist, but I think your son would have wanted you to have this.”

The father opened the package. It was a portrait of his son, painted by the young man. The father was so drawn to the eyes that his own eyes welled up with tears. He thanked the young man and offered to pay him for the picture. “Oh, no sir, I could never repay what your son did for me. It’s a gift.”

The father died a few months later. There was to be a great auction of his paintings. On the platform sat the painting of the son. The auctioneer pounded his gavel. “We will start the bidding with this picture of the son. Who will bid for this picture?” There was silence. Then a voice in the back of the room shouted, “We want to see the famous paintings.  Skip this one.”

But the auctioneer persisted. “Will someone bid for this painting? Who will start the bidding? $100, $200?” Another voice shouted angrily, “We didn’t come to see this painting. We came to see the Van Goghs, the Rembrandts. Get on with the real bids!” But still the auctioneer continued, “The son! The son! Who’ll take the son?”

Finally, a voice came from the very back of the room. It was the longtime gardener of the man and his son. “I’ll give $10 for the painting.” Being a poor man, it was all he could afford. “We have $10, who will bid $20?” “Give it to him for $10.  Let’s see the masters.” “$10 is the bid, won’t someone bid $20?” The crowd was becoming angry. They wanted the more worthy investments for their collections. The auctioneer pounded the gavel. “Going once, twice, SOLD FOR $10!”

A man sitting on the second row shouted, “Now, let’s get on with the collection!”  The auctioneer laid down his gavel. “I’m sorry, the auction is over.” “What about the paintings?” “I am sorry. When I was called to conduct this auction, I was told of a secret stipulation in the will. I was not allowed to reveal that stipulation until this time. Only the painting of the son would be auctioned. Whoever bought that painting would inherit the entire estate, including the paintings. The man who took the son gets everything!”

(Author Unknown)

Be ready for the God of surprises . . .

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

A Welcoming Story . . .

At the City Gates
(Source Unknown)

Long ago, in a far-away town, an old woman used to sit at the city gates, watching the travelers passing through, and sometimes engaging them in conversation.

One night, when it was growing dark, a traveler came along; weary from a hard day’s walk. ‘Excuse me,’ he said to the old woman, ‘but I am looking for a place to rest, and I wonder, can you tell me what the people are like in this town?’

The woman smiled, and in reply she asked him a question of her own. ‘You have had a long journey,’ she commented, ‘and you must be feeling weary. Where do you come from?’

A little surprised by her question, the traveler told her the name of his home town. ‘Mychester,’ he said.

The woman was interested. ‘Oh,’ she smiled, ‘and what are the people like in Mychester?’

‘Oh,’ replied the traveler, ‘you wouldn’t believe how awful people are in Mychester. They don’t care if you are hungry and thirsty. They wouldn’t even pass the time of day with you. And if you ask for help they turn away, or deliberately send you the wrong way. They are rude and unfriendly in the extreme.’

‘My word,’ replied the old woman. ‘Well, I’m afraid I have bad news for you. The people here in this town are very much like the people in Mychester. I don’t think you would like them very much.’

The traveler was disappointed. ‘Oh well,” he sighed. ‘I guess I’ll move on then.’

A short time passed, and soon another traveler arrived at the city gates. He saw the old woman sitting there, smiled and approached her. ‘Excuse me,’ he said, ‘but I am looking for a place to rest, and I wonder, can you tell me what the people are like in this town?’

The woman smiled back at him, and again she asked him a question of her own. ‘You have had a long journey,’ she commented, ‘and you must be feeling weary. Where do you come from?’

‘I come from Mychester,’ he told her.

‘And what are the people like in Mychester?’ the woman continued.

‘Oh, they are so kind,’ the traveler replied. ‘I like them a lot. They are always friendly, ready to help each other and generous to a fault.’

‘Well’ the woman told him, ‘I think you will find a warm welcome here in this city. The people here are very much like the people in Mychester.’

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Memorial Day - Let us do as much as we can!!

“Prisoner at the bar,” said the judge, “I find you guilty on twenty-three counts.  I therefore sentence you to a total of one hundred and seventy-five years.” The prisoner was an old man.  He burst into tears.  The judge’s facial expression softened.  “I did not mean to be harsh,” he said. “I know the sentence I have imposed is a very severe one. You don’t really have to serve the whole of it.”  The prisoner’s eyes brightened with hope.  “That’s right,” said the judge. “Just do as much as you can!” (Source Unknown)

No doubt, we are all called to “do as much as we can” in our little corner of the world to be peacemakers.  I recall a phone call I received some years ago from a woman who went daily to church for liturgy with her neighbors, friends, and others from the surrounding towns.  She told me that she was calling because she was very concerned about the way the people at liturgy were treating her. She went on to tell me that at the “sign of peace” when everyone reaches out with the gesture of a handshake or even a hug, she has decided not to reach out and she does not want to receive the handshake of peace.  She continued her story with the details of how people approach her in her bench and extend their hand and she turns away from them. She explained that after liturgy, people even had the audacity to follow her to her car in the parking lot and offer her a handshake of peace.  Again, she spoke of how she hurried to enter her car, roll up the windows, and locked the doors – not wanting to share this sign of peace with anyone. Her question to me was, “ Aren't they wrong?  How can I get them to leave me alone?”

As I listened I prayed for insight as to how to proceed.  After she was finished describing her concern, I then spoke. I told her that the liturgy is not a private experience. We gather as a people of God – praying together in song – listening to the Word, breaking the bread and sharing the cup.  It is a ritual of communion and union!  Then I said that the handshake of peace is meant to be a sign of our willingness to live in harmony and right-relationship with each other and to let it be a prayer sent across the world for peace throughout the universe!  She hung up on me!! I just did as much as I could to have her consider a conversion to being a peacemaker or “peace-hand-shaker.”

This weekend, we observe Memorial Day. Three years after the Civil War ended on May 5, 1868, it was established as Decoration Day – a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the ward dead with flowers.  The proclamation by Gen. John Logan’s orders reads thus:  “We are organized for the purpose, among other things, of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.  What can aid more to assure this result than by cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foe?”

Let us observe this Memorial Day by doing as much as we can - remembering our power and capacity to gather as peacemakers; to strengthen our spirits and vision; to decorate our hearts with the flowers of nonviolence.  
It is a day of gathering with those who mourn at monuments, graves, and memorials. A day of gathering with those who stand in confusion, anger, shame, guilt, and vulnerability.  
A day of gathering to remember sacrifices and great losses.
A day of gathering to remember ones still held captive throughout the world, or suffering mental anguish from the trauma of terrorism and the ravages of war.
It is a day of gathering with those who stand with pride for courage demonstrated and for freedoms won.  
Finally, let us do as much as we can to pray, assist, give comfort,  express understanding and support to all those who have chosen to reach out in peace, and to those willing to  make sacrifices through service to their country – and may we cherish tenderly the memory of our heroic deceased women and men.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

The Spirit is disguised in our lives . . .

Come, Holy Spirit ~
Replace the tension within me with a holy relaxation,
Replace the turbulence within me with a sacred calm,
Replace the anxiety within me with a quiet confidence,
Replace the fear within me with a strong faith,
Replace the bitterness within me with the sweetness of grace,
Replace the darkness within me with a gentle light,
Replace the coldness within me with a loving warmth,
Replace the night within me with Your day,
Replace the winter within me with Your spring,
Straighten my crookedness, fill my emptiness,
Dull the edge of my pride, sharpen the edge of my humility,
Light the fires of my love, quench within me the flames of envy,
Let me see myself as You see me,

that I may see You as You have promised ~
And be fortunate according to Your word, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”


"Whisper of Light" ~ Doris Klein, CSA

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Pentecost . . .We are People of the Flame!

"May the Force be with you,” advise the Jedi Warriors, Guardians of the Galaxy in the popular blockbuster movie series of Star Wars. This new expression nudged its way into our language and seemed to settle comfortably into almost every conversation. It was a blessing of luck or general good will when individuals parted ways or when warriors were to face some sort of imminent challenge.

The Force was the unseen but discernible source of a Jedi’s power, an energy field created by all living things. It surrounded them and penetrated all things. It bound the galaxy together. Certainly Director George Lucas was influenced by particular elements of mythology, philosophy, and theology.

In today’s readings, there are two different stories describing God’s Force - the coming of the Spirit. No matter what the details are, the Spirit of God will propel these men and women beyond locked doors, and they will be filled with a newfound confidence in the message they are to preach as they carry forward the reign of God. 

First, let us contemplate the Gospel. It is Easter Sunday evening, and the disciples are hiding in fear in an upper room behind locked doors.  This same upper room is where Jesus encouraged them to not let their hearts be troubled and to believe in him, and they would do great works. Now they are waiting, listening, pondering what to do next with their lives.  As followers of Jesus, they are terrified of the authorities who may come to take them away as recognizable collaborators of Jesus. They fear they may have to face arrest or something even worse.  They pray, puzzled over what was and what will be, wondering if they have been fooled. 

They ask one another: Are you sure the tomb was found empty? Are you sure it was him on the road to Emmaus and in the sharing of bread? Suddenly, Jesus stands before them. He gives them the usual Jewish greeting ‘Shalom;’ but here, it is filled with a deeper meaning, a driving force. He blesses them with Peace, instilling an energy of excitement and joy that breaks through their worrisome spirits. 

He breathes on them, and God’s Force, the Spirit – the Sprit that hovered over the chaos, the Spirit that incarnated the Word within Mary’s womb – now with laser like motion, soars over and within the disciples, and they are released, unshackled, set free . . . They will move from terror and hiding to speaking out boldly.  His vision becomes their vision.  His power to heal and forgive is their power. They no longer can be contained, nor can their spirits be restrained. 
There is no more hiding in upper rooms . . .  they will stand among the people in the streets. No more recoiling behind locked doors, they will preach boldly in the Temple. They are transformed from shared fear and insecurity to being empowered with one mind and heart.

They will be accompanied with the “surround sound” of the winds of change to preach the mission of Jesus, and thus, “all will hear them babble about the love of God and all will understand.” (R.R.)

In our First Reading from Acts (which is usually called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit), Luke presents us with a scene in an upper room, 50 days after the Resurrection event. 

The disciples are all in one place, when a noise like a driving wind fills the house, the space ablaze with the fire of God’s presence, and they are filled with the Spirit. They begin speaking in different languages, proclaiming the mighty acts of God. The Spirit has moved in the people as well, gifting them with a hearing and understanding of the amazing works of God. Just as the Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, here, the Spirit drives his disciples into a galaxy of streets, villages, towns, cities, countries, and lands far, far away from Jerusalem.

They now move forward with a power and courage to withstand the imminent challenges as they are bound together in the Spirit, preaching the reign of God – God’s mighty Guardians of the Word equipped, strengthened, and propelled by the Force of the Spirit.

The feast of Pentecost animates us with the fire of passion, conviction, and commitment to the reign of God.  We truly are changed when we live a Spirit-filled life as “Pentecosted” people.  We are invited each day to live out the gifts of the Spirit in our words, our thoughts, and through our very being.

Each time when our words promote understanding, forgiveness, hope, and joy ~ we live Pentecost.
Each time our way of being makes it a little easier for others to feel included

 ~  we live Pentecost.
Each time as we participate in the mission of Jesus, and continue to grow in our awareness that we, too, are among the needy and are enriched by those we serve ~ we live Pentecost.
Each time we are willing to unlock the places in our minds and hearts that keep us as individuals, and as a faith community from responding to the injustices in our world ~ we live Pentecost.
Each time as a community of believers, we entrust ourselves to the mission of the Spirit and collaborate to create healing, harmony, and wholeness among the peoples of our world and in all of creation ~ we live Pentecost.

Let us pray:  May the Force – the Spirit of God be with us always!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Wild Wilderness . . .

I recently made a retreat in a wooded area of western Wisconsin. I retired early my first night there since I was weary from travel and all the activities of the month. I was looking forward to a long sleep. My little cabin was enwrapped by the covering of abundant trees which quieted the hum of the traffic on the distant roads. However, before sunrise, I heard something bumping against the side window. Thud, scratch-scratch, flap-flap. This went on for a few more minutes before I got up enough nerve with a moan and made an effort to open the blinds at the window. What was making this early morning wake-up call here in the middle of the woods? My imagination was getting the best of me. I was thinking that maybe I would be facing a deer, or a woodchuck, or a squirrel, or even a skunk. Yikes, then what?  So I slowly opened the blinds, and there on the edge of the terrace was a very chubby robin that looked very determined. She seemed to wonder why I was looking back at her through the woods!

I soon discovered that the window of the cabin was reflecting the surrounding woods, and she was attempting to “enter” this glass portal, no matter what. She tried again to break through this reflection with another effort. Resolute, she flew directly at the window only to meet the barrier head-on – then falling, she scratched her way down the window and then with flapping efforts, she tried to make her way up the window, eventually falling to the small rocks below that were surrounding the cabin. She tried a number of times – thud- scratch-flap, thud-scratch-flap.  After several more unsuccessful attempts, she flew off probably to think of how to approach this problem upon her return the next day.

 I thought I’d spare her from injuring herself, so I piled a few large branches against the window to keep her from another airborne mishap. However, later in the afternoon, a squirrel climbed up the branches that were leaning against the window, and he threw himself at his reflection mirrored in the window. I laughed and thought- this must be part of the boot camp wilderness tactics for deep woods survival!

I wrote the following - reflecting on this experience.
Robin Gone Wild!  A pre-dawn predator at my window?  Ready-fire-aim! She efforts to enter through the widow reflection that teases her songbird senses. Ready-fire-aim. She undertakes a second flight seeking contact with the glassed companion in the window who mimics her exact movements.  No luck – thud-scratch-flap. Then she attempts a third thrust. Thud-scratch-flap. She falls dazed to the rocks below. She flies off – perhaps to strategize her approach for another day’s dawn. Isn’t this what Albert Einstein defined as insanity?  Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

Then I wondered . . . am I like this persistent harbinger of Spring when encountering or confronted with or challenged by illusions that bump up against my ego – alluring my senses, my false self with distorted truths or deceptive stories?  . . . What stories do I tell myself when I have certain feelings, perceptions, assumptions, and expectations?  This has to be insanity! It is essential that I find the time and space where my true self is quieted in silent readiness, with aimed awareness, and with the faith-filled fire of hope in God’s abundant grace and unconditional love surrounding me as I journey through this wilderness training called life.
(Previously posted May 2013)

Photo by Doris Klein, CSA

Monday, May 14, 2018

Farmers . . .Our "Earth Whisperers"!

May 15th is the feast of St. Isidore and his wife, Maria. Isidore is considered the patron of farmers. On this day, I recall my years of teaching in a rural area of Wisconsin. The children - of all ages - worked hard in their homes, barns, and fields. They even invited me to help them “pick rocks” in the spring, so as to clear the land for plowing and planting (this is a glacial lobe area) - Today there are machines that can do this back-breaking work. 

It seems that when I lived in this rural area, I was more aware of the changes in the seasons and sensitive to the conditions of the environment. I always watched the skies and listened to earth around me. I listened also to the wives who often spoke about the harvests and the possible stresses they would endure financially if they had a bad harvest. They were always at the mercy of the weather - for it would affect their crops and livestock in every way. But they were always aware that they were in partnership with their Creator God in caring for the earth, and the crops for their families, and for those whom they produced these crops, along with milk production for numerous dairy products.

I consider these farmers and their families “Earth Whisperers.” They could communicate with the land and they certainly, over and over, manifested a deep faith in God as a true partner in this sacred work. Today there are fewer farms in Wisconsin but more milk production being calculated. Farmers have transformed farming into an art. For now there is an increase in organic farming and they are truly engineers, accountants, business executives, marketers, scientists, meteorologist, geologists, and chemists – just to name of few new titles for this often forgotten “ground breaking” and “back-breaking” ministry!!

"Organic dairy farming in Wisconsin is experiencing rapid growth and capturing an increased share of the market. Although the organic dairy sector in Wisconsin is still relatively small, accounting for two percent of the state’s cows, Wisconsin is one of the nation’s top two producers of organic dairy products and home to the largest organic milk cooperative. The expectation of strong demand growth for organic milk products provides plenty of potential for continued expansion in organic dairy farming within the state. Yet, relatively little is known about how organic farms compare with other types of dairy operations in terms of the demographic characteristics of the farmers, size and structure of the farms, management practices and technologies utilized, their overall economic performance, and quality of life experiences." (Bradford L. Barham, Caroline Brock, and Jeremy Foltz)

A story: (I write this from memory.) The story is told that farmer Goldberg had a little plot of ground in the corner of his small village. Each day the Rabbi on his way to the Synagogue would shout, “What a beautiful garden, Goldberg. Truly, you and God are partners.”  And Goldberg would smile, and respond, “Thank you, Rabbi."  And each day when the Rabbi returned from the Synagogue, he would shout, “Goldberg, what a beautiful garden you have.  Truly, you and God are partners.”  This would go on day after day, week after week. Meanwhile, Goldberg was busy picking rocks, clearing weeds, tilling the earth, planting, and watering the garden. Then one day, Goldberg was frustrated with the Rabbi’s greetings, and he decided to prepare a different response than, “Thank you, Rabbi.”  So it happened.  The Rabbi was on his way to the Synagogue that morning. As usual, he stopped by Goldberg's garden and exclaimed, “What a beautiful garden, Goldberg. Truly, you and God are partners.”  In reply, Goldberg surprised the Rabbi with his response.  “Thank you, Rabbi - but you should have seen this garden when God had this garden all alone!”
(Source/author unknown)

Let us pray for farmers that this year will be a fruitful and kind season for all “and in commitment to see farmers properly supported and rewarded."

Gracious God, you provide us with food from the earth through the work of human hands:
after a poor summer and long winter, we pray for all those who grow and produce our food in the most difficult conditions.  We remember the physical hardships and distress of farmers dealing with livestock that have died, and those who are still to sow crops to harvest this year.  Bless the work of all those who care for your land and animals so that we may have food to sustain us. This we ask through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (The prayer is written by Dr. Jill Hopkinson, the CofE's National Rural Officer based at the Arthur Rank Centre in Stoneleigh)

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Practice of Pausing . . .Amen, Amen!

 “The Westerner, excited to be on a safari for the first time, force-marched his native guides through the jungle on a wild search for game, any game at all.  The party made good speed the first two days but on the third morning, when it was time to start, the hunter found all the guides sitting on their haunches looking very solemn and making no preparation to leave.  ‘What are they doing?’ the man asked.  ‘Why aren’t we moving on?’ ‘They are waiting,' the chief guide explained.  ‘They cannot move farther until their souls catch up with their bodies.’” (author unknown)
It seems to me that sometimes we push ourselves so hard and so long (to get ahead, to succeed, to achieve, to get that job, etc.) that we forget that our spirits need to learn the practice of pause. Much like the guides in our story, our bodies and our souls need to catch up with each other!  This time of the year in the northern hemisphere, we are in-between many events, seasons, and all sorts of activities of life.  For example: we are, at the college/university level, between final exams and commencement; liturgically, we are between the Easter season and Ordinary Time; we are between winter’s cool winds and summer’s warm breezes; and some people are between jobs, or meetings, or appointments.  All this between time teaches us that we need to practice pausing and gathering up the wisdom that is within each present moment.  So let us become aware this week to practice pausing, honoring the wisdom within that moment, and allowing our souls to catch up with us!
Let us pray: May we leave the past to God's mercy, the present to God's love, and the future to God's providence.  Amen.

Relationships . . .a bit risky?

 There was once a dark cave, deep down in the ground, underneath the earth and hidden away from view.  Because it was so deep in the earth, the light had never been there.  The cave had never seen light.  The word ‘light’ meant nothing to the cave, who couldn’t imagine what ‘light’ might be.   

Then one day, the sun sent an invitation to the cave, inviting it to come up and visit. When the cave came up to visit the sun it was amazed and delighted, because the cave had never seen light before, and it was dazzled by the wonder of the experience.
Feeling so grateful to the sun for inviting it to visit, the cave wanted to return the kindness, and so it invited the sun to come down to visit it sometime, because the sun had never seen darkness. 
So the day came, and the sun entered the cave, it looked around with great interest, wondering what ‘darkness’ would be like.  Then it became puzzled, and asked the cave, ‘Where is the darkness?’  (Source Unknown)