This is a blog that I post to several times a week although not necessarily daily. These reflections are triggered by the scripture found in the lectionary used by many Christian denominations. While I am part of the Catholic tradition, these posts are not --or rarely--sectarian. I try to put myself in the space of a of Jesus Christ and listen to words that come to me as I read and pray the scriptures. Each post also includes a photograph. These rarely have any connection to the content of the post but are simply pleasing images that I capture as I make my pilgrimage through life.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Joy in the midst of disaster and suffering

Unity Village in Less Summit MO outside Kansas City
For though the fig tree does not blossom,and no fruit appears on the vine,Though the yield of the olive failsand the terraces produce no nourishment,Though the flocks disappear from the foldand there is no herd in the stalls,
Yet I will rejoice in the LORD and exult in my saving God.  Habakkuk 3:17-18
The passage above is not from the daily lectionary readings but quoted in a book by Walter Brueggemann,  Reality, Grief, Hope:  Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks.   This is a book I highly recommend.  Christians have typically understood the Hebrew Scriptures in light of the Christian revelation.  Of course, the authors of these books were about something very different.  They were writing about the action of the Divine One in the life and reality of the Hebrew people.  Thus they have a meaning and a significance quite apart from a strictly Christian interpretation.  As a leading Old Testament scholar, Brueggemann has labored his entire professional life to reclaim that original meaning and share it with Christian believers.

This passage struck me because it expresses a theme that I have found recently in the lectionary readings.  Our sense of being blessed can be based on the circumstances of our life only at our own peril.  Whether things go well or ill for us, for me, I can still find a sense of blessedness and joy.  As challenging as that may be, it is an ancient sentiment of the long Judeo-Christian tradition.  In my own overly affluent world, it is all too easy to become confused on that point and focus on the goods and security I enjoy as though they are evidence of the Divine One's love for me.  It is only a small step to the conclusion that the Divine One loves some of us more than others and from that flows a poisonous stream of violence and persecution.

The danger of a wistful backward or forward glance

Chapel at Clyde Motherhouse of Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration
 “No one who sets a hand to the plowand looks to what was left behind is fit for the Kingdom of God.”  Luke 9:62
These words of Jesus were spoken to those who wanted to accept his invitation to follow him but needed to attend to family business first.  The traditional meaning is simple:  Entering into the new life of the Spirit and announcing the Kindom of the Divine One requires a complete conversion, a turning to a new life and walking on a new path.  There cannot be any halfway, part time commitment here.

Perhaps because I am reading Richard Rohr's The Naked Now,  some other meanings arise for me.  It is easy enough to understand that looking back to another time can be distraction for the work of the disciple.  It is not just because it consumes energy not focused on the mission but because it splits our attention between now and then.  Thinking about how things were--no matter whether good or bad--takes us out of being presence to the way things are right now and that seems to one of the central features of an authentic spiritual life.

But it is also true that thinking about how things will be in the future can take us away from being present.  Think of a discussion in which you are always thinking about what you are going to say and how you are going to say it.  It is impossible to listen to what is being said while doing that.  Much as we would like to believe otherwise, our brains are not wired to do more than one thing at a time.  What we call multi-tasking is really just constantly switching from one thing to another and back again.  We actually become less productive, not more.

Our role in the kindom of the Divine One demands and requires our full presence to whatever reality is ours at the time.  No wistful glaces backward or forward.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Indifference does not mean lack of suffering

Sunset on Manhattan Beach, CA
Job opened his mouth and cursed his day.Job spoke out and said:
Perish the day on which I was born,the night when they said, “The child is a boy!” Job 3:1-3
The impression from yesterday's reading from Job was that he remained somehow indifference to his losses and continued to see his life as blessed the Divine One.  Today it is clear that his indifference did not mean that he didn't suffer grievously from these losses.  Here he wishes for death as the only peace he can possibly achieve.  Importantly in the previous chapter and in this one, he refuses to curse the Divine One, which is the whole point of the contest between the Divine One and the devil.

The Christian life not one in which I achieve immunity from suffering and pain but that I fully experience them without losing faith and hope in the Divine One.  This is what Job was able to do and what Jesus did in his life.  The reading from Luke begins the story of his "heading resolutely to Jerusalem" where he will experience death, suffering, humiliation as well as resurrection and ascension.  When the people of the Samaritan town reject him and his followers, he does not respond in kind in deed or even in word.  He must have fully experienced that rejection as he would the terrible rejection in Jerusalem but he was able to place it in perspective and did not allow it to divert him from his vocation.

As I have written elsewhere*, I have used a "passionate and involved indifference" to describe this stance.  It does not mean avoiding the pain and suffering of human life but rather placing it in proper perspective so that the pain and suffering does not govern my words or actions.  Clearly this is possible only with the grace-filled life of the Divine One.
* Here is a link to that writing on the Goal and Purpose of Life from the Ignatian Exercises.  This is a restatement of that prayer of Ignatius which I wrote as part of that spiritual journey and then revised five years later.  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1NMpHu9LQJEX7Nmv9xtDOxKby4QvU5FPdW7pIgHghgMw/edit?usp=sharing 

Monday, September 26, 2016

The Great Reversal and Indifference

Apple harvest ready at Hurd Orchards
“Naked I came forth from my mother’s womb,and naked shall I go back again.The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away;blessed be the name of the LORD!”  Job 1:22

In the immediate aftermath of Job's hearing about the loss of his property, his herds, his children and their families, he blesses the Divine One, the source of all he has and has now lost.  In the gospel reading from Luke, Jesus gently rebukes the disciples arguing about who is the greatest with another expression of the great reversal in the Christian view of life:  The one who is least is the greatest and the one who is greatest is the least.

How difficult it is for me to separate the "blessings" in my life from the fundamental blessing of life.  Typically when I or others in my life say we are blessed, we are referring to all those aspects of our lives that make us feel comfortable, safe and secure:  health, financial resources, regard from others, education, leisure, loving relationships, etc.  What if all those and more were taken away?  Would we still feel blessed?  Would we still feel that the Divine One is a loving source of our very life?  How difficult that would be!  It is difficult to contemplate but it is almost impossible to conceive until we do in fact lose all those things, which we ultimately do.

To the extent that my sense of being blessed is based on the circumstances of my "fleshly" life, I am walking a path of deception and delusion.  My struggle is to come to terms with the fact that I am blessed with life--no matter its circumstances.  By virtue of luck and chance, I live an affluent and comfortable life but that is a deception if I think I am blessed with that life.  In many ways that life can be a curse because it can so easily distract me from the fundamental reality of life.

I struggle to live a life of engaged and passionate indifference in a culture that is drenched and dripping with marketing and media that urge ever greater consumption of material things.  It even goes so far that immaterial things--knowledge, love, happiness--become transformed into things to be consumed.  Prayer is the only way out of this.  Spending time with the Divine One in whatever way that is possible for me is the path to a life of true blessedness and non-delusion.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

In the end, we die...and are raised to eternal life.

Early riser in Buckland Park, Brighton NY
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth,before the evil days comeAnd the years approach of which you will say,I have no pleasure in them...Before the silver cord is snappedand the golden bowl is broken,And the pitcher is shattered at the spring,and the broken pulley falls into the well,And the dust returns to the earth as it once was,and the life breath returns to God who gave it.  Ecclesiastes 12:1, 6-7.
No matter how carefree the days of youth might be, everyone makes the journey to death at the end of life.  The author of the book reminds us to be mindful of that fact and to judge all in our lives in light of that fact.  His iconic saying is simple, "All is vanity."

All those things which concern me, even worry me, make no difference in my ultimate destination of death.  Why worry?  In the end I die.  In the end Bill as he has existed, no longer exists.  the "life breath" that somehow enlivened my body and soul returns to the Divine One and the flesh (body and soul) expires only to be raised to a new kind of life within the very Divine One.  What that life will be like is impossible to tell.  By definition it is beyond my understanding and imagination.

Even Jesus had to go through this human reality as much as his followers did not want to believe that.  In Luke, as he travels to Jerusalem, he tells them in different ways of his impending death.  They cannot accept that; they are afraid.  Even the Son of Man must experience death, in his case a horrible and public execution and torture.

I am called to keep this reality ever in mind so that my appraisal of my reality is firmly based in the fundamental reality that I come from the Divine One and in death somehow return to the Divine One.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Who do you say that I am?

Diversity in the back garden
Then he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?”Peter said in reply, “The Christ of God.”  He rebuked them and directed them not to tell this to anyone. Luke 9:21
 This the question for me and all of us.  Who do I say Christ is for me today, right now in my life.  What does it mean to say now that he is the Christ of God?  The meaning within the context of first century Jewish belief is clear but what does it mean today?  A messiah or Christ is one who saves, who delivers us from evil.

For me that can only mean a relationship that saves me from the evil of which I am capable.  It is no longer one who saves me from others but from myself.  By entering into a relationship with Jesus, I come to an understanding of who I am in the deepest sense.  I join him in the interior life of the Triune Divine One both sacramentally and in some way in reality.  All this leads toward a fullness of life when I enter into that life completely and finally.

So for me, Jesus is the one who takes my hand and walks with me into that eternal reality for which I was formed and birthed.  Can I live my life today in light of that reality?  That is the question.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Join the family

Cabbage for food and display in Queenston
He said to them in reply, “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it.”  Luke 8:21
There are several times in scripture where Jesus makes what appear to be "hard" saying about his family.  Here he seems to discount his mother and his brothers who have come to town to see him.  Of course, he is making a point to us, to me really, about my life.  Jesus invites me to join his family, not his earthly family but the intercommunion of the Divine One.  He invites me to enter into the interior life of the three persons in the one divinity.  I enter that life as his brother; I enter in his place so to speak, not to replace him but to join him.

All I have to do is accept the invitation, one that is offered to every person.  It is not just by saying yes but by hearing the word of God and acting on it in my life.

So the central question is always, "What is the Divine One saying to me today, here in my life as it really is?"  That word is surely different in some ways today than the word to me twenty years ago, or forty years ago, or ten years from now.  This is the question on which I am to reflect today to see if I can hear that word.

Do I really know what I want?

Manhattan Beach sunset

"And no one who has been drinking old wine desires new,for he says, ‘The old is good.’ " Luke 5:39
There are two ways to understand this passage.  "I have exprienced fine, well aged wine (life of the spirit) and thus have no interest in new wine (life of the world)."  Or, "I am geting along fine with the old wine (religious practices) and have no interest in newer wine (spirit filled justice and mercy.)

My own experience confirms the second as the one that has meaning for me.  If I am getting along OK the way I am, why would I expend energy to make changes in my life?  If human behavior arises to meet needs and my needs are being met well enough, why would I change?  For someone in my life circumstance (healthy, secure, and loved), the answer can only be that somehow I sense that I could be or have more.  That "more" can be expressed in terms of the material things and relationships of the world, or that "more" could ex experienced as the fullness of life about which Jesus spoke.

This is where faith enters in.  That fullness of life is a participation in the interior life of the Triune Divine One, something is simply unknowable within the confines of the world, its values and its thought.  It is only through some kind of personal relationship with the Divine One that I can begin to glimpse this fuller possibility.  Because of this glimpse, I am offered the opportunity to take a sip of the new wine...if I dare.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Tips on how to love your neighbor as yourself

View from breakfast veranda at Riverbend Inn, Niagara on the Lake
Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it! - 1 Corinthians 9:19
Today's readings (above from Paul and the gaspel from Luke 6:39-42) give us some clues on how to love our neighbor as ourself.  We need to remember that Jesus includes everyone in that designation of "neighbor" not just people we are close to or those who tend to be like us.  Our American pattern of housing segregation by economic and racial status can make this inclusiveness elusive for us.  How do we love as ourselves those people who are different from us?  That's the key question.

Paul did this by becoming like them.  He didn't lose his own core values but he became like other people so that he could understand the world from their perspective.  In that way be became like them and, important to his mission of preaching, he could communicate effectively.  In the process, of course, he was changed in fact.  His experience of faithful Christians who were not Jews led him to conlcude that Christians did not have to become Jews first.  He would never have understood this if he had not been able to see the world from the Gentile point of view.

The gospel reading confirms this.  Jesus tells his disciples that a blind man cannot lead another blind man.  We need to remove the beam from our own eye before we can even seen the speck in another's eye.  In other words, being a judgmental hypocrite is not what Jesus is talking about.  He is talking about getting into the skin of another, to see the world from their perspective and thus develop the empathy and compassion essential to a Christan life.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Whose wisdom will it be?

Sunset at Lock 33
"Let no one deceive himself.
If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age,
let him become a fool, so as to become wise.
For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in the eyes of God..." I Cor 3:18-19
There appear to be two options here:  the wisdom of the Divine One or the wisdom of the world.  Paul seems to make quite clear that it is one or the other.  Any attempt to blend the two won't work.  How do I understand the wisdom of the Divine One?  Is it not the very mission of Jesus:  to love the Divine One and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Is not the wisdom of the world focus on one's self interest and to maximize that self interest.  In doing the latter, even if one does not intend to harm others, it inevitably happens because one is not aware or sensitive to what is happening to others.  I can experience my lie as good and secure and be oblivious to the fact that many people have been left behind.