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.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Open the eyes of my heart

Duck in Tinker Wetlands
May the eyes of your hearts be enlightened,that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call,what are the riches of gloryin his inheritance among the holy ones,and what is the surpassing greatness of his powerfor us who believe....  Ephesians 1:18-19
This is from the second reading for Ascension Thursday.  Perhaps it was the first line that attracted me so strongly since I have been praying for the Spirit to open my heart to the presence of the Divine One in my life and, indeed, in all life.  That has begun to seem to me to be the only prayer that I can really make.  When Jesus told his followers to believe and then ask the Father anything in his name and it will be given, I think he was speaking about just such a prayer.

If my heart is open to the Divine One, then life unfolds is a life giving, if unpredictable, way.  Jesus told us that the Spirit is like the wind.  We all know when it is present but we have no idea where it comes from or, more important, where it is going.  So it is, he said, with people of the spirit, people whose hearts have been open to the action of the Divine One in their lives.
 "The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."  John 3:8
It is tempting to think that there is some process involved here so that we can know exactly where we are in our relationship with the Divine One.  But any attempt to impose some process can only take us further away from the underlying reality of giving ourselves fuly and completely to the Spirit.

So my prayer has become a simpler version of the passage from Ephesians.

Open the eyes of my heart so I can see the hope you offer, the richness of the life you offer, and the power of faith in you.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

The only prayer that makes sense to me

Magnolia with visitor
One of them, a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth,from the city of Thyatira, a worshiper of God, listened,and the Lord opened her heart to pay attentionto what Paul was saying. Acts 16:14
For some years I have found it difficult to pray to the Divine One requesting interventions in human life to cure diseases, solve problems, eliminate suffering, right wrongs, etc.  If the Divine One, in fact, does intervene, why in some cases but not in all.  In other words, if I pray to the Divine One to cure a debilitating disease, why would the Divine One wait for my prayer?  Why not just eliminate them in the first place?  Or why would the Divine One help some people but not others?  Did they not pray?  Not pray enough?  Not pray in the right way?  None of this came to make any sense.

Everything and everyone is created by the Divine One.  That includes all the good things we experience as well as all the bad.  Praying to the Divinity to be selective about the good and bad seems nonsensical.  Of course, I deeply desire that I and everyone in my life avoid suffering and pain and want and need.  But that desire probably ought not be translated into prayers of petition to the Triune Divine One.

The above passage from Acts provided me with an insight about prayer.  Lydia was listening to Paul but the Divine One "opened her heart to pay attention."  I believe that the Divine One is present in me and all that exists.  In the ground of my being is the spark of divine life that is the overflowing source of my life.  But for most of the my life and most of the time, my heart has been open to that reality so I have not paid attention to that divine life within.

This is the point at which, I believe, the Divine One can and does intervene in human life, in my life.  The Divine One is there constantly waiting for me to open my heart.  The impulse to open my heart comes from the Divine One is some mysterious way and it is that impulse for which I pray.  And I pray that I respond to that impulse and open myself to the presence of the Divine One within.

That is my prayer for myself and all those for whom I pray.  It is the beginning of the process through I put on "the mind of Christ" and begin to experience the world and everyone and everything in it with the eyes of Jesus the Christ, the incarnated Divine One.  That is what will make all the difference.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

You can't hold back the greening.

Line of Crepe Myrtle trees in Charlotte NC
"Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its ownunless it remains on the vine,so neither can you unless you remain in me.  I am the vine, you are the branches.  Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit,because without me you can do nothing."  John 15:4-5
One of the advantages of living in the north is that we get to experience a definitive spring.  There is nothing subtle about a landscape that is barren and seemingly dead when it suddenly begins to green and flower.  There is an awesome power that seems to infuse what is barren and through it brings life and vitality.  There is a life force that cannot be denied or delayed.  In its time it bursts through lifelessness and beings forth life in all it fullness.  In vineyards, the brown stalks begin to open and permit bursts of green leaves to come forth.  That life force has been hidden in the vine but now, in its time, beings forth branches of green leaves that will in turn bring forth buds, flowers, and then grapes.  This happens annually and without fail.  it requires no effort on the part of the vine because it is a vine and its nature is to bring forth life.

This is the powerful analogy that Jesus uses in one of his many attempts to explain to followers what his mission is, who he is, and, more important perhaps, who we are.  There are no human words or concepts which can clearly explain the incarnation, redemption, resurrection and all the other central beliefs of Christianity.  So Jesus did what we all must.  He turned to poetics and indirection.  This analogy of the vine and branches is one of the most powerful.

The incarnate Divine One, Jesus, abides in us, his followers, and we abide in him.  He somehow lives in us and we live in him.  This abiding is our pathway to true life, everlasting life of the triune divine One.  In the same way that a branch emerges from the vine and then unfolds in buds, flowers, and fruit, so do we emerge from the Divine One incarnated as Jesus and the everlasting life emerges as blooms, buds and fruit as a natural process of our relationship with Jesus.

There is no sense that we do anything to earn this or that we have to obey a set of rules and commandments.  That approach had been tried and was found inadequate.  There is nothing we can do in our human life to merit or create this everlasting, divine life.  We only have to accept it and let it flow in and through us.  This means that we have to let go of our ego needs and desires and accept the love that is ours by our birthright.

This turns out to be the most difficult task of human life but one which leads to a fullness of life that is not possible in any other way.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

I have everything I need; there is nothing I need that I do not have.

Sunrise on South Beach
The Lord is my shepherd; I have everything I need.  Psalm 23:1

John Jacob Raub, OCD, in his book,  Who Told You That You Were Naked?: Freedom From Judgement, Guilt and Fear of Punishment, repeats the title of this blog over and over again as a refrain for his reflections:  I have everything I need; there is nothing I need that I do not have.  Clearly this insight finds its inspiration in Psalm 23 (22) which has given comfort to Christians and Jews for millennia.  But do I believe that?  And what exactly does it mean that I will have everything I need?  What it possibly mean that I will lack nothing?

We live in a 21st American culture in which the line between a want and a need is constantly being blurred and eliminated by a consumer culture that requires constant and constantly increasing expenditures in order to thrive and grow.  Our presumption that life demands growth makes us vulnerable to the enticements of advertising and competition.  And it is a presumption, a presupposition, which is not present in nature.  No natural system can sustain a constant state of growth or expansion.  The only possible one that comes to mind is a metastasizing cancer which ultimately kills its host and thus itself.

We know how powerful it can be to define a want as a need.  A need requires extended effort to fulfill that need.  If a desire can be understood as a need, it can begin along with other desires to take over our life and resources.  Clearly Jesus and the psalmist wants us to have clarity about our desires and our needs.  If we can maintain this differential in our lives, we still face the certain reality that we do in fact have needs.  We need sustenance.  We need security and safety.  We need relationships.  We need these and other things in order to maintain life and to be healthy.  If we do not have these things, our life becomes something less than the fullness of human life which the Divine One intended.  We know that many people do not have these things, that their needs are met, and that they lack some essential realities in their life.  Perhaps each of us have now or in the past experience these very same unmet needs.

If we do not have enough to eat, adequate shelter, or health, does a firm belief in Jesus the Christ change those realities.  Is there some kind of firm guarantee that if I have faith in Jesus that all my needs will be met and my life protected from the vicissitudes of ordinary human life?  If you think that, then the only reasonable way to explain those unmet needs is by concluding that a person's faith is just no strong enough or vital enough.  In other words, we end up blaming the victim and ascribing true faith to those whose needs are being met.  This reasoning is exactingly what Jesus preached against.

Faith in Jesus will unerringly meet our need for life but it is not the life of this world.  When Jesus tells his apostles,

"I am the gate for the sheep.All who came before me are thieves and robbers,but the sheep did not listen to them.I am the gate.Whoever enters through me will be saved,and will come in and go out and find pasture.A thief comes only to steal and slaughter and destroy;I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly."  John 10:7-10
he is not talking about the life of this world but the world from which he came, the world of the triune Divine One.  This is the life that never ends and is abundant beyond our imagining.  If we think about what is most important in our existence, we can see that eternal life is our ultimate goal.  The Divine One deeply desires that our life in this world is one in which our needs are met and in which we live a full and complete human life.  Whether that is true for us or anyone is a function of the circumstances in which we live rather than our faith in Jesus.  However, it is faith in Jesus and the Divine One that guarantees we will have true life in wild abundance.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

An alternative translation can change a lot.

Early spring from inside George Eastman House
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. (I am the one, true way to have life.)  No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”  John 14:6-7
This the response of Jesus to queries from the apostles to make clear who he is and to show them how they can follow him.  The initial response is one we have heard countless times because it seems to underscore a belief that Christianity is the sole possessor of the Truth and thus the only path to God.  This belief has led to a great deal of bad behavior by Christians including discrimination and persecution of those who are not Christians.

It is a problematic rendering because it uses a set of three nouns which in most translations are capitalized:  The Way, The Truth, The Life.  This easily played into the Greek love of abstract reasoning and to define concepts as though they were things.  It is hard to believe that this is what Jesus meant.  In addition, as faithful Christian I really have no idea what it means to predicate those nouns of Jesus.  What are the implications for my life, for my belief in Jesus?

There apparently is an alternate rendering which is included in Expanded Bible and I included it in bold above.  "I am the one, true way to have life" says something a bit different than the traditional translation.  We are not so much interested in the concepts as we are in how to follow this Jesus who will lead to life.

Although the apostles seem to have a difficult time understanding what he is talking about, it seems much clearer to us.  Perhaps this is because we do not have a centuries old tradition about what the Messiah would do for Israel.  We experience Jesus as the incarnate Divine One who bids us to see the world and all in it in the way that the Divine One does, with eyes and heats filled with love.

As Cynthia Bourgeault has written, our role in this divine relationship is not to love the Divine One but to let the Divine One love us as fully and deeply as the Divine One desires.  By accepting this infinite love and not clinging to the things of this world, we allow the Divine One (Father) to enter us just as the Father did with Jesus.  This sets the stage for the Holy Spirit to enter as well and thus we participate in the interior life of the triune Divine One.  This is the one, true path to life.  No amount of rule keeping, prayers, alms, good works can take its place even though all those will follow as we allow the divine love to animate us and flow through us to all creation.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Belief in Jesus, the Christ

Vizcaya spiral
So they said to Jesus,"Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life;whoever comes to me will never hunger,and whoever believes in me will never thirst."  John 6:35
After Jesus had explained that the manna in the desert was not given by Moses but by the Divine One, the people naturally desired to have this bread again, to experience as had their forebears the saving, life giving sustenance of the Divine One.  Jesus gave an unexpected answer.  "I am the bread of life."  In other words I am the life of the Divine One who has come "down from heaven" and is living among you as a human being.  You receive that life giving, never ending sustenance of the Divine One by coming to me and believing in me.

The same is true for me today...and every day of my life.  The challenge is not to "believe Jesus" but rather to "believe in Jesus."  That one little additional word makes all the difference.  It is not that I believe what Jesus said is true but that somehow I come to believe in him.  When I believe in someone, it is a judgement about who that person is.  When I believe in someone, I trust them to be who they are in a more or less consistent way.  I believe in what they represent.  I believe in their role in the world and perhaps even in my own life.  Further I want people to believe in me as well.

When I believe in someone, I am placing my trust in them even if there appears to be evidence to the contrary.  I have a relationship that is beyond the simply transactional and goes to the heart of who someone is and who I am.

This is what Jesus is calling me to embrace.  It is only by believing IN him that he becomes the bread of life for me.  It is only by believing IN him that I will never hunger or thirst in my deepest spirit.

So, do I believe in Jesus as the Divine One incarnated as a human being who came to show me the path to everlasting life?  Do I believe in Jesus as my brother who provides me a path into the eternal life of the triune divinity?  Do I believe in Jesus as the way of life that will lead me into my truest and deepest reality?