Ash Wednesday: A New Beginning

5 Feb
Click on the image above to download your Lent cross.

Click on the image above to download your Lent cross.

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, is next Wednesday. If you have not downloaded the Lent 2016 cross from Good Ground Press, do so now. You can begin adding color to the cross by choosing from the activities below. The spaces on the cross are color-coded.

  1. Plant activities are green
  2. Simplify activities are yellow
  3. Pray is purple
  4. Reading is blue
  5. Family/Friends are red
  6. Participate is orange

Here are some suggestions for the first days of Lent. We will add more each week during Lent.

1. Plant  Buy a pot of bulbs that only need your care to grow.

2. Simplify  Minimize the electricity you use for a day.

3. Pray  Find a minute of quiet to let your concerns for others rise to God in prayer.

4. Reading  Read the Gospel for Ash Wednesday written below.

5. Family/Friends  Make the phone call you have been putting off.

6. Participate  Volunteer your energy or your money in some small way.


Ash Wednesday gospel reading

Jesus said to his disciples, “Be on guard against performing religious acts for people to see.  Otherwise expect no recompense from your heavenly Father.  When you give alms, for example, do not blow a horn before you in synagogues and streets like hypocrites looking for applause.  You can be sure of this much, they are already repaid.  In giving alms you are not to let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.  Keep your deeds of mercy secret, and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.
“When you are praying, do not behave like the hypocrites who love to stand and pray in synagogues or on street corners in order to be noticed.  I give you my word, they are already repaid.  Whenever you pray, go to your room close your door, and pray to your Father in private.  Then your Father, who sees what no man sees, will repay you.
“When you fast, you are not to look glum as the hypocrites do.  They change the appearance of their faces so that others may see they are fasting.  I assure you, they are already repaid.  When you fast, see to it that you groom your hair and wash your face.  In that way no one can see you are fasting but your Father who is hidden; and your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Matthew 6.1-6, 16-18

 

 

Finding Prophets Among Scribes

5 Feb
Photo via Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski

Photo via Flickr user Quinn Dombrowski

Prophets tend to have a difficult life. It’s a tough gig. They see society as it really is, and speak truth to power. They are rarely taken seriously, often ignored, because we are pretty sure we don’t want to hear what they have to say. They give a comforting word to those suffering, and judge those who hold power harshly. They promise justice, which is not good news for those perpetuating injustice. They offer hope to the mourners while clearly pointing out the source of the grief.

We are in desperate need of some prophets– people who can imagine the world without war and hatred and violence– to call us to a higher place. What if we could see each other as God sees us, and act accordingly, so that compassion ruled the day?

Prophets rarely make it into the limelight. They are on the outskirts, calling for us to turn around and pay attention. They are running grassroots protests and feeding people and asking policy makers to show more humanity in a way that makes us uncomfortable because they are right. They are living in a way that seems like they may have a more direct line to God, who is tirelessly trying to work through our broken humanity.

During campaign season, we look to our candidates in hopes of finding a prophet. We look for people who have this God-inspired vision of what our country could and should look like. I can’t help but wonder, though, if our fast moving, media- driven society hushes prophets and glorifies scribes.

As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,  and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! –Mark 12:39

In this presidential campaign season, we will hear a few people do a lot of talking, and several more people talk about those people talking. It is a season to beware. Who are we giving authority to? Who are we listening to–prophets or scribes? We do need to pay attention to the campaign, of course. We need to vote with our ballots and vote with our billfolds and television remotes and laptop mice. Meanwhile, I will keep searching for prophets and preparing my heart to listen.

 

Gospel Reflection for February 7, 2016, 5th Sunday Ordinary Time

2 Feb

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 6.1-8; 1 Corinthians 15.1-11; Luke 5.1-11

“Simon put out his nets and caught so many fish that the nets began to break.”

(Luke 5.6)

Peter fishes all night without success. A miraculous catch of fish follows the next day in response to Jesus’ charge to put out into the deep water. The two fishing expeditions express a contrast in the history of the first century church. Fewer Jews follow Jesus than the great numbers of Gentiles that join the Christian communities around the Mediterranean Sea. Two boat loads overflow with believers in Luke’s story. The response of Gentiles has surprised Peter and Paul in the same way the great catch surprises Peter in this story.

What attracts new believers to the gospel today?

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Ordinary Kindness

29 Jan
Photo via Flickr user Heath Brandon

Photo via Flickr user Heath Brandon

There is no spiritual practice more profound than being kind to one’s family and neighbors, the cashier at the grocery store, an unexpected visitor, a stray cat or dog, or any other of the usually irrelevant and invisible beings who may cross our paths in the course of a normal day. Certainly there are spiritual mysteries to explore, but as we mature it becomes clear that those special experiences are only meaningful when they arise from and return to ordinary kindness. –Bo Lozoff

I love this idea of ordinary kindness being the normal, every day buzz that extraordinary moments arise from and return to, the status quo, the baseline, if you will. I love that being kind to neighbors and clerks is a profound spiritual practice.

I’d like to think I am good at being kind to cashiers and stray cats and my family. I think about giving my best love to my family all the time and often follow through, yet from a very young age my parents taught me how to have compassionate peripheral vision and to humanize people in small encounters who could potentially feel invisible. I could stop there and feel pretty good about myself.

Then again, this morning I heard Dorothy Day and her Catholic Worker houses mentioned on the radio, and it gave me pause. Is ordinary kindness enough as the zone from which we live? If I had an unexpected visitor at my front door, my idea of kindness would be much less generous than Dorothy’s. She would invite the person to move in with her as long as he or she needed a place to stay. I just can’t say I’d go so far.

How far does our faith call us to go?

I can’t seem to shake a quick encounter I had at work a few weeks ago. I was cleaning out a closet that had net been tended to in years. I was in the mood to sort things between recycling, donating, reusing or trash. I stopped one of our custodians to apologize for hoarding the trash bins and ultimately giving him more loads to take to the dumpster. His response has played in my head again and again, “It’s okay,” he said earnestly. “If you don’t create trash, I don’t have a job.”

This man is from El Salvador and doesn’t speak English very well. Every time I see him I stop and have a conversation with him in Spanish. I show him ordinary kindness all the time. I could stop there and think myself profound and my work complete. And yet. We currently live in a world where my role is to create trash and his is to clean up after me. In that case, I’m just not sure that ordinary kindness is cutting it.

I do believe, like Lozoff said, that ordinary kindness it is a profound spiritual practice. True. I’m going to keep practicing it. I also believe that my co-worker, without knowing it, is calling me to more.

 

Gospel Reflection for January 31, 2016, 4th Sunday Ordinary Time

27 Jan

Scripture Readings: Jeremiah 1.4-5, 17-19; 1 Corinthians 13.4-13; Luke 4.21-30

“Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

(Luke 4.21)

These words begin Jesus’ inaugural sermon in Luke’s gospel. In last Sunday’s gospel Jesus read a passage from Isaiah that describes a prophet whom the Spirit anoints and appoints to bring good news to the poor, freedom to captives, sight to the blind, to proclaim a jubilee in which those who have lost out in society get a new chance to thrive. Jesus invites the congregation in the synagogue to hear Isaiah’s word not as an ancient, someday promise but as a present claim. Jesus is the Spirit-filled prophet called to make the human race a whole, flourishing community. Pope Francis has proclaimed 2016 a Jubilee Year of Mercy, when we remember Jesus is the human face of God’s love, love we don’t deserve and doesn’t run out.

For whom are you good news? Who is good news for you?

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Give Love

22 Jan

Don’t you love the inspiration that comes from unexpected places?

Last week, David Bowie died and the airways filled with his voice, DJs paying tribute to his life and art. Although I love music, I have never been one to become an avid, swooning fan of anyone in particular, David Bowie no exception. I had a vague sense of his fame, talent, creativity, breadth, ability to reinvent himself and speak to the downtrodden, all sprinkled with glitter. I knew his face, his voice and many of his songs. Yet I don’t think I could even claim that I am actively a fan.

It surprised me, then, to enjoy these career tributes on the radio over the last week. His lyrics made me stop, on several occasions, and lines rang over and over again in my mind throughout the day, like these lines of his with Queen:

Why can’t we give love that one more chance?
Why can’t we give love, give love, give love, give love…

‘Cause love’s such an old-fashioned word
And love dares you to care for
The people on the edge of the night
And love dares you to change our way of
Caring about ourselves
This is our last dance
This is ourselves
Under pressure

I love this visual of caring for people on the edge of the night. Our world needs more of this type of love. And it is a dare, isn’t it? It’s no easy ask. It’s a straight up dare, because caring for people on the edge of the night like Jesus did will change my heart and necessitate some life changes, too. That love will change my heart and life. It’s easy to hibernate in our comfort zones all winter. Or we can accept the dare out to the edges.

In the new year, it is also time to reflect on how we care for ourselves and change. This is also a dare, maybe a double dare for some of us. Loving ourselves at times is nothing short of subversive and counter-cultural. Love dares us to care about ourselves. It can’t stop with others. We are called to love God and our neighbor and ourselves.

Give love, give love, give love keeps turning like a mantra. Love is an old fashioned word, and turning that phrase over and over, putting love being the verb give is just enough to keep it fresh in my mind. To the people on the edge of night.Give love. To ourselves. Give love. Give love. Give love.

Plan Ahead For Lent

20 Jan

crosstocolor

In only three weeks we will receive ashes and begin another Lenten season. We invite you to download our FREE Lent 2016 cross. Each week we will send you color-coded ways to keep Lent. As you pray, read, plant, simplify, and do acts of kindness your cross will begin to bloom with color.

 

Gospel Reflection for January 24, 2016, 3rd Sunday Ordinary Time

19 Jan

Sunday Readings: Nehemiah 8.2-4, 5-6, 8-10; 1 Corinthians 12.12-30; Luke 1.1-4, 4.14-21

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; God has anointed and sent me to proclaim good news to the poor, to proclaim liberty for captives, sight for the blind, release to prisoners, to announce a year of favor from the Lord.”

(Luke 4.18-19)

Prisoners make the list along with the poor, the weak, and the disabled — the people about whom it is easiest to say, “not worth it.” Perhaps some of these undesirable folks may open important places inside us, like the towers of arrogance, the locked doors of self-deception, or the vaults of false pride. One of them may transform us.

Who has been surprisingly transforming for you in your life?

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Wonder

15 Jan
Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

Photo via Flickr user Waiting For The Word

The characters in Jesus’ story who have captured my imagination this week are the wise men, or magi, or kings. We think if these men as learned and wealthy, that with their titles and expensive gifts. They are not the type of folks we typically imagine packing up their things at the sight of a star to head off to the unknown hoping to meet a new king. Yet this is exactly what they do.

These men were clearly waiting for a Messiah and hoping he would come soon. Their hope and excitement urged them to take a chance on this particular star.

What was it about this star they saw that convinced them to pack up and take a quest? Are they foolish or brilliant? Did other men scoff at them, sighting reason and logic that so often override our wonder and awe?

We so often make the mistake of replacing wonder with knowledge. We pit science and religion against each other. We see God getting smaller instead of bigger as we learn more about the universe. Yet we are living in an exciting age where science is re-embracing wonder. We are curious about multiple universes and admitting the more we know the more we realize we don’t know. We are embracing wonder as the beginning of wisdom.

I think these men have something to teach me. They are inviting me back to a place of wonder where I can encounter God. Their journey to pay tribute to this baby shows humility, wonder, openness, and hope that I want to embody in my faith life. They show the lengths they are willing to travel, literally, to encounter God. In addition to keeping their noses in their books, they also turn their faces to the sky, recognizing that faith requires both our intellect and our wonder, our ideas and our willingness to be in authentic relationship. They understand that part of worshipping God entails taking risks and venturing into the unknown. They know they are on a sacred journey and remind me that I am, too.

 

Gospel Reflection for January 17, 2016, 2nd Sunday Ordinary Time

12 Jan
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 62.1-5; 1 Corinthians 12.4-11; John 2.1-11

“His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever Jesus tells you.’ Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding 20 or 30 gallons. Jesus said to them, ‘Fill the jars with water.'”

(John 2.5-7)

The wedding setting in the gospel hints at a marriage other than the one the guests are celebrating. His mother and newly-recruited disciples accompany Jesus to the wedding. Turning six 20-gallon jars of water into choice wine provides 120 gallons for a wedding feast that must be nearly over if the guests have drunk up the available wine. The abundant wine Jesus provides is not just for the wedding guests in Cana but for the community that continues to gather in his name at every Eucharist.

How do you live the words of Jesus’ mother, “Do whatever he tells you?”

If you enjoy this Gospel Reflection,
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