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The Legacy of Dust

12 Feb
Photo via Flickr user Neal Fowler

Photo via Flickr user Neal Fowler

And to dust we shall return. 

I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies lately. And Ash Wednesday always invites me to think about the end of my body’s existence. It will, one day, be dust.

Elizabeth Alexander in her memoir The Light of the World, writes about her husband dying. She sees the moment when she believes the soul of her husband leaves the body:

Now I know for sure the soul is an evanescent thing and the body is its temporary container, because I saw it. I saw the body with the soul in it, I saw the body with the soul leaving, and I saw the body with the soul gone.

Our bodies, which house our souls, will turn to dust. In this life, though, I do believe the body and soul inform each other, co-exist. Our souls are formed by the experience our bodies have. We shall become dust, but dust is not the end of our story.

My friend’s father recently passed away. It was a hard loss. The father was a brilliant man who also struggled as a bipolar alcoholic. My friend did not have time to make amends before his father passed. In the eulogy, he said he needed to honor his father by claiming the complexity of his character, not only remembering the good times or the hard times. Remembering in a compassionate way, he said, meant remembering the wounds and the beauty. He spoke of hearing his father’s voice, free from suffering, isolation and pain. Free. Redeemed. He is dust, and yet he lives on. And my friend spoke of how his father will continue on in this place through his legacy, through how his sons choose to live and love:

Since my dad’s passing, I’ve found myself wishing that I had loved more radically, that I had thought about my legacy. I’ve found myself wishing I had known how to plant more seeds of compassion, pardon, peace, and love in my relationship with dad. Then a voice whispers to me: he says, “I am still here, and you still can.”

To dust we shall return, but dust is not the end of our story.

Lent: A New Beginning

11 Feb

Lent2016secondweek

On Ash Wednesday we hear “Remember, you are human.” That is not bad news. After all, Jesus was human, too. Make the most of your humanity this Lent.  Be the best you can be. Here are 12 more ways to choose from as you add color to your Lenten cross. If you have not downloaded the cross yet, you can do it now.

PLANT

  • Work in your yard.  Meet and visit with neighbors.
  • Plant a tomato in a large pot. Find a sunny spot for the pot. Water and care for the plant. Enjoy eating your own tomatoes.

SIMPLIFY

  • Organize a junk drawer or storage area.
  • Put a water-saving head on your shower.

PRAY

  • Count your blessings. Develop a habit of recognizing ten blessings a day.
  • Check out our online Lenten retreats

READING

  • Read the Omnivore’s Dilemma about where food comes from.
  • Find in Genesis 7.11 what threatens humankind with extinction.

FAMILY and FRIENDS

  • Give 10 minutes of uninterrupted, attentive listening to a family member.
  • Reach out to a member of your extended family that you sense needs some care.

PARTICIPATE

  • Take food to a local food shelf.
  • Participate as a family in a local spring clean-up.

SBS-25-22-REVISED-COVER

 

Click here for a reflection on the scriptures for the 1st Sunday of Lent.

Gospel Reflection for February 14, 2016, 1st Sunday of Lent

8 Feb

Sunday Readings: Deuteronomy 26.4-10; Romans 10.8-13; Luke 4.1-13

“If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for scripture has it, ‘God will bid angels to watch over you,’ and ‘With their hands they will lift you up so that you do not stumble upon a stone.'”

(Luke 4.9-11)

The devil’s third and climatic temptation invites Jesus to prove he is God’s Son. The devil mocks the poetry of Psalm 91.11-12, which describes God as protective, bearing up the faithful person to protect him or her from stumbling upon a stone.

God the Almighty is an image of God that leads to unbelief for many. Reasoning goes that if God is all-powerful, all-knowing why doesn’t God use the power to end war or violence or suffering. A better image is God the all-loving and merciful. Jesus’ Father, the faithful and steadfast God of the Old Testament, accompanies us in our failures and sufferings as surely as in our successes and joys.

What tests your faith? What affirms God’s sustaining love?

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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?

If you enjoy this Gospel Reflection,
please visit the Sunday By Sunday page
to order a subscription or request a free sample.
Start a small bible study. Be a leader.
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