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Limits

28 Aug

Arguably the most useful course in my Theology Masters program was God, Evil and Suffering. And arguably the most useful exercise we did throughout the semester was classify suffering. It’s not all the same, and it’s not all equal. One type of suffering we explored was the suffering attached to the experience of our human limitation. We get hungry and thirsty. We need sleep. Our bones break. We get sick. We die. Humans have inside of us a desire to be God, to be invincible, to be immortal. But, alas, we are not. God is God and we are not. When we strive to be more and run into our own human limitations, it hurts. There is real suffering involved.

We see both the striving to be God and the suffering that comes with limitations all over our stories in the Bible. Even in our creation story, that explains who we are and whose we are, Adam and Eve experience limits before sin is ever introduced into the equation. There is no moral component to this suffering, there is no evil involved, and it is worth noting that there is good in limits, too. Good food tastes amazing. A long nap is enjoyable. Striving is fun even when we fall short. Knowing our mortality encourages us to cherish the life we have. It is not the same at its core as suffering that comes out of evil, injustice, or violence. But it still hurts.

These themes have surfaced watching my little boy start to stand and crawl. There is pure joy on his face as he makes his way to the next room or heads for a toy he wants on his own. His face brims with pride, his chest puffed out, with each growing moment he stands on his own. With this newly found power and ability, however, comes more bumps and bruises. He spends more time frustrated. Now that he can crawl, he wants to run. And as he slips and bumps his head, I can see him classifying the hurt as he assess the pain. He is both celebrating being human and experiencing the suffering that comes from the limits of being human.

Since his birth, I have been experiencing this new found love every day. It can be overwhelming in its goodness and intensity. In the last nine months, I have had thoughts that I never had before. His presence is pure love and our connection is so strong, I have had thoughts of not wanting to die. These thoughts surprise me in part because I have no reason to think I will die soon, but also because of their realness and intensity. I want to watch him grow forever. This knowledge of my limits is a pang in my heart, but also a sweet blessing that helps me stay present and cherish now. He and I are both relishing in the gift of life and the adventure of being human, and deciding together, I think, that the freedom is worth it despite and because of the bumps along the way. That’s not always true of all kinds of suffering. The experience of human limitation, well, the hurt is part of the story, which ultimately is good.

Gospel Reflection for August 30, 2015, 22nd Sunday Ordinary Time

25 Aug

Sunday Readings: Deuteronomy 4.1-2, 6-8; James 1.17-18, 21-22, 27; Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23

“Nothing that enters a person from outside can make a person impure; it is the things that come out that defile.  It is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.”

(Mark 7.18-21)

Every generation has to discern which traditions are life-giving and which are no longer helping us become holy.  What traditions come from God and what are simply human rules?  In Sunday’s gospel Jesus is breaking down the wall of the law that protects Jewish identity.  He declares all foods clean and insists laws that last must lead to the praise and glory of God and justice and peace toward neighbor.

What rule do you practice that keeps you open to God and neighbor?  What is the most life-giving rule you learned in your family?

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Seeking Wisdom

21 Aug
Photo via Flickr user Andy Rennie

Photo via Flickr user Andy Rennie

We’re working through Proverbs the fall, and the planning this summer has been really fun. Proverbs is a book that focuses on the everyday life. How do we proceed today? How can we build a life that is pleasing to God?

We’re focusing on seeking wisdom as a way to get closer to God. I’m excited for our community to commit to intentionally seeking wisdom together. There is value in the seeking, and life in what we find. There is an inherent humility implied in seeking wisdom, yet there is also hopeful action.

By reading and studying Proverbs together, we are turning toward Scripture in our wisdom seeking, but we are not stopping there. We’re using poetry, like Wild Geese by Mary Oliver, as a call to worship that nods to the world outside of the church that is seeping with wisdom. We’re encouraging each other to share ideas on where and how to seek wisdom. I love how the Catholic Church encourages us to seek wisdom in Scripture, Tradition, and out in the world. The world that God created has so much to teach us. And each of us, also created by God, are going to enjoy seeking wisdom in different ways.

When we asked congregation members how they seek wisdom, here are some of the answers we got:

  1. Read the Bible
  2. Seek out experts
  3. Experiment with something new, being willing to fail and start more intelligently
  4. Ask for a slice of wisdom via prayer
  5. Be still, away from distractions, and think
  6. Listen to someone else’s (potentially valuable and unique) perspective on something
  7. List what you don’t know now that you used to think you knew to keep you honest and seeking
  8. Find a good source of information (parent, grandparent, etc.) and ask them the hard questions
  9. Giggle with a child
  10. Walk through the woods
  11. Read a really good smelling book
  12. Listen to classical music
  13. Ask worldly people questions they find interesting to answer
  14. Allow the sound and rhythm of your breath to calm you
  15. Hold a newborn

How do you seek wisdom? I’d love more ideas as I commit to trying a few of these ideas with my eyes and heart open to receiving God’s wisdom.

Gospel Reflection for August 23, 2015, 21st Sunday Ordinary Time

19 Aug

Sunday Readings: Joshua 24.2-3, 15-17, 18; Ephesians 5.21-32; John 6.60-69

“Many of his disciples were listening to Jesus’ teaching.  They said, ‘This teaching is difficult.  How can anyone take it seriously'”?

(John 6.60)

Jesus’ disciples face a choice.  Will they stay with him or drift off with the crowds?  The long reflection on Jesus as the bread of life becomes increasingly challenging to believe, especially the way John’s gospel pushes the literalness of the image.  “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”  This is part of last Sunday’s gospel.  This is the difficult teaching.  Their reaction invites us into the dizzying experience of realizing that like them, we have taken Jesus’ words too literally rather than sacramentally.  In John’s gospel Jesus often makes statements that hearers misunderstand and that call us to reflect on his teaching.  The bread and wine the priest consecrates at Mass signifies Jesus’ gift of his life and love on the cross.

How do you understand the mystery of the Eucharist?

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The Gift of Laughter

14 Aug
Photo via Flickr user CleftClips

Photo via Flickr user CleftClips

I watched Tig over the weekend, a documentary about stand-up comedian and radio contributor Tig Notaro. I pressed play because my baby fell asleep at a decent hour, my mom had suggested the film, my brother respects Tig a ton as a fellow stand-up comedian, and I am very interested in contemporary female comedians as writers and speakers of truth. I didn’t expect to be thinking about the film days later, but here I am.

Tig’s career was going well until, while working in a film, she collapsed. In the hospital, she found out she had C-DIFF, a possibly fatal infection of the intestine. Then her mom died. Then she went through a breakup. Then she got diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. With the cancer diagnosis, because of the sheer ridiculous nature of her Job-like situation, everything seemed funny to her. She started writing. Less than a week after finding out she had cancer, she stepped on stage at the Largo and said, “Good evening. Hello. I have cancer. How are you?”

She proceeded to do a set– a long set– making jokes about the laundry list of challenges God had handed her. Listening to the audio, you can hear the mix of human reactions in the crowd, and she played off of that. Some people laughed so hard you could feel the relief in their guts, finally being able to laugh about something so sad that they were also going through. Others cried and moaned. They begged her to keep going. And this is the moment I can’t get out of my head. Tig suggests changing the subject at one point and you can hear a man in the audience say, “No, keep going. This is amazing.” And it was. It was raw, true, and really funny. The interaction between her and the audience was charged with humanness, surging with emotion. People were aware that they were experiencing something special, something more than live comedy at its best.

As Tig said, the idea of the show went viral. She woke up the next morning more well known than she had ever been. Louis C.K. convinced her to sell audio of the show, which launched her into the national spotlight. The show hit a nerve, struck a chord, rung true. Not only was it healing for her, but it offered healing to others, as well. People couldn’t get enough of her, making jokes about her cancer. They loved her truth, admired her skills of wit, writing and timing, found relief in being able to laugh about something as ugly and scary as cancer, and were comforted by her brash courage in the face of adversity.

I will be thinking about the audio that captured the alive, human, sacred interaction between Tig and her audience at the Largo for a long time. It supports my hunch that comedians have potential to be modern-day prophets. It reminds me how much we need space to talk about what we are afraid of and what we are grieving. It acknowledges that there are days when we have cried so hard that we desperately want an excuse to laugh, not because sickness is funny, but because it is real.

Gospel Reflection for August 16, 2015, 20th Sunday Ordinary Time

14 Aug

Sunday Readings: Proverbs 9.6-1; Ephesians 5.15-20; John 6.51-58

“The one who eats this bread will live forever.”

(John 6.58)

What kind of food do you crave? Chocolate? Popcorn? Anything salty, greasy, fried? What if there is a good that we can have a real relationship with? What if it’s a food we can not only desire but a food that craves us? What if there is a food that we can actually love and that can love us back? This can be said of Eucharist.

Eucharist can be absolutely harmless, even boring perhaps, or it can shake us and the world with its explosive force. What if there is no such thing as Eucharist that is thoroughly private? What if Eucharist either draws me into a relationship with every other Christian or it’s phony? What if, just like all interpersonal relationships, the right kind of chemistry can release astonishing power when together we are fed living food?

How does joining in Eucharist give you life?

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7 Aug

Laudato-Si

Sunday by Sunday editor Joan Mitchell, CSJ, is leading conversations on Care for Our Common Home, Laudato Si’, the new encyclical on ecology from Pope Francis.

If you are in the St. Paul-Minneapolis area, join the dialog August 27, September 3, 10, 17 from 6:30 – 8 p.m. at Carondelet Center, 1890 Randolph Ave., St. Paul, MN. If not, go to goodgroundpress.com and use the questions posted there for your own study or conversations with friends.

Gospel Reflection for August 9, 2015, 19th Sunday Ordinary Time

4 Aug
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Sunday Readings: 1 Kings 19.4-8; Ephesians 4.30-5.2; John 6.41-51

“I am the living bread that has come down from heaven.”

(John 6.51)

All three groups in Sunday’s gospel passage — the disciples, the crowd, the Jews — miss the point about Jesus. His disciples doubt their resources to feed the crowd. The crowd mistakes Jesus for a popular pork-barrel hero. “The Jews” opening disbelieve Jesus’ claims that he, rather than the manna in the desert, is the real bread of life from God.

Where do you best fit — among the doubting disciples, the fair weather crowd, or the Jews faithful to Moses’ law and the past?

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Gospel Reflection for August 2, 2015, 18th Sunday Ordinary Time

29 Jul
Photo via Flickr user Jonathan Assink

Photo via Flickr user Jonathan Assink

Sunday Readings: Exodus 16.2-4, 12-15; Ephesians 4.17, 20-24; John 6.24-35

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

(John 6.35)

When Jesus sits at table with his friends, he has little more to say to them than what he has been trying to say through the whole witness of his life: “Here I am, like this bread and this cup — take it, let me be broken and poured out for you, so that the kingdom may come.” Jesus is not about being the strongest or most intimidating guy in the room or coercing and threatening people into believing the way he wants. Eucharist celebrates the one who chose to put himself on the line as a person for others.

Who in your life is a person for others?

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To Be A Tree

24 Jul
Photo via Flickr user Gerald McCollam

Photo via Flickr user Gerald McCollam

I have been noticing trees lately, more than I used to. I think it has to do with owning a home, having a yard, going on daily summer walks through the neighborhood, past the same trees. My neighbor tells me the tree in my front yard got struck by lighting a few years ago. It made her house shake, yet the tree still stands, a survivor. I notice how the wind moves through our big tree in the backyard, how the shade moves across the grass in the afternoon. Trees ground us, mark time, offer comfort and easy presence.

In her memoir about her husband’s sudden death, The Light of the World, Elizabeth Alexander writes:

Ficre is not here to tell me what kind of trees my parents are, but I know they are mighty trees. They do not yield to the wind; they go straight up, unbending…. I think of my parents as having many colors ranging from the new greens of spring to autumn golds. But they have the constancy of perennials. All shelter and trunk to lean on, my parents stand like trees and survey everything.

I like this image of my parents as trees. My mom is a thin tree, one that can move in the wind without breaking. My dad is more sturdy, unmoving, plush. My parents are both very active. My dad golfs and coaches, still works four days a week and goes in on his day off. My mom dances, walks, paddle boards, stretches. They both lift weights. They stand tall and strong even though they are starting to acknowledge their limits. They are living into their tree-ness as they continue to offer shelter, support, presence.

Now I need to be, like my parents, the one-hundred-year-old oak in our backyard that lives even after hammocks and tire swings have been nailed in and taken down and after the southern Connecticut tornado of 1989 destroyed wide swaths of Hamden as the wind tore down the streets uprooting trees. Our one-hundred-year-old tree stood, as my parents stand, as they saw their elders stand, as ancestors stood…To be a parent is to be terra firma, to stand, is to be planted in the earth.

I am not yet the one-hundred-year-old oak like Elizabeth Alexander, but I am a tree. Since becoming a parent, I have started to feel the roots take hold. I use my trunk and my limbs in new ways to envelop, lift, comfort, swing. I can feel my rings forming as I become more sturdy, planted, present. There is dignity in the act of taking root, offering shade. My instinct is not to flee, but to join my ancestors and stand tall.

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