Lineage of Sorrow

31 Jul

I’ve come to think if you can explain something sufficiently to a curious third grader, you can explain it to almost anyone. Last week our children’s minister ask if I would help her write Sunday school curriculum for our fall sermon series on Jacob. “Jacob’s tough,” she said. “I’m stuck.”

After reading through the texts carefully all I had was agreement with her. The Jacob story is tough. Isaac prays to the Lord and gets not only one boy but two. His favorite son is the elder, Esau, while Rebekah favors Jacob. Jacob tricks his father into getting a blessing. And then he leaves. And as if it’s not hard enough to tell kids stories about parents having favorites and kids tricking their parents, then we hit Genesis 29. Jacob falls in love with Rachel, but Laban tricks him into marrying Leah as well. But he doesn’t love Leah, he loves Rachel.

When the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, he opened her womb; but Rachel was barren.  Leah conceived and bore a son, and she named him Reuben; for she said, “Because the Lord has looked on my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” fertility

The Jacob story doesn’t get easier after that, either. We made a plan with the kids around blessing that I think will work well.

But days later, I find my heart remains with Rachel and Leah. I am at the age when some of my friends are struggling with marriage and fertility issues. So many of my friends have miscarried and struggled to have children. I have had friends lose babies, and one recently told me she has stopped saying they are trying to have children and has started saying, “We are hoping to have children.” Feeling far away from your spouse, feeling barren, miscarrying– these things are so overwhelmingly painful its hard not to think God is blessing others and not you. It’s hard to see the abundance in others’ lives and not compare it to the emptiness in your own. There is something primal about these two women– one has many sons and misses the love of her husband while the other has Jacob’s adoration but goes without children. It is an age old story that people I love are still, today, swimming in.

My co-worker asked me to look at the Jacob story, but I carry Leah and Rachel’s story in my heart. It does not take the pain away, but it strengthens me to remember that our ancestors had the same hurting hearts and aching wombs that we do today.

Welcome, Pope Francis!

29 Jul



Pope Francis will be visiting the United States September 22-27, 2015. Welcome him by downloading this FREE poster at and posting it in your home, work, and parish.

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.


Social Action Has Two Feet

22 Jul


Gospel Reflection for July 26, 2015, 17th Sunday Ordinary Time

20 Jul

Sunday Readings: 2 Kings 4.42-44; Ephesians 4.1-6; John 6.1-15

“Jesus said, ‘Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat'”?

(John 6.5)

Like a jazz musician who plays a simple melody before spinning countless variations, John tells the core story of Jesus multiplying loaves and fishes before he begins reflecting at length on all this sign expresses. The disciples’ conversation with Jesus shows they keep bumping into limits, hitting the wall. Their limitations become the Church’s limitations.

Philip sees they can’t possibly feed the crowd. Voices today echo the limitation Philip sees. “There are not enough priests, so we cannot keep this church open.” Andrew notices a boy with five barley loaves and two fish. But he asks, “But what are they among so many people?” But the food Jesus gives the crowd increases in being given.

What are our hungers today?

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Earthly Advice from Pope Francis

20 Jul

Pope Francis

In his new encyclical, Laudato Si, Pope Francis asks us to care for our common home, Earth. He says this will take both inner conversion and global action. Take a little time each day this week to consider what our sister Earth needs from you. The numbers in parentheses refer to paragraphs in the encyclical. Type in Laudato Si to read the whole encyclical.

• TALK with each other. Such serious issues need to be “reframed and enriches again and again.” Attend a lecture. Read a book. Listen to a scientist. Open yourself to new ways to see. (16, 60, 185)

• Practice the three Rs. Reduce. Reuse. Recycle. Perhaps even add a fourth one — Restrain from buying more things. (22, 192)

• Can you walk instead of drive? Take the bus or subway? Share with someone going the same way? Talk to your children about their desire to pollute less. (26, 165)

• Don’t give in to denial or resignation. Think of the environmental issue that most worries you and pray to the Holy Spirit about it. “Come, Holy Spirit. Renew the face of the earth.” (14)

• 200 plants, insects, birds, and mammal becomes extinct each day. What dies when a new mall or casino is built? Are you in the coyote’s home or is he invading yours? Think about what our overbuilding is doing to the natural world. Decide where you will take a stand. (35)

• Pray with St. Francis:Blossoms-Pink

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures, especially through my lord Brother Sun, who brings the day; and you give light through him. And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; in the heavens you have made them, precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, and clouds and storms, and all the weather, through which you give your creatures sustenance.

Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water; she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.

• Add your own prayer.

Running Toward

17 Jul
via Flickr user Lawrence OP

via Flickr user Lawrence OP

The apostles gathered together with Jesus
and reported all they had done and taught.
He said to them,
“Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”
People were coming and going in great numbers,
and they had no opportunity even to eat.
So they went off in the boat by themselves to a deserted place.
People saw them leaving and many came to know about it.
They hastened there on foot from all the towns
and arrived at the place before them.

When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd,
his heart was moved with pity for them,
for they were like sheep without a shepherd;
and he began to teach them many things. –Mark 6:30-34

Can you feel Jesus’s fatigue in this passage? I can, viscerally. It is so important to retreat, to regroup, to recharge. It is so important to eat and rest and spend time in deserted places when your work is in high demand. These first verses need to illicit real fatigue in us, the readers, in order for the story to work. Then, when we get to the end of the passage, we are truly struck by Jesus compassion. Instead of getting upset and being short with the people, like I would if I were in dire need of retreat and it was ruined by a mob of needy people, he is moved. They move him to be more open. He takes a deep breath and continues to teach. Thank goodness.

For they were like sheep without a shepherd. This visual is so strong for me. I see this in the teenagers I work with. They are in a developmental stage when it is healthy for them to question authority and be critical of institution. They are beginning to define themselves against their peer group instead of their families. They are forming herds, and it feels exciting to them to move as a herd without a shepherd. Many of them turn away from religion, the church, the stories their parents taught them. They want to be free from these things, that all of a sudden feel suffocating, restricting, confining. They have a deep desire to wander the field without direction. I encourage young people to go, wander, frolic, play. Enjoy what it feels like to run away without heeding the call back. Often their instinct is healthy. They are running from what they see as hypocritical in the church, in organized religion. They are running from the ways that we as humans fall short. So run, I tell them. Run from those things. Just make sure you are running toward something good. Don’t mistake the love of God with the sin of humanity. Wander, frolic, question, yes. But run toward love, beauty, forgiveness, truth, and you will find Jesus again.

This is not just a teenage tendency. Don’t we all get lost? Prone to wander, as the hymn says. Prone to leave the God I love.

We may not be running from authority, but we allow our busy lives, our ego, our pain to pull us away. Maybe we get so swept up in thinking we don’t deserve love or forgiveness that it is too hard to stay. Or maybe we don’t want to admit that we need a shepherd’s help. We all have times when Jesus pities us, seeing us like sheep without a shepherd. And it’s okay, as long as we can hear the sound of his voice, feel the compassion of his love, and know when it is time to wander back into the unending fold of his care. There is no fatigue there. Jesus is ready to teach us many things.

My sheep hear my voice, says the Lord;
I know them, and they follow me. –JN 10:27


Practice Welcoming Sabbath!

16 Jul


Gospel Reflection for July 19, 2015, 16th Sunday Ordinary Time

15 Jul
Photo via Flickr user Sarah Joy

Photo via Flickr user Sarah Joy

Sunday Readings: Jeremiah 23.1-6; Ephesians 2.13-18; Mark 6.30-34

Crowds follow Jesus’ disciples back to Jesus. People’s hunger for his teaching and healing keep swelling. Mark writes the first gospel to tell Jesus’ story about A.D. 70, some 40 years after the events in the gospel. The disciples Jesus sends on mission and then welcomes back have in history grown old or, in the case of Peter, James, and Paul, been martyred. Who will continue the work Jesus began? Who will follow the disciples that have given their lives to spreading the gospel message — Peter, James, John, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joses, and Salome? Mark writes to call for the new disciples in his time and our own.

What is a way you continue Jesus’ mission in your family life?

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