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God’s Jokes

23 Sep
Photo via Flickr user ChrisA1995

Photo via Flickr user ChrisA1995

Each fall I retreat with youth, away from the city.

Away from the city, where one need not be so on guard, the beauty of giving to all around many again rise in you. –Rumi

In past years, I have been in charge of the teaching on fall retreat. I pick a theme, research, acquire resources, design activities and discussions. I put a lot of time into constructing and then executing curriculum. On retreat specifically, the teaching never feels great. I feel like the bad guy. I think it’s mostly because the whole time we are doing something formal, I can sense the youth just want to be on retreat, outside, having fun, seeing where the wind takes them. They want space to play and relax, think and laugh. They desperately need unstructured time. And there is something about nature that calls this to attention for them even more.

This world needs our warmth against it, or things will perish. –Rumi

This year we are trying something different. There is very little agenda. We will eat, have a bonfire, play games, and sing. I sense it is the right thing to do. Instead of forcing structured times of learning, I’m leaning into their desire to retreat into nature, where benevolence has the space to rise up in them and remind them of their true nature.

I, for one, am excited. When I head on retreat in charge of a full itinerary, I can take myself too seriously. In this case, the easier thing may be the right thing. We are simply getting on a bus, going somewhere beautiful away from the city, and spending time together. My guess is that God will show up in ways we cannot even anticipate.

Away from the city, where you need not be so on guard, you are more apt to realize…God tells a lot of jokes. –Rumi

Letting Go

16 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Don Merwin

Photo via Flickr user Don Merwin

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. –Buddha

September, for me, is still filled with the childhood feeling of fresh starts. When I was young, it meant new notebooks and a new teacher. As an adult, I continue to sense an opportunity to reboot come September.

In the New York Times, Carl Richards wrote an eloquent piece called “The Cost of Holding On.” He starts with a story about two monks who encounter a rude woman on their journey. The young monk stews and ruminates about how poorly the older monk was treated until finally, hours later, he spoke about it. The older monk said, “I set the woman down hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?” Richard adds:

There is an actual cost to holding onto things we should let go of. It can come in the form of anger, frustration, resentment or something even worse. The question is, can you really afford to keep paying the bill?

Now, as the summer fades, is as good of a time as any to really acknowledge what we have been holding onto from last year or yesterday or earlier this morning that is no longer serving us.

Where do you carry your anger? Your throat, chest, hands, jaw, stomach? 

What tools help you let go? Exercise, meditation, music, talking, writing?

Who gets the brunt of your anger? You, strangers, or someone you care deeply about? 

What are some things that you are still holding onto? What is the actual cost?

Anger is energy, and it can be exciting even if it is only harming us. But Richards is right: there is a real cost to hanging on. With every exhale we have an opportunity to let go of something we have been holding onto. That will create space for God to rush in with healing and new life. September can feel like a fresh start indeed.

Mother, Now Saint

9 Sep
Photo via Flickr user Mammovies

Photo via Flickr user Mammovies

A mere 19 years after her death, Pope Francis declared Mother Teresa a saint last week. In his homily during the ceremony at the Vatican, Pope Francis commended Mother Teresa for her generosity of mercy and for defending the discarded of society.

Indeed, in her tireless work, Mother Teresa gave people dignity by seeing their full humanity. She called urgent attention to the hideous and unnecessary poverty plaguing our globe. Taking Jesus’ gospel call to advocate for the poor quite literally, she devoted her life to the daily work. Rightly, Pope Francis lifted up Mother Teresa as a model of holiness.

And then, also rightly and with so much style we have come to expect of him, Pope Francis served pizza to 1,500 homeless Italians who were bused in for the event.

The declaration of Mother Teresa’s sainthood is exciting. In elevating our heroes, it is also important to remember their humanity as well. I can distance myself from them, venerating their holiness, while excusing myself from the call. We are all capable of making a life-long commitment to advocate for the vulnerable members of our society. I read the same Gospel that she did, one where Jesus models mercy, compassion and ministry to us. She was a mere mortal who had the same choice I do as to how to live out our daily lives.

I remember as a young child, being taught by nuns, I was curious about the monastic lifestyle. I wondered, “What would I do with my time if I committed to a simple, celibate life? What life would I build? Who would I love?” Now, with a spouse, children and a job, I must ask other questions. Mother Teresa’s sainthood throws back into relief for me the importance of doing Gospel work in my daily life, here and now, in any way I can. Instead of allowing her holiness to distance herself, I can pray for her holiness to call me to a life of mercy and compassion, too.

God With Us on the Move

2 Sep
Photo via MN Historical Society

Photo via MN Historical Society

A friend of mine spent ten weeks working at a migrant center in Tijuana this summer. Tijuana is a city generally seen as the last stop for migrants from Central America trying to cross into San Diego. Lately, the center is also housing large numbers of people from all over the world seeking asylum and refugee status in the United States. The arrival of refugees from places like Haiti and even as far as Syria is fairly new for the city.

The journeys of the migrants and the refugees weigh heavy on my heart. There are oh so many people on the move, looking for a place to rest, willing to travel across to world to find a country who will welcome them. The courage it takes to set out, the energy it takes to travel, the resilience it takes to continue on shows the remarkable strength of the human spirit. They are looking for a fresh start, a safe place to build a future. Only then can they properly grieve their past.

Abraham had been promised land as far reaching as the eye could image and descendants that numbered the stars. Yet as an old man, when his beloved wife died, he had no land, and Isaac, his only son, had no wife. Abraham could have given up. He could have sat down, pouted, and waited for God to follow through on God’s promises. Yet the story simply tells us that Abraham mourned for his wife and then rose from his grief. He got busy, buying land to bury Sarah and went looking for a wife for Isaac. Both of these acts furthered God’s plan for him. The promises came true. Abraham shows the same courage, energy and resilience as the world’s migrants and refugees. Part of grieving his past required him to continue building his future.

People who have been through great trauma benefit from having opportunities to rebuild families and careers. Good work is good for the soul. Building a future creates space to heal from the past. When the worst happens, we can become angry with God and give up, or we can hear God whispering to us to move. Then God can fill the space we create.

Is it possible that God is waiting for us to act? Perhaps God is calling to us from the future, beckoning us to create space for God’s will on earth. The migrants and refugees arriving at Tijuana have heard the call. They seek room to build a future full of good work and flourishing families. Healing from their past depends on it.

As it is in Heaven

26 Aug
Photo via Flickr user Chris JL

Photo via Flickr user Chris JL

There is an ancient ceramic dish that sits in the Aga Khan Museum attributed to Samanid Iran. The color and decoration are vibrant and refined for its time, and the inscription reads:

Generosity is a disposition of the dwellers of Paradise.

In our world, at times, there seems to be a powerful centripetal force pulling us toward selfishness and self-centeredness as the status quo. What would it look like to break free of that current and stand with the posturing of generosity? How would that daily choice change our eyes, ears, hearts and lives? I think it may be worth some reflection. True generosity as a prayer practice has the power to transform our scarcity mindset to one of abundance. What is holding us back from seeing, claiming, celebrating, sharing and growing that abundance? If we can embody abundance and live generously, can we know paradise in this time and place?

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.

The overwhelming, unconditional, overflowing love I share with my young son has helped me live with lenses of abundance. There are moments in my life when I say to him, “Heaven. This is heaven.” When he gives me an unexpected, wildly affectionate and precious snuggle. Sitting on a still lake in a kayak while the sun sets, with my spouse and son behind me, my son reaching out to touch my back now and again as I paddle. “Heaven.” I do not say this flippantly. I said it intentionally, very much awake to and appreciative of the purity of the moment.

The other day, for the first time, when we took a break to snuggle on the couch together his little voice said, “Heaven.” “Yes, honey,” I agreed. “Heaven.” His mimicking encourages me to be even more intentional with my language, verbal and otherwise. Fostering lenses of faith, growing a heart of generosity is work I am happy to share with him.

I let the generosity of these moments alter me and flow into other moments of my life. Recognizing glimpses of heaven, calling out paradise here and now, seeing God the Creator, feeling the love of God here on earth can indeed change our disposition. We can become a generous people, a people dwelling in paradise.

 

Gospel Reflection for August 28, 2016, 22nd Sunday Ordinary Time

23 Aug
Photo via Flickr user Stijn Nieuwendijk

Photo via Flickr user Stijn Nieuwendijk

Sunday Readings: Sirach 3.17-18, 20, 28-29; Hebrews 12.18-19, 22-24; Luke 14.1, 7-14

“When you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. You will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.”

(Luke 14.12-13)

Jesus’ two healings on the Sabbath demonstrate God’s will for human beings. We read neither story among the Sunday gospels. Jesus straightens up a woman who for 18 years has been bent over in Luke 13.10-17 and heals a moan with dropsy (14.2-6). He restores them to praise and worship rather than leaving them among the forgotten whom God supposedly punishes. In his advice for making guest lists, Jesus prefers those who cannot repay their hosts with a return invitation and place of honor at their tables. Jesus wants us to widen the circle of those who eat at our tables to include people like the two he has just healed. He wants our guest lists to distribute food justly rather than cut people off as chronically inferior, deserving distance from us rather than place among us.

What places of honor might you give up? What would you lose or gain? Who might you add to your guest list? What would you lose or gain?

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The Times

19 Aug
Artwork by Sr. Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ

Artwork by Sr. Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ

Anyone who picked up the New York Times this morning saw the heartbreaking photo of a small, traumatized Syrian boy on the cover. Sister Ansgar, an artist, responded by creating a collage that put the child in the arms of Mary and gave him a mother for our prayerful contemplation. She found the photo of the Mary statue in the Art section. She calls the collage: The Times.

Neighbors on the Path

19 Aug

It isn’t a new lesson, but it is one I have to keep revisiting. The Good Samaritan. One man in Jesus’ parable saw the humanity of the man on the side of the road naked and broken. One man stopped. One man did what it took to ensure the victim’s full restoration. It seems so elementary, but I have so much trouble following his example.

Jesus tells this parable to a man trying to find a loophole and get around the law. When he asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responds, with the story of the good Samaritan, essentially saying, “Your neighbor is anyone who has been put in your path.”

We, too, are challenged by Jesus’ ministry and this parable specifically to see the humanity of all people put in our path. We are called to stop, let others change our plans, let the urgency of restoration work shape our days.

It is no easy calling. Jesus is asking us to get our hands dirty. He is asking us to move into the heart of conflict. This may risk our reputation, our schedule, and the ease of our known lives. It is often our busyness, our vanity and our fear of conflict that holds us back from acting like Jesus and the good Samaritan. I am guilty of all three, so I must revisit this parable again and again.

Really knowing our neighbors, the people in our path, requires seeing and stopping. That is often the hardest part. If we do engage with unexpected neighbors, like the good Samaritan did, like Jesus did, then we are often filled with the compassion necessary to move toward creative and effective reconciliation work. So this week, yet again, I pray for the courage to be open and willing to fully engage with all of my neighbors.

Gospel Reflection for August 21, 2016, 21st Sunday Ordinary Time

16 Aug
Photo via Flickr user Sailesh Vaghela

Photo via Flickr user Sailesh Vaghela

Sunday Readings: Isaiah 66.18-21; Hebrews 12.5-7, 11-13; Luke 13.22-30

“Strive to enter through the narrow door.”

(Luke 13.24)

A door or gate always represents choice. As long as a room has a door, we can enter and exit it. We can choose to go in and choose to leave, to enclose or expand ourselves. A doorway or threshold is a liminal space, which stand between inside and outside, between life as we know it and life as Jesus promises it. In Sunday’s gospel Jesus crosses a threshold in his ministry when he sets his face for Jerusalem. As he goes on his way, Jesus teaches; his teaching has the authenticity of one who lives his word. Jesus is on his way to his Father through the narrow door of his own suffering and death.

Who beckons you to participate actively in your community of faith? What door do you want to open or close?

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Restoring Peace

5 Aug
Photo via Flickr user Carolina Ponce

Photo via Flickr user Carolina Ponce

The disciples were fishing, and a man on the shore told them to throw their net to the other side of the boat.”It is the Lord,” one said to Peter. It was the third time Jesus appeared to his friends after the resurrection in John. Although Peter had not initially recognized Jesus, he jumped into the water to swim to shore. While the others stayed in the boat, Peter’s love for Jesus could not be contained.

The time between Jesus’ death and ascension is blessed, heavy with holiness and wonder. In these interactions, Jesus is teaching us a great deal about peace and reconciliation, which seems to be his focus in that middle time. “Peace. Peace be with you. My peace I give you,” he says as a greeting. It is done. In his death and resurrection, peace is possible. Now the disciples have to take that peace and make it real in the world.

In his life, death and resurrection, Jesus is a master healer. His healing brings restoration and transformation. It leaves the broken not only whole, but stronger. It is a ministry of true reconciliation. The scene that follows Peter’s endearing swim to meet Jesus is another example of the heart of Jesus’ ministry.

First, they eat. This is no small gesture. Imagine if we really took the time to sit down and share a meal with people we are working with, living among, and loving before launching into the business at hand. Then, after connecting to his friend, listening and laughing, he asks,”Peter, do you love me?”

“You know that I love you.”

“Peter, do you love me?”

“Lord, you know that I love you.”

A third time, “Peter, do you love me?”

It would have been easy for Jesus to assume Peter understood what the resurrection meant– that he was forgiven, that he was filled with Christ’s peace. Jesus creates an intimate moment between friends so that Peter will claim his freedom. Jesus asks not once, but three times. Peter is reminded of his own brokenness and thrice betrayal in the same moment he is released from it. He is free to take on the peace of Christ and spread it to the world.

This “Do you love me?/Lord, you know that I love you” refrain has been echoing in my head for a few days. It is Jesus intimately and tenderly taking my hand, helping me face my brokenness and claim Christ’s forgiveness and peace so that I too may engage in the ever-important work of reconciliation in our broken world. The peace of restoration– that same peace Jesus showed lepers and adulterers and his good friend Peter– is being given to us to claim and share.

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