Tag Archives: hope

Gospel Reflection for April 2, 2017, 5th Sunday of Lent

28 Mar

Scripture Readings: Ezekiel 37.12-14; Romans 8.8-11; John 11.1-45

Jesus said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” Martha said to Jesus, “Yes, Lord, I believe you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.” – John 11.25-27

Jesus grieves in Sunday’s gospel with three people he loves. His friends Martha and Mary believe Jesus could have saved their brother Lazarus, but he didn’t come in time. By raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus in a sense puts himself in his friend’s place. News of this sign incites religious officials to plot Jesus’ death (John 11.45-53).

Both Martha and Mary go out to talk with Jesus when he finally comes to their house after Lazarus has been dead three days. In John’s gospel it is Martha who makes the same key proclamation of faith the in the other three gospels Peter makes. “You are the Mesiah.”

None of us knows what lies beyond death. We have only our experience of God in our world and in our holy history. Henry Nouwen compares dying to the trust between trapeze artists. One lets go, trusting the other will catch him or her. Christians are companions in hope that the God who creates and sustains the world will raise us up. We are companions in hope that the new life Jesus promises will be ours. We live in promise, not certainty. We walk with Jesus, who did not sidestep death but gave himself in trust and human unknowing.

What funerals to you remember especially? For what reasons?

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Practicing Advent, Free of Fear

16 Dec
Photo via Flickr user Joathina

Photo via Flickr user Joathina

A dear friend of mine is a pediatrician who specializes in palliative care. That means, essentially, she helps children die well. It’s vocational work that is demanding of her body, mind and spirit. Because of the grueling hours and the deep sadness, she needed to find a hobby that would encourage her to sit still and rest in her time off. She started knitting. Specifically, she started knitting warm, beautiful sweaters for all the babies being born in her life. My son has one of these sweaters, and another will come soon once my second is born. At first she saw her knitting as a way to trick her body into being still and resting while still feeling productive. Creating something tangible also soothed her mind. Now, she realizes that, maybe most importantly, it is a spiritual practice. When she is not at work with children who are dying, she needs to be celebrating the children in her life who are healthy and thriving, welcoming them into the world. The knitting brings her balance and hope, one stitch at a time. It keeps her from slipping into fear and becoming paralyzed. It helps her show back up at work to sit with people in their sorrow.

Many people are speaking to the palpable fear washing over our society. Fear separates us from God and has the toxic ability to paralyze us. When I hear talk of this fear, I think of my friend, quietly knitting, creating, claiming hope, subversively choosing light over fear while continuing to work in the center of sorrow. She is practicing Advent.

We read in our Advent Scriptures the angels saying over and over again, “Fear not!” As I marvel at my friend’s courage and strength, we marvel at Mary’s ability to nod and courageously let go of fear and accept light and life.

Fear not, for a child is coming. Babies are precious and sacred in their ability to offer love and beauty, hope and life without asking for anything in return. They are fresh and new, full of possibilities we don’t even know. They help us dream, they invite us to wonder. Who are you little baby? The world is better because you are here!

God decided to become a baby. We often think of God as big and powerful and strong. God saw that more than big power we needed simple love. We need hope and light. God wants us to dream and wonder and sit in awe of things that are beautiful and precious. God came as baby Jesus, a little, cute, fragile baby that needed people to take care of him, nurture him, and love him to keep him alive. He is a light that starts out as small as a newborn baby and gets as big as we can dream it to be. We celebrate a how clever God is, to come as a baby, so that we know that God wants our attention, adoration and love.

That is what is so tragic about my friend’s work in pediatric palliative care. That is what is so hopeful about her knitting. She lives in the thin space where she experiences both God’s saving power that brings heaven to this place and God’s saving power that offers us life in the place to come. Creating as a knitter and working as a doctor helps her let go of fear and live in the light of Jesus, now and in the time to come. She is practicing Advent, and inviting me to do the same.

Fear not. A child is coming.

Gospel Reflection for December 20, 2015, 4th Sunday of Advent

15 Dec
Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP

Sunday Readings: Micah 5.1-4; Hebrews 10.5-10; Luke 1.39-45

“Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Blessed are you among women and blessed is the child of your womb.'”

(Luke 1.41-42)

The encounter between Mary and her kinswoman Elizabeth is spiritually electric. Each woman has responded to God alone. As they meet, the Spirit arcs between them like sparks. At Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth’s baby leaps in her womb. Her words express ecstatic awe at the holy happening within their wombs. The new life that is good news for the world does not come from within the existing temple structure but in the wombs of two believing women. In Elizabeth’s time, new life is stirring among unlikely people — Gentiles, people who are poor, women, tax collectors. Perhaps now like then, people at the margins experience enough discomfort with things as they are to open their hearts to impossible, transcendent hopes.

What do you see coming to birth in younger women? What do you see coming to birth in older women? In yourself?

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Waiting in the Dark

4 Dec
Photo via Flickr user Alexander Boden

Photo via Flickr user Alexander Boden

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. –John 1: 1-5

It is Advent. It is cold and dark.

We Minnesotans are a people who understand true darkness and cold. Every year we hunker down, turning inward, sure that the darkness will prevail. Then, our pupils adjust ever so slightly. We find our Smartwool, dust off the teakettle and light candles. We snuggle by the fire. In Advent, we remember that there is a baby on his way. Hope breaks through the cold. Light prevails. Jesus, the light of the world will draw near. We can almost hear his heartbeat in this sacred time of waiting.

Violence in Paris, Minneapolis, Colorado Springs. The darkness is all around us. We get this Advent thing. We’re living it.

When the light goes out, our instinct is to rush to turn it back on again, to get comfortable, to go back to normal. In Advent, we sit in the darkness. We acknowledge it. We wait for our eyes to adjust, and we realize there is enough light in the darkness with which to work.

This waiting in the darkness is not passive. It’s active waiting. It’s, as Nouwen points out, becoming more present in this dark and cold time and place.

Patience is not waiting passively until someone else does something. Patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. When we are impatient, we try to get away from where we are. We behave as if the real thing will happen tomorrow, later, and somewhere else. Be patient and trust that the treasure you are looking for is hidden in the ground on which you stand. –Henri J.M. Nouwen

Living the Easter Message

16 May

Recently, a wise woman pointed out to me that while Catholics tend to spend a lot of time and energy thinking about the season of Lent, we often celebrate Easter Sunday and then forget that we are in the midst of the longest special liturgical season of the church year. The Easter season extends from Easter through Pentecost, which comes fifty days after Easter. On a liturgical calendar, the Easter season is marked in gold, a color of joy and victory, as the Easter season is the time when we celebrate the fulfillment of our faith—the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the promise of new life this brings.

Prayer, fasting and abstinence, and almsgiving are three traditional pillars of practice for Catholics during Lent that help us prepare for Holy Week and the coming of Easter. These practices encourage us to see the world in a different way and to change our way of being in the world by focusing on ideas like penance, sacrifice, and living our baptismal calling. But now that Easter is here—now that Jesus Christ is indeed risen, Alleluia!—what can we do to help us see and engage with the world with an Easter mindset? In other words, how can we live the joy of Easter during this season?

A baseline form of obligation for all Catholics is to receive Eucharist at least once during the Easter season. This is sort of like a minimal membership requirement for being Catholic. And while it is important to receive Eucharist, it seems like there is more we can do to celebrate the miracle of Easter that is at the center of our faith. Yet there do not seem to be too many widespread practices associated with the Easter season, something that would be similar to lighting Advent wreaths or abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent. Given that Easter is the greatest feast of the church year, it seems as if there should be more practices in which we could engage so that the celebratory mindset of Easter has more of a chance to take root in our lives.

I read on-line recently that a group of monks answers the phone with the greeting, “Christus resurrexit!” (Christ is risen) during the eight days after Easter. I have to admit that I would be hesitant to answer my own phone this way (or to post this as my status update on Facebook). Yet as I think about my life during this Easter season, it turns out there are already practices I do or could return to that contribute to living with Easter hope and joy.

  • Focusing on joy: When I was finished with my student teaching many years ago, the class of fourth graders gave me a little journal embossed with the title “Claire’s Book of Joy.” The first page had the heading “Things that Bring Me Joy,” and under it was one entry: “Teaching religion to a group of fourth graders who think you are awesome.” Over the years, I have added to this list, entries such as “Hearing the perfect song for your mood on the radio” and “Cuddling with my children on the couch.” To heighten my focus on joy, I could revisit this list, reading through it daily, offering prayers of thanksgiving for the joy that is in my life, and adding to it as I am so moved.
  • Celebrating new life: It might sound cheesy, but I love watching the plants in our yard come back to life each spring, an activity that is made all the more pleasant now that I have two inquisitive little boys with whom to share it. This year we plan to enhance our celebration by planting and tending to our first vegetable garden. We also love to walk to a nearby pond, where we observe the ducks and geese sitting on their nests and try to predict on which day we will first see the ducklings and goslings go for a swim. Together we wonder at the process of learning that takes place as these young animals make their way in the world. We could also celebrate life by making a special effort this Easter season to offer our support (perhaps in the form of homemade meals or baby-sitting time) to friends and family who have recently had children.
  • Giving from Abundance: In our society, it is all too easy to focus on scarcity. We are socialized to hang on to everything we have for ourselves, to “look out for number one,” and to do whatever it takes to get ahead. And yet one lesson of Easter is that God loves and provides for us with gratuitous love that is overflowing and that knows no bounds. When my family lives from a mindset of scarcity, we focus on buying things for ourselves and saving our money to protect against a disaster that may never happen. In contrast, when we remember to live from a sense of abundance, we find many ways that we can give of ourselves, not just in charitable giving but also in giving of our time and talent.
  • Living with hope:There are situations in life that seem hopeless and that cause much despair. For example, I have a relationship with someone important in my life about which I despair; I fear I will never be able to move past how I have been hurt by this person and do not trust that this person will ever be in a position to be his authentic self with me. Living with hope would mean finding a way to change my attitude about and participation in this relationship, which might start with the seemingly small and simple act of praying that one day our relationship is restored to one of mutuality, respect, and love.

New Life

2 Jan

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! –2 Corinthians 5:17

My friend is a personal trainer. She is in the midst of her busiest time of year. January 1st rolls around and without fail, she gets a slew of new clients looking to jump start their exercise regiment. And without fail, most of those people have stopped seeing her within a few months. People want to be outside in the summer, sure, but the ebb and flow also has to do with failed annual resolutions.

Oh, New Year’s. It’s the time of year we get reflective, looking back on 2014 and hoping for 2015. Many of us make New Year’s resolutions that last a few weeks and then drop off. January 1st feels like a clean slate, and our resolutions reflect a kind of self-scolding. We try to become something completely different on the morning of January 1st. I will exercise. I will stop smoking. I will swear less. I will choose a book instead of television. I will be better, different, more. Expecting this abrupt transformation of ourselves is often just setting ourselves up for failure. So many of us will try, starting January 1, to make our lives cleaner and more in control, which means somewhere deep inside that we believe this change will birth be better versions of ourselves and we will like ourselves more.

The spiritual life warns us against such a January 1 transformation mindset. We are not in control. Life is messy. We will fall short every day. There is no moment when we will arrive at a destination and be done with the work of being human. And we have God’s love anyway. January 1, yes, but also on March 22 and May 13 and August 5 and November 30 we wake in the morning to a new life in Christ with the abundant love of the one who created us. Every morning God calls us to follow in the ways of love and peace, to strive to live in Christ yet again.

I do take advantage of the Gregorian calendar as well as the Liturgical one and get a bit reflective around January 1. But this year I am not making any New Year’s Resolutions. This year, I hope to wake up with the same hope I had on December 31 and will have on January 2 as well. I hope to wake up in the knowledge that I am loved by God, with my eyes on Christ, moving slowly and often stumbling toward who God keeps creating me to be anew today and forever.

A Gospel Reflection for March 25, 5th Sunday of Lent

20 Mar
Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone.  But if it dies, it will bear much fruit. Those who love their lives will lose them.  Those who hate their lives in this world will keep them to life eternal.” 

John 12.24-25
John’s gospel couples the grain of wheat metaphor with sayings about discipleship, about hating our lives in this world to keep them to life eternal.  These sayings call us to plant ourselves in the Christian community and follow Jesus by serving others.  “Where I am, there my servants must be,” Jesus says.

What seeds of hope are you planting with your life?
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