Author Archives: Monique Jacobs

Surrender Your Stiff Neck!

stiff-neck6

Most of us know the discomfort and restriction of suffering from a stiff neck.

Stiff-neck

And all of us know the annoyance and pain of living or working with a stiff-necked person.

The stiff-necked can be obstinate and stubborn, rigid and inflexible, mulish and pigheaded. They’re not the folks we want as kin, colleagues, or committee members. But we all have such folks in our lives and often enough might ourselves be the stiff-necked neighbor in the lives of those around us.NO

Like our ancestors in the faith, we also can be stiff-necked in dealing with God: slow to trust and believe, dismissive of God’s bidding, heedless of God’s warnings, and unfaithful to the covenant binding us in love.

stiffneck-painBeing stiff-necked in the spiritual life is an affliction often diagnosed as sin.

The prescribed treatment is very much like that for its physical counterpart. Immediate relief can be had from massage, with the Lord serving as your massage therapist.

stiffneckmassageYou’ll need to sit still, bowing slightly, surrendering your stubbornness and pain to the Lord’s healing hands kneading your heart, his skillful fingers probing your soul to relax the knotted tightness holding you fast.

A daily program of prayerful exercise will continue to relieve spiritual tension.

head-noddingPractice nodding your will forward and backward, in grateful assent to your Trainer’s instruction. Follow up with a set of soul stretches until with steady supple ease your heart begins to beat as one with God, your stiff neck healed, relaxed by warmth and touch divine.  Repeat as needed.

- Fr. Austin Fleming

Final Words

sickbedWhat parting words would you wish to give to members of your family, your community, or your closest friends if you knew it was the last time you would see them here on earth?

Would they be words of advice?

Words of comfort? challenge? forgiveness? love?

head-in-handsAnd what words would you wish to address to God in prayer shortly before the end of your mortal life, praying not only for yourself but also for those dear to you?

In a letter to the people of Ephesus, Paul continues his very challenging final words to the leaders of the church, friends among whom he lived and ministered for over three years, people he was certain he would not see again.

protecting othersPaul exhorts these elders to be faithful shepherds, humbly serving and diligently protecting the congregation the Holy Spirit has entrusted to their care.

Similarly, at the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus finds himself in the midst of a great and final prayer to God. Shortly before his death, Jesus prays for his disciples, asking God to protect them from the evils of this world and keep them united and joyful.

10428490_10152097073117681_7005671247057170516_nHe prays that they might be “consecrated” in the truth of God’s word and send them into the world to make it a place more holy, a place more filled with God’s love.

In this prayer, Jesus prays to God – but significantly, along with the disciples – we hear his words.   -Fr. Felix Just

Jesus prays for you.

IMG_30477627848631This prayer holds time still and at the same time Jesus’ prayer for you moves swiftly through the generations to reach you where you are today.  Jesus has not stopped praying for you. When you feel like you keep falling short of some imaginary ruler that measures your “success” as a Christian – think again.

Jesus prays for you always and everywhere – regardless of merit or worth. You belong to him. How could he ever – ever – forget you?

Your life, here on this planet, is not just about getting ready for heaven…it is about living in the light of this love today and believing that Jesus is in your corner NOW.

 

Here and Now

This is the promise he made to us: eternal life.

Iamthe Light Eternal Life.

Where is it? When is it? For a long time I have thought about eternal life as a life after all my birthdays have run out.

For most of my years I have spoken about the eternal life as the “afterlife,” as the “life after death.” But the older I become, the less interest my “afterlife” holds for me. Worrying not only about tomorrow, next year, and the next decade, but even about the next life seems a false preoccupation.

Wondering how things will be for me after I die seems, for the most part, a distraction.

cosmos4When my clear goal is the eternal life, that life must be reachable right now, where I am, because eternal life is life in and with God, and God is where I am here and now.

The great mystery of the spiritual life – the life in God – is that we don’t have to wait for it as something that will happen later. Jesus says: “Dwell in me as I dwell in you.” It is this divine in-dwelling that is eternal life. It is the active presence of God at the center of my living – the movement of God’s Spirit within us – that gives us eternal life.

But still, what about life after death?

GATEWhen we live in communion with God, when we belong to God’s own household, there is no longer any “before” or “after.”

Death is no longer the dividing line.

Death has lost its power over those who belong to God, because God is the God of the living, not of the dead…

emmausWhen eternal life is our clear goal it is not a distant goal. It is a goal that can be reached in the present moment. When our heart understands this divine truth, we are living the spiritual life.

-Henri J. M. Nouwen, Here and Now
Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) was an internationally known priest and is among the great spiritual writers of modern times.

So much more than his Voice…

Not even 2 years ago, my father died of cancer…too quickly, really…in two weeks it was over, start to finish.

80th birthday breakfastHe was a joyful man. We celebrated his 80th birthday as a family one month before his death and he was set on fixing breakfast for everyone…ok, we all helped, but it was a delight to have him take charge in the kitchen.

Soon after he died, I called my mom’s house to check on her and I got the answering machine – with his voice still responding to the caller. I just listened…and then quickly, I called again…and again.

It was more than his voice…it was my Dad whom I was trying to reach – contact – possess…my dear Dad who was lost to me too quickly.

GodsembraceSince then I have pondered so often about the amazing love of God.  A God who would allow me to – perhaps –  love and long for my Dad more than I might daily long for Him. What kind of God would allow for substitutes?

Well, not really substitutes, right? I mean we would never “substitute” people for God…yet, I have come to believe that God is so free, so expansive, so “outside da box” that He rejoices in the love I have for my Dad, the way I miss his voice and touch, and meets me in the “middle” of that love, instead of needing me to love Him to the exclusion of loving my Dad.

father and sonI know, in some ways, I might seem to be walking a fine line here for those who read Scripture literally. I mean it says quite clearly in Scripture that “you shall love God with all your mind and heart” and love nothing before God or more than God.

I remember being VERY distressed as a child when I first learned the commandments – especially #1.  I wanted to be honest with God.  Yet, at that moment, at 8 years old, I knew I loved my parents more than I loved God and I hoped He would understand and that – eventually, if He was patient –  I would most likely love Him more.

But – I mean REALLY – it is not a competition, is it?

I love God deeply and have come to love God more and more and more in my life. I have spent my life trying to be responsive to this God and every day, I go into the world aware that God is the message of love I want to spread and I am the lucky messenger.you are loved

In I Corinthians 13 it says that God is not jealous…and I think that is what it all boils down to for me.  THIS is the God that I believe in and love…a God who cuts me slack and actually enjoys, revels in, the love I have for my parents / for others – God’s personal gifts to me.

Hey! Isn’t that a commandment too?

The love of God is immense…in fact, I would hazard a guess that the love of God is as big and wide, deep and tall, as you need that love to be.

My Dad was a joyful man. Where did that come from? From the God he knew as loving parent - a God whose heart is big enough, loving enough, compassionate enough that He is not threatened by any other love.  After all – ALL love comes from God, right?

If the love I experience on this planet between human beings and creation opens me up to the larger experience of God’s love – it’s all good.

Thanks Dad!

During these days of Easter we are reminded that love never dies…so, who is loving YOU today? Eyes wide open? Coming at ya!

Betrayal and Disappointment

Judas clearly chose to betray Jesus.

batik last supper

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was no sudden impulse. It was a premeditated decision to sell his friend for money. But why? Surely, Judas has once loved Jesus. He left everything to follow him. How did this love die?

It probably began slowly.

Perhaps what happened to Judas, in the beginning, was the same thing which happens so often to us. As the fervor of his first love was tested, and he began to realize that Jesus and his plan were not like his initial hopes, Judas allowed disappointment to creep into his love.

man-walking awayOver time, his love for Jesus may have grown cold, even though he continued to “go through the motions” of discipleship. As disappointment grew into bitterness, his heart turned to other loves: money, personal ambition, independence, perhaps even the desire to follow someone or something else. We don’t know.

But we may face the same temptation to betray someone we love.

hands apartConsider the commitment to marriage for some of us – or a close friendship. Time inevitably reveals that our spouse or friend, is different, and that God’s plan for this relationship is different than we first imagined. Here we are challenged: will we trust in God, be faithful, and allow love to grow? Or will we give in to disappointment, begin to seek other loves, and slowly betray the other person (and God) even as we still “go through the motions”? – John Janaro

crucifixionIt is easy to remain aloof from the characters of Holy Week and to see them as figures locked in time.  Human nature is consistent, however, and the challenges of Jesus’ companions are challenges which we, too, share. Holy Week is intended to help us take a little more time for self-reflection and making amends. This takes candor and love.

What do I bring to the cross of Jesus?

 

Do You Stand as a Question Mark?

A parent might do all kinds of things, stoop to all sorts of indignities, to save a child.

syrophonecian woman3When the Canaanite woman approaches Jesus, every generation can hear her desperation and recognize that she is literally begging for his attention to her daughter’s condition. But she is a woman, and she is not a Jew, and so the scene surprisingly exposes a prejudice within this Jewish man of his time.

syrophonecian woman2Jesus not only refuses to help her but uses insulting language to make his point. Brilliantly the woman turns his metaphor around and reminds him that even the dogs are entitled to the scraps from the table. She turns an insult into an opportunity, and the mission of Jesus is opened wider than expected.

 

The Syrophonecian woman stands in the gospel as a kind of question mark.

catching rainWe might hear her asking whether our communities and families are more like those seated at the table or more like those begging for scraps.

And then her presence asks us to become sensitive to needs that draws us beyond familiar boundaries. She might also ask whether we are willing to make fools of ourselves to obtain what we need, or to speak out for what others need.immigration

Do YOU stand as a question mark?

 

Reconciliation vs. Forgiveness

Compared with reconciliation, forgiveness is a piece of cake.

sorrowForgiveness by God is, of course, a great and undeserved blessing. The biblical messages during this week of Lent are full of forgiveness. We hear from Daniel: “We have sinned, been wicked and done evil…but yours, O God, are compassion and forgiveness!” Micah reminds us: “Who is there like you, the God who removes guilt and pardons sin?” And then there is the classic story of forgiveness in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

reconcilation8But forgiveness is different from reconciliation.

Forgiveness requires only one, a forgiver, but reconciliation takes at least two, a forgiver and a recipient. God will always forgive us, but we will not always accept the forgiveness.

rembrant-prodigal-son-The story of the prodigal son does not reveal whether the two sons were reconciled with their father, even though he forgave them both. They may have festering wounds for years, the younger because of an inability to forgive himself, and the older due to resentment.

In the renewal of the sacraments mandated by the
Second Vatican Council, the Sacrament of Penance
received a new name:
“Sacrament of Reconciliation.”

This is not just semantics and was not done suddenly but was carefully studied for several years before Pope Paul VI approved the new name in 1973.

confession“Reconciliation” describes much more adequately the purpose of the sacrament, which is to reconcile the sinner to God and to the church, and to set the stage for reconciliation within the person, healing the wounds of sin.

GodsembraceThis is very different from simple forgiveness. Most of the time, a person entering the confessional has already been forgiven, because God forgives us the moment we turn to him.

There is an initial reconciliation with God at that moment, but it may be very fragile. There may still be no reconciliation with the Church, the community of faith, and no healing of the fissure that has been opened in the heart by sin.

Sin can be forgiven from the outside,
but it originated from the inside and
must be healed from the inside.

confessionario_07062013170607We may confess a lie, for example, and it is forgiven. But the lie did not spring up without roots. There was a cause, and the cause was a diseased organ, the heart. It doesn’t help much to attend to the mouth that told the lie if there is no attention to the heart that spawned it.

reconciliation2During Lent we desire to open ourselves to the reconciliation that reunites us to God and to God’s people and brings healing to the heart. Then the wonderful gift of divine forgiveness will be able to achieve its total purpose in freeing us from our sins.

-Abbot Jerome Kodell OSB, Subiaco Abbey, Arkansas

 

 

There are Alternate Routes to being Christ

A little musical inspiration on this fourth Tuesday of March and third Tuesday of Lent. I love this song, and when I heard it again yesterday  it felt like the perfect Lenten meditation. Here’s “Nothing More” by The Alternate Routes:

We are Love
We are One
We are how we treat each other when the day is done.
We are Peace
We are War
We are how we treat each other and Nothing More

Big – Lenten Desert – Sky Country

bigskyAll you have to do to appreciate the big Nevada sky is go anywhere else in the country, right?

Okay – I’ll admit it – I am biased!

I was first assigned to live in Reno in 1981 and have lived here off and on since.  The big sky struck me from the first day.  There is something so elementary about the freedom of what goes on up there.

We can’t “batten down the hatches” of the atmosphere. The big sky – Nature – teaches a kind of surrender…an invitation to surrender, anyway.  We  accept that we are connected in deeply profound ways to all that God has made.

What goes on up there goes on
within me as well.

DSCN0569A number of years ago, I was with a friend who was struggling with her faith and her circumstances.  I told her that I saw the face of God, heard the voice of God, in what went on in the sky. It was comforting for me to know that God “covers” me the way the sky covers the land and that the ever-changing sky was a clue for me of how God is daily adapting the message of love in order for me to hear it.

She was quiet for a long minute.

pirate moonThen she said, “I guess if that were true for me right now - I’d have to trust he’s there. If God has another face; I’d see it in the darkness.”

The night sky…I love that thought.

Have you looked up lately? The amazing thing is that all those beautiful stars and all that “comet action” is going on all the time.  The timing just has to be right – the sun disappearing beyond the horizon – for me to see it clearly.  So, I have to wonder, what else am I missing because I am only looking in one way?

Lent is about taking time to see things – to see God – differently.

Sometimes it takes this special time, when we are kind-of “primed” to connect with God and holy things more closely, for God to be able to get through all the noise and distractions that our lives are built around.

So let me ask you,
how will you see God this Lent…
and where?

 

 

 

Jesus, Son of God….Have Mercy on Me

The Jesus Prayer

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
Have mercy on me, a sinner.

man-meditatingTwo men went into the temple. The Pharisee, confident that he had done everything necessary to be right with God, prayed:

God, I thank you that I am not like other people…”

The tax collector, whose job was even less popular in Roman Palestine than in our day, took a different tack. He knew he was like other people, and in that piercing recognition, his prayer was: “God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

man beggingA blind man begging by the road could hear a great crowd passing by. Hoping for some alms, he asked what was up and was told, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” That name banished any thought of skimming a few coins off the unexpected traffic. Here was a one-time shot at what he longed for most – to see. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

forgiveSinful and unseeing, desperate for forgiveness and healing: I am that tax collector, I am that beggar on the road into Jericho. A consolation is that I am not alone, for there is no prayer more frequent in the churches of the East and West than Kyrie eleison, “Lord have mercy.” The blind man knew that in Jesus the merciful God has come close, and Christians soon discovered the power of the name of Jesus, which after all, means, “God saves.”

Early monks loved to repeat Kyrie eleison and the Holy Name as a way to keep the Lord close and devilish thoughts far away. Better to fill the heart with Jesus, they believed, than to leave it open to distraction and temptation.

In the fifth century, Diadochus of Photike said that we should give the mind “nothing but the prayer ‘Lord Jesus.’” The monks of Sinai brought Diadochus’s suggestion back to those Gospel stories of calling upon Jesus. the result was the Jesus Prayer.

prayer beadsThe Jesus Prayer became their equivalent of the Latin church’s hail Mary. It has its own kind of rosary, usually a cord with 33, 50 or 100 knots. Monks and devout laity wear a small version around their wrist, reminding them to call out to Jesus in their struggles.  The prayer became linked to the body’s own rhythm of heartbeat and breath, breathing in Jesus and breathing out sinfulness.

footprints 3Those who practice the Jesus Prayer learn not to be surprised by tears. Like any meditation, this one can bring stillness and heightened awareness, touching depths of feeling beyond the day-to-day range of our emotions. The Jesus Prayer names those depths in classic Christian terms with the language of compunction: sinfulness and mercy. Even as it does so, the prayer brings with it the only answer to our completeness – Jesus Christ, the Lord and Son of God.

I breathe him in, I breathe me out. Mercy indeed.

-Fr. Columba Stewart

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