Author Archives: Monique Jacobs

Falling for Change

This time of year takes my breath away! You too?change7

All of a sudden the air has a chill to it – I can see my breath in the mornings when I walk the dog! – and the trees all over town and at the Lake are beginning their slow, magnificent transition of letting go of “business as usual” and turning toward the long rest of winter.

I often wish I could zip up these colors and contain them inside me.  change6

Trees have always been an amazing revelation of following God, for me.  They do exactly what they are supposed to do! They respond to the deepest invitation of their nature and conform (easily?) to the demands of each season.

Now you can see why they inspire me. I do not follow the same path for myself…at least, I am sure, I don’t do it so beautifully.

CHANGE ME

Why is it that CHANGE, which is so important for all of creation in order to get from HERE to THERE, looks so different on us than it does in the example of Brother Sun and Sister Moon?

change4I think it is our fear of being changed – of not recognizing ourselves on the other side of it – that makes us so leery, or resistant even, of releasing ourselves to the process which allows us to grow.

Do you agree?  What do you think? Pause here, will you, and reflect for a second.

 

changeAre we so satisfied with the way things are right now that we couldn’t benefit from a little transitioning? In our head – intellectually – I think we would push that idea aside and reply, no.

But…we don’t respond to change with our intellect – do we?

change2Ha! I know the answer to that myself!  Often I have to force myself to move my need for change TO my head in order to win myself over.

So…if our resistance to change is located in our emotions, then what is the formula that will help us to see this invitation as something that is not life-threatening – though, perhaps it will be life-style threatening.

change3What will help?  We can lay a few thoughts out here but you will have to do your own personal homework in order to make a new approach to change, stick.

Reflect for yourself:

  • What do I like about the way things are?
  • What isn’t working anymore?
  • If I can’t change everything about what isn’t working anymore, what IS possible to shift? Is there a new habit that I can begin that would take some weight off the issues I struggle with?
  • Decide to try this new shift in attitude, as well as in practice, for one week…ok, I know we are playing a mind-game here BUT mind-games can become pretty persuasive if they succeed!

OK – now determine what “success” would look like. What would make your efforts at shifting-what-isn’t-working-anymore feel “successful?”

KEEP DOING IT.

change5Don’t forget.  Even though you might be a wee bit more resistant to change than the breath-taking trees around you this season – as a friend of mine said last weekend – this is only a season.  The next season is coming soon, we can bank on it.

If we don’t do the work of this season – letting go of what isn’t working anymore – we won’t have room for all the new growth and beauty of what comes next.

We think we know ourselves so well.  We’ve lived inside this body for so many years but there are amazing, wondrous, new breath-taking realities just waiting to take hold in your life.  Things you haven’t even begun to dream about.  spring crocusSpring comes after the slow, deep sleep of Winter and this time – you’ll be ready!

 

 

 

Forgiveness verses Reconciliation

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.

reconciliation2Taking stock of where we are verses where we want to be requires that we are open to making changes – even actively pursuing changes - in our attitudes and behavior.

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

Beyond Any Human Comprehension

As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways above your ways and my thoughts above your thoughts.

quiet powerI sense a wish in some…to make God possible, to make him comprehensible to the naked intellect, domesticate him so that he’s easy to believe in. Every century the Church makes a fresh attempt to make Christianity acceptable.

But, an acceptable Christianity is not Christian; a comprehensible God is no more than an idol.

I don’t want that kind of God.

What kind of God, then?

One time, when I was little more than a baby, I was taken to visit my grandmother, who was living in a cottage on a nearly uninhabited stretch of beach in northern Florida.

All I remember of this visit is being picked up from my crib in what seemed the middle of the night and carried from my bedroom and out of doors, where I had my first look at the stars…starry night3

The night sky, the constant rolling of the breakers against the shore, the stupendous light of the stars, all made an indelible impression on me.   I was intuitively aware not only of a beauty I had never seen before but also that the world was far greater than the protected limits of the small starry night2child’s world which was all I had known thus far.

I had a total, if not very conscious, moment of revelation; I saw creation bursting the bounds of daily restriction, and stretching out from dimension to dimension, beyond any human comprehension.

before GodI had been taught to say my prayers at night; Our Father, and a long string of God-blesses, and it was that first showing of the galaxies which gave me an awareness that the God I spoke to at bedtime was extraordinary and not just a bigger and better combination of the grownup powers of my mother and father.

This early experience was freeing, rather than daunting, and since it was the first it has been the foundation for all other such glimpses of glory.

-Madeline L’Engle, Glimpses of Grace

Receptivity to the Impossible

tightrope3Our faith is all about being open to what isn’t logical nor isn’t predictable.  I mean - really – that is what all our holy days celebrate, right?  I really liked this article written by Melissa Musick Nussbaum.  She pushes us to make connections from our daily life to a perspective of faith, which can be hard to do when we are in the middle of living!  I hope you will like this perspective, too.

bibleYou may have read the spate of articles about “Judgments about fact and fiction by children from Religious and Non-religious backgrounds,” a study published in the July issue of Cognitive Science.

My favorite comment was from BBC News with this portentous lead, “If you expose your children to Moses, Muhammad, or Matthew the Apostle, are they at a disadvantage?”

healing the peopleSixty-six kindergartener from both public and parochial schools in the Boston area were chosen for the study. The children were represented with three kinds of stories – religious, fantastical, and realistic, in the words of the study – and asked to differentiate between fact and fiction. The first curious assumption is that fact equals “realistic,” which equals “true,” while fiction equals “religious or fantastical,” which equals “false.”

By facts, of course, the researchers often mean what we can see and touch and measure. It’s what we have come to call “science,” as divorced from imagination or philosophy – or theology.

burning bushScience, we think, is untouched by personal experiences or cultural norms or political affiliation or peer pressure. It is “objective,” which, if I might be so bold, is a “fantastical” notion if ever there was. The belief, and belief it is, that if we can examine something under a microscope, it is fact. If we can only imagine it, it is fiction, and therefore, suspect and relegated to the world of fairy tales.

motherboardEven though much of what we now include in the realm of facts (flying machines and thin wires conveying sounds and images across time and space and men not in, but on, the moon) began in the realm of the fantastical.

Even though what was once held as fact, namely that people of certain races and continents were born to be owned by people of the other races living on other continents, was overturned by people fed on and formed by religious stories. Like the 18th-century English Rev. John Newton, a former slave trader turned fervent Christian, who preached against the slave trade and slavery and understood his own awakening to its horrors to be the direct result of what he read in the Bible. He could ascribe the change only to divine intervention, a miracle of God’s “amazing grace that saved a wretch like me.”

resurrectionNewton’s fervor; based in what the researchers in the study call “religious stories,” or fiction, would, they argue in the effects of such stories on children, lead to a “more generic receptivity toward the impossible, that is a more wide-ranging acceptance that the impossible can happen in defiance of ordinary casual regularities.”

For which, we fervently pray.

May there be a “more generic receptivity toward the impossible,” that men and women might return good for evil and forgiveness for hate “in defiance of ordinary causal regularities.”

May “ordinary causal regularities” roll away the stone from Jesus’ tomb, as the lowly are lifted up and the hungry filled with good things.

It was GK Chesterton who made the best and boldest defense of fairy tales, of the fantastical, when he wrote:

Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist.
Children already know that dragons exist.
Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.

grandmaSo if you want me, I’ll be where I’ve been for most of the past 40 years, telling children stories: of a bush that burns but is not consumed, and of seas that part so the slaves can cross over to freedom, and of a hungry lion whose mouth was shut by the hand of God. I’ll be telling them about a baby born beneath the brightest star that ever shone and about animals that, on that night, could talk. I’ll be telling them about water turned to wine and hate turned into love and death turned into life.

And they will be rapt, these children who know there are dragons, joining me in glorious “receptivity of the impossible,” that, one day, the dragons may be slain.

 

On the Way to Intimacy

a l l aloneGod is giving you the broadest and deepest permission you can receive: to give back to God who you really are – warts, wrinkles, and all.

And your willingness to offer that, knowing it will be received, might just well bring you to tears on at least two levels.

First for your own incapacity – I can’t do it! Lord, have mercy on me. That’s the only way to begin to pray: I don’t know how to pray!

Then there’s the second level of tears, which is total gratitude. tears2

I hope you’ve had that moment from one beloved partner of friend: when you know you’ve just done a really stupid thing, but they don’t judge you and they don’t dismiss you. They just look at you with soft eyes and receive you. It’s tears of immense release and joy and happiness – that there’s a heart out there big enough to receive what I can’t receive, to forgive what I can’t forgive. That is what makes you fall in love with God. If you’re on the spiritual journey, that will happen many times.

acceptanceIt’s the experience of a lover who sees your nakedness, when you don’t have the perfect body of your youth and they love you anyway. That’s the kind of love that we all want, that we all wait for, that we all need.

Although we want it from one another and we get it occasionally, we find there is only One who can be relied upon to always receive us and mirror us perfectly as we are – without demanding changes of us.

The great sadness is that so many Christians don’t know that.

They’re afraid to be naked before God because what they expect from God is what they’ve learned to expect from other people – which is judgment and analysis.

open armsI’ll take God’s judgment any day over the judgment of other people. Really! Those who pray know that. How could you not fall in love with Someone who always outdoes you in generosity and receptivity?

Adapted from Following the Mystics Through the Narrow Gate…Seeing God in All Things by Richard Rohr, OFM

Yogi Berra’s Wisdom: The Price of Attentiveness

Pay-attention1“Pay Attention!” is the first, and probably the hardest, ascetical practice we will ever undertake. Yet, if we are to fulfill Jesus’ commission, attentiveness is non-negotiable.

After summoning his chosen ones, Jesus proceeds to share his power and authority with them. His instructions can be paraphrased as bullet points:

  • work the home turf first
  • liberate
  • cure
  • proclaim

peace-corps-2His Great Commission “to teach all the nations” comes much later (Matthew 28:19).

Thinking globally may be more glamorous,
but acting locally is more difficult.

family-meal

Who among us does not know the numbness that comes with familiarity? When is the last time you took a really close look at something or someone you see everyday? Remember Yogi Berra’s wisdom, “You can observe a lot just by watching.” But you must be paying attention.

Whether we are parents, health-care workers, or ministers of any stripe, we imitate God when we pay attention.2talking2

But how much are we willing to be attentive? The price of attentiveness is letting go of our preoccupations and our agenda.

We must stop (put down the cell phone), look (turn away from whatever screen is in front of us), and listen (remove the ear phones and buds) to liberate what constrains and to heal what cripples.

With such attentiveness “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Attentive love heals wounds, physical and spiritual; it proclaims the presence of the One whose care for us never wavers.  – Father Richard Gula, SS

 

The Cost of Discipleship

all decide

What does it cost you to be a disciple? 

Sometimes we trade in what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace”: discipleship without the cost, glory without the suffering, resurrection without the cross.

Have you experienced what Dietrich Boenhoffer is talking about…that sometimes living a life of faith - or following Christ – has been comparatively easy?  Does your faith pinch in any way?

This is a very good time to take inventory of the way you live your faith.

Seize this very moment.

How can your attitude be adjusted and how can you put yourself out there “on the line” as you seek to be a light and bear witness in our world of a love that is unconditional and offered to everyone?

We say we are Christians. We say – like James and John – that we can drink of the chalice that Christ drank from.

So…let’s see where that takes us.  Most likely, right into the footsteps of Jesus and into the limelight of a world that will resist the message of your life…yet, we are in this together and we know that ultimately, God’s grace will do the work that we cannot complete.

Let’s pray for each other!

Pilgrim Path Within

pilgrimMany times in our lives we walk a path that is no longer sufficient. We find the ruts deep and dry…the invitation to experience more, to know God more deeply, is all that we hear in our quiet times…perhaps that quiet whisper of an invitation is all we hear even in the noisy chaos around us.

Every time we read Scripture there is an opportunity to read between the lines, so to speak, to hear what else is begin said and who else is present.

These are inner pilgrimages we can make.

Make this pilgrimage thoughtfully…dedicate your journey to your increasing awareness of God growing and maturing within you.  There is no limit to the times you will make this journey; each time beginning from the new place and time in which you find yourself. God, who is beyond time and space, is already “where you are going” while joining you on the way.  Allow the mysterious love of God to direct you – you don’t have to know every detail of the journey…after all…that is what faith is.

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.

 

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