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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

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.

 

The Search for Home

When I first joined the convent I was 18 and the longest I had ever been away from home was 6 weeks.  (This picture was taken on pilgrimage about a dozen years later.)

Me and JPJII 001Everything about this life – everything around me was unfamiliar and very little reminded me of home.

Beginning to live the vow of Poverty meant that I was already trying to live with less, to live simply, but a few photos of family and a little picture of Jesus behind glass which had hung in my mom’s childhood room made the new space feel a little more like home.

When I left the convent nearly 20 years later…the feeling of home as I once knew it was illusive and the search began again.

You, too, have had similar experiences, I’m sure.  Leaving home for the first time can be tough and yet, well, it can also feel just like the adventure it is!

The need to “feel at home” is a real part of our human experience.  When we are stressed out we eat “comfort food” that may have some of that “feel at home-ness” to it.  When we lose someone we have loved, we may keep some of their clothing to wrap ourselves in when we find that the “home” they provided for our spirit feels painfully far away.

favorite chairWhen we move into a new space, we can’t wait to hang familiar artwork or photos on the wall or move familiar furniture into new places so that it feels like home as soon as possible.

When we feel at home our souls can rest…we can settle in…and deal with the rest of life. It is important that the home front feels safe, feels right.

Sometimes in our lives we go through a patch of time when there is NO WAY to feel at home or something devastating may happen to the space we have made our own…and all our efforts don’t make the difference we long for.

homeward boundWe may feel rootless.

Our spirits, restless and won’t be calmed.

If you are a spiritual person – or you are open to a spiritual consideration - you know that this search for “home” will be a continual theme of your life.

Our hearts were created not for a place…but for a person. Our hearts were made to find a home in God.  No matter how we re-arrange the furniture of our lives, there will always be a place we cannot fill.

restlessSt. Augustine’s famous struggle was voiced, “Our hearts are restless, O God, until they rest in you.”

This is a powerful reflection and will take more time than this short space can offer.  I have mused over this so often in my life…what makes a home a home for me?  What do I want most in a home?

anam caraIf we are honest, we know that what makes a place, an experience, feel like home isn’t really four walls.  For me, it is being loved; feeling accepted and safe.  It is the knowledge that there is room in someone’s heart for all the “wonkiness” of me – on my good days and especially on my bad days.

God loved me – loved you – before we ever had a wonky day. God loves us beyond the stuff we get hung up on…God is that safe place – that haven – that our spirits long for and search for.

The search for “home” will always be misdirected if we hope to find what we are looking for here.  Our ultimate “at homeness” is with God.  That, actually, is the whole purpose of this life we are living right now.  reverence

What does that mean? How do we “make our home” in God?  Sometimes…I  forget that connecting with God is not my work.  It is God’s work.  I just have to be open and tuned in to how God will communicate.

Say a little prayer right now…and ask God to open your ears to hear what you have always wanted to hear from God…be patient…let God say it over your entire lifetime in ways you can’t even imagine.

If we make our home in God…then heaven is all about reunion…all about moving in and feeling like we’ll never have to hit the road again in search of what will fill us.

And – get this – some really smart people say that heaven starts now.

Hey – Are You There God?

An AVID reader as a child; I traveled all over the world and became the lead detective on a number of famous cases through those books!  books

In 5th grade I read a book that came to mind this morning – “Are you there God? It’s me, Margaret” – I still think the premise is relevant.

Even if you don’t dare say those words out loud do you ever find yourself wondering about that? Is God really listening? Watching? Tuning in to my life?

sufferingOr is God really preoccupied with all the challenges of the world, right now…wars, uprisings, security leaks, economic free falls, the death of innocents…legitimately too preoccupied…to be worried about me?

Karl Rahner, German theologian, wrote that God has an eternal relationship with every person ever created. This relationship is totally free. God has initiated it and God is engaged in this relationship with every single person ever created…regardless of religion, of culture, language, persuasion.

In some ways this sounds like a “no brainer.”

Don’t we already know this? Why would a theologian even state this aloud? Yet, when I first read this it took my breath away. We NEED to be reminded of this truth. ruler

This relationship is God’s work. You and I respond to God’s love, we don’t initiate it.  We don’t make it happen by saying all the right prayers and doing all the right things. The love of God is free and embracing.

I exist inside the love of God; I am not separate from God.

One of the biggest mistakes we can make is to believe that there is distance between God and ourselves.

When we are in love with someone they are always there in our heart, in our thoughts; we are preoccupied with the one we love.  Love is hard to explain…sometimes it doesn’t make sense at all. The love of God is yours – period. God has always loved you – before you had a brain to perceive it.

hand to earWhen someone, like God, loves us in this way and we aren’t sure why or how God keeps loving us it can lead to a desire to make a return for that love. How do I show my gratitude? How do I respond to such an unconditional love?

What do I do?

Some theologians tell us that we should just enjoy it! Don’t try to take apart the mystery. Other tell us that the best way to respond is to turn it around, to turn that love into action – to have it “infect” my behavior; to love others in the same way. healing

This really is the stuff of saints…to try to love others “for no good reason” except that the same love has been given to you. It might be a really good idea to spend some time with this truth. Let it sink in a little deeper.  See what changes in the way you relate to others because of this truth.

You are loved.

The Centurion in the Gospel said it so well, “Lord, I believe - help my unbelief!” Can you imagine what this world would be like if we were all on board with this? I guess that was the whole point of Jesus’ coming, wasn’t it?

Trust What You Can’t See

Sometimes we don’t recognize what we want when we get it because it doesn’t look like what we asked for.

package I grew up in a household that was lucky enough to get packages on a regular basis from a foreign country. Wow! As a child, that was so cool!

The paper it came in was different than the brown wrappings from here, the stamps and stickers were in another language, and when we opened the package even the smell of Holland, the homeland of my parents, came wafting across the table.

Not to mention – have I told you yet?

These packages always came with treats: dark chocolate, salty licorice, funny-tasting marzipan in the shape of barnyard critters. I found it SO hard to wait for what was inside!marzipan animals

Thing is, you had to be ready for whatever was there; whatever my grandparents placed within the box.

Sometimes, when we would respond to their request for a specific gift for our birthdays, we would expect the item to look like it does here, in the States, but it would be the Dutch version of what we thought was coming.

There is a (tasty) lesson here

We all ask God for things – some more serious things than others.  The things we ask for are usually things we can’t achieve, figure out, or accomplish on our own…or most of us wouldn’t ask in the first place, right?

Do I give God total freedom to package up a response to my request? Or, as with the requests made of my grandparents, do I already have a vision of what the “right” response would look like?

trustTrust is everything

I have to ask myself, “Do I only trust God when God delivers on my expectations?”

If I trust God…well, I DO trust God, but maybe, sometimes, conditionally…ok, so let me rephrase. If I trust God to do the right thing for me out of love, no matter what, every single time then I will find exactly what I asked for – regardless of what it looks like – wrapped up in the crinkly, brown paper of the divine package that comes my way.

Trust is hope and faith, and at those moments when we determine to see in the things we most want to argue about, thrash under, and pay God back for “failing us” – to see in these things only a series of invitations into the wide places of God’s heart, trust is love.

All things work together for the good of those who love God.

Romans 8:28 is my favorite quote of the Bible. No wonder! The joyful invitation in that quote is to TRUST always!

Joy Overflows

If you are joyful

joy2

it will shine in your eyes and in your look, in your conversation and in your contentment.  You will not be able to hide it because joy overflows.

Mother Teresa said

Joy is very contagious. Try, therefore, to be always overflowing with joy – wherever you go. Joy must be one of the pivots of our life. It is the token of a generous personality.
Sometimes – it is also a mantle that clothes a life of sacrifice and self-giving. A person who has this gift often reaches high summits. He or she is like a sun – providing the safety and warmth which allows others to grow.

Joy is reciprocal

keep calm Think of someone you know who fits the “JOY” description. List three things out loud that they possess – qualities – that seem to be part of their JOY formula.

Here are my top three for the person I am thinking about:

1. This person is someone who has suffered – and yet, doesn’t let the pain, experience, or memory of that suffering shape everything in their life.

2. This person knows how to laugh at themselves…roll with the punches…roll their eyes at what life dishes.

3. This person loves…or tries to love…most of the time. Love motivates their patience and their presence.

I feel good!rose colored glasses

You know what? It makes me feel good around them…it makes me joyful, too! Joy IS contagious – yet, a joyful person is not someone going through life with rose-colored glasses.

JOY looks at life straight on – with both eyes – and then blinks.

Yet, there is a price to pay for being joyful…I guess…or we would all be that way.  Is our cynicism too precious to us?

Ok – so…two seconds…list three things that you would have to give up to be JOYful.  What would it cost?

Worth the price?

Mother Teresa also said this:

We should ask ourselves, ‘Have I really experienced the joy of loving?’ True love is love that causes pain – that hurts – and yet brings us joy. That is why we need help, we must ask God’s help – we must ask for the courage to love.’

Who would have thought that love and joy had so much in common?

I want to be that joyful person that looks at life straight on and blinks. I want to be more loving. Some people would say it takes a village. OK – I pick you for my team! What if – this week – you and I tried to bring a little joy, a little more love, into our world? What would that look like for you?

Game On!

What? Me Worry?

easter fire 3 Lots of us huddled in the cool air last night around the “new fire” that was sparking in the breeze.  Overhead the clouds warned of rain, yet looking around me at the faces lit with only a small candle, there was something else in the air…HOPE.

Christ our Light…Thanks be to God!

easter fire 2Father George – on his 5oth anniversary of ordination, no less – called out from within the body, “Make this new fire holy, and inflame us with new hope!”

It was clear last night that the hope we long for – the hope that will ease the ache and sorrow of the struggles of this world – is so much bigger than ourselves. Our hope lies not in our own efforts to “put on a happy face” and wear “a stiff upper lip.” Our hope – that is meant to carry us forward when our own strength is drying up – is Christ. The Christ that is not conquered – by anything.

Christ our Light…Thanks be to God!

Over and over again in the readings this night we hear the same message made to everyone who has ever lived before us – “Unplug your ears! Open your eyes! I LOVE YOU and will not let you go!”

easter fire 6What seems crazy, unimaginable, ridiculous…becomes a reality! BREAK OUT THE PRESSES! God is in charge and “all things work for the good of those who love God.”  Sarah, the ancient bride of Abraham, will finally have a child! The chosen people, stiff-necked and stubborn, will be led through the desert with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night due to God’s pure mercy. No one will be lost. No one will be forgotten. If God counsels trust – and no worry – to my relatives in the old and new testaments, then I will embrace that for myself as well!

Christ our Light…Thanks be to God!

Fire transforms. Fire changes the substance of things. It is no coincidence that the church uses fire for the rituals which begin the celebration of Easter.

fire tried goldWe hear, in Scripture, about “fire-tried gold.” At a certain temperature the impurities within the gold ore dissolve and melt away, leaving the gold pure, strong, able to be molded and shaped into something precious and lasting.

No other analogy needed here. We get the point.

In the light of Christ’s fire - a fire of love that burns without ever being quenched - CAN YOU ACTUALLY IMAGINE BEING LOVED SO COMPLETELY? – we can never be the same.  We don’t walk out of that kind of reality the same way we walked in.

your flameLent is over. Today we celebrate being loved in ways that we will never deserve…by a God that just won’t call it quits on who we are.  He is Risen!!!  Alleluia!

I get it on one level and I don’t get it on many more…this is so much bigger than my head can comprehend. So – I am going  to leave it to faith and stop worrying.  God I believe – help my unbelief!  Thank you for your love!

Spread the Good News!!!!

Grace Is A Gift

What if we changed it up?

Yesterday at Mass, Fr. Ed started his pre-Superbowl homily by asking us:

What if Commissioner Goodell comes on stage after the Superbowl and says to the crowd:  “Congratulations to both teams!  You played an excellent and entertaining game today and we are all very grateful!  We’ve decided to do things a little differently this year.  All of the teams in the NFL have worked hard and played well this season.  And all of these teams are full of winners.  So we are going to give the Lombardi trophy to everyone!”

What would happen?

Probably there would be a lot of angry players, coaches and fans.  Superbowl is by definition a championship football game and there should be a designated winner.  Right?

Superbowl 2013That’s how it’s always been.

A Still More Excellent Way

And then Fr. Ed went on to talk about the readings of the day.  Click HERE to refresh your memory.  We heard the classic words from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians:

Brothers and sisters:
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.
But I shall show you a still more excellent way.

If I speak in human and angelic tongues,
but do not have love,
I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy,
and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge;
if I have all faith so as to move mountains,
but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own,
and if I hand my body over so that I may boast,
but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, it is not pompous,
It is not inflated, it is not rude,
it does not seek its own interests,
it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing
but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails.

When It’s Hard to Love

Love is the call of all disciples.  When we give love, we receive God’s grace in return.  But we know that sometimes it can be difficult to love.

Another priest I know gave some advice in a homily once:  The surest path to heaven is to truly love your family.

Now, don’t interpret that to mean he actually knows how to get to heaven… but it is a piece of profound wisdom, don’t you think?  Loving our family can be really hard… because we know them, warts and all.  If that isn’t true for you, then think of those people in your life that you do know really well.  Sometimes they do stuff that just makes you mad.  Sometimes relationships are strained and need to be fixed.

When we can do the work of forgiveness and reconciliation to get back to a state of loving one another, God’s abundant grace can fill our hearts.

We Don’t Earn It

God gives grace freely to all who would receive it.  We can’t do anything to earn it… only accept it as a gift.  That’s what Fr. Ed was getting to in his homily.

Could we as a people get to a place where we would sincerely award the grand prize trophy to everyone?  Or are we so inculturated in competition that we can’t see all people as winners?

Football is one thing.  In the case of Superbowl, it is set up as a winner-take-all battle.

But in life, we sometimes do the same thing.  The people on ‘our team’… the ones who look like us / think like us / act like us… should be the ones who get the trophy.

Everyone is the Apple of God’s Eye

But God doesn’t work that way.  Everyone deserves special treatment.  Everyone is entitled to receive the gifts God gives.  Everyone is worthy to receive God’s grace.

Everyone.  Not just those who work hard.  Not just those who go to liturgy regularly.  Not just those who have received the sacraments.  Not just those who believe as we do.

Everyone is the apple of God’s eye.

A Prayer to Help Us Remember

We can easily get so caught up in our own lives that sometimes we forget how we are called to love.  In those moments, we have a simple prayer from a simple man to remind us.  Plant this prayer in your heart and print it out and put it somewhere to see it daily.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.

Amen.

Lord make me an instrument of your peace.  Let me be a channel of your grace this day and all days.

 
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