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Sep 11 17

Age of Anger: A History of the Present, by Pankaj Mishra. Highlights from Kindle book

by davesandel

Your Kindle Notes For:

Age of Anger: A History of the Present

Pankaj Mishra

Last annotated on Tuesday September 12, 2017

175 Highlight(s) | 1 Note(s)

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In September 1919 the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio, accompanied by two thousand Italian mutineers, occupied the Adriatic town of Fiume.

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as ‘il Duce’ of the ‘Free State of Fiume’, D’Annunzio created a politics of outrageous rhetoric and gestures – politics in the grand style. He invented the stiff-armed salute, which the Nazis later adopted, and designed a black uniform with pirate skull and crossbones, among other things; he talked obsessively of martyrdom, sacrifice and death. Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, then obscure men, were keen students of the pseudo-religious speeches

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Alexis de Tocqueville had repeatedly called for a great energizing adventure: the ‘domination and subjugation’ of the Algerian people and the creation of a French Empire in North Africa.

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Demagogues in Austria-Hungary, who scapegoated Jews for the mass suffering inflicted by the anonymous forces of global capitalism, sought to copy anti-immigrant legislation introduced in America.

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a political culture wrought by the West’s transition to industrial capitalism and mass politics

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Today, as alienated radicals from all over the world flock to join violent, misogynist and sexually transgressive movements, and political cultures elsewhere suffer the onslaught of demagogues, D’Annunzio’s secession – moral, intellectual and aesthetic as well as military – from an evidently irredeemable society seems a watershed moment in the history of our present: one of many enlightening conjunctures that we have forgotten.

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It has become progressively clearer that political elites in the West, unable to junk an addiction to drawing lines in the sand, regime change and re-engineering native moeurs, don’t seem to know what they are doing and what they are bringing about. They have counterbalanced their loss of nerve before the political challenge of terrorism with overreaction, launching military campaigns, often without bothering to secure the consent of a frightened people, and while supporting despotic leaders they talk endlessly of their superior ‘values’ – a rhetoric that has now blended into a white-supremacist hatred, lucratively exploited by Trump, of immigrants, refugees and Muslims (and, often, those who just ‘look’ Muslim).

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tapped into the simmering reservoirs of cynicism, boredom and discontent.

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Authoritarian leaders, anti-democratic backlashes and right-wing extremism define the politics of Austria, France and the United States as well as India, Israel, Thailand, the Philippines and Turkey.

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beheading (in 2004, just as broadband internet began to arrive in middle-class homes) in Iraq of a Western hostage dressed in Guantanamo’s orange jumpsuit. But the racism and misogyny routinely on display in social media, and demagoguery in political discourse, now reveals what Nietzsche, speaking of the ‘men of ressentiment ’, called ‘a whole tremulous realm of subterranean revenge, inexhaustible and insatiable in outbursts’.

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This book takes a very different view of a universal crisis, shifting the preposterously heavy burden of explanation from Islam and religious extremism. It argues that the unprecedented political, economic and social disorder that accompanied the rise of the industrial capitalist economy in nineteenth-century Europe, and led to world wars, totalitarian regimes and genocide in the first half of the twentieth century, is now infecting much vaster regions and bigger populations:

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nineteenth century. German and then Italian nationalists called for a ‘holy war’ more than a century before the word ‘jihad’ entered common parlance, and young Europeans all through the nineteenth century joined political crusades in remote places, resolved on liberty or death.

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the global age of frantic individualism,

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In a massive and under-appreciated shift worldwide, people understand themselves in public life primarily as individuals with rights, desires and interests, even if they don’t go as far as Margaret Thatcher in thinking that ‘there is no such thing as society’.

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In the age of globalization that dawned after the fall of the Berlin Wall, political life became steadily clamorous with unlimited demands for individual freedoms and satisfactions.

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Most newly created ‘individuals’ toil within poorly imagined social and political communities and/or states with weakening sovereignty. They not only suffer from the fact that, as Tocqueville wrote in another context, ‘traditional ties, supports and restrictions have been left behind along with their assurances about a person’s self-worth and identity’. Their isolation has also been intensified by the decline or loss of postcolonial nation-building ideologies, and the junking of social democracy by globalized technocratic elites.

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capitalism and technology into a common present, where grossly unequal distributions of wealth and power have created humiliating new hierarchies.

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social structures of family and community, and the state’s welfare cushions. Today’s individuals are directly exposed to them in an age of accelerating competition on uneven playing fields, where it is easy to feel that there is no such thing as either society or state, and that there is only a war of all against all.

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The result is, as Arendt feared, a ‘tremendous increase in mutual hatred and a somewhat universal irritability of everybody against everybody else’, or ressentiment. An existential resentment of other people’s being, caused by an intense mix of envy and sense of humiliation and powerlessness, ressentiment, as it lingers and deepens, poisons civil society and undermines political liberty, and is presently making for a global turn to authoritarianism and toxic forms of chauvinism.

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the schemes of worldwide convergence on the Western model always denied the meaning of the West’s own extraordinarily brutal initiation into political and economic modernity. *   *   * Large-scale violence, uprooting and destruction had accompanied the first phase of an unprecedented human experiment in Europe and America.

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The nineteenth century’s most sensitive minds, from Kierkegaard to Ruskin, recoiled from such modernization, though they did not always acknowledge its darker side: rapacious colonialism and savage wars in Asia and Africa, the institutionalization of prejudices like anti-Semitism, and the widespread terror, aggravated by pseudo-science, of what Theodore Roosevelt called ‘race suicide’.

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acknowledged that the history of modernization is largely one of carnage and bedlam rather than peaceful convergence, and that the politics of violence, hysteria and despair was by no means unique to Nazi Germany,

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totalitarian politics crystallized the ideological currents (scientific racism, jingoistic nationalism, imperialism, technicism, aestheticized politics, utopianism, social engineering and the violent struggle for existence) flowing through all of Europe in the late nineteenth century.

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billions more people have been exposed to the promises of individual freedom in a global neo-liberal economy that imposes constant improvisation and adjustment – and just as rapid obsolescence.

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copycat pop-ups from San Bernardino in California to Dhaka in Bangladesh, and the success of racist nationalists and cultural supremacists worldwide, ought to make us re-examine our basic assumptions of order and continuity – our belief that the human goods achieved so far by a fortunate minority can be realized by the ever-growing majority that desires them.

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The two ways in which humankind can self-destruct – civil war on a global scale, or destruction of the natural environment – are rapidly converging.

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Can the triumphant axioms of individual autonomy and interest-seeking, formulated, sanctified and promoted by a privileged minority, work for the majority in a crowded and interdependent world? Or, are today’s young doomed to hurtle, like many Europeans and Russians in the past, between a sense of inadequacy and fantasies of revenge?

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explores a particular climate of ideas, a structure of feeling, and cognitive disposition, from the age of Rousseau to our own age of anger. It

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This alienated young man of promise, who appears in all modernizing countries, speaks on behalf of the illiterate majority, the educated minority, or himself – a self that turns out to be painfully divided.

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their parallel and intersecting journeys were fuelled by a mismatch between the energy and idealism of educated youth, almost all men, and political weakness and dysfunction.

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many Anglo-American assumptions, derived from a unique and unrepeatable historical experience, are an unreliable guide to today’s chaos, especially as it infects Anglo-America.

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But a curious and sceptical sensibility would recognize that to stake one’s position on national or civilizational superiority, or turn the accident of birth into a source of pride, is intellectually sterile.

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American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr mocked such ‘bland fanatics of Western civilization’, ‘who regard the highly contingent achievements of our culture as the final form and norm of human existence’.

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the paradox of religious fundamentalism: that it reflects the weakening of religious conviction.

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a rousing cause to fight for, especially one connected, however tenuously, with the past glory of Islam, and aimed at exterminating a world of soul-killing mediocrity, cowardice, opportunism and immoral deal-making.

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A revealed religion had dominated Europe until the seventeenth century; all other intellectual and cultural currents were subordinate to Christianity. Man did not presume to make his world; he was rather made by it. The world itself was seen as unchanging. Thus, there was no such thing as politics as we understand it: an organized competition for power, or contentious notions of equality and justice, identity and citizenship. All legitimacy derived from God and the timeless natural order.

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ideology: the notion that ideas express the conflicting interests of individuals or groups.)

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Liberty had been the battle cry of the men leading the revolutions in seventeenth-century England and eighteenth-century America. As it happened, the Atlantic West’s nascent bourgeoisie had just started to enjoy liberty when Rousseau’s radical heirs brought forth, during the French Revolution, far more seductive ideals of fraternity and equality. They

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Within a decade, the 1790s, two concepts, ‘nationalism’ and ‘communism’, had been invented to define the aspirations for fraternity and equality.

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‘Democracy’ came into vogue around 1830, helped by Tocqueville’s close observations of the new culture of individualism and equality in America.

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The appeal of democracy, broadly defined as equality of conditions and the end of hierarchy, would grow and grow – to the paradoxical point where Fascists, Nazis and Stalinists would claim to be the real democrats, realizing a deeper principle of equality, and offering greater participation in politics, than the bourgeois liberal democrats bothered with.

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never have we known man to walk on his head, that is, to base himself on the Idea and to build the world in accordance with it.’

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entirely equal and equivalent to all that exists outside itself.

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Nietzsche derived from Notes from Underground his specific understanding of ressentiment, and its malign potential as a particularly noxious form of aggression by the weak against an aloof and inaccessible elite.

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A whole new domain of human activity, now known to us by the words ‘economics’ and ‘economy’, opened up, and rapidly assumed a supreme value.

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Rousseau hailed the wisdom of François Fénelon, who in the most widely read book of the Enlightenment, The Adventures of Telemachus (1699), claimed that the Sun King’s project of grandeur through promotion of luxury had created deep economic, social and moral imbalances in France.

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military technology and a rationalized organization

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He sensed, earlier than anyone else, that the individual assertion mandated by modern egalitarian society could amount in practice to domination of other individuals; he foresaw its pathologies, flaws and blind spots, which made certain negative historical outcomes likely in practice.

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Many ‘isms’ of the right and the left – Romanticism, socialism, authoritarianism, nationalism, anarchism – can be traced to Rousseau’s writings.

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Against today’s backdrop of near-universal political rage, history’s greatest militant lowbrow seems to have grasped, and embodied, better than anyone the incendiary appeal of victimhood in societies built around the pursuit of wealth and power.

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A few months later this same young man by the name of Mohammed Atta was told that he been chosen to lead a mission to destroy America’s most famous skyscrapers.

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similar lament appears in the work of Japan’s foremost novelist, Natsume Soseki, who spent two miserable years in fin de siècle London. Novelists as varied as Junichiro Tanizaki and Yukio Mishima sought to return to an earlier ‘wholeness’. Tanizaki tried to re-create an indigenous aesthetic by pointing to the importance of ‘shadows’ – a whole world of distinctions banished from Japanese life by the modern invention of the light bulb. Mishima invoked, more gaudily, Japan’s lost culture of the samurai by dressing up as one. Both were fuelled by rage and regret that, as Tanizaki wrote in In Praise of Shadows (1933), ‘we have met a superior civilization and have had to surrender to it, and we have had to leave a road we have followed for thousands of years’.

Note:japan. Add Silence et al to the list.

 

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and appeals to transcendental authority led Foucault to see a form of ‘spiritual politics’ emerging in Iran. In his view this politics was emphatically not shaped by an abstract, calculating and incarcerating reason, but a ‘groundswell with no vanguard

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The idea that suffering could be relieved, and happiness engineered, by men radically changing the social order belongs to the eighteenth century. The ambitious

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about India, assessing a vast and diverse country through the inferiority complex of an upper-caste minority. However, their obsessive mapping of the high-born Hindu’s id created a useful – and increasingly very recognizable – meme of intellectual insecurity, confusion and belligerence. And, as it happens, thwarted Indians seeking private and national redemption are by no means unique.

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‘We will strive to be leaders,’ Vladimir Putin announced in December 2013, of Russia’s new role in the world. Nothing less would do for ‘a state like Russia, with its great history and culture, with many centuries of experience not of so-called tolerance, neutered and barren, but of the real organic life of different peoples existing together within the framework of a single state’.

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China’s President Xi Jinping outlines a ‘China Dream’ to re-establish his nation as a great power on a par with America: a vision in which he and his party are the representatives of a 5,000-year-old civilization, inoculated against Western political ideals of individual freedom and democracy.

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Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounces Turkish journalists and academics as fifth columnists of the West, speaks of Islam as ‘Europe’s indigenous religion’ from ‘Andalusia to the Ottomans’, and vows to protect the domes of European mosques ‘against all the hands that reach out to harm them’. No one, he promises, ‘will be able to stop’ Islam from growing into ‘a huge tree of justice in the centre of Europe’.

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many countries in the West are also obsessed with patriotic education, reverence for national symbols and icons, and the uniqueness of national culture and history; they, too, sound the alarm against various internal and external enemies. Far-right parties in France, Austria, Holland, Germany and the United Kingdom openly admire Putin’s resolve to re-create ‘organic’ life in a ‘single state’.

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‘Israel,’ wrote David Grossman in 2016, ‘is being sucked ever deeper into a mythological, religious and tribal narrative.’

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Today, the demagogues ruling Hungary and Poland claim to be the sentinels of a Christian Europe in a parody of their actual role in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

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the idolatry of the nationalistic state, the ‘coldest of all cold monsters’, as Nietzsche called

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Nationalism has again become a seductive but treacherous antidote to an experience of disorder and meaninglessness: the unexpectedly rowdy anticlimax, in a densely populated world, of the Western European eighteenth-century dream of a universally secular, materialist and peaceful civilization.

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As Keynes wrote, with devastating understatement, ‘The age of economic internationalism was not particularly successful in avoiding war.’ In the late twentieth century, however, the old dream of economic internationalism was revived on a much grander scale after Communism, the illegitimate child of Enlightenment rationalism, suffered a shattering loss of state power and legitimacy in Russia and Eastern Europe.

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In the absence of reasoned debate, conspiracy theories and downright lies abound, and even gain broad credence: it was while peddling one of them, ‘Obama is a foreign-born Muslim’, that Donald Trump rose to political prominence.

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Lynch mobs, assassins and mass shooters thrive in a climate where many people can think only in terms of the categories of friends and foes, sectarian loyalty or treason. The world of mutual tolerance envisaged by cosmopolitan elites from the Enlightenment onwards exists within a few metropolises and university campuses; and even these rarefied spaces are shrinking.

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Between 1770 and 1815 a galaxy of German thinkers and artists, almost all readers of Rousseau, responded to the then emergent commercial and cosmopolitan society; and their response set a pattern of the greatest importance for the history of politics and culture. It started with assertions of spiritual superiority and an aesthetic ideology, mutated over time into ethnic and cultural nationalism, and, finally, into an existential politics of survival. All the diverse movements of German Idealism that transformed the world of thought – from Sturm und Drang to Romanticism to the Marxist dialectic – originally emerged out of the resentment and defensive disdain of isolated German intellectuals, which Rousseau’s rhetoric justified and reinforced.

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these young men started to idealize what they took to be the true Volk, an organic national community united by a distinctive language, ways of thought, shared traditions, and a collective memory enshrined in folklore and fable.

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The Rousseau-reading Germans countered the cosmopolitan ideals of commerce, luxury and metropolitan urbanity with Kultur.

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Kultur combined the nurturing and education of the individual soul (Bildung) with the growth of national culture. Starting with Herder and Goethe, prodigiously talented German literati elaborated, for the first time in history, a national identity founded on aesthetic achievement and spiritual eminence.

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Subjugated and dishonoured Germany came to generate that strange compound we have subsequently seen in many countries: harmless nostalgia for the past glories of the ‘people’, combined with a lethal fantasy of their magnificent restoration. Cults of the Volk did not cease to seduce, and mislead, in the second half of the nineteenth century, even as Germany consolidated its political unity and Bismarck’s Second Reich frenetically pursued industrialization.

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The Volk, expeditiously conflated after 1918 with a purified race, began to seem a magical antidote to the spiritual disorientation induced by modernity, and some of the most intelligent and sensitive Germans were inebriated by it.

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This exhausted and resentful state of mind prepared the ground for the authoritarian state; it was the basic condition of possibility for the uncanny avant-gardist who, while resurrecting symbols of Germany’s glorious past, outlined a glorious vision of the future in which the German Volk would triumph in the international racial struggle. He offered his followers escape from failure and self-loathing, and release into quasi-erotic fantasies of a near-permanent supremacy: a Thousand-Year Reich, no less.

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Herder inaugurated the nativist quest – hectically pursued by almost every nation since – for whatever could be identified as embodying an authentic national spirit: literary forms, cuisine and architecture as much as language.

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Herder also recognized a creative principle in different national cultures. He claimed that each of the world’s many nations has a particular character, expressed diversely in its language, literature, religion, traditions, values, institutions and laws, and that history was a process of national self-fulfilment.

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Herder himself, his early disciple Goethe said, had in him ‘something compulsively vicious – like a vicious horse – a desire to bite and hurt’. But

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Herder never saw Riga again. Instead of mutating into a French-style man of the world, he became the philosophical father of cultural nationalism.

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‘Magnificence in arts and institutions are in the centre of attention,’ he wrote. ‘But since taste is only the most superficial conception of beauty and magnificence only an illusion – and frequently a surrogate for beauty – France can never satisfy, and I am heartily tired of it.’

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the French ‘only want to destroy everything that exists and to create everywhere … a void, in which they can reproduce their own image and never anything else’.

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The rebellion against the narrow intellectualism of the French Enlightenment, led by Herder, and popularized by the young Goethe and Schiller, turned into the movement known as Sturm und Drang, ‘stress and strain’, the essential precursor of the Romantic Revolution that transformed the world with its notion of a dynamic subjectivity.

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Many of its adherents were students – with their rakish dress, long hair, and narcotic and sexual indulgences, they were prototypes for the counter-cultural figures of our age. These young men upheld feeling and sensibility against the tyranny of reason,

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In German hands, literary and classical scholarship and the brand-new discipline of history received the imprint, ineradicable to this day, of cultural defensiveness.

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The population had doubled over the previous century; and there was an abundance of young Germans, many of them brilliantly creative in music, art, literature and philosophy. Yet they had to suffer petty princes, religious division and constricted economic systems.

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The Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation consisted of three hundred states and another fifteen hundred minor units, all with different customs, manners and dialects.

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Political and cultural unity was bedevilled by the division, dating back to the Reformation, of Germans into Catholics and Protestants. Austria and Prussia, two important components of the Holy Roman Empire, were locked in conflict, and frequently pursued policies that seemed to undermine rather than serve the overall German interest.

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For Kant it was proof of mankind’s emergence from its self-imposed immaturity, the process he had termed Enlightenment: a world-historical experiment in which man was finally self-determining and free.

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It was now to be the task of the Romantic generation to shore up the ideal of Bildung against modern society, and its atomism, alienation and anomie.

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At a moment of political catastrophe and cultural crisis, the early Romantic struggles for re-enchantment in Germany mutated, largely due to its humiliations by Napoleon and German elite collaboration with him, into chauvinistic, even militaristic, myths of the Volk, fatherland and the state.

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Mere being came to be degraded, thanks to Germany’s special experience, by becoming. As Nietzsche wrote caustically, ‘The German himself is not, he is becoming, he is “developing”. “Development” is thus the truly German discovery.’

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In the long term, ‘development’ proved to be the most important discovery: it is still the word we use to assess societies. Human self-knowledge since the nineteenth century has been synonymous with all that could help the process of ‘development’: the advance of science and industry and the demystification of culture, tradition and religion. All the hopes, transmitted from Marxists to modernization theorists and free-marketeers, of ‘development’ emerge from nineteenth-century German thinkers: the first people to give a deep meaning and value to a process defined by continuous movement with a fixed direction and no terminus. All our simple dualisms – progressive and reactionary, modern and anti-modern, rational and irrational – derive their charge from the deeply internalized urge to move to the next stage of ‘development’, however nebulously defined.

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The process inaugurated in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries – whereby man replaces God as the centre of existence and becomes the master and possessor of nature by the application of a new science and technology – had reached a climax by the middle decades of the nineteenth century. The view of God as only an idealized projection of human beings rather than a Creator had taken hold among the European and Russian intelligentsia well before 1848. Among writers and artists trying to create new values without the guidance of religion, Wagner loomed largest in his attempt to construct a new mythos for human beings.

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In Nietzsche’s view, materialism and loss of faith were generating a bogus mysticism of the state and nation, and dreams of utopia. Describing Bismarck as a ‘fraternity student’, he lamented ‘Germany’s increasing stupidity’ as it descended into ‘political and nationalistic madness’. He also used the Germans to indict a broader complacency in Europe: its investment in liberal democracy, socialist revolution and nationalism.

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poets, often in exile, managed to exalt, with their lyrical power, the amorphous fantasies of self-aggrandizement into the principles of nationhood. Poetry has never been so widely and keenly read as it was in the early nineteenth century.

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Walter Scott, who had practically invented Scotland with his ground-breaking ethnic lore and historical local colour. Poetry’s

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Those vulnerable to the immense soft power of German philosophy – Italians, Hungarians, Bohemians, Poles – devised their own cultural-linguistic nationalism, marked by resentment and frustration. Soon, the Japanese fell under its spell, followed by other Asians. No educated minority was more thoroughly ‘Germanized’ than the Japanese in the nineteenth century.

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As with the Germans, this was no mere conceit of ivory-tower dwellers; clear identification of the other as inferior was essential to building up internal unity and confidence for Japan’s inevitable and final showdown with its enemies. The Kyoto School provided the intellectual justification for Japan’s brutal assault on China in the 1930s, and then the sudden attack on its biggest trading partner in December 1941 – at Pearl Harbor.

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Sorel ‘is the key to all contemporary political thought’. For his work consummated the nineteenth century’s steady transformation of politics: from the Enlightenment’s liberal notion emphasizing rational self-interest and deliberation to Napoleon’s total war, heroism and grandeur, aestheticization and, finally, an existential politics where survival is at stake, and the choices are life or death.

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Over four years later, Gabriele D’Annunzio’s occupation of Fiume offered the socialist apostate a fresh template for arousing the masses: black uniforms, stiff-armed salutes, military parades, war songs, and the glorification of virility and sacrifice.

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Gandhi together with Simone Weil was among many twentieth-century thinkers who questioned the emphasis on rights – the claims of self-seeking possessive individuals against others that underpinned the expansion of commercial society around the world. They, too, said that a free society ought to consist of a web of moral obligations. But Mazzini’s messianism cancelled his good ideas; and he failed to anticipate that his desired Third Rome might require high levels of brutality,

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Bakunin criticized, too, Mazzini’s ‘passion for uniformity that they call unification and that is really the tomb of liberty’.

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explicitly identified Mazzini as the founder of a new religion, whose creeds of nationality, liberty and unity were to be practised with blood and martyrdom. Another close reader of the Italian, Bipin Chandra Pal, used him to promote the cult of Bharat Mata (Mother India), revealing an allegedly ancient Hindu idea of the divinized and spiritualized nation, or the nation as mother, to be derived almost entirely from European nationalist notions. Another devotee of Mazzini was Liang Qichao, China’s foremost modern intellectual, and an inspiration to many writers, thinkers and activists across East Asia. Exiled to Japan in 1898, Liang produced a large inspirational history of Italy aimed at galvanizing his Chinese compatriots. Typically, he placed Mazzini at the centre,

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Savarkar was arrested the same day, 30 January 1948, that his most fervent admirer in his party, Nathuram Godse, murdered Gandhi. During his trial, Godse made a long and eloquent speech reprising Savarkar’s themes; he was disappointed to find that his hero, eager not to return to jail, ignored him coldly in the courthouse and prison. Savarkar himself was acquitted of the conspiracy to murder Gandhi,

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what explains the fact that many individuals among even relatively privileged majorities stand ready to support murderous leaders? A ‘taste for well-being’, Tocqueville wrote, ‘easily comes to terms with any government that allows it to find satisfaction’ – and any kind of atrocity, he might have added. Modi,

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He made many poorly educated, underprivileged laggards – people brought up on Ayn Randian clichés of ambition, iron willpower and striving – feel masters of their individual destinies.

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In their indifference to the common good, single-minded pursuit of private happiness, and narcissistic identification with an apparently ruthless strongman and uninhibited loudmouth, Modi’s angry voters mirror many electorates around the world – people gratified rather than appalled by trash-talk and the slaughter of old conventions. The new horizons of individual desire and fear opened up by the neoliberal world economy do not favour democracy or human rights. In 2016 middle-class voters in the Philippines overwhelmingly chose Rodrigo Duterte as the country’s president, at least partly because he brazenly flaunted his expertise in the extrajudicial killing of criminals. Modi’s assault on Muslims – already India’s most depressed and demoralized minority – may seem wholly gratuitous. But it was an electorally bountiful pogrom; it brought him a landslide victory just three months later, and now seems to have been an initiation rite for a ‘New India’ defined by individual self-interest.

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The crony-capitalist regimes of Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand and Vladimir Putin in Russia were inaugurated by ferocious offensives against ethnic minorities. Erdogan is trying to consolidate support by renewing attacks on the Kurds, among other ‘traitors’. Even in the United States, a figure like Trump became a presidential candidate with the help of repeated threats to Mexicans and Muslims. All

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decline of the historical form of the nation state. The social contract has weakened everywhere under the pressure of globalization. Much ultra-nationalist rhetoric verifies that the political entity entrusted universally since the French Revolution with the exercise of sovereign power is increasingly unable to resolve internal conflicts over distribution or to effect compromises between ethnic and racial communities. This crisis of a flailing universal

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Politicians can find no rational ground to deny the political and moral claims of minorities or the economic benefits of immigration. It is easier to retreat, as England’s Brexit campaign showed, into fantasies of past power and glory, and splendid isolation; and there are enough vendors of a clash of civilizations peddling magical cosmic solutions to neuroses whose source lies in profound inequalities at home. These included the chief advocate of the clash of civilizations theory. Samuel Huntington fretted in his last book, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (2004), about the destruction of white American culture by Hispanic immigration – a theme taken up vigorously by Donald Trump promising to make America great again.

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Thus, in the very places where secular modernity arose, with ideas that were then universally established – individualism (against the significance of social relations), the cult of efficiency and utility (against the ethic of honour), and the normalization of self-interest – the mythic Volk has reappeared as a spur to solidarity and action against real and imagined enemies.

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But nationalism is, more than ever before, a mystification, if not a dangerous fraud with its promise of making a country ‘great again’ and its demonization of the ‘other’; it conceals the real conditions of existence, and the true origins of suffering, even as it seeks to replicate the comforting balm of transcendental ideals within a bleak earthly horizon. Its political resurgence shows that ressentiment – in this case, of people who feel left behind by the globalized economy or contemptuously ignored by its slick overlords and cheerleaders in politics, business and the media – remains the default metaphysics of the modern world since Rousseau first defined

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Proudhon, appalled by public support of imperial despotism and militarist adventurism in France, came to believe that: To be governed is to be watched, inspected, spied upon, directed, law-driven, numbered, regulated, enrolled, indoctrinated, preached at, controlled, checked, estimated, valued, censured, commanded by creatures who have neither the right nor the wisdom nor the virtue to do so. To be governed is to be at every operation, at every transaction noted, registered, counted, taxed, stamped, measured, numbered, assessed, licensed, authorized, admonished, prevented, forbidden, reformed, corrected, punished. It is, under pretext of public utility, and in the name of the general interest, to be placed under contribution, drilled, fleeced, exploited, monopolized, extorted, squeezed, hoaxed, hunted down, abused, clubbed, disarmed, bound, choked, imprisoned, judged, condemned, shot, deported, sold, betrayed, and to crown all, mocked, ridiculed, derided, outraged, dishonoured. That is government; that is its justice; that is its morality.

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In the most illuminating coincidence of our time, at a ‘Supermax’ prison in Colorado, McVeigh befriended Ramzi Ahmed Yousef, the mastermind of the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993.

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engineer by training, completed what he had started: the twin towers’ destruction.

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the radical current that reached far outside Europe, deep into South America and Asia, and brought several diverse communities together in the late nineteenth century, was anarchism. Errico

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The anarchist idea of mutual aid was especially attractive among the labouring classes and immigrants as a counter to the pitiless Social Darwinism rampant among elites.

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Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the spiritual father of ISIS, had been a small-town pimp and drug-dealer before he set out to establish a Caliphate in Iraq in double-quick time through theatrical displays of extreme savagery.

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above all, they believe, in Bakunin’s words, in the ‘passion for destruction as a creative passion’.

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The Jacobin politician and journalist Jean-Paul Marat wondered why those accusing him of a reign of terror ‘cannot see that I want to cut off a few heads to save a great number’.

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ISIS, born during the implosion of Iraq, owes its existence more to Operation Infinite Justice and Enduring Freedom than to any Islamic theology. It is the quintessential product of a radical process of globalization in which governments, unable to protect their citizens from foreign invaders, brutal police, or economic turbulence, lose their moral and ideological legitimacy, creating a space for such non-state actors as armed gangs, mafia, vigilante groups, warlords and private revenge-seekers.

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form of strenuous self-assertion that acknowledges no limits, and requires descent into a moral abyss.

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Marx and Hegel posited a new meaning and purpose to life. The failure of 1848, however, caused as much damage to the quasi-theological German idea of development as the discoveries of natural sciences had inflicted on faith in God. The quick collapse of working-class uprisings in 1848, and the triumphs of the bourgeoisie, made historical development seem neither rational nor progressive. Reason did not rule the world; the real was plainly not the rational.

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But it was Nietzsche who sensed, with especial acuteness, the debilitating post-1848 mood – what he called ‘nihilism’ – while also recoiling from what he saw as counterfeit attempts to deny it.

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As he saw it, Europeans were far from facing up squarely to the death of God, and its radical consequences; they had sought to resurrect Christianity in the modern ideals and ideologies of democracy, socialism, nationalism, utilitarianism and materialism. Stressing humanitarianism and pity, they had embraced the ‘slave morality’ of the first Christians in Rome.

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transcend their fate of passive nihilism to become active nihilists. Nihilism, then,

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Educated Russians like Herzen first formulated their revolutionary ideologies in the great intermediate ground between serene elites and mute masses. This is the space, as we have seen, from where almost all modern militants have emerged.

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consumption’, while lamenting the despiritualization

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Today, the belief in progress, necessary for life in a Godless universe, can no longer be sustained, except, perhaps, in the Silicon Valley mansions of baby-faced millennials.

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depoliticized and apathetic working-class and middle-class populations in the United States and Europe. George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four had conceived in dystopian terms this comfortable if regimented life of a remotely and lightly supervised proletariat – the last men of history: So long as they [the Proles] continued to work and breed, their other activities were without importance. Left to themselves, like cattle turned loose upon the plains of Argentina, they had reverted to a style of life that appeared to be natural to them, a sort of ancestral pattern … Heavy physical work, the care of home and children, petty quarrels with neighbours, films, football, beer and above all, gambling filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them in control was not difficult. McVeigh grew up as this period of general affluence and leisure peaked,

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True freedom for this disaffected individual would consist of a renunciation of self-assertion,

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From its inception in the Enlightenment, the modern world was driven, and defined, by the self-affirming autonomous individual who, condemned to be free, continually opens up new possibilities of human mastery and empowerment.

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His project was deemed crucial to the collective escape, beginning in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, from prejudice, superstition and the belief in God, and into the safety of reason, science and commerce.

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The most convincing and influential public intellectual today – Pope Francis – is not an agent of reason and progress. In a piquant irony, he is the moral voice of the Church that was the main adversary of Enlightenment intellectuals as they built the philosophical scaffolding of a universal commercial society.

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Power in secularizing Europe had been unmoored from its location in the transcendental and made immanent in society; it came to be seen as originating in the will of human beings: the free will that the Romantics, Napoleon cultists as well as economic liberals affirmed, embodied vividly in the individual with certain non-negotiable rights and entrepreneurial energy and ambition. Such an

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Rousseau was among the first to sense that a power lacking theological foundations or transcendent authority, and conceived as power over other competing individuals, was inherently unstable. It could only be possessed temporarily; and it condemned the rich and poor alike to a constant state of ressentiment and anxiety.

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Endemic war and persecution have rendered an unprecedented sixty million people homeless.

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we encounter a pitiless machismo, which does not appease or seek to understand, let alone shed tears of sympathy over, the plight of weaker peoples. These must now submit, often at pain of death, expulsion and ostracism, to the core ideals of the tribe dictated by the history of its religion and territory.

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This is why it is no longer sufficient to ask ‘Why do they hate us?’ or blame political turpitude, financial malfeasance and the media. The global civil war is also a deeply intimate event; its Maginot Line runs through individual hearts and souls. We need to examine our own role in the culture that stokes unappeasable vanity and shallow narcissism.

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we need to reflect more penetratingly on our complicity in everyday forms of violence and dispossession, and our callousness before the spectacle of suffering.

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McVeigh, brought up on American notions of individual freedom bereft of any religious belief, felt this humiliation acutely.

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quarter of the world’s largely urban population – some 1.8 billion – is between the age of fifteen and thirty. The number of superfluous young people condemned to the anteroom of the modern world, an expanded Calais in its squalor and hopelessness, has grown exponentially in recent decades, especially in the youthful societies of Asia and Africa.

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Camus defined as ‘an autointoxication, the malignant secretion of one’s preconceived impotence inside the enclosure of the self’. Camus, among many other writers and thinkers, saw ressentiment as a defining feature of the modern world where individual dissatisfaction with the actually available degree of freedom constantly collides with elaborate theories and promises of individual freedom and empowerment.

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Kierkegaard first used the term precisely in The Present Age (1846) to note that the nineteenth century was marked by a particular kind of envy, which is incited when people consider themselves as equals yet seek advantage over each other.

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Having succumbed to an ‘erroneous notion’ that ‘an easy and unbounded career is open’ to their ambition, they were hedged in on all sides by pushy rivals.

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Its ‘strongest source’, Scheler wrote, was the ‘existential envy’ of rivals and models, the feeling that whispered continually: ‘I can forgive everything, but not that you are – that you are what you are – that I am not what you are – indeed that I am not you.’

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They see immigration as a ploy to create an industrial reserve army that exerts a downward pressure on salaries while simultaneously increasing corporate profits.

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Political and economic life seems to have no remedy for the emotional and psychological disorders it has unleashed; it can only offer more opportunities for self-aggrandizement in the state of virtual equality enforced by digital media.

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Even those who are mercifully employed and anchored find their subjection to economic necessity harder to bear in a climate where mediating forces and buffers (Churches, guilds, trade unions, local government) between the individual and an impersonal economic order are absent or greatly diminished.

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Digital communications offer to many of them relief from an all-pervasive fear, anxiety and uncertainty.

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a ubiquitous screen culture now serves as the primary mode of engaging with (and detaching from) the world; it is the new mediating force and buffer;

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Writing in the mid-nineteenth century, Kierkegaard doubted the then new ‘idea of sociality, of community’ promoted by journalism, and cautioned against the public opinion that rose from ‘a union of people who separately are weak,

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Max Weber warned that, combined with the pressure of work and opaque political and economic forces, it would push modern individuals away from public life and into a ‘subjectivist culture’ – or what he called ‘sterile excitation’.

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In 1969, Marshall McLuhan claimed that the era of literacy had ended with the advent of radio and television; their multi-sensory experience in a ‘global village’ had returned humankind to tribal structures of feeling and ‘we begin again to live a myth’.

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Today’s colossal exodus of human lives into cyberspace is even more dramatically transforming old notions of time, space, knowledge, values, identities and social relations.

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The public sphere, the original creation of eighteenth-century commoners liberating themselves from feudal and aristocratic privilege, has radically expanded.

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The current vogue for the zombie apocalypse in films seems to have been anticipated by the multitudes on city pavements around the world, lurching forward while staring blankly at screens. Constantly evolving mobile media technologies such as smartphones, tablets and wearable devices have made every moment pregnant with the possibility of a sign from somewhere.

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In his prescient critique of the neo-liberal notion of individual freedom, Rousseau had argued that human beings live neither for themselves nor for their country in a commercial society where social value is modelled on monetary value; they live for the satisfaction of their vanity, or amour propre: the desire and need to secure recognition from others, to be esteemed by them as much as one esteems oneself.

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But, as Kierkegaard pointed out, the seeker of individual freedom must ‘break out of the prison in which his own reflection holds him’, and then out of ‘the vast penitentiary built by the reflection of his associates’.

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the vast prison of seductive images does not heal the perennially itchy and compulsively scratched wounds of amour propre.

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competitiveness and envy provoked by constant exposure to other people’s success and well-being.

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amour propre can quickly degenerate into an aggressive drive, whereby an individual feels acknowledged only by being preferred over others,

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most people have found the notions of individualism and social mobility to be unrealizable in practice.

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To accept the conventions of traditional society is to be less than an individual. To reject them is to assume an intolerable burden of freedom in often fundamentally discouraging conditions.

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two phenomena much noted in nineteenth-century European society – anomie, or the malaise of the free-floating individual who is only loosely attached to surrounding social norms, and anarchist violence – are now strikingly widespread. Whether in India, Egypt, or the United States today, we see the same tendency of the disappointed to revolt, and the confused to seek refuge in collective identity and fantasies of a new community.

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the information we have and are constantly stimulated by is much greater than the range of what we can do.

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Man, as Goethe wisely wrote in Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship (1795), ‘is born to fit into a limited situation; he can understand simple, close and definite purposes, and he gets used to employing the means which are near at hand; but as soon as he goes any distance, he knows neither what he will nor what he should be doing.’ Thrown into opaque global processes, and overwhelmed by incalculable variables, man, or woman, can no longer connect cause to effect.

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white nationalists in the United States claim to be taking their own lives in hand again, vindicating their own liberties. Despite the repellant xenophobic aspects of their rhetoric, they offer an anti-elite case that does not fail to connect with the wider public’s own hunches.

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ISIS, too, offers a postmodern collage rather than a coherent doctrine. Born from the ruins of two nation states that dissolved in sectarian violence, it is a beneficiary, along with mafia groups, human traffickers and drug lords, of the failure of governments to fulfil their basic roles: to create or maintain a stable political order, protect their citizens from external turbulence, including unruly economic and migratory flows as well as foreign invaders, and maintain a monopoly on violence. Led by stalwarts of Saddam Hussein’s secular regime, ISIS represents an ultimate stage in the privatization of war that has progressively characterized, along with many other privatizations, the age of globalization.

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The appeal of demagogues lies in their ability to take a generalized discontent, the mood of drift, resentment, disillusionment and economic shakiness, and transform it into a plan for doing something. They make inaction seem morally degrading. And many young men and women become eager to transform their powerlessness

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they develop a romantic urge for flashy self-transcendence. ISIS caters to these narcissistic Baudelairean dandies, much like Gabriele D’Annunzio

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The shape-shifting aspect of ISIS, which incorporates rebels, former socialists, Sunni supremacists and white European converts as well as accountants and doctors, is hardly unusual in a world in which ‘liberals’ morph into warmongers, and ‘conservatives’ institute revolutionary free-market ‘reforms’ and then initiate such radically disruptive socio-economic engineering as Brexit. It is another reflection of a fundamentally unstable social and political order in which old concepts and categories no longer hold firm.

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We can of course cling tight to our comforting metaphysical dualisms and continue to insist on the rationality of liberal democracy vis-à-vis against ‘Islamic irrationalism’ while waging infinite wars abroad and assaulting civil liberties at home. Such

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The political impasses and economic shocks of our societies, and the irreparably damaged environment, corroborate the bleakest views of nineteenth-century critics who condemned modern capitalism as a heartless machine for economic growth, or the enrichment of the few, which works against such fundamentally human aspirations as stability, community and a better future.

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And now with the victory of Donald Trump it has become impossible to deny or obscure the great chasm, first explored by Rousseau, between an elite that seizes modernity’s choicest fruits while disdaining older truths and uprooted masses, who, on finding themselves cheated of the same fruits, recoil into cultural supremacism, populism and rancorous brutality.

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The contradictions and costs of a minority’s progress, long suppressed by historical revisionism, blustery denial and aggressive equivocation, have become visible on a planetary scale.

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the present order, democratic or authoritarian, is built upon force and fraud;

 

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Jul 15 17

Journey with Jesus Director’s Guide

by davesandel

Journey with Jesus   (http://b-ing.org/journeywithJesus/index.php)

About the Book
Getting Started: Preparation for Guides – Listeners – Spiritual Directors
Wisdom for Guides – Listeners – Spiritual Directors from St. Ignatius
Alternate Time Frames for the Journey with Jesus (long term and daily)
Dialogue Boxes
Review Days
Prayer of Recollection
First Meeting
Second Meeting and Beyond: The Preparatory Exercises – God Loves You
Additional Week on God‘s Love
Unrealistic Expectations, Discouragement, Perfectionism, Guilt and Shame
Prayer of Examen TIPS
End of Section One: God Loves You – The Discernment Process 
The Preparatory Exercises: Principle and Foundation
Additional Week on Indifference
Principle and Foundation (something for the day)
Ignatius Prayer (struggles) – Section 4 of Principle and Foundation
End of Section Two: Principle and Foundation – The Discernment Process 
Week 1: Personal Prep for Spiritual Guide/Director
Week 1: Sin, Me and God‘s Love (beginning)
Week 1: Ongoing Journey
Week 1: Moving to Week 2 Discernment Process
Week 2: Personal Prep for Spiritual Director/Guide
Week 2: Walking with Jesus (beginning)
Week 2: Ongoing Journey
Week 2: Moving to Week 3 Discernment Process
Week 3: Personal Prep for Spiritual Director/Guide
Week 3: Journey to the Cross (beginning)
Week 3: Ongoing Journey
Week 4: Personal Prep for Spiritual Director/Guide
Week 4: Resurrection of Jesus (beginning)
Week 4: Ongoing Journey
Contemplation of Divine Love
FQA

About the Book
In Journey with Jesus, spiritual director Larry Warner guides us through the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius similarly to the way he’s been leading people through them in person. Here’s what he’s observed: “The Spiritual Exercises helped people reconnect with Jesus and with themselves in life-giving ways. It was powerful.”

Ignatius wanted to help everyone, no matter what age or stage of life, experience Jesus. Through prayers and Scripture readings that largely focus on the life of Christ, the Spiritual Exercises that have been so powerful and growth-inducing for so many, including Warner himself, can be a tool for transformation in you as well.

The exercises are designed to help you:

  • encounter the person of Jesus
  • foster a deeper relational knowing of Jesus
  • cultivate a greater desire and freedom to say yes to Jesus

And you don’t have to go on a retreat to do it. You can start now, and grow in Christlikeness right in the midst of your life.

Are you hungry for Jesus and ready to do something about it? Are you committed to sticking with a sustained journey of growth and formation in Christ? Then this book is for you. Open these pages and let Warner guide you on the journey toward deeper intimacy with Jesus.

Getting Started: Preparation for Guides – Listeners – Spiritual Directors
Hello, and welcome to the web companion for the book Journey with JesusThe purpose of this site is to provide help for those who are journeying with others through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. Before progressing too far, it must be stated that this website does not intend to replace the need for the book, Journey with Jesus. Rather, it presupposes that those navigating their way through this site have a copy of the book already. This site will contain information not found in the book. However, it will also expand on and point you to other important information contained within the book.


Preparation for Guides – Listeners – Spiritual Directors

Early on in your journey with another, it will be extremely helpful for you as the guide and for those you are guiding to become familiar with the following sections of the Exercises. This will provide you with an initial acquaintance with some very important pieces of the Exercises–pieces that will help those you are guiding to have a deeper and more profound journey with Jesus. These sections will provide you with tools to better help those you are guiding as they begin to struggle and experience difficulties on their journey. I recommend you reading through the following sections of Journey with Jesus at least twice initially and re-reading these each time before you meet those you are guiding through the Exercises.

Read through and become familiar with

  • daily elements of the Exercises (p. 23 – 40)
  • tips on how to approach the Exercises (p. 44 – 56)
  • rules of discernment for Week 1 (p. 109 – 115)
  • rules of discernment for Week 2 (p. 150 – 154) – you can wait on this section until they proceed through the Preparatory Exercises.
  • for spiritual directors and listeners (p. 280 – 287)
  • glossary of terms (p. 300 – 302)

    Additionally, if working with a group read ‘Using the Exercises with a Group’ (p. 288)

This web companion for Journey with Jesus will provide general guidelines for those leading others through the Exercises that are found in the original introductory remarks of St. Ignatius known as the annotations. St. Ignatius penned these annotations for the expressed purpose of equipping those who would be guiding people through the Exercises. We will then provide both specific and general information that will relate to the various sections that make up the Exercises (Preparatory Exercises, Week 1, Week 2, Week 3, Week 4).

The information in these sections will include things to watch for in those you are guiding, helpful reminders for you as a guide, additional reminders to pass on to those you are guiding (including struggles that may emerge at certain stages of the journey), and more. These insights are a result of my experience of having guided others through the Exercises over the past 5 plus years. During this time, there have been certain patterns that have emerged in terms of struggles, temptations and the like. Although the information that follows will not pertain to every individual going through the Exercises, it is helpful for you, as the guide, to be aware of these distinct possibilities. This material will be listed out individually below so that you will be able to quickly and easily find the information that relates to the section through which you are guiding the individual or group.

Wisdom for Guides – Listeners – Spiritual Directors from St. Ignatius
Insights for Guides gleaned from the Annotations [1-20] (The following is briefly covered on page 281 in Journey with Jesus but expanded upon here.)

Annotations: These are the opening instructions that Ignatius provided for those who will be guiding someone through the Exercises. They include tidbits of wisdom to keep in mind as you journey with another through Journey with Jesus. It may be helpful to re-read these insights before you meet with the individual you are journeying with – at least for the first few times.

1. Less is more. Do not overwhelm your person (group) with information. Keep it short and sweet. It is not about how much they know but about helping them to become aware of and relish things interiorly that are important. [2]

2. It is important for those going through the Exercises to have an openness, generosity and courage in terms of their relationship to God. These qualities are fostered in the Preparatory Exercises that begin the Journey with Jesus. [5]

3. The person going through the Exercises will experience times of consolations and desolations during their prayer times, possibly even the during the same prayer period. If there are no such movements, this needs to be explored by the guide by asking about their time spent in prayer, where they pray, and how they are praying. If the person is experiencing times of consolations and desolation on various days during their prayer times it is important to name this as a good and normal time. [6]

4. When the one going through the Exercises is struggling with temptation (the temptation to quit or otherwise) and/or is in desolation, your role is to be gentle and gracious seeking to encourage, support and strengthen, while also exposing the wiles of human nature and the evil one. [7]

5. Take time to make yourself familiar with the rules of discernment (Week 1, p. 112-115 and Week 2, p. 150-154) found in Journey with Jesus. This is important so you can give instruction when needed regarding consolations and desolation explaining only what is needed at the time. The complete rules for Week 1 (p. 112-115) should be presented before the person enters into the Exercises associated with Week 1. This can be done in bite size pieces. [8-9]

6. When the one receiving the Exercises begins to be tempted and assaulted under the appearance of good, then it is time to instruct them about the Rules of Discernment for Week 2 (p. 150-154). This may be needed early on but definitely needs to be covered some time during Week 2. [10]

7. Make sure the person is putting in the prayer time, as well as the two Examen times. Encourage them to not put in more or less time than they have committed to doing. This is important even if the prayer time seems dry and unproductive, or the person is experiencing tremendous consolations. Remember to be gracious. [12-13]

8. Be a voice of caution and reason when you feel the one receiving the Exercises makes a hasty promise or vow. This can easily take place during times of consolations or as a reaction against desolation. [14]

9. Do not unduly influence one receiving the Exercises when, in their enthusiasm, they are opening up to God’s dream (will) for their life. Be a good listener, helping them to hear the still small voice of God. [15]

10. Be aware of any disordered attachments that may be a part of the life of the one receiving the Exercises. Help them to recognize this disordered attachment with gentleness and care, encouraging them to act contrary to those attachments and to seek to do that which is for the service, honor and glory of God. [16]

Alternate Time Frames for the Journey with Jesus (long term and daily)

9 Months or Not?

The journey in the Spiritual Exercises set out in this book is a 9 month journey which may not be ideal for each person or group. Because of this, I have included a few alternate time frames in the appendix of the book which one can use instead of the 9 month time frame. These time frames are 7 Weeks, 17 Weeks and a 3rd alternative which will help you to go through all the Weeks of the Exercises in smaller increments. So, if your retreatant or group is feeling that the 9 month journey is a bit much, check out the alternative suggestions found on pages 274-279.

7 Days a Week or Not?

Journey with Jesus is set up to be an everyday event. The retreatant is encouraged to enter into this journey seven days a week. When the journey is done in this way, there is great transformational power that can naturally flow as a result of the day in and day out.

BUT
This is not the only way to journey through this material. One of the hallmarks of Ignatian Spirituality is flexibility. Because of this, there is freedom to adapt this material to meet the life situation of your retreatant. Some people have adopted an every-other-day rhythm which, though not ideal (we don’t live in an ideal world), is still transformative. It is important to work with your retreatant to determine how many days a week they will be committed to entering into the Exercises. Another strategy is also good to start small (3-4 days a week) and gradually build up to 7 days a week. The point here is that the Exercises invite us to adapt them to our own current life situation. Make use of this freedom.

Not Doing the Exercises Everyday (below is a 14 week journey based on a 3 times a week rhythm)

If you and your retreatant decide on an alternate way of journeying through the Exercises that is not the 7 days a week rhythm, here are some additional instructions for you.

Even though you are not doing the daily prayer time every day, I would strongly encourage these two practices everyday:

1. The two prayers of examen (noon and evening). This prayer practice helps you to stay connected to God and yourself and to be aware of what the challenges and invitations from God that may be coming your way.
2. Begin each day by presenting yourself to God. This can be as simple as saying, “This is the day that the Lord has made, I will rejoice and be glad in it.”

These two practices will help unleash in part the transformational power that is innately a part of the 7 days a week pattern of journeying through the Exercises.

14 weeks: spending 3 times a week in the Exercises with an additional review day. The Examen is done twice a day, every day.

God’s Love

Section # 1 Days 1, 2, 6 (pages 63-67)

Section # 2 Days 3, 5, 6 (pages 68-71)

Principle and Foundation

Section # 1 Days 1, 2, 3 (pages 82-84)

Section # 2 Days 1, 2, 3 (pages 86-88)

Section # 4 Days 2, 5, 6 (pages 90-93)

Section # 5 Days 1, 3, 6 (pages 94-98)

Week 1

Section # 3 Days 1, 2, 3 (pages 128-131)

Section # 5 Days 2, 3, 4 (pages 134-137)

Week 2

Section # 4 Days 1, 3, 5 (pages 165-169)

Section # 6 Days 3, 5, 6 (pages 174-178)

Section # 8 Days 2, 3, 6 (pages 182-185)

Section # 9 Days 1, 2, 6 (pages 186-189)

Section # 10 Days 3, 5, 6 (pages 190-193)

Section # 11 Days 3, 5, 6 (pages 193-197)

Dialogue Boxes

The following are the dialogue boxes that appear throughout the book. These thoughts developed as a result of my experiences of journeying through the Spiritual Exercises with individuals over the years. Each of the following represent possible struggles that retreatants may experience as they journey through the Exercises. It is very helpful for you to become aware of these as there is a good chance that your retreatant may also struggle with many of these same things from time to time.

As you read through these, you will notice that some are tied to a certain Week of the Exercises. You will be reminded of these in the link that pertains to that specific Week. However, these can arise at any time. So, it is a good idea to at least have a sense of the possible issues that may arise so you are able to speak to it.

Preparatory Exercises: God Loves You

Love, Anger, Frustration and Sadness
Some who journey through this portion of the Exercises do not feel God’s love but instead feel emotions such as anger, frustration and sadness. Do not try to force yourself to feel a certain way, but rather allow yourself to feel what you are feeling and bring those feelings, as well as the issues that may birth these emotions, to God. That will be the place God will meet you. God is not afraid of your questions or emotions. He will meet you in the midst of them. Remember, God desires honesty; so be honest and be real with God.

“I BELIEVE, Help Me With My Unbelief”
As you spend time pondering the marvelous love God has for you, you may begin to realize that you ‘know’ this but at a deeper level you do not fully believe it. Do not let this trouble you but instead repeat the prayer, “I believe, help me in my unbelief.” This is a prayer Jesus heard and answered. The love of God is a ‘one of a kind, nothing can separate you from it’ love that is hard if–not impossible–to fully embrace. So, give yourself some time and grace as your ability to hold onto God’s love for you grows. The good news is that God’s love is always embracing you, wooing you and indwelling you.

Trying Too Hard
If you have been feeling yourself pressing to make something happen during your time in the exercises, I would encourage you to buy a bottle of bubbles and keep them near your journal. Then, the next time you feel yourself pressing to make something happen or to do the exercises ‘right,’ open your bubbles, take out the wand, and gently start blowing bubbles. As you gently blow your bubbles, watch them dance upon the currents while asking God to help you to enter these exercises freely and lightly, dancing upon the unforced rhythms of God’s grace.

The Slow Down
Use the slow down as you are able. If the slowdown time is producing additional stress rather than freeing you from your concerns and worries, try something else. Remember, the point of the slowdown is to help you to prepare your heart, soul, mind and spirit to enter into God’s presence. If the slowdown methods are not helpful, please feel free to find other ways to slow down and prepare yourself to enter into God’s presence.

Examen Review
How are you doing at making the noontime and evening examen a part of your daily rhythm? Ask yourself what steps you could take to make this a more regular practice as you go through the exercises. You might want to refer back to p. 28-31 for suggestions.

Showing Up
Your part is to show up and enter into the exercises for that day, as you are able. By doing this, you have offered yourself to God (Romans 12:1) and declared your desire to be with God and hear from God. This is all you can do – what happens beyond that is up to God. But rest assured, to come into God’s presence is to be changed. Regardless of your felt experience, God is at work.

Perfectionist
If you are a perfectionist or a recovering perfectionist, please be on guard. The structure of the daily exercises can tap into your strong desire to ‘do it right’ and then stir up negative messages of self-condemnation when you feel you have not or are not ‘doing it right.’ If you feel yourself stressing about ‘doing it right’ or you begin hearing the internal voices that birth shame and/or condemnation within you, stop and ask God to help you be gracious and patient with yourself. These voices are not coming from God but are rather lies that will distract you and keep you from the journey.

Your Space
The space you use for your prayer times can be a help or a hindrance to your time with God. Choose a space that has minimal distractions. Keep all the materials you use as you go through the exercises (Journey with Jesus, bible, pens, markers, journal, etc.) together and if possible in the area where you enter into the exercises each day. These simple suggestions can make a dramatic difference in your ability to present yourself to God during your prayer time each day.

Art Time
This could be a great week to get out your art supplies and have some fun during your journaling time. Using paints, colors, construction paper, etc., you can communicate your feelings and record the meaningful images that may arise during your prayer time; or just see what happens when you get artsy. Let go of the need to do it well or right and just jump in with both feet and see what emerges.

Resistance
As you journey through the Exercises, pay special attention to when you experience internal resistance. Whenever you become aware of resistance, respond to it as a warning light and seek to discover its source. Resistance is a gift from God that invites you to a deeper discovery concerning God and/or yourself. So, internally pause and ponder when you become aware of resistance. Ask God to help you discern where this resistance is coming from. What does it reveal about your image of God, your level of belief, love and trust in Him? What does it tell you about your sense of self, your identity? Take the time to reflect and unpack your resistance. Over time, the results can be life changing. (See Resistance p.47-48)

Reminder
Remember to make use of your examen questions each day at noontime and evening. The consistent use of the examen questions will dramatically increase the opportunity for transforming power in your life (see p. 30).

Putting in the Time
One of the greatest and most consistent temptations that will come your way is that of cutting your prayer time short. In the Annotations, Ignatius gives two instructions [13,14] regarding the importance of spending the full time in prayer. This temptation to cut the prayer time short will be especially strong during times of desolation. But endeavor to spend the time, for it is of great value for your heart and soul.

WEEK 1

Be Aware
One of the struggles of Week 1 will be the tendency to enter the exercises intellectually rather than with your heart. This is understandable but not helpful. It is important for you to enter into these exercises emotionally so you can feel sorrow and confusion arise within you as you explore the pervasive reality of sin in the world and in your own life. You may find that you want to protect yourself from the pain Week 1 may surface within you. However, it is this pain that will take you to God and ultimately to greater freedom because it will lead you to experience God’s love in a deeper way.

Remember
The purpose of Week 1 is not self-loathing, condemnation or hopelessness, but a deep awareness of sin in yourself and the world. and as a result, a deeper appreciation and realization of God’s love for you.

You Are Loved
As you focus on your own sin and brokenness, remember that your sin does not define you. You are forgiven. You are a saint uniquely loved by God. If you struggle with this, pray this prayer: “Jesus, I believe, help me overcome my unbelief.”

Desolation
There will be an up and down dynamic to your experience as you travel through the Exercises. This is normal. During those times seek to continue your journey spending your allotted time in prayer. Give special attention to praying the examen while seeking to discern the cause of your desolation (see p.114, #9). When in the grip of desolation, it will be hard to continue moving through the Exercises. However, this is exactly what you need to do–recalling to mind that this is just a season and God is faithful and ever present no matter what you may be feeling.

Prayer Postures
If you have not yet done so, I encourage you to experiment with different prayer postures (kneeling, lying face down or face up, standing, arms raised, head bowed, etc.). Prayer postures can be an aid in helping us move from head to heart as we come before God. They may also enable us to communicate to God what our mere words often fail to convey. Give it a try.

It is Not Happening
During Week 1 of the Exercises, some people get discouraged because they are not moved to tears because of their sin or do not feel like they are able to fully connect emotionally with their sinfulness. Be patient with yourself and trust God and the process. God is at work!

Journaling
It is very helpful to journal through these exercises. Journaling helps you to see patterns in your prayer times and to recall what God has spoken to you. Often as you journal, God may expand upon what you have discovered or of what you have been made aware. I strongly encourage you to journal. It will deepen your experience with the Exercises.

Forgiven and Loved by God
As you are looking at your own sin, recall to mind that nothing can separate you from the love of God and that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. If you are feeling condemnation during Week 1, it is not coming from God.

Examen Review
How are you doing at making the noontime and evening examen a part of your daily rhythm? Now ask yourself what some steps are that you could do to make this a more regular practice as you go through the exercises. You might want to refer back to p. 28-31 for suggestions regarding this.

WEEK 2

Recall to Mind
Recall to your mind the focus of your morning mediation throughout your day [p. 130]. This simple practice can radically impact your experience through this section of the Exercises. It helps you open up to God and present yourself to Him throughout your day. It also serves as a reminder that you are living with God, in God and God is living in you.

Opening Time in Prayer
Make sure you fully make use of the slowdown and commitment time that is to begin your time in prayer each day. Do not rush through the opening time. The opening is designed to help you slow down and foster respect for God as you come into God’s presence. This opening involves a conscious effort of presenting yourself before God as a living and holy sacrifice (Rom 12:1) and readying yourself to be present to God. It is a great aid in helping you to fully enter into the Exercises and experience God throughout your day.

I Am Not Doing This Right
If you feel that you are not journeying through the Exercises correctly, please seek to trust God and trust the process. God is at work. The exercises are bringing you into the presence of God with intentionality – the rest is up to God. Do not try and make something happen. Trust God and trust the process, focusing not on what is seen
but on what is unseen and thus, eternal (2 Cor. 4:18).

You and Jesus
As you meditate on the various passages of Scripture, focusing on the life of Christ, please be aware of what it is that draws you to Christ, challenges you, amazes you, gives you pause, causes resistance in you, etc. Take time to journal about and ponder these internal movements.

Expectations and Jesus
Knowing you are going to spend your prayer times walking with Jesus through the gospel narratives, be aware of the expectations and feelings that may spontaneously arise within you as you enter Week 2. You may anticipate emotionally powerful times, you may be anticipating some jaw dropping experience, mind blowing insights…but you need to come seeking to embrace indifference endeavoring to be present to and trusting of God and the process. Seek to enter each prayer experience expectation-free and with a desire to ‘show up,’ presenting yourself as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – which is your spiritual worship (Rom 12:2).

Imagination
The use of the imagination enables you to incorporate your mind and heart in your times of contemplation or meditation. It is important not to get discouraged because of what you may perceive to be a deficiency in your ability to make use of imagination. The important thing is to make use of your imagination to the degree you are able to do so and trust that God will honor your efforts. The use of the imagination is a powerful tool of illumination and formation that Ignatius incorporated in the Exercises. (Imaginative Prayer see p. 36-40).

Showing Up
Your part is to show up and enter into the exercises for that day as you are able. By doing so, you have offered yourself to God (Romans 12:1) and declared your desire to be with God and hear from God. That is all you can do – now what happens beyond that is up to God. But rest assured; to come into God’s presence is to be changed. You may or may not feel something but God is at work.

Emotions
Beware of what you are feeling about God, yourself, and the exercise of the day. We are often taught to ignore our emotions, but Ignatius found that our emotions are an aid to us in our spiritual formation as we become aware and unpack them. As you pay attention to your emotions and unpack them, you will, much like with resistance, learn more about yourself and your image of God in the process. Your emotions will prove to be an excellent source of material for journaling.

Questions and Perspectives
The questions given to ponder and suggestions regarding how to enter into the story are just that, suggestions. These are given to help you get started. In fact, in my own journey through the Exercises, I found it help to enter the same gospel narrative from a variety of perspectives – a bystander, a disciple, the person interacting with Jesus and even as Jesus. Each different way of entering into the narrative can bring additional insights and opportunity for connection with Jesus. Also putting yourself in the place of Jesus can bring great insight and opportunity to discover some aspects of who Jesus is or how Jesus interacts with others that cause you concern. In short, do not feel constrained by the suggested questions or person to be in the narrative – have some fun, explore, experiment always being open to God.

Imagine Freely and Lightly
Do not get bogged down trying to perfectly imagine the scene, especially those of you who, like Ignatius, have traveled to the holy land. The composition of the scene is but a small part of what imaginative prayer is about. The purpose of imaginative prayer is an encounter with the living God through the living word.

Subtly of Temptations
Be on guard. Temptations can change drastically during Week 2. The evil one will seek to derail your journey by using even good things, godly thoughts, consolations, or spiritual insights – but these may actually take you away from your time in the Exercises. So be aware. If these things take you from the very thing to which God has called you then there is a good chance that they are not from God. (See rules of discernment, Week 2 p.150-154)

Resistance
As you journey through the Exercises, pay special attention to when you experience internal resistance. Whenever you become aware of resistance, respond to it as a warning light and seek to discover its source. Resistance is a gift from God that invites you to a deeper discovery concerning God and/or yourself. So, internally pause and ponder when you become aware of resistance. Ask God to help you discern from where this resistance is coming. What does it reveal about your image of God, your level of belief, love and trust in Him? What does it tell you about your sense of self, your identity? Take the time to reflect and unpack your resistance. Over time, the results can be life changing.

A Lesson from Children
Children are those who most readily use their imagination. Thus, there should be playfulness to this endeavor, a freedom to use our imagination as we can, not how we cannot. Resist the inner voices that may seek to pressure you to ‘do it right’ instead have fun with it. As you enter into this way of engaging with the text, your time will be transformed from knowing about Jesus to an experience of Jesus and yourself in life giving and transforming ways.

Putting in the Time
One of the greatest and most consistent of the temptations that will come your way is that of cutting your prayer time short. Ignatius, in the Annotations, gives two instructions regarding the importance of spending the full time in prayer. This temptation to cut the prayer time short will be especially strong during times of desolation. In Week 2 and beyond, consolations may also take you away from the Exercises prematurely. Be alert and endeavor to spend your full time in the Exercises for it is of great value for your heart and soul.

I Don’t Like Jesus
As you spend time with Jesus day after day, you may begin to discover that there are aspects of Jesus’ dealing with people you just do not like. If you discover this, do not fret but bring this to Jesus even as you continue your journey with Him. As you continue your sojourn with Jesus you will discover that Jesus is much more complicated than we make him out to be. And sometimes He may even rub you the wrong way. This is not to be feared for it is an indication that you are being real and honest with Jesus and with yourself.

Emotions
Pay attention to what you are feeling about God, yourself, and the exercise of the day. We are often taught to ignore our emotions, but Ignatius found that our emotions are an aid to us in our spiritual formation as we become aware of and unpack them. As you pay attention to your emotions and unpack them, you will, much like with resistance, learn more about yourself and your image of God in the process. Your emotions will prove to be an excellent source of material for journaling.

Reminder
Although the emphasis of Week 2 is on the use of Imaginative prayer please feel free to make use of the lectio divina method (p. 34-36) from time to time.

Beware of Consolations
In Week 2 and beyond, consolations can be used to derail your journey through the Exercises. Be on guard. This often happens during the opening of the prayer time. You will be tempted by insights, worthwhile subjects to ponder, or even a sense to just be with God. Though each one of these is good, they can actually take you away from the Exercises which God has lead you into. Be alert to this tactic. Remember that now the evil one can very well appear as an angel of light using good and godly thought for his own ends. You may want to take time to read through the rules of discernment for Week 2 (See p.150-154).

Contemplation
Each day, make space at the end of your prayer time just to be with Jesus. Do not seek anything from Jesus but just be still and rest in and with Him in silence – knowing that Jesus is with you and is actively loving you in this moment and into the next moment.

Recall to Mind
Recall to your mind the focus of your morning mediation throughout your day. This simple practice can radically impact your experience through this section of the Exercises. It helps you open up to God and present yourself to Him throughout your day. It also serves as a reminder that you are living with God, in God and God is living in you.

Questions and Perspectives
The questions given to ponder and suggestions regarding how to enter into the story are just that, suggestions. These are given to help you get started. In fact, in my own journey through the Exercises, I found it help to enter the same gospel narrative from a variety of perspectives – a bystander, a disciple, the person interacting with Jesus and even as Jesus. Each different way of entering into the narrative can bring additional insights and opportunity for connection with Jesus. Also putting yourself in the place of Jesus can bring great insight and opportunity to discover some aspects of who Jesus is or how Jesus interacts with others that cause you concern. In short, do not feel constrained by the suggested questions or person to be in the narrative – have some fun, explore, experiment always being open to God.

Examen Review
How are you doing at making the noontime and evening examen a part of your daily rhythm? Now ask yourself what some steps are that you could do to make this a more regular practice as you go through the exercises. You might want to refer back to p. 28-31 for suggestions regarding this.

Contemplation
As you ponder the ‘I Am’ statements of Jesus, make space at the end of your time in the exercises each day just to be with Jesus. Do not seek anything from Jesus but just be still and rest in and with Jesus in silence – knowing that Jesus is with you and is actively loving you in this moment and into the next moment.

WEEK 3

Reminder
Did you purchase a crucifix or download an artist’s rendition of the Crucifixion of Christ to use during your prayer times? This is not a requirement but can an aid in helping you to focus on Christ crucified.
Contemplative Eating
This involves first and foremost eating and drinking with a focus on the presence of Christ. Additionally, Ignatius encourages you to eating slowly in silence while exercising moderation and drinking water. Please seek to employ these guidelines during one of your meals each week. See rules for eating p. 218-219.

Setting the Stage
During your prayer time, create an ambience that may be more conducive to entering into the pain and sorrow of Jesus. Some things you might consider doing would be to close the curtains/shutters to darken the room in which you will be spending the time and using a candle as your light source. You can also use different postures during this time (kneeling, lying prostrate…) to help you engage more fully with Jesus as you enter into the Passion narratives.

Fasting
Additionally, if you are physically able (if in doubt, please visit your doctor before beginning a fast) I encourage you to seek to fast from food (you can have water and fruit juice) for an entire day each week. I would suggest you do so on Friday each week to commemorate Jesus’ death on the cross. See rules for eating p. 218-219.

Showing Up
Your part is to show up and enter into the exercises for that day as you are able. By doing so, you have offered yourself to God (Romans 12:1) and declared your desire to be with God and hear from Him. That is all you can do – what happens beyond that is up to God. But rest assured to come into God’s presence is to be changed. You may or may not feel something, but God is at work.

Putting in the Time
One of the greatest and most consistent of the temptations that will come your way is that of cutting your prayer time short. Ignatius, in the Annotations, gives two instructions regarding the importance of spending the full time in prayer. This temptation to cut the prayer time short will be especially strong during times of desolation. In Week 2 and beyond, consolations may also take you away from the Exercises prematurely. Be alert and endeavor to spend your full time in the Exercises for it is of great value for your heart and soul.

WEEK 4

Setting the Stage

Create an ambience that may be more conducive to entering into happiness and spiritual joy that flows from the resurrection of Jesus. Allow the sunshine to fill the room and place potted plants or cut flowers or other things around the room that communicate beauty, joy, and hope to you.

Review Days

Using Review Days

Review days are an opportunity given to the retreatant to spend additional time exploring something that has caught their attention during a daily prayer time and/or during the examen periods. Please encourage the retreatant to be open to re-visiting times of consolation, desolation and resistance. It is often as the retreatant sits with resistance that they enter into a deeper knowledge of God and themselves. This is always to be encouraged. Also, if they feel they are struggling through a period of desolation, the review day is an excellent time to go over the Rules of Discernment (# 5-9, p.113-114) that give wisdom in discovering the possible causes of their desolation as well as the courses of action to take during a time of desolation.

Additionally, let the retreatant know it is okay to switch a review day to another day if one has a particularly busy day or something unexpected arises. For example, one day I was all set to do my daily exercises on the train to work. However, the train was delayed so I was forced to drive. I postponed my daily exercise to another day and did my review during my drive to work – less than ideal to be sure, but anything worth doing is worth doing poorly. I was able to fully enter into the daily exercise the next day!

Prayer of Recollection
The following prayer is to be incorporated into your focused prayer time before entering into your daily exercise. It helps to ground you in whose and who you are in Christ – an identity that is true and sure no matter what. This is an important part of your daily experience as you Journey with Jesus and in developing the inner freedom to more fully live into and out of the you God has created you to be.

Prayer of Recollection Definition: The prayer of recollection is a prayer that helps us to separate from our own strength and cling to God – to ultimately find our identity ‘in Christ.’ This prayer opens up our very being to God and prepares us to live more fully into and out of the reality that; God lives within us, that we live, move and have our being in God and that we are in Christ – which has transformed us into a new creation, a-one-of-kind-masterpiece of God. This prayer is divided into three parts.

The first part of the prayer helps us to name and own our limitations as a finite person while also affirming that this is not the end of the story. In part two we recall to our mind, heart and soul who we are in Christ – the truth of who we are. Finally in step three we sit in the truth of God’s love and who we are in Christ.

The three steps of Prayer and Recollection 1. Affirm and Embrace my limitations as a finite person – apart from Christ I can do nothing and God grace is manifested in my weakness. (2 Cor 12:9, John 15:5)

  1. Affirm, Embrace and Celebrate your soul’s TRUE identity as one forgiven, adopted, chosen by God, belonging to God, containing God, and the beloved of God (all of which does not change) – you may need to add to this step the prayer from that gospel Jesus heard and answered, “I believe help me in my unbelief.” Forgiven – Psalm 103:12-13 Adopted – Romans 8:15-17a, Ephesians 1:5, Chosen by God – Ephesians 1:4, John 15:16-17, Colossians 3:12 Belonging to God – Romans 14:7-8, 1 Peter 2:9 Containing God – 1 Corinthians 3:16, Galatians 2:20 Beloved of God – Colossians 3:12, Romans 8:38-39, Ephesians 3:17-19
  2. Be still and soak in the truths that God loves you, is with you, is within you and you are God’s new creation, a-one-of-kind-masterpiece of God created anew and afresh in Christ.

    First Meeting

Before your first meeting, you need to have read through:

  • Getting Started: Preparation for Guides – Listeners – Spiritual Directors
  • Wisdom for Guides – Listeners – Spiritual Directors from St. Ignatius
  • Dialogue Boxes

Additionally, if you are leading a group, please read:

  • Group Sharing
  • Group Covenant

The first meeting is a time to get to know one another and become familiar with the daily rhythm of the Exercises. When you have completed your first meeting (about one hour long) you will have:

• Discerned together if you are a good match for each other.
• Explored if the person actually has time (50 – 75 minutes) each day. If so, then determine the length and type of the journey they are considering (see p. 274) and decide to move forward agreeing on how often will you meet and for how long (I suggest at last twice a month for about one hour).
• Set the date of your next meeting: Schedule the next meeting within two weeks so you can see how it is going and review some of the material they have read through (p. 23-62).
• Spent some time going over pages 23 – 26 in Journey with Jesus. These pages cover the daily rhythm of the Exercises–it is important for the retreatant to have a sense of the flow and pattern of each day.

  • Encourage your retreatant to implement the various elements of the Exercises emphasizing that this will feel artificial at first, but that this is normal. Eventually, the retreatant will develop their own natural flow through these steps.
    • Cautioned them against seeking to do each step perfectly – stress to them that that is not important, but to begin where they are.
    • Encouraged them to make the examen part of their routine twice a day–but also that once a day is better than no times a day.
    • Stressed the importance of baby steps: one day in the exercises is better than no days, one examen is better than no examen.
    • Reinforce to them that this is all new. They can give themselves the freedom to start slow and build, celebrating little success along the way!

    Now, ask your retreatant to do the following before your next meeting:
    • Read pages 23 – 62
    • Start and begin making their way through section 1 of the Preparatory Exercises: God Loves You (p. 63).

    Finally:

  • Summarize the importance of the Preparatory Exercises (p.57-60) for their present and continuing journey through the Exercises.
  • Explain the concept of Consolation and Desolation to the retreatant (p. 59).
  • Review with them the role of the ‘optional exercises’ (p. 52) stressing the freedom they havenot to do them.

I normally pray at the beginning and end of a session. I also combine some silence at the beginning of our time together so that we each have the opportunity to still some of the internal noise we carry.

Second Meeting and Beyond: The Preparatory Exercises – God Loves You

Preparatory Exercises Part 1: A template for your meetings through the ‘God Loves You’ portion of the Preparatory Exercises (p. 63-77).

The journey with Jesus now begins in earnest. It is important for you, as the guide, to prepare yourself for each meeting and to keep in mind that you play a major role in creating the internal and external space that helps the retreatant (group) open up to God and themselves during your time together and beyond. It is important that you are ‘prayed up,’ as they say in the south, and that your heart is in a place of rest and surrender to whatever degree possible.

Please read through the following in preparation for your meetings.

As you journey with your retreatant (group) during their time in part one of the preparatory exercises, it is important to keep in mind the following potential pitfalls. The first and foremost pitfall for this section and all the sections to come is expectations – expectations that this will be a smooth journey and expectations that each day will be a time of great felt connection with God. Both of these expectations need to be dispelled sooner rather than later.The difficulties experienced during this time can come as a huge shock, especially given that the focus of this section is God’s love. As people enter into this section, many think it will be a glorious walk in the park. But they soon find out that they have not truly internalized the love of God – this can be a bit disconcerting to say the least.

Also, as you begin this journey please endeavor to not give the impression that people are to march through the materials, nor that the goal is to finish them. The materials are not designed to get through, but are a place to encounter God and self. It is important to encourage those making their way through the Exercises to camp where they experience internal movement. This movement may take the form of resistance, peace, invitation, challenge, joy, sorrow…. In order to help facilitate this awareness, there are no dates and no days of the week associated with exercises presented in the book (this is good to point out from time to time). The tendency of those making this journey is to complete the daily exercise and move on. But the goal is for them to open themselves up to God through the exercises and have the freedom to camp in a particular exercise if that is where they sense internal movement. When people make comments like, “I am behind,” your response can be that it is impossible for that to be true. How can you be behind? There are no dates! You cannot be behind!

There are common struggles that retreatants often experience along the way. It is extremely helpful for you, as the guide, to have an idea of what these struggles might be. To do so, you can read over the Dialogue Boxes found in the particular section through which your retreatants may be going.

Be aware of tendencies of the retreatants to Self–Condemnation, Perfectionism, Discouragement, Unrealistic Expectations and Guilt (see link)

During this meeting and the subsequent meetings in this section of the Preparatory Exercises, your goals are as follows:

  • Help the retreatant to explore and unpack their experience in the Exercises. If appropriate, use the suggested questions (p. 282-285) to help your retreatant to explore their experience.
  • Discuss with them the use of the slow down, examen and experience during prayer times (What is difficult? What is easy? And what has been happening in terms of feelings, self and God?).
  • Offer suggestions, if needed, regarding slow down, incorporating the prayer of examen in one’s life twice a day, staying with a certain passage, repeating a number of the exercises, time spent in prayer….
  • Discern if you need to begin sharing/reviewing the rules of discernment.
  • Celebrate successes big and small – this is vitally important!
  • Be sensitive to any tendency of the retreatant towards self-condemnation, perfectionism, discouragement and unrealistic expectations. These are a few of the tendencies I have dealt with over the years and have found that God often uses the Spiritual Exercises to surface these very things so they can be dealt with (not cured necessarily, but dealt with). For information for helping the retreatant deal with these, go to the link entitled: Discouragement, Unrealistic Expectations, Perfectionism and Shame.

Assignments for Retreatant:

  • Continue on with the Exercises.
  • Encourage them to pay special attention to those areas with which they may be having difficulty: the slow down, the examen, spending the allotted time, journaling (you may want to refer them to the section in Journey with Jesus that gives information about the area with which they are struggling).
  • Encourage the retreatant to scan through “Tips on How to Approach the Exercises” that provide tips that help to make their experience in the Exercises fuller and richer (p. 44-53).
  • Encourage the retreatant* to use one of their review days to:

– read through the glossary (p. 300)

– read the brief biography of Ignatius (p. 263)

* this would also be good for you to do as well

The above will basically be the format for all the times you get together with your retreatant. There will be some changes in terms of questions and struggles that commonly arise based on the different sections (Weeks) of Journey with Jesus. These will be presented in the appropriate sections on this website. So, make sure you read the appropriate sections before you meet with your retreatant.

Additional Week on God‘s Love

Additional Week of Exercises for
God Loves You

The grace you are seeking is a deeper awareness of God’s love for you.

Examen Questions

When and how did I experience God’s love for me today?

How did my awareness of God’s love for me affect the way I interacted

with others, my circumstances and myself today?

Process

  • Opening Closing
  • Daily exercise
  • Journaling
  • Noontime examen
  • Evening examen


Day 1.
 Read the 3 parables contained in Luke 15:1-32 paying special attention to what each one reveals about the kind of love God has for you. Take time to write out the characteristics of God’s love for you. Now take time to slowly ponder all that you have discovered regarding God’s love. What feelings does this stir within you? How does this make you feel toward God/Jesus? Spend time sharing your heart with God and savoring God’s love for you.


Day 2.
 Read through Psalm 23 reflecting on the variety of ways this Psalm speaks of God’s love for you, care of you and presence with you. What are the explicit and implicit promises of God toward you contained in this Psalm? What promises are you most drawn toward? Why? What feelings arise within you regarding the caring involvement of your Shepherd in your life. Write a letter to God expressing your feelings.

Day 3. Sit with the words of Isaiah 49:15. What is this verse communicating concerning God’s love for you, concern for you and mindfulness of you? Take time to soak in the message of this passage not seeking to understand it but rather opening up your heart to this precious picture of God’s love for you. As you soak in the words and imagery of this passage what feelings arise within you? Give yourself permission to creatively express yourself to God – singing, praising, dancing, drawing, gestures… – using your body to express what words are not able to convey.

Day 4. Review the past three days

In the past three days, which passages were you drawn to or resistant

toward? Why?

How are these passages shaping your image of God and your sense

of God’s love?

How has your awareness of God’s love been changing?

You may want to use one of the optional blanket exercises today (see p. 61 in Journey with Jesus).


Day 5.
 Nothing can Separate You From God’s Love

Romans 8:38-39

Take some time to prayerfully consider what are the things in your life that hinder your ability to fully embrace God’s unconditional love for you. Write those things that surface down on a piece of paper. When you are done turn to Romans 8:38-39. Now using these two verses as a template re-write the passage substituting those things you replace with you] have written down in place of what Paul has enumerated as things that are not able to separate us from God’s love.

e.g. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, things present or things to come…nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us (me) from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

You replace the italicized words with your own words. When you are finished read your passage to Jesus. What feelings arise within you? What is Jesus’ reaction to your personalized passage of scripture? It may be helpful at this point to add the following words to the end of your passage – “I believe, help me in my unbelief.” Prayerfully read your passage at the beginning and end of your day for the next week.

Day 6. Song of Songs Reading (1:15, 2:10 (b), 11-14, 4:1,2 (a), 7-8 (a), 9 (NAS))

Read the following passages as if God was speaking them just to you. What phrases drawn you, speak to you, birth feelings of belonging, being cherished, loved, adored within your heart? What phrases in the passage are you resistant to, have difficulty embracing, feel as they cannot possible describe how God feels about you, toward you? Share your feelings with God.

How beautiful you are, my darling,
How beautiful you are!
Your eyes are like doves.”

‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one,

And come along.

‘For behold, the winter is past,

The rain is over and gone.

‘The flowers have already appeared in the land;

The time has arrived for pruning the vines,

And the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land.

‘The fig tree has ripened its figs,

And the vines in blossom have given forth their fragrance.

Arise, my darling, my beautiful one,

And come along!’”

“O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
In the secret place of the steep pathway,
Let me see your form,
Let me hear your voice;
For your voice is sweet,
And your form is lovely.”

You are altogether beautiful, my darling,

And there is no blemish in you.

Come with me

“You have made my heart beat faster, my sister, my bride;

You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes,

With a single strand of your necklace.

“ How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!

How much better is your love than wine,

And the fragrance of your oils

Than all kinds of spices!


Day 7.
 Review the past week

Which passages were you drawn to or resistant

toward? Why?

How are these passages shaping your image of God and your sense

of God’s love?

How has your awareness of God’s love been changing?

You may want to use one of the optional blanket exercises today (see p. 61 in Journey with Jesus).

Unrealistic Expectations, Discouragement, Perfectionism, Guilt and Shame

Discouragement, Unrealistic Expectations, Perfectionism, Guilt, Shame and Self–Condemnation

As people journey through the Spiritual Exercises, there are a number of recurring issues that tend to arise and have the potential of derailing the retreatant along the way. I would say those listed below are among the most common and the most devastating. As the guide, it is important for you to keep your eyes open for these insidious purveyors of mayhem and be prepared to offer aid and assistance to the retreatant. Also, know this: these will not go quietly into the night, but will continue to plague the retreatant. However, as you name these realities they cease to be an unknown and unseen enemy. The retreatant will be able to see, name and deal with them, which will loosen the power and hold of these issues in the experience of the retreatant. Also, as you see growth, even small growth, in your retreatants’ particular area of struggle, make sure you name and celebrate that!

Discouragement and unrealistic expectations often go hand in hand. Many people begin this journey with a wide variety of expectations concerning their own faithfulness to the daily prayer time and their experience of God during those prayer times. A number of people think the that regiment set out in the spiritual exercises will help them to become a disciplined person, even though, prior to this they were not disciplined. This can quickly lead to discouragement and the desire to stop. They view their lack of discipline as failure. But this is not failure; it is reality, a reality God will use to continue to mold and shape the person into Christ-likeness. I would remind them of baby steps (p.48) and encourage them to celebrate the steps they are taking and seek to build from there.

Another source of discouragement is birthed by an expectation that when they spend their time in prayer each day it will be a glorious time of blessing and revelation. This can be especially acute in the first part of the preparatory exercises when the focus is on God’s love. The thought is, “Since I am focusing on God’s love, I will begin to feel God’s love in an ever deepening and more profound way.” One reality that can emerge at this time is the retreatant realization that they do not really even know God’s love internally and this can be extremely discouraging. Once again, you are to come alongside and encourage them on their journey, possibly encouraging them to do optional exercises. More importantly, this is the beginning point of their journey and this is a quite common experience for people at this juncture. Sometimes knowing something is ‘normal’ and expected can bring a level of comfort.

Above, we said that often people will have the expectation that their time with God will always be glorious and filled with blessing and revelation, which will not happen. If you remember, the section entitled Wisdom for Guides, number 3 (see website) told you that prayer time will not always be times of consolation, but there will be an undulating reality to their prayer times. In fact, you were warned that if this ebb and flow is not happening then something is wrong. Once again, it is good to name this for the retreatant. A subtle twist on this is the belief, consciously or unconsciously held, that if I do my part, God is obligated to give me some kind of felt spiritual blessing. This is an erroneous belief that transforms God into a spiritual vending machine. You need to stress that everything we receive from God is a gift, a result of God’s grace unearned by us. The daily prayer times are a means of presenting ourselves to God, not a way of getting something from God. Be alert to the appearance of discouragement in your directee and work within them to discern what may be the cause, so you can deal with it in the best way possible.

Another deadly trap that seems to ensnare retreatants is perfectionism. The spiritual exercises do not create this tendency, but do often bring a retreatant’s perfectionistictendencies to the forefront. This is usually manifested in their need (more than a mere desire) to do the exercises the “right” way. They often ask many questions about a certain prayer practice, the best way to do a slow down, what each examen needs to look like, how long to spend journaling, sitting in silence… They are driven to perform in an acceptable manner; and when they believe they have missed it, they begin to heap self-condemnation upon themselves that often leads to feelings of shame and self-loathing. Although perfectionism is powerfully enslaving, the fact is, since it is so easily seen in this context, it affords you and the retreatant a perfect opportunity to deal with this powerful nemesis. One way I deal with this is using a breath prayer, which I write about below in the self-condemnation section. I have found this to be a very powerful tool in this battle. It provides a means of taking these internal thoughts captive to Christ and replacing them with a powerful God-truth. The other way I deal with perfectionism is through the use of the review days. I instruct them to do nothing on those days. Now, they know they are supposed to review on review days, so this instruction causes some internal unrest. But if they can actually heed my instruction, it begins to loosen their sense of what the ‘right’ way to do the exercises might be. They can begin to learn something about grace. Eventually, as I get to know them, I may encourage them to paint on those days, to play volleyball, take a walk, go to a coffee shop, I choose something they like, something they enjoy to help them begin to see that this journey is not all about duty and the need to do the ‘right’ thing in the ‘right’ way. It is about presenting ourselves to God, just as we are in whatever we may be doing. Finally, I remind them of one of my favorite quotes: “Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly.” This confounds and gives them something to think about that is very contrary to the way they view and do life. You will pick up on the perfectionism of your retreatant pretty quickly. When you do, name it and gently begin to help them name, own, and begin to deal with it. The insidious nature of perfectionism is that they will seek to deal with their perfectionism in the “right” way.It is a battle, but one in which I have seen great victories achieved in over the years.

The next two foes with which many reteatants do battle are guilt and self-condemnation. I do not think this comes as much of a surprise for we tend to be gracious to others, but are often quick to judge ourselves. We are patient with others but impatient with ourselves when we are struggling or not growing as we think we should (unrealistic expectations). So, let us take a moment to look at guilt and self-condemnation.

Many retreatants feel guilty when they miss a day or two in the Exercises. But these feelings are neither helpful nor valid. What I tell retreatants who are feeling guilty is this: Imagine that one of your friends came to visit you unannounced but you were not home at the time. What would you feel? Would you feel guilty? Or would you feel sad and disappointed that you were not at home when your friend came since you would have loved to see them? This feeling of having missed an opportunity to be with Jesus and listen to Jesus is what I want you to replace feelings of guilt. When you realize you missed an opportunity to visit with Jesus, think to yourself, “Oh, it would have been so nice to have spent time with Jesus this morning.” As people exchange their feelings of guilt with this fresh new feeling of having missed out on seeing Jesus, it will help them to reconnect with Jesus in the now of their life, during the examens that day, and will set them up for meeting with Jesus in the prayer time the following day. When we feel guilt, we tend to hide just like Adam and Eve. When we miss someone, we are drawn to that other person.

Finally, we arrive at shame. Shame is akin to guilt, but is a deeper, more pervasive and damaging emotion. Whereas guilt says, “I did something wrong,” shame says’ “I am bad,” “I am worthiness” and statements along those lines. This shame turns into a voice of self-condemnation. There are many things that can surface this voice of self-condemnation(unrealistic expectations, perfectionism…) and feelings of shame. I don’t have space to unpack all that could be said. But I will share with you how I begin to deal with self-condemnation when it arises within my retreatants. What I am about to share is simple, but it is not simplistic.

I use what is called a ‘breath prayer’ (p. 116). The breath prayer I encourage them to employ is taken from Romans 8:1 “there is no condemnation is Christ.” The retreatant is instructed to make use of this breath prayer whenever they sense feelings of self-condemnation arising within them. The breath prayer is not a one-time cure, but a weapon in their ongoing battle with self -condemnation. It is a means of taking those thoughts/feelings captive to Christ. I have seen this simple prayer profoundly change the lives of retreatants. It has brought them to greater levels of freedom and given them the ability to own God’s love and their worth in Christ.

As a guide, it is important to be alert, watching for telltale signs of any of the above mindsets or tendencies in your retreatant. When you notice them, it is vital that you see this as an invitation to gently begin to help the retreatant to name and deal with them. As they do this, it is important to stress that this is not an enemy that is fought and beaten with one battle. Rather, this battle will continue. Also, I tell them that as this battle rages on, they may feel that they are not progressing. This is a lie, however, for to fight this battle is to make progress in the battle, no matter what their feelings may be saying. That is why it is vitally important for you to celebrate their victories–big or small.

Prayer of Examen TIPS

The five steps involved in the Prayer of Examen are found on page 30 of the book.

There are some retreatants who get stuck on step 2 which reads: Ask God to reveal your sins to you.

These retreatants often feel that this step is asking them to come up with a laundry list of sins but this is NOT the case. The key is to ask God to reveal your sins to you. The retreatant is asking God to show them if there is something to which they need to pay special attention. This step involves coming before God and asking God if there is any hurtful way in them (Ps 139:23-24). Often times God will choose not to reveal anything to the retreatant during this step.

Other retreatants struggle to remember all the steps. I encourage these individuals to continue to work on incorporating all five steps. But if they are not able to remember all five on a given day, I encourage them to do these two steps:

1. Take time to thank God for what you have received this day (abbreviated step 1)

  1. Use your examine questions to help you reflect your day. (Step 3)

These two steps are critical. And though the others are important too, doing these two steps is much better than doing nothing at all. In fact, it will help to create an internal spiritual sensitivity to the movements and invitations of God, while fostering a greater awareness of God’s love, grace and presence.

End of Section One: God Loves You – The Discernment Process 

End of Section One of the Preparatory Exercises: The Discernment Process

Before you meet with your retreatant, read pages 76 -77.

Staying or Moving On
Make sure you work with your retreatant (group*) through the discernment process provided at the end of this section. Remember to stress that the exercises are not about completion, but rather tools for opening oneself up to God. It is very important, before a person moves on, to have internally embraced God’s love and own their identity as the beloved of God.

Before discerning with you if it is time to move on or stay in a particular section, each individual needs to have worked through the material on their own. If the retreatant decides to remain in a particular section, they do not need to go back through all the entire section–though they can if they want. Give them the freedom to revisit those exercises to which they may have felt resistance or where unable to enter into. If the person goes back through a section whether in part or in its entirety, they will need to revisit the discernment section again before moving on. I have had individuals spend 3 months going through this section of the Preparatory Exercises as they sought to internalized God’s love – it was a life-changing experience for them. Remind yourself and your retreatant the goal is NOT to get through this material but to use it as a means to open themselves up to God.

If the retreatant decides to move on, have them read pages 78-82 before they begin this section.

*group: it is important to allow each person in the group to move or not move to the next section as they sense God’s leading. To this end, it is important for you as the leader to create an atmosphere where each person feels the freedom to discern apart from pressure to conform to unspoken or spoken expectations of the group or themselves. The tendency is for a group to move or stay as a group; but that is not important. In fact, I have done this both ways and found that it is very powerful for people to be at different junctures within a group. Doing this affirms the individuality of each person and their journey and creates a sense of freedom and grace within the group. This can lead to a deeper level of sharing and openness to God and one another.

This process will become a little more involved as you make your way through the Exercises.

The Preparatory Exercises: Principle and Foundation

Preparatory Exercises: Principle and Foundation

As your retreatant moves into this new section called the ‘Principle and Foundation,’ some things will change while others remain the same. The daily rhythm does not change. There is prayer time with all its components (slow down, reflection time using lectio divina, journaling…) and the noon time and evening examen. What changes is the focus of each of the weeks. As the retreatant journeys through this section they will have a total of five different focuses (creation, praise, reverence, service and indifference). Make sure you read pages 79-82 before you meet with your retreatant.

Also during the first week, the retreatant will be asked to make use of their senses (section1), take a walk (section 2) and be invited to use bubbles (section 2) as a prayer practice.This section is 5 weeks and concludes with a very critical focus in section 5 on indifference.This is an important concept for your retreatant to know and understand before moving on to Week 1 of the exercises. Another difference in this section is that the examen questions will change each week depending on the focus.

Remember to look through the dialogue boxes (see website or in book) that pertain to the preparatory sections.


During
 this meeting and the subsequent meetings in this section of the Preparatory Exercises, your goals are as follows:

  • Help the retreatant to explore and unpack their experience in the Exercises. If appropriate, use the suggested questions (p. 282-285) to help your retreatant to explore his/her experience.
  • Spend some time exploring their experiences of using their senses which they do during the first week of this section.
  • Spend time with the retreatant exploring with them their understanding of indifference before they move on to Week 1. This is an important ingredient in the Spiritual Exercises and will be built upon indirectly throughout the Exercises.
  • Discuss with them the use of the slow down, examen and experience during prayer times (what is difficult, what is easy and what has been happening in terms of feelings, self and God). Remind them that the examen questions change each time they begin a new section.
  • Offer suggestions, if needed, regarding slow down, incorporating the prayer of examen in one’s life twice a day, staying with a certain passage, repeating a number of the exercises, amount of time spent in prayer….
  • If you have not done so, begin sharing/reviewing the rules of discernment. Suggest that they use a review day to go through and explore the rules of discernment (pages 109 – 115) paying special attention to the contents of pages 112-115.
  • Celebrate successes big and small – this is vitally important!
  • Continue to be sensitive to any tendency of the retreatant towards self-condemnation, perfectionism, discouragement and unrealistic expectations. For information for helping the retreatant deal with these go to the link entitled: Discouragement, Unrealistic Expectations, Perfectionism and Shame.

The above will be the format for all the times you get together with your retreatant during the second section of the preparatory exercises. Always make sure you read the appropriate sections before you meet with your retreatant.

Additional Week on Indifference
Additional Week of Exercises on Indifference

The grace you are seeking is the ability to identify those areas and desires in your life that hinder you from freely being able to choose God’s purpose for you (praise, honor, service of God).

Examen Questions
Look back over your day, seeking to identify the areas and desires that made it difficult for you to say yes to God. What were they?

What is the source of their power over you?
Share your insights with God, asking for God’s help and wisdom.

Process
•     Opening Closing
•     Daily exercise
•     Journaling
•     Noontime examen
•     Evening examen

Day 1. Jesus’ Example

Phil 2:5-8 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!
•     Mt: 8:20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”
•     John 4:34″My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me.
•     John 5:30 …for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.
•     John 5:41 “I do not accept praise from men…” (cf. John 12:43 speaking of the Pharisees; “for they love the praise of men more than the praise of God”)
•     Mt 26:38 …Yet not as I will but as you (God) wills.

Spend some time pondering the scope and level of Jesus’ attachment to things, to independence, to comfort, to suffering, to the praise, acceptance or criticism of others? What gave Jesus the ability to be indifferent? What was his focus? Spend some time with Jesus sharing with him your struggles to be indifferent.

Day 2. Imagine yourself coming before Jesus as the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16ff). After some initial interaction you say to Jesus, “What else must I do?” Jesus looks deep within your heart and says, “I want you to….”. Sit before Jesus and listen for His words of direction and guidance. Ask Jesus to help you discover the underlining, core desire of your attachment.

Day 3. It is not what we own that we must discard, but that which owns us. Look at your life: your use of time, resources, your relationships, your daily life and ask yourself some hard questions:
•     What consumes my thoughts and plans?
•     What holds my allegiance?
•     Who or what tells me who I am?
•     What gives me security and comfort?
•     What makes me feel whole and complete?
•     Who/What meets my deepest needs?

Ask God to show you what need you are seeking to meet through each of these.
Ask God what He is asking you to do with each. Write each answer down. Write a prayer of commitment and love to God.

Day 4.
 Below is a list of a number of areas people often need to explore in terms of unhealthy attachments (things people ‘need’ to be happy). Slowly mull over the list, asking God to reveal to you areas where you may need to apply the discipline of detachment. How do each of these become destructive desires that lead you away from God rather than to God?
•     The need to be in control
•     The need to be right
•     The need to be liked
•     The need to rescue/help/serve others
•     The need to be understood and appreciated
•     The need to be perfect – to do it right
•     The need to be comfortable
•     The need to be healthy
•     The need to be esteemed/thought well of by others
•     The need to be happy
•     The need to be pain free
•     The need for financial security (now and in the future)

What is the core desire (attention, affection, control, security, belonging, significance, power) you are seeking to fulfill with these finite sources? Ask God to help you explore these core desires and then release them to God. Turning to God as the sole source of your happiness.

Day 5.
 Read the following passages which express Paul’s attitude toward life and the circumstances life brings.

2 Cor 12:9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Phil 1:21-24 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.

Philippians 4:12-13 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

How do the attitudes of Paul expressed in the above passages enable him to be free to say yes to God and empower him to “do all things through Christ who strengthens him?” As you read the above passages which ones are you drawn to? Why? Which ones are you resistant toward? Why? What feelings do these passages surface within you? Try your hand at writing a prayer that expresses the level of your indifference, your commitment to saying yes to God, your valuing of God above all things. When you are done share your prayer with God.

Day 6. Read through the 4 prayers listed below. What aspects of the prayers are you drawn to? Why? Which aspects of the prayers are you resistant toward? Why? Which one of the prayers most expresses your heart? Which one of the prayers is hardest for you to honestly prayer? Why? What feelings arise within you as you prayer these prayers. Share your feelings with God.

O Lord, Our God, Give me the grace to desire you with my whole heart, so that desiring you I may seek and find you, and finding you I may love you, and loving you I may hate those things which have separated me from you.
St Anselm

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will – all is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.                                           St Ignatius

I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer

Prayer for detachment

I beg of you, my Lord,
to remove anything which separates
me from you, and you from me.

Remove anything that stands in the way of
my seeing you, hearing, tasting , savoring, and touching you;
reverencing and being mindful of you;
knowing, trusting, loving, and possessing you;
being conscious of your presence
and, as far as is possible, enjoying you.

This is what I ask for myself
and earnestly desire from you. Amen.

Based on a prayer of Peter Faber SJ (1506-46)

Day 7. Review this past week
Which verses really challenged you? Why?

Around which verses did you feel some resistance? Why?

What have you discovered that you seek after as a source or sources of your happiness other than God? Ask God for help in growing in your love for God, trust of God and belief that God does love you.

What have you discovered regarding the link between indifference
and freedom to say yes to God?

What have you learned about inordinate attachment and enslavement
to the world? To self?

What might it mean for you to “seek first the kingdom of God”?

Additional
Possible lyrics to ponder: Be Thou My Vision, Turn Your Eye Upon Jesus
What words/phrases are you drawn to, resistant to? What might be the invitation/challenge of those lyrics for you?

Principle and Foundation (something for the day)

Encourage the retreatant to choose something from their morning time (a word, phrase, image, insight…) to take with them. This practice is known as the nosegay. This prayer practice dates back to the black plague era when individuals would carry flowers in their pockets so that when the stench of death would overwhelm them they could pull out their flowers and revive their senses. Likewise the retreatant carries something with them from their time in the daily exercise so when the stench of the world overwhelms them they can take out their chosen spiritual bouquet and breathe in the wondrous fragrance of God’s truth.

This practice will continue through the first three weeks of their time in the Principle and Foundation and will be picked up again during Week 2.

Ignatius Prayer (struggles) – Section 4 of Principle and Foundation

The Prayer of St Ignatius found during the Principle and Foundation (Section 4 of 5: Service – it appears there 3 times) can be particularly difficult for those who have escaped from a history of spiritually abusive teaching where the Christian was to be a human doormat. This prayer of Ignatius could easily be seen as promoting this errant theology.

Teach us, good Lord, to serve thee as thou deservest;

to give, and not to count the cost,

to fight, and not to heed the wounds,

to toil, and not to seek for rest,

to labor, and not to ask for any reward,

save that of knowing that we do thy will.
—St. Ignatius of Loyola

However that is not the case. The key phrase is in the last phrase of the prayer; ‘save that of knowing that we do thy will.’ This phrase is saying that we enter into the above realities only as God leads and not as a means of seeking to earn something from God or demonstrating to God how committed we are. The prayer is also not promoting being a doormat for others, but rather is communicating a willingness to say yes to God no matter the cost as God leads the individual. This is a huge difference that needs to be articulated to the reteatant.

So, as the Spiritual Director/Guide, beware that this prayer might be seen by the retreatant as an invitation to surrender oneself on the altar of works and self-mutilation and that is NOT the intention of this prayer.

End of Section Two: Principle and Foundation – The Discernment Process 

Before you meet with your retreatant for the discernment phase of this section, please prayerfully read pages 98-100 with your retreatant in mind.

Staying or Moving On
Make sure you work through the discernment process with your retreatant (group*) provided at the end of this section. Encourage them to take their time considering where they see themselves on the continuums (p.99) and the questions that proceed and follow those continuums. It is very important that the person has been prepared and readied for this new section. Remember to stress that the exercises are not about completion, but rather tools for opening oneself up to God. It is very important, before a person moves on, to have internally embraced God’s love and own their identity as the beloved of God.

Before discerning with you if it is time to move on or stay in a particular section, each individual needs to have worked through the material on their own. If the retreatant decides to remain in a particular section, they do not need to go back through all the entire section–though they can if they want. Give them the freedom to revisit those exercises to which they may have felt resistance or where unable to enter into. If the person goes back through a section whether in part or in its entirety, they will need to revisit the discernment section again before moving on. I have had individuals spend a couple additional weeks going through the section on indifference before moving on. This extra time is time well spent because the concept of indifference is a foundational piece of the Spiritual Exercises.Remind yourself and your retreatant the goal is NOT to get through this material but to use it as a means to open themselves up to God.

If the retreatant decides to move on have them read pages 103-117 before they begin the new section. It would be helpful for you to have read this section before you meet with the retreatant regarding their discernment of whether they will stay or move on. If they move on, you can give them some pointers and cautions regarding this new section before they begin (see below).

If your retreatant is choosing to move on, it is vitally important for you to explain to the retreatant that the title of this section is ‘Sin, Me and God’s Love’ and the focus is on both sin and God’s love. It is very possible to get into a downward spiral in this section (just like what happened to Ignatius) and this is NOT the goal. But if this happens, instruct them to stop going through the daily exercises in this section until you both meet again. During the time leading up to your meeting, have the retreatant revisit some exercises in the ‘God loves you’ section. I have seen this happen on a number of occasions. However, it usually lessens when time is spent meditating on God’s love.

The grace that the retreatant is asking for in Week 1 is the ability to experience sorrow, tears and confusion over their choices to sin in light of God’s limitless love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. This dual focus can be difficult to maintain. Remind the retreatant that whatever they may feel is a gift from God it is not earned or acquired by trying harder. Additionally, let them know that the gift of tears is very rare and most never experience it–and that is okay.

Finally, reemphasize to the retreatant that this can be an emotionally difficult section because of what they may feel or sometimes because of what they do not feel. Encourage them to be very self-aware. If they feel themselves slipping toward despair and/or hopelessness, they are to STOP doing these exercises until they can meet with you and go back to some of the exercises in the God loves you section and spend their prayer time there.

*group: it is important to allow each person in the group to move or not move to the next section as they sense God’s leading. To this end, it is important for you as the leader to create an atmosphere where each person feels the freedom to discern apart from pressure to conform to unspoken or spoken expectations of the group or themselves. The tendency is for a group to move or stay as a group; but that is not important. In fact, I have done this both ways and found that it is very powerful for people to be at different junctures within a group. Doing this affirms the individuality of each person and their journey and creates a sense of freedom and grace within the group. This can lead to a deeper level of sharing and openness to God and one another.

Week 1: Personal Prep for Spiritual Guide/Director

It is important for you, as the spiritual director/companion, to prepare yourself for entry into Week 1. This can be a difficult section of the Exercises for your retreatant because of the focus–sin–and the additional variety of components to the daily experience.

Please take the time to:

  • Read pages 103 – 117, spending additional time familiarizing yourself with the rules of discernment.
  • Read through the exercises for Week 1 paying attention to the dialogue boxes.
  • Get acquainted with the Jesus prayer: a powerful tool that can be used throughout the rest of the Exercises (p. 116-117). Make a note of the additional exercises at the end of this section (p. 140-142 ). These exercises can be used to help those who are being overwhelmed with the reality of their own sin and who are struggling to own God’s love for them. (Also, if they are having difficulties embracing God’s love, it may be helpful to have them go back to the preparatory exercises for a while which focus on God’s love.)
  • Have the retreatant(s) read pages 103 – 117 before you meet together in preparation for Week 1.

Again, this section of the Exercises can be perilous and unsettling at times. Seek to get a sense of the internal state of your retreatant as they make their way through Week 1. If they are struggling, do not rush in to rescue them; but do not let them drown in a sea of despair either. You will need wisdom and insight. If you sense they are spiraling downward, have them step out of this week and enter into the Exercises at the end of this section (p. 140-142) or go back to the first preparatory section (p. 63ff) dealing with God’s love until your next meeting.

Week 1: Sin, Me and God‘s Love (beginning)

Meeting before retreatant enters Week 1

Share with the retreatant:

  • Rules of discernment: Take time to explain the role of desolation as possibly being a positive and not always a negative reality (see rule 9, page 114). This is an important concept for them to begin to understand.
  • Question the retreatant regarding how they tend to be attacked (see rule 12-14, p. 114-115).
  • New Examen questions for this section (same for entire week). Remember to do the Examen twice a day.
  • Confession: this is optional but can be very powerful. If they decide to use this option, encourage them to choose someone who is spiritually mature, trustworthy and grace giving.
  • Colloquy: help the retreatant to see this as a conversation and not formalized prayer. If their style of prayer is already conversational then this will not be an issue.
  • The Grace you are seeking: the ability to experience sorrow, tears and confusion over your choices to sin in light of God’s limitless love, grace, mercy and faithfulness. The tears asked for in this grace do not come very often to those going through the Exercises.There are a number of reasons for this including personality, theological upbringing and emotional make-up. Regardless, the presence of tears is always a gift from God and should not be used as a way to measure one’s experience in Week 1 either positively or negatively.
  • Be aware of your emotions as you journey through Week 1, especially feelings of self-condemnation and guilt leading to despair rather than to God. If that happens, stop going through the Week 1 Exercises and continue through the exercises beginning on page 140 until we meet.
  • Lord’s Prayer: this is to be prayed slowly and thoughtfully, lingering with, and noticing–willing to stop and reflect as God prompts. The goal is not to finish this prayer but open up one’s heart to God through this prayer. I encourage the retreatant to pray this prayer slowly and then, when they think they are praying slowly to slow down a little more.
  • Anima Christi: pray this prayer in the same manner stated above for the Lord’s Prayer
  • Discuss the Jesus Prayer (p. 116-117) and use of breath prayers.
  • Briefly talk through suggestions for prayer (p. 108).

REMINDERS to share with retreatants:

This officially begins our journey into ‘the Weeks,’ the 4 major sections that comprise the Exercises.This can be a perilous and unsettling time as well as a profoundly transformative time. You will be invited to look at sin not only as a reality outside yourself, but also you will be instructed to look at your own sin. The goal is that you will be able to hold in tension your own sin, seeing it for what it is, and at the same time see God’s forgiving love. The hope is that you will come to know the depth and breadth of forgiveness, begin to grasp the height, depth, width and breadth of God’s love and in turn, live into the truism ‘that those who are forgiven much, love much.’ This can be a very difficult section of the Exercises so be aware.

The additions for this section can feel a bit overwhelming. Assist the retreatant by reminding them of the additions through Week 1 so that they have the freedom to not memorize them themselves. It is helpful to name this reality and remind the retreatant of the concept of baby steps (p. 47) and celebrating growth.

Resistance is a gift from God, a doorway to divine and self-discovery. Do not ignore it or push through it but explore it, seeking to determine what is giving birth to your resistance.

The grace for this week is the ability to experience sorrow, tears and confusion over your choices to sin in light of God’s limitless love, grace, mercy and faithfulness. The experience of tears is rare. The goal is really entering into a sorrow for your sin (as you are able). Many seem to experience the inability to feel sorrow for their sins to the point of tears. Remind the retreatant that this is not a matter of trying harder but of asking God for this gift and then letting go (indifference). This can be a very difficult place (heartfelt sorrow for sins), for if you have been a Christian your whole life, you have always known God’s grace and forgiveness. So, enter into these exercises as you can (not as you can’t) trusting God and the process. There is also a tendency for those going through this section to jump too quickly to forgiveness and not feel the weight of personal sin and global sin. Please seek to be open to the weight of your sin and its consequences for this will lead to godly sorrow and eventually take you back to the foot of the cross.

If you sense yourself spiraling downward, step out of this week and enter into the exercises at the end of this section (p. 140 – 142). Or, go back to the first preparatory section (p.63) dealing with God’s love until our next meeting.

Do not try and force something to happen. Enter this section as you are able, trusting God and trusting the process.

Week 1: Ongoing Journey
Ongoing Journey Through Week 1

 

  • As the spiritual director or guide, continue to be aware of the inner state of the retreatant, especially in terms of their ability to hold the twin realities of their own sin and God’s love and forgiveness. Explore with your retreatant which side of this equation (their sin/God’s forgiveness) they tend towards and why.
  • Explore with them what their experience during the daily exercises is like in terms of desolation and consolation. If they are going through an extended time of desolation, review with them Rules of Discernment (# 5-9, p. 113-114.) Spend time helping the retreatant discover what the causes of their desolation might be and coming up with a plan of action.
  • Discuss with the retreatant any areas of resistance they may be encountering and explore what may be birthing these feelings.
  • Explore how the Prayer of Examen is going for them.
  • Be sure to continue to celebrate with your retreatant small and larger areas of growth.
  • If you become aware of the retreatant’s struggle with maintaining the balance between their sin and God’s forgiveness and they are becoming overwhelmed by their own sin, instruct them to take a break from the Week 1 exercises and spend some time working through the exercises at the end of this section (p.140-142). Or, they can always re-visit some of the preparatory exercises focusing on God’s love (p. 63). If you sense the struggle is not that intense, have the retreatant use some of the exercises focusing on God’s love from the preparatory section on one or both of their review days until you meet again. Be discerning in this. The goal is NOT to rescue them from difficulty but to guard their soul from harm.

Week 1: Moving to Week 2 Discernment Process

As your retreatant(s) make their way to the end of Week 1, it is time for you to help them work through the discernment potion of this section (p. 137-140). The vast majority of those who enter these Exercises do continue into Week 2. This discernment time gives you the opportunity to name and celebrate areas of growth your retreatant has experienced over the last few weeks. This time affords you the opportunity to evaluate where your retreatant is along the continuums and also how they see themselves. This is always helpful.

If the person reaches the end of Week 1 doubting God’s love, you can suggest they go through the exercises starting on page 140 and then re-visit this discernment section.If they are deeply struggling, I would encourage them to work through the initial preparatory exercises (p.63-75). They do not need to do all 3 weeks of these exercises but can pick and choose. When they are finished, they need to re-visit the discernment section at the end of Week 1 (p.137-139)

If you both get to the place where it feels like it is time to move on, encourage your retreatant(s) to read pages 143 – 154 and through Mark 1-10 before entering the exercises for Week 2. Briefly go over the new addition of bowing (p. 147), the three cautions (p. 149 – 150) and the use of imaginative prayer (p. 36- 40). Imaginative prayer will be the prayer means used for interacting with the text during the 15 weeks that comprise Week 2.

In the website section entitled ‘Beginning Week 2’ we will explore further what you are to do for that first full meeting with your retreatant(s).

Week 2: Personal Prep for Spiritual Director/Guide

It is important for you, as the spiritual director/companion, to prepare yourself for entry into Week 2. This is the section of the Exercises that begins the retreatant’s journey with Jesus through the gospels. This can be a time of high expectations on the part of the retreatant – expectations which can open the door to desolation and disillusionment. Be alert as your guide your retreatant during the 15 sections that comprise Week 2. It is during Week 2 that many retreatants begin to get sidetracked during their daily exercises. The temptations of the evil spirit (the flesh, the world, the devil) become more subtle and are oftentimes disguised as a good. It is very important for you to be familiar with the Rules of Discernment that pertain to Week 2 (see below).

Please take the time to:

  • Read pages 143 – 154, spending additional time familiarizing yourself with the Rules of Discernment for Week 2 (p. 151-154).
  • Read through the exercises for Week 2 (p.155-207) paying attention to the dialogue boxes.
  • Make a note of the new additions: bowing, two graces (not just one), use of colloquies, two prayers in addition to the Lord’s Prayer (that will be prayed slowly).
  • Be aware of the three cautions (p.149) and check to see if your retreatant is experiencing them as they journey through Week 2. If you determine that they are, talk it through with them.
  • Have the retreatant(s) read pages 143 – 154 and Mark 1-10 before you meet together in preparation for Week 2.
  • Make sure you are aware of the steps involved in Imaginative Prayer (p. 36-40)
  • Make a note of the various graces and the new examen questions. The graces and examen questions will change for the first five sections of Week 2 and then be the same starting at section six through the rest of the sections.

This is the longest of the Weeks and can be a time of struggling, desolation, wonderful consolations and even confusion as the retreatant’s image of Jesus may be challenged. Week 2 can be a time of deep internal transformation and choosing a deeper level of commitment to Jesus. Be very prayerful for your retreatant during their journey through the fifteen sections of Week 2. It can be a very pivotal time and for a number of the retreatants, it will mark the end of their journey through the Exercises (at least for now).

Two things to be on watch for:

There are many who begin to struggle with feelings of desolation during Week 2 and doubting the value in continuing this journey. This is much like a marathoner who ‘hits the wall’ around mile 19 of their race. If this happens to your retreatant, remember rule # 5 (p.113) that says not to change your decision when in desolation and also make use of rules 6-9 (p.113-114). Endeavor to hang in there; growth is happening within.

Another common occurrence during Week 2 is that during the slow down time, things will arise that the person feels need to be pondered, reasoning that they will never have this much time during the day to do so. This is a temptation along the lines outlined in Rule # 4 (p.152). The result is that this takes the retreatant away from the very exercises which they believe God has guided them to take. It is important to name this and urge the retreatant to be faithful to the exercises, for this is when a deeper work is taking place. Beware of the devil appearing as an angel of light.

Week 2: Walking with Jesus (beginning)

As you meet with your retreatant prior to entering Week 2:

  • Cover the importance of bowing slowly.
  • Review with them the two new prayers to pray through slowly, allowing God to stop them along the way (p. 147-148).
  • Go over the 3 cautions (p. 149).
  • Walk them through the steps of Imaginative Prayer (p. 38-39) and ascertain if they are comfortable praying this way or if they have any questions.
  • Mention to them that Ignatius has designed a few non-biblical meditations for Week 2. These are important to enter into and deal with honestly. Resist the temptation to give the “right answer” and be honest with God where you are in the moment. The first section will begin with one of these meditations.
  • Examine the Rules of Discernment for Week 2. I would suggest working through these new rules in the first few times you meet with your retreatant for this section.
  • Reconsider Rules 3 – 5 (p. 152-153) stressing that consolation is no longer a guarantee, that God is involved in this internal movement. The enemy (Satan, world, the flesh) can bring about this circumstance. As one matures in Christ, the temptations often move from things overtly evil to things that may be good but not the best. Satan begins to appear as an angel of light willing to use good ends to cause one to stumble.
  • Remind them to take time to review briefly their prayer times and to make good use of their review days, revisiting the previous days.
  • Remind them that the graces and examen questions will be changing in the first five sections so they need to make a note each time they begin a new section.

REMINDERS to share with retreatants:

This begins your journey with Jesus. In Week 2 you will walk with Jesus from his birth up to the Passion Week (Week 3). This is a time in which you will be invited to explore your level of commitment to Jesus.

When you come across exercises that invite you to do this, please endeavor to be honest with God and yourself. The purpose of these times is not to give the right answer, or the answer you wish were true, but to give the answers which are true regarding your current level of commitment to Jesus.

The additions for this section can feel a bit overwhelming. Assist the retreatant by reminding them of the additions through Week 2 so that they have the freedom to not memorize them themselves.

Even though there are new Rules of Discernment for Week 2 and following, that does not mean that the Rules of Discernment for Week 1 are rendered null and void. They are still in affect and can be very helpful when used in conjunction with the new rules of discernment for Week 2.

When you are going through the daily exercises, you will be invited to be one specific individual in the story. Please feel free to go through the gospel narrative more than once in a session, choosing a different person each time. What changes in terms of your experience and feelings toward Jesus? Also, do not be afraid to step into the sandals of Jesus from time to time. When we see ourselves as Jesus it can be very enlightening regarding who we are and who Jesus is.

Remind your retreatant not to try and force something to happen. Enter this section, as you are able to do so, trusting God and trusting the process. Be aware of your inner movements during your time in the daily exercises, especially feelings of consolation and desolation.

Remind them that they are to choose a thought, words, phrase or insight to carry with them throughout the day as they did during the Principle and Foundation.

Please make sure you read Mark 1-10 in one sitting before starting Week 2.

Week 2: Ongoing Journey
Continuing through Week 2

As you meet with the retreatants (not all of these need to be covered each time):

  • Explore with them their experiences in the extra biblical meditations (p. 155, 157, 170, 171, 208).
  • Continue to monitor their use of the prayer of examen. Is the examen beginning to spontaneously happen throughout their day?
  • Explore with then their experience of bowing.
  • Discuss how they are doing regarding the use of their imagination
  • Review the rules of discernment (once you have covered the Rules of Discernment for Week 2, review them and the Rules of Discernment from Week 1 as needed).
  • Encourage them to experiment with various postures in prayer (p. 108, 125).
  • Unpack their experiences with/of Jesus.
  • Inquire about their prayer times: How is it going? What is going well? With what are you struggling?
  • Inquire: What do you currently sense are the invitations and challenges of God for you?
  • Encourage them to experiment with different ways of journaling – colors, drawing, collaging… (p. 32-34).
  • Explore their internal movements of desolation and consolation.
  • Encourage them to use their imaginations to go through a passage more than once, being a different person each time, even being Jesus.
  • Discuss with them their time in the daily exercises. Are they getting sidetracked? – this often happens during Week 2.
  • Find out if they sense a growing internalization of the grace of knowing Jesus intimately, loving Jesus more intensely, and following Jesus more closely.

Looking ahead:

When they enter into section 13 and 14 of Week 2 (p. 200 – 204) they will be instructed to mediate on the “I am” statements of Jesus. Since they have been using their imagination in their prayer times for the last 12 plus weeks, it may be difficult to sit with a single verse. Encourage them to continue to employ their imagination as an aid to unpacking the various spiritual truths contained in each of these images.

Week 2: Moving to Week 3 Discernment Process

As your retreatant reaches this point, they will have completed 196 daily exercises. It has been a long journey up to this point; and the end of Week 2 may very well mean the end of their journey in the exercises. As I have stated along the way, this journey is not about finishing all the exercises but about using the exercises as a means of opening up and presenting oneself to God.Many get to this point and feel that God is inviting them to call their journey to an end – at least for now. There are some who come back the next year and pick up Week 3 during the next Lenten season and then move through Week 3 and 4 in harmony with the season of the Church. In fact, there is a section in the back of the book that enables the retreatant to begin that journey on Ash Wednesday and then continue through the entirety of the Lenten season and Holy Week. This can be a very powerful way to experience Week 3.

All that to say, do what you can to give the retreatant freedom to continue or not to continue through the Exercises. The next two Weeks (Week 3 and Week 4) are very different in terms of what they ask of the retreatant. The retreatant is no longer asked to follow Jesus but to enter into the experience of Jesus. This asks the retreatant for a deeper level of commitment than any of the previous Weeks. It is important that you help the retreatant take the time needed to discern the invitation of God at this point of their journey. This could take a few days to a week or more. This is not a decision that needs to be rushed, but rather one that needs to be given the time and space required to ascertain where God is leading them.

Make sure you really work through pages 208-211 with your retreatant.

Week 3: Personal Prep for Spiritual Director/Guide

The goal of Week 3 is not for the retreatant to be overwhelmed by feelings of guilt and shame because their actions (sins) led to Christ’s death, but to choose to join with Jesus in his suffering for the sins of the world–a grace that Paul deeply desired and wrote about in Philippians 3:10: “I want to know . . . the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings.”

This Week is about walking with Jesus in a deeper, more personal and intense way than in Week 2. It is entering into Jesus’ journey as a companion in all he encounters.

Read pages 212-220. Please familiarize yourself with the following:

The three questions reflection questions for the retreatant during each daily exercise:

  • What did Jesus suffer in his humanity in this narrative?
  • How did Jesus hide (not use) his divinity in this narrative?
  • What is your response to Jesus’ sacrifice for you in terms of how you might view life, live life and interact with others?

Be aware of :

  • the difficulties your retreatant may have with focusing on the crucifixion of Christ (p. 215)
  • the use of the sign of the cross (p. 216)
  • the use of the crucifix encouraging the retreatant to give it a try but emphasizing it is their choice. (p. 217)
  • rules for eating (be prepared to discuss the role of fasting) (p. 218)
  • stations of the cross (p. 219)
  • the grace: to sorrow with Christ in sorrow, anguish with Christ in anguish, with tears and interior suffering because of the suffering that Christ endured for you.
  • the Examen questions: Today did you recall to your mind Jesus’ willingness to suffer physical, emotional and spiritual trauma for you? Why, or why not? How did the truth of Jesus’ willingness to suffer and die for you and others impact how you interacted with others today? How did you die to self today?

Read through the exercises for Week 3 (p. 221-240). Make note of the poem on pages 232 and 238.

Week 3: Journey to the Cross (beginning)

As you meet with your retreatant prior to entering into Week 3:

  • Speak with them about why Week 3 can be difficult (p. 212-216) and how it can seem similar to Week 1 but is completely different.
  • Go over the three questions upon which they will be reflecting during each daily exercise.
    • What did Jesus suffer in his humanity in this narrative?
    • How did Jesus hide (not use) his divinity in this narrative?
    • What is your response to Jesus’ sacrifice for you in terms of how you might view life, live life and interact with others?
  • Review the sign of the cross (p. 216) encouraging them to incorporate it with the bow from Week 2 and to make the sign of the cross slowly. This is yet another way to involve the body in prayer.
  • Talk over the use of the crucifix exploring any resistance to using the crucifix during their prayer time. However, encourage the retreatant to give it a try while emphasizing it is their choice. (p. 217)
  • Read through the rules for eating with them. Pay special attention to role and different ways of fasting. Highlight the warning regarding fasting. (p. 218)
  • Briefly cover the Stations of the Cross (p. 219) pointing them to the website as a means of entering into the stations.
  • Encourage the retreatant to create a space that recalls to mind the focus of this week.
  • Help them to understand the grace of Week 3 (to sorrow with Christ in sorrow, anguish with Christ in anguish, with tears and interior suffering because of the suffering that Christ endured for you.)
  • Briefly touch on the Examen questions: Today did you recall to your mind Jesus’ willingness to suffer physical, emotional and spiritual trauma for you? Why, or why not? How did the truth of Jesus’ willingness to suffer and die for you and others impact how you interacted with others with whom you came in contact today? How did you die to self today?
  • Remind them of the rules of discernment of Week 1 and the role desolation can play. This can be a time of desolation.
  • Remind them to take time to review their prayer times and to make good use of their review days to re-visit previous days.
  • Remind them that this can be a tough Week but it is also a very transformative portion of the Exercises (214-215).

Week 3: Ongoing Journey

As you journey through Week 3 with your retreatant:

  • Continue to be aware of the inner state of the retreatant.
  • Explore with them what their experience is like during the daily exercises in terms of desolation and consolation. If they are going through an extended time of desolation review with them Rules of Discernment (# 5-9, p. 113-114) spending time helping the retreatant discover what the causes of their desolation might be and coming up with a plan of action.
  • Caution them about being aware of consolations and how the Evil Spirit can appear as an Angel of light and lead the retreatant away from God. Rules of Discernment (#2-8, p. 152-153).
  • Discuss with the retreatant any areas of resistance they may be encountering and explore what may be birthing these feelings.
  • Explore how the Prayer of Examen is going for them. What are they noticing about how their living their lives, interacting with others, viewing others as they focus on the cross of Christ?
  • Explore their experience of eating contemplatively and fasting.
  • What have been their feelings regarding making the sign of the cross? Have they chosen to incorporate it? If not, why? If yes, what has been the impact on them and their prayer time?
  • What have been their feelings around making use of the crucifix? Have they chosen to incorporate it? If not, why? If yes, what has been the impact on them and their prayer time?
  • Have they chosen to use the Stations of the Cross? If so, what was their experience of that journey? Where there any stations to which they seemed more and/or were resistant toward? Which ones and why?
  • What are you learning about yourself and Jesus as you journey through Week 3?
  • Be sure to continue to celebrate with your retreatant small and larger areas of growth.

Week 4: Personal Prep for Spiritual Director/Guide

The goal of Week 4 is to embrace the joy and consolation that flows from the reality of the resurrection of Christ. Week 4 moves from the weeping and torment of Week 3 into a time of intense joy as we come face to face with the risen Jesus.

Read pages 241-244. Please familiarize yourself with the following:

Each morning the retreatant is encouraged to begin their day by reciting Ephesians 5:14: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

Additionally, they are encouraged to conclude their prayer time with the following words: “Jesus is risen. Jesus is risen, indeed. Alleluia. Amen.”

There are three questions the retreatant will be using for sections 1-3. These questions are to be used after they finish exploring the daily passage using imaginative prayer.

  • How does Jesus now manifest his divine attributes, his true self, following his resurrection?
  • How does Jesus console those he encounters?
  • What do you experience as you encounter the resurrected Christ?

The final week of this section is called Contemplation of Divine Love and is included in Week 4 but is entirely different (see page 255).

Be aware that many find it difficult to enter into the joy of this section. I have seen it time and time again. It may be an indication that the person is not fully ready to into this section and their time in the Exercises is at an end.

Week 4: Resurrection of Jesus (beginning)

As you meet with the retreatants prior to their entry into Week 4:

  • Celebrate with them their journey up to and subsequent arrival into Week 4.
  • Go over the three questions the retreatant will be using for sections 1-3 of Week 4. These questions are to be used after they finish exploring the daily passage using imaginative prayer. How does Jesus now manifest his divine attributes, his true self, following his resurrection? How does Jesus console those he encounters? What do you experience as you encounter the resurrected Christ? (p. 243)
  • Review with them the use of Ephesians 5:14: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (to be said each morning as they get out of bed) and “Jesus is risen. Jesus is risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen” (to be said as they conclude their opening prayer time.) (p. 243)
  • Encourage the retreatant to create a space that recalls to mind the focus of this week, namely, joy and gladness. (p. 243)
  • Help them to understand the grace of Week 4: the ability to rejoice and be intensely glad because of the great glory and joy of Jesus, your risen Lord.
  • Briefly touch on the Examen questions: How did the joy and power of Jesus’ resurrection impact how you viewed your life, yourself and your circumstances today? How did it impact how you dealt with others today? How did the truth of Jesus’ resurrection bring consolation and the ability to experience the reality of Jesus in the happenings of your life today?
  • Remind them to take time to review briefly their prayer times and to make good use of their review days to re-visit the previous days.
  • Encourage them to continually ask God that everything in their day may more and more lead them to divine praise and service.
  • Remind them of the value and importance of journaling and of continuing to experiment with various ways of journaling.
  • Encourage them to continue to use the act of bowing and making the sign of the cross during the opening times of this Week.
  • Let them know that the fourth week of Week 4 has a different focus and ties back to the Principle and Foundation of the Preparatory Exercises.
  • Share with them that some will struggle with entering into the joy and gladness of this Week. Point out that this can lead to discouragement and self-doubting because of the failure of their effort to make this happen. But remind them that this is a grace and that like all the graces that have preceded this one, is a gift given by God.

Week 4: Ongoing Journey

As you meet with your retreatant:

  • Continue to be aware of their inner state.
  • Discuss with the retreatant any areas of resistance they may be encountering and explore what may be birthing these feelings.
  • Explore how the Prayer of Examen is going for them. What are they noticing about how they are living their lives and interacting with others as they focus on the resurrection of Christ?
  • Discuss their recitation of Ephesians 5:14 when they wake and the pronouncement of”Jesus is risen. Jesus is risen indeed. Alleluia. Amen.” How is this impacting their morning and day?
  • Explore their use of journaling.
  • Invite them to share about their image and experience of Jesus.
  • Talk over with them their ability to enter into the grace prayed for: the ability to rejoice and be intensely glad because of the great glory and joy of Jesus, your risen Lord.
  • Explore if they have created an ambiance for their prayer time that communicates happiness and spiritual joy. If they have, ask them how this has been helpful.
  • What are you learning about yourself and Jesus as you journey through Week 4?
  • Be sure to continue to celebrate with your retreatant small and large areas of growth.

Contemplation of Divine Love

This section is only a few days in length but holds the Exercises together by seeking to harvest the seeds that were planted long ago in the Preparatory Exercises and gently nurtured in the subsequent weeks. The focus of this section is on God’s love. Its goal is to elicit a heart of gratitude that in turns leads to loving service of God. This is not a section to rush through or enter into lightly. This section is worth investing additional time.

The grace sought is an intimate knowledge of all the goods that God lovingly shares with you so that,filled with gratitude, you may be empowered to respond just as totally in your love and service to God.

The Examen questions are as follows: How has your awareness of God’s unceasing giving to you and God’s continual laboring for you impacted how you viewed your life, your self and your circumstances today? How did it impact how you dealt with others today? How did it enable you to more fully enter into and manifest the fullness

of God in your life?

There are two prayers in this section that are worth sitting with for more than one day. One is taken from the Spiritual Exercises and the other is from John Wesley’s writings. Both of these prayers are an expression of the indifference communicated in the Principle and Foundation.

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, my entire will—all is yours; do with it what you will. Give me only your love and your grace. That is enough for me.-Ignatius of Loyola

I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee; let me be full, let me be empty; let me have all things, let me have nothing; I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. -John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer

The retreatant will be instructed to spend time expressing thanksgiving and gratitudeindividually to God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit for rooting you and establishing you in love. Thank them also for all that they have done, are doing and will do on your behalf, which communicates their investment, sacrifice and demonstration of love to you.

Additionally, the retreatant will be asked to consider what they have to give to the Divine Majesty (God).

Take time to debrief the retreatant’s experience of this section of Week 4 separately from the first 3 weeks of Week 4. This is a very important section that is designed to help the retreatant to become an active contemplative rather than embracing an individual and privatized faith.

FQA

Question:
Just got your book in the mail! Read the intro. This could be a journey changer. And I am excited!Can someone who has not been through the Exercises be my director? I suspect it should be someone who has been through the Exercises, right?

Ideally, it would be good to have someone who has gone through the Exercises as your guide BUT this is a bit unrealistic. So, because of that, there is a portion of this website that has a dedicated section for those taking others through the book. Under the Journey With Jesus tab, you will find sections entitled:

  • Getting Started: Preparation for Guides, Listeners and Spiritual Directors
  • Wisdom for Guides, Listeners, Spiritual Directors
  • First Meetings and much more.

The website also has materials for those leading groups. The materials on the website are organized in harmony with the sections in the book and provide the leader with the information they need as they guide the retreatant(s) through the sections in the book. The material on the website is drawn from my own experience as a guide of others through the Exercises. There is also material in the last section of the book that will help those leading others through this material.

So, yes, a person who has not gone through the Exercises can lead another through them if they are willing to put the time and effort needed to read and understand the material in the book and on the website. It will not be easy BUT it will be worth the extra effort both for the leader and the retreatant.

Question:

What is the purpose of the Website?

The website is primarily designed to help those who are guiding individuals through Journey with Jesus. It helps the guide to be prepared and equipped as they journey with the retreatant through each section. However, the material here would also be helpful for those going through the Exercises as a retreatant.

Question:
What if I am not currently able to do the entire 9 month journey?

If you are not able to enter into the full expression of the Exercises as presented in Journey with Jesus, I would encourage you to wait until you have more space in your life. This is not something you need to do right now. There is much value in waiting until you can more fully enter into the material as presented. However, if you feel God is inviting you to begin this journey, there are a few different options outlined in the book (p.274) and on this website (see Alternate Time Frames for Journey with Jesus). When St. Ignatius penned the Exercises he allowed for great flexibility in the administration of the Exercises. He encouraged those giving the Exercises to take into account the uniqueness of each retreatant.

Question:
Can Journey with Jesus be used in small groups?

Yes! This is a wonderful tool for small groups. But if you are going through this as a group it is important to decide what rhythm you are embracing as a group in terms of days per week in the Exercises and the length of time spent engaging with the daily exercises. There is also a section in the book that speaks of a way of using this material with a small group and two sections on the website (Group Sharing and Group Covenant) that are geared for those leading groups. The sections dealing with small groups are currently being expanded.

 

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Jun 22 17

Notes from Rolheiser Conference at King’s House, 2017. “From Paranoia to Metanoia”

by davesandel

 

June 16-18th, 2017 Belleville, Illinois

King’s House Retreat Ron Rolheiser OMI

From Paranoia to Metanoia – From Self-Protection to Compassion

  1. Introduction
  2. Jesus’ Invitation to Metanoia

The concept of “metanoia”

Mark 1:15 – the first words out of Jesus’ mouth in the Synoptic Gospels – Metanoia, the word = Meta/Nous: – “the big mind and big heart”

 

The miracles of Jesus, The Church Fathers – re: each of us having “two” minds, Metanoia as the antithesis of “paranoia”, Henri Nouwen on this in With Open Hands.

Fleshing out the concept Biblically. What does it mean to live out “metanoia”?

  1. Metanoia as an invitation to live in “Compassion”, to be compassionate as the Father is compassionate – Luke 6:36.
  2. Metanoia as an invitation to practice a deeper virtue than the Scribes and Pharisees – Matthew 5:20-26.
  3. Metanoia as an invitation to reach out to the poor – Matthew 25
  4. Metanoia as an invitation to ponder as Mary pondered, to help “take away the sins of the world” – to “transform tension”
  5. Metanoia as an invitation “to take the ointment”, to let ourselves be loved and to enjoy God’s life flourishing within us – Luke 7:36-50/John 12:1-8/Mark 14:3-9/Matthew 26:6-13
  6. Metanoia as an invitation to a radical charity that reaches through ecclesial and cultural norms to touch the poor – Luke 10:25-37.
  7. Metanoia as an invitation to a “wider understanding” that does not stone others in God’s name with the commandments – John 8:1-11
  8. Metanoia as an invitation to leave judgment to God and let the wheat and the weeds grow to maturity – Matthew 13:24-30
  9. Metanoia as an invitation to have an inclusive heart and to be content only with a “whole number” -Luke 15
  10. Metanoia as an invitation to give voice to human finitude and let “our hour come” – John 2:1-11
  11. Metanoia as an invitation to not be a “money-changer” who blocks access to the temple – John 2
  12. Metanoia as an invitation to take off our “outer garment” so a to wash each other’s feet – John 13:1-17.
  13. Metanoia as an invitation to charitably accommodate those whose faith is weaker – Romans 15:1
  14. Metanoia as an invitation to move from being good to being a saint – Luke 18.

III.     The Deep Wellspring to Draw from to live out Metanoia

Living under God’s Unconditional Love

  • The revelation in the Cross – of God’s unconditional love, the cross as rainbow, what is revealed?
  • The revelation in Creation and Nature – of God’s prodigal and reckless character.
  • The revelation in Jesus – God’s passionate, individual care for each of us
  • Living in awe but in no false fears of God

Drawing Strength from Prayer

  • Jesus as paradigm in Luke’s gospel
  • Some biblical images for rootedness in prayer: Steven’s martyrdom, the three young men in the book of Daniel, Jacob wrestling with God in the dust
  • Daniel Berrigan’s advice
  • The need for a healthy practice of Sabbath
  • To live by grace and not just by willpower: the baptism of Jesus vs. the baptism of John the Baptist

Never Straying from the Essentials: Commandments for the Long Haul

  • Pray – make sure both that you are touching divine energy but not identifying with it
  • Keep grounded inside of family, community, and church – remaining inside “schools of charity” that keep you de-fantasized, grounded, and sane
  • Put yourself under obedience so as to live beyond the ego with its myriad needs, wounds, indignations, and inflations – Be the knight not the hero
  • Become Post-sophisticated – go back to the time before hardness of heart.
  • Accept the non-negotiables of life and faith
  • Life is hard and sometimes you will have to live with pain and with unresolved tension
  • You will make mistakes, sin, hurt others, and stand in need of forgiveness
  • Your life is not about you – respond to the consecration within your vocation
  • You will experience dark nights of faith and of love, and of meaning.
  • You, like Christ, are a dying and rising reality
  • As you age strive more for forgiveness
  • As you age strive more to live out of the ground of gratitude
  • As you age strive more to live in hope
  • In your relationships with others, never bracket the essentials: charity, graciousness, respect
  • In your relationship with God strive for patience, patience in darkness. Learn to understand more by not understanding than by understanding.

 

(End of class outline)

Following are notes from talks Friday, Saturday, Sunday, June 16-18, 2017, King’s House, Belleville, IL, Fr. Ron Rolheiser

 

From Paranoia to Metanoia: From Self-Protection to Compassion

 

Fr. Ron, born in 1947, Cactus Lake, Saskatchewan. 1983, doctoral degree from University of Louvain, Belgium. Taught many years at Newman School of Theology, Edmonton, Alberta. Since 2005 he has been president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas. Author of many books, including Holy Longing, Sacred Fire, and The Passion and the Cross.

 

Silence: Meister Eckhart. Silence is God’s language.

 

After 30 or 40 days of silence, we’d probably know each other as well as if we’d been speaking. Important inner work (and relational work) can only be done in silence. Spiritually, psychologically, spirituality is very important.

That is half of the equation. The other inner work is done by talking with others. We are going to be in heaven with other people. We are not born to be hermits. We are likely to go insane if we isolate and see/hear/speak to no one else.

Our kids, and us, use phones and other gadgets. They are sane as hell, because they are always connected and interconnected.

Silence gives depth. Communication gives you sanity. Not one without the other.

Introverts and extroverts gravitate toward silence and community. But both need both.

At these retreats, let’s handle silence like smoking. There are designated talking areas: the gathering room and outside. Meals and the rest of the retreat center should be in silence, until tomorrow night.

If you are on Rocking Chair Row, be silent. Quiet. Without words. Not without smiles.

#

Brother Jeremiah, a monk, wrote our opening meditation. Famous line: “If I had my life to live over again …

“If I had my life to live over again, I would try to make more mistakes next time. I would relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have ever been on this trip. I know very few things that I would take seriously next time around. I would take more trips. I would climb more mountains, swim more rivers, watch more sunsets. I would do more walking and more looking. I’d eat more ice cream and less beans. I would have more actual troubles and fewer imaginary ones. You see, I am one of these people who lived sensibly and sanely hour after hour, day after day. Oh, I have had my moments. If I had it to do over again, I would have more of them. In fact, I would try to have nothing else, just moments, one after the other, instead of living so many years ahead each day. I have been one of those people who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a gargle, a rain coat, aspirin and a parachute. If I had it to do over again, I would go places, I’d do things, I’d travel lighter than I ever have. If I had to do it over again, I would take a lot more risks.”

#

Metanoia. First word of Jesus in synoptic gospels. Translation REPENT and believe in the Good News. Not a great translation. Biblical meaning is more about turning than going from bad to good.

Meta means “above” Noia comes from nous – “mind”. High mind.

Early church fathers: every person has two minds and two hearts. A “pecky, petty” mind: wounded, defensive, irritated, racist, self-protective. Small heart. And we have a big mind, a grand mind, noble mind, saint-mind. Noble, wonderful. Big heart. We are BI-HEARTED. With less control than we’d like, we vacillate between the two.

Both of these are the true me. So much depends on the me I’m hooked to.

Jesus did not do miracles to prove anything. Never. He did miracles out of 1) straight compassion and 2) to show God’s power, over sickness or death (he raised two from the dead).

Eyes, ears, legs, mouths. Women are given back their power to bring life (hemorrhaging woman and 13 year old girl). Jesus wants to hook us to our big mind. metanoia.

Secondly, metanoia is antithesis for para-noia: excessively self-protective. para=irregular. noia=nous=mind

So many tried to protect Jesus. He just kept saying, “Let them come.”

Two cardinals about top priority: protect the church … save the planet.

Jesus’ manger was symbolic. It is the feeding trough. Jesus came to be “eaten up,” not to be protected.

Henri Nouwen, first book in English, With Open Hands. One image, metanoia and paranoia. Two postures to go through life with. Paranoia is a boxer with his fists up. Metanoia is Jesus-on-the-cross. Stretched out and unprotected.

Don’t protect yourself. Give Yourself Over. Jesus teaches us as an ethos, a whole way to think and live.

Our natural instincts keep us away from altruism and generosity. So we have our work cut out for us, if we are going to follow Jesus.

After the election of 2016, we are choosing to self-protect. America First.

Repent and believe. Trust. Move toward trust. All of Jesus’ teaching, Richard Rohr says, fits in one word: surrender.

The lines of good and evil do not go between us, they go through us. (American Covenant by Philip Gorski)

  1. S. Lewis. The Great Divorce. The single condition that separates heaven from hell is the ability to trust another to lead you into heaven. Only 1 in 10 will do it. To go to heaven, you have to trust. Will you do it? Jesus asks it over and over, and then he does it himself on the cross.

 

Many Biblical texts on how to live in metanoia.

  1. Metanoia is an invitation to live in compassion. Be in compassion as your heavenly father is compassionate.

Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. Not “NO FLAWS,” as the word means in Greek. But in Hebrew, the word means “COMPASSIONATE.” In fact, Luke changes the word so we can translate it compassionate.

Last year Pope Francis called the “year of mercy.” Walter Brueggemann, OT scholar and scholar of prophecy, asked about the writers of the Bible, “What did they think was the essence of religion?” Three answers: a) proper belonging and proper practice – dominant until prophets came along, then b) the quality of your faith will be judged by the quality of justice in the land, measured best in three weakest groups: widows, orphans and strangers. Preferential option of the poor, then the wisdom figures go deeper to c) a compassionate, loving heart. Religion is about how you form your heart. If you form your heart well, you will serve the poor and you will have proper practice. I desire mercy, not sacrifice (Psalm 51). Beyond justice.

What does Jesus do with this? He infinitely complexities it. He ratifies all three. Follow the commandments. Do justice (Matthew 25). No religion, no proper practice in that speech. Jesus didn’t get called in the bishop’s office, but he did get crucified, partly for that speech.

Metanoia invites us to be compassionate as God is compassionate. In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “God is in the poor.” You are doing this to me. Be compassionate as God is compassionate. God lets his sun shine on the bad as well as the good, the righteous and the unrighteous. As the sun, God does not discriminate. He shines on vegetables and weeds evenly. This is the “most far-reaching text in Scripture.” God loves the saints in heaven and the devils in hell in exactly the same way. Mary and the devil in exactly in the same way. Nothing we do will change that way God loves us. WE HAVE TO DO THAT TOO.

God loves pro-life and pro-choice. Hillary and the Donald, evenly. Texans and … the rest of you, evenly. Just understanding this is difficult. There is still right and wrong, but love transcends that. Unequal moral positions are equally loved.This is the metanoia. Paranoia always gets in the way. Beyond the Abortion Wars, by Charles Camosy. 85% of us agree on abortion; the other 15% make all the noise.

Metanoia invites us into a deeper virtue than the scribes and pharisees. This is easy to misunderstand if we think of their hypocrisy rather than their sincerity. They were the ones who most sincerely practiced religion. Their virtue was the Ten Commandments, and the other commandments too. Secondly, they must be JUST, fair, not cheating anyone. What’s wrong with that? Jesus said “It’s still too easy.” Anybody can love those who love you, anybody can curse those who curse you. Can you bless those who curse you? Can you forgive a murderer?

Is there a litmus test for Christianity? Scholars say, and it makes sense, it is this text. Can you forgive a murderer? Justice gives back the energy it takes in. I love you, you love me. I hate you, you hate me. No virtue. Simply giving back. Love those who hate you. Forgive those who kill you and kill your kids.

John Paul II was the first pope in history to say, “We shouldn’t do capital punishment.” It’s not wrong. But we shouldn’t. Jesus calls us to something higher. To forgive murderers. Beyond little mind, just mind, fair mind. Beyond. Catharsis (revenge) is not the same as closure.

Redemptive violence allows us catharsis. But not closure. There is always another move in the game. Here is an example of closure. Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh had been a Buffalo, NY altar boy. One of the families went to Buffalo and befriended McVeigh’s family. While he was being executed, the two families were saying the rosary together.

We need to tell more of the good Catholic stories. When the dictator of Chile died, after killing many, one of his victims, now a leader in Chile: during his funeral mass, at the sign of peace, she walked over to her adversary’s side of the aisle, and extended the sign of peace. Don’t kill any enemy because it feels good. It does feel good, but you still “shouldn’t” do it. Asking us to go beyond the pharisees’ virtue is “one of the great morally-stretching texts” in the bible. And in any religion.

These are the first two of the points about metanoia. We’ll tease out the rest all day tomorrow.

7:30 mass tomorrow morning.

#

Saturday morning, June 17, 2017 .

Poem. Today’s gospel … let your yes be yes and your no be no

A Ritual to Read To Each Other:

BY WILLIAM E. STAFFORD

If you don’t know the kind of person I am

and I don’t know the kind of person you are

a pattern that others made may prevail in the

world

and following the wrong god home we may miss

our star.

 

For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,

a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break

sending with shouts the horrible errors of

childhood

storming out to play through the broken dike.

 

And as elephants parade holding each

elephant’s tail,

but if one wanders the circus won’t find the

park,

I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty

to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.

 

And so I appeal to a voice, to something

shadowy,

a remote important region in all who talk:

though we could fool each other, we should

consider—

lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the

dark.

 

For it is important that awake people be awake,

or a breaking line may discourage them back to

sleep;

the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —

should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.

 

  1. Metanoia is an invitation to reach out to the poor.

References to the poor abound in the Bible. In the gospels it varies from every 5th line to every 10th line.

We can’t be Christians and ignore the poor. Reach out, be non-self-protective, particularly to the poor.

“Nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.” – pastor in NYC

Charity and justice are not always the same thing. Good-heartedness living in silence in a culture of self-protection. What is at the heart of policy? If bodies keep floating down the river, what is up the river causing it? Charity handles the bodies; justice looks up the river.

Rich folks often give millions but don’t see how policy affects the poor. Social justice advocates see the policy problems but sometimes are just not very nice people.

  1. Metanoia is an invitation to ponder. Mary. Mary pondered.

Greek – deep thoughts. Discernment. But in Hebrew – hold, carry and transform tension. Carrying the tension so as not to give it back to who/what it came from.

Example: as Jesus was dying, Mary stood beside the cross. She doesn’t speak; what is she doing? In the Hebrew verb for stand, Mary stood strong under the cross. She is pondering: holding the tension. “Today nobody can stop the crucifixion. Darkness will have its hour. But I can absorb, and not give back in kind.” She refuses to replicate the energy of violence.

Watch two videos back to back: Robert Waller’s “Bridges of Madison County” and “Sense and Sensibility.” In the first, the protagonists do not carry tension. They are in bed together within a couple of hours. In the second, the main character carries the tension of her love for years.

Freud used the word “sublimate” to describe this. Sublime is a word from this family of words. The experience of holding tension is sublime.

Rather than conducting or transmitting, as often happens in a crowd, we “hold,” we “stand strong.”

A crowd often transmits and strengthens the poison, while a water purifier holds the poisons and returns only pure water to you.

The scapegoat mechanism, from anthropology and religion. Until you reach a high level of maturity, a culture can’t create community without scapegoating.

You can have a wonderful dinner by talking about people who aren’t there. But you’re afraid to go to the bathroom! This works. We form community; we don’t look at our own differences because we’re looking at others on the outside.

We do this individually. Projection allows us to scapegoat someone else we see has our bad traits.

This is not the highest form of mature community or mature individuality.

At the time of Jesus there were liturgies of scapegoating. A goat was brought into the temple, to invest the tension of community with a crown of thorns. Purple drape on the goat’s back, represents kingship (the leader of us all). Then the goat was chased into the wilderness and died.

Jesus became our water purifier. He took in hatred and gave back love, bitterness and gave back blessing, took in murder and gave back forgiveness. He “pondered.” He held the tension.

Richard Rohr: Whatever you don’t transform, you will transmit. Kierkegaard, the great Lutheran theologian: this is not something to admire; it is something to DO.

We are hard wired to give it back; “pondering” is something we do out of metanoia rather than paranoia.

  1. Metanoia is an invitation to take the ointment. Are you taking enough pleasure in your life?

Texts that are in all four gospels are important. The text is the story of the woman anointing Jesus’ feet. It is intended that we be shocked by her lavishness, especially in her role as a prostitute (perhaps) who has wasted her love up to this point. She uses the most expensive, cries and uses her hair and tears to wash Jesus’ feet. Most are judgmental; Jesus is accepting. “Wherever my story is told, so her story will also be told.”

Three levels of interpretation: 1. Don’t put flowers on coffins; give them to people while they’re alive. 2. God wants you to be happy, wants human flourishing. These moments are what ready you for your death. Your “bucket list” prepares you to die. You can die because you’ve been loved. Fr. Pat Collins: “If I died tomorrow, I’d be OK with that. I have been a loved man.”

So often, we want that the most but still push it away. Neurotic vs erotic (life-force). Guilty while we enjoy life. Jesus says, “Don’t. Don’t. Enjoy human flourishing, that is part of discipleship. It readies you to die.” (Not hedonism: wine, women and song. Not exactly.) Honor your creator and honor your own life by “taking the ointment.”

You don’t have to program in suffering. It will come soon enough. Don’t be apologetic about pleasure; be grateful for it.

If you visit a dying person’s bedside, and then go to your daughter’s birthday party, don’t feel guilty … it won’t be long before they are walking away from your bed! We will all get there.

  1. Metanoia invitation to radical charity … story of the Good Samaritan.

#

Session 2, Saturday, June 17, 2017

Opening poem by D. H. Lawrence

“Healing” by D.H. Lawrence

 

I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.

And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.

I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self

and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only time can help

and patience, and a certain difficult repentance

long, difficult repentance, realization of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself

from the endless repetition of the mistake

which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.

 

  1. Metanoia invites us to a wider understanding that does not stone others with the commandments. John 8:1-11

In John’s gospel, Jesus is always God, not much humanity. Who writes with his finger? God writes with his finger. Jesus wrote in the sand with his finger. God wrote the 10 Commandments with his finger. Moses came down and caught the people in idolatry (adultery, only one vowel different). He broke the tablets and stoned the people with the commandments. The second time Moses went up God told him, “Don’t do violence in my name.” And this time, the people got it.

And in the story of the adulterous women, Jesus wrote in the sand and then as he spoke, the people got it. Walked away. One by one.

God does not look at us in our shame. He gives us the clothing to cover our shame (Genesis). Jesus said, “Go,” using the Hebrew verb also used in the sentence, “Let my people go.”

The scribes quoted Moses. They wanted to follow Moses’ first experience with the tablets, and stone the woman with the commandment as Moses’ stoned the people.

Second story: Susanna, falsely accused by two old men, walking to her execution, when Daniel calls out the people. They interrogate the two men, discover their lies, and kill them instead of Susanna.

John wants to catch a couple points. Susanna is innocent; this woman is guilty. But it doesn’t matter. God’s compassion falls on the just and the unjust. Our love must not go to the innocent and not the guilty. Equal sympathy for all.

Story from Rene Girard, from the diaries of Capt. Cook. Stayed in islands for four years. A man was killed for the gods. Cook was horrified. Said that in England, we would hang the chief for that! (Everybody laughs) Human sacrifice was done primitively by the ancients; we call it capital punishment. A sacrifice for God. Scapegoat for all our violence, our thoughts, etc.

But God is not interested. Be compassionate, as our heavenly Father is compassionate. Stop stoning people with the commandments. Instead reach out. It doesn’t matter if a person is personally guilty. Girard says the woman is “structurally innocent” as she stands against the “policy” of stoning. Standing against violence done in God’s name.

  1. Metanoia is an invitation to leave judgment to God. (Matthew 13)

Matthew 13. Sowing of wheat and weeds (darnel, which looks just like wheat) in the same field. Should we pull out the darnel? No, you can’t tell the difference yet. We have to wait till the harvest.

Jesus told the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Its an old Jewish parable that continues. The rich man returns and is good for awhile, but then becomes selfish again. 10 minutes later he’s back in hell. The “unbridgeable gap” is our own problem. Not God’s.

Don’t judge. Leave judgment to truth and light. Go slow.

  1. Metanoia is an invitation to an inclusive heart and settle only for a whole number (Luke 15).

Lost sheep, lost dime, lost son. For a Hebrew 99 is not a whole number; 100 is a whole number. The shepherd values completeness. All. Same thing with the lost coin.

Roman Catholicism, etc. is not a whole number. Ecumenism isn’t working at all on the pastoral level. Christianity is not a whole number.

  1. Metanoia is an invitation to give voice to human finitude, and to “let our hour come.” (John 2, wedding at Cana)

Couple layers of meaning. Every fairy tale ends happily ever after, with a wedding. At the center of life, a wedding, Jesus comes with his mother to the wedding. They have no wine (not a protein, not a necessity, wine is an extra but it is part of the celebration). Don’t know why, but Mary notices this. She sees what is happening and asks Jesus to do something about it. She is giving voice to human finitude, human need. So Jesus’ miracle is a hospitality miracle.

Second level. Eve and God. Mother of humanity is standing at the center of life and telling God “It’s flat down here. No joy, nobody’s dancing.” The center of life, but it’s flat. Jesus/God says, “My hour has not yet come.” The “hour” always means the hour of his suffering and death. I haven’t suffered; I’m not sure can do it until I suffer. I haven’t put my life on the line yet.

This is key to the deep part of text. What brings joy/wine to the center of a community? Either there is joy/banter/wine in the house where you’re having dinner … or not. And business meetings are the same way. Are you going to eat shards of glass or drink wine?

In my childhood home we were poor, but there was always “wine” in the house. Mom and Dad brought joy. They put real blood on the line for this to happen.

As adult Christians we must give voice to human finitude, human need. At the same time, in the human family, we need to lay down our life, put blood on the line. If we do this, there will be joy in the house.

Jesus changes the washing water into wine, not the drinking water. There were many rituals of oblution. Six jugs at the door, 18 gallons apiece. That water was to wash yourself clean, especially to go eat at the table. That is the water Jesus changes into wine. “Replacement motif.” The mass is the sacrament of reconciliation (penance is secondary). Eucharist is primary. The water/wine purifies you so you can go to the table to eat (Eucharist). Jesus “replaces”, reconciles, our blood with his, our sin with his forgiveness. Also, Jesus was saying, “You did salvation this way; now it is changed. All previous religion is replaced by Jesus. – Raymond Brown, theologian, replacement motif.

So that is why it is the wash water that is changed to wine.

  1. Metanoia is an invitation to not be a money-changer or block access to the temple (John 2).

More replacement motif. This is the story of the exchange of currency. Jesus’ upsetting this is what got him killed. It was the last straw. But Jesus was not upset with their cheating; he was upset about the exchange. There was something set between you and worship.

Remember John 4. Woman at the well asks where the true place is for worship. Jesus says, “In your heart.” We have direct access to God; we don’t need to exchange our currency for some other currency. We better not be the ones blocking anyone’s access. Be compassionate, as our Heavenly Father is compassionate. We are not the gatekeepers, or the money changers.

The Holy Spirit offered people on Pentecost the gift of translation. Not that everyone suddenly spoke Greek and Hebrew, but that the Greek and Hebrews were able to speak all the languages of the world.

Jesus is the gatekeeper; church is not. Theology is not. people are not.

12 noon. lunch and sabbath time. 3 hours of retreat. sun, rest …

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4 pm, session 3, Saturday, June 17, 2017

Opening, Poem by St. John of the Cross, part of The Ascent to Mount Carmel

To reach satisfaction in all,

Desire satisfaction in nothing.

To come to possess all

Desire the possession of nothing.

To arrive at being all

Desire to be nothing.

To come to the knowledge of all

Desire the knowledge of nothing.

 

To come to enjoy what you have not

You must go by a way in which you know not.

To come to the possession what you have not

You must go by a way in which you possess not.

To come to be what you are not

You must go by a way in which you are not.

 

  1. Metanoia invites us to remove our outer garment, so as to wash each other’s feet. John 13

In John’s gospel, he doesn’t institute the Eucharist during the last supper. He institutes it in chapter 6, when he talks to the people about eating his body and drinking his blood.

When John was 90 he wrote the gospel (if he wrote it). 70 years of church life preceded his writing, and it wasn’t much different from today; they fought about everything.

In his gospel he has Jesus bringing peace through serving, through washing his disciples’ feet. In John’s community they had daily eucharist; the bread of life. You had to eat every day.

At the supper, Jesus knowing he was from God and going back to God, knowing all was possible for him, took off his outer robe, and began to wash their feet.

John would ask Donald to wash Hillary’s feet, Republicans to wash Democrats feet and vice versa, have pro-life and pro-choice people to wash each other’s feet. Eucharist means coming together beyond differences.

The outer robe is much more than clothing. It is all the necessary clothing we wear, all our preferences, all our habits. What we do. When we remove that, we are left with what came from God and will go back to God.

Jesus asks us, as he did, to remove the mantle of privilege and put on the apron of service.

But after he is finished, Jesus’ puts his identity back on. At the Eucharist, though, take it off. Be the essence that came from God and will go back to God.

  1. Metanoia invites us to charitably accommodate those who are weaker in faith.

They might be right, but they should not be arrogant. Instead they should be patient.

  1. Metanoia is an invitation to move from good to becoming a saint (Luke 18).

There is a long section on this idea in Sacred Fire.

The rich young man asks how he can possess eternal life. Jesus says, you can’t. You must receive it; you can’t possess it. It’s like breathing. Completely free. No sense storing it. Just keep breathing. Keep receiving. Since you are already doing so much, you need to give up everything.

He had already given up almost everything. So now had to give up the rest.

We have, inside us, two places. One is where God lives, the other is the place where we keep what we think we need to live. Unfortunately, we usually head for the second place when we’re in crisis, instead of the first place. Where God lives.

The rich young man’s sadness comes from … “When you reach a certain age of adulthood, you realize in life there is only one true sadness. It is the sadness of not being a saint. God settles for it as we give over more and more, but he always wants it all.

Jesus says to the disciples, “It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.” But it is not impossible for God.

This is the essence of the 12 steps. Impossible to do it, except through God. Will power has no strength, God does.

How do our possessions block our move into heaven?

Luke is most socially conscious gospel, but he doesn’t condemn the rich. Actually, he says it is good to be rich so you can be generous.

One group goes to heaven naturally, easily: little children. Not because of their innocence, but because they are helpless. They have no illusion about self-sufficiency.

The years of 18-40 are the years when we feel immortal. We don’t need God; we’re rich. The richness of self-sufficiency.

Parable of landowner and workers. Peter asks what are we gonna get, since we gave up everything to follow you. Rich landowner, God, hired people all day and paid all of them the same amount, no matter how long they worked.

Friend, didn’t you agree to this? It is addressed to all good Christians. Don’t watch what everyone else is getting. Enjoy the hundredfold, even if others get it too. Because they will. Be compassionate, as your Heavenly Father is compassionate.

Tomas Halik (Patience with God and two other books in English) Czech theologian, won Templeton Prize. The danger for all Christians is that we will become embittered moralizers. Like the older son in the Prodigal story.

Peter Fransen, professor at Louvain, wrote about grace. Ron is grateful to have had him as a teacher. Died soon after.

Drawing strength from prayer.

Jesus drew strength from prayer; his disciples asked them to teach them how.

Stephen, as he was about to be stoned, looked away and up, and saw God. He was praying, not so much for relief as for praise.

The three men in Nebuchadnezzar’s fire were praising God. Glory be needs to be said about God, so we don’t say it about ourselves.

Jacob wrestling with God. All night they wrestle and nobody wins. But God puts out Jacob’s hip, and he limps the rest of his life. You will wrestle, and in the end you’ll lose. But don’t stop wrestling.

Halik: our life is a struggle between our energy and God’s patience.

DAN BERRIGAN: Jesuit, died about a year ago, in his 90s: one of the places we can ground ourselves besides prayer is by working with the poor. He said he did care about the poor, but he also realized how much he needed to do it. After his last prison term he spent the rest of his life working in NYC cancer ward.

The only way to save ourselves from ideology is through prayer/gospel. Connect to something deeper. Compassion, universal love the way God loves us.

Now some Questions and answers …

How do I answer the question from John 8 (there is no way to God through Jesus). How do I understand this ourselves? Even stronger in Greek than it is in English. The only way, the only truth, the only life.

Balance it with other things in scripture. God has no favorites. Heaven is open to all.

Baltimore catechism. 3 kinds of baptism. water, desire, and blood. Desire for the truth. Blood, not just a martyr, but anyone’s self-sacrifice.

Contemporary theology: Rahner, Tillich, etc. Distinction between Jesus and Jesus Christ. Christ was not Jesus second name. It’s a title. Jesus the Christ. Christ = God’s anointed one. God’s “flesh” on earth.

Jesus said we will be saved through Christ. Not necessarily through Jesus. Christ is bigger than historical Christianity. We don’t control the mystery. There is a visible body of Christ and an invisible body of Christ.

Our intimacy is with Jesus. The person.

Henri Nouwen taught Ron, don’t pray to Christ, pray to Jesus. Until 1990, Ron’s writings were about Christ, after 1990 they were about Jesus. Jesus is person. Personal.

We are the body of Christ. Just as real as Jesus was. Tomorrow’s feast: corpus christie. The body of Christ. Eucharist is body of Christ, church is body of Christ, Jesus is body of Christ.

Texts about God shutting the door to heaven after death … God doesn’t shut the door, we do. Kairos, opportune time. If you miss it, you probably won’t do it later.

I think of Theo Epstein of the Cubs in 2016: “if not now, when?”

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Sunday, June 18, 2017, morning session. Final session 9-11 am. Followed by mass, lunch, departure.

Question about reconciliation and eucharist.

Mark 5. Woman. Two encounters with Jesus, she touched his hand and was healed. The second encounter came when Jesus spoke with her afterward. “Who touched me?” After this she was “completely” healed.

You are the body of Christ. Someone touches you; they are healed. But there is the sacrament of reconciliation. Imagine a day when you just snapped out of frustration. Everyone is suddenly quiet. You leave for a bit, but then you come out of your pout room and just sit there. Sit at the table.

There is something unfinished, but everyone in the house even when you just sit knows you are moving back toward them. The unfinished business is the 5th step. Say out your sin and apologize, to God and to a person.

The sacrament of penance is the sacrament of the mature. They apologize, they don’t just let their actions say it. If you’re not strong enough to say you’re sorry, you might be nice to the person you’ve hurt, and they know what it means. Saying it is better yet.

The primary sacrament is “touching the hem of the garment,” which just means going to church, or taking the eucharist. We are the body of Christ, so your family … just be being with you … is forgiven.

The secondary sacrament, of confession, is the place to “finish.” The more mature movement from sin to apology, through confession.

Mortal sin means you have cut yourself off from the body. That is different from “invincible ignorance.” “Culpable ignorance” is like Dobson’s willful disobedience. It’s a step deeper and further from forgiveness. But even when the guards knew they were crucifying Jesus, they did not know what they were doing at the deeper level. They didn’t know how God loved them.

Mortal sin is the “unforgivable sin” Jesus mentions in Mark. It is not a behavior, other than the self-cutting off myself from the body. The body of Christ. Behaviors, sins of omission and commission, are all held under the umbrella of God’s compassion.

I’ve been with a few folks who think they have committed the unforgivable sin. Their response to God is the response of the unloved. They will not accept God’s love, unconditional is not OK. They must earn something they cannot earn. The armor around them thickens and hardens, and they feel alone. Even a bit of admission/confession begins to break down the armor. But there is no hurry. God’s in no hurry. The armor will gradually dissolve. Word by word. Moment by moment. Love by love.

Now … we will look at sabbath and some of the commandments.

Rooting yourself in prayer. Concept of sabbath.

Sabbath is meant to be part of the rhythm of life: work for six days, one day of rest. Seven years and have one year of sabbatical. Forty-nine years and then the world goes on sabbatical for a jubilee year. Then you live all your life working and then go into the eternity of rest.

Sabbath. Ordinary work is supposed to stop. What constitutes servile work? Can you cut your lawn on Sunday? The lawn guy can work on his computer; the computer guy can cut his lawn.

Rest is number 2.

Celebrate is third. And most important.

Roll back the clock 60 or 70 years. Look at Sunday.

Saturday night bath. Put on your Sunday best. (Anthropologically, very healthy) CHURCH – high mass on Sunday, low mass during the week. Sunday dinner. Ice cream mid-afternoon. Lounge around the rest of the day.

This celebration is meant simply for the sake of enjoyment. Not for any other reason. Truly enjoy … once a week …

Orthodox church – if you’re a married couple, you are obliged to make love.

We have lost this, and we are paying a heavy price for it. There is nothing right about this. Celebration is lost. Rest is lost. Rhythm is lost.

Young woman in Austin, Lauren Cox, Jungian scholar, talk on acedia. The noonday devil. You don’t know why you’re depressed. You have a right to be depressed when it’s dark, but NOT WHEN IT’S LIGHT. Kathleen Norris’ book on acedia (Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monk’s, and a Writer’s Life.)

Lauren Cox said we are depressed because we don’t have sabbath. Phones prevent sabbath. Always always connected. That’s good. And it’s bad. There is no sabbath. Never shuts down.

Practice a cyber-sabbath. Once a week, shut everything off. Example: priest’s family, 4 pm Sunday we unplug everything. For 29 hours we are un-contactable. At 9 pm Monday night we symbolically come off sabbath.

Rumi wrote, 700 years ago, “I have lived too long where I can be reached.”

We need the rhythm. 6 days a week of connection, 1 day a week – unconnected.

Women … Sunday might mean more work for her. We had a Saturday night-Sunday night sabbath for a couple years, but it got too hard for Margaret. She had to do so much to prepare, and her family (me) didn’t help enough.

————-

What is the difference between baptism by water and baptism by fire. Water can wash things clean. But it can’t change the thing essentially. Fire changes things. From wood to charcoal to coals to fire.

Diagnosis is easier than curing/prescription. What do we do in our moral lives? It’s easier to see what’s wrong with you (or myself), than it is to know how to change.

So John could wash, but Jesus could transform.

Catholics claim the power of will. I can do this! Evangelicals/calvinists are much less enamored of our will power. But for all of us, grace allows us to do what we cannot otherwise do. A lot.

Other people. Community of grace. Devotion to God, worship, congregation. Community of grace.

On retreat with Robert Michel, mid-80s by now, a retreat for priests. Very gentle man, he sits when he speaks. “I am going to try to teach you how to pray a certain way. Sometime in your prayer, open yourself up to hear God say, ‘I love you.’ When you hear that inside you, you will be transformed and you will begin transmitting exactly that.” God loves me. God loves you. I don’t just say it; I know it. The words don’t distract us from something else that’s more real; the Words are spoken OUT OF truth.

In the academic world we have done 60 years of amazing deconstruction. What is wrong here, what is wrong there … diagnosis par excellence. But we can’t even fix a toilet! The change, the transformation, eludes us.

What do we do about it? See Jesus. You don’t even need an appointment.

TEN COMMANDMENTS FOR THE LONG HAUL.

Become post-sophisticated.

Three words. Forgiveness, gratitude, hope.

Never bracket essentials of charity, graciousness, and respect.

Strive for patience, patience in darkness. Learn to understand more by not understanding than by understanding. (John 21 – when you are old, others will lead you where you do not want to go)

  1. Pray to get connected. God working through me. Mother Teresa and her huge ego. Janis Joplin and her huge ego. One is a transforming power for us, the other catches on fire and is destroyed.

Cults: 220 plug, stick in your finger. Many cult followers die in fires.

For most of us, we are too afraid of inflation, so we never do great things.

Robert Moore introduced a San Francisco conference, “If you are here and over 25, you probably feel chronic depression a lot. Most folks who aren’t depressed, are assholes. Can we find a balance between passive and aggressive. The problem is we are so afraid of becoming what we shouldn’t be, we don’t go after it.

Enneagram 8’s, the healthy ones, lead the rest of us.

MBTI … ENTJ, INTJ. They lead the rest of us.

And the rest of us … we can go much further toward assertive spirituality than we do. Do Not Be Afraid.

  1. Let the family/community/church knock the edges off. Like a rock polisher. Solitary spirituality is dangerous; you don’t have to answer to anyone. You are not able to spur one another on unless there is “another.”

In Toronto, Mordecai Richler, great Jewish writer, he gave a commencement speech. Why am I here? Not because I’m a writer, journalist … but because my adult children live in Toronto, and you’re the add-on. A free trip. Here is what I want to say: stay close with your families. The world will invite you to be an asshole. You don’t have to go there to be a good writer Stay close to those who help you rub off your rough edges. Don’t become an idiot messiah. Don’t listen to the world; it is wrong. Listen to your family. Let them help you grow.

  1. Move beyond hard-heartedness. Become post-sophisticated. Jesus responded to question about divorce because of “pornea” or adultery, by asking, “What did Moses say?” He said Moses spoke as he did because of the hardness of your heart. It was not that way in the beginning. Pointing to a little child, Jesus said, “Become like this.” Go back to your original blessing, your original innocence.” And then answer your own question from that space.

But that original innocence cannot be retained. “The secret of life is to come to your second naiv-ete,” says Paul Ricouer. “Become post-sophisticated.” James Hillman asks us to imagine a two-year old asking about the sun’s evening setting. Don’t pull out the atlas and the globe. But at six or seven, pull out the globe. 15 or 20, pull out Stephen Hawking … ever-more sophisticated. But when we are age 70, go back to the first explanation, in the context of all that later knowledge.

Allan Bloom said his University of Chicago students were “more sophisticated than I am.” So what I want to do is help you relearn how to believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and thereby restore you to the possibility of happiness.

We sophisticate ourselves into a lot of unhappiness. You know everything but can’t do anything. Move beyond liberal enlightenment.

Time’s up. Thank you! See you in the chapel in one hour.

 

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Jun 4 17

Blow, Gabriel, blow!

by davesandel

If you would like a collection of the 2016 devotions from Lent, Easter, Advent, and Christmas, it’s available on Amazon as either a paperback or Kindle book titled Finding My Way 2016.

This is the last of 2017’s Lent and Easter devotions.  Thank you for sharing them with me.  May God bless the coming weeks of what many churches call “ordinary time.”  I hope to begin sharing devotions again with you on the first Sunday of Advent, which falls on December 3, 2017.

For all of today’s readings, please click on the DATE below.

Blow, Gabriel, blow!

Pentecost Sunday, June 4, 2017

When the time for Pentecost was fulfilled, they were all in one place together. And suddenly there came from the sky a noise like a strong driving wind, and it filled the entire house in which they were. Then there appeared to them tongues as of fire, which parted and came to rest on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in different tongues. – From Acts 2

Jewish travelers filled Jerusalem for their early harvest festival, the Feast of Weeks. It has been seven weeks since the Feast of First Fruits, also the day of Jesus’ resurrection. Watching Jesus disappear, hearing his final words of encouragement, left the disciples with one mission during their time of waiting: pray.

How long, O Lord, how long? The Catholic practice of praying “a novena” honors their nine-day vigil. They missed their friend Jesus so much. They prayed as they listened to the sounds of travelers coming to Jerusalem for the festival. They talked with them when they went for food. What will happen next? And when?

Then on that 10th day after Jesus’ ascension, the Holy Spirit Storm struck. We want to be there. Trumpeters in churches around the world blast their horns, recalling the sound of the mighty wind. Cole Porter’s song is set on Judgment Day, but when we heard it at Parkland College we wanted to jump out of our seats. The Holy Spirit fire fell on us too.

One of Paul’s most deliberate imperatives simply says, “Do not put out the Spirit’s fire” (1 Thessalonians 5). On this day of Pentecost, we clothe our preachers with red vestments and celebrate the fire. If you’ve experienced the burning touch of God inside you, it’s a moment you will never forget and never devalue.

We do, of course, devalue, and we do forget. God wants us either cold or hot, but lukewarm is so much more comfortable. All the more reason to be reminded today of the fiery tongues on those men and women’s heads, and their excited words in languages they did not know.

We no longer need be contained by the curse of Babel. We are forever more than isolated, uncomprehending individuals afraid of each other. Living in fear is not necessary when I know how much I’m loved. This knowledge is more precious than jewels, and it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. And it is ours forever.

Lord, on this fine day you bring us all, singing, celebrating, jumping up and down before the gates of heaven. We are spoken for, and the Holy Spirit cries, “Open wide, you mighty gates!” Oh, Lord, let me know this truth beyond any other, and recollect your joy day by day by day.

http://www.davesandel.net/category/lent-easter-devotions-2017/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archived_devotions.php?article_id=1616

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May 28 17

Sharing in the sufferings

by davesandel

For all of today’s readings, please click on the DATE below.

Sharing in the sufferings

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 28, 2017

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom should I be afraid? – From Psalm 27

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven. Every one of us, before and after Jesus, can at our moment of death repeat his words. “Father, the hour has come.”

We might die without warning and not have time. We might be angry and not want to talk to God. We might not know God is there to talk to, or believe that he is not. But this “hour” is not about the words we might say or not say; it is the rock-solid truth of the moment. My death marks the fullness of time in my life, once and for all.

My friend lost his father, and the next day we read Psalm 90 together. “The length of our days is 70 years, or 80 if we have the strength.” His dad was 88, and before he died his strength was waning. They got together almost every evening and spent some time together. That won’t happen now.

My dad died when he was 80, the first one of his family to live that long but also the first of his siblings to go. He read the Bible all the time. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” When he died, Margaret and I sang “I’ll Fly Away” at his funeral. It was his favorite song. Sometimes now I ask him to pray for me. Sitting up there in heaven. With all the time in the world.

On this Ascension Sunday verses from the Psalms settle around me like white doves. “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us.”

Teach us how to share in your sufferings, Jesus.

“May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us; establish the work of our hands for us. Yes, establish the work of our hands.” (Psalm 90)

Though our bodies suffer separately, and on their own relentless timetables, we are not alone, least of all when we feel it the most. Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn. Do not be afraid. The Lord thy God is with thee.

“I am confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord. Be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27)

The waiting takes its pound of flesh. But eventually it turns inside me, and I become a quieter, more peaceful and patient friend of the One by whom I have been made, the One from whom I’ve come and will return.

“He anoints my head with oil. My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life. And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)

What a friend we have in Jesus. All our sins and griefs to bear. What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer. I think you are always listening for my prayers, Father, and your ears perk up when I turn toward you. Not because of who I am, but because of who you are.

http://www.davesandel.net/category/lent-easter-devotions-2017/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archived_devotions.php?article_id=1615

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May 21 17

We shall not cease from exploration

by davesandel

For all of today’s readings, please click on the DATE below.

We shall not cease from exploration

Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 21, 2017

Jesus said to his disciples, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me, because I live and you will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me and I in you. – From John 14

I sat on an early-morning bench at UIUC’s Japan House, shaded by green trees, watching morning shadows blow on the garden wall. A boy came through the garden gate with his grandmother and scuffled his feet in the gravel. I looked up. He looked across at me and turned away.

I wonder if he was listening to the sound of the gravel. Or if he was listening for the silence in between the sound. No one said anything. I smiled and turned back toward the shadows.

There is a Japanese word for this silence between sounds. The word is ma. Violinist Isaac Stern calls it “that little bit between each note – silences which give the form.” For a major league baseball hitter, ma begins when the ball leaves a pitcher’s hand and ends a split-second later when the ball reaches his bat. Or flies past it into the catcher’s mitt.

When I can slow things down, then ma shows itself.

Wikipedia’s article on ma says it is “the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form, deriving from an intensification of vision.” I like that. In this liminal moment of already-but-not-yet, I am having an “intensification of vision.”

Jesus had those all the time. In this final sharing with his disciples, he struggles for words to describe immortal eternity in a temporal, finite world. He spoke to men and women who thought much less in abstracts and much more in practicals, as in, “How many loaves and fishes will it take to feed all these people?”

A Japanese Jesus might have broached the idea of ma in his discourse. “Don’t focus on what is about to happen: my death. And don’t get impatient for what will happen next: my new life.”

Instead, “Settle softly like butterflies into the space between. There is no hurry here. God’s timing is perfect. I am in him and you are in me.”

The fullness of God’s time is always about the space between what WAS and what WILL BE. This might be the best of times; but because I’m usually in a hurry, it doesn’t feel that way.

In his melancholy, less mature youth, poet T. S. Eliot recognized this space but felt betrayed by it. He was just too rushed in those younger days. He wrote “The Hollow Men” out of his impatience and despair:

“Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the Shadow. For Thine is the Kingdom … This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”

Many years later, re-christened and in love again with Jesus, Eliot recalled Julian of Norwich’s confident words at the end of “Little Gidding,” one of his Four Quartets:

“Quick now, here, now, always – a condition of complete simplicity (costing not less than everything) – and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well, when the tongues of flame are in-folded into the crowned knot of fire. And the fire and the rose are one.”

Jesus knows there is no sting in death, so of course Jesus invites us into the fire with him. And like Jesus, we too discover the pure God-man energy we have always been made of, as our wood burns into charcoal and finally turns to flame.

“Be still and know what Jesus knows.” Father, your words settle in my soul and give me rest. My heavy-laden lungs, breathless with fear, relax and know how much you love me, and how there is no fear in love. Even in this fiery furnace, you are teaching me to breathe.

http://www.davesandel.net/category/lent-easter-devotions-2017/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archived_devotions.php?article_id=1614

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May 14 17

Constructing the kingdom

by davesandel

For all of today’s readings, please click on the DATE below.

Constructing the kingdom

Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 14, 2017

Come to him, a living stone, rejected by human beings but chosen and precious in the sight of God, and, like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. – From 1 Peter 2

Jesus says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” – From John 14

In her talk at a small group leaders’ conference, Melissa Sandel talked about Jesus’ passion for what he called the “kingdom.” She thinks the kingdom comes whenever “heaven touches earth.”

Melissa shared many examples of the “ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18), when people allow God to use them in constructing his kingdom here. As I listened to story after story I felt God’s inexorable rhythm, setting stone upon stone, building us up, filling us with hope, taking us home.

God has been and will always be about creation. He made the heavens and the earth. He makes us into a “holy priesthood,” blesses us to be a blessing to others, and builds his kingdom on earth through us. He is preparing a place for us to be with him.

In a sense this takes what we call “time.” But just as truly, it has always been. “The plans of the Lord stand firm forever” (Psalm 33:11). In my physical life I wait, unable to see clearly except a step or two in front of me. But God is not waiting. He sees it all. What a gift that he sees fit to let me know a bit of what he sees.

The question is: do I believe my own eyes as He gives me this momentary sight? Or rather, do I close my eyes too quickly because I’m busy sweating the small stuff, worrying about the next stitch in the tapestry of my life? Afraid I might get ripped off, afraid I’m missing something, so tempted in my fear and impatience to take over and turn away from God-who-made-me. He was just right here! Has he disappeared? Has he maybe gone on vacation? Does he love me really? Maybe I just made up that moment I thought he was with me.

God gives me time to live in. My little seed sprouts and I am born, I grow, I become mature and bear fruit, spread new seeds, and finally in time my body dies and falls away. This is hard on me. I might even panic, listening to Time’s clock ticking away. That deadly rhythm brings me to my knees, tempts me toward despair, taunts me with meaninglessness, pushes me to work harder, sleep less and crave success.

In this life ruled by God’s eternity beyond my own experience of Time, I learn (although with glacial slowness) to measure my faith by the way I wait, the way I pray, the way I look only to God and not to success or failure.

The glimpses God gives me of His Time, His Kingdom, and His Plan are all I have to show me the way through the dark, wrinkled maze of my own experience.

I wasn’t present at the dawn of time. God was.

I don’t see clearly. God sees.

I don’t know what is coming. God knows.

The plans of the Lord stand firm forever.

Peter calls us “living stones,” Father, for you to shape and straighten and use. Let me spill over and shout with joy and gladness as I feel your hands around me, lifting me up, setting me in place. I don’t always feel your hands even though they’re there. But I do believe. Help my unbelief. Keep me from fear while I re-awaken to your touch. Please, Lord, teach me every day to say, “You … make … me.”

 http://www.davesandel.net/category/lent-easter-devotions-2017/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archived_devotions.php?article_id=1613

 

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May 7 17

The unhurried silence of God, walking

by davesandel

For all of today’s readings, please click on the DATE below.

The unhurried silence of God, walking

Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 7, 2017

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil, and my cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. – Psalm 23

In the silence over the sea

A fish jumped

The seaweed popped and the sand sighed

In the low tide …

While far off like a gentle song

The bell buoy rang its sea-slung gong

And a grasshopper whirred

And the night wind stirred

And the night fell down –

Not a sound. – Margaret Wise Brown, from her children’s book Quiet in the Wilderness

 “Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” – Scott Peck, from The Road Less Traveled

 Scott Peck’s famous paradox about life’s “difficulty” resolves … slowly. The trick is, there is no hurry about any of this. In fact, when I hurry I lose myself, I lose sight of God, I lose my way.

Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths and Eightfold Noble Path might be summed up: there is no hurry. In Matthew 6 Jesus cautions us not to worry. Let life come to us. There is no hurry.

Today’s lectionary text from 1 Peter, about our call to suffering and following the example of Jesus, is realized slowly. There is no hurry.

Don’t just do something. Stand there.

In my “slow takes time” unhurried life, I also do not much need to speak. There is, instead, the slowly emerging sound of silence, what the Japanese call “ma,” defined as “pause” or “space between two parts.” Silence … framed by sound.

Jesus did not awaken his disciples when he prayed to Abba early in the morning. They slept on. In John 8, Jesus said almost nothing amid the cannibalistic mutterings of those vicious elders wanting to stone the prostitute. In John 11 he was mostly silent on his oh-so-slow way to visit Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus. In John 19, he was famously silent on his day of accusation and death.

Flannery O’Connor evoked the silences between “parts.” In her short story “The River,” a sullen, thoughtless boy discovers the silence underwater during his baptism and later drowns when he seeks it out again, alone. Her characters stumble between arrogance and humility, saying too much and thinking too little until suddenly, caught in a rush of the Spirit, they are flushed from their old wordy worlds into something new.

When Flannery’s story stops, when her words are done, the sudden silence bellows and blows me from side to side. I reel in that emptiness of echoed words. For me, it’s almost perfect.

Jesus spoke and preached and laughed and cried, but Jesus also lived in rich silence, hour after hour, day after day. And, you know, when Jesus spoke … people listened. He had something to say.

Think of the shepherd. The Lord. He makes me lie down. He leads me. He restores me. He is with me. He comforts me. He prepares a table for me. He anoints my head with oil. Perhaps it is only then, after all that ordinary time, that my shepherd speaks. He turns with a smile meant for me, and invites me into his home. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Maybe I could live without the sounds of the world, Lord, but I’m sure I cannot live without your silence. That surprises me, Father, that in all my words and all my music and all my SOUND your silence is much more precious. I hear it when the moon rises. I hear it when I fall asleep. I hear it in the space between all those sounds of the day. Your silence takes me inside myself to where we can be … together.

http://www.davesandel.net/category/lent-easter-devotions-2017/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archived_devotions.php?article_id=1612

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Apr 30 17

What shall we do with the drunken sailor?

by davesandel

For all of today’s readings, please click on the DATE below.

What shall we do with the drunken sailor?

Third Sunday of Easter, April 30, 2017

Conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your sojourning, realizing that you were ransomed from your futile conduct with the precious blood of Christ, as of a spotless unblemished lamb. – from 1 Peter 1

Drunken sailor Davey … hey, that’s me! The song suggests several things to do with me: throw him in the brig until he’s sober! Pull out the plug and wet him all over! Put him in the scuppers with the deck hose on him!

That last one might get my attention. Now, keep in mind that this is a sea shanty, a work song, which means it’s about the morning and what needs to get done, not so much about the drinking or the night before.

So whatever they do to me, it’s to get the future straight and not the past. I wish things were always that straightforward. Often I soak myself in judgment, blame, accusation and emotion rather than lots of water from the deck hose.

All this this second-guessing and self-pity moves me away from God. I am a sojourner, as Peter says. I am a stranger in a strange land. I want to move nearer God, not further away. God is where I came from. It was God in the first place who created this ability in me to “think.” If he’s not in charge of my thoughts, then who is?

Peter’s word translated “reverence” is also translated “fear” or “awe,” and I like the phrase “rebirth of wonder.” When I see my conduct as “futile” but also in that ugly moment feel God’s uncompromising love for me, then I fall on my face in a rebirth of wonder. Fear. Awe. Reverence.

Sojourner comes from Latin “under the day,” and it describes eloquently our out-of-control, episodic experience on earth: living one day at a time. But even more, “sojourner” is Latin’s rendition of a Hebrew word which mostly means foreigner.

We are aliens here, caught in time, working all day for our pharaohs. But in the night we remember Eden. Of course we look forward to heaven and wait for it. If heaven’s not my home, then Lord, what will I do? In the contemplations of the night, we feel our need for God and our unity with God. Just feel your way through Psalm 130.

Then, hark! The morning does come. This is the day that the Lord has made. Carpe diem! Sojourners travel in RVs around the country and help others. Sojourners stand up for loving justice and seek to define what faithful activism looks like today. Sojourners aren’t known for waiting for God or anything else. Other than occasionally a deck hose full of seawater to wake them up.

Peter’s words plant the seeds of both contemplation and action. “Conduct yourselves with reverence.” Unchecked, these seeds will grind each other into dust. Peter experienced this, but Jesus rescued him from his inner battle. His reminder of the “precious blood of Jesus” is surely as much for himself as for us.

In our time of sojourning, day after lifelong day, I am glad in the morning for the sweet scent of heaven in my nostrils, left from the night before, which makes it much more likely that by afternoon I will find my way.

Father, the rhythms of our dance are the rhythms of our worship, too, and I think if you’re the captain of our pirate ship, then we’ll work all day and dance all night, and lie down and sleep in peace, surrounded by your safety. And we won’t be pirates anymore. We’ll take off our masks. Underneath, we’ll see how much we look like you, like children of our living God.

http://www.davesandel.net/category/lent-easter-devotions-2017/

http://www.christiancounselingservice.com/archived_devotions.php?article_id=1611

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Apr 27 17

Finding My Way 2016

by davesandel

A compilation of devotions from Lent and Easter 2016 and Advent and Christmas 2016-2017 is available under the title Finding My Way 2016.

What follows is the unformatted text of the book, which is available in Kindle and paperback versions.  

Here’s the link to the book on Amazon:  https://www.amazon.com/Finding-Way-2016-Scriptures-Liturgical-ebook/dp/B06XQMQ217/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1493307855&sr=8-1&keywords=finding+my+way+2016

 

 

Finding My Way

 

 

 

“Time spent with Dave Sandel is never wasted; he’s in no hurry with my soul. Again and again, he has helped me navigate the difficult waters of the spiritual life. While you may not agree with everything he writes here, I encourage you to drink deeply. He is a wise and sympathetic tutor.”

– Neal Windham, Professor of Spiritual Formation, Lincoln Christian University

“Like the energy boost of that first cup of coffee in the morning, David’s daily reflections give me a lift while I formulate my own
response to the day’s Word.”

– Mary Lou Menches, former Assistant Director, UIUC Press and leader of Centering Prayer Group, St. Patrick’s
Catholic Church, Urbana, Illinois

“Nothing helps us find our way like the experience of simply being with God and quietly sinking into his words, while also pay­ing attention to God’s presence in the ordinary moments of our lives. David finds God in the lives of the people he loves so dearly – his grandchildren, his children, and his wife, Margaret. He finds God in the chickens in their backyard, the friends he meets for coffee, the books he reads, the movies he watches … And then there are his prayers – heartfelt, passionate, vulnera­ble supplications from the depths of his soul to the God he loves. Finding My Way is a personal testimony. I read it and hear David’s voice as if we are sitting together for a conversation.”

— Gerard Booy, Pastor of Haney Presbyterian Church,
Vancouver, British Columbia

“If you are looking for more information about God, pass this book by. If you are looking to fall more deeply in love with Jesus, begin reading this book today!”

— Arnie Gentile, MACAP Biola University, MsSF Northern Seminary, author of Beautiful Religion: Can We Get There From Here?

“I love these things!”

– Greg Elliott, Professor of Aerospace Engineering, UIUC

Finding

My

Way

2016

 

98 Stories and Scriptures

Based on

Ancient Liturgical

Rhythms of the Church

 

CCS Publishing

2017
In their original form, these devotions are compiled online at www.christiancounselingservice.com/devotions.php

(1999-present), with a great search function (thanks, Stacey).

 

They are also at www.davesandel.net

(2011-present), along with

a number of other readings, writings, and resources.

 

 

 

Cover designed by Chris Sandel

 

 

 

This book is set in Book Antiqua, Avenir Next, and Avenir Next Condensed typefaces.

 

Text body is set in the 11 pt, Book Antiqua typeface.

 

There are 291 pages in this book.

 

 

 

Copyright © 2017 David Sandel

All rights reserved.

CCS Publishing

1108 North Lincoln Avenue

Urbana, Illinois

 

ISBN-10: 1544082207

ISBN-13: 978-1544082202

 

 

DEDICATION

 

 

For Margaret.

Thank you for your prayers, our conversations, and your commitment. I love you.

 

CONTENTS

Picture Notes………………………………………………………………………………………….. 7

Notes on Lectionary……………………………………………………………………………….. 8

List of Lectionary Readings………………………………………………………………….. 10

Preface………………………………………………………………………………………………….. 16

LENT and EASTER 2016

Week of Ash Wednesday…………………………………………………………………….. 18

First Week of Lent………………………………………………………………………………… 26

Second Week of Lent………………………………………………………………………….. 44

Third Week of Lent………………………………………………………………………………. 64

Fourth Week of Lent……………………………………………………………………………. 84

Fifth Week of Lent……………………………………………………………………………… 104

Sixth Week of Lent (Holy Week including the Triduum)………………… 122

The Octave of Easter………………………………………………………………………….. 140

Sundays of the Easter Season………………………………………………………….. 164

ADVENT and CHRISTMAS 2016-17

First Week of Advent…………………………………………………………………………. 184

Second Week of Advent……………………………………………………………………. 198

Third Week of Advent………………………………………………………………………… 212

Fourth Week of Advent……………………………………………………………………… 232

The Twelve Days of Christmas…………………………………………………………… 248

Epiphany…………………………………………………………………………………………….. 282

Endnotes……………………………………………………………………………………………. 284

Acknowledgments…………………………………………………………………………….. 288

About the Author……………………………………………………………………………….. 290

Family Index……………………………………………………………………………………….. 291

Picture Notes

FEBRUARY

15              Margaret and Dave, at labyrinth, St. Thomas More Catholic Church, Austin, Texas

17              Aly Grace as Gabriel, Christmas 2016 … Aly with Uncle Marc

21              Aki and Andi with their shared Halloween costume

22              Andi and Aki’s Christmas gift to us – 1000 pieces of our past

25              Margaret and Andi trying out their gluten-free, homemade carrot cake

28              Andi and Aly, age 4 … Andi and Grandma, age 94

MARCH

3               Jack and Grandpa playing checkers at Cracker Barrel on the day after Thanksgiving

8               Johnson Siding Elevator during harvest, ¼ mile from our dairy farm, where I grew up

10              Pat Rogers, Don Savaiano, Margaret and turkey (well, actually, chicken)

12              Andi flexing her rock-climbing muscles … Jack’s first competitive basket

16              Springfield playroom. Dave, Chris, Marc, Andi, Aki, Melissa, Jack, Aly, Margaret, minion

18              Wrigley Field just before the World Series … Melissa and Aly with new Cubs shirts

25              Jack is about to lose a tooth in his backyard

26              Aly and Margaret’s daring slides at Lake Springfield Christian Assembly

28              Melissa, Aly and Margaret at high tea, Life Community Church, Mahomet, Illinois

29              Andi announces her pregnancy! Margaret, Aly, Melissa, Andi, Jack, Chris, and Dave

31              Andi, regal and waiting in Austin, Texas grove

APRIL

1               Under our tree at Audubon State Park, Henderson, KY, Thanksgiving, 2016.  Michael, Matthew, Heather, Morgan, Kay, Jack, Marc, Margaret,  Dorothy, Chris, Melissa, Aly, Dave

17              Stone with quote from Thomas Merton at labyrinth, Mercy Center, St. Louis, Missouri

24              Mom (Angie Sandel) with a couple of jigsaw puzzles on her sunporch, Lincoln, Illinois

MAY

1               My first Amtrak sleeper trip with Steve, the best porter ever

8               Little Galilee, 1978, with Don and Beth Romack, Margaret, Pastor Al Morehead

DECEMBER

13              Andi not far from the birthing room

15              Miles Tomita with his first football (from Illinois)

16              Miles and his giraffe family

22              A right jolly old elf, shepherd … dad, grandpa

28              Christms Day in Austin. Dave, Margaret, Miles, Andi, Aki, Machiko and Ken Tomita

29              Miles and Andi

31              Andi, Aki and Miles Tomita, tongue-wagging

JANUARY 2017

1               Aki reading to Miles … Aki, Miles, Uncle Marc at  County Line On the Lake BBQ, Austin

4               Miles Tadashi Tomita, smiling

Acknowledgments: Young Dave with Dad … with Grandpa Brummer … with Pstr. Neitzel , LCMS

Please take time to read all the Scripture readings for each day; I hope that this adds depth to your devotional experience, as it does for mine.

These reflections are based on Roman Catholic lectionary readings for Lent and Advent, Easter and Christmas.

This means that each day the same Scriptures are read in many churches around the world. I love being part of this, of sharing the experience of reading and reflecting with countless others day after day.

Many of the devotions include allusions to the day’s lectionary texts. The texts, which are listed in the chart on the following pages, vary from year to year according to these cycles:

Sunday readings cycle through Years A, B, and C.

Weekday readings cycle through Years I (odd-numbered years) and II (even-numbered years).

The Church Year begins on the First Sunday of Advent, so this year’s Lent and Easter readings are from different “years” than the Advent and Christmas readings.

Sounds complicated, and it is. But just use the chart and look them up. You can also read them online each day in one place at “usccb DATE”.

For Margaret and I, reading the scriptures every day has become a habit. We take the time. Gratefully.

Deutero-canonical books

referenced in these readings are

Judith, Esther C, Wisdom, Sirach, and additions to Daniel.

They can be read in the New American Bible at usccb.org/bible

or on mobile devices with The YouVersion Bible app).

 

Abbreviations:

1 Cor                   1 Corinthians

2 Cor                   2 Corinthians

Col                       Colossians

Deut                   Deuteronomy

Eph                     Ephesians

Heb                     Hebrews

Matt                    Matthew

Phil                      Philippians

Rev                      Revelation

Rom                    Romans

(S)                       Sunday

 

Most of the texts quoted in the devotions are taken from the New American Bible translation. But some are from The Message paraphrase/translation, others from the NIV or ESV, and still others from the King James, New King James, and New Living Translations.

Readings for Lent and Easter, 2016

(Cycle C, Weekday Cycle II, Roman Catholic Lectionary)

 

Date      Reading 1                      Responsory      Gospel               Reading 2

 

ASH WEDNESDAY WEEK

FEBRUARY                                      From

10          Joel 2:12-18                     Psalm 51             Matt 6:1-18         2 Cor 5:20-6:2

11          Deut 30:15-20                  Psalm 1               Luke 9:22-25

12          Isaiah 58:1-9                    Psalm 51             Matt 9:14-15

13          Isaiah 58:9-14                  Psalm 86             Luke 5:27-32

FIRST WEEK OF LENT

14 (S)     Deut 26:4-10                    Psalm 91             Luke 4:1-13         Rom 10:8-13

15          Leviticus 19:1-18               Psalm 19             Matt 25:31-46

16          Isaiah 55:10-11                Psalm 34             Matt 6:7-15

17          Jonah 3:1-10                    Psalm 51             Luke 11:29-32

18          Esther C:12-25                  Psalm 138           Matt 7:7-12

19          Ezekiel 18:21-28              Psalm 130           Matt 5:20-26

20          Deut 26:16-19                  Ps 119:1-8           Matt 5:43-48

SECOND WEEK OF LENT

21 (S)     Genesis 15:5-18               Psalm 27             Luke 9:28-36       Phil 3:20-4:1

22          1 Peter 5:1-4                     Psalm 23             Matt 16:13-19

23          Isaiah 1:10,16-20             Psalm 50             Matt 23:1-12

24          Jeremiah 18:18-20           Psalm 31             Matt 20:17-28

25          Jeremiah 17:5-10             Psalm 1               Luke 16:19-31

26          Genesis 37:3-28               Psalm 105           Matt 21:33-46

27          Micah 7:14-20                  Psalm 103           Luke 15:1-32

THIRD WEEK OF LENT

28 (S)     Exodus 3:1-15                   Psalm 103           Luke 13:1-9         1 Cor 10:1-12

29          2 Kings 5:1-15                  Psalm 42             Luke 4:24-30

Date      Reading 1                      Responsory      Gospel               Reading 2

 

MARCH                                           FROM

1          Daniel 3:25-43                 Psalm 25             Matt 18:21-35

2          Deut 4:1-9                        Psalm 147           Matt 5:17-19

3          Jeremiah 7:23-28             Psalm 95             Luke 11:14-23

4          Hosea 14:2-10                  Psalm 81             Mark 12:28-34

5          Hosea 6:1-6                      Psalm 51             Luke 18:9-14

FOURTH WEEK OF LENT

6(S)      Joshua 5:9-12                   Psalm 34             Luke 15:1-32       2 Cor 5:17-21

7          Isaiah 65:17-21                Psalm 30             John 4:43-54

8          Ezekiel 47:1-12                Psalm 46             John 5:1-16

9          Isaiah 49:8-15                  Psalm 145           John 5:17-30

10          Ezekiel 32:7-14                Psalm 106           John 5:31-47

11          Wisdom 2:1-22                 Psalm 34             John 7:1-30

12          Jeremiah 11:18-20           Psalm 7               John 7:40-53

FIFTH WEEK OF LENT

13 (S)     Isaiah 43:16-21                Psalm 126           John 8:1-11         Phil 3:8-14

14          Daniel 13:1-62                 Psalm 23             John 8:12-20

15          Numbers 21:4-9                Psalm102            John 8:21-30

16          Daniel 3:14-95                 Daniel 3:52-56    John 8:31-42

17          Genesis 17:3-9                 Psalm 105           John 8:51-59

18          Jeremiah 20:10-13           Psalm 18             John 10:31-42

19          2 Samuel 7:4-16               Psalm 89             Matt 1:16-24       Rom 4:13-22

SIXTH WEEK OF LENT (HOLY WEEK)

20 (S)     Isaiah 50:4-7                    Psalm 22             Luke 19:28-40     Phil 2:6-11

(Palm Sunday)                                             Luke 22:14-23:56

21          Isaiah 42:1-7                    Psalm 27             John 12:1-11

22          Isaiah 49:1-6                    Psalm 71             John 13:21-38

23          Isaiah 50:4-9                    Psalm 69             Matt 26:14-25

24 (Th)   ­Exodus 12:1-14                 Psalm 116           John 13:1-15       1 Cor 11:23-26

Date      Reading 1                      Responsory      Gospel               Reading 2

 

MARCH                                           FROM

25 (Fr)    Isaiah 52:13-53:12           Psalm 31             John 18-19:42     Heb 4:14- 5:9

26 (Sa)   Genesis 1:1-2:2                Psalm 104           Luke 24:1-12       Gen 22:1-18 +

THE OCTAVE OF EASTER

27 (S)     Acts 10:34-43                    Psalm 118           John 20:1-9         Col 3:1-4

28          Acts 2:14-33                      Psalm 16             Matt 28:8-15

29          Acts 2:36-41                      Psalm 33             John 20:11-18

30          Acts 3:1-10                        Psalm 105           Luke 24:13-35

31          Acts 3:11-26                      Psalm 8               Luke 24:35-48

APRIL

1          Acts 4:1-12                        Psalm 118           John 21:1-14

2          Acts 4:13-21                      Psalm 118           Mark 16:9-15

3          Acts 5:12-16                      Psalm 118           John 20:19-31     Rev 1:9-19

SUNDAYS OF THE EASTER SEASON

10          Acts 5:27-41                      Psalm 30             John 21:1-19       Rev 5:11-14

17          Acts 13:14-52                    Psalm 100           John 10:27-30     Rev 7:9-17

24          Acts 14:21-27                    Psalm 145           John 13:31-35     Rev 21:1-5

MAY

1          Acts 15:1-29                      Psalm 67             John 14:23-29     Rev 21:10-23

8          Acts 7:55-60                      Psalm 97             John 17:20-26     Rev 22:12-20

PENTECOST SUNDAY

15          Acts 2:1-11                        Psalm 104           John 20:19-23     1 Cor 12:3-13

Readings for Advent and Christmas, 2016-17

(Cycle A, Weekday Cycle I, Roman Catholic Lectionary)

 

Date      Reading 1                      Response          Gospel               Reading 2

 

FIRST WEEK OF ADVENT

NOVEMBER                                    FROM

27(S)      Isaiah 2:1-5                      Psalm 122           Matt 24:37-44     Rom 13:11-14

28          Isaiah 4:2-6                      Psalm 122           Matt 8:5-11

29          Isaiah 11:1-10                  Psalm 72             Luke 10:21-24

30          Romans 10:9-18               Psalm 19             Matt 4:18-22

DECEMBER

1          Isaiah 26:1-6                    Psalm 118           Matt 7:21-27

2          Isaiah 29:17-24                Psalm 27             Matt 9:27-31

3          Isaiah 30:19-26                Psalm 147           Matt 9:35-10:8

SECOND WEEK OF ADVENT

4 (S)     Isaiah 11:1-10                  Psalm 72             Matt 3:1-12         Romans 15:4-9

5          Isaiah 35:1-10                  Psalm 85             Luke 5:17-26

6          Isaiah 40:1-11                  Psalm 96             Matt 18:12-14

7          Isaiah 40:25-31                Psalm 103           Matt 11:28-30

8          Genesis 3:9-20                 Psalm 98             Luke 1:26-38       Eph 1:3-12

9          Isaiah 48:17-19                Psalm 1               Matt 11:16-19

10          Sirach 48:1-11                  Psalm 80             Matt 17:9-13

THIRD WEEK OF ADVENT

11(S)      Isaiah 35:1-10                  Psalm 146           Matt 11:2-11       James 5:7-10

12          Rev 11:19-12:10               Judith 13:18-19 Luke 1:26-47

13          Zephaniah 3:1-13             Psalm 34             Matt 21:28-32

14          Isaiah 45:6-25                  Psalm 85             Luke 7:18-23

15          Isaiah 54:1-10                  Psalm 30             Luke 7:24-30

16          Isaiah 56:1-8                    Psalm 67             John 5:33-36

17          Gen 49:2-10                     Psalm 72             Matt 1:1-17

Date      Reading 1                      Responsory      Gospel               Reading 2

FOURTH WEEK OF ADVENT

DECEMBER                                     FROM

18(S)      Isaiah 7:10-14                  Psalm 24             Matt 1:18-24       Romans 1:1-7

19          Judges 13:2-25                 Psalm 71             Luke 1:5-25

20          Isaiah 7:10-14                  Psalm 24             Luke 1:26-38

21          Song of Songs 2:8-14       Psalm 33             Luke 1:39-45

22          I Samuel 1:24-28              I Samuel 2:1-8    Luke 1:46-56

23          Malachi 3:1-24                 Psalm 25             Luke 1:57-66

24          2 Samuel 7:1-16               Psalm 89             Luke 1:67-79

TWELVE DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

25(S)      Isaiah 52:7-10                  Psalm 98             John 1:1-18         Hebrews 1:1-6

26          Acts 6:8-10, 7:54-59          Psalm 31             Matt 10:17-22

27          1 John 1:1-4                     Psalm 97             John 20:1-8

28          1 John 1:5-2:2                  Psalm 124           Matt 2:13-18

29          1 John 2:3-11                   Psalm 96             Luke 2:22-35

30          Colossians 3:12-21           Psalm 128           Matt 2:13-23

31          1 John 2:18-21                 Psalm 96             John 1:1-18

JANUARY 2017

1(S)      Numbers 6:22-27              Psalm 67             Luke 2:16-21       Galatians 4:4-7

2          1 John 2:22-28                 Psalm 98             John 1:19-28

3          1 John 2:29-3:6                Psalm 98             John 1:29-34

4          1 John 3:7-10                   Psalm 98             John 1:35-42

5          1 John 3:11-21                 Psalm 100           John 1:43-51

EPIPHANY

6          1 John 5:5-13                   Psalm 147           Mark 1:7-11

Preface

When I write these devotions, often the world falls away, and I sink into the words and closeness with God. Nothing gets much better than that.

In Waynesville, Illinois during the first years of our marriage and family, we learned to pray, learned the art of Sabbath, and felt the power of church love. Then one day Margaret said, “I think it’s time for us to get into ministry.”

After campus ministry at Murray State University for Margaret, and two years in the Unification Church for me, nothing mattered more to us. And that was the problem. It was important for our family that I, especially, learn to spend time at home, spend time with Chris, Marc, and Andi, and especially with Margaret.

That was happening. I no longer automatically said yes to every phone call that called me away. Neither did she.

In 1988 we went back to seminary and in 1989 accepted a position at Christian Campus Fellowship at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. No more selling Britannica Encyclopedia, no more selling Jacques seed corn, and … no more guaranteed income. Or at least not much. Now it was time to ask our friends for support.

So we did. Lots of our friends responded with monthly checks. One friend invited us to his family’s lakeside home twice a year for vacations. And I began to write letters to our supporters. That was fun for me, and every month I came up with a story or two and maybe a simple point to make. The main idea was always the same: Thank you! Thank you, God … thank you, friends.

A few stories in 1999, a few more in 2000 and 2001, then in 2002 I began to write reflections every day during Lent and Easter, and every day during Advent and Christmas. I started with a text from the Roman Catholic lectionary, got quiet, and let words flow.

The devotions in this book are from 2016.

Writing in this way, I am learning to love God, and I am remembering again and again how much he loves me.

That is what I hope for you, too, as you read.

God bless you.

David Sandel

Urbana, Illinois

February, 2017

 

 

Lent and Easter Devotions

2016

 

Bench on Lake Michigan, Racine, Wisconsin

 

Reaching for the stars

Ash Wednesday, February 10, 2016

I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me … Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow … restore unto me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit.

– From Psalm 51

I have been reading about the days before death. We lose control of our bodies, yes, but even more we lose control of being in control. Grant me a willing spirit, O Lord.

I choose to breathe, but nothing happens. Panic en-sues. This is not OK. But the panic changes nothing. I’m not in charge anymore. This is When Breath Be­comes Air, amazing title of a book just published. Its truth touches the experience we will all have.

What comes after the panic? Surrender, sometimes called “sweet surrender.” And what comes after that? The joy of my salvation.

From what I hear, these experiences are like dominos and they happen to us all. I guess we’ll see.

Today we put our ashes on. Today we set out on the 40-day journey through Lent. Today is the first day of the rest of my life. Today.

For tomorrow I die.

Grant me a willing spirit, O Lord. Let me participate in my own paschal mystery and carry my own cross, and keep my eyes open. Break bondages in my mind and body, and help me point my eyes toward where your light shines. Morning has broken.

Cross of gold

February 11, 2016

Jesus said to all, “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.”

– From Luke 9

In The Prayer of Faith, Jesuit Leonard Boase describes the “rope of prayer” as four strands: work, play, the cross, and mental prayer.

What does he mean by “the cross”?

“At each succeeding moment of our lives we are held in a matrix of circumstances, and that matrix is at that moment for us the will of God. To respond with loyal acceptance of God’s will is prayer in one of its richest forms.”

This matrix is easier to accept when it consists of pleasant, agreeable things, which are as much a part of God’s will as are the painful. Our circumstances and moods about them range from joyful to tragic. We each have our share of both. Boase’ point is that while we might accept or rail against our “cross” it is the ground of every moment we live on earth.

This simply echoes Jesus. Learn to give up your life, and you will live. Hold onto it and you will die.

Still we pray for each other at church, often praying that our circumstances will improve. “Is any one of you sick? Call the elders, and ask them to pray for you so that you might become well.” Those are the words of James in chapter 5. We are not wise if we invite suffering or entertain it with masochistic joy. No. We ask for healing.

At the same time, can I learn to carry my own cross and not be afraid? I am often caught in circumstances beyond my control. Sometimes those circumstances are just awful. And “this matrix is, at that moment for me, the will of God.”

God is working with me on this puzzle. And I am sure he’s working on it with you, too.

Lord do not let me go gently into the good night. You did not make us to passively submit to oppression or abuse or ugliness. You created us to assert your goodness, your beauty and your truth in every corner of our world. Please give me the assurance I need every day that I can do this and still submit to you, still do my duty by you, Lord. Let me run with joy in the path of your commands.

 

The Lord lift up

his countenance

upon you

February 12, 2016

Set free the oppressed, break every yoke. Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the homeless, and clothe the naked when you see them. Do not turn your back on your own.

– From Isaiah 58

On our best days, these are the words we live by. We learn to accept the bread when we are the hungry ones and share the bread when we are the well-fed. In church or in the market square, at home or on the road, in Congress or at our borders, we can do these things. On the good days.

Alas, there are many bad days … and always have been. In the grand history of these United States there have been plenty of bad days. We have been selfish and greedy and conniving and just plain ugly-old-evil. We have pretended to be givers but taken back what we pretended to give. We have wrinkled our noses in pride and refused to accept what others freely chose to give. Late at night we might be disgusted with ourselves, but then we get up and do it again. On the bad days.

In politics and religion God expects me to hate the sin and love the sinner. Especially he insists that I love myself as the child he made to be his son. He says, “Get over it, Dave. You’re a sinner, and you’re forgiven.

“Stop participating in the structural evil all around you, yes. Learn to receive love and give it. But when you mess that up, let me love you back to life.”

Isaiah’s are among the most beautiful words ever written about this universal issue. How does he describe what happens as we make our way back to more consistent good days?

“Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed. Your vindication shall go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer. You shall cry for help, and he will say: Here I Am!” (Isaiah 58)

Oh Father, let these words stir up my hope. I CAN trust in you. Over and over, I can turn back toward the good. The momentum of your goodness sweeps over all of us. We might fight it off as if we’ll drown, but we won’t drown. We can all be changed in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye. Time after time after time.

Learning to love

enemies

February 13, 2016

I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked man, says the Lord, but rather that he turn from his ways, and live.

– From Ezekiel 33

Three times in the last month or so our online finances have been hijacked in one way or another. Each time I discover this, I picture the bad guy at the other end, and vaguely wish bad things on him. Stick a pin in her … or something.

Fraud is a big deal for online companies, I guess. It happens all the time. Big companies have “fraud departments.” The folks in those departments have been very helpful to us.

What could happen, of course … what HAS happened to lots of folks, is that we could lose a bunch of money somehow. Of course, we have to HAVE a lot of money to lose it, so this is not such a problem for Margaret and I.

And when I’m treated unfairly it’s really important to remember how blessed and lucky I’ve been all my life. I am grateful that I have anything at all to lose.

Yesterday I saw The Revenant, and watched the power of revenge take its toll on a good man. He survived unspeakable wounds, cold, and starvation – and only became stronger. In the spirit of redemptive violence, theme of much successful Hollywood drama, the man’s determined chase for revenge seemed to strengthen him even more.

But no, not really. Revenge only made him small in his own small world. It does this to us all when we take pleasure in the death of the wicked man.

If my well-being is threatened, I am tempted to circle my wagons and defend my borders. The wicked men are out there, and I’m in here with my little tribe of good guys. Sometimes it gets so bad that I’m the only good guy left, and everybody else is out to get me. That’s usually called “paranoia,” and it’s a serious mental illness.

But really, I’m not all that good. The wicked aren’t so wicked, and the good aren’t so good. We’re all God’s children. This is the antidote I need. I have my own wicked ways to turn away from. I’m very thankful that God does not seek revenge, and that he wants the same from me.

When things go wrong, Lord, open my eyes to you. When anger turns my eyes to slits and all my muscles want to hit back, knock me down for a moment to remind me of who I am and who You are. Let me delight in you, Lord at all times, and ride with you on the heights of the earth.


The government shall be

upon his shoulders

First Sunday of Lent, February 14, 2016

Filled with the Holy Spirit, Jesus returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the desert for forty days, to be tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days.

– From Luke 4

The early church wanted to follow Jesus into the desert, so Lent lasts for forty days. But unlike Jesus, the church celebrates Jesus’ resurrection every Sunday, so every Sunday is a feast day, even during Lent. The six Sundays don’t count toward our forty fasting days. Add it up, and you’ll see.

Henri Nouwen writes that, in the desert, the devil offered Jesus relevance, visibility, and power. The devil would have made a great campaign manager. Wisely, Jesus said no to this invitation to join the powers that control the world. Jesus saw this: that there is a 180 degree difference between trusting God and trusting the government. That was true then, and it’s always been true.

The government at its best facilitates, enables and helps us cope with everyday life. This is a wonderful thing. But Jesus came “to free humanity from the power of death and open the way to eternal life.” The government of the world can’t do anything like that.

“God’s presence is often a hidden presence. The loud, boisterous noises of the world make us deaf to the soft, gentle and loving voice of God.” I weigh my options in the morning and the evening: Fox News, NPR, silence, centering prayer … During Lent, during these forty fine fasting days, am I sometimes going to shut off the sound?

Slowly I grow more accustomed to silence. It feels womb-like rather than suffocating, and in its midst I breathe better, relax more deeply, rest. “Be still and know that I am God.” Be still and know. Be still. Be.

In the third century Egyptian monks began living in the deserts beyond their cities and settled into silence. They were imitating Jesus. And like Jesus they were tempted by the devil.

But at least there was silence. We need silence desperately, whether or not we camp out in the desert to find it. Otherwise, the devil’s whispers slip up into our ears, and sound just a little too true.

Unto us, O Lord, a child is born. Unto us a son is given. The government shall be upon your shoulders, Lord. And your name shall be called wonderful, counselor, almighty God, everlasting Father. You are our Prince of Peace. We worship you, we give thanks to you, and we call upon your name.

The myth of

redemptive violence

February 15, 2016

You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove him, do not incur sin because of him: take no revenge and cherish no grudge. Love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

– from Leviticus 19

Theologian Walter Wink writes of the “myth of redemptive violence.” This myth tracks back through our video games and movies, through the cartoons we watched as kids, all the way back (at least) to 1250 BC, to the Babylonian creation story, in which Marduk kills Tiamat, the queen of chaos, and then uses her body to create the cosmos.

Creation, in other words, is an act of violence. Order is established by means of disorder. Evil precedes good. The gods are violent, and they create us. No wonder we too find violence so compelling (so redemptive) as a solution to our problems.

The story in Genesis is a direct rebuttal to the Babylonian myth. God is good, and God creates a good creation. Good precedes evil, although evil comes soon enough as the first humans and the serpent betray God. But God’s creation came first, and it was good. And so violence, instead of being at the basis of things, becomes a problem to solve.

Moses speaks of God’s solution: “Though you may have to reprove him, do not incur sin because of him: take no revenge and cherish no grudge.” Far better to do what my friend at church yesterday did when he encountered a problem person in his life: pray!

God’s perspective is not the same as mine, and I need to see my enemy from God’s point of view. Turn my eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth grow strangely dim.

I can do this at times. But I live in contemporary America, which is part of the contemporary world, in which redemptive violence is the dominant myth. We are steeped in it. Wink calls it “the simplest, laziest, most exciting, uncomplicated, irrational, and primitive depiction of evil the world has ever known.”

This way of looking at things locates all evil outside myself or my tribe, whether that be in the world of sports or politics or religion or nationalism. Children grow into adults who tend to scapegoat others for all that is wrong in their world. Because we don’t think about our own junk, we have trouble growing beyond our own early, immature egos.

Jesus pushes back hard on this. “Let he among you who is without sin cast the first stone.” Jesus recalls Abba Father, and reminds us to love as we are loved. Good precedes evil in Jesus’ world, and we can let God show us the good again.

You teach me your way, Lord, when I pray for my enemy, and give her something to drink, and visit him in prison, and bandage her wounds. We are all your children, God bless us, every one. You turn the evil we all commit into your good. That is real redemption, and we give thanks to you, O God.

 

 

Margaret and Dave, ready to walk the labyrinth at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, Austin, Texas
Praying with words

February 16, 2016

Jesus said to his disciples: “In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”

– From Matthew 6

We need words if we’re going to pray together. And we need to pray together. So we need words. The words might be written and traditional, said for hundreds of years. Or they might be composed spontaneously by one or more of us as we pray together.

And Jesus is not telling me to dispense with words when I pray alone, either. When words guide my heart toward God, I should use them! And when they are empty or demanding, I can stop using them.

But there is a limitation to even heartfelt, familiar conversation with God. Leonard Boase in The Prayer of Faith reminds me that our words “tend inevitably to bring our thoughts back upon ourselves and teach us little about God himself.”

I recognize that this is true. So what do I do? Jesus tells us to pray what we’ve called “The Lord’s Prayer.” Our Father, who art in heaven … Some of us also pray in tongues. Or we might use what can be called a breath prayer, a devotional phrase or sentence that we repeat over and over.

One breath prayer made “famous” by J.D. Salinger in Franny and Zooey has been practiced for hundreds of years by Orthodox Christians: “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

The Rosary is another, prayed decade after decade since 1214: “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee …”

Because we are steeped in the idea that our value is primarily individual rather than corporate, we regularly forget that when we pray, we pray with the whole Church. When I glimpse a vision of something greater than myself, I can give credit to the fact that I’m not praying alone; and that God exists far beyond my own imagination, my own needs, and my own self.

However I pray, with whatever words, alone or with others using lists or rituals, there is God. I might feel like I’m in the valley. Mostly I’m climbing on the hillside. Occasionally I am on the ridge, looking out and seeing all there is. Always there is God, and there I am with God.

Lord, I notice the flowers and the feel of grass underneath my feet. Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. Open my eyes to the beauty of your hillside, Lord, long before I reach the top. There is nothing to do but open my eyes.

In my mind I’m goin’

February 17, 2016

The Lord told Jonah again, “Set out for the great city of Nineveh, and announce to it my message.” So Jonah made ready and went to Nineveh. It was an enormously large city; it took three days to walk through it. And Jonah began his journey through the city.

– From Jonah 3

In my mind I’m goin’ straight into Nineveh. Can’t you see the sunshine? Can’t you just feel the moonshine? And ain’t it just a like a friend of mine to hit me from behind?

James Taylor … Jonah … you and me … in our minds, walking the streets of our city, crying out the Lord’s message. Halfway wanting to hear it and put on the sackcloth, and halfway hoping the words will be drowned out before we have to change. Our brain is fearfully and wonderfully made; it takes three days to walk through it.

Since when have I have taken the luxury of three days to walk through it? Our pastor Jeff said we have difficulties sometimes studying Hebrews because we are not accustomed to “extended arguments.” Lines of thought which require detours and other delays are not our cup of tea.

So Jonah’s pathway through Nineveh presents me another opportunity. Really. To have a cup of tea, and walk with some attention to what I see in the byways of my brain. Cry out the words of the Lord, which sound something like, “Repent! Soon I will die, and rise again, and I want you there beside me. Let me show you too how to die and how to live.”

Every Catholic church, no matter how small, carries the fourteen “stations of the cross” on its walls. Walk beside them and look inside your city. What’s going on there? Jesus stumbles, and his cross cracks his back. Mary can’t stand it and wails the death inside her as she sees her son fall. The thorns on his forehead dig right in.

What of my own walk to the cross? Up, climb up! Feel the pain. God will not whip me up and at it, like the Romans whipped Jesus. But there is no other path toward life except up through those agonizing alleys toward Golgotha.

We call them demons or neuroses, but whatever we call them, we shrink from the terror and threat of half-heard whispers in the dark, half-closed doorways down those dirty streets. God forbid that one of those doors would spring open. In short, we are afraid.

Can I make it for the three days? Keep on walking? There is an end to this savage, stumbling search for living water. God says so.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death … I will not fear the evil. Thou art with me, and thy rod and staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil and my cup Overflows.

Surely, Lord, your goodness and mercy will follow after me all the days of my life. Even me, Lord, even me. With all the crud I find in my own dark alleys, even me. And as you say, you will be with me and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Aly Grace as Gabriel, Christmas 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aly with Uncle Marc

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Lord

February 18, 2016

Jesus said to his disciples, “Ask and it will be given to you … if you who are wicked know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.”

– From Matthew 7

Jesus trusts God SO MUCH! His Father absolutely can do no wrong. Even when he is forced to abandon his ministry and faces certain death, Jesus submits to his Father’s will.

Jesus lives every moment, as far as we can see, guided by two unalterable principles which he never forgets: “Love the Lord with all your heart-soul-mind and love your neighbor-as-yourself.”

He has complete confidence that every thing God gives us is good. No matter how it looks at the time, no matter how it feels, no matter. It is all good.

And even more astoundingly, he is certain that God will give us what we ask for. We are free to ask, and God freely gives. Is Jesus throwing his Father under the bus here? Because time after time it seems like we are NOT given what we ask for. Does God our Father know better than his children what is good for us?

Well … yes. But also, when we ask for and receive what turns out not to be so good, God helps us grow closer to him in that regret and remorse.

I remember Jim Carrey’s dilemma in the movie Bruce Almighty when so many prayer requests contradicted each other. He typed in “YES” to them all and then faced some serious music after that. Does that happen to God anywhere other than Hollywood?

Jesus does not explain himself; he simply says that God is good. And everything God gives is good, and it is good for us to accept that. We are safe in the hands of this living God.

For Jesus our Father’s goodness was not a hypothesis but a certainty. It was a fact, not an opinion. He knew within himself the place where God dwells always. Thomas Merton calls this place the “virgin point.” It is pure and cannot be broken open or broken into. It is God’s home inside our souls. All our souls.

Jesus has a way of persuading his listeners that what he says is true. I am glad to believe him, even if I don’t understand the workings of my life or anyone else’s life. My inconsistency, my selfishness, and my sin will not change God. He is good regardless. I count on that and take it to the bank.

I give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart, for you have heard the words of my mouth. Your right hand saves me; you will complete what you have done for me. Your kindness, O Lord, endures forever. Forsake not the work of your hands. (from Psalm 138)

Whispers near dawn

February 19, 2016

My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning … yes, more than watchmen wait for the morning.

– From Psalm 130

I sit here waiting for words about waiting. The Lord searches my heart. I wish he would hurry up. I have places to go, and promises to keep.

Uh-oh. I think I’ve gotten hung up a little here. “You seem to have a timetable, David.”

Well, yeah, I do.

“OK. Where are you headed, and when do you plan to get there?”

Well, I’m not really sure. Maybe we could just stay here awhile and talk …

“Sounds like a good idea to me.”

On the ramparts we watch, sitting in the light of the moon. The watchmen wait for the morning, and here we are just talking a little, sitting back, wondering at the stars.

They are beautiful, the stars.

“Yes.”

You made them, didn’t you?

“Yes.”

The stars always seem to be there, but I’m more like grass that burns up in the sun, or dust shaken up, and I don’t feel stable at all.

“No. Your stability depends on me. And I’m not going anywhere. It’s just that you have to wait for me, follow me, and not lead the way so much.”

That doesn’t seem so crazy-hard, sitting here with the Lord in the dawn’s morning light. “Be here now,” he says to me. OK.

Quiet calmly comes, over the hill before the sunrise, and you inhabit all of it, Lord. Brush up against my face with that light that sings inside my soul and stirs me up to welcome the day. All your ways are wonderful, Father. You are God and you are good, and you have made me whole.

Open posture,

stretched out hands

February 20, 2016

Jesus said, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … God makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and the rain fall on the just and the unjust.”

– From Matthew 5

It’s never enough to love your neighbor. What about the strangers in our midst, what about our enemies? Can’t we love them too?

Once in awhile, sure. But God is talking about something as natural and consistent as the sun that rises and the rain that falls. To live a LIFE of love, leading always with love no matter who offends, no matter how … that’s something else again.

Scott Peck writes that love means extending myself for someone else’s well-being. That is exactly the way God offers us the sun, and offers us the rain: for our well-being. We will be blessed and benefit from his gifts, no matter how we are acting toward each other, no matter how we feel toward him. The Giver gives. That’s what he does.

So Jesus simply says, “Be like God.” Always give, and don’t stop.

We had three kids, and we kept giving as they grew. We were far from perfect at it, but we knew we were the parents and they were the kids. So we knew it was our job to give.

Now we have two chickens, and we keep giving. They lay eggs, or not … no matter which, we keep giving them food and water and time and affection.

We’ve been married 36 years. We don’t always get along, we don’t always want to. Every day, though, we keep on giving. It’s when we stop that rhythm, even for a little while, that we’re in trouble. After so many years we are like each other’s heartbeat. Some arrhythmia, sure. But within our vast imperfections, we give.

There is nothing heroic or unique about this. All of us live our lives this way, and we might as well say yes to God rather than hiding in the woods when he comes around. We will not survive without God’s sun and rain, and we will not survive without all the unacknowledged giving that we all do for each other every day.

Open up my eyes, Jesus. Let me see more of how we share with each other the love you pour out on us. Put these words in my mouth: Yes, Lord. Yes, Lord. Yes.

 

Catching just a glimpse

Second Sunday of Lent, February 21, 2016

A cloud came and cast a shadow over them, and they became frightened when they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice: “This is my chosen Son; listen to him.” After the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone, and they all fell silent.

– From Matthew 7

This is the second feast day during the fast of Lent. How shall we celebrate? Well, for one thing, we get an especially significant text in the lectionary. This one is the story of what we’ve called Jesus’ transfiguration.

Today’s text is Luke 9:28-36, but the transfiguration is described in three of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. (John’s “transfiguring” event is Jesus’ baptism.) The story is mostly a story of light. But where there’s light, there’s also dark. Where the sun shines, there is shadow. And in this story Jesus and his friends are enveloped in a cloud.

Once, climbing the tallest mountain in New Mexico (which does not require technical climbing skills or fancy gear), my friend and I were caught up in a cloud so quick we forgot where we were. Night fell fast, and eight hours early. There were a few flashes of lightning and some thunder. We had ascended into heaven. We left our bodies for a moment, our hearts stopped, and then we hightailed it down the mountain.

This story is different because, instead of lightning and thunder, there was a voice. God spoke, just as he did in John’s story of Jesus’ baptism. “This is my Son. Listen to him.” It’s also different because, in the Gospel story, Jesus’ “face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.” Wow.

And then dead people walked into the light. Not dead, but sleeping. Not even sleeping. Moses and Elijah “appeared in glory” and talked to Jesus about what “he was going to accomplish in Jerusalem.”

I don’t think we can figure out the transfiguration. But we can watch it, like Peter, John, and James watched it. We can look for ways to honor our ancestors (Moses and Elijah), and we can hear God’s words and do them: “This is my Son. Listen to him!”

For just a moment, in the cloud, these folks were not blinded by God’s presence and could just be there with him. That’s something to watch for, wait for, live for. It was a moment they would never forget, a precious moment with God. The best word for this might just be “transfiguration” for them as well as Jesus. In a way made specially for each of us, God touches us too.

However it happens and no matter when, it is that moment we will never forget.

We all put our ashes on, Lord, but on this day of feasting you wipe those blots away and invite us to your table. Remember us, O Lord, on your Son’s Transfiguration Day. Remember us and come to us too, and give us moments of your presence we will never forget. Change our hearts, O Lord. Make us ever new.

 

 

Aki and Andi and their shared Halloween costume
Meek, obedient, assertive,

human lambs

February 22, 2016

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

– From Psalm 23

Throughout history, millions of us have looked to Psalm 23 as assurance of God’s guidance, generosity and love. He is the shepherd, we are the sheep of his pasture, and we are safe. After the World Trade Center was destroyed in 2001, I remember being asked to lead a prayer service at the newspaper office where I worked. Together we read Psalm 23.

I thought this morning of the story of another shepherd, from Matthew 25: “All the nations will gather before him, and he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.”

Margaret asked, “Why does a shepherd separate the sheep from the goats?” I’m the farm boy, but I have no idea. I could have made some guesses, but I didn’t. In this story, though, the goats get the short straw. Jesus says to the sheep, “When you fed and housed and clothed and visited and comforted the least of your brothers and sisters, you did this for me.”

Then he goads the goats with the opposite scenario. “When you don’t feed and house and clothe and visit and comfort the least of your brothers and sisters, you turn me out too.”

We all act sometimes like sheep and sometimes like goats. The shepherd has his hands full. This shepherd sees inside our souls. Lucky for us if we’re sheep, not so lucky for the goats.

Psalm 23 invites me to be led by God, and Matthew 25 invites me to choose my own way. God’s will and mine wrestle with each other. Every day they wrestle.

My friend Nick, a pastor in Peoria, wrote about Galatians 2:16 a few days ago. There are two equally interesting translations of one particular phrase. Paul’s words either say we are made whole in God’s sight “by the faith OF Jesus Christ,” or “by faith IN Jesus Christ.” One two letter preposition changes everything! With this one short stroke of Greek ambiguity we are tossed back in the wrestling ring.

But really, what’s wrong with that? Do I have to know exactly how God and I share responsibility in my life? Understanding pales in importance compared to humility and obedience.

Christian eschatology and Christian ethics can both inform our daily lives. Who is God? And who am I? Where did I come from, and where am I going? How do I live my life today?

It’s Monday. Keep your eyes open. Enjoy the wrestling match. Feel the eros, the Life Force, the warmth that rises out of friction. Life beckons.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. You make me whole not by my works but by my faith and by the faith of Jesus. You prepare a table for me in the presence of my enemies. Give me courage and wisdom to live assertively in the kingdom you have prepared for us from the foundation of the world.

 

 

 

Andi and Aki’s Christmas gift to us – 1000 pieces of our past
Weeping in the streets of Jerusalem

February 23, 2016

Jesus said, “You have but one master, the Christ. The greatest among you must be your servant.”

– From Matthew 23

Jesus goes after the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23. Listen to what they say, but do not do what they do, because they do not practice what they preach. And worse, they will not help those they teach with the burden they have created … not with even one of their fingers. Jesus tears them to shreds with one accusation after another. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites!

Jesus’ voice takes on the tenor of an Old Testament prophet. His words sound out a magnificent condemnation, unmatched even by Jeremiah or Isaiah. Every leader’s face must be burning with rage if not with recognition. “See! Your house is left to you desolate.”

They have refused to see the gift God sent, and they are about to have him killed. Jesus knows this and weeps for their own lost chance to live. “How often I wanted to gather your children together, but you were not willing!” And now all he can say is what he knows will happen: “You shall see me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’”

The antidote to their hypocrisy is simple. Start to serve. “All your works are performed to be seen,” he says. Stop that. Don’t strive to be seen. Just serve.

We all know this. Don’t we? Still, I need your approval. I need you to pat me on the back and tell me what God has already told me – how wonderful I am. And I will be sure to tell you, too. Because I know you need approval just like me.

Sociopaths don’t need the approval of others, but the rest of us do. Jesus clears up the contradiction by pairing greatness and servanthood. He approves my service, not my success. He looks toward the back of the room for the ones he wants to pat on the back.

Sure, I will always run the risk of being proud of my humility. But that’s probably better than being proud of my pride.

I expect Jesus will help me every day to be more humble. And he’ll never stop loving me, and he’ll never stop rubbing my back, and I can always expect to see his smile.

You say, Lord, you will make our scarlet sins as white as snow. If only we are willing, if only we obey, if only we make justice our aim, redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. Make me willing in my mind and words and deeds, and hold me accountable, Lord, to be a servant always. Shut my proud words up, and still my soul.

Christ-following

February 24, 2016

Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant … The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

– From Matthew 20

Jesus was upset with the scribes and Pharisees when they refused to serve other people, but with his own disciples he kicks it up a notch. He tells them they will have to follow his footsteps right up to the cross.

Jesus gives his life for us. His disciples want recognition as his friends and followers, and Jesus offers them this:

“Can you drink the chalice that I am going to drink?”

They want to sit at his right and at his left in the kingdom. They don’t realize that there will be crosses to his right and left on Golgotha. Those crosses are the unexpected result of their request for glory.

The closer we are to Jesus, the more he asks us to give our lives … to him and for him … for our friends … for many. What he asks is not a partial offering. It may or may not involve physical death, but it always requires giving up my rights, ego, plans, perhaps my loved ones … essential parts of what I’ve always called my life.

Jesus describes his own future earlier in this chapter of Matthew: he will be “mocked and scourged and crucified, and will be raised up on the third day.”

Three days is a long time between death and new life. Most of us don’t think we can last that long. How long can you actually hold your breath?

Jesus says I must “love the Lord with all my heart, soul and mind. And love my neighbor just as I care for myself.”

When we do that with and for each other, there is no better life to live or better death to die. In those times of loving, Jesus is so close it’s like he’s just underneath our skin.

We don’t wonder whether God is real when we love like that.

Save me, O Lord, in your kindness. My trust is in you. I say, “You are my God.” In your hands is my destiny; rescue me from the clutches of my enemies. (from Psalm 31)

Consolation and desolation

February 25, 2016

Cursed is the man who trusts in human beings, who seeks his strength in flesh, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a barren bush in the desert that enjoys no change of season but stands in a lava waste, a salt and empty earth.

– From Jeremiah 17

On the other hand, blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord. “He is like a tree planted beside the waters that stretches out its roots to the stream. It fears not the heat when it comes. Even in drought it shows no distress but still bears fruit” (Psalm 1).

Ignatius of Loyola might well have been reading Jeremiah in 1548 when he wrote his Spiritual Exercises, which help us with what St. Ignatius calls “discernment of spirits.” Is the voice I hear from God or from the devil? Is its “strength in flesh” or does it “stretch out its roots to the stream” of living water?

Feeling good now doesn’t mean I’ll feel good later, just as feeling bad now doesn’t mean I’ll feel bad later. What will last? What is most true? Ignatius suggested we look at the beginning, middle and end of what we imagine will happen or what has already happened. If all three are “inclined to all good it is a sign of the good Angel.” But if we glimpse the “tail of the snake” in any of the three, it “proceeds from the evil spirit, enemy of our profit and eternal salvation.” This is very wise counsel.

I rarely take enough time to do this work of discernment. I don’t take enough time to sit still and consider, as best I can, the beginning, middle and end of something. Am I consoled or left desolate?

A famous description of prayer comes from St. John Vianney: “I just look at God, and God looks at me.”

Often it seems more complicated. My false self looks at me. I look at God. God looks back at me. My true self looks at my false self and says, “Shut up, fool!”

No, actually that would probably not happen. Love your enemies, even when they are you. Right?

My true self looks at my false self and says, “Don’t look at me. Look up. There’s God. Look at God.”

Dallas Willard set a high bar for discipleship when he said in The Divine Conspiracy, “The first objective in discipleship is to bring apprentices to the point where they are quite certain that there is no catch, no limit to the goodness of God’s intentions or his power to carry them out.”

I can’t think my way to this kind of certainty. But I can keep looking up, and God will keep looking down. I think this is a fine way to spend my time here on earth.

You watch me, Lord. The way of the wicked vanishes, but as I hope in the Lord I yield my fruit in due season. My leaves don’t fade, Lord. You ask me to delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night. Will you be patient with me, will you show me how to be still and know that you are God? This is what I want, Lord Jesus, this is what I seek.

 

Margaret and Andi trying out their gluten-free, homemade carrot cake

Grapes on the vine

February 26, 2016

Jesus told the chief priests and Pharisees, “The Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that

will produce its fruit.”

– From Matthew 21

In the morning Jesus prayed. And in the afternoon he listened, fed, clothed, healed, visited, and talked with others about the Kingdom of God. Although he never exactly said, “Look at me, do what I’m doing!” that is what we need to do, if we’re going to even slightly understand the idea of producing “fruit.”

Jesus spent time with many groups in many places around the Sea of Galilee. He didn’t exclude anyone. When someone asked him for help, he helped without hesitation. He didn’t ask why.

I think that when Jesus interacted with someone, he looked into their eyes. He listened more than he spoke. But when he did speak, people listened.

Producing fruit involves listening to God and then listening to people, and then doing what it is they need. As best I can. Can I have a schedule? Or should I ask God to show me this work moment by moment? Both?

This is just the first of several questions I have for God. But reflecting on these questions, I run smack into the dangerous part of introspection, looking within myself rather than looking out at God and others.

Jesus’ Father asked him to look within. I can do the same: “Look and see what you have already received from Me, and follow it.” I can freely examine myself when God calls me to do so.

Listen to God, and you will be told what to do.

Hmmm. God’s language seems mostly to be silence. But silence can be golden, or pregnant, or dead.

God’s silence is never dead.

Listen in the silence, like Jesus did before dawn. Do what you hear, like Jesus did. Protect the reputation of your Father, like Jesus did. These are parts of producing fruit in the Kingdom of God.

Lord, I might be a small and lonely grape clutching to the vine, but I am bursting with flavor because you made me. So give me sunshine, give me rain, and let me grow. I want to be what you made me, giving, receiving, fruitful and productive. It’s simple to follow you if I’m a grape. Let it be.

Heartworn highway

February 27, 2016

The father said to his eldest son, “My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice because your brother was dead and now he lives; he was lost and now he’s found.”

– From Luke 15

The older son is angry. He shows no gratitude or grace about his brother’s homecoming. His father might be generous beyond expectation both to himself and his brother, but perhaps he has grown accustomed to this. Slightly bored in his sense of entitlement, he suspects nothing as resentment creeps up into him.

So both sons unhappily leave their father, and pursue their own way. What son hasn’t? And what father hasn’t wept, standing at least figuratively in the road, longing to see his child again? Parenting is hard, second only in difficulty to growing up.

Henri Nouwen helps me see how all three characters are … me. I resent God’s generosity, because it gives him power “over” me. So I leave and seek my own way, which doesn’t turn out so well, so I return repenting and remorseful. I take God’s generosity for granted, and expect him to treat me well because I am “faithful” to him. Then nothing he does is ever enough, and I am jealous of what he does for others.

Out of repentance for my rebellion and rekindled gratitude for what I once took for granted, I can learn how to be a father. The father knows how bad his sons can be and loves them anyway. In Return of the Prodigal Son, Nouwen says, “People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it … They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God.”

Jesus told his listeners three stories in this passage, stories about lost sheep, a lost coin, and the lost son. Jesus trusts God to search the hillside and search the house to find what’s lost. And to wait out on the highway just in case his lost son might be coming home.

Nouwen says, “My trust and my gratitude reveal the God who searches for me, burning with desire to take away all my resentments and complaints, and to let me sit by his side at the heavenly banquet.”

Jesus says my Father “burns with desire” just to be near me. Wow! Spend some time with THAT today.

Bless you, bless you, O my soul, bless your holy name. You pardon my sin, you bring healing to my bones, you redeem my life from destruction. O Lord, you crown me with kindness and compassion, and stir my soul. So high is your kindness as the heavens are high above the earth. So far have you put my sins away from me as the east is from the west. Your goodness endures forever. (from Psalm 103)


Drink the water anyway

Third Sunday of Lent, February 28, 2016

In the desert our ancestors all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they drank from a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was the Christ. Yet God was not pleased with most of them, for they were struck down in the desert.

– From 1 Corinthians 10

Keep calm and hold on. None of Moses’ countrymen knew they’d be out there forty years. They just lived their lives one day at a time. But many of them murmured against their leader and even against their god.

I often complain when things change, or when they don’t change. Both Paul and Jesus call me to account. Paul simply says, “Do not grumble.” In today’s gospel text Jesus gives his listeners both an interpretation of current events and a parable. Their sin did not destine some, instead of others, to die at the hands of Pilate. But Jesus says, “I tell you, unless you repent you will all likewise perish!”

Repent how? This is how: stop complaining about my life. Instead I can learn the skill of gratitude, so that bitter experience does not take root and poison my soul.

How do I practice this skill? It starts with healthy grief: be angry, be sad, experience despair, feel the pain … and then make your way around the grief curve and let things go. (Grief’s upside down bell curve starts down with denial, moves into bargaining, then into anger and depression before it curves back up again into acceptance and forgiveness.)

Gratitude is our natural way of being, but when things go wrong we will need to have learned to work at it. Use the words, “Thank you!” Every day ask yourself “What am I grateful for? And what am I NOT grateful for?” And then in the silence listen for God’s prompting.

I could make a list of what I’m thankful for. I could do this every day. And say out loud, “Thank you!” This isn’t rocket science, but the way we resist sometimes, you’d think it was.

And here’s where Jesus’ parable comes in.

I am not entitled to get my way in life. I am not in charge. But I AM loved, and Jesus’ story tells me so. I may grumble today, but God is patient and will wait for tomorrow before he “cuts down the fig tree.” For him there is no hurry, because he loves ME more than he loves results. He will care for the tree even when there is no fruit. There’s always next year.

Is there a time limit on God’s patience? Don’t know. Doesn’t matter. Because God knows me better than I know myself, and he’ll be with me till the end of time. The rock “that is Christ” follows me around every day, and I do drink from it. No other water satisfies.

I remember how I felt when my son Marc handed me a cold can of Pepsi as I reached the top of the Grand Canyon trail we’d been climbing for nine hours. I wept. And rested. And felt the cold. So thankful. And I said so.

God you are so good. And your mercy endures forever. You fill me up with living water, and you wait without judgment while I learn to thank you. Thank you for that, too.

 

 

Andi with Aly, age 4,

and Grandma Angie, age 94
Just do it

February 29, 2016

Naaman’s servants said, “If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, would you not have done it?” So Naaman went down and plunged into the Jordan seven times at the word of the man of God. And his flesh became again like the flesh of a little child. He was clean.

– From 2 Kings 5

Life is not as complicated as I think it is. And we are not as strong as we think we are.

The Jordan River was full of bugs and scum. But Naaman took off his shoes and waded in there, and he was healed of his leprosy. How can that be?

Clear-eyed children of the Enlightenment that we are, we are mostly skeptical about that story. Or on the other hand, the pendulum of our thinking swings wildly over to the other side and we claim Naaman’s miracle for ourselves in advance.

What about the idea that the servants had? Just do it. It doesn’t have to be logically probable, nor does it have to be spectacular. When you hear the word of God, just do it. See what happens next. Don’t be afraid.

This story is about healing, but before that it’s about listening. One of the worst mistakes I can make when I listen to you is jumping to conclusions or jumping to cause. When I jump like that, I finish your sentences in my head. No more listening, because I already know what is going to happen next.

But I’m so often wrong! My expectations about the future are based on my experience of the past … but really, what do I know? God’s creativity knows no bounds.

This is Monday. It is a good day to be alive. I think I know what’s going to happen today, but I don’t. I just don’t. So I can spend some time in the pregnant silence and listen. Then when I hear the strange words, “Go jump in the lake!” I just might do it.

Oh, the water!

Living water you are for me today, my Lord. Pour it all over me. I want to catch it on my tongue and drink what’s there to drink. Thirsty is my soul for you, living God. Let me go into your sanctuary, God of my gladness and joy, and give you thanks. (from Psalm 42)

 

Remember your own

forgiveness

March 1, 2016

Peter approached Jesus and asked him, “Lord, if my brother sins against me, how often must I forgive him? Jesus answered, “Not seven times but seventy-seven times … Should you not have pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?”

– From Matthew 18

God is so gentle, but he will always remind me that I am not my own boss. He freely gives me my free will, but God is the one who made the world, and who made me from dust. Since he made me in his own image, as a Person imbued with respect and gratitude, each heartbeat rings my joy and thanks back to him.

But in my own personal version of the Fall, in the midst of my own Garden of Eden, I think I know better. I am not as strong as I think I am, but I turn away anyway. I put on protective clothes, hide in the woods, and go my own way. It feels good. How can it be wrong when it feels so right?

Then the lions pounce and the cyclones roar, and I am undone. But as I sneak a look back at God, I see that he is “burning with desire,” as Henri Nouwen says, to be with me. His forgiveness of me is utter and complete. I don’t have to beg. Can I just accept? Yes, I can. I think I can.

Then comes another day, and I am offended. Grief happens. I can’t change what’s happened, even if it is unfair, cruel, bullying, evil. I pretend it’s not so bad. I try to change things, but when I can’t I become angry and depressed. About this moment Jesus has something very important to say.

Remember your own forgiveness, David!

This is how my grief slowly curves back upward, moving into acceptance and forgiveness. Standing in God’s mercy shower, I have nothing to say except, “Thank you.” Looking up at God instead of across at my enemy I see only a gentle rain from heaven, falling on us both.

So are those streaks of water on my face tears or raindrops? Am I feeling sorry for myself? Letting God’s mercy fall on me? Learning how to be loved, so I can love? Will I forgive as I’ve been forgiven?

Those are good questions for a cloudy day. No hurry with answers, but don’t stop asking the questions.

Lord, we are reduced and brought low everywhere in the world this day because of our sins. We have no place to find favor with you. But with contrite heart and humble spirit let us be received. Let our sacrifice be in your presence today. Those who trust in you cannot be put to shame, and now we follow you with our whole heart. Deal with us in your kindness and great mercy. Deliver us by your wonders, O Lord!

Remember your own story

March 2, 2016

Moses said to the people, “Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”

– From Deuteronomy 4

When she returned from Israel, our friend Brenda gave us a Mezuzah to put in our doorway. Contained inside it are the words of the “Shema Yisrael,” which begins “Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One!”

Above all, Moses says – remember.

How does God move in my life to shape me, mold me, make me new? There are many stories. A book like Remembering Your Story can help us put our own experiences with the living God into words, and into our own “mezuzah”.

Here are two of my stories, which I shared with my niece’s daughter as she writes about her great-grandparents (my parents) this week:

Dear Grace,

I will tell you two stories about your great-grandparents. There are many more.

In 1976 I joined a church that had a bad reputation. It was called the Unification Church and was led by a pastor from Korea named Rev. Sun Myung Moon. I spent two years with some of the people in that church. We lived together and gave all our possessions to the church. That experience changed my life as I realized how much God loved me.

But in 1978 some things happened, and I needed to leave. I had been in England for the summer, and now I was at the Unification Church Seminary in upstate New York, ready to begin school.

One of those fall days I was in Manhattan to see my best friend in the church. The train back to the seminary left from Grand Central Station. In those days Kodak always had a huge family picture on the wall overlooking the stairs and escalators, a rectangle probably 40 feet wide and 60 feet long. Big smiles, sweet family.

I stepped into a phone booth (yeah, really, a phone booth!), and called my mom. Your great-grandma. I knew their phone number, partly because it was the same number they had for … what? Twenty years? Maybe longer? It’s the phone number Grandma Angie STILL has, by the way. Having that number in my head made me feel solid and strong. And that was NOT how I was feeling about the rest of my life.

In a week or so my cousin Sheryl Sandel was getting married in Rhode Island. Mom and Dad had told me they were planning to go. I asked Mom if their plans were still the same, and she said, “No, we’re getting too busy with harvest and we’ve decided not to go.”

I was disappointed. “Oh,” I said. “I was thinking I would come home with you after the wedding.” There was a second of silence. Then Mom said, “Well then, we’ll be there.” And I started to cry. Under that Kodak mural, I felt the love of my family fall down all over me.

I had only been home once in two years, when Grandpa Sandel (your great-GREAT-grandpa) died. And I was there for two days, and then off again.

But this time I stayed. Mom and I had kept in touch, talking on the telephone every couple of weeks. We argued a lot about how to think about God, but we kept talking. And when I saw Mom and Dad in Rhode Island, it was one of the wonderful moments of my life.

The second story is about my dad, your great-grandpa. About 10 years before he died, we decided to take a trip each year, just the two of us. We went to the Billy Graham Retreat Center in Asheville, North Carolina. We also went to the Lutheran Church’s National Charismatic Conference in Minneapolis. We went to a bluegrass concert.

The last trip we took was to Old World Wisconsin, a theme park which celebrated old-time farming practices from several countries in one place. I remember they were roasting a pig in one place in the park.

We stayed at the summer home of some friends. Their house is on a lake which can only be reached down a long stairway. After we got back from the park, I went swimming. While I was in the water, I saw Dad walking down the stairs, and then out onto the dock, and down the steps into the water. Seems like such a little thing. But it was big to him.

Wide smile on his face. By that time, he couldn’t walk very well. His illness bent him over, and his posture was pretty crooked. I hadn’t seen him swimming for many years. And there he was.

I don’t think he ever went swimming again. But he did that day, and I was so glad to be there.

As I write I realize the stories go on and on. Hope you enjoyed these two, Grace. God bless you!

Dave

We glorify and praise you, Lord. You have strengthened us and blessed our children within our gates. You send forth your command to the earth, and you spread snow like wool. Your words, Lord, are Spirit and life; you have the words of everlasting life.

 

Heaping coals of fire

March 3, 2016

Jesus was driving out a demon that was mute, and then when the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke and the crowds were amazed … Jesus said, “A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand, and house will fall against house … If it is by the finger of god that I drive out demons, then the Kingdom

of God has come upon you.”

– From Luke 11

Finger pointing. Hand wringing. Weak one sent to take on an impossible task. We are not as strong as we think we are.

Where does evil come from? And how do I respond to it, whether my own evil or yours? Why do I pretend to know more than I do?

Sometimes Jesus, who really is the strong one, points his finger – the finger of God – and the demon runs and screams and fades away. The evil is named and removed, and the mute one speaks. We are all amazed.

Or Jesus holds his tongue and keeps God’s finger to himself, as he did on the way to his crucifixion.

Or he excoriates hypocrites with angry sarcasm, as he did the Pharisees. In the face of evil, he spoke up. But he must have known his words would only reinforce their mislaid self-righteousness.

Dallas Willard points out that Jesus was the smartest man who ever lived.

So Jesus was practical and creative, imaginative and intuitive, aware of God’s touch on each moment and also aware of God’s big picture.

Jesus was the best tactician who ever lived, and he also understood strategy – our Father’s strategy – better than any one of us has before or since. Plus, he saw with clear eyes into the motivations and true desires of his friends, his listeners, those he healed, and his enemies.

A young boy complains about being bullied at school. Then within a couple of minutes he flicks his little sister’s stocking cap off her head. She puts it back on. He does it again, smiling. She hits him. The boy turns to tell his mom that she is hitting him.

Mom watches it all, and wonders what to do. Do something! Try stuff. Jesus always did something. We are not as strong, not as smart, and far less certain of ourselves. But we are Christ-followers. I think Jesus’ words contain a clue about how we go about trying stuff.

Divide and conquer.

Evil is not always easy to identify. Just like beauty, evil can be in the eyes of the beholder. Projection is not just a river in Egypt. But when I am patient, reflective, and as sure as I can be that what I see is evil, then … divide and conquer. A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand.

Do not have give and take with evil. Separate victim from perpetrator. Turn to God and away from the devil. Hold up the cross. Find something that is as certainly good as the other is evil, and do it. Say it. Be it.

Never do we overcome evil with evil. Only overcome evil with good.

Jesus’ fierce commitment to goodness and love is what beat back the demon.

And in that blooming-good-garden-moment, the mute man speaks.

Thank you for your powerful finger, Father, pointing right in and right at what needs to be loved. Your love is tough, fierce, gentle, kind. Caught in the grace of your love, evil falls into pieces that fly away in the wind. Mold me, make me with that power too, in your boundless love.

 

Jack and Grandpa playing checkers at Cracker Barrel on the day after Thanksgiving

There is a balm in Gilead

March 4, 2016

O Israel, you have collapsed through your guilt. Take with you words, and return to the Lord, and say to him, “Forgive our sins, and receive what is good … we shall no more say “Our God” to the work of our own hands. For in you the orphan

finds compassion.

– From Hosea 14

At this 21st century moment in the flow of God’s creation, as we live out our personal version of dust unto dust, we try to call our sin something else. We blame the catastrophes of our culture on “structural” sin or “institutional” sin. We mostly see ourselves as victims rather than culprits.

And we ARE victims. Hosea says we are orphans. But when we deny our complicity in the chaos, we might as well bite our own lips, hit our own chests, cut our own forearms, and bang our own heads against the wall, all the while refusing to look in the mirror at the bruises we are giving ourselves. Sinners. We are.

The ugliness we call “structural” stains my soul. I am part of it, and it is part of me. And I must speak up, especially to God. I cannot pretend I am above it all, or I die inside. David describes this plight in Psalm 32: “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. Day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged the guilt of my sin … and you forgave.”

When I speak, God listens. And when he speaks back to me, I remember once again “my hiding place, where he protects me from trouble and surrounds me with songs of deliverance.”

This hiding place, even as suffering and danger and abuse continue. This deliverance, even when my inner freedom is visible to no one but myself. God’s absolutely certain goodness sings inside my soul, but it might not soothe or smooth my skin. The world seems to be getting worse, even in the midst of my song.

But this is where God’s strength flows into us. Never forget we have allegiance to another world. We are all children of God. And we children need to sleep with bread together. When we separate from God and each other, we are truly orphans. But in the world God makes new every day, the truth is that we are one.

Jesus calls out, “Hear o, Israel! Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as you care for yourself.” We are in this all together.

Lord, we take our lives into our own hands and stab each other rather than rub each other’s back. Forgive me, Father, when in my mind and heart I turn and want to hurt rather than heal. All to protect myself. What a waste! Show me my sin, and teach me the art of confession, and forgive me, Lord.

The art of confession

March 5, 2016

Let us return to the Lord. He has struck us but he will bind our wounds. He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence. Let us strive to know the Lord: as certain as the dawn is his coming, and his judgment shines forth like the light of day. He has come to us like the rain, like spring rain that waters the earth … Jesus said, “The tax collector stood off at a distance and would not even raise his eyes to heaven but beat his breast and prayed, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’”

– From Hosea 6 and Luke 18

Sing the song you’ve known forever … “I come to the garden alone … and he walks with me and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own. And the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

Hosea knows from bitter experience about sinning and being sinned against. His story makes ours look simple, but truly we too have sinned and been sinned against. How do we handle this?

We learn the art of confession.

The song you sang, “In the Garden,” suggests that we tarry awhile with God. Wait and sit with him, and be quiet together. Look at him, and then he looks at you, and then you look back at him. Be still. Tarry awhile.

St. Ignatius told his Jesuits that it was okay if they occasionally missed Mass, but they should NEVER miss the daily review he called the Examen. There are five steps to this prayer, which fit nicely into the acronym TARRY. Imagine that!

Tell God you’d like to talk

Appreciate and thank God for his presence

Review the events of your day and Reflect on your Response to those events

Repent when you need to, and Receive forgiveness

Yes! You’ll do this again tomorrow

In this way you assure a daily rest with your daily bread. You learn to say, “Have mercy on me, a sinner.” And above all, you learn how to receive forgiveness. It is never OK to leave step four without receiving forgiveness. God forgives me, and I receive it.

Lord, how-to’s like this give me confidence. There is something I can do in the face of all disaster, and all brokenness, and all sin. I can speak up. “Have mercy on me, a sinner!” Thank you for teaching me to speak, and showing me over and over not only that you listen, but that you forgive me. Free me from fear, Father. Hold me in your arms.

 

Sitting on a cornflake

Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 6, 2016

We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who did not know sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God in him.

– From 2 Corinthians 5

Paul’s poetry rings true. God makes himself weak to be strong, and we are called to the same path. Come join us, Paul says, and be reconciled to God. Become the righteousness of God in Christ. Richard Rohr writes, “Jesus came to give us the courage to trust and allow our inherent union with God, and he modeled it for us in the world.”

The big words shake out to simply mean that Jesus is the groom, and we are the bride. This is more than metaphor. Rohr continues, “The very daring, seemingly impossible idea of union with God is still something we’re so afraid of that most of us won’t allow ourselves to think of it … but the Eastern Fathers of the Church saw it as the whole point of the Incarnation and the precise meaning of salvation.” They called it “divinization.”

Another big word. John Lennon of the Beatles wrote, “I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together.” But the many single syllables are just as confusing as the one big word. Who is who?

Perhaps this is not meant to be explained or even written about, except in poetry. Marital union is intimate and intended to be kept a secret between two lovers. God’s love for me is like that. And he wants my love for him to be like that. As Jesus prayed for us, “As you, Father are in me, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe” (John 17).

The prayers of Jesus and Paul recall how God spoke his love to Abram, “I will bless you and make your name great … and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12). God’s love draws me into him and then I pour out what he’s given me onto all the world. This flow of love never ends. It just keeps going and going and going. Even unto the end of the world.

Father, in you we are made a new creation. Old things have passed away, and behold, the new has come. All this from you, Lord, and I will bless you at all times. Your praise shall ever be in my mouth. Let my soul glory in you; let others hear me and be glad. I seek you and you answer me and deliver me from all my fears. Even today, Lord, let me taste and see your goodness.

 

 

Far too easily pleased

March 7, 2016

There shall always be rejoicing and happiness in what I create. I create Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight, and I, the Lord, rejoice in Jerusalem and exult in my people … Jesus returned to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.

– From Isaiah 65 and John 4

We asked our host Max, an Italian bed and breakfast owner who was learning English, “Max, do you eat to live? Or do you live to eat?” He looked confused, and then a light broke over his face and he smiled, “Oh, yes! I live to eat!”

Those Mediterranean folks with their olives and their bread and their wine, how they do live their lives. They take naps in the afternoon and sit together for long dinners at sunset. There is always too much food. Maybe they don’t get as much done as the Germans, but they smell the roses and invented cappuccino. And they never seem to gain weight.

I have no business turning away from this way of life. Eating to live makes all kind of sense, but living to taste and smell and touch and hear and see is what I’m made for.

  1. S. Lewis wrote in The Weight of Glory, “If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak!”

The much-abused word erotic insistently means “life-force.” Of course it has something to do with sex. Sex and all kinds of other stuff. We get sidetracked and think we have found the heavens when we’re just on a little hill. Lewis says it better:

“We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.

“We are far too easily pleased.”

Would you like a little bread with your wine? Yes, but so much more and more and more. Infinite joy to share that wine with all. Thousands are suddenly fed with a bit of fish and seven loaves. God gives it, and we give it all away.

Whether or not I live this out in my lifetime, Lord, there is no end to your generous gifts, and I can’t give them away as fast as you pour them out. You prepare tables in the presence of my enemies, and beckon us all, “Come and eat!” Always, there is joy in the morning.

Give us this day our daily bread

March 8, 2016

At the pool of Bethesda, Jesus saw a man who had been ill for thirty-eight years. Jesus asked him, “Do you want to be well?” The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; while I am on my way, someone else gets down there before me.” Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up your mat, and walk.” Immediately the man became well,

took up his mat and walked.

– From John 5

The Linns begin their book Sleeping with Bread with this story:

Following the bombing raids of World War II, thousands of children were orphaned and left to starve. The fortunate ones were rescued and placed in refugee camps where they received food and good care.

But many of these children who had lost so much could not sleep at night. They feared waking up to find themselves once again homeless and without food. Nothing seemed to reassure them.

Finally, someone hit upon the idea of giving each child a piece of bread to hold at bedtime. Holding their bread, these children could finally sleep in peace.

All through the night the bread reminded them, “Today I ate and I will eat again tomorrow.”

This “simplest book we have ever written” focuses on asking both sides of one question. “What am I most grateful for?” And “for what am I least grateful?” End your day, alone or in communion and discussion with others, asking those reflective, recollective questions.

In this way I find myself practicing the Examen, examining the good and the bad, what I’ve done and what has been done to me, and talking about it with God.

Imagine the man at the pool of Bethesda. Crippled for 13,879 days, one after another after another. All our lives are like that. We live them one day at a time, one after another. We grow accustomed to the repetition and notice little or nothing. The sun comes up, and sun goes down; life gets teejus, don’t it? We don’t even know it, how we start walking down the flat-line of life outside the Garden of Eden and slowly fall asleep. Boiled frogs.

Then one day Jesus walks up and asks, “Do you want to be well?” At least let me be alert enough to recognize him and realize that he’s talking to me! And I want to be ready to say, “Yes!”

So every day of my life, I can ask those simple questions, and notice in my daily rest how I’ve been fed my daily bread. Falling asleep I know I’ll be fed again tomorrow, because I am holding the bread of life right there in my hands. And the next loaf … well, Jesus just might be bringing that to me himself.

Wherever your river flows, Father, you provide abundant life. Every day fresh waters for us to drink. Your fruit ripens on the trees and in the fields, and by that harvest we are fed and we are healed. We can hold our loaves of bread, and eat them, and sleep with them and be ready for whatever you have for us next. You alone, O Lord, make us dwell in safety.

 

 

Johnson Siding Elevator during harvest, ¼ mile from our dairy farm near Lincoln, Illinois, where I grew up


Put your hand in the hand

March 9, 2016

Jesus answered the Jews, “My Father is at work until now, so I am at work.” For this reason they tried all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God. Jesus answered, “The son cannot do anything on his own but only what he sees the Father doing; for what he does, the Son will do also.

For the Father loves the Son.

– From John 5

Another question the Linns suggest in Sleeping with Bread is “When today did I have the greatest sense of belonging to myself, others, God and the universe? And when did I have the least sense of belonging?”

In my time alone – when was I lonely and when was I content? In my time with others – when did I feel isolated, and when did I feel a touch of oneness?

I tend to forget who made the world. In my universe – where was God? Where was I?

Storge is a Greek verb which means love. Specifically, it means the love of belonging. When I come home and feel safe, when I can put my feet up or say what I want, I know the love of belonging.

Oikos is a Greek noun which means family. Who are the ones you trust with at least part of your life? Who has your back? Who loves you? To whom do you belong? Who belongs to you?

When I hear Jesus speak of his relationship with his Father, I understand how his disciple John could say, “God is love.” The dance of love between Jesus and his Father entranced his disciples, and it entrances me. What grace and beauty in those moves! They embody belonging, and the dancers invite every one of us to join them.

Were the Pharisees jealous, or slow, or narrow in their imagination? What kept them from wanting what Jesus had rather than resenting that he had it?

Of course my selfishness prevents me from belonging fully to another or to God or even to myself. The same selfishness infected the Pharisees. Because of their own sin, they rejected the evidence of that belonging in Jesus’ life. They were blind. But I am too. It’s just too good to be true. Let’s hang on to what we’ve got.

As Jesus pointed out over and over, when we cry out to God in our selfishness, “Have mercy on me, a sinner!” God does indeed have mercy. God is love. He burns with desire for us to be love, too. Yes, let’s hang on to that.

God, you tell me in so many ways that I belong to you. I am safe with you. I am a cherished and precious member of your family. You will do anything for me. Burn out my unbelief, Lord, and make me new today and tomorrow … I believe. I belong. I am loved. You are my God. We dance together forever.

How we come to be free

March 10, 2016

Jesus said to the Jews, “The works that the Father gave me to accomplish and that I perform testify that the Father has sent me. But you have never heard his voice nor seen his form, and you do not have his word remaining in you, because you do not believe in the one whom he has sent. You search the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life through them; even they testify on my behalf. But you do not want to come to me to have life … How can you believe, when you accept praise from one another and do not seek the praise that comes from the only God?”

– From John 5

Jesus’ question is rhetorical. The answer is, “We cannot.” We cannot believe.

I feel Jesus’ tears falling on my head as he holds my face in his hands and implores me to “seek the praise” that comes from God. Do not be afraid, my son. Come and see.

When I watch Pope Francis laughing, and know how he surprises a stranger on the phone time after time and just listens, I am less afraid. Come and see.

Jesus was busy, and Jesus was very spiritual. He spent lots of time alone with his Father. Still, he had breakfast and lunch and dinner with tax collectors! When a man or woman asked him to stop and heal, he stopped and healed. He laughed and prayed and ate and prayed and slept and prayed, and woke up again and prayed.

Jesus said his life “testified that the Father has sent me.” He told his disciples, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” That was true for everyone. And he prayed it would be true for us too. For me and for you.

When he was only twelve, Jesus held the “teachers of the law” spellbound with his unexpected questions and imaginative answers. His theology was incomparable, logical and creative. But he wrote nothing down. He spent his time with the folks. And he told them stories that made God come alive and assured them that they were free.

In the midst of Roman occupation, they were free. With hundreds of Jewish rules to follow and penalties that extended even to death, they were free. In the midst of their selfishness and lust and fear, they could trust God’s mercy and forgiveness, and they were free. So are we.

Jesus wept. “You do not want to come to me to have life.” If you do these things in the greenwood, what will happen in the dry? Yes, they crucified him, and I do too. We choose death, not life.

Still, God is more real than that lousy choice, and God is love. And Jesus is the one who wins, not the devil. He is here, and in him I can choose today to seek the praise of God. Come and see.

Your freedom seeks me in the dark dark night, Lord. I wake up from my dream and know how close you are, and when your hand finds my face I weep with joy. Putting aside all, you come to be with me. And I can put aside all and follow you. You made me to be free, and I am. I am free.

 

 

 

Pat Rogers, Don Savaiano, Margaret and turkey (well, actually, chicken)


 Good spirit speaks

March 11, 2016

Jesus cried out as he was teaching, “You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.” So they tried to arrest him.

– From John 7

This lack of recognition made no sense to Jesus. He knew the spirit within him was God’s spirit, and he knew it was visible in the Scriptures, in his preaching, in his healing. One look into Jesus’ eyes should have been enough to know God was right there.

I spent the last couple of days traveling in a sleeper compartment on Amtrak’s Texas Eagle from Lincoln, Illinois to Austin, Texas. We are visiting Andi and Aki for a week or so. At dinner last night on the train, Sherry from Michigan told us a strange story about the night before. As the train rocked along, a young guy who had been on the train awhile woke up and realized his pants were gone. And his shoes, and his shirt were gone too.

He and his friend must have been really, really asleep! Sherry had an idea what had happened. Just a short while before, a couple got on the train. Sherry thought they took his clothes.

Why? Well, she didn’t know. But she said some­thing that struck me. “You know a bad spirit when you see one. And that couple had a bad spirit.” Her cer­tainty about that may have been misplaced, but probably not. Because when we look at each other, we can see so much more than we say, or probably should say.

When the Pharisees looked at Jesus, their eyes saw only what they knew could not be true. Nothing good comes out of Nazareth. Nobody can talk about God the way Jesus talks about God. Only God can forgive sins. Anyone who works (heals) on the Sabbath is a sinner, and the Messiah would never do that.

And on and on. They could never really see Jesus; they were blinded by all the stuff they saw before they ever got to his eyes.

How can we see into the eyes of Jesus? In our dreams, in our prayers sometimes, in the ecstatic or agonized stories of others. Where two or three are gathered, there is Jesus in our midst.

When you look into Jesus’ eyes, what do you see? The good spirit. God’s spirit. Life everlasting. Those deep eyes are full of love.

Ah yes, I am learning to love you, Lord. When I watch Jesus love his Father, and watch the Holy Spirit dance in Jesus’ words and walk and touch and gaze, I learn to love you. We are so blessed to be your children. We are alive because you give us life. Open my mouth and teach me more and more the words to sing.

Joy to the fishes in the deep blue

sea, joy to you and me

March 12, 2016

Jeremiah prayed, “Let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause.” … Of Jesus, the guards said, “Never before has anyone spoken like this man.”

– From Jeremiah 11 and John 7

We sing, “We want to be like you, Jesus.” Can you imagine singing, “We want to be like you, Jeremiah?”

No! Jeremiah was a bullfrog (just kidding). But none of us want to be covered over with the depression and bitterness Jeremiah showed in his prayers.

Jesus came to show us how to become one with God. He was filled with the Holy Spirit, and together they empty themselves into the Father, and the three dance everlasting as one. Come and do this with me, Jesus says, and follow my steps, and join us on the dance floor forevermore.

But isn’t there something about Jeremiah’s position on his knobby angry knees that draws me in? Isn’t it nice to feel self-righteous, just for a moment here and there? “I never understood a word he said, but I helped him drink his whine.” He always had some mighty fine whine.

Reading into chapter 12, it’s clear that Jeremiah’s feeling about life mirrors God’s. In the next chapter God cries out his own despair. “I have abandoned my house, cast off my heritage; the beloved of my soul I have delivered into the hand of her foes … My heritage is a prey for hyenas, is surrounded by vultures; come, gather together, all you wild animals, come and eat!

“The whole land is desolate because no one takes it to heart … They have sown wheat and reaped thorns, they have tired themselves out for no purpose; they are shamed by their harvest: the burning anger of the Lord.”

If there’s anything that I love about God in the Bible, it’s the way he speaks his mind and pours out his feelings. We can do the same, and both Jeremiah in his way and Jesus in his do just that.

God turns back toward his people in chapter 29, with some of the most confident and comforting words in Scripture. “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and future. Then you will call on me, and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

“I will be found by you.”

Lord, thank you for making me a thinking, feeling, imagining person in your world. But remind me that all those ways of being in your world do not mean that my ways are your ways. Your thoughts are higher than my thoughts. So I fall on my knees and worship, trust and obey, be still and know that You are God. No matter what. And gradually I become accustomed to the strangely luminous darkness I encounter in your presence, and love you more and more.

 
The lion and the lamb

Fifth Sunday of Lent, March 13, 2016

At dawn Jesus appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group.

– From John 8

(I wrote this in 2001 … whenever this text comes up in the lectionary, I think of this. So here it is again.)

Her eyes were slits. She was angry and embarrassed. For one thing, the police had ripped her clothes nearly to pieces before throwing them at her. Their lustful looks were not lost on her. Even with her eyes nearly shut she saw everything she needed to see.

Soon would come the stones. She had seen this once. She was a little girl holding onto her mother’s hand. Loud shouts and ugly laughter and men throwing rocks. She held on tighter and squinted her eyes. She caught a glimpse of a man’s face. Leering, awful, selfish face.

She saw that same look this morning. Magnified, merciless… men who hated something … not her, she knew they didn’t really hate her, but something … yet it was her they pointed at, they yelled at her, tore her clothes, laughed that ugly laugh, and soon they would begin to throw the rocks. Their hatred was going to kill her.

They were taking her to the temple. Their temple…she had not been there in awhile. She heard them talking about Jesus. Someone had told her about Jesus. Her friend told her he was easy to talk to. What he said didn’t always make sense, but it seemed like he understood. Her friend felt happy and strong when she left him. Right now she was feeling very weak, jelly and water. She couldn’t walk, really; she stumbled.

They picked her up and threw her forward. In silence she squinted ahead toward the temple. It looked like a prison. People were screaming at her. Little girls were holding their mothers’ hands and hiding their faces. She felt the strange hatred on her skin and waited for the rocks.

(To be continued … )

Lord, there is no excuse for what we do. We turn the kingdom of God into a prison when you intended it to be a party. To avoid looking at ourselves we leer at others. I am sorry. Forgive me. Turn my eyes toward home.

 

 

The kingdom of God is a party

March 14, 2016

They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now, what do you say?” Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” And again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

– From John 8

(This is the second part of what I wrote in 2001.)

The woman felt reality tipping and knew she couldn’t move another step. She fell over and fainted. The men slapped her and woke her up, inside the temple, lying on the ground in a heap. Faces everywhere against the gray sky, looking down at her. The shouts had subsided; and they were talking about her, accusing her, pointing to the man they called Jesus.

She opened her eyes and saw his face. He looked at her. She saw he was not afraid to let her look inside him. He had nothing to hide. For the first time, she stopped thinking about the rocks.

In this new wonderful air, she heard his words clearly. Then he spoke no more, almost as if he were ignoring the men. She knew he was not ignoring her. She felt his presence all around, she felt safe, she felt a pillow under her head. For the first time she could remember, she began to relax.

Her eyes were open wide. She saw the men leave one by one. She saw their disappointment and their shame. She saw them choosing how to live. She saw that Jesus understood them and had given them a chance to change.

Finally only Jesus was left with the woman. He straightened up and asked, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Jesus, what you say to me is just what you say to the woman. And with my eyes open wide I too see your love for me. I am safe and sound and home again. Close my eyes to the ugly selfish sin that calls me away, betrays me and eventually condemns me. I choose you.

He gives us all his love

March 15, 2016

Whenever anyone who had been bitten by a serpent looked at the bronze serpent, he lived … The Lord looked down from his holy height, from heaven he beheld the earth, to hear the groaning of the prisoners, to release those doomed to die … Jesus said, ““When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I AM, and that I do nothing on my own, but I say only what the Father taught me. The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him.” Because he spoke this way, many came to believe in him.

– From Numbers 21, Psalm 102, and John 8

It isn’t complicated when God does the looking. When God looks down on us, he gives us all his love.

When we look up at God, we might not even be looking in the right direction. And often, we’re looking up at God because we need something. We are mostly interested in being happy, healthy and whole, and so we look up to God to ask about that. Where is God? God is where his blessings are.

God is generous. He touches us with his healing, and his prosperity, and his wisdom. He blesses us beyond measure, beyond our ability to comprehend or receive. We look up after we’ve been bitten by the serpent, and we live.

Except that sometimes we die. Sometimes we are broken by circumstances. Sometimes we or others must endure incomprehensible abuse or rejection.

Teresa of Avila wrote that in our prayer we eventually learn to seek the God of consolations rather than the consolations of God. Notice the difference. We come to this by getting to know the Father, and the times we get to know him best are when he accompanies us through our own suffering.

What is Jesus saying when he tells us, “I always do what is pleasing to my Father?”

Randy Newman sang, “He knows how hard we’re trying … If you need someone to talk to, you can always talk to him.” It is pleasing to the Father for his son to talk to him. Their conversations would have been legendary if only they had been recorded. We are left to discover the joy of dialogue with God for ourselves, especially in the midst of suffering.

One thing I am sure of: God looks down on me with all his love. Jesus showed us that over and over, and we can follow him through our own stations of our own cross, and keep looking up. The serpent has no more juice, and death has no more sting.

Lord, let all creatures past and future, and let us today come to you. Hear our prayers. Hide not your face from us in the days of our distress. Incline your ear to us, O Lord, and answer us when we call. Release us, or we are doomed to die. Always in you there is more light, more life that rises up to meet us evermore.

 Even if he does not

March 16, 2016

Nebuchadnezzar rose in haste.

– From Daniel 3

This has all the makings of a great story. A righteous Hero (three of them), an unrighteous Rat (and his rat cronies), and a Rescuer (who looks like the Son of God). The fire hasn’t got a chance.

Daniel’s story of King Nebuchadnezzar is one of the best in the Bible. He rises up in pride and arrogance and then falls on his face in humility and shame. His court is corrupt and eventually he is cast out into the desert for a long period of solitary confinement. He relates to everyone, especially God, with passion and imagination. He sins boldly.

And in this story he wonders if he did the wrong thing. He loved his Hebrews and had no desire to destroy them. Maybe Nebuchadnezzar was tricked into making this requirement that everyone worship him and nothing else. But he had to save face, and they were tossed into the fire.

Shadrach had told him, “We know our God can protect us from the fire. But even if he does NOT, we will worship him and not you.” God is God and you are not. King Neb was enraged, but after the adrenalin faded he was also convicted.

And then, beyond all possibility, his satraps came to him with news. There they were, all three, still standing. The fire burned but they did not. They had been covered by their companion, who was brighter than the fire, hotter than the fire, stronger than the fire, but not destructive like the fire.

White light like this blinds us and burns us, as it did Isaiah when he was commissioned in God’s temple. We must be purified. And then we are not harmed any more by the holy fire. We become part of it, and our lives are changed forever.

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the furnace without their companion, but with the glow of holiness. King Neb watched. He was amazed. He fell to his knees. But he did not join them in their worship, and I think their lives took very different directions after he made this choice. King Neb saw; but really, he didn’t see.

That kind of blindness rushes toward me every day. I need not look beyond what works for me and protects me in the moment, my own rules of confinement, terms of endearment, my own established world. Jesus spoke into the life of the cripple at the pool as he looked into his eyes, and the cripple gave up his world, and he was healed. King Neb was not.

Jesus’ eyes. King Neb did not look into the eyes of Jesus. God would have showed him how. He shows me too, and all I have to do is let him.

At the brink, Lord, of one thing after another, teach me to lift my eyes up and see how close you are. Nothing else matters. Your goodness changes everything.

 


For better or for worse

March 17, 2016

To Abraham, God said, “I will maintain my covenant with you and your descendants after you throughout the ages as an everlasting pact, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. I will give to you and to your descendants after you the land in which you are now staying … On your part, you and your descendants after you must keep my covenant throughout the ages.”

– From Genesis 17

It almost seems like an afterthought, the second part of God’s statement to his friend Abraham. And we have treated it that way. We expect God to be faithful to us, but we can be very careless with our commitment to God.

God’s motivator is always his love for us. Our motivators are various and mostly ineffective: guilt, shame, family history, promises of prosperity, and … the good one: love.

By the rivers of Babylon God’s people sang, “How can we sing the song of the Lord in this strange land?” Graham Nash wrote, “You, who are on the road, must have a code that you can live by.” We need the strongest motivators we can find, because otherwise we will become lost.

God never gets lost. Lost is not something God does. We do not understand his ways, but we can be sure that God is not lost. And we can be sure that God loves us. This is what Jesus came to share, and he called it the Kingdom of Heaven.

Always when I think of God’s love I want to ask, “What is my part?” But I’m not sure if that’s the right question. I can spend time with God, learn his precepts and apply them as honestly as I can, refrain from dishonesty and selfishness. I can give more rather than less to others, and receive with grace what they have for me. I can release my fears to God, laugh more, relax, and run the race I’m given to the last step. This is some of what I can do.

And then I die. Enough? Often it doesn’t feel like enough.

But God does not die. God sustains his covenant with us through my diminishment and death, as he has through the life and death of all our ancestors, as he will through the life and death of all our descendants. God isn’t going anywhere. God does not get lost, and God does not die.

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father; there is no shadow of turning with thee; thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not; as thou hast been thou forever will be. Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness! Morning by morning new mercies I see; all I have needed thy hand hath provided; great is thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

lyric from “Great is Thy Faithfulness”

Our savior approaches

Jerusalem

March 18, 2016

If I do not perform my Father’s works, do not believe me; but if I perform them, even if you do not believe me, believe the works, so that you may realize that the Father is in me and

I am in the Father.

– From John 10

In the previous chapter of John Jesus heals a man blind from birth. Responses to this healing range from wonder to confusion to anger. The blind man’s parents only know that their son can suddenly see; they are afraid of the religious police and won’t say more.

The man who once was blind but now can see is thrown out of the synagogue. In his healing he has become anawim, one of the poor. Jesus finds him. The poor man worships Jesus. His sight has been made complete. But for the others – those who don’t think they are blind and who don’t think they need healing, this is not enough. It is never enough.

“We are the disciples of Moses!” We are exactly where we want to be in the lineage of the Jews. Our messiah will come just the way we say he will.

Why are they so determined that Jesus is not the Messiah? He continually points to their Scriptures for confirmation and performs works that God said the Messiah would perform. His praise goes to his Father, not to himself. He points to his Father as the source of all his miracles.

But he heals on the Sabbath. Over and over. The Sabbath is not a rule meant to punish people but a gift from their loving Father. “The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” His statement of God’s joy and love has no effect on the religious police. The letter of the law gives them power. The spirit of the law might be lost, but no matter. Mercy has no place in their black-and-white world.

Jesus wants to reflect their gaze off him onto their Father. We all move from staring at ourselves to idolizing our parents to worshipping God. As my parents reflect God’s love and teach me to praise their Source rather than themselves, this can be a smooth process.

But the character of God can also become obscured. The Pharisees punished disobedience rather than praising obedience. They had lost their joy, and so their God seemed to have lost his. Jesus would have none of it. He walked into the Holy of Holies, into the Sabbath, and laughed and healed and relaxed in the arms of his Father.

So they tried to kill him. And he wept for those who tried to throw the stones. What will it take for their eyes to open? Must they die in order to live?

The answer is “Yes.” It is always, “Yes.” Having left the Garden of Eden, we must fall on our own swords for our eyes to open. But as Jesus rescued the Sabbath, so he also will rescue death for us, as we look up at his shadow on the sky and believe.

Lord, you are headed for Jerusalem. And it is there we will once again hear your words, see your miracles, and look into your eyes. This is a wonderful thing you allow us to do. Thank you.

 

 


The marvelous joy

of Joseph and Jesus

March 19, 2016

Jesus said to his parents, “Do you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

– From Luke 2

When he was just a wee little lad, full of health and joy, his father homeward came one night and said … “Son, where have you been?”

“In my father’s house,” Jesus answered him. Joseph went on with his dinner. The next day he continued teaching Jesus the art of carpentry. But I imagine he did not forget what Jesus said. And I think he knew what Jesus meant. God was as close as the porridge in their small home.

Jesus never apologized for spending time with either father. There was no need. The angel came to Joseph before the birth of his son and gave him peace. Joseph undoubtedly spent lots of time with God. They loved each other. And their son Jesus was blessed in every way. I imagine that as he told his listeners in Galilee that he “only did what he saw his Father doing,” he thought often of Joseph, too.

I want to be a father like Joseph. So do you. Or a mother. Or a friend. In those relationships where God touches me, and I touch my daughter, and she touches her husband, and he touches their son … in those relationships it is a joy to be held accountable by God and each other for our terms of endearment.

What are those terms? They include mercy and compassion, justice and truth, and most of all unconditional love. Commitment beyond conflict, beyond behavior problems, even beyond betrayal.

These are the powers that rest underneath God’s covenant with Abraham, and God’s covenant with David, and God’s covenant with Joseph, and God’s covenant with us. The foundation of our lives is the covenant we have with God.

Today is a day to honor Joseph, the father of Jesus. And we cling to those coattails, too, as we find our own way as parents of one kind or another, learning to love out of strength rather than need. When God makes you strong, you are strong indeed. Then the stuff of earth holds no threat. There is no fear in love.

There’s a loyalty, Lord, that’s deeper than mere sentiments, and a music higher than the songs that I can sing. The stuff of earth competes for the allegiance I owe only to you, Lord, the Giver of all good things. So if I stand let me stand on the promise that you will pull me through. And if I can’t, let me fall on the grace that first brought me to you.

  • lyric from “If I Stand,” by Rich Mullins

 

 

For the sake of his

sorrowful passion

Sixth Sunday of Lent, March 20, 2016

The Lord God has given me a well-trained tongue, that I might know how to speak to the weary a word that will rouse them. Morning after morning he opens my ear that I may hear.

– From Isaiah 50

In 1905 Helena Kowalska was born in Cracow. A twentieth-century mystic, at age 20 she became Sister Faustina. Her short life of 33 years was full of visions of Jesus and conversations with him, which she described in her diary, Divine Mercy in my Soul. The book has become a bestseller. Sister Faustina’s prayer, now called the “Chaplet of Divine Mercy,” is recited daily by millions of people around the world, alone and in groups, in homes and churches and schools.

The central words are so simple: “Eternal Father, I offer you the body and blood, soul and divinity of your dearly beloved son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world. For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

She was canonized in 2000. Saint Mary Faustina Kowalska, Secretary of Divine Mercy. That sounds kind of strange to my Protestant ears, but I am captivated by Sr. Faustina’s vision. God’s mercy for the world, poured out through Jesus, was all she saw.

Jesus saw that mercy; it was all he saw. Can I walk behind him today, waving palms, and see what he sees? “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest.”

At the edges of the parade frowning men walk with us, wearing suits and carrying walkie-talkies. Sunglasses hood their eyes. They don’t look friendly. There are no smiles among them. “Keep them quiet,” they say to Jesus.

But Jesus says, “Let the people praise me. If they keep silent, even the very stones of the street will cry out.”

It is an awesome thing when the power of good overtakes evil. It may not be immediately clear, but the evil powers of the world are being drowned in God’s love. “For the sake of his sorrowful passion, have mercy on us and on the whole world.”

Jesus carries on, and in this week of passion, we honor him and follow right along.

Held together by the tough sinews of love and mercy, Lord, you walk upright, weeping for the children, and tearing out the moneychanger. Teach the children well, and worry about nothing. You know what’s coming. We are afraid, but you are not. And we can walk with you today, and feel your joy even in the midst of all the pain.

Please, Jesus, don’t make waves

March 21, 2016

Mary took a liter of costly perfumed oil made from genuine aromatic nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and dried them with her hair; the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil. (Judas Iscariot complained). But Jesus said, “Leave her alone. Let her keep this for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”

– From John 12

What are you talking about, Jesus? What is this about “burial”? Don’t be so negative. The people love you.

Didn’t you hear them shouting praises yesterday? They will never turn away from you again; their love was rich and strong. They believe in you, in your words, in your miracles. You have brought them the Kingdom of Heaven, and they love you.

Sure … we won’t always have you. Everybody dies. But not now. Not in the middle of the revolution of love. This is the most wonderful time in the history of God and his people. The dove of peace flies and God calls out, “This is my beloved son. Listen to him.”

I know the Pharisees don’t get it, and the scribes want to keep their power. But the people are finally feeling their strength, and they love you. All you have to do is let them. Keep a low profile for a few days during Passover, and everything will be fine.

Of course a lot of people resent the way you overturned tables at the temple. But you’ve always shaken things up; no one should be that surprised. And now you’ve gotten their attention, so you can talk about God’s love and the Kingdom of Heaven.

If things have changed, I just don’t see it. So stop all this talk about dying, Jesus. Let’s enjoy the festival. We can go back to being exalted by being humble … next week.

It must take such strength, Jesus, to protect the bruised reed and smoldering wick. Your work this week establishes justice on the earth. Your Father spreads out the earth with its crops and gives breath to its people and spirit to those who walk on it. Grasp me by the hand, Jesus, and show me the power of love. Stronger than death. Humble my desire to be strong, and let me watch how you continue to do only what you see your Father doing.

 

Break every rule in the book, Lord.

Be the Messiah that you are

March 22, 2016

The Lord called me from birth. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow; in his quiver he hid me. You are my servant, he said to me … Jesus said, “One of you will betray me … he dipped the morsel and handed it to Judas. After Judas accepted the morsel, Satan entered him. So Jesus said, “What you are going to do, do quickly.”

– From Isaiah 49 and John 13

I know Jesus better than anyone else knows him. I know he holds God’s power in the shadow of his arm. He is the one who will turn our world right-side up again after all the Roman oppression. He will make Israel great again.

But why does he look at me like he does? He hands me the morsel of wine-soaked bread and says I will betray him. I don’t think so. If anything, he is betraying his Father if he doesn’t act.

When I was a boy, I thought when I first read Isaiah 49 that it was about me. But then when I met Jesus, I realized I was his helper. We have worked together, fought together, slept on the ground together, and now the time of God’s vengeance is at hand.

I looked for someone who loved God and man but could avoid compassion and compromise in order to reach God’s goals. Jesus is a communicator, and compassion rushes through his words and actions, but he does not compromise. So I will follow him (and lead him when necessary) toward the Goal. Together we will make Israel great again.

I know Jesus. When he is pushed to it, he will become the polished arrow of God. And the people will rally around him and rise up against Rome. I will get him the attention that he needs, put him into the public’s eye, and watch all the world change. God will lead us into battle, and we will be victorious.

You are only with us a little while longer, Jesus. It seems impossible for me to let you go. I want to cling to you, and die with you, and go wherever you go and not be alone. This is a moment of great fear for all of us, Jesus. Thank you for not leaving quite yet. Please don’t leave at all. Please.

Waiting without fear

March 23, 2016

I have become an outcast to my brothers, a stranger to my mother’s sons, because zeal for your house consumes me, and the insults of those who blaspheme you fall upon me.

– From Psalm 69

There is no music because this is not a movie. The dust is flying everywhere from running feet. Rumors fly even faster. The Sanhedrin watches Jesus’ every move, waiting for the right moment to arrest him.

We are like a tiny island in a giant sea. The people who praised Jesus when he entered Jerusalem go about their work, forgetting his existence unless they need him to heal their sons and daughters. The rabbis and teachers love to debate with this wise, road-worn teacher from the north, but they have no loyalty to him. His disciples are few. We are nearly alone. And the scribes stare silently at him, ugly in their scorn and dangerous in their fear of Jesus.

The Passover Feast is near. We prepare here as we would anywhere, securing a quiet place for our Seder and our dinner. Jesus goes to the temple every day and speaks his mind. He is as wonderful as ever in his words and deeds. We follow him, whisper among ourselves, wonder what will happen next. We understand very little, really.

But no matter. Jesus walks with God, and we walk with Jesus. There is air under his feet, even when he is burdened down with the pain of others. We watch his face change when he prays and know that God is as near to us as is Jesus.

Does it get any better than this? Never. No matter what happens, no matter how the scribes and Pharisees might turn their screws on Jesus, we know how God loves him, and how he loves us. Right inside our souls, Jesus pours his living-water-life. We are all so thankful. Jesus makes us into newborn children every single everlasting day.

Jesus, when you chose us we heard you say, “Follow me.” And so we did. So here we are. We wait with you, we watch with you, we are afraid for you even if you are not afraid for yourself. And still, whether in the light of dawn or dusk, you are the one who always has the right word to say, the right touch, always looking with such affection on the men and women who come to you. Thank you, Lord. You give us all your love.

 

Blood, sweat, and

the oil of gladness

Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016

Behold he is coming, amid the clouds. And every eye will see him, even those who pierced him. All the peoples of the earth will lament him. Yes. Amen. “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “the one who is … and who was … and who

is to come. The Almighty.”

– From Revelation 1

Here. There comes a day of healing and anointing, and then the sweeping, sudden crash into a night of dawning death. We can’t keep up with it, this beginning and the end, all at once roaring through Jerusalem like a desert storm, hurricane of hate, holocaust.

Judas is gone now, and there are just eleven. Jesus looks on us so sad and kind. His cheeks crease with tears. He tells how much he loves us, and he insists to wash our feet. And then he calls out his command, “Love one another.” No matter what, even if you might be loving those who will abandon you. “Love one another as I have loved you.”

He set the bar so high! “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me … to give you oil of gladness in place of mourning, a glorious mantle instead of a listless spirit.” Our spirits soar when we hear him read from the scroll of Isaiah. He calls us to the Way, and we will wear his mantle proud and hold the healing oil open in our hands to give away.

The sun has risen, and its light grows strong and bright. But afternoon rushes by, and the dark, and the night. We are settling in for Sabbath, and for Seder, and Jesus sits among us, and we know this might not ever be again. Oh no. Oh no.

No matter how we rushed around all day, now death will have its way. Not there, but here. Not then, but now.

Love one another. As I have loved you.

We learned it and it’s true: weeping may remain for a night, but joy comes in the morning. This morning too, Lord? Surely this morning too? We will not wear the robes of despair. You will anoint us all with the joy of gladness. Oh, Jesus, look upon us with your eyes of life. You give us all your love.

 

Dying without a doubt

Good Friday, March 25, 2016

There is no beauty that we should desire him. He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. We hid our faces from him. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, but we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for OUR transgressions, he was bruised for OUR iniquity. The chastisement for our peace was upon him, and by his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned, every one, to his own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

– From Isaiah 53

He was cut off from the land of the living. And we too – cut off. There is only death in the afternoon, on this “good” Friday afternoon. And we are cut off.

The churches are empty, and his body and blood are gone. No bread, no wine, no statues or pictures of our Savior, because we are cut off.

Jesus is saving us, but we know this now, not then. Then … we watched the sky turn black and Jesus cry out seven words from the cross, and finally his head fell onto his chest and he was gone. His mother saw all of this and she wept and wept. “Oh, my God my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Vinegar and gall won’t slow this down. Jesus is cut off from the land of the living. Can’t we please just dry the sweat dripping down his face? The blood on his hands and feet thickens and turns black. His body – the body of our Savior is breaking into pieces. Our lives are breaking with it. The pain twists his face, and still … he says before anything, “Father forgive them. They do not know what they do.”

Richard Rohr’s thoughts about the Bible flicker on the screen. “In case after case, the victim becomes the real victor, leading Rene Girard to speak of ‘the privileged position of the victim’ as the absolutely unique and revolutionary perspective of the Bible.

“Without it, we are hardly prepared to understand the ‘folly of the cross.’ Without this bias from the bottom, religion ends up defending propriety instead of human pain, the status quo instead of the suffering masses, triumphalism instead of truth, clerical privilege instead of charity and compassion. And this, from the Christianity that was once ‘turning the whole world upside down’ (Acts 17:6).”

So on this Friday afternoon, whether in church or not, walk the Stations of the Cross and know what it means for Jesus to be a victim and hear him call us into following him. We cannot protect our strengths or create places of our own safety. We are victims too, and we die along with Jesus. But we need not be afraid.

For thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me, and the table you prepare in the sudden presence of my enemies is piled high with bread and honey and wine. Today I have eaten, and I will eat tomorrow. Lord, it is your bread I sleep with, and your living water which washes the sweat off my face. Turn our hearts toward home. No fear.

 

Jack is about to lose a tooth in his backyard

 

Receive, Lord

Easter Vigil, Saturday, March 26, 2016

Seek the Lord while he may be found. Call him while he is near. My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, declares the Lord … My word shall not return to me void but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it …

We who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death, so that we too might live in newness of life.

– From Isaiah 55 and Romans 6

This is the day of Easter Vigil. In Jerusalem, waiting ended Friday on Golgotha. When Jesus died there was no sense of expectation, no idea that he would rise again after three days. But we know what’s about to happen. As preachers proclaimed yesterday, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s comin’!”

At the end of this second day, baptisms and confirmations mark the end of waiting. Christ-followers commit their lives to Jesus. In monasteries new monks lie prostrate and face down before their brothers, as they have for centuries, and recite the “Suscipe”:

Receive, Lord, all my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will.

You have given me all that I have and all that I am, and all of this I return to you. Dispose of me now entirely according to your will.

Give me only your love and your grace. With this I am rich enough, and this is all I ask.

The Suscipe (Latin for “receive”) is for all of us. Moses and Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and mind and strength.” So much of loving is about giving and being given to. “All of this I return to you.”

I don’t need to second-guess God’s love for me, but sometimes I do anyway. Then “my liberty, my memory, my understanding and my whole will” get in the way of our relationship. But all these come from God. I’ve been GIVEN to. So I can give it back.

In When the Well Runs Dry, Thomas Green says that disciples of Jesus can reach a point where they “have no will of their own and yet they are intensely active. The will of the sea which is God has become the dynamic force of their lives, and all their energies are spent in responding fully to the ebb and flow of the tide.

“What is lacking in their life is tension … Where there is one will – God’s will – there is order. It is only where there are two wills – God’s and mine (even when we have the same goal) – that tension and disorder prevail.”

So, no lethargy or passivity marks this day of Easter vigil. Our wait for Jesus is intensely active, as Green says. We want to be as available as we can be to the will of our Father in the lives we have been given by him.

Dispose of me now, Lord, entirely according to your will. Give me only your love and your grace. With this I am rich enough. And this is all I ask.

 

O, how happy you have made me

Easter Sunday, March 27, 2016

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.

– From Acts 10

And now, on the first day of the week, on the first day of the rest of our lives, Jesus is no longer in the tomb. They have not mistaken where they laid him. He is risen.

Not that this makes any sense to the religious police or the Roman soldiers, or to Caiaphas or to Pilate or to most of us. But to Procula, on the other hand, Pilate’s wife … there is about her some subtle rejoicing. Her dream surely must have come from God.

And for Mary the rejoicing is not a bit subtle. Suddenly she recognizes him and cries, “Rabbi!” Mary falls to her knees and clings to him, and Jesus tells her, “I have not yet ascended to the Father.” Wow! Jesus is alive! I remember our son Marc, age 5, launching from the Sunday School classroom like a reborn rocket yelling at the top of his lungs, “Jesus is alive!”

What happens in the tomb does not stay in the tomb. Jesus is alive. What manner of man is this, who heals everyone he touches and speaks clearly about the most mysterious things? And now he refuses to stay in his grave. Jesus is alive!

If your Easter celebration involves family and friends and a friendly church service, rejoice. Jesus is alive. If you are alone and want to be, or alone and forlorn, rejoice. Jesus is alive. If Easter bunnies and chocolate rabbits and jelly beans and marshmallow eggs are half price at Walgreens and you can’t wait to get there, rejoice. Jesus is alive!

Easter’s forecast in Urbana is for thunderstorms later in the day – black clouds and thunder claps overhead, lightning flashes in the afternoon. If you have time for a nap, it might be interrupted by a storm. And on the heels of that storm, the sun. Jesus is alive!

There are six more days and six more Sundays for us to celebrate Easter, before the church calendar gives way to Pentecost. Rejoice! Jesus is alive, and magic is afoot.

Lord we celebrate with all our might, we look up and see that you’re alive. No more death and no more night, no fear. Already and not yet you are all in all, and we can rest and work and play and sleep and live our lives with you. We are free indeed. You are so good – thank you, thank you, thank you, Jesus.

 

St. Kevin and the blackbird

March 28, 2016

I saw the Lord ever before me, with him at my right hand I shall not be disturbed … You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.

– From Acts 2 (referring to Psalm 16)

When Bernie Sanders was speaking this weekend, a sparrow flew up and paused on his podium. He smiled – everyone smiled. He appreciated his audience.

On Easter morning I read a story about a monk in the 6th century. His name was Kevin. Now, keep in mind that monasteries were rare in Europe, where Benedict was just beginning his ministry. Except in Ireland. Kevin founded a monastery there on a lake near Glendalough, an hour southwest of Dublin near Wicklow Mountains National Park. Glendalough (say it with feeling!) is a very beautiful place these days and was probably even more beautiful then.

Near the Upper Lake Kevin lived as a hermit for seven years. He didn’t eat much: nuts, herbs, and drank only water. Although his life was severe it was no different from those animals around him who also ate nuts, herbs, and drank only water.

He prayed in his hut, sometimes with his arms outstretched.  But his hut was so small that one arm reached out through the open window.

“Oh Lord I praise you and worship you. This is your day. Thank you for letting me live in it.” Kevin prayed. Then he opened his eyes, because he felt a blackbird settle into his palm. The blackbird brought the beginnings of its nest, and then as Kevin prayed, came back with more. Kevin knew he could not pull back his hand without destroying the life that was budding in the nest.

What would Kevin do? He left his hand for the blackbird, and for her eggs to hatch, and for the baby birds to grow and fly away.

Of course he did.

And now we know him as St. Kevin. What a wonderful story from Ireland of surrender and graceful listening.

Kevin heard the blackbird and he saw God. Jesus walked with him as he gathered nuts and herbs, and drank only water. He had very little else to occupy his mind; it was empty and ready to be filled.

This story was recounted by artist Christine Valters Paintner, who lives in Ireland and hosts the online Abbey of the Arts. Grace and hospitality are St. Kevin’s response to the blackbird. He had not planned for this, and he must have spent very little time thinking about how to extricate himself from this situation. He was simply too busy submitting to it.

So Christine asks, “How many times in our lives do we reach out our hands for a particular purpose, and something else arrives? But in our wiser moments we know that this is a holy gift we are invited to receive.”

And then Lord, may I simply become too busy submitting to it to notice my discomfort. Let me reset with you, let me rest with you today, Jesus. Let me flutter down and rest in the palm of our Father’s hand.

 

 


Yada, yada

March 29, 2016

Peter told the people, “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain that God has made Jesus both Lord and Christ. This Jesus whom you crucified.” … Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, “Go to my brothers and tell them I am going to my Father and your

Father, to my God and your God.”

– From Acts 2 and John 20

Jews listening to Peter – surely some of them challenged his words, “Know for certain.” Pilate wasn’t the only one to ask, “What is truth?” What can we know for certain?

No wonder science is so seductive. 2 plus 2 is four. Desire for mathematical certainty extends itself into the micro and macro worlds of our inhabitance. Gravity will surely bring me down. I can be certain about that.

We have been uncertain about certainty since the Fall, so painfully described in the story of Adam and Eve. In chapter one of his book Death on a Friday Afternoon, Richard Neuhaus describes before and after:

Before what we call the “fall” they knew the good in the fullest way of knowing, which is to say that they DID the good, they lived the good. They knew the good honestly, straightforwardly, simply, uncomplicatedly, without shame … Now they know no longer simply and directly, but reflexively; now they know in the consciousness of knowing.

This affects how we know God. The second-guessing, self-conscious mind is mostly not a mark of maturity but a womb for the false self, for what we usually call the ego. Our world becomes the only world that matters. You do your thing, and I’ll do mine. All this, while God watches, patiently or not.

The Hebrew verb yada, “to know” is rich in meanings, including to aspire to create our own truth. True knowledge of the good is, in Jesus’ words, “to love the Lord our God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

God walks in our garden and does not shy from asking questions about our own truth, if we would only answer him when he calls. “Where are you, Adam?”

God’s questions come at us straight on. Who told us we are naked? Who so complexified our existence? From whence did we get this reflexive knowledge, so that we no longer simply know, but know only our act of knowing?

Where are you, my prodigal son, Adam? Into what distant country have you gone? The questions probe us all.

But Peter is not paralyzed by what he doesn’t know. He spent time with Jesus. “Let the whole house of Israel know for certain!” His friend Jesus is sure of what he knows. “I am going to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.”

Our treasured “knowledge of good and evil” gets thrown out with the bathwater. “My precious” – even Gollum’s ring is proven worthless. This visitation of God, the resurrection of Jesus, has thrown an infinite wrench into the finite works of the serpent.

We can know for sure again. All we have to do is answer God when he calls. “Where are you?”

Here I am, Lord.

 


Hickory, dickory, dock

March 30, 2016

Peter and John were going up to the temple area for the three o’clock hour of prayer.

– From Acts 3

By the end of today in the year of 2016 so far, we will each have been alive for 129,600 minutes. That is 90 x 24 x 60.

It’s only just turned spring! Time flies.

Macbeth was not so sure. Time made of him a captive and a fool, moving always at the wrong speed:

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,

Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,

To the last syllable of recorded time;

And all our yesterdays have lighted fools

The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,

That struts and frets its hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

Ask the mavens living in nursing homes or monasteries, others, who have lived many a long year. What do they do to mark the ninth hour of their days?

Time it was,

And what a time it was, it was

A time of innocence

A time of confidences

Long ago it must be

I have a photograph

Preserve your memories

They’re all that’s left you

– Simon and Garfunkel, “Bookends”

In Praying With the Church, Scott McKnight asked himself and his readers one question: “Do you pray around your work, or do you work around your prayers?” Peter and John worked around their prayers. Many others do too, lots of priests, some monks and sisters, some of the rest of us. Many Muslims work around their prayers. The prayers always are the first priority.

But most of us don’t. We pray around our work. And thereby we lose our race with time, and find ourselves chasing the mouse in the nursery rhyme. Or we get caught on the gerbil’s treadmill, and then we die.

Not the way to go, I say. Work around your prayers, like Peter and John, and Jesus, and others that we know love God. Learn the art of the fixed-hour prayer, the liturgy of the hours, and life does not pass us by.

You are near me now, Father, and then again at noon and 3, and 6 pm, and always, Lord, you are near.

Time of refreshment

March 31, 2016

Jesus stood in their midst and asked, “Why are you troubled? Look at my hands and feet. It is I myself. Touch me and see, because a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you can see I have. While they were still incredulous for joy he asked them,

“Have you anything here to eat?”

– From Luke 24

We don’t do ourselves the justice God does for us. God’s joy over us can resonate like our joy for God-in-us. Those words get tied up on my tongue; here is how Psalm 8 puts it: “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have made us a little less than the angels and crowned us with glory and honor.”

Jesus brings the glory home. His body – Jesus’ resurrected physical body – rejoices with his brothers and sisters while he eats the meal he’s hungry for. Got milk? Forever after we too can eat what is put in front of us, and let our bodies lead the way to glory.

My body diminishes in strength and flexibility, and each of its important parts eventually wears out. My body dies. If I pretend this is not true, I will be disappointed!

But the moment with Jesus shows me what happens next. As our pastor said Sunday, perhaps even heaven is not our final destination. Our resurrected bodies will not inhabit a solely spiritual world, but a reborn physical one. Call it the Garden of Eden, as Genesis does.

This is the Good News for modern man. We need not be gnostic, barely breathing in suspended physicality. We don’t wait for heaven. We are alive and lifted up right now, in the presence of Jesus sharing our food and drink. The colors and tastes and smells and sounds and sights of our world are good, true and above all beautiful.

There are many awful things happening within me and around me. Great burdens, great pain, and great suffering flush out my pious innocence. What’s left? Not despair, but surrender.

What’s left is the determination to keep the journal: one good thing from today, one thing I’m grateful for. The One Thing shines through all the crud and creepy grimy gopher guts, all the suffering, all the evil. None of it is as real or true as the moment with Jesus when his mouth forms the words and he speaks them out, “Do you have anything to eat?”

We must not let each other forget it. Jesus is alive!

We put our hands together and praise your presence here, now, Jesus. When we open mouths to sing, we sing for joy and sing to you. You make all things new. You make us new. “New every morning is your love, O Lord; fresh your compassion daily dawns. New every morning is your mercy and grace, you are faithful, you are strong. Lord, we thank you for this day!”

– lyric from “New Every Morning” by Rory Noland

 
Solid rock

April 1, 2016

Peter spoke to the assembly of Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. “All of you and all the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed. He is the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”

– From Acts 4

I’m drawn to Peter’s power in these chapters of Acts. Like most of us, I prefer strength to weakness. I would rather experience self-esteem than self-hatred. I hope to feel some control in my own life rather than being controlled by others. But in all these preferences, I tend to stray away from Jesus’ constant, clarion call to be the last, not the first. He shows me by his example that death precedes resurrected life. There’s no way around it.

I want to perceive Peter’s love for his listeners, not envy his power over them.

Peter’s claim for Jesus as “the” way strangely confuses both Christians and non-Christians. Richard Neuhaus tries to clear this up by saying, “Christ is not my truth or your truth; he is the truth. He is not one truth among many. He is THE truth about everything that is true. He is the universal and cosmic truth.”

But who am I to claim that I have the truth and others do not? That isn’t how it works. Rather, as Neuhaus says, “Truth is not a possession under our control. The Christian claim is that we have been encountered by the truth revealed by God in Jesus Christ and by his grace we have responded to that encounter by faith.”

Neuhaus goes on to discuss both sides of the case for universal salvation. There is certainly a hell, but like many of us, Neuhaus hopes it’s empty.

Jesus is the cornerstone, not because he followed all the rules and believed the right things, but because he loved his Father with all his heart and soul and mind. And he loved his neighbor as himself. And he didn’t take any shortcuts. Ever. Jesus IS love. God is love.

It’s wonderful to have the opportunity to respond to God, respond to love, respond to being loved. But our response is not the cornerstone. Jesus is the cornerstone. That he was rejected does not make him the cornerstone. He is the cornerstone because he was “in the beginning with God.”

Neuhaus writes, “Everything that is true – in religion, philosophy, mathematics or the art of baseball – is true by virtue of participation in the truth who is Christ.” Dallas Willard said that Jesus is the smartest man who ever lived.

Lord, you are the foundation for all our lives. Your love reigns. Glory be to the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen!

 


 Day by day

April 2, 2016

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures forever. I shall not die but live and declare the deeds of the Lord. The Lord chastised me harshly, but did not hand me over to death. The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. By the Lord has this been done; it is wonderful in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice in it and be glad.

– From Psalm 118

On Netflix, I watched “The ’85 Bears.” 15-1, Super Bowl winners – the only Super Bowl champion in Chicago Bear history. Mike Ditka, still smoking cigars and surprisingly humble. Buddy Ryan, in a wheelchair and full of love for his players. Jim McMahon, diagnosed with early onset dementia, doing jigsaw puzzles in Arizona, four at a time, as unpredictable as ever.

At the end of the show everyone said, “Of course. We’d do it all again.” It was a wonderful time. But circumstances changed and they could not repeat their success. Ditka said, “Before the Super Bowl it was WE. And after we won, it all became ME.”

Still, thirty years later affection and joy mark both players’ and coaches’ comments. Richard Rohr talks of moving from the “first half” to the “second half” of life, saying the transition comes via either great love or great suffering, or both. These guys have learned a lot, and left at least some of both arrogance and bitterness behind. Through their own great love and great suffering, they have moved into the second half of life.

Psalm 118 sings out gratitude for the past, encouragement in the present, and hope for the future. These are available to us all, every moment, regardless of the “chastisement” of the day. By the Lord this is done. Let us rejoice and be glad.

In the moment of quiet, Lord, open me right up to your love. Let me rest my eyes and see through yours. Let me rest my hands and be guided by yours. For you are good and your mercy endures forever.

I am involved in mankind

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Jesus breathed on his disciples and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”

They carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and mats so that when Peter came by, at least his shadow might fall on one or another of them. A large number of people from the towns in the vicinity of Jerusalem also gathered, bringing the sick and those disturbed by unclean spirits, and they were all cured.

– From John 20 and Acts 5

But this power is laid upon the foundation of love and mercy. We see so few healings in the West because we have forgotten that foundation.

Richard Rohr says, “Mercy refuses our capitalistic calculations, but most religion now offers no corrective to the culture.”

Thomas Merton’s poem says, “Make ready for the Christ, whose smile like lightning sets free the song of everlasting glory that now sleeps in your paper flesh.” We’ve gotten into a very self-centered place, where we live unawares, settled into our personal paper flesh.

Paper flesh not-caught-fire forgets two thousand years of Jesus’ teaching on compassion and mercy and settles for narcissism, self-protection and rage. Rohr speaks the obvious: “This is just way too small an agenda.”

Caught-fire-flesh weeps and bleeds for the immense suffering of the world. We are not separated and safe from that suffering as we might seem to be. The pictures on television flicker as we sit comfortably with food and drinks in easier chairs; but at night, remembering, we are stricken too. We are all one people. When one of us suffers, we are all diminished.

John Donne was not writing poetry but a sermon for his congregation when he wrote, “I am involved in mankind. Therefore, send not to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

For the sake of Jesus’ sorrowful passion, eternal God, have mercy on us and on the whole world. Your mercy is endless and your compassion an inexhaustible treasure. Increase your mercy in us and keep us from despair or despondency in the face of evil. Show us the way to submit with great confidence to your holy will, which is love and mercy itself.

 

 

 

When I look at you

Sunday, April 10, 2016

And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe, cry out: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.” The four living creatures answered, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.

– From Revelation 5

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? There is a labyrinth just a few blocks from our house in Urbana. There is only one way through a labyrinth; and when you reach the middle, you rest and pray, then turn around and walk back the same way you came. Sounds simple, because it is.

Call it a walking meditation. Contemplation with your legs moving … no hurry … just a way to DO “being.” Be still and know that I am God. Walk a labyrinth, and know that I am God. Reach the center, say “Amen,” and fall down to worship.

What joy in heaven when we reach that place to say “Amen.” Every creature in heaven AND earth, and under the earth. What joy. All of us are known in every cell by God who makes us; and what’s more, we know we’re known.

A woman spent a restful night on retreat and in the morning walked to the bathroom. As she passed the mirror she glanced at herself and said, “No wonder God loves me!” What did she see? She didn’t think so highly of her looks. But she saw what she called “God-in-me.” She looked again and saw only herself.

Thomas Merton visited Louisville frequently to run errands for his fellow monks at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Merton stood at the corner of Fourth Street and Walnut one day in 1958 and fell in love: “I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that I loved all those people, that they were mine and I theirs, that we could not be alien to one another even though we were total strangers … There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.”

The labyrinth at St. Louis’ Mercy Center is quiet and beautiful. At its entrance a welcome-stone carries Merton’s words. On warm days the stone soaks up the sun. It reminds me that God-in-me sings together with God-in-you, and God-in-all-of-us. The harmonies are sweet, and the echoes are infinite, and we all fall down and worship.

Lord, when I look at you I see your eyes open and friendly and full of hope. I see you beckoning to me, to us, as you sit on the edge of the well full of water, and I know I can come sit down and lean against your knees. Words aren’t what we share, but rich silence. When I look at you.

When you look at me

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them and they follow me. I give them eternal life and they shall never perish; no one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

– From John 10

My room of convalescence fills with sun by 6:30 each morning. Gradually its sky-blue walls brighten and rescue me from night. The weather this week has been wonderful. Beyond the open windows the chickens scrabble all day, hunting for worms.

But all those poetic lines from the Bible and other great poetry feel true to me. The hours before dawn can get very dark. Often it is difficult for me to swallow (tube down my throat during surgery?). Now and then I feel stretched out and torn inside at one particular spot on the right side of my abdomen. The swelling in both my legs got much more severe a couple of days ago, and I was surprised and scared.

And then of course there is the stiffness of every muscle in my left leg. Not to mention my new knee. Did I really need this new knee so much after all?

Everyone encourages me. It will get better. Do your exercises, do your work. Stretch and move and wear compression hose and get plenty of rest. Eat, drink, and do jigsaw puzzles, but don’t sit too long. Drink up the Cubs and other fine baseball vintages. Things will be better in the morning.

And they are. I notice some slight increase in range of movement every day, just a week after Dr. Kohlmann made the Long Incision. How thankful am I for that? Very Thankful!

At a day of reflection last week, a dozen of us were asked by our spiritual guides, Bridget and Eileen, to reflect on personal moments of call, search, struggle, breakthrough, and return – then to put those moments on a timeline. I don’t need to tell most of you that those moments usually occur at times of great love and great suffering.

Just now I have been massaging the sides of my knee. The shaved skin is growing out again. It’s a little red. The flesh is warm.

And it turns out that the best word for this warmth is not physical but spiritual. As I massage my leg, I feel the opposite of depressed. So many of you are praying for healing in my mind and body, and I feel it. I feel exalted. In spite of my turned-inward, Job-like self-pity, God loves me even through my own hands.

There is healing here. I would not know this if it were not true.

During our day of reflection, Bridget read a prayer from Thomas Merton’s Thoughts in Solitude. Thomas Merton knew he was exalted, knew how loved he was. He saw that we are all walking around, shining like the sun. He also “knew” how much he didn’t know.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

Still, Father Merton throws himself on the mercy of Jesus, and in doing so he is exalted. Life is beautiful.

Lord, when you look at me, you smile. You think of where I came from and where I’m going, so I don’t have to guess about what you already know. That’s enough for me. Your look is invitation enough for me to relax and simply BE your son. This created-me knows how much you love; and that it is good, right, true and beautiful for me to love, too. When you look at me.

 
Don’t kill the mockingbird

Sunday, April 24, 2016

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, God’s dwelling is with the human race. God himself will always be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, wailing or pain, for the old order has passed away.”

– From Revelation 21

When Tom Robinson had been escorted “guilty” from the court, and while Atticus Finch gathered up his papers, the Negroes in the upstairs gallery reserved for them rose in silence. Reverend Sykes had brought Atticus’ children up to the gallery with him so they could watch their dad defend Tom. Reverend Sykes said to Scout, “Miss Jean-Louise! Stand up, Miss Jean-Louise. Your father’s passin’.”

In that moment of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I burst into tears. I think I was weeping for the ageless awful sins of us in the world, our intended and unintended carelessness with each other’s dignity and our desperate self-protection, which closes our eyes and our mouths while we crave the false comfort that comes with walking away. So few of us walk toward. Still, I am thankful for them.

Actor Gregory Peck, quietly stating the heroism in Atticus Finch, won the 1963 Oscar. But in truth, Atticus could neither save nor protect. His children were attacked and nearly killed, and Tom Robinson was shot attempting escape. Atticus drove to Tom’s home, where the family sat outside talking of the coming appeal. “There will be no appeal,” Atticus told them. “Tom’s dead.” And Tom’s mother just fell down on the floor and cried.

No more death! No mourning or wailing or pain, no more. Revelation is the story of “already, but not yet.” We still die and feel great pain. We wail. We whisper, “I’m sorry for your loss. … Let me sit down with you while you thrash about and scream your sadness out.” Already in this, even this, we throw ourselves into the arms of God. He holds us there with all his strength. And his hands are touching our faces, and he is wiping every tear away from all our eyes.

In the morning we go on to the next day. A great “not yet” breathes all through the day. Friday’s here, but Sunday’s coming.

I have no doubt that Reverend Sykes took Tom’s mother in his arms, in his spiritual arms, and preached the hope of Jesus to her and to her family and to her friends. And they wept storms of tears, and they knew God’s touch and God’s healing.

Evil is nothing more than the absence of goodness. It has no original source or meaning or substance. The “old order” never existed except as an absence of what is Real and True. Jesus came to break through the old lie and rescue us all.

Need a reminder? Stand up, Miss Jean-Louise! Your father’s passin’.

Lord, in our weakness you are strong. We can trust you to protect the core of our being and save us for yourself. We need not fear evil, because your good has never left us, and your love has never washed away. We are safe with you. You are what makes us whole.
Leave the light on for me

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.”

– From John 14

As T.S. Eliot’s “cruelest month” gives way to the merry month of May, the view from my room is dreary, cold and gray. Wet streaks run down the tightly closed windows. Our chickens cower in their coop as the rainy wind rushes in at them.

Because the muscles around my new knee are stiff, I am not sleeping very well. Can’t get comfortable. Last night for the umpteenth time, I got up around 3 a.m. to walk around a little and get some of the stiffness out. And I noticed again the light at the back of our neighbor Geri’s house. Always on, all night, a warm light beside her door.

Geri broke her leg last summer and recently retired, age 72, from the UIUC library system. She is from New York. We talk sometimes about religion, which she has had little use for. But she is very well read and has a wonderful Brooklyn accent. Geri loves her garden and knows the names of both the flowers and the weeds.

She often cares for others in the neighborhood. She took a special liking to Andi as our daughter grew up, and found special books and things to give her on birthdays and graduations.

To love Jesus is to love his world and the creatures in it. Will you come and make your dwelling with Geri, Jesus? And with Margaret? And with me?

Perhaps I’m thinking about Geri’s nightlight because my favorite physical therapist of the present moment, Trusha, is staying at the local Motel Six and driving home to Chicago for her weekends. For 30 years Tom Bodett has told us that his favorite motel chain will leave the light on for you. Late at night, there isn’t much that matters more.

In the pain of these dark nights, I want to remember to leave my own light on. The quality of my mercy shapes the love I have for Jesus and for others. And this is something I am mostly powerless to manage on my own. It’s when Jesus’ love pours into me that I have something to pour out on others.

I think Geri is no more or less merciful than most of us when she’s in pain, and neither am I. C.S. Lewis said wisely, “Kindness is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds. Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. We think we are kind when we are only happy.”

God’s love is tough and strong, demanding and without end. God does not settle for mediocrity of any kind in his children. He loves us into wholeness, and that involves painful stretching every time. But his light is always always On.

Don’t let me turn away my eyes, Lord, from the Light of love you have turned on for me. There are no conditions put on the brightness or clarity of your light. Now thank we all, our God.

 


Famous last words

Sunday, May 8, 2016

I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end. Blessed are they who wash their robes … the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” Let the one who thirsts come forward, and the one who wants it receive the gift of living water. The one who gives this testimony says, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

– From Revelation 22

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! This is Ascension Sunday, but why would we celebrate Jesus leaving us?

Why? Because now his presence is everywhere, all the time, within you and without you. This is my body, Jesus says. Feed my sheep. You are, we are, the church, the Eucharist, the body of Christ.

Our granddaughter Aly has been four years old for six days. She celebrated her birthday with all her might, at the top of her voice. One of her gifts was a strap for her guitar. In tune or not, she strums and sings and smiles and laughs, and we laugh with her. She is enthusiastic. En-theos!

One warm afternoon this week she climbed to the top of her playhouse. There, up in the air, she can see across the back fence to her friend Elly’s house. Elly climbs her swimming slide ladder. Now they can see each other and they talk awhile.

Finally Aly said, “I have to go now.” And Elly said, “OK. I’ll go in the house now.” And Aly said, “Why are you going?”

“Because you said you have to go.”

“No,” Aly said. “I don’t have to go. Let’s talk some more.” Maybe it didn’t make much sense at first. But then something hit me about Aly and me, and all of us.

There is such a fine line between solitude and loneliness. All my life I have been pleading with the world, “Please pay attention to me.” We’ve all said it, in one way or another, since long before we were four years old.

When others turn away from me to their own pursuits, I’m not sure what to do. Should I turn away first so I won’t be hurt? Should I ask them to come back and play some more? Can I lift my eyes to heaven, to the departing body of Jesus, and know how full with him I really am? Without regular swallows of his nourishment …

When I lack the sweetly savored, living water of Jesus on my tongue, I am apt to fall headlong into paranoia and shame. In his book The Examined Life, Stephen Grosz discovers to his own amazement that “it is less painful, it turns out, to feel betrayed than to feel forgotten.”

At our wedding Don Romack read from a poem, “I am loved, I am loved. I can risk loving you.” Jesus pours himself into me, and I must open the valves and let that love come right on in.

It’s then I know with confidence and joy that my love belongs to you, and yours to me, and we are free to be known as deep as deep can be.

You, O Lord, are most high over all the earth, exalted far above all gods. And still, and still, I can come to you and put my hand in the hand of the man who stilled the waters, calmed the sea. Jesus you are near as near as near can be. And when I look at you, you are always looking back at me. Nothing matters more. Sweet songs we sing, and jump for joy. Amen, come, Lord Jesus!

 

 

 

 

 

Advent and Christmas

Devotions

2016-2017

 

Happy Angel at Marytown, Libertyville, Illinois

 

Goblins’ll gitcha

First Sunday of Advent, November 27, 2016

Two women will be grinding at the mill; one will be taken and one will be left. Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know

on which day your Lord will come.

– From Matthew 24

Can you spell “rapture”? Jesus tells a story which we can choose to take literally. Or not. Regardless, we must know he is insisting on our mindfulness. Stay awake. Stay alert.

Matthew frames his story of Jesus’ ministry with two of Jesus’ sermons. The first, the Sermon on the Mount, tells us how to live in our world. In the second Jesus tells us how to prepare for moving on. It reads a little like a scary campfire story: “The sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Like a great movie soundtrack, these words shiver my timbers. The shiver starts with fear and uncertainty. Although I am certain of one thing, my failure and fault. I’m tired. I’m full of myself. All I’ve been thinking about is stuff-stuff-stuff. Cleaning stuff, cooking stuff, buying stuff. Stuff and nonsense. What is this mindful thing?

Jesus presses these dark portents into my campfire ears, and I hearken back to the morning music of his beatitudes. This is where God reminds me of his love. Jesus sings of that love in the meadow, “Do not worry about tomorrow. See the lilies of the field, and don’t you know that God loves you … you … yes, You! … even more? Don’t you know that God will prepare a table for you in the presence of your enemies?”

Our grandson Miles Tadashi Tomita (correct and righteous warrior) was born on Veteran’s Day. Margaret is in Austin with his parents, Andi and Aki. I am getting into mischief alone at home. And happy I am to remember how much God loves us all. On this first day of Advent, it is good to watch and wait for a rebirth of wonder once again inside my soul.

I’m held and loved by you, Lord, and I can breathe deep and wait as the days get shorter and the nights grow long. So it goes at the end of one year and the beginning of another. We stand together by the river. Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight. O Lord.

God’s margin

November 28, 2016

A smoking cloud by day and a light of flaming fire by night, over all the LORD’s glory will be shelter and protection, shade from the parching heat of day, refuge and cover from storm and rain.

– From Isaiah 4

There has been lots to do, and I have been so Tired! Not enough sleep. Not enough quiet mind.

My friend Frank and I found an acronym: REST. Relax. Exercise. Stay still. Take time.

Relax.

Exercise.

Stay still.

Take time.

Take time before it takes you. That’s what I haven’t been doing.

And breathe, which doesn’t fit the acronym but matters most of all. Breathe deeply, breathe often, don’t forget to breathe.

I ate lots of turkey and mashed potatoes and cranberry jello salad. I walked around many stores, up and down the aisles. Coffee with friends. Movies with family.

During all of this there was, up in the air not quite visible to the naked eye, a cloud by day and fire by night. “God, don’t ever leave me.” That glory, my shelter and protection … and not just mine but yours.

Just a glimpse is worth all we have, all we will ever have.

In those moments the shade of God’s word lets me rest my eyes and wash my skin. Like a baby, new and born again.

Which reminds me, Lord, to thank you thank you thank you for the new baby in our family, resting in Andi’s arms. Your prophet Isaiah has a way of opening my mind and eyes. Come and save us, Lord our God. Let your face shine upon us, and we will be saved.

Upon the place beneath

November 29, 2016

A shoot shall sprout from the stump of Jesse, and from his roots a bud shall blossom. The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him: a Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a Spirit of counsel and of strength, a Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord.

– From Isaiah 11

Driving south into southern Illinois, into Indiana, into Kentucky, the sun has been shining. The winter wheat has sprouted and makes for fields of sweet promising green. Grain for us and for our animals.

Further south in Texas, a new sprout named Miles is gaining strength and living life day by precious day. The baby rules. I am so happy to think of him every day while he sleeps and eats, sleeps and eats.

And there is Jesus (so say we Christians, that Isaiah was speaking into the future about Jesus when he wrote this amazing passage), sprouting from the family of Jesse and blossoming up into the world to save us.

Can you imagine lying in the ground, just a simple seed sitting completely still, waiting for the day when you feel just a tickle of movement on the top of your head? And then a crack that kind of hurts, and up through the plate of slightly hardened soil, and then … whoosh! Here comes the sun.

What then? How self-protective must I be if all that might just happen? Can I trust the Spirit to protect me? The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of strength, the Spirit of knowledge and fear of the Lord?

If I work back from the end, from fearing the Lord, then of course I’ll trust the Spirit. That’s what “fear of the Lord” allows. That’s what “fear of the Lord” promises. It becomes a synonym for faith, for trust, for hope.

An acronym for fear is “Face Everything. And Recover.” Keep calm, and keep looking up. And as Paul said to the Thessalonians, “DO NOT put out the Spirit’s fire!”

Let your gentle rain from heaven fall on my new green self, Lord. Then let the warmest sun of all warm me way down deep. I am learning to wait for you, to wait out the weather and know how near the sun of God is at all times. Now and always.

 

One day at a time

November 30, 2016

Jesus was walking alone by the sea. He saw two brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew, fishing. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once, they

left their nets and followed him.

– From Matthew 4

Today is the feast day for St. Andrew in the Episcopal, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. In Scotland, this is St. Andrew’s Day, Scotland’s national holiday. There will be parties galore in Edinburgh, Glasgow, and all places in between.

The flags of Scotland, Tenerife, the Confederacy, Florida, and Alabama are all adorned with “St. Andrew’s cross.” Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, Russia, Romania, Ukraine, Barbados, and parts of Italy, Portugal, Malta, the Philippines and Greece.

Who knew?

We named our first child Christopher Andrew. We named our daughter Andrea. The name means “brave and manly, or womanly.” Does the meaning of a name follow your children through their lives? Did it follow Andrew, Jesus’ disciple?

Andrew hardly knew what he was in for when he left his nets and “at once” followed Jesus. And after Jesus was crucified, after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension into heaven, Andrew became a world traveler. He heard Jesus say, “Go into all the world,” and he did just that.

I’ll bet he didn’t plan it all out either. One thing happened, and then the next. He just kept his eyes open and his skin in the game. Like the rest of us, Andrew was dependent on God’s strength, direction and support to be his “manly” self. Like we do, he lived his life one day at a time.

If we don’t live in Scotland, we might not party down and eat all night. But this is a feast day, nonetheless. A good day to live. A good day to be brave and manly, or womanly, and thank God for ears to hear and eyes to see what happens next.

Let me live one day at a time, Lord, enjoy one moment at a time. Let me accept hardship as a pathway to peace and take, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Show me how to trust that you will make all things right as I surrender to your will, so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with you forever in the next. Amen.

– prayer written by Pastor Reinhold Niebuhr and adopted by AA

Our house is a very,

very, very fine house

December 1, 2016

Jesus said, “Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, the winds blew, but it did not collapse. And everyone who does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, the winds blew, and it was completely ruined.”

– From Matthew 7

And the people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching, because he spoke with authority, unlike their other teachers.

Most of these folks went home to family dwellings where they rode out storms of all kinds together. Living out Jesus’ words essentially meant living lives of love and sharing, turning away from selfishness and hate.

Living Jesus’ way protects me from all the awful elements, whether I’m indoors or not. Turning away from Jesus’ way of love sets me up for calamity on day one. It’s only a matter of time.

My eyes don’t see this truth clearly or consistently, but Jesus is happy to remind me from time to time. His brother James wrote, “Count it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you fall into trials. For you know that this testing of your faith produces steadfastness. Let that have its full effect, that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Graham Nash’s lovely musing about happily-ever-after requires that we be patient with adversity. “… with two cats in the yard, life used to be so hard, now everything is easy ‘cause of you …”

Thank you, Jesus, for living with me in the house you showed me how to build.

 

Being blind

December 2, 2016

As Jesus passed by, two blind men followed him, crying out, “Son of David, have pity on us!”

– From Matthew 9

We are mostly embarrassed to do such a thing. We mostly don’t believe in this kind of healing, because we have been enlightened by the Enlightenment and several centuries of rationalism.

If we’re from the west, from the First World, then we know better. We believe the doctors when they say we’ll be blind for the rest of our lives.

Jesus walked the streets of a Third World country, and the people didn’t know what we know now. They called out to Jesus, and they were healed. Their blindness was not a fact of life after all. They could see!

In The First Christmas, Marcus Borg distinguishes between fact, fable and parable when reading and seeking to be lifted up by God’s word. This Bible story may be any one of these. But if I read it as a parable, I am not only reading it to hear the history and ascertain the facts … more than that, I’m reading it to learn how to respond to my own blindness and to understand more of how to walk with Jesus.

Today’s lectionary text from Isaiah 29 outlines an important syllabus of events in our experience: We see God’s work among us, we praise and worship him, and we “acquire understanding and receive instruction” about how to live.

How much does this class cost? What is the tuition? It’s free, if I choose to open my eyes, open my mind, and open my mouth in gratitude. And to be still while God speaks in his still, small voice.

The silence today is pregnant with your presence, Father. That is always true, but sometimes I feel it a little more deeply. Free my mind and eyes and mouth today to follow you and cry out to you and love you.

Sent out in the morning

December 3, 2016

Jesus summoned his twelve disciples and gave them authority … and said to them, “Go out and say, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Then cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, drive out demons. Freely you have received, now freely give.”

– From Matthew 10

Rather than being intimidated, I want to follow in the disciples’ footsteps. Freely I have received, so I can freely give. And whatever happens next is up to God.

I can ask, “Can I pray for you right now?” God has poured out his blessing, his “authority,” and we can swim rejoicing. Like honey on our heads, his gift smells good, tastes good and feels good if we let it.

After they have been touched and filled with the power of God’s Spirit, Peter and John pray for a crippled man. His healing excites everyone: “They were amazed and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

My friend Ruth is a retail clerk. During the Christmas season she prays to carry God’s honey along with her for the often stressed-out folks whom she helps buy gifts. On the good days, she says, she pours that honey right on their heads. Buying gifts is not easy. We don’t read each other’s minds all that well. Our expectations swing wildly from too high to too low. This is exhausting.

But sometimes Ruth pours out the honey and can just watch them relax and be glad. There are all kinds of giving, as Jesus told his disciples: Carry your joy and share it. Give up your time. Let God love through you. Smile, say thank you, communicate respect.

Cure, heal, raise, cleanse, drive the evil out and pour on the honey.

Praise the Lord, for you are good. Blessed are we all who wait for you. On the day when you bind up our wounds, you heal the bruises left by your blows. We do not need to see the end, Lord, because you see it. We can rest in this moment, Lord, because we are resting in you. Because we have been freely given to, we can freely give.

 


 

All one river

Second Sunday of Advent, December 4, 2016

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in keeping with Christ Jesus, you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. So welcome one another to God’s glory.

Jesus did it, now YOU do it!

– From Romans 15

Earlier in his letter to the Roman Christians, Paul writes that Jesus is the “firstborn” among many brothers and sisters. Heaven came down, and glory filled our souls. We are all in this together, Jesus and us. In our going in and our coming out, and to the very end.

Miles Tomita is just over three weeks old, and his brother is Jesus. My mother will be 95 next year, and she is the sister of Jesus. American malls, and Syrian refugee camps, and isolated cabins in the mountains are all inhabited by brothers and sisters of Jesus.

God gives up transcendence to be immanent. Not that he stops being the creator and sustainer of the universe, but he turns away from that part of himself to count the hairs on all our heads, and know each of us better than we know ourselves. He is nearer to me than my next breath. God is.

Jesus makes that clear by his being and his words. He is here to be our friend and family, to die for us, and to show us how to live.

In light of this, Paul’s action item is for us to sing God’s glory and open our arms to each other. Do not be afraid. Trust the brotherhood. We are all one people.

Tribalism is often our poor substitute. We are loyal to a certain few, but as for the others outside … well, we see them differently. We are afraid of each other, and then we hurt each other. Shut each other out. Turn inward. Get selfish. Lose sight of God, and replace God with our own chosen images of God. We justify what we’ve done any way we can.

The prophets of the Old Testament spoke against these self-protections, and were thrown into cisterns for their efforts. Most of us will not give up our righteous, redemptive violence. Jesus, and then John, said there is no fear in love, but we are afraid. We need God’s endurance and encouragement to live with each other in harmony.

It’s there for the asking.

Give me the courage to ask, Lord. Please show me how to live in love with people who are not my kin, not my color, and not like me, who don’t think like me, and who maybe don’t even like me. This is not an easy thing, is it? But you welcomed me, Lord. And I am free to be a welcomer, too.

Eyes so wide open

December 5, 2016

Astonishment seized them all and they glorified God, and, struck with awe, they said, “We have seen incredible things today.”

– From Luke 5

I haven’t been astonished enough lately.

On second thought … I look at pictures of Miles and my eyes open wide. I know during her labor, when Andi felt the baby come, when suddenly that little boy was right there beside her, her eyes couldn’t have been wider. She was astonished. I am astonished.

This week I saw both Jack (7) and Aly (4) laughing and then become silent in amazement. Their mouths fell open, their eyes got wide – more than once – astonished. It’s an everyday thing for them. And hallelujah … it’s catching!

How many eyes were opened on the day Jesus forgave the sins of a paralyzed man, and healed his body as an afterthought? Can I imagine that? I haven’t moved my legs since last year? They are wasting away. Then Jesus looks at me, and touches me, and speaks to me, and heals me.

Are Jesus’ eyes wide too? The Bible says that on this day, “the power of the Lord was with him for healing.” Maybe he grew accustomed to his own abilities. Or maybe he was continually astonished at the power of God. I know he loved those people he spoke to and touched. His compassion for them was endless and enduring. Is endless and enduring. His compassion for me is endless and enduring.

This story in Luke blows me away like a dandelion puff in the Spirit’s wind. All of a sudden I’m laughing, and jumping, and praising God, right here on the second Monday of Advent in the year of our Lord 2016. Astonished again, with my eyes open, oh so wide.

There is a hole in my roof. Storms are coming. I need to take that seriously, get that hole fixed. But I’m so glad Jesus came, and they lowered that guy down through the hole, and that we were all amazed again by God in our midst.

Lord, what stories we can tell. The days are just packed! You come and stir up our lives, and we can laugh and sing and open up our eyes, and know at last how much we’re loved. You hide us in the shadow of your wings, and then you fly up with us and the sky is blue and all around us beauty, Lord. Your joy becomes ours. Oh … what stories!

Thy rod and thy staff

December 6, 2016

Here comes with power the Lord God who rules by his strong arm. Like a shepherd he feeds his flock, in his arms he gathers the lambs carrying them close to his heart, and gently leads the ewes,

watching over their young, to good pasture.

– From Isaiah 40

There were no TVs, no video games. But there were books. Sacred books. Jesus spent his childhood absorbing the words on the scrolls of Isaiah and all the other precious Hebrew writings, passed on from century to century.

Of course there were distractions. He played in the snow. He chased the birds. He traded baseball cards with his friends (well, maybe not). And his carpentry skills came from practice, from following Joseph around and doing what he was told to do. There was plenty of hard work for Jesus growing up.

But as he said to his parents, “Don’t you know that I have to be in my Father’s house?” He learned the stories and the prophecies, considered the words and their nuances, and listened wide-eyed to what his teachers said about them.

And so reading Isaiah, Jesus saw God as the shepherd. But then, when he shares that story as an adult, he takes the story one step further. The shepherd not only cares for the sheep of his pasture, he looks for the one who is lost. He even might be willing to forsake caring for the found to look for the lost.

In Matthew 18 Jesus describes God, who loves, and loves, and never stops loving. Who looks, and looks, and never stops looking. God, who carries his rod and staff but uses them to guide, not punish. God, who holds me close to his heart when I’m there and calls out for me to return when I’m not.

Andi holds her baby, Miles, close to her heart. His dad, Aki, holds Miles close to his heart. They can feel the baby’s heart beating just right next to theirs. They know how God feels about each of us, carrying us gently one day at a time toward the rest of eternity.

We sing a new song to you, Lord, and bless your name. Jesus has shown us how close you are to us, and how you love us and look far and wide for us when we run away. There is no fear in love. We never have to run away. Remind me hour by hour that I do not need to run away, Father. Let me put my hand in your hand, and walk with you beside the sea.

 

Sabbath breath

December 7, 2016

From Matthew 11

Jesus said to the crowds, “Come to me, all ye who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy

and my burden is light.”

– From Matthew 11

What a friend we have in Jesus. That was my dad’s favorite song, after “I’ll Fly Away.” As he got older and his back grew bent, he stopped his square dancing. His now-crooked, mostly out-of-breath body might have been filled with pain, but his struggling smile seemed stronger than ever.

My breath gets short these days, when I lean over too long, or do too much all at once. Then I think of dad. His breathlessness brought him falling down at the feet of Jesus. And he said so.

“Thank you, Jesus.” I see him looking up at me. The smile. His face stretches out, his eyes implore me for help. There was a time in the hospital when he was breathing badly, and I suggested a couple of things. Breathe in as deep as you can, and then breathe out as much of your air as you can. More, more. Hold that. Let your diaphragm rest just a little. Now, breathe in.

Dad had always told me what to do, and I felt pretty strange turning the tables. But he tried my suggestion, and it helped. I think we were both amazed.

Margaret’s Apple watch gives her wrist a little thump every so often during the day, and the screen says, “Breathe!” Don’t forget to breathe.

Still, we do. Over and over we forget. Jesus didn’t say it, but when we come to him heavy-laden, we are usually out of breath, too.

Why? Well, we haven’t been taking our Sabbaths, that’s why. We’ve grown unaccustomed to trusting God. But Jesus is gentle, and doesn’t punish us for breaking a rule. He just says, “Here, let me. You just take one breath, and then another, and I’ll be with you while you do.”

Lord, let me be mindful. Mindful of breathing, yes, and mindful of being with you. Your yoke is easy, your burden is light, and oh … the places we will go!

Visitation

December 8, 2016

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary.

– From Luke 1

No, we are no longer in Ordinary Time.

It is nearly two weeks into the Advent season before we’re reminded why we’re here, what’s going on, and what’s going to happen next. Mary, did you know?

She’s the first to know. We celebrate Christmas in July, and Christmas in October, and Christmas on Black Friday. But those are Christmases when we buy and sell. The one coming up, the one Gabriel tells Mary about today, is about Jesus.

This moment with the angel is Mary’s wonderful gift. Wrapped in silence, adorned with the bow of God’s smile, this gift leaves her pregnant with Jesus. Now she is Theotokos, the mother of God. Her life will never be the same.

Mary will lead many to Jesus, and she will lead Jesus to many. She remains involved with him throughout his life. Early on she sometimes tells him what to do; always she loves him. And finally she walks with him in the shadow of Golgotha while he struggles, beaten and exhausted, to carry his cross.

“The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. And the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

We rise today, and call her blessed. God chose her to carry Jesus, to bear his son and raise him up. Every mother, carrying her own baby, knows how sweet a time this is.

And we await the dawn of celebration. Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Holy Spirit. Mary is waiting, and so are we.

Lord, you remember your kindness and faithfulness to us and send us our redeemer. Thank you for these days of remembrance and recollection. Thank you, Father. Thank you, Jesus.

The good life

December 9, 2016

Blessed is she who delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night. She is like a tree planted near running water that yields its fruit in due season and whose leaves

never fade. What she does, prospers.

– From Psalm 1

There is so much to do. Even without deadlines, obligations, or appointments I am swallowed up by my own desires, my own wide eyes looking in one direction and then another. I am overtaken, to put it bluntly, by my own anxiety. What am I doing to make my life worthwhile?

Being fades away. But there are moments. Thank you, Lord, for the dawn of day and the moments before sleep, because those are the times I am learning to be still, to be still and know, to be still and know that you are God.

In the morning I sit on the edge of my bed and do … nothing. Just sit there and breathe a few times. You could say I am meditating on the law of the Lord. Kind of.

At the close of the day I think a little and thank God for the day. What was I grateful for? What was I not grateful for? A simple “Examen” of whatever comes to mind about my life today, and suddenly I am asleep.

These are moments beside the running water. Without them I’m afraid all my leaves are brown, and the skies are gray. Woolgathering would turn me over in my already-and-not-yet grave. And then turn me over again. I would wander aimlessly into the storm, not even noticing the lightning.

We run the risk this Christmas shopping month of losing track of our “being” time. But don’t do it. There are many important things for me to do in the next few weeks. None of them are more important than paying close attention to Jesus-in-my-mind, Jesus-in-my-soul, walking with him beside the quiet waters.

On my deathbed, Lord, what will I say? That I’m glad for the moments of quiet with you and that I’d wish there’d been more? Of course that’s what I’ll say. What I won’t say is that I wish I had spent even more of my life frantically chasing my tail. Please straighten me out, Lord, and set my eyes on straight, and let me see what YOU have for me to see.

 

Friends are friends forever

December 10, 2016

Blessed are they who shall have seen you and

who fall asleep in your friendship.

– From Sirach 48

In the twelfth century, a charismatic courtier-become-monk helped establish several monasteries in northern England and Scotland. But this man, Aelred of Rievaulx, was most famous simply for how he was a friend.

He wrote a book, On Spiritual Friendship, which might be centuries old but is on many 21st century reading lists. After a prologue he begins the book with, “Here we are then, you and I, and I hope a third, Christ, is in our midst.” Aelred delights in the relationship between himself and another, mediated and blessed by the presence of God.

Another man who knew something about friendship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, wrote in his masterpiece Life Together, “Human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, but spiritual love loves him for Christ’s sake … Christian brotherhood is not an ideal, but a divine reality. Christian brotherhood is a spiritual and not a psychic (human) reality.”

In other words, we don’t do this alone.

Without the grounding that comes as I absorb God’s love for me, I run a high risk of unconsciously seeking what Bonhoeffer calls “a complete fusion of I and Thou … but spiritual love knows that it has no immediate access to other persons.”

No wonder so many of our relationships seem shallow and impermanent. No wonder so many of us end up divorced and/or alone. In America, at least, we are not good at grounding ourselves in God’s love. We don’t seem to need it when we are comfortable and well-fed. We have most everything at our fingertips.

But this affected affluence does not extend to the love of others, or to loving others. How that happens seems beyond us, mysterious to us, until we find our way to each other through the mediation of Christ. “And I hope, a third is in our midst.”

In my going in and my coming out, Lord, in my rising and my resting and my sleep, let me be held close and warm in your friendship. Bring us together as men and women because we know our kinship as children of God. Because you are our friend, and we sleep first with you in safety.

 


Precious fruit

Third Sunday of Advent, December 11, 2016

Jesus said, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind regain their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have the good news proclaimed to them. And blessed is the one who takes no offense at me.

– From Matthew 11

The Lord sets the captives free!

How long, O Lord, how long? Jesus’ brother James wrote, “Be patient, brothers and sisters … see how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth; you too must be patient. Make your hearts firm, do not complain.”

On this cold Sunday morning smack in the middle of Advent, we wait for Jesus. Jesus, God with us, Emmanuel. Marcus Borg calls him “the decisive disclosure of God, to whom we make a confession of commitment, allegiance, and loyalty.” Sweet Jesus, set us free.

I long to be beside the road, knowing Jesus will soon pass by. “Lord Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Just let me touch the hem of your garment. Cover my eyes with mud, and I will be clean. Speak to my inmost parts, and purify my heart. Let me be as gold, pure gold. You are honey, Jesus, honey from the honeycomb. Pour on down and set me free.

In this dark time of such short days, light is precious to me. I don’t want to close my eyes. Dusk turns dark so soon, and the clouds roll in. The sun goes … away. Jesus is waiting to be born. And we wait, without much knowing that we’re waiting, for a rebirth of wonder.

Our baby grandson Miles gurgles when he’s happy, and he has dimples you could drown in. His skin smells new. So soft. He too waits for Jesus. Soon enough he too will cry out, “How long, O Lord, how long?”

“Blessed is the one who takes no offense in me.” We did not and do not do Jesus justice. Tar and feathers, nails in hands, a crown of thorns, death on a cross. Humiliate him! We have no idea.

Jesus only knows compassion. “They do not know what they do.” His mercy rains down and down and suddenly we’re drowned in mercy, with him in paradise. Knowing that we’re always loved.

You keep faith forever, Father. You sustain the weakest among us and thwart our wicked ways, so that we can come home to you. You reign always, O Lord, through all generations. We praise you.

What price, this peace?

December 12, 2016

The dragon’s tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child. She gave birth to a male child destined to rule the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne.

– From Revelation 12

And there is war in heaven. A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and a crown of twelve stars on her head, stands up to a huge red dragon with seven heads and ten horns. The sky is falling, the sky is falling! Chicken Little is right this time.

In This Present Darkness Frank Peretti brings the heavenly battle to life. Angels battle demons, and everything is at stake. In his book, the prayers of the saints are fuel for the angels.

John’s vision pits the empire of war (Roman at the time) against the kingdom of heaven. Jesus brought this kingdom to earth with his words and his love. His “iron rod” rebuked the devil and his minions, but everywhere he walked Jesus stirred up victory through justice and mercy, not war.

Jesus and Caesar, contemporaries, brought peace, but they came upon it differently. Marcus Borg reminds us of Tacitus’ famous comment about the Romans, “Where they make a desert, they call it peace.” But Jesus’ peace of non-violence turned the other cheek, died on a cross, and then came resurrection. O death! Where is thy sting?

Empires rise and fall. Jesus means it when he says, “I am with you always.” He stretches out his arms and invites me, too, to be caught up “in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

These visions unfold before our eyes as we quiet our souls and wait for Jesus during Advent. God is so good.

Let us sing and rejoice, Lord, because you are coming to dwell with us. And we shall be your people. Let us be silent in the presence of the Lord, as you stir forth from your holy dwelling. Let us rejoice and call you blessed, baby Jesus. Let it be done to us according to your word.

Of mice and men

December 13, 2016

Woe to the city, rebellious and polluted, to the tyrannical city! She hears no voice, accepts no correction; in the Lord she has not trusted, to her God she has not drawn near … I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly … they shall pasture and couch their flocks with none to disturb them.

– From Zephaniah 3

The Lord hears the cry of the poor. And there are poor everywhere, in the city and the country.

In God Is in the Manger, Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Advent sermons return again and again to Jesus taking on our guilt in his sinlessness. Neither can we be satisfied with our personal freedom from the guilt of sin. We too must take on the guilt of others.

There is a pendulum in my life, and I swing from one side to the other. On the one side is the freedom of forgiveness. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). On the other side is staining, remorseless, personal guilt because I continue sinning. “O wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death” (Romans 7:24)?

How can I get off that pendulum, whose violent swings are slowly stealing my energy. Exhausted, I fall asleep and sleeping, fail to join in the suffering prayer of Jesus for the sins of the world. The Lord hears the cry of the poor.

We are country mice and city mice; we are from red counties and blue counties. But we are all rebellious and polluted, and Jesus insists that we accept his forgiveness, get over our own personal guilt and start praying for each other.

Zephaniah’s picture of pastoral holiness draws me in as I put out new bedding for our chickens. I remember Dad’s consistent cows, which he milked every day at 5 am and 5 pm. That’s 730 times a year. With his quiet smile, Dad was a humble man. Was he humble because he milked the cows, or did he milk the cows because he was humble?

I never bought the dream of dairy farming. When I was sixteen, Dad’s cows went out the door at a public auction. He was busy that day, but I imagine him in tears before and after all the crowds came and bought him out.

My happiest day, his saddest. I have to think he was the humble one, and I … well, I was ambitious for what seemed right to me. In other words, rebellious and polluted and not quite touched by grace.

But Dad would have seen himself the same way. Selfish, tyrannical … and perhaps he was. But to see himself as he is … that’s the nature of humility. That is what allowed him to fall on his face and seek forgiveness. More than anything, that’s what I learned from him. More than anything, that’s what I’m thankful for.

Let me learn from my father and mother, Lord, and bless the Lord at all times. Let your praise always be in my mouth, and let my soul glory in you and be glad.

 

 


Let justice reign

December 14, 2016

Let justice descend, O heavens, like dew from above, like gentle rain let the skies drop it down. Let the earth open and salvation bud forth … Turn to me and be safe, all you ends of the earth,

for I am God; there is no other!

– From Isaiah 45

Isaiah says in this passage that God did not create and establish the earth to be a waste, but that he designed it to be lived in. That has become difficult for us.

Wendell Berry points out that we regularly overreach our potential. We dream up schemes to take advantage of the world’s resources, but we neither anticipate the consequences nor know how to fix the problems those consequences create. Too often our response to this disaster is a mix of pride and denial. We stick our heads in the sand.

And so the earth becomes a wasteland, more and more difficult to live in. God cries out to our generation just as he did to Isaiah, “Turn to me and be safe! You are not God, but I am.” And there is no other.

As the leaves finish falling and the snow prepares its arrival, I wait for Jesus. I wait to see if my snow blower will work this year. The sunset came so quickly yesterday. The wind is cold and gray. Time is short. Life goes on, but I am learning day by day that waiting on God is more important than getting my plans in order.

God’s justice descends like gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. Shakespeare’s rendition (in The Merchant of Venice) of Isaiah’s words reminds me that justice not only clarifies and softens relationships between people; it is an imperative for my relationship with God. It is the essence of what makes me safe with myself. But if I can’t wait for it, this depth of justice is something I cannot and will not have. I’m not in charge here.

God is. And God does not fail us.

Lord, it is in you that kindness and truth finally meet. Justice and peace kiss as your mercy falls from heaven. We are your children, and we need your strong sweet arms, Father, to hold us and make us strong.

Trusting God

December 15, 2016

“For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with great tenderness I will take you back. In an outburst of wrath, for a moment I hid my face from you; but with enduring love I take pity on you … Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, my love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken,” says the Lord, who has mercy on you.

– From Isaiah 54

Victims of domestic violence often experience the “honeymoon” effect when, for awhile, their violent partner feels remorse and becomes better-than-ever. Sadly, the sweet period of grace between them grows ever shorter if no work gets done on deeper stuff, usually experiences of abandonment.

However, the coming collapse is not easy to predict. Denial is not just a river in Egypt. Sometimes it kills people. And a person who desperately wants their marriage to work, wants their kids to thrive rather than suffer through divorce, and feels like they might be letting God down if they can’t keep things going, will simply close their eyes.

That person needs what is brilliantly called a “reality check.” However they can, they need to get up in the air above their relationship and see it more clearly, look at it from other perspectives, and listen to God instead of their own falsely guilty conscience.

Counseling helps. Friends help. Family helps. Sometimes. Other times, all those folks take sides and just muddy the waters. Their perspectives are just as skewed as the victim’s.

Do we have the same trouble with how we see God? What about this confession from God of his anger? Is God a perpetrator, and are we the victims? I don’t think so. But to many of us – who haven’t developed a lifelong confidence in God, because we just didn’t grow up that way – this passage is scary.

How can I trust God’s word for the future when he sounds so angry in the past? Does he really mean what he says: “Though the mountains leave their place, my love shall never leave you?”

I trust God more now that I am better at knowing my own polluted rebelliousness, my own failures, my own selfishness, my own Sin. I can see how God really has no business trusting me, and how, when I don’t trust him, I am just projecting on God my own shame.

That’s not fair, but it’s convenient. I might do it less as I grow older, but I’m still tempted.

Isaiah understood this, that wise old man who had been through so much. At the beginning of his ministry God came to him in a cloud of dust and Isaiah cried out, “Woe is me, I am undone!” His mantel of self-protection and self-righteousness burned up in that moment of maturity, and then he could say to God, “Here am I, send me.” And God did.

Thank you, Lord, for letting me say, “I don’t trust you.” And thank you for not listening. Please turn my eyes back around toward myself and let me see what you’ve been patient with, what you’ve endured, what you’ve loved. I am the untrustworthy one. You are so good. And if I let you, you’ll make me good too. Teach me all my days.

 

 

 


Precious, blessed fruit

December 16, 2016

May God have pity on us and bless us; may he let his face shine upon us … The earth has yielded its fruits; God, our God has blessed us. May God bless us, and may

all the ends of the earth fear him.

– From Psalm 67

In the 1840’s after Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol, he agreed to write four more stories for Christmastime publication. They were strong moral statements, every one. He wanted to “strike blows for the poor.” John Forster, Dickens’ friend and first biorapher wrote, “They had always been his clients, they had never been forgotten in any of his books.”

Dicken’s second story, The Chimes, endeavored to “convert Society, as he had converted Scrooge, by showing that society’s happiness rested on the same foundation as those of the individual, which are mercy and charity not less than justice.”

His story begins. The world’s blows rained down on Trotty Veck, Dicken’s protagonist, and by his mid-sixties Trotty Veck was nearly finished. “Wrong every way. Wrong every way!” said Trotty, clasping his hands.

“Born bad. No business here! I have no business with the New Year nor the old one neither. Let me die!” The bells pealed forth, “Put ‘em down, put ‘em down! Good old Times, Good old Times, Facts and Figures, Facts and Figures! Put ‘em down, put ‘em down!”

I hear other bells, and Luke’s words ring in my ears: “Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which will be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”

Unto you. Unto you. Unto You, Trotty Veck! Unto you is born a Savior! By the end of his night’s visions, Trotty cries, “I know that our inheritance is held in store for us by Time. I know there is a sea of Time to rise one day, before which all who wrong us or oppress us will be swept away like leaves. I see it, on the flow! I know that we must trust and hope, and neither doubt ourselves, nor doubt the good in one another.”

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men!”

The bells ring, the bells ring, all God’s children ring their bells. And Tiny Tim rises up on his uncle’s shoulder and sings out his eternal song, “God bless us, every one!”

Oh, Lord, break into our fruitless fear that we are all alone. For we are not! Show us your face, and hold us close beneath your wings, and fly with us toward the warm sun. Bring us home, bring us home, bring us all, bring us all the way home.

 

 


Family meeting

December 17, 2016

Jacob called his sons and said to them: “Assemble and listen, sons of Jacob, listen to Israel, your father.”

– From Genesis 49

Today is Chris’ birthday. He was born 36 years ago in Bloomington, Illinois, after Margaret’s very long first labor.

He was colicky at first, but soon he became more quiet and even helpful – very protective of his brother Marc, who was born 20 months later.

I have a picture of myself (p. 243), grown a Christmas beard to be a wise man in our Waynesville nativity, with Chris and Marc draped all over me. About that time we read Karen Mains’ book Making Sunday Special and began spending our Saturday nights in a sweet Sabbath routine.

Margaret worked hard at this, because she fixed most of the food. By Saturday night, everything was ready for the next 24 hours. We sat down for our dinner, and then came “blessing” time.

The parents blessed the children with words of affirmation. We wanted to follow in the footsteps of our Old Testament heroes, the fathers of our faith. The children blessed the parents by being patient with all of this.

We did our best to listen to God’s words for our kids and then share what we heard, using the gifts God gave us of imagination, creativity and communication. Two ears to hear, one mouth to speak. We tried to get the ratio right.

In Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, he describes dinnertime. The only approved-of conversation was about important matters, things considered significant. Otherwise, silence was fine.

We don’t hold ourselves to such a high standard. And we didn’t then. Saturday nights in Waynesville involved games and laughter and a touch of friendly sarcasm, along with prayer.

Sunday mornings changed for us because we awoke in the middle of our Sabbath, and going to church centered us rather than banging so hard on the beginning of the day. I think God was pleased. I know we were.

We moved to Urbana and that particular Sabbath style fell away. But it was great while it lasted, and I remember it with great joy.

Lord, as one generation passes into the next, may your name be blessed forever, as long as the sun shines, till the moon is no more. May your mountains yield peace for us, and the hills justice. We are like the sheep of your pasture, and we want to learn from you how to love.


 

 

O come, o come Emmanuel

Fourth Sunday of Advent, December 18, 2016

Then Isaiah said, “Listen, o house of David! Is it not enough for you to weary people, must you also weary my God? Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel.”

– From Isaiah 7

“God with us” – such a beautiful name for a Hebrew baby, and so encouraging to Ahaz when this baby was born, as a sign to him that God was with him in the war with Syria and the northern kingdom of Israel.

When he wrote his gospel, Matthew was convinced this passage from Isaiah also referred to the coming of Jesus. God with us. I think of Matthew’s patience and prayer as he sat with his pen listening for words to share the good news that had changed his own life completely.

Jesus must have had a penetrating stare.

He looked right through Matthew, and told this alienated tax collector he was coming to his house for dinner that night. Matthew “stood up and followed him.” He loved Jesus. He wept when Jesus was killed, and leaped in joy when Jesus’ returned in resurrection, and now he tells his story.

We are like Matthew. For just a little longer, we wait in our own alienation for the birth of Jesus.

Jesus comes along and says to me, “Follow me, David. Tonight I’ll be eating at your house.” Like Matthew, I’m not sure of my worthiness. Psalm 24 says it well, “Who can ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? One whose hands are sinless, whose heart is clean, who desires NOT what is vain.”

Matthew knew he didn’t measure up, and I know I don’t measure up. Jesus knows Psalm 24, but he invites us anyway. Something he sees in Matthew, deeper than his sinful hands, breaks in. The psalm continues, “Such is the race that seeks for him, that seeks the face of the God of Jacob.”

I know I want to be part of that race, to seek the face of the God of Jacob. As these last days of darkness before the solstice lengthen into Christmas, our season of waiting nears its end. We prepare for our celebrations and rejoicing. We will always seek God’s face. There is never never never enough touching his cheek, running our fingers alongside his nose, and feeling what it’s like to be held tight by our Father.

This earth, Lord, and all its fullness belong to you. You founded this home of ours upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. All our blessings come from you, all our rewards from you, our Savior.

Pay it forward

December 19, 2016

You are my hope, O Lord, my trust, O God, from my youth. On you I depend from birth; from my mother’s womb

you are my strength.

– From Psalm 71

On Christmas Eve at the Zion Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Illinois we all sang the songs, and some of us said the Mary-Joseph-Gabriel lines, and when the show was finished we had snacks and got wonderful candy-and-the-rest gifts from our Sunday School teachers, and then we went home around 7:30 for our family celebration, for our annual oyster stew and spinach balls.

Finally we put on our pajamas and giggled and jumped around and tried to settle down to say our prayers. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord, my soul to keep.

Christmas almost here! So much preparation and waiting, singing the songs of Advent and lighting candles, and now Christmas is almost here! How on earth could anybody sleep tonight?

Somehow we did. Santa made his way in and out, ate the cookies, drank the milk, and we never saw a thing. One of us three woke up first, and then it wasn’t long before we all huddled in front of the tree and looked at everything. Piles of presents, wrapped in three colors of paper. Which pile is mine?

I wonder if Dad started milking the cows early on Christmas morning. Somehow he was finished by 6:30 or so. Of course we waited for him. Mom made coffee cake, and we ate it without the coffee. Mom and Dad sat down comfortably, slowly, restfully … while we leaped and laughed and didn’t sit down at all. And then at last, the gifts.

I only remember one or two of the gifts. What I do remember are the Christmas Eves – quiet, dark, cold, devoted. I had no idea how much worshipping God would later mean to me. I didn’t realize how much I was paying forward on those sweet December nights, preparing for doubt, despair, fear, betrayal, frustration, pain, and finally death. Where is God when it hurts?

A substantial enough part of me knows exactly where God is. And I can go in my mind to find him every time … at the Zion Lutheran Church in Lincoln, Illinois on Christmas Eve.

Lord Jesus, from baby to man you have walked with me. Your grace has held me fast, and your strength has made me more whole day by day by day. Thank you teaching me to trust you a long time ago, and sustaining that trust now. You are my friend, and I thank you.

 

The solace of fierce landscapes

December 20, 2016

Of his kingdom there will be no end.

– From Luke 1

I remember a scene in David Lean’s film Dr. Zhivago. The doctor-poet had abandoned that military physician’s position into which he had been kidnapped and was walking in the winter, into Siberia, through trackless snow. His beard caked with ice and his eyes went wild with cold and loneliness. He frightened a passing family when he thought he recognized Lara and their baby.

“Lara’s Theme” echoed in the sunny, snow-covered icescape. Daytime temperatures barely rose above zero. No one walking out there should have survived. And I felt so cozy on my couch, covered with a quilt, watching the landscape flow up and up into the sky … endless kingdom.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. All that snow, and the tropical paradise in the Caribbean, and the deserts of Africa, and the mountains … oh, the mountains. Everest and Kilimanjaro, Fuji and Rainier, the Swiss Alps, Appalachians, Apennines and Himalayas.

Of his kingdom there will be no end. None of these fierce landscapes marks completion. God does not know borders. His love has seven league boots, and he walks with confidence and glory into each one of his children’s lives.

Mary holds her belly and wonders, “How can this be?” Gabriel rises in her vision for a moment, and then she is alone. No, not alone. God has crossed whatever border she imagined for herself and begun to make his home inside her. Might her body sing with joy? Mary’s womb welcomes Jesus. “May it be unto me as you have said.”

In the midst of our very own polar vortex I cherish the warmth of my bed, and I listen to the echoes of Gabriel calling out to Mary, “Hail Mary, full of grace!” I can hold my palm cross made of olive wood from Jerusalem, I can rest without fear in the presence of God. I, like you, like every one of us, can wait for Jesus, walking, walking, walking in the kingdom which has no end.

And praising God. Let the earth sing and let me sing along with it. Joy to the world, the Lord is come. Let earth receive her king. There is no end to your justice and no end to your mercy in my life, Lord. No end to your love. No end.

Tickled babies

December 21, 2016

Arise, my beloved, my beautiful one, and come! For see, the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth, the time for pruning the vines has come ,and the

song of the dove is heard in our land.

– From Song of Songs 2

Mary visits her Auntie Elizabeth, and springtime beckons to them both. Their babies rush toward each other, and the mamas are tickled pink. Let us celebrate, they sing to each other. “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” And Mary’s soul magnifies the Lord.

To think all this happens today, the shortest day of the year, the first day of winter, yes, even on this, the Winter Solstice. After today, the days get longer. Brother Sun reminds us of our kinship and his commitment to our care, to the care of all the earth.

And to think, the One who made the sun and the moon and carried light into the darkness of the deep, is tickling Mary’s womb with his laughter just now on this amazing day in the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth.

Aren’t you glad we can be here too? Do these stories ever cease to delight us? We are not just hangers-on; we are God’s children of every generation. For all this time God loves us, and these stories make for the joy of our salvation.

John dances in his mother’s womb, and we dance right along with him. It will be awhile before he lives in the desert on locusts and honey. He is not yet wearing a hair skin shirt. For now, in the presence of his king, little baby John leaps and laughs and praises God, and we do too.

Gabriel has been busy. Perhaps the angel is resting today, while those he touched remember his words and sing out their joy together. We are so blessed to join them.

Lord, as your angel said, let me not be afraid. Free me up from the restraints I have, Jesus, to be laughing and singing with joy in your sudden, surprising presence. Mary and Elizabeth lead the way. The wine flows, and your banqueting table groans, heavy with precious fruit, so that we all might be filled.

 

 

Hopes and dreams of all the years

December 22, 2016

Hannah approached Eli with Samuel and said, “Pardon, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who stood near you, praying to the Lord. I prayed for this child, and the Lord granted my request. Now I, in turn, give him to the Lord. As long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord.”

– From 1 Samuel 1

Oh, the hopes we have for our children, and the dreams we have for our children’s children!

Whither will they go, and from whence shall they come? And on what grounds can we claim their greatness? My mother considered the presidency a noble goal for me, or becoming a surgeon and saving peoples’ lives. We knew either Chris, or Marc, or Andi could/would find success, raise families, follow their dreams, build great cities, and surely be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.

Hannah kept it simple for Samuel. She spoke for him, and she spoke into his life. “As long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord.”

We’ll be seeing little guy Miles, Andi and Aki’s new baby just six weeks old, on Christmas Day in Austin. His dimples seem to be getting deeper every day.

Jack and Aly Sandel, now nearly 8 and 4½ years old, spent the night with us this week. A sleepover is an unusual occurrence, one for which we overprepare and are overjoyed to experience. Our thoughts about their future are sharpening as we get to know them better month by month. As they get to know themselves better.

Their silences are as pregnant with meaning, and questions, as their words. Where is Jack? Where is Aly? In every case they are doing something that captured their attention. They forget the important social graces because they are caught up in fascination somewhere. Who cares where?

Why do kids have trouble catching up with themselves, cleaning up before they start something new? Well … because there is something new! Let’s do that now. No, let’s do this! Their eyes flit here and there, and a thousand possibilities fill their heads. Visions of sugarplums swim by thoughts of chocolate. How about a banana split? We have all the fixings!

So … what? What doesn’t change? What stays solid and always in the center? As play becomes study becomes work becomes career becomes retirement, what doesn’t move? Of course we know. “As long as he lives, he shall be dedicated to the Lord.”

So before each meal/snack, we hold hands and pray. Aly prays. Or Jack prays. Or Margaret prays. Or I pray. Everybody gets to play. And then, at the end of the day, we answer one question, sometimes spoken. What was good today? And then, at least sometimes, what was not so good today? That, as the Linns so beautifully characterize it, is our heart-bread.”

The “tummy-bread” is quickly gone, but that heart-bread is simply and always “his promise of mercy, the promise God made to our fathers, to Abraham and all his children forever.”

Like the stars in the sky.

Oh Lord we proclaim your greatness, along with Mary. Our spirits rejoice in God our savior, for you have looked upon your lowly servants and have mercy on us. Show us the strength of your arm, our Father, and fill the hungry with all good things. Thank you, Lord.


The goose has gotten fat

December 23, 2016

Suddenly there will come to the temple the Lord whom you seek, and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire. Yes, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who will endure the day of his coming? And who can stand when he appears?

For he will be like a refiner’s fire.

– From Malachi 3

Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat … and in a flash that goose is eaten, and Christmas has come and gone. Advent slips silently away as the Baby is born. The muted minor songs of waiting give way to major keys. Celebration reigns, perhaps for twelve days, at least for twelve hours.

And then the inexorable, bleak midwinter rises in the morning fog to greet us, unless we get lucky and flee to Florida.

Is there enough goose on our plate to last till spring? I watch the squirrels dash toward the sunflower seeds and jimmy-cracked corn we set out for wild birds and our domesticated chickens. They need more than the few acorns they have managed to squirrel away. I think I’m in their boat.

Should I worry, and store, and hold on to what I’ve got? Doesn’t life require me to do that? Old Testament prophecies that herald the birth of Jesus, bright with light and hope, are more than balanced by prophecies of doom and gloom. Isaiah, Malachi, and Jeremiah all wrote much more about the awful future than the awe-filled future.

But of course we like the sweet words best, and we listen with joy to the angels singing to the shepherds. And of course, we should. Jesus came to bring light and life and joy to all of us. He came to replenish the tables of the poor with living water and the bread of life.

More than any of his prophet predecessors, Jesus does not allow us to hoard, but calls us to the manna philosophy: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” It’s when we fail to follow him in this that we get ourselves in trouble.

As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. There has always been trouble for us when we ignore the manna-lesson. The prophets called their fellow citizens to account, and often died for their efforts. As did Jesus.

But Jesus, he came back, burning brighter than ever. The refiner’s fire does not go out. It will do its work in each of us, one way or another. Thank God for his coming, oh yes, thank God.

Make your ways known to me, O Lord, and teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God, and I am not. Guide me into justice, and teach me your way to live.

O little town of Bethlehem

December 24, 2016

In the tender compassion of our God the dawn from on high shall break upon us, to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

– From Luke 1

These words of Zechariah’s are so beautiful! Every year they draw me inside the visions of John’s father, who spent months unable to speak. As Max Ehrmann wrote, “Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

How are you going to spend this particular Christmas Eve? Many of us, introverts and extraverts alike, will be at church, or at a party, maybe finish shopping. Quiet time will be hard to find.

Just playing out Luke’s Bible story … Mary and Joseph spent much of Christmas Eve looking for a place to stay. Mary was already in labor. The baby was coming, whether they had a place or not. They found the stable.

In those days women often delivered their own babies, as did Mary. Did Joseph help? (“Get me some hot water …”) Maybe. Did the cows and calves lick the baby clean, like they do their own newborns? How does that sound to you? Was it as cold as it will be tonight in Bethlehem? (Low forecast to be 41 degrees)

Outside the stable the little town … how still we see thee lie. Streets eventually silent in their deep and dreamless sleep. Slumbering, not knowing of their visitation.

Above, the stars, the silent stars go by. A 12-hour time exposure would show huge circles of starlight surrounding Jesus and his family, although nothing so bright as the light of the manger. On this day, in the city of David, see how in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light.

A savior is born, and he is Christ the Lord. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

In the silence deep inside you, listen for the angels’ song. Glory to God in the highest!

You are our shepherd, Lord, and we are the sheep of your pasture. Let us sing of your favor and your loyalty to us, let us proclaim your faithfulness on this day of days, this night of all nights, this moment of visitation that changes everything. O God our help in every need, your kindness is confirmed forever.


A thousand Christmases

Christmas Day, Sunday, December 25, 2016

Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.

– From Luke 2

Depending on how you think about it, Jesus is around 2000 years old, or was always alive since before the beginning of time … or he is as old as the thoughts and imaginings we ourselves have had about him. In that case, for me, Jesus would be around 65 years old.

Depending.

In a human way, Mary knew Jesus since before the beginning of babytime; she knew God’s touch inside her, and knew his name was Jesus even before the zygote began dividing. Many Christians exalt Mary in the pantheon of human saints, and this is certainly another reason for her exaltation.

I’ve always felt quiet and reflective when I read the words, “Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I want to ponder them too. Mary will never forget Gabriel’s announcement, Elizabeth’s joy, Joseph’s loyalty and love, the baby’s willingness to be born in the stable surrounded by cows and calves, the shepherds’ curiosity and worship, the gifts of the magi, the prophecies of Anna and Simeon.

Never forget. Ponder these things in your heart. I want to ponder them too. It’s the closest God has ever come to us, and it’s the closest we will come to God. God is intimately with us now. God lives with us. Emmanuel!

Today I get to enjoy my gift-giving and gift-receiving. I will leap and laugh and sing for joy, as best I can. I am a privileged person; my food will be good, my house will be warm, those around me will be happy. Let me count these blessings and not take them for granted. This is Christmas Day, and in some parts of the world, there is peace.

In all this, God is alive. Magic is afoot! “Life is full of heroism … with all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world.”

Merry Christmas.

Jesus, the heavens are glad because of you, and the earth rejoices. The sea sings and the plains are full of joy. Every tree in the forest bows in wonder and in love. And then there are all of us, who tend to get filled up with ourselves. Forgive us and open us again, Jesus, to your beauty and your grace. Let us know how much we’re loved, and teach us day by day to love you with all our hearts, and souls, and minds, and strength.

Snake in the airport, peace on

the plane

December 26, 2016

Into your hands I commend my spirit; you will redeem me, O Lord, O faithful God. I will rejoice and be glad

because of your mercy.

– From Psalm 31

A friend recently left with his church group and family for two weeks in Kenya. He has fibromyalgia and diabetes and a knee replacement, and he worried about two very long flights with just a short layover between.

He believes (hopes) that once he is on the plane and in the air, there will be no more attacks of doubt. It’s just that in his many moments of physical pain, he can’t help but wonder if God will heal him, or if he will not. Sometimes this lack of clarity is more painful than the aches that attack so many of his muscles.

“Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.”

Just what have we been waiting for in Advent? In The Meaning is in the Waiting, Paula Gooder says, “Advent invites us to inhabit a swirl of time that stretches forward and backward but by doing so anchors us in the present … we are waiting for God’s kingdom, for the glimmers of light that mark Jesus’ presence in our midst, for the fragments of end-times peace breaking upon us.”

End-times peace does not always mean physical healing. These are fragments, after all. But end-times peace does always include the precious recollection that if there is any unfairness in the way we are treated by God, it’s a generous unfairness. We all receive far more than our actions deserve.

If every breath we take belongs to God, well then, there you go. Go ahead and breathe. Paul told the Philippians to ask God for what they lack, but always to do it “with thanksgiving.”

My patience really only grows when I taste suffering. I learn to love God, and feel the love he has for me when I suffer. This is the feast day for St. Stephen, the first martyr of the church. It was Stephen who seemed to express joy as he was dying when he said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”

Would we all be better off as martyrs, Jesus? It just doesn’t work that way. You attended weddings, and baptisms, and ate many festive meals. You turned water into wine. You broke up funerals now and then by returning the dead back to life. But I take all of what you give so quickly for granted. Forgive me, Lord. Let me live whatever life you have for me, no matter what.

Touching hands, touching you

December 27, 2016

What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerning the Word of life – for the life was made visible.

– From 1 John 1

And now for something completely different. Our minds aren’t the best tool we have to figure out eternal life, to figure out the God thing, to figure out our response to Jesus. John is using his ears, his eyes, and his hands. Touch me and see. Look on these things and see. Hear the word and see. “I am alive,” Jesus says. Come and see.

When I was young I played the piano. For several solid grade school years I went every week to the only nun I knew for lessons. She was very patient with me, teaching my hands and my heart. But then I became older and left the childish things, and lost my piano touch. Mother Mary, come to me. I want it back again. Jesus, touch my hands and let me see.

My hands want to be used. I love to touch someone when I pray for them. My hands get warm. Occasionally I get to help one of our grandkids with a splinter. It feels right to me to hold my hands still and move the tweezers in just the right way. When words fly out of the keyboard onto a computer screen, my hands rejoice!

My fingers can scramble around a guitar and somewhat lovely sounds come out. But what I really look forward to are the sounds of the keys, the black and white keys – the pianoman’s song in the morning. “This is the day that the Lord has made!” My hands want to learn that song again.

I remember the words we recited to open each monthly 4-H meeting: “I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living for my club, my community, my country, and my world.

I think better and see better when it starts in my hands. At the end of today’s text John said, “I write this so that my joy may be made complete.” He wanted his listeners to rejoice like him. And … he was glad to be using his hands. It felt good.

Awaken all our senses, Lord. Such a gift you’ve given us, not just for us to use but also to enjoy! Thank you for my eyes and my ears and my hands. We know you better when we touch you, whether it’s the skin of a peach, or the skin of a baby like Miles, or the wrinkled skin of a wise old man. You inhabit. You are there on the surface of things, and then, as we go deeper, you are there. Beauty proclaims your presence, and everything is beautiful.

Camera … action … light

December 28, 2016

Beloved: This is the message that we have heard from Jesus Christ and proclaim to you: God is light, and in him there is no darkness at all.

If we say, “We have fellowship with him,” while we continue to walk in darkness, we lie and do not act in truth. But if we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have fellowship with one another, and the Blood of his Son Jesus cleanses us from all sin, no matter what.

– From 1 John 5

He showed me a yoga stretch for my back and said, in his accented English, “When you stretch this way, imagine the warm blood of your heart moving inside and around the vertebrae. Feel the warmth and rest in it.”

My Japanese friend continued. “And be prepared for your spiritual eyes to open. Look for the light. It will be there and you will see it.” Then he told me a story:

“I told my tennis partner about the things I saw in the yoga, and he told a friend who asked me to visit his new home. This man told me he felt something dark, wrong, haunted … something. He asked me to come and clean up his house. So I visited him later in the week, and we walked through his new home together.

“I am not an exorcist. That is for someone else more expert than me. I just walked with him.”

There was humility but no disappointment in his words as he continued. “I left and drove home and was doing the yoga that I do every day. Then something in me opened. I could see dark blue and black blobs, stuck and dead in space, lots of them. They made me feel sick, a little ugly. Fear. Abuse. Regret.”

But the dead did not hold sway. “As I kept stretching, a great light began to pour in, pour down, pour out all over me and the eyeless blobs. This I knew was the Holy Spirit, and I felt so happy. It was not a candle burning in the darkness. It was not the lonely light of a wise man’s lantern. This was the light of the universe. This was the light of the world. And it would not go out.

“The black and blue spirits moved on. Like I said, David, keep your eyes open. See what there is to see.”

It took courage to tell his story, because my friend had been rebuffed by a pastor and another Christian friend who could not seem to access his imagination but dogmatized him instead. “No, that was not the Holy Spirit. No, you did not see what you saw. Here is what you saw. This is what it means.” My friend left feeling more alone, more sad, and no less certain of what he’d seen.

His favorite gospel had been Luke; but now he has turned to John, who saw light, and saw the darkness defeated, and wrote what he saw without fear.

Held up by your strong hands behind our necks, Lord, we flounder in your arms like newborn babes, and try to stretch ourselves up and up, and out and out. We want to be free. You are the freedom-bringer, Lord, and if we’ll just hold still you’ll bring milk and meat to our lips, and strength to our bones. We can fly when we find the light in which you float, waiting there for us with a smile and open arms.


Brothers and sisters of the light

December 29, 2016

I am writing a new commandment to you, which holds true in him and among you, for the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining. Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.

– From 1 John 2

But the darkness draws. “Lord, I’m one … Lord, I’m two … Lord, I’m three … Lord, I’m four … Lord, I’m five hundred miles from my home.” On my loneliest Christmas Eve I drove down bright streets of Charlotte, North Carolina, anxious for the Christmas tree and oyster stew with Mom and Dad, with Mary Kay . But they were hundreds of miles away. My tears made the colors run.

Perhaps we each need our dark Christmas to lighten up the rest. It is tempting for all of us, given the seductive nature of self-pity, to enter the darkness, stay a little too long, and sometimes not come out.

But then there is the light already shining. Just open up my eyes and the light blinds my self-pity, wrenches me up and into being loved.

Like all of us, urban fantasy writer R. S. Belcher is fascinated by the interplay of dark and light.

In 1119 A.D., a group of nine crusaders became known as the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon. They were a militant monastic order charged with protecting pilgrims and caravans traveling on the roads to and from the Holy Land.

In time, these Knights Templar would grow in power but then, inevitably, be laid low. This story tells us of a small offshoot of the Templars which has endured and returned to the order’s original mission: to defend the roads of the world and guard those who travel on them.

A secret line of knights – truckers, bikers, taxi hacks, state troopers, bus drivers, RV gypsies – call themselves the Brotherhood of the Wheel. They patrol the U.S. Interstate highway system, which is a secret magnetic conduit for both good and bad magic.

A string of children gone missing draws some of these knights to a forgotten Kansas town, not on any map but at the exact center of the country, and to a forest-dwelling, false family of eerie, black-eyed kids, controlled by the immortal biker/serial killer Emile Chasseur. Chasseur worships the god Cernunnos. The Horned Man.

Jimmie Aussapile, driving his own semi and returning home as often as he can to his wife and kids, is one of those knights.

“Jimmie, it looks like the universe, at its most fundamental levels, is out of whack and falling apart. We have to do something before it’s too late.”

Robert Langdon has nothing on Jimmie Aussapile. “Right, Jimmie said. “Save the universe. Got it, but first we have to merge into the damned right lane.”

And Jimmie has nothing on St. John. If you’re in the light, you love your brother, love your sister. It’s that love freely offered which saves us, and within that love “there is nothing in us to cause a fall.”

Our redemption always comes from loving, Jesus, and never from righteous violence. We may never learn this lesson very well. Let us keep our eyes watching for you as we make decisions about how to live.


West Side light

December 30, 2016

Be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to

God the Father through him.

– From Colossians 3

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in 1843, six years after Queen Victoria began her nearly seventy year reign in England. Sanctification of the family, as portrayed by Dickens, would become a major tenet of Victorian thinking.

Today we celebrate the holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph. A week ago we celebrated family of a different kind at West Side Christian Church in Springfield. This year they threw out all the stops for six Christmas Eve services.

Outside a set of giant spotlights circled and pierced the foggy night sky. Inside the interplay of music and singing and light and dark took our breath away.

Our daughter-in-law Melissa hosted the service, which blended Second City comedy with warm remembrance. In a video, she remembered her childhood, when her mother nearly died of cancer and she discovered the power of light against the backdrop of darkness threatening to take over her life. Melissa’s four-year old daughter Aly played Melissa in the video, entirely in silence. Her eyes spoke volumes.

The service anchored on a man sitting in a darkened cabin, reading to us about light. Lit only by a lantern he read, while twenty young women carried giant white balls of light down the aisles and left them at the altar. Bring your offering to Emmanuel.

Paul’s words for his Colossian family read well at weddings. Clothe yourselves with gentleness, humility, and forgiveness. Do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus. That should keep conflict to a minimum. We don’t always do it well, but we can also always come back to it. In the name of the Lord Jesus.

This week in Austin, we grandparents are staying up in shifts with new baby Miles. My eyes are often heavy and my muscles sore. But we feel more like a family than ever. Three generations of love and respect.

Today is a good day to be blessed by Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. And somehow pass it on.

As you bless us, Lord, let us thank you and walk in your ways. You give us the fruit of your handiwork for food and drink, you set a banqueting table for us in the presence of our enemies, and invite us to dwell in your house forever. I want to say, YES, Lord. Yes!

First things, only things

December 31, 2016

Children, it is the last hour.

– From 1 John 2

Now, granted, John wrote these words when he was approaching 90 years old. He lived mostly alone in a prison cell. He rarely saw the sun. And his hopes may have dimmed as often as they were raised, when he forgot to pray.

That happens to me on the opposite end of busy-ness. Morning chores call me to get up and get moving. My mind floods with things to do and promises to keep. And so I forget to sit and settle and center, and pray. And it’s not long before my chores aren’t what I thought they’d be, and my hopes dim. John was depressed, and I’m anxious. We are both prone to disappointment.

But Jesus is alive. About the other end of time, John also wrote, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is truth that reawakens hope for us, generation after generation. We are trapped in time, but God is not. We all die, but God does not. We trust our relationship with Jesus, and hope springs up again. There is so much more to our lives than what we see or comprehend. Industrial Light and Magic is just the tip of the iceberg.

Be still, and know that I am God. This final day of one year breaks into the first day of the next. But there is no hurry. We are waiting, and we are here. We are in the midst of God.

Be still, and know that I am. Yahweh is in our midst. Emmanuel has come. All God’s “doing” is encompassed by his being. He calls us to live like him.

Be still and know. Logos, logical, logistic – we crawled up the Tower of Babel, ever more insistent on structure and containment – but no, wait, let go … legions of wisdom march in and out of human consciousness. How much do we know, and how can we know more? All there is to know? We can’t even count the galaxies, let alone know them. The geography of the spirit is bordered by what we know, but is never contained by it.

Be still. Now we’re getting somewhere. Don’t just do something, sit there. In this best of times and worst of times, during these seasons of light and seasons of darkness, springing up in hope, but then falling down frozen in despair, we can learn to simply sit like Charles Dickens’ French women sat. Watch and wait. Spin stories and let them go. Quiet mind, open eyes. See what happens next.

Be. There are no words to modify this two-letter word. Single syllable of silence, never spoken, always heard.

Father, I think of St. Francis’ words, “Always preach and represent God well, and when necessary, use words.” Our people-parties can get kind of wild on New Year’s Eve. We have so much to regret, and so much to anticipate. What have I missed, and what is yet to come? Caught in time I am, until I reach back a notch and settle in with you, find stillness once more. For the last time this year and the first time in the next, we fly away.

 


Trees of green, red roses too

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face shine

upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up his

countenance on you, and give you his peace.

– From Numbers 6

After the fear comes the blessing. After the panic comes the peace. After the losing of control comes surrender to God’s sure touch. His hands hold me fast.

I notice that 2017 resolves into 1 …

2+0+1+7=10, 1+0=1.

20+17=37, 3+7=10, 1+0=1.

201+7=208, 2+0+8=10, 1+0=1.

2+17=19, 1+9=10, 1+0=1. Well.

So … this is year one of the rest of our lives. After several years here, Andi’s close friend Jacodien leaves Austin next week to return with her family to the Netherlands. On Friday, Andi traveled around town with them one last time, photographing their family in beloved places. In one photo, Peter and Jacodien are sitting on a rock leaning over to kiss each other, while their four young kiddos sit in front of them in a precarious, short-lived row.

Six children of God prepare to meet a new world. Andi and her friend grieve, and hope, and want the best for each other. A photo book Andi made for their family was displayed at their going-away party, and many friends signed the book. Like a yearbook in high school. A little holding on, a lot of letting go.

What does this year hold for you and your loved ones, and all the children God holds so dear? So many children will be born. Miles was just an idea on the first day of 2016, and look at him now.

Lots of us will also die, like Carrie Fisher and her mom Debbie Reynolds just now at the end of this year. Say goodbye. Hello. Goodbye. Hello. Surely the Beatles wrote their song on the first day of a singular year sometime: “I don’t know why you say goodbye, I say hello … hello, hello!

Their song ends in the gobbledygook of two words merged and mixed and brought together. Our lives merge and mix like that, and we do well to receive God’s blessing, and God’s loving look, and God’s touch, and God’s peace in all the new and all the old. This is such a wonderful world.

So often we don’t care well for what we touch, and things fall apart for a little while. That is not the way God made it, and that is not the way we stay. God brings us back and back and back again with his blessing, with his hands on our heads, holding us close. Never going away, lo. I am with you always.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. Let your way be known on all the earth, may the nations be glad. Guide us in paths of righteousness for your name’s sake. We want to praise you all together in one strong voice, Lord. Give us courage to sustain the notes you have given each of us in this choir of love.


Start from the beginning

January 2, 2017

Beloved, who is the liar? … let what you heard from the beginning remain in you, and you will remain in the Son and in the Father.

– From 1 John 2

It’s warm outside. I think the thermometer in Austin must be lying. But the air is clear and clean, and so many folks are out here, walking and picnicking, flying their drones, fishing and kayaking on the lake. Two older middle eastern men, overdressed in corduroy sport coats and ancient mustaches, talk up a storm in a language old as the hills. I don’t understand a word. The sun comes up, and the sun goes down.

This is a day that the Lord has made.

It’s not a day to be sorting out truth from lies … but then, what day is? A long time ago I had to realize my chameleon-ness. What I heard last is what I think next. Not always, but often enough. So consequently, my politics, and my theology, and my opinions … flow.

Because different sides of an argument often make sense to me, I experience a high ratio of acceptance to judgment. I think this makes my expectations less rigid, more fluid, and more open.

We are not all this way. Probably, that’s a good thing. Someone has to defend the truth. Once we settle on what that is.

We can read the Bible literally, morally, allegorically and anagogically – each an aspect of truth not always comfortable with the others.

Jesus’ followers listened to John, but also to Gnostics and other folks who saw truth differently. So John asks them, and each of us, to hearken back to “what you heard from the beginning.” Can you remember what you first knew about Jesus? Can I? Can I hang onto that and leave the rest outside?

For many Christians, first theology comes from the Apostles’ Creed. But for all of us, it’s our experience with Jesus that John is talking about. If I will read his words, his words will show me how to live. If I live by those words, my house is built upon a rock.

John wants us to be like Jesus, and live by the commandment of love. Love God, and love your brother, and don’t settle for anything less. John is certain of this direction because of his experience, not his creed.

Everything tastes better when it’s made from scratch. Don’t eat someone else’s Christian pudding; make your own. Put in the right ingredients, stir them up, and trust the oven. God shows up every time.

Help me stand on your promises, Father. After the torrents of rain and the screaming wind, let me stand. Standing firm with the belt of truth buckled around my waist. Keep my ears open, and my mouth shut, and my heart full of gratitude and praise.

Cool hands holding onto God

January 3, 2017

John testified, “I saw the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him. I did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘On whomever you see the Spirit come down and remain, he is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’”

– From John 1

When you eat mostly locusts and wild honey, and sleep outside all the time, and have taken the Nazarite vow, don’t be surprised when you hear from God and see visions. Choose these privations and be blessed with spiritual food and drink. Elijah, John, Jesus … forty days in the desert and the dove comes down.

But neither Jesus nor John call their listeners to the desert cell. We can stay with our families and eat our meat, and rice, and brussels sprouts. Jesus will still baptize us with the Holy Spirit.

What God does expect is for me to believe the dove. With questions, sure, but questions asked in trust. At the end of “Cool Hand Luke,” Paul Newman escapes from the prison farm one last time. In his own existential despair, he talks to the ceiling of an old church he’s found.

“Anybody here? Hey, Old Man. You home tonight? Can you spare a minute? It’s time we had a little talk.”

As he continues this, his prayer becomes more personal and sincere.

“You made me like I am. Now just where am I supposed to fit in? Old Man, I gotta tell you. I started out pretty strong and fast. But it’s beginning to get to me. When does it end? What do you got in mind for me? What do I do now? I’m a pretty hard case.”

Luke folds his hands, kneels, and bows his head. Another kind of prayer. “In every situation, by prayer and petition with thanksgiving, present your requests to God” (Philippians 4). But Luke said what he needed to say before he began to “pray.” The dogs and bosses descend on the church.

Luke shakes his head and smiles. “Is that your answer, Old Man? I guess you’re a hard case, too.” Does Luke believe the dove? Yes. He makes his peace with God.

Just a couple of hard cases sitting down together, and waiting with each other for whatever happens next.

“What we have here … is a failure to communicate.” Or maybe, not so much.

Father God, that’s me too. I listen to those police sirens, and stand alone in that old broken down barn of a church, and pray, like Luke did. And I know your ears are open, and your hands are strong, and there is nothing there with me and you but peace. No matter what. No matter when.

Fireside chat

January 4, 2017

Children, let no one deceive you.

– From 1 John 3

James Whitcomb Riley inscribed his poem “Little Orphant Annie” to all the little children: — the happy ones and sad ones; the sober and the silent ones; the boisterous and glad ones; the good ones — yes, the good ones, too; and all the lovely bad ones.”

She was a busy young woman, Little Orphant Annie:

… shoo the chickens off the porch, an’ dust the hearth, an’ sweep,

An’ make the fire, an’ bake the bread, an’ earn her board-an’-keep;

An’ all us other childern, when the supper-things is done,

We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun

A-list’nin’ to the witch-tales ‘at Annie tells about,

An’ the Gobble-uns ‘at gits you

Ef you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

But be not deceived. Orphant Annie loved those little chilluns, and so did the poet who created her. The kiddos loved being scared. Do it again, do it again!

Deception isn’t so easy to decipher. It’s about evil, not good. Surprises are often not deceptive, but loving. White lies might be evil but usually aren’t; why else call them white?

What especially is not deception is the touch of Jesus. There’s no need to ask whether or not Jesus is God, and no reason to ask whether he’s the devil. No goblins here. Jesus is just Jesus, and his touch is what tells me what that means. I don’t need no theology to learn about his love for me.

Annie had a moral for her children:

… churish them ‘at loves you, an’ dry the orphant’s tear,

An’ he’p the pore an’ needy ones ‘at clusters all about,

Er the Gobble-uns ‘ll git you

Ef you

Don’t

Watch

Out!

When I think of Jesus in Annie’s place, I remember how he handled the dirty old Hebrew men and the prostitute. “Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.” And then when they’d all left he said to her, “Does no one remain to accuse you? Well then neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

I like Jesus’ fireside stories even better than Annie’s. It is good to be not deceived, free to believe the glass is not just half full, but full up all the way. This kind of freedom comes quickly in the evening, listening to Jesus’ stories, knowing he’ll be with us always. Can I get there in my imagination and my life? Jesus tells me, “Yes. Come. Follow me.”

These stories we tell each other about you, Jesus, warm our hearts. Frozen no longer. Who wants to share? What story’s next? When we listen to you and to each other, the old dead lies all fall away. In your presence, Jesus, truth rises like the sun. Peace comes inside our souls.


Live to love, love to live

January 5, 2017

Brothers and sisters, do not be amazed if the world hates you. We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our brothers. Whoever does not love remains in death, and everyone who hates his brother is a murderer… God is greater than our hearts and knows everything.

– From 1 John 3

In fact, as Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can understand it?”

Adam did not answer God’s simple question in the Garden. Instead he turned toward Eve. “She made me do it.” Wikipedia defines psychological projection as heart behavior “in which humans defend themselves against their own unconscious impulses or qualities by denying their existence in themselves while attributing them to others.”

Once more we settle for the wrong tree. Knowledge of good and evil insists that we explain and fix blame. Eating from the tree of life allows us to simply say as Jesus did, “Then neither do I condemn you (or myself. Let us) go and sin no more.”

But I am sorely tempted to hate haters. When someone else honks hard and long in a traffic jam, I judge him. Bad! All around me there are angry eyes, sharp elbows, selfish motives, and since I’m a peoplewatcher, I see lots of ugly. So often my heart fails me. I don’t love. I murder. I pass back from life to death.

I become like the one I hate.

But thank God, He is greater than my heart. God does not watch me with judgment, but knows instead how much He loves me. He does not wait for me to love before loving me.

I am not ugly to God, even when I do ugly things. Neither is anyone else! “We know that we have passed from death to life because we love our sisters and our brothers.” God shows us how to hate the sin but love the sinner. That is not something I do well on my own, but I can watch God treat me that way and learn how from him.

Lord, over and over I am learning to say in the moment of my judgment, “Help me, Jesus.” Let me love like you do. I am not ugly and neither is anyone else. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made, and you love us to pieces, every single one of us. Thank you. You are the Tree of Life, and we are all one river, all one sea. You flow through him, and you flow through me.


Gift of the magi

January 6, 2017

God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever

possesses the Son has life.

– From 1 John 5

Of course John is talking about eternal life after death. But none of us has been there. There is also the eternal moment, where we all are, all the time. I seem to experience these moments on many satisfaction levels. There is pain, and there is boredom, and there is joy.

There is the joy of hearing 7 week-old Miles at midnight, purring with those soft sounds of feeling full after I give him a bottle of milk. And there is the joy of sharing in Aly’s unending imagination – decorating trees, fixing dinner and preparing for her marriage in the morning, all while tearing around the playground in the mall.

I asked her if she’d marry me, but she said no. She’d already chosen someone else. She reminded me that she was older now: 4½.

We’ve come back from Austin to Illinois, from 72 degrees to 12, feels like 4. I am once again aware of the cuts on my thumb which activate in cold weather. What I want to remember is that all these moments are precious.

This final text of Christmas makes me think of O. Henry, a short-time resident of Austin. He wrote wonderful short stories including, happily for us, “Gift of the Magi.” Two young married lovers give up their most prized possession for each other at Christmas.

Which is great! Except that their gifts each require what the other gave away. But instead of harboring blame and disappointment, they just “went to work repairing the ravages made by generosity added to love. Which is always a tremendous task, dear friends – a mammoth task.”

Claiming an eternal moment always means giving rather than grasping. When Jesus touches me, I want to touch you. When Jesus loves me, I want to love you. Few times are more frustrating than when I can’t … or don’t and wish I did.

  1. Henry’s Jim and Della couldn’t stand to keep what was most precious to them when instead they could give something precious to the other. Sounds like Jesus was in the room with them. Teaching them how to love.

Your magic, Jesus, flings caution to the winds and lets me live all there is to live, moment by moment by moment. Manna only lasts a day, but there’s always enough for all of us. We haven’t learned that lesson yet, Lord. Your patience … thank you for your patience. Keep on teaching us how to trust you, and love each other.


ENDNOTES

LENT AND EASTER DEVOTIONS

Feb 10       Paul Kalanithi, When Breath Becomes Air , 2016

Feb 11       Leonard Boase, SJ, The Prayer of Faith, 1950

Feb 13       “The Revenant,” directed by Alejandro G. Inarritu, 2016

Feb 14       Henri Nouwen, In the Name of Jesus, 1989

Feb 15       Walter Wink, “Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence,” 2007, Ekklesia.co.uk

Feb 16       Boase, Prayer of Faith

J.D. Salinger, Franny and Zooey, 1961

Feb 18       “Bruce Almighty,” directed by Tom Shadyac, 2003

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, 1966.

Feb 20       M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, 1978

Feb 21       The tallest mountain in New Mexico is Wheeler Peak, near Taos, at 13,159 feet. We climbed it.

Feb 22       From the 2/16/16 entry of the blog, “Mostly Consolation”

Feb 25       Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 1548

St. John Vianney was a French parish priest, born 1786, died 1859, canonized 1925

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 1998

Feb 26       “Grape, Grape Joy,” sung by Amy Grant, 1977

Feb 27       Title borrowed from Heartworn Highways, documentary film about Texan “outlaw country” singers, including Guy Clarke

Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son, 1992

Feb 28       The Havasupai Trail ends with ¾ mile of switchbacks up the side of the Grand Canyon, after a little more than 9 miles of uphill hiking from the campgrounds near Navajo Falls. We started hiking up at 4 am.

Mar 1         Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son

Mar 2         Richard Lyon Morgan, Remembering Your Story, 1996

Mar 3         Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

Mar 5         “In the Garden,” written by C. Austin Miles, 1912

Mar 6         Richard Rohr, “Divinization,” March 4, 2016, cac.org

“I Am the Walrus,” written by John Lennon, sung by the Beatles, 1967

Mar 7         C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, 1965

Mar 8         Matthew and Sheila Fabricant Linn, Sleeping with Bread, 1995

Mar 9         Linns, Sleeping with Bread

Ed Wheat, Lovelife for Every Married Couple, 1980

Mar 12       “Joy to the World,” written by Hoyt Axton and sung by Three Dog Night, 1970

Mar 14       Tony Campolo, The Kingdom of God is a Party, 1990

Mar 15       Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle, 1588

“He Gives Us All His Love,” written by Randy Newman, 1972

Mar 17       “Teach Your Children,” written by Graham Nash, 1970

“Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” by Thomas Chisholm, music by William Runyon, 1923.

Mar 19       “The Marvelous Toy,” sung by Peter, Paul and Mary, 1969

“If I Stand,” written and sung by Rich Mullins, 1988

Mar 20       Faustina Kowalska, Diary: Divine Mercy in My Soul, 1938.

Mar 25       Richard Rohr, “Stories from the Bottom,” March 22, 2016, cac.org

Mar 26       Thomas Green, When the Well Runs Dry, 1979

Mar 27       Christine Valters Paintner, “Easter Blessings,” March 27, 2016, abbeyofthearts.com

Mar 28       Richard Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon, 2000

Mar 30       William Shakespeare, Macbeth, 1606

“Bookends,” written and sung by Simon and Garfunkel, 1968

Scott McKnight, Praying with the Church, 2006

Mar 31       “New Every Morning,” written by Rory Noland, 2013

Apr 1          Neuhaus, Death on a Friday Afternoon

Apr 2          “The ’85 Bears,” directed by Jason Hehlr, ESPN, 2016

Apr 3          Richard Rohr, “Awakening to Mercy,” April 1, 2016 cac.org

Thomas Merton, “The Victory,” poem, 1946

Apr 10        Labyrinths world-wide can be located online at laybrinthlocator.com

Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Apr 17        Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude, 1958

Apr 24        “To Kill a Mockingbird”, directed by Robert Mulligan, 1962

May 1         T. S. Eliot, “The Wasteland,” poem, 1922

  1. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 1940

May 8         Stephen Grosz, The Examined Life, 2013

 

ADVENT AND CHRISTMAS DEVOTIONS

Nov 30       Reinhold Niebuhr, “The Serenity Prayer,” 1951

Dec 1         “Our House,” written by Graham Nash, 1970

Dec 2         Marcus Borg, Dominic Crossan, The First Christmas, 2007

Dec 10       Aelred of Rievaulx, On Spiritual Friendship, 1164

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 1939

Dec 11       Borg and Crossan, The First Christmas

Dec 12       Frank Peretti, This Present Darkness, 1986

Borg and Crossan, The First Christmas

Dec 13       Dietrich Bonhoeffer, God Is in the Manger, 2010

Dec 16       Charles Dickens, The Chimes, 1844

Dec 17       Karen Mains, Making Sunday Special, 1987

Dec 17       Eric Metaxas, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, 2009

Dec 20       Title borrowed from Beldon Lane’s The Solace of Fierce Landscapes, 1998

“Dr. Zhivago,” directed by David Lean, 1965

Dec 22       Sheila Fabricant Linn, Dennis and Matthew Linn, Making Heart-Bread, 2006

Dec 24       Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata,” poem, 1927

Dec 25       Max Ehrmann, “Desiderata”

Dec 26       Paula Gooder, The Meaning Is in the Waiting, 2008

Dec 29       “500 Miles,” written by Hedy West, 1961

  1. S. Belcher, Brotherhood of the Wheel, 2016

Dec 30       Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, 1843

Dec 31       Charles Dickens, Tale of Two Cities, 1859

Jan 1          “Hello, Goodbye,” written by Paul McCartney, sung by The Beatles, 1967

Jan 3          “Cool Hand Luke,” directed by Stuart Rosenberg, 1967

Jan 4          James Whitcomb Riley, “Little Orphant Annie,” poem, 1885

Jan 6          O. Henry, “Gift of the Magi,” short story, 1905

 

Acknowledgments

Thank you to so many:

The spiritual leaders in my family. Mom and Dad, Grandpa Brummer, Aunt Mary, Aunt Nenie, my cousin Mike Stebbins.

Teachers: Louise Smock, Geri Rogers, John Gathman, Randy Reichert, Kathy Griffin, Willis Boyd, Dodds Meddock, Ralph Meyering and others.

Friends and more:  Debbie Moss, Terry Lessen, Gary Brown, Nancy Lehner, Jim Lansford, Stefe Bokenkamp, Sam Ewalt, Kathe Carino, Larry Kleiman, Anneke Hogeland,  Becky Thiem, Jane and Stephanie Goerss, Chad Wilson, Natalie Shea, Ron Herron, Lyndall Propst, Neal Windham, and so many more.

Unification Church teachers and friends: Angelina, Dr. Durst, Daivid, Noah, Nadine, Jennifer, Bobby, Esteban, and Patricia.

Kogudistas Al Schmidt, Bill Zimmer, Jerry Crane, Lou Logeman, Jack Ludwig, Ron Leverich, and many many others.

Pastors: Arthur Neitzel, Larry Clemetsen, Al and Pat Morehead, Gary and Leah Johnson, Don and Jennifer Follis, Mike and Gwynne McQueen, Happy and Dianne Leman, Ben and Tina Hoerr, John and Fran Chisholm, Joe and Ginger Cotton, Jeff and Christine Augustine, Greg and Jeannette Elliott, Neal and Miriam Windham, Chris and Melanie Easton.

Christian Campus Fellowship pastor Don Follis, who took me to the old LaSallette Monastery for a day of mostly silence, and who handed me a book one day by an author I’d never heard of: Henri Nouwen.

Ruth Haley Barton, Karla Green, Mark Miller, Dalene Strieff, Jerry Lee, Richard Hudzik, Nancy Miller, Diane Steward, Cynthia Walters, Galen Hiestand, and many others for my Transforming Community experience.

Mary Hogan, Chris Hopkins, Sister Melanie Roetker, Sister Renita Brummer, Jessie Vicha, and Father Albert Haase for pointing Margaret and me toward becoming spiritual directors.

My long-suffering spiritual directors: Sr. Melanie Roetker, Mark Miller, Debra Sutter and Neal Windham.

Don Savaiano, Pat Rogers, and Patrick Savaiano for their friendship and consistent hospitality over so many years. And for being fellow Cub fans.

Stacey Krejci, web designer, musician, and genius, who finds an elegant solution for every less-than-elegant problem I present to him (www.vagrantaristocrat.com).

My loving and insistent readers: Gerard Booy, Glenda Geu, and Arnie Gentile. And for Arnie’s joy and contagious enthusiasm for book-publishing. Voila!

The USCCB, for providing its internet audience with the Roman Catholic lectionary day by day, year after year.

My siblings, Mary Kay and Jim Cravens, John and Karen Sandel. And our growing family: Margaret, Chris, Melissa, Jack, Aly, Marc, Andi, Aki, and Miles.

There are so many others. We are all one river.

About David Sandel

Born 1949 in Lincoln, Illinois. Grew up on a dairy farm. Wrote short stories that began, “It was a dark and stormy night.” Got in trouble in high school for playing chess in study hall.

Missouri Synod Lutheran. Christ College at Valparaiso University. 1968 Democratic National Convention, a little tear gas and self-righteousness in Chicago. Flew hot air balloons. Transactional Analysis. Fishing in Wisconsin.

Looking for love in all the wrong places. Tried politics, psychology, pot, physical body massage, poetry, hitchhiking, finally joined the Unification Church. Creative Community Project, Berkeley, California. Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

Celibate church members aren’t supposed to fall in love too soon. I did. Left the church and went home to Lincoln, worked on the farm and met Margaret. We listened to the Divine Principle and went to a Bible study of Hebrews.

I attended a Kogudus retreat and met Jesus in the woods. Mom and I graduated together on Mother’s Day with counseling degrees from Illinois State University.

Margaret and I got married. Chris, Marc and Andrea were born. We attended Christian churches in Mt. Pulaski, Waynesville, and Urbana. We found our way into campus ministry at UIUC with Christian Campus Fellowship.

We discovered the Vineyard Christian Fellowship at church camp one summer. Music. Education. Hands-on prayer. Everybody gets to play.

Equipping Ministries in Cincinnati, the Transforming Community in Wheaton and Libertyville, Chiara Center’s Spiritual Direction program in Springfield. Centering Prayer at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church.

So many books, so little time.

And so it goes.

 

Family Index

Mom and Dad, Mary Kay and John:

Pictures: February 28, April 24, Acknowledgments

Devotions, etc.: Pages 73, 74, 75, 204, 205, 217, 235, 258, 288, 289, 290

Margaret Sandel:

Pictures: February 15, 22, 25, March 10, 16, 26, 28, 29, April 1, May 8, December 28

Devotions, etc: Pages 5, 8, 15, 24, 48, 175, 185, 205, 230, 241, 289, 290

Chris and Melissa Sandel:

Pictures: March 16, 18, 28, 29, April 1

Devotions, etc.: Pages 15, 190, 230, 240, 262, 263, 289, 290

Andi and Aki Tomita:

Pictures: February 21, 25, 28, March 12, 16, 29, 31, December 13, 28, 29, 31, January 1

Devotions, etc: Pages 15, 98, 174, 185, 187, 190, 200, 203, 240, 268, 289, 290

Marc Sandel:

Pictures: February 17, March 16, April 1, January 1

Devotions, etc: Pages 15, 66, 140, 230, 290

 

Our Grandkids

Jack Sandel:

Pictures: March 3, 12, 16, 25, 29, April 1

Devotions, etc.: Pages 200, 240, 241, 289

Aly Sandel:

Pictures: February 17, 28, March 16, 18, 26, 28, 29, April 1

Devotions, etc.: Pages 178, 179, 200, 240, 241, 263, 282, 289

Miles Tomita:

Pictures: December 15, 16, 28, 29, 31, January 1, 4

Devotions: Pages 185, 188, 198, 200, 203, 213, 240, 253, 263, 269, 282

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