Tag Archives | discernment

Things as they are

thingsastheyare

I am certainly guilty of this… sometimes I can only see the “eye” in this picture; sometimes I see a butterfly wing. And, when I am whole, awake and aware, I see both clearly.  The point of view colors the the way we see our world, our friends, our universe, our God.

 

Transfiguration

Today’s Gospel is the Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36) — Paraphrased it goes like this:

Jesus takes Peter, John and James up to the mountain to pray. As usual, they doze off while Jesus prays and is transfigured ( I think transformed might be a good word for the event) as he hears from Moses and Elijah about his mission and what is to come. The sleepyheads come full awake and behold the Jesus in his glory. They of course want to stay in this wonderful time/space and make a memorial. But, God says — “This is my chosen Son. Listen to him.”  In the end, the leave the mountain and keep their mouths shut about what they have seen, at least for the time being.

My first thought was that the Transfiguration says a lot more about the disciples than it does about Jesus. Jesus was still Jesus, but he was being seen in a new light. They began to get a glimpse of what was really happening. They saw the light. They were touched. They began to see differently. And God spoke to them.

Upon a second reading, I begin to see that Jesus was changed — I think that as he prayed, he came to see himself differently and more clearly and that change just couldn’t be hidden. It had to shine. It had to show.

Along my current path, where I find myself questioning the institutional church, its teachings, its functioning, its place in my life I also heard the words that God said: “This is my chosen Son. Listen to him.” In the Gospels, I am having difficulty finding any references to Worship Jesus. I find the verbs listen & follow. It’s proving difficult for me to reconcile the stories of the biblical Jesus with current church practices. I know it must be possible because people like Pope Francis seem to be able to live out the Gospel and still work within the Church.

Still thinking. Still praying. Still seeking.

Wrath, anger…

A few weeks ago I was in a small group sharing, and one person began to share about recent a Bible study session where the subject got around to wrath. What is wrath? Is it okay to be angry? That sort of thing. Some folks of course thought it was ok to be angry and others thought is was sinful.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines wrath as extreme anger with the Full Definition of WRATH as:

  1. strong vengeful anger or indignation
  2. retributory punishment for an offense or a crime : divine chastisement

I found this whole pattern a bit unsettling. Anger is. And asking if it’s okay to be angry or is it sinful is just the wrong question.

Anger alerts me to the fact that I feel threatened, or hurt or disrespected. Or that I sense that someone or something I love is in danger or hurting or being disrespected. Anger can fire me up to take action. The classic example of that might be Jesus turning over the tables of the money changers in the Temple.

The first step, IMHO, is to step back when I am angry and look deeper. If I accept that I am God’s beloved child, then often the anger begins to subside — after all, what that other person did or said cannot actually kill or harm that part of me that is God’s child. Or, I can move beyond anger to sorrow that someone else is so broken that they would do some of the horrible things that are being done in this world. If I can move beyond anger I might just get to a place where I might actually be able help in righting a wrong, or healing a hurt.

Yes — anger is a big red flag. It is a sign that something is wrong. Might be something wrong inside me, or something wrong in the world around me. But asking if it is a sin? That’s just the wrong question.

 

 

 

Knowledge of Good and Evil

A part of my daily routine is to read Richard Rohr’s Reflection that arrives in my inbox each morning. Some days it seems we are on totally different roads. Other days, we are both in a place where it feels like I can sit and listen, share and reflect and grow toward God. Today, was one of the “Aha!”  days.

Today, he mentioned the admonition not to “eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.” That particular section of Genesis has always bothered me a bit. Why not?  Isn’t is good to know good from bad? As I have grown [older] I find it less bothersome. I find that judging what is good and who is evil is a task best left to one with better vision, understanding and compassion than I. Life is much more of a joy if I leave as much of that judgement up to God and simple attempt to love those around me, wherever, however I find them. Maybe not simple, but certainly less oppressing.

The older I get, the more I realize that we all are both saint and sinner, good and evil. I find that the mailman who is deemed to be difficult and disliked by one set of neighbors is the same person who carefully delivered the mail to the door for another neighbor who was weak from chemo as she fought cancer. I find a priest who has caused me great personal anguish and pain through his own anger  to be the same person who so often led me to great insight and spiritual growth. I must learn not to just the parts, just try to love the person.

The “Aha!” moment — seeing this “forbidden fruit” as something that will truly cause us more pain and suffering… a sort of warning that doing this, eating of this fruit will not work out so well as we imagine. Of course, like most children, we don’t really believe it until we make the mistake for ourselves, and then it can be hard to let go of it. Trying to be judge and jury and getting trapped brings to mind a story of a friend’s son.

They were at a mall and he kept trying to poke his head through the railing to look down at the level below. His mom instructed him repeatedly “Don’t do that! Don’t put your head through there!” Of, course, as a eight year old boy is wont to do, he did it anyway. And his head got stuck. Panic ensued. Mall security and more was called in to extract him from the railing. The resulting extraction was unpleasant at best.

When he was finally freed, his Mom turned him to face her an asked “Why did you do that? Didn’t you hear me tell you not to? Didn’t you know you weren’t supposed to do that?”

His response: “Yes, you told me. But, I didn’t know it would HURT!”

Ah — how often have I had that same reaction?

 

Emmaus

Aaahh! The cycle of the Easter season. First there is Holy Week topped off with the Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday morning joy. Then we begin to roll through the season. Last week was not only Divine Mercy, but it is what I refer to as “Doubting Thomas” Sunday. And today is Emmaus — “Jesus — where are you? Oh! there you are! Where’d ya go?”

I seem to be in a valley of doubt these days. At times, I climb to a hill of “just not inspired.” It bothers me more that I don’t seem to be as bothered as I should be by all of this. I find growth in my walk on a yoga mat, not at mass. I question just how much I believe all of this Christianity stuff. And yet, I’m not drawn to give it up either. I have developed a great sense of apathy about it.

Along comes Emmaus. The people on the road, explaining to the man among them that they had such hopes, but fear they were wrong. They are disappointed and dismayed. He listens. He chastises them a bit. And, when they break bread (he breaks the bread) – they see! Joy! and then he disappears from their sight. Hmmm.

I suppose what I must learn to do is to be awake and never miss the insight, the vision that comes with breaking bread and seeing Jesus/Christ. I often think how it would be so nice if I could just show up for mass, and get my fix, get my glimpse. You know — head out to the store to pick up some faith. Pick my flavor as well. Doesn’t seem to work that way.

For now, Emmaus is a promise that if I walk the road, and stay awake and open to the breaking of bread, I will likely receive what I need to continue. In yoga class the instructors are always reminding us that it is a “practice.” I think that as a Christian, I must remember that it too is a “practice”  — it is never complete, or perfect or done. At least not in this world. Emmaus is hope that I will get enough of a glimpse that I continue to walk.

 

What difference does Easter make?

This morning, Susan, over at Creo en Dios asks “What difference does Easter make to you?”

I’ve not exactly been pondering that question, but I’ve come close. This is the first Easter season in decades that I have not participated in the full Triduum; I only showed for Good Friday and Easter Sunday morning. I have been questioning “Did I miss it in my soul? Why did I skip out this year? What is different in my life and my faith?” I can say that I know that in part, I opted out of the Vigil (which is by far my favorite liturgy of the year) because I wanted to be at home and be with my son and his family. Baby Avery is only 3 months old, and it was her first road trip.

I’ve made some changed this year. I retired from being THE English language music minister in my parish. There were many factors in that decision, and many that will not be aired in this forum. But, I finally just said, “I’m retiring. I cannot carry this alone any more. I don’t want to. I believe that while I am important, I am not so essential that parish life will fall apart without my presence.” I thought that it was a sabbatical. I figured that by Easter, I would be back. Instead, the weight lifted from my shoulders has been such a blessing. The freedom from feeling bound to the schedule has given me room to breathe and grow. If I ever go back, which at this point seems unlikely, I will only do so if I can do it with joy and a positive attitude. It will be a choice not a something I do because I would be afraid that folks might be angry if I didn’t do it. For now, I have let go and that seems to be good. Far better than doing the right thing for all the wrong reasons.

I’ve continued to bring myself to my yoga mat and take the time to breathe and be and let go of outside expectations. I have taken to heart some of the practices of a meditation grounded in breathing and just being with God.  I have learned better to laugh gently at myself when my body and my mind make different decisions about what I can do. Isn’t that so true in our Christian walk?  I mean, there is so often a disparity between what I think I should do and be and what this body can and will do. It is a learning process to pay attention to the emotions and what they are saying to me — without falling prey to being absorbed by them. In my seventh decade, I believe I am getting a glance at the fact that I am not my emotions (or my hair color, or my body shape). It’s about time.

Maybe next year I will be back at the full Triduum. Maybe not. I just know that at this point, my current focus seems to be more strongly on Jesus among us than on Holy Week.  That is not to put down the importance of Holy Week. I just need to treasure and explore the Presence of the [Risen] Lord in my every day walk. Maybe, even treasure the presence of Jesus, who put on bones and blood and muscle and was a human, like me. And rest in the love that brings to my consciousness.

Happy Easter!

 

Watching

Watch your thoughts, for they become words
Watch your words, for they become actions
Watch your actions, for they become habits
Watch your habits, for they become character
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny

One of my 30-something friends posted this on Instagram and FB this morning. I’ve seen it before. But, today the word(s) that leapt off the page was WATCH.

When I pause in my day and take the time to pray I find that some sort of contemplation or meditation is my mode. When I make time to try to sit quietly and clear my mind and listen, I find that the thoughts still come. WATCH. Those who are far better at these practices than I, often remind us that we cannot control those thoughts. Therefore, as they wander through our minds we can allow them to come and go without attachment to them.

And so, I Watch my thoughts… they tell me a lot about what is going on with me. They tell me where I am uncomfortable and where I relax. I don’t have to make them turn into words (which lead to actions, habits…) I can do that, but first I must watch them and learn to let them go and let them be.

I certainly cannot control my thoughts! If I could, I wouldn’t think of my friend Henry every time I buy a lottery ticket, and I might win! Henry told me once that he had bad luck, and that even thinking of him when buying a lottery ticket would insure that it was not a winning ticket.  Bingo! I seem to have no control over thinking of him when throwing my money away on the lottery. I’ve tried replacement (think of something else) but Henry always shows up. I have to let the memory of him walk into my mind and then walk on by.

So, indeed: Watch. Be awake. But, don’t hang on to those thoughts like you own them. Don’t believe you actually control them. Control what you do with them? Oh, yes. Open yourself up to transformation so that the Image and Likeness of God shine through more easily? Oh yes. Those thoughts tell me a lot about where I am on my journey, but the are not ME. I can learn from them, but I cannot hang on to them.

 

Find it wherever it is…

Just as those yellow arrows appeared in so many different places along the Camino, God’s arrows can come be seen in some very unexpected, not-traditional places. You just have to be open to seeing them wherever they appear.

This summer, I took up a yoga practice. The physical stretching is good. The physical challenge in even beginning to attempt some of the poses is excellent. The deep physical calm that comes at the end of a practice is much needed in my life.

More than that, I find the emotional and mental practice to be a way to open up. It is, for me, truly an occasion of prayer. To get the benefits of a Yin Yoga practice, I must learn to stay where I am and stay with a bit of discomfort. I must learn to relax into the present moment and allow my entire self (body and mind and soul) to relax and sink deeply into whatever is being asked of me. I must listen to my body and learn what is pain versus what is discomfort. Sharp, shooting pain does damage. Staying with discomfort gives me a way to learn to be here now, to listen, to progressively relax and accept the limits of my current condition while pushing ever so gently to new depths.

To me, that is such a picture of my relationship with God and myself as a child of God. It is a picture of prayer. Learning to rest in God’s love. Learning to see from a new place. Being transformed into someone/something that is more than I knew before. And trusting that  I can stay with the discomfort and not run from it.

I had a chance to practice that on the Camino. One step at a time — just one more step. I might have had a name for my goal for the end of a day, but I had to trust that this would be a good place. I had to take one step at a time and travel to places unknown. There were times when that was easy because the sun was shining, the view beautiful beyond belief and the light a photographer’s dream. And there were days when it was cold, blowing rain, slippery rocks and many hours of solitary walking. Each involved one step at a time. Each involved being open to what was happening in the moment and trusting where I was being led. And each involved an openness to being transformed by Presence.

I do not often find this type of prayer in a church, or in a mass or other organized group. But, I feel it is essential to my growing in love and wisdom and living the call I feel as a baptized Christian. I will look for these opportunities wherever, and however God puts them in my path.

Yellow Arrows

I’ve been back stateside for 2 weeks now… the trite, but oh so true, feeling is “so long ago and far away, and yet, only yesterday.” I spent 5 weeks walking the 500 miles from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. My job, as it were, was to walk — walk about 15 miles (25km) every day with a pack on my back. To walk in rain and sun, heat and cold, light and darkness and to be present in every moment along the way. And, that way was marked by yellow arrows.

I smile when I think of those arrows. Sometimes they jumped out at you. Sometimes, they had to be sought out. You might find a yellow arrow on a street or a sidewalk, or the side of a building. You might find a yellow arrow on a bench, a rock, a wall or a lamppost… on a tree trunk or a stone marker. They showed The Way.  And, if you hadn’t lost your way, it seems that a yellow arrow appeared just at that moment when you began to question if you were on the right road.

We missed a yellow arrow one morning in misty darkness. The way felt “not right” but since there were few, if any options for turning or not once we had veered off the path, it took us more than a kilometer to find the path ending in a field. Yup. We missed an arrow. By this time, there were 3 of us headed in the wrong direction. Nothing to do but climb back up the hill until we found an arrow. Oh, and then follow it. Back on the path.

How many times in life have I just kept going despite strong misgivings and no arrows to validate my path? How hard is it to admit that I was wrong, and go back to a place where I can see the arrows? Hard to admit taking a wrong turn. Hard to hold back from blaming someone else for my error. So easy to say “Well — I wouldn’t have gotten lost if YOU had painted that arrow bigger, or brighter, or in a slightly different spot that would have been easier to see! Not my fault!”  Hard to say — “Oops! That was a lovely path, but it seems it wasn’t the one I wanted/needed.”

Since my return from the Camino, I find that I must continue to look for something akin to those yellow arrows. I must follow these instructions, even if I don’t know much, if anything about what I will find on the path, exactly where it will lead or how far I will go today. I know that they will lead me to my goal and I really don’t have to know every detail of the path before it happens.  And, if I miss one and find myself lost, then I must go back and find an arrow, and begin again.

 

 

 

Love Thy Neighbor

So, I couldn’t help myself this morning (not that I tried very hard) — simply had to add my two cents worth when a friend posted this picture on Facebook with a comment about “would you wear this shirt?”

lovethyneighborMy first response was a long the lines of:

the second part of this is “love thyself” — my overweight self, my angry self, my happy self, my addicted self…

And that is true, to me. If I love my neighbor as myself, then I’d better love myself or the neighbor won’t be very pleased with how I “love” them. I’ll despise and hate those neighbors that remind me of the parts of myself where I am still at war with myself.

I felt ok about posting that thought in a public place.

Her brother took exception to the sentiment on the shirt, pretty much calling it PC BS. He stated that it is a two-way street, and we certainly don’t need to love those folks (groups represented on the shirt) especially when they are out to harm us. He said he would never wear the shirt.

OK.

Love your neighbor… doesn’t seem to be optional for a Christian (and I suspect for people of other faiths as well) to love your neighbor. There is no mention of how your neighbor feels about your or how your neighbor treats you. I totally agree that people have a right and a need to feel safe and to exercise judgement in relationships. Sometimes love can be really tough, and not all fun — ask any parent of a teenager. But, loving your neighbor isn’t optional.

The best thing about the exchange this morning is that is certainly helped me to understand my own beliefs. It helped me to look at my strengths and my shortcomings. And, I pray that I was able to express my own beliefs and hopes without destroying someone else. After all, we are called to love our neighbors.

 

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