Faith in the Giver

Fr. Jack got distracted by the readings, and wound up giving the homily I needed. He used the Hebrews reading which ends this way:

By faith Abraham, when put to the test, offered up Isaac,
and he who had received the promises was ready to offer
his only son,
of whom it was said,
“Through Isaac descendants shall bear your name.”
He reasoned that God was able to raise even from the dead,
and he received Isaac back as a symbol.

(Hebrews 11:17-19)

That last verse caught him and he decided to reflect on just what Isaac was a symbol of… and after wandering through his thoughts, he came up with the thought that the symbol here referred to faith in the Giver, not based on the visible result. I’m not sure how he got there, and we didn’t record the homily. It seems that faith at one level relies on “results.” Like “I ask for this and it is granted.” Request -> Result. But Abraham went a step further by his willingness to do something whereby the desired result seemed impossible: to offer his son, the only visible way to fullfuill the promise that his descendants would number as many as the stars.

I sometimes do petition God — but, I have discovered it to be generally a better method to lay a situation in front of God and ask Her to be present. The outcome seems to work out best — often not the way I would have invisioned it – better… sometimes more painful, sometimes more joyful.

And so, when I found myself very disappointed yesterday, the homily rushed in on me — I’m still disappointed, but I rest in faith that whatever happens, it will be for the best in the long run.

Amen.

The Angel Gabriel

This morning my husband came out with an interesting take on the Angel Gabriel. Yesterday, the Gospel reading told the story of Zechariah being struck silent when he did questioned the idea that his wife Elizabeth would finally conceive and bear a child. Today, the Gospel relates the story of Gabriel bringing the message to Mary – who also, it seems aked “How could this be?” JP has concluded that Gabriel is sexist in a very subtle way: he expected less of Mary – (read “Oh, sweetheart, I know this is confusing — let me explain it to you [because I know you aren’t capable of understanding this].”

My husband is a teacher – a high school science teacher. He sees this subtle sort of discrimination in Education: the discrimination of diminished expectation: You’re not so capable, so I’ll make it easier for you. It’s not only how girls are sometimes descriminated against in school, it’s also how blacks were very subtly (or not so subtly) discriminated against — it’s a gently cloaked way of saying “You’re not good enough. I don’t expect that much of you.”

I’m not so sure I come away with that conclusion about these 2 stories. But, I also know that Scripture has a way of telling many stories in a single story. It illustrates to me just how a single story is there to reach us wherever we are. He is a successful, demanding science teacher who’s students often complain at the time and come back later to say “Thank you! I was so well prepared for the next step.”

In my reading of the 2 stories, I can see his point. But what might be there, that my spouse doesn’t pick up on is this: both responded with questions, but what was the attitude with which the question was asked? Was Zechariah curious? or did he close his heart and just refuse to even consider the possibility? Did he require the forceful hand to keep him humble and out of the way until the work was done? Was he arrogant? Would he have even listened to a further explanation? Was Mary more open and just plain curious? She was obviously troubled by the whole plan. From the outcome, it can be concluded that while she might have been a bit skeptical, she remained open to listening, open to possibility.

I suspect I’m not describing all of this with any great facility.

The third idea that comes from this is that JP giving me his insight is not only a gift of his insight, but a glimpse of what lies beneath in him. How he sees the stories lets me see where he is (something that is very difficult for him to do directly – maybe impossible). His response speaks even more about where he is than it does about the stories themselves.

And maybe that is the gift of understanding that I was meant to have.

Thanksgiving – delayed reaction

On Thanksgiving Day I opened my email to find a note from my husband’s youngest cousin. It was a blessing that I was unaware of what was going on until it was mostly over. She and her fiance were staying on the 15th floor of the Taj Mahal Hotel in Mumbai when the terrorist attacks occurred. The email was to let family and friends know that they had been evacuated and were safe. So, I could relax a bit, even before I had a chance to worry.

The statement that sticks with me is “As my mom said, We have a lot to be thankful for.” Amen.

This news came on the heels of another friend losing her youngest cousin (a NY firefighter) in a house fire, and another friend’s great-nephew coming oh-so-close to going down in a plane crash. And so, it has taken a week or more to absorb all of this.

It puts me back to that spot that I visit so often: Bad news knocking at the door. Wars and rumors of war, fire, accidents, havoc all around. And the same time, the sheer joy of spending a few days with my granddaughters and family. I was immersed in giggles, glorious weather, good food and fellowship even I the bad news kept knocking at the door.

It makes me thankful – not just for the good things, but for the knowledge that God loves me through it all. It makes me thankful to be able to accept with grace the words of Charles Dickens: “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.” It even brings to mind words of one of my favorite hymns (How Can I Keep from Singing):

My life goes on in endless song
Above earth’s lamentation
I hear clear, yet far of sound
That hails a new creation

Through the tumult and the strife
I hear the Music ringing
If Love is Lord of Heaven and Earth
How can I keep from Singing?

Flash back

November 22 – St. Cecilia’s feast day. I’m a church musician and I have visited the catacombs outside of Rome where Cecilia died. I pray not to die a martyr’s death, but I also know that music and singing stand a good chance of being a comfort to me whenever God calls me home.

November 22, 1963… I was in the 5th grade. I was being raised a good protestant Christian in a part of the country where a Roman Catholic president was regarded with suspicion at best, and disgust more likely. I had a friend whose parents took us to hear Kennedy speak when he came to the area. The local airport didn’t have a runway that could accomodate Air Force One, so they had to land in Huntsville about 70 miles away. He didn’t seem so strange.

Coming in from the playground (PE class?) I remember the day being gray and the flag at half mast. I’d never seen a flag at half mast — none of us had. And then the teachers had to explain that President Kennedy had been shot and killed. I remember watching the funeral mass on TV and talk about the color of the vestments (not black? did priests ever wear black? I don’t know). I remember little John Kennedy trying to comprehend what was going on.

I’ve been a practicing Catholic for more years now than I was a protestant. I’m a totally Vatican II type. I’m not sure I could have made the leap into the pre-Vatican II church. Today I was trying to read some documents on liturgy because of a comment made by one of our musicians today. And I sat and thought — these rules and guidelines are all well and good. But, I’m sure they matter much more to human beings than they do to the Creator. I can only maintain my sanity when I read through them and dig deeply into the underlying message. The message that reminds me that prayer is not just words, but action and attitude and listening. The message that reminds me to do my part to make a space for prayer not only for myself but for those I serve.

November 22 is a day to remember.

Truly Alive? Probably not

Yesterday was the first day in 3 weeks that I didn’t even think about taking something to make me feel more comfortable in the afternoon… (I had some surgery a little over 3 weeks ago). I’m off the antibiotics, and the stitches, for the most part seem to be healing. I’ve felt a little tired, and a little cranky at some point everyday. But not bad. So, if you asked me how I felt I would say “good.”

And then yesterday, I realized that I felt much better. I felt more normal. More like myself.

This is a physical sort of “feeling good.” But, it seems that I experience that in other ways – emotional and spiritual. I can go for long periods of time where I perceive that I am doing well only to have an “aha!” moment and realize that the absence of war is not peace. It is quite possible for me to turn off the war inside, refuse to feel, and go my merry way.

To be truly alive requires acknowledging both the pain and the joy – the love and hate of everyday life. It requires listening carefully to what these emotions tell me. It doesn’t allow for deadening the pain or tamping down the joy.

The same goes for my spiritual life… it’s not enough to just do the right things and say the right things and avoid saying bad words. Perhaps today I can be open to the Spirit and let her speak to me in the deepest parts of me. To allow myself to look at the good and the bad and be healed.

Then, perhaps, I can be truly alive.