Category Archives: faith
Happy Birthday Christianity! Birthdays are for celebrating and receiving gifts. Pentecost is when the first Christians received the Holy Spirit. So, today let’s pray, “Come, Holy Spirit.!”
In today’s Scripture from Acts, Peter calls it the last days. And these are the last days after Jesus ascended into heaven, whether it’s two days or 2,000 or 20,000 years. Jesus had told his disciples that he had to leave so they would receive the Holy Spirit and do even more miraculous things than he did. And Peter affirms that the day has come when the young, the old, the men, the women, the slave and free would experience the Holy Spirit in many ways.
Last week, our pastor talked about the older members of our families telling their memories. Well, I definitely qualify as older, so here’s a short trip down my memory lane.
In my twenties I became disillusioned with myreligion. And since I had pretty much made religion my God, I stopped believing in God and the Bible. Even without religious faith, I was active in politics, andworking for Civil Rights, because I thought humanity was on its own and we had to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.
When I was thirty, I experienced a joyful conversion to belief in God and Jesus through friends working for a non-denominational Christian ministry. I began reading the Scriptures with new eyes and went from believing nothing to believing everything in the New Testament. I joined a prayer group of women from the major Christian denominations along with one Jewish woman. All, had experienced a new level of faith. We focused on how to become more loving rather than on doctrine. We prayed about our and others’ concerns and read the Scriptures for guidance. When we were praying for one of the women’s mother, I suddenly knew she was being healed. I shared that and we praised God, but when I got home, I panicked!. What if it wasn’t true? My positive conviction had faded. But it did turn out to be true. So, I asked the Presbyterian woman who seemed to know more about the bible and prayer than the rest of us, how that had happened. She said that I had experienced one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and there were more. Would I like her and another woman to come the next morning and pray over me to receive the rest of the gifts? That sounded good, so I said yes. But that night I began to worry that I might get off track again, so I prayed for a sign that the Pentecostal experience was for our times and right for me. By midnight I hadn’t received any sign, so I went to bed thinking this was not for me. At around
two in the morning the phone rang. I rushed to answer it, worried that it was an emergency. But when I answered, a man’s voice asked, “Is this the Pentecost’s?” I sort of stammered, “I beg your pardon?” He responded, “Is this the Pentecost’s residence?” I hesitated, but told him “No,” so he hung up. But I decided that had to be a positive answer, so the women came and prayed for me and told me about a Charismatic prayer group at the Sister’s of Mercy convent. I became active in the Catholic Charismatic movement and witnessed and experienced many miracles. Not every heartbreaking illness or problem in my life was cured or solved. But after experiencing so many miracles, I knew God was with me and I’d seek God’s grace and guidance in the hard times. There is one experience that I do want to share now. I soon attended my first Charismatic Conference with twenty-thousand people of many denominations in the Notre Dame football stadium. During the worship service people spontaneously began to sing in different languages with different melodies. Now I can’t sing on key unless I listen to the person standing next to me. So, as beautiful as it was, I didn’t see how I could join in. But suddenly, words with a melody just bubbled up and I was singing in a language I did not know to a melody I didn’t know or hear anyone else singing. It’s hard to describe how all those languages and different melodies could come together so beautifully and then soften and stop simultaneously. We CAN all sing together in perfect harmony. As broken as our world is, the power of the Holy Spirit within everyone of us, is stronger. This memory is my sign of hope that I cling to when the violence and hate all around us, even in Christianity, threaten to overwhelm me.
Pray with me if you wish:
God our Father, we cannot become the people you created us to be or bring your Spirit of love into our broken world, without being filled to overflowing with both the Love of Jesus and the power of your Spirit within us. Spirit of the Living God fall afresh on us. Speak to us through the Scriptures. Stir our hearts and empower us to become like your first followers. Free us from whatever holds us back from being completely yours.
I treasure the memory of my child-self’s favorite escape from our cramped seventh floor apartment, Sunday evenings’ outings to a majestic three-tiered fountain amid flower filled terraces surrounded by groves of the stately trees of Forest Park
It’s the soft edge of the evening as I run ahead to the flowing layered fountain. The breeze sprinkles fairy mists on my happy face and thirsty heart. I pause to listen with delight to the gentle staccato of the tiny splashes of the falling droplets. I watch mesmerized as the silent pool swallows them with quicksilver circles of welcome. In the faded light of dusk, they have become one with its dark mystery. I wonder if dying is like this, just melting into a vast welcoming ocean of love?
Reason and faith are two sides of the same coin. Reason stretches our minds and faith stretches our hearts. And both come from God. It’s not either/or. It’s both dancing together, a paradox. The trick is not limiting our faith by reason and not limiting our reason by faith. Since God gave us both, when we are open to God through both, there’s not a conflict. Just don’t make scripture or science into a God. They are ways to God, but not God. And if we think that we know the truth, all the truth, and nothing but the truth, we are claiming to be equal to God. And whether we base that on science or scripture, it is hubris. And we are called to walk humbly with God.
Many, probably all, people experience miracles large and small. Some don’t expect them, so miss their significance and others are hesitant to speak of them. Humanity has come to either reject what we don’t understand or to only connect miracles with “saints or the delusional.” And we all know deep down that we’re not saints.
After my experience of the love of God expressed in Jesus, I wondered why I was having so many and such a variety of them. Some of the major ones were to major heartbreaking problems, but many were just little boosts over tiny bumps in the road of my daily life.
When I encouraged my children, aged 8, 6, 5 and 4 to ask Jesus to be their Savior and Lord, they had not been going to church or Sunday School. Their responses were unique to each of their personalities, but not based on being taught much about God or Jesus other than His love. In writing about these, it brought alive for me Jesus stressing coming to the Lord as a child.
I have become convinced that the reason I experienced things even the other “born again” Christians did not, was because of having thrown out everything I had been taught in church and by the society around me, I was pretty much coming as a child without preconceived notions. When I read the Bible while I was questioning everything, I realized I had never heard Christians talk about personal miracles, only ones connected to extremely holy people who lived long ago and far away. When I began to devour Scripture like a starving person after my conversion, I went from believing nothing, to believing everything. I came with an open mind and heart like a child.
I have come to see that each generation is to some extent limited by what we are taught when young by authority figures. Even those, who like me question, are still limited by what we have absorbed from the culture of our times.
A lot of my spiritual journey has involved letting go of preconceived ideas. At the age of eighty-four I am still having to do that. It’s scary to realize that no person or group knows all the truth and believes nothing but the truth even with the help of God. We are simply not equal to God. And not only is God not finished teaching us yet, but God is not finished teaching humanity yet.
An eye opener to me was becoming aware of the pattern of growth in Jesus from when he was a brilliant twelve-year old, but still emotionally immature so needing his mother’s guidance in learning to consider others’ feelings. The Scriptures say he went home with his parents and GREW in truth and holiness. Then at thirty he needs a push from his mother to make the leap from his comfort zone into his calling to a whole other level of ministry….miracles. Jesus then still believes his call is only to God’s chosen, the Jews. But he is challenged not only by an unclean woman and heretics, but by a soldier of the oppressive conquerors to out of the kindness of his heart, include them in his kingdom of the Love of God. He comes to understand that his call is not about political freedom, but spiritual freedom. He slowly and with natural human reluctance recognizes that he will not be a conquering hero, but a rejected vulnerable scapegoat for even those who kill him. And he tells his disciples who depend on him for faith for miracles, that he must leave, so they will experience the spirit of God within them to also do what he has done and will do. And finally, on the cross he makes the leap from “Why have you forsaken me?” to “Your will, not mine” Growth in truth and holiness takes a life time. And a lot of it involves letting go of some of the beliefs that make us feel most secure. And ultimately it is the challenge of, “Your will, not mine.”
Standing in the line to vote, I’d brought my rolling walker with a seat to use if standing long brought on pain. Three different poll workers kindly asked if I’d like to go to the front of the line. I said no, because I could sit down any time I needed to. They noticed the woman behind me with a bandaged foot and asked her the same. She also said no, there were chairs every six feet. She and I began to chat about the challenges of aging and life in general right now. She shared some difficulties, but then recounted with a light in her eyes how they had turned out to bring about some good changes in her life. I reacted with delight, recognizing grace and a faith we shared. We bonded there in a line, six feet apart, with masks. It was one of those blessed moments of connection. We parted reluctantly after voting and as I drove away I realized from other things that she had probably voted red, while I voted blue. But I also realized that she went back to her life reaching out in love to those familiar faces whom she understood and trusted, while I went back to reaching out to unfamiliar faces, with lives so different from mine. Both of us doing our best to help others and to share the faith that saw us through the hard times.
The problem with a political solution is that it doesn’t take into account that we are born with very different personalities. And though as we grow through stages of life, we can become stronger in undeveloped aspects of our personality, there’s a timing to the process that isn’t under our control.
I once wrote an article called Aliens in the Nest after recognizing how different I was from either of my parents and how different my five children were from one another and at least one of us, their parents.
It takes grace to love across these differences. It takes both time and grace to develop strengths in our weaknesses. What we can handle with the grace of faith now would not have been possible for us at an earlier stage of our personal spiritual development. God gives us grace for the moment.
We cannot force others to be where we are. I keep coming back to the importance of realizing with heart and mind that I and all others are loved completely at our worst, but are also still unfinished at our best. Legislating for others, no matter how strongly we feel and even if we ourselves would with grace be willing to sacrifice our own life for what we believe, doesn’t work. Our call is to help others find that love that frees us all to grow and risk and accept suffering and die knowing we were loved at each stage of our journey.
I am BOTH a born again, evangelical Christian and a liberal Democrat. Here’s the Booker quote and a few of my problems with it.
“Before you speak to me about your religion, first show it to me in how you treat other people; before you tell me how much you love your God, show me in how much you love all his children; before you preach to me of your passion for your faith; teach me about it through your compassion for your neighbors. In the end, I ‘m not as interested in what you have to tell or sell as I am in how you choose to live and give.”
If people were perfect there wouldn’t be any need for going to church or believing in Jesus. If Cory Booker were perfect, then he could throw stones or even boulders. We Christians and Agnostics and whatevers, in our conviction that people who disagree with us are worse morally than we are, have stopped trying to understand each other. The thing that has puzzled me all along the great political and religious divide is that most of the people I know personally,(who are NOT politicians,) but are either: 1. Trump supporters, and /or: 2. Evangelical Christians, are kind people, who actually do go the second, third, etc. mile for anyone they don’t consider a possible serious threat to their children, loved ones, or their own freedom. In my attempts to actually dialogue with and understand several of my family members, I found that they have reasons for some of their fears that I had not heard before and I don’t yet have enough facts to prove them wrong. Politicians and the Press have manipulated us ALL into being judgmental, self-righteous, offensive, and closed minded. If we want to claim the moral high ground, we have to start with loving each other enough to commit to trying to understand one another. This is where it needs to begin. Trump winning or losing the next election isn’t going to change the stalemate of “solution blocking” division. Listen to what Cory Booker actually says by what he wrote that at first sounded reasonable: “Don’t talk to me about Jesus or grace or a need for moral guidelines until you are perfect.” I doubt if anyone on either side can measure up to that. Please, please, please…..let’s start rethinking on what the biggest blocks to solving our problems actually are. Some major blocks are everyone needing to win, needing to feel righteous, and wanting a scapegoat instead of working together to find some sort of reasonable solutions to our shared problems. There are real and scary problems to be solved and it won’t happen until we try to hear each other and find a way to work together. We are choosing to self-destruct as a nation because of our own pride. And pride goes before the fall. Is it really worth it?
Our prayer for each of us is that we will be open to grace for the moment all through the New Year. Grace for the moment is within the limits of our tiny mustard seed of faith. So we pray for grace for each moment. Grace to live in hope each moment. Grace to hear God in each moment. Grace to trust God for the moment. Grace to be delivered from the control of idols/addictions for the moment. Grace to forgive ourselves and others for the moment. Grace to love ourselves and others for the moment. The grace of peace for the moment. Our blessings to you and yours for the moment throughout the New Year. ( A card from Donnie and Seth Norman)
As a child I received instruction both in the Bible and in the Talmud. I am a Jew, but I am enthralled by the luminous figure of the Nazarene. . . . Jesus is too colossal for the pen of phrase mongers, however artful. No man can dispose of Christianity with a bon mot. . . . No one can read the Gospels without feeling the actual presence of Jesus. His personality pulsates in every word. No myth is filled with such life. How different, for instance, is the impression which we receive from an account of legendary heroes of antiquity like Theseus. Theseus and other heroes of his type lack the authentic vitality of Jesus. . . . No man can deny the fact that Jesus existed, nor that his sayings are beautiful. Even if some them have been said before, no one has expressed them so divinely as he. (Interview with George Sylvester Viereck, 26 October 1929; see also Denis Brian, Einstein — A Life [John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York, 1996], pp. 277-278)
What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos.(“Einstein and Faith,” Time Magazine, 5 April 2007)
The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us in the Jewish-Christian religious tradition. It is a very high goal which, with our weak powers, we can reach only very inadequately, but which gives a sure foundation to our aspirations and valuations. . . . (“Science and Religion,” cited in Einstein’s Ideas and Opinions, pp. 41-49; from an address at Princeton Theological Seminary, 19 May 1939. It was also published in Out of My Later Years [New York: Philosophical Library, 1950] )
GUEST: I have a letter that Albert Einstein wrote to my father in 1943. In 1940, my father read a “Time Magazine” article that stated that Einstein was quoted as saying that the only social institution that stood up to Nazism was the Christian Church. My father is a Presbyterian minister in a little northern Michigan town called Harbor Springs. And he quoted Einstein in a sermon, and a member of the congregation wrote my father a letter saying, “Where did you get your information?” So my father wrote “Time Magazine” and “Time Magazine” wrote him back, and I have that letter, too, but they didn’t give the source, so my father wrote Einstein and he wrote back, saying, yes, he did say that the Christian Church was standing up to Hitler and Nazism. [ . . . ]
Our time is distinguished by wonderful achievements in the fields of scientific understanding and the technical application of those insights. Who would not be cheered by this? But let us not forget that human knowledge and skills alone cannot lead humanity to a happy and dignified life. Humanity has every reason to place the proclaimers of high moral standards and values above the discoverers of objective truth. What humanity owes to personalities like Buddha, Moses, and Jesus ranks for me higher than all the achievements of the enquiring and constructive mind. What these blessed men have given us we must guard and try to keep alive with all our strength if humanity is not to lose its dignity, the security of its existence, and its joy in living. (From a written statement [September 1937] as quoted in Helen Dukas and Banesh Hoffman, editors, Albert Einstein: The Human Side [Princeton University Press: 1981] )
All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom. It is no mere chance that our older universities developed from clerical schools. Both churches and universities — insofar as they live up to their true function — serve the ennoblement of the individual. They seek to fulfill this great task by spreading moral and cultural understanding, renouncing the use of brute force. In “Moral Decay” , also published in Out of My Later Years  )
Recently I was reading a discussion on face book with pros and cons about miracles of healing. Many vehemently rejected that a loving God would heal some and not others. I remembered my wonderful friend Bobbie. In her early forties she began to have trouble breathing, finally ending up in intensive care on a ventilator. After several specialists told her she was in the last stages of Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis and would never be able to come off of the ventilator, she asked her family to agree to her stopping treatment, because she didn’t want to spend what little time she might have left in ICU on this machine. Her family didn’t want to do this. That night while Bobbie was in total despair, a woman she hadn’t seen before stopped to talk to her in ICU. She told Bobbie that God loved her and had a plan for her life. To accept God’s love expressed in Jesus and trust God and put her life totally in His hands. She went away and Bobbie never found out who she was, but Bobbie did what the woman said and experienced a love so great that she was able to put her life in God’s hands. Three days later she was home breathing perfectly on her own. She sought a church to try to learn more, since she hadn’t ever belonged to a church, She joined a small Episcopal church of mostly intellectuals. Bobbie was a loving person with great competence in practical things, but had married at 15 and never finished high school. Though she expressed frustration with the complex vocabulary of her fellow Episcopalians, Bobbie became the heart of that little church. She started a clothing give away for the poor. She planted a lovely meditation garden of flowers. She had the whole church over for cookouts. Then, she attended a Cursillo weekend retreat that helped her articulate the love she had experienced and she spent many hours helping with these weekend retreats and others at a near by retreat house. After almost a decade, Bobbie had a heart attack and spent a month in a distant military hospital healing from a by-pass operation that involved removing a large blood vessel from her thigh. Unfortunately, Bobbie’s leg became infected. So, she had to spend six more weeks in a hospital in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber daily, Though far from family through all this, Bobbie’s bright eyes and loving heart made many friends and helped others find hope each day. Some months after coming home healed and regaining her strength, Bobbie and her husband drove to Florida to visit their son. Bobbi began to have pain in her leg on the trip and when she returned had to have surgery for blood clots and a clogged artery in her leg. She ended up with her leg amputated above the knee. She struggled to get a good fit with a prosthetic leg. Once after attending the theater at our Renaissance Center, she asked me to carry the leg for her while she wheeled herself out, because of the pain. So, I carried her prosthetic leg over my shoulder like a gun and followed her to the car. Bobby had an incredible ability to laugh at herself and roll with the punches life gave her. She constantly amazed us with her joy in the midst of incredible challenges. But Bobbie had wounds from childhood that had left her with hard places in her heart. Bobbie had three older sisters and two older brothers. Her father was both an alcoholic and an abuser in every sense of the word. Bobby had survived by often hiding in a sun flower patch at the back of the yard. She hated her father and was glad he died in a fire. Bobbie loved being in her kitchen cooking for others. It was a bright room decorated with sunflowers. It was her safe place. Bobbie liked polishing the brass candles and cleaning the sanctuary at her church as she prayed and meditated. One day while doing this, she felt called to pray for grace to forgive her father. And suddenly, her heart softened and she was able to forgive her emotionally crippled father and even pray for him. She experienced other insights and emotional healing. Bobbie spent two months the next Christmas in the Hospital with multiple health issues and in a great deal of pain. I and other friends took turns spending the night with her, because she had fallen once and often it took so long to get her pain meds, that even never complaining Bobbie was in tears. So, one night when I stayed, I took her a small tape player with ear buds and spiritual music on it to help her get through the times of pain. Bobby had a kind of raspy voice and was not really vocally gifted at all. But in the middle of the night, I heard a lovely soprano voice singing songs of praise. It wasn’t the tapes, it was Bobbie singing along with them.
Bobby never gave up. With a little help she was even able to take up casting pots on a wheel. Her faith and her humor got her through many challenges. But as time passed, it was difficult to drive on her own and handle the wheel chair for the places a lot of walking would be needed. So she was shopping for a handicapped accessible van when she had a heart attack and died on the way to the hospital. Bobbie’s miraculous healing, conversion, years of helping others both concretely and spiritually, her own emotional and spiritual healing, and the ongoing physical illness and challenges she kept her faith and joy through are an incredible witness to the reality that both miracles and suffering are part of life and that with the love of God that is grace, faith and love can grow through it all.