Blog Archives

Let’s Pretend Our Own Christmas Story

Let’s pretend Jesus knocked on your door Christmas day to join you for his birthday celebration.
Can you picture him standing there when you open the door? Can you feel your dawning recognition and surprise. Can you sense your moment of doubt, then feel it washed away by sheer joy? Do his eyes have laughter lines as he smiles with just a hint of fun at surprising you. Does his simple kindness surround you like a comforter?
Picture you inviting him in, stammering as you start to reach out to shake his hand, only to be embraced in a warm hug that brings tears of happiness and wonder to your eyes.
Let’s imagine how he might like to celebrate his birthday with you. Do you think he’d be happy if you asked him to sit down, then hurried to get the best lotion in the house to gently rub his worn and callused feet? Would he want to do the same for you? Would you protest because you feel unworthy? Or would you let him help you feel so very tenderly loved?
Maybe he’d accept a cup of coffee and then want to tell you the stories his mom used to tell over and over about giving birth in a dirty drafty barn and about the terror of fleeing to Egypt in the middle of the night with only a few clothes and little food.
Do you think Jesus might just try to fit in by eating second helpings and then nodding off now and then in front of the TV set? Would he accept a glass of wine and grin and ask if you’d like an upgrade?
Or would he possibly suggest, “Why don’t we pack up some of this turkey and dressing and yes, definitely some pie, to take to the people living in those shabby back rooms at the Highland Motel?” Or even ask, “Would you drive me up and down the interstate to check the bridges for homeless people who may need food?”
Or perhaps he’d gently make a more discomforting suggestion that some presents could be returned and the money sent to help refugees from the war in Syria.
Or perhaps he would just look into your eyes all the way to what’s hidden in your heart and quietly say, “If there is someone you have hurt or anyone who has wounded you, will you make me happy by using your phone now to reconcile with them?”
And then you’d remember what he said at that last dinner with his closest friends, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you should also love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Then you’d feel not guilt, but regret, that you hadn’t thought of celebrating his birthday by doing more for others, even strangers, as he did his whole life.
So, you’d get your coat and gather food, even your favorite fudge pie, to take to others. And you’d see that he was smiling at you as he waved goodbye.
You didn’t feel any condemnation, only his love and a stronger desire to love others as he loves you. Because you know that God did not send his Son into the world to condemn us, but in order that we might be saved by him.
And as you start out, you’d whisper, “Happy Birthday, Jesus.” And you would know he heard.

The Love of God

The Love of God is the only thing
of any importance at all.
The Love of God is so incredibly different
and beyond compare
that it boggles our minds to believe in it,
never-the-less accept it.
No matter how much we have been loved
by family and friends,
no matter how famous and wildly adored
by the multitudes,
nothing has ever been more than
a barely glimpsed shadow
of the Love of God.
The Love of God is all that is necessary.
We need nothing more
than to know the unconditional love of God
with our whole mind,
to experience it with an open heart
until our spirit is so filled
with it, that we simply pass it on
by letting it overflow.
We begin to sense this Love of God
when we consider
the possibility that the creator of the universe
chose to walk in our skin,
to experience the frustrating and fearful limits
of being human,
being born under crushing political oppression,
a scorned minority,
bearing physical exhaustion and bodily pain,
the heartbreak
of being abandoned and even betrayed
by his only friends,
publicly ridiculed, tortured and killed,
even taking the
leap of faith into the darkness of death
to show us there is more,
because of His Love.
The love of God can free us to see ourselves
exactly as we are,
to accept our own need for forgiveness
without guilt, just true sorrow
that brings a joy that sets us free from fear
and gives us grace to change.
The Love of God begins to free us to forgive
both ourselves and others.
The Love of God heals us of the crippling wounds
that stunt our growth in love.
The Love of God takes our mustard seed of good
and nurtures it with grace.
The Love of God builds our faith and sets us free
to die and live again.
The Love of God is
personal, unconditional, and eternal.
All else fails.
There is nothing greater than
the Love of God expressed in Jesus,
the Love of God for you.

A Spot Unpainted

There’s an artist that always left one small spot unpainted. The idea was that nothing is perfect. There was a time in the total silence of a new fallen snow that I stood alone on a hill at night looking at millions of stars. I felt incredibly tiny and insignificant in the face of such grandeur and enormity. I could literally feel myself shrinking. But suddenly I felt at one with all of it. Like a tiny anonymous dot that fills in an empty space in a painting, I not only had a right to be here, but was needed for completion, to make the universe whole. We are all tiny, but crucial parts of the whole. But the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Death and resurrection, sorrow and joy, mourning and dancing, loss and hope, the reality that all of these seeming opposites are inseparable is the paradox at the heart of life. The cross as the symbol of Christianity symbolizes this truth. Buddhism says the same thing in slightly different language. There is truth and wisdom in Buddhism, but with Christ there is also the dimension of relationship. And relationship takes you where you are and walks hand in hand with you to where you are being called. I experience the beauty and power and truth of God in the universe. But God is way bigger and more complex than I can comprehend. I sense the presence of God within me some of the time, but other times I need that human expression of the love and power of God, Jesus, to relate to, to show me how to love, and to hold my hand when I crumble under pressure

There are goodies and baddies to everything in life. If you are a mom with another career, you are beset by guilt over whether you have not been a good enough mother, particularly when your children as adults turn out to be human with all that goes with that. If you are a stay at home mom focused predominantly on your children, when inevitably they turn out to be human as adults, if you have not let go of them as your reason for being, their human problems and mistakes become about your ego, not their or anyone else’s pain. Though not true for everyone, it took me until midlife to recognize how very flawed I was and how silly it was to expect my progeny, no matter how bright, funny, talented and kind, to be perfect. None of us gets or passes down all the good genes. None of us, even with what we consider our best traits, gets it perfectly right for raising another human being with a different mix of genes and traits. That is one of the less appealing realities of life. Luckily, none of us is finished yet. And I actually think the younger generations are facing some of these unpleasant realities earlier in their lives than we did in ours. So, in spite of the discouraging state of humanity, there are signs that we are still able to evolve once we realize we need to.

I used to get my feelings hurt not only easily, but deeply enough that I cut people out of my life. It came from an unrecognized need to be perfect and anything said that implied to me that I wasn’t, devastated me. Being able to see the door because of being 79 helps a lot. I figure at this point the only one I have to worry about is God and He knew I was a difficult person before I did. It also helps, when people who tend to be insensitive hurt me, to look for something redeeming about them. I’ve found this way I can care and even make sacrifices for people I find difficult to like (including myself). 

Henri Nouwen in his A Spirituality of Living writes that possibly the main human suffering comes from loneliness.  So, it is important to develop our capacity for solitude where we can experience the love of God.  Other wise we are going to expect someone to give us that perfect, unconditional love.  They cannot.  Often this means a painfully temporary quality in our relationships.  Instead of long lasting involvements that grow stronger over time, we may experience separations and growing despair about finding someone who can meet our deepest desires for intimacy. Developing the capacity for solitude is the groundwork for creating community and becoming capable of commitment in our relationships.

 

Reflections on Important Values and Who in History and in our Personal Experience Embody Them.

Preparing a class on 2nd Corinthians that I will be teaching in a few weeks. Got to thinking about who embodies my personal concept of Christ in history in the Common Era.
I was a bit surprised when I settled on Gandhi. But also know from reading, that Gandhi was a pretty rotten husband and father. Kind of makes me understand why Jesus never got married. I suspect that most great men have had long-suffering families. Perhaps great women also, though in history many of them became nuns and prioresses since that was the only role where women had freedom, respect, and a certain amount of power.
Recently I both read and heard another person say that today’s most popular idol is our self. We’re number one. Our opinions, our belief system, our needs, our desires, our loves, our country, our talents, our goals, our values are more important than anyone else’s when it comes down to making choices. And the end justifies the means when it comes to protecting those.
One of my blog posts brought some rather strong disagreement when I included the bible in a list of possible idols. I really value the bible and look to it for insights, challenges, encouragement and grace. I consider the bible good, but not God.
There are other people than Gandhi,leading smaller lives focused on family and the people they come into contact with, that I consider Christlike. In my past I’ve known a pediatrician, a nun teacher, and an ex nun facilitator that stand out particularly in my memory. They seemed to actually be able to put caring about others first, to be able to admit their own limits and be open enough to others’ very different opinions to be stretched by them, and amazingly to both affirm and challenge others without diminishing them.
I’d love to hear what you value in humans and who in both history and in your personal lives embody those values.

The Journey through Disillusionment to Meaning

I’m pretty sure that anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a big God and Jesus and Holy Spirit fan. What not everyone knows is that I was an agnostic for some years and a big Madalyn Murray O’Hair fan.

When in college, I visited Nursing Homes, in my mid twenties I taught ballet at a Children’s Psychiatric Ward, in my late twenties, I worked at the NAACP offices for Project Equality, and also wept while watching battles in Vietnam on TV. It was hard to find God in those situations.

In 1963, my dad, Pope John 23, and John F. Kennedy all died. It seemed like all my heroes of hope were gone.

It isn’t very comfortable to hate God, so I simply stopped believing in Him.

My journey to personal faith ultimately took several years spent in a serious search for some sort of meaning to life. That search was motivated by having my own children begin asking me hard questions. And though it is still obvious to me that life is not fair and that life is often hard and miracles are rare, I have found purpose, meaning, and great joy in life through an ongoing growing relationship with Jesus Christ, who made life and God understandable for me. It was a journey starting from faith in religion and faith in heroes, through disillusionment with those, on to a first hand experience of the love fleshed out by Jesus and the call to pass it forward.

I worry about the young people who are being exposed to both the hardships of life and its dark side in so many ways long before they have their love for their own children to motivate them to seek meaning in life instead of escape.

That seems to be the crux of the problem. Whenever we become aware that life is going to be hard sometimes for everyone, will we have the maturity to search for meaning rather than to seek escape?

Everyone’s journey is different, so all I can do is share that the search is well worth the effort and struggle and pain. My way may not be your way, but ultimately the truth will set you free for joy, hope, and love.

Come, Lord Jesus

Christmas trees, decorations, Christmas music, even in stores pushing the season earlier and earlier for their own purposes, all fill me with wonderful memories, anticipation and joy. I’ve learned over my seventy-nine years, that what puts the focus on Christ at Christmas is my own hunger for his presence.

Advent is the traditional pre-Christmas season of preparing our hearts for his coming.
Those four weeks were arbitrarily set centuries ago to reflect the four thousand years that the world waited in darkness, longing for his coming. Many years ago, I began on the first Sunday of Advent to pray each day, “Come, Lord Jesus.” Then I watch expectantly for him to become present in small, but recognizable ways in my heart and life.

And some years my heart and mind are actually attentive enough to recognize his coming.

One Christmas Eve, our children and grandchildren were all at our home, surrounded by the friendly reds and greens of Christmas and delicious smells teasing from the kitchen. In one bedroom, a grand-baby snuggled into sleep, while in others whispering parents wrapped and ribbonned Santa secrets. Only Granddad was missing, out doing his traditional Christmas Eve shopping.

As excited older grandchildren were setting out to explore the woods and creek, I was making a clean up sweep through the holiday chaos. (Having ended up the “cleaner upper” by default, I was grumbling to myself a little.)

And one preschooler, too young for exploring and too old for a nap, went from room to room knocking on doors only to be told that he couldn’t come in. When I found little David sobbing forlornly in the middle of all the Christmas glitter, I decided to console him(and me) with an outing to feed the ducks that winter over on the lake in town.

When we arrived at the lake, the hungry ducks gobbled up our bread crusts so quickly
and ferociously, that we began to fear we would soon become part of their Christmas Eve
menu.

As we took refuge in the car, I heard our parish church bells ringing for the special Christmas Eve children’s service, The Mass of the Bells. Since the children get to sing all their favorite carols and even ring bells to celebrate the birth of Christ, it seemed like a Christmas serendipity for David. Looking at our faded jeans and muddy tennis shoes, I hesitated, but remembering the ragged shepherds at the first Christmas, I headed on to church anyway.

For lack of having his own bell, David rang my key chain as he sang with off key gusto. Then, as all the children gathered around our parish priest on the floor of the sanctuary to talk about the Christmas Story, David somehow managed to squirm all the way to the front of the group. When Father asked what happened when Mary and Joseph
knocked on the door of the Inn, David’s response rang out, “They wouldn’t let them in.”
Then, with a sudden rush of outraged feeling, he shouted louder, “They wouldn’t open the door!”

It seemed like he remembered his feelings about closed doors earlier at home and identified with the Holy Family.

And then when Father asked how they would respond to Jesus knocking at the door of their hearts right now, David sang out with conviction,

“Come in Jesus. Come right on in!”

On our way home, David joyfully assured me that even if others sometimes didn’t let children in, he and Jesus always would.  At his own level he made the connection between his life and the Gospel story, even realizing that opening his heart to Jesus, also meant opening his heart to others.

And my heart was filled with the joy of Christmas, of seeing Jesus being born once more
in the heart of a child.

As a post script I’d like to share more about David. When he was a college junior he and several other college students took cold water and hamburgers down town in the Memphis August heat to share with the hungry and homeless. As they did this, one man asked for them to pray over him (David said that they needed God’s grace for that). But as they prayed, others began coming forward asking, not for money, or even food, but for prayer. Since then, David has taught in schools in Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Bolivia.

Whenever the stores start Christmas music, August or October, let it be our cue to start praying the prayer of our hearts, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come.”

Re-posted for the Christmas season 2013 and 2016.

I Weep for Jesus

Spirituality is personal faith based on an ongoing, growing relationship with the source of life and love.

Religion is faith shared by a group. Unless religion is based on spirituality, it becomes a  country club, or worse, a desire for power over others, rather than the power to love others.

Jesus wept for his people, the Jews, because they could not hear the Good News of being loved, because they feared the cost of loving.

I think now, he weeps for those who gather in his name.

And I weep for Jesus, this awesome God filled, human expression of God’s Love for all creation, who the Scripture’s tell us grew in truth and holiness.

I weep for Jesus, who was even able to allow the lowest members of his society to challenge him to see that his mission was to share the Love of God with the whole world, not just one race, nation, religion, or economic group.

I weep for Jesus, who was able to grow into accepting that before life is over, not after, Love demands letting go of everything, our lifestyle, our image, our religious security blankets, our power,  our self-centeredness, our very self on the cross of Love.

I weep for Jesus who died to teach us how to love.

I weep for Jesus and I weep for us, who claim to be his people, but do not hear, because we fear the cost of Love.

The Love of God

The Love of God is the only thing
of any importance at all.
The Love of God is so incredibly different
and beyond compare
that it boggles our ability to believe in it
enough to accept it.
No matter how much we have been loved
by family and friends,
no matter how famous and wildly adored
by the multitudes,
nothing has ever been more than
a barely glimpsed shadow
of the Love of God.
The Love of God is all that is necessary.
We need nothing more
than to know the unconditional love of God
with our whole mind,
to experience it with an open heart
until our spirit is so filled
with it, that we simply pass it on
by letting it overflow.
We begin to sense this Love of God
when we consider
the possibility that the creator of the universe
chose to walk in our skin,
to experience the frustrating and fearful limits
of being human,
being born under crushing political oppression,
a scorned minority,
bearing physical exhaustion and bodily pain,
the heartbreak
of being abandoned and even betrayed
by his only friends,
publicly ridiculed, tortured and killed,
even taking the
leap of faith into the darkness of death
to show us there is more,
because of His Love.
The love of God can free us to see ourselves
exactly as we are,
to accept our own need for forgiveness
without guilt, just true sorrow
that brings a joy that sets us free from fear
and gives us grace to change.
The Love of God begins to free us to forgive
both ourselves and others.
The Love of God heals us of the crippling wounds
that stunt our growth in love.
The Love of God takes our mustard seed of good
and nurtures it with grace.
The Love of God builds our faith and sets us free
to die and live again.
The Love of God is
personal, unconditional, and eternal.
All else fails.
There is nothing greater than
the Love of God expressed in Jesus,
the Love of God for you.

Jesus, the Kindergarten God

Prejudices can be peculiarly transitory.

I remember a rather adversarial conversation in my early thirties with an elderly priest of the fire and brimstone persuasion. He finally said angrily, “I’ve been doing this for over forty years.”  And I thought to myself, “Exactly. That’s the problem.”

Now that I’m a senior citizen, I tend to distrust the opinions of anyone under fifty.  It made me nervous that our new insurance agent was about our grandchildren’s age, so I took to calling him the Kindergarten Kid.

One morning while reading the scriptures, I told my husband that if Jesus came back as thirty-something, I’d have a hard time taking him seriously.

My husband quipped, “You mean kind of  like a kindergarten God?”

The Dialogue between Faith and Reason

Part One

Faith untempered by reason quickly becomes superstition. Reason that is unwilling to take the risk of faith becomes hubris.

The challenge of the spiritual life is maintaining an ongoing dialogue between faith and reason that stretches and refines both.

The historical paradox of Jesus being divine, yet fully human, does not require an either/or solution. We can focus on one aspect to better understand it, but if we emphasize one to the detriment of the other, we lose the meaning, purpose, and power of the mystery.

One of the most amazing and freeing aspects of the humanity of Jesus, as illustrated by the stories in the Scriptures, is that he grew in wisdom and holiness. He, like us, was until the moment of his death in a process of growth in understanding of his mission, in his understanding of the nature of love, and in the faith and courage to accept death .

Even more surprising was that often the people who guided and challenged him in this process were women, women with no religious or political credibility, even gentile women, and women considered unclean.

Recognizing the humility of the human Jesus can free us to both face our own incompleteness and to believe in our potential for growth.

And risking the leap of faith to accept Jesus as the expression of the unconditional love of the creator of all that exists for us personally is the saving grace that can carry us through the doorway of death.

God is love and Jesus is the human expression of that perfect love. Jesus is the Word of God to us.

Our own difficulty in grasping the paradox of the divinity and the humanity of Jesus, is simply just that, our difficulty, because of where we are in our own growth process. Sometimes our leap of faith is like putting something we don’t understand into an open file labeled Possibility and then living with an openness to the Spirit of God speaking, guiding, challenging, calling, teaching through the everyday events and people in our lives and then empowering us through Her quiet voice within.

(to be continued at a later date)