May 31, 2009

A friend introduced me to this extended version of the Lord's Prayer. I think it is a wonderful spiritual aid, because it make us stop and think about each line, in the context of our current condition.

Pentecost Sunday is May 31. Pentecost is a reminder that the Holy Spirit is with us to empower us always to live out the Kingdom of God our Father, here on earth. Like the winds that move across White Sands, shaping and reshaping the dunes and everything in their path, the Spirit of God moves in our hearts. We are renewed and reshaped by that same Holy Wind that came to the disciples "suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house..." Acts 2:2

Our Father, Who is in Heaven..where everything will be reversed, the first will be last and the last will be the first, but where all will be well and every manner of thing will be well.

Hallowed by Thy Name...may we always acknowledge your holiness, knowing that your ways are not our ways, and your standards are not our standards. May our reverence for you pull us out of the selfishness that prevents us from seeing the pain of our neighbor.

Your Kingdom us to create a world, where beyond our own needs and hurts, we will do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you and our neighbors. Teach us our own poverty, and to receive your Kingdom as a gift by the Holy Spirit.

Your Will be our freedeom to let you in so that the completeness that characterizes you flows throu our veins, and thus the life we help generate may radiate your equal love for all and your special love for the poor. Teach us to partner with yo as you renew and redeem creation.

Give us this day...give us life and love; teach us to receive your life so that we may in turn give it away. Give not just to our own, but to everyone, including those who are very different from the narrow "us." Give us this day and not tomorrow. Do not let us push things off into some distant future so we can excuse our passivity or our apathty. Unveil to us the Presence of Your Kingdom.

Our daily that each person in the world may have what they need, enough food, clean water, clean air, adequate health care, and access to education. So that we may learn how simple are our true needs, so that we may work for a sustainable world.

And forgive us our trespasses...forgive us our blindness to our neighbor, our self-preoccupation, our racism, our sexism. Forgive us our capacity for blindness, for believing the lies about progress, for adopting a consumer lifestyle.

As we forgive those who trespass against us to forgive those who take advantage of us. Help us to forgive imperfect parents, impersonal corporations, and the systems that wounded them and us.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, For Yours is the Kingdom and the Power and the Glory forever and ever. Amen.

Taken from "The Holy Longing" by Fr. Ron Rolheiser OMI (Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate).

If you found this a helpful exercise, I would suggest you take it a step further and write your own extended Lord's Prayer. Like the sun breaking through clouds, you may find yourself renewed for discipleship.

Check back next week to see what the prayer I have been working on. If you do write your own prayer, I'd be delighted to have you share it on this blog.

May 24, 2009

Love your Neighbor as Yourself

Jesus says we should love our neighbor as ourselves. Last week we looked at loving ourselves by being in community. Loving your neighbor is simply the next step.

Society may say that you have to be one of the ‘beautiful people’ or the ‘in crowd’ to be worth anything. That puts you in competition with everyone around you to be first and best. If you are competing, it can be difficult to love someone because you are trying to be ‘better’ than them.

The way of a Christian is very different. It means embracing those we don’t like and seeing them as brothers and sisters not as someone to ‘best.’ The story is told of St. Francis of Assisi meeting a leper. At first he was afraid to embrace the man, but when he did, he discovered that he was embracing Christ.

How many of us would rather name someone as ‘leper’ instead of embracing them as Christ?

It may seem impossible to change our mindset, but Jesus says, “Fear not, I have overcome the world.”

It can be a stranger who opens our eyes to the opportunities and possibilities of God’s grace.

Rahab was a foreigner and pagan who brought fresh faith to Israel. In the 2nd chapter of the Book of Joshua, she finds the faith to hide the Israelite spies because she knew “the Lord your God is he who is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.” Rahab voiced true faith even before she really knew the Living God.

In my book Rahab’s Redemption, she eventually comes to realize that all she has been through, even her life in the temple of Baal has formed her to be a faithful servant of the One God of Israel.

The week of holy celebration passed. The meal that was the culmination of the week was joyful. Perez with Tirzah and his family joined us for the lamb and other foods of remembrance. Sarai and Caleb along with Jamal, Elisaba and Judah completed the group. There was much laughter. As the symbolic meal was consumed I felt my heart expand with love for each person present.
I sought to share my feelings.
“The God of Israel did not forget the promises made to Abraham,” I marveled. “Through all the generations the Holy One remembered. When the time was right, the Living Lord acted.”
“It is true,” assent came from Caleb
“Before you left Egypt, you were divided as tribes. God formed you into a mighty and united people capable of inhabiting this land.”
Looking around at my Hebrew friends, I spread my hands to indicate the vastness of the territory available to the Children of Israel.
“Rahab, what you say is true.” Salma drew me close to his side. “My father speaks of the slave pits of Egypt. I remember the long years in the desert. Both were hard to bear.”
“Yet, like my life in Jericho, the experiences are part of who you are,” I had to share the sudden insight. “The Living God used what seemed evil and transformed it into freedom. Before I knew what I sought, that same God found me. Now I am the most blessed of women. You, my husband, and this child of our love are proof of the love of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to all people. I was a foreigner, yet the Holy One found me faithful and accepted me. It must be true that all people are one to El Elohim Israel.”
Now that I had shared my perceptions I leaned against the man. I felt a tender kiss.
“My wife, you never cease to amaze me,” the whisper was spoken for my ears only.

Who is the leper in your life who needs to become your neighbor? Where is God in your neighbor?

I hope you have enjoyed these mediations and that these ramblings have given you a new insight into our Lord’s command to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Check back for other meditations in the future during the season of Pentecost--the long period between the day of Pentecost (May 31 this year) and the beginning of Advent.

May 17, 2009

Love yourself

We have looked at what it means to Love God with all our Heart, Mind, Soul, and Strength. Now we will look at our relationships with ourselves and others. How do you love yourself?

Our culture says loving yourself means self indulgence, chocolate, spas, spending, pampering, and in general doing things that may or may not be good for our health, wallet, or well being in the long run. We desperately try to find the answer to our dis-content and dis-ease through food or money or any of the myriad other things we try to cover our dis-comfort with. All we are really able to do is mask the problem and separate ourselves from each other.

There is One who can really bring about a change in our minds and hearts that leads us to love ourselves. Jesus, however, says, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” The abundant life promised by our Lord is true pampering of self. What does that life look like, though?

When we try to ‘do it myself,’ like a 2 year old, we end up struggling and unhappy. Only when we are willing to embrace one another, willing to give and accept help, willing to admit that we aren’t perfect, then we can begin to love ourselves and be blessed by an abundant life.

Abundant life in the Lord is life lived in unity (communion) with God and with one another. Recently I heard a sermon that reminded me that within community is one way we can live the abundant life. The Bishop said, our baptism makes us part of a family and God is always “within arms length.” God will never let us fall. No matter how distant we may think God is—in reality (and most often in hindsight) we see that God is right there, like a loving, caring Father.

God’s abundant life isn’t a smooth road, necessarily, but it is filled with untold blessings that often remain unknown until we are stumbling over the potholes in the road because that’s when we discover that our loving Father is right there to catch us when we fall. When we learn to love ourselves for being part of God’s family, we can stop hiding behind food and clothes and just be who we are made to be—a child of God. Then we understand what Jesus means when he promises, “I will be with you always.”

Has there been a difficult time in your life when you have felt the steadying hand of God?

Naomi, in the book of Ruth, is a perfect example of someone was not able to love herself. After her husband and sons die in Moab, she sobs, “…call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Mara means ‘bitter’ and Naomi has become angry and bitter because all she sees is the emptiness of her life.

In my book Naomi’s Joy, Naomi does eventually realize that God has not forsaken her and even in her darkest hour, God has been close.

“Yes,” I insisted, “Your faith is greater than mine. I turned away from the God of Israel in despair and anger.”
My own words convicted me. I stopped with a gasp. It felt like all my breath had been kicked from my lungs. Ruth drew back to look at me when I stopped speaking. I stared past my companion trying to draw air past the great lump that lodged in my throat.
“Mother Naomi?” I barely heard the question.
I lowered my head in despair. Tears welled in my eyes. Suddenly I was sobbing. Whimpers of animal anguish wrenched from my lips.
“God, God,” it was all I could say. I rocked back and forth holding my knees as the truth rolled over me.
“My mother,” Ruth tried to take me in her arms.
She had to be satisfied with patting my shoulder as I continued to rock and weep. A lifetime of pent up sorrow and grief flooded out in my tears.
“It is true. I rejected God.” I spoke more to myself than Ruth. “God did not abandon me. I turned away from the Holy One. I would not let I AM comfort me.”
The girl stroked my hair, “I did not know.”
“I needed to blame the Almighty for my grief. Ever since my father died, I felt guilty. All my life I have hated I AM. It was easier to say that God took those I loved because I did something wrong. I was sure that my father died because I wanted a house. I never dared trust that I would be cared for. If I failed in any way I was certain that I would be punished. When Elimelech died I knew I was right. I told myself that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob turned away when we left the Promised Land. Then my sons died and I was certain that God was angry. After Adah’s death I knew that the Holy One despised me because I allowed her to marry a foreigner.” I panted as the confession poured out through my sobs. “I hated my life enough to die.”
“Mother Naomi,” the young woman held me tight unable to comfort me.
“I was wrong. The Living Lord did not desert me.” I spoke low as comprehension burst into my heart. “You once said that the Holy One of Israel provides healing even for death and pain. Ever since my father died from the bite of the serpent I have been angry with God. Everything that went wrong was another reason to blame the Lord of Life. My rage only made me feel responsible for the bad things that happened. I was sure that I was judged guilty because I could not love God. I let my anger and the laws become a prison to my heart.”

Can you become a friend of yourself by reaching out your hand to another person or accepting someone else’s outstretched hand? You might just find that you are holding the hand of God.

May 10, 2009

Love the Lord your God with all your Strength

This week we are going to think about what it means to love God with all your strength. This doesn’t mean physical strength, but with your whole self—everything that makes you strong—the hopes, dreams, abilities, and everything else that makes us who we are. The word ‘strength’ is from the Greek ischus that can be translated as ability as well as what we think of as being strong.

Every day we are confronted with a culture that judges our strength (and our abilities) on the basis of bank account, size and location of your home, model of car, and place of employment. We are also evaluated on our looks, our body shape, and if that isn’t quite the ‘perfect 10’, we can be discounted and feel second best.

However, the strength of our identity is not really related at all to what we produce or look like or where we live. Jesus pointed to a different way of living. In Christ we have a life where we ourselves are valued as individuals, not compared to some arbitrary norm.

“Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.” (Matt. 7:25-26) Our Lord goes on to say “Are you not of more value than they?”

What a wonderful reminder of our real worth—we are worthy of our Father’s love no matter what we wear or eat or look like! We are loved because we are who we are with the distinct individual abilities, characteristics—strengths that make us perfect in God’s eyes!

Abigail was one of David’s wives. In fact, she was his wife even before he became rich and famous. She married him while he was still an outlaw and exile from Saul. Her first husband was Nabal, a wealthy man whose pride in his wealth and his greed resulted in his death. He put all his strength into getting more and more and forgot to use his abilities for God’s good. Nabal set his wealth ahead of loving God and above the Law of God that requires caring for the sojourner. Nabal refused to acknowledge the claim of David for payment in return for his protection of Nabal’s flocks. (I Sam. 25) Abigail bravely intervened and saved the household. She takes food to David and his troops in this scene from My Abigail. Below is Rubens' interpretation of the same episode.

“Who are you?” Rock crunched as the man stepped close.
“Forgive your handmaid this impertinence,” I had to raise my head slightly to speak. “My husband is as his name. Nabal is a fool.”
There was no reply from the outlaw leader, although a quickly stifled chuckle came from his troops. I could see his bare feet not far from my outstretched hands. The rock under me was hard but I dared not shift my position.
With a deep breath I tried again. “Your maidservant did not see the messenger you sent to Nabal. It is known to me how my lord protected all the property of my husband. The man is foolish and blind to the generosity and kindness of my lord.”
I paused. Still no reply came from the man looming over me. I wished I could see his face but it was impossible as long as I lay at his feet.
“Surely, if your maidservant had spoken to your messenger I would have provided all you asked. Behold, even now, I bring donkeys with supplies for you and your men.”
I heard a little jangling of harnesses and guessed that Paliel moved the animals closer.
“What would the wife of my enemy have me do?” At last a deep voice broke the silence.
“May my lord forgive the presumption of your maidservant,” I risked lifting myself to my knees so I could look up at the man.
The expression on the bearded face was still stern. However, I took courage from the fact that his hand no longer rested on the hilt of his sword. Instead muscular arms were crossed over his chest. David stared into my face. I resisted the urge to draw my veil back around me.
“What do you seek?” After a long silence the warrior asked more gently.
“Let my lord accept this gift from my hand,” I gestured to the donkeys behind me. “Surely my lord does not need to seek out and slay one who is as a dead dog to him. The man Nabal is not worthy of my lord’s rage. He is only a fool who thinks of nothing beyond his own comfort.”
“Did your husband send you?” Abruptly David bent toward me.
His face was very near. I found it hard to speak with his blue eyes studying me closely. Shaking my head, I lowered my gaze.
“Truly, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob sent you to me.” The next statement caught me by surprise. “If you had not come, I would have taken revenge on the man Nabal. There would not have been left alive a man to praise his memory.”

Abigail knew that what she was doing went against her husband. She took a huge risk is taking food to a known outlaw, but one of her strengths was a caring heart. Loving God had to come first and the wealth of Nabal was no substitute for loving God with all her strength—all her abilities, all her personality, all she was. David recognized her courage and sought her out as his wife after Nabal died.

Are you using all your abilities to show your Love for God? Would you be willing to risk all—your reputation and even your life to do something out of love for God?

May 3, 2009

Love the Lord your God with all your Mind

We are continuing to look at ways to Love the Lord our God. In the first 2 weeks in Eastertide (the time between Easter and Pentecost) we have explored Loving God with Heart and with Soul so we can know that we are loved and respond to that love by giving freely of ourselves.

This week we’ll move on to Loving the Lord your God with all your mind. It is very easy for me to get caught up in intellectualizing any problems or plans. I like to have all the steps laid out, if not on paper, at least in my mind, before I start anything.

Just reading the headlines in newspapers or on the internet, watching a few minutes of TV news, or listening to the radio in our car can easily give us cause to worry. No wonder we feel stressed and insecure when it feels that the very fabric of our security is being swept away by stock market gyrations, storms, pirates, etc. Even more insidious are the ways that other people’s words affect our self image and our dreams. If someone criticizes something we are proud of, we either become defensive or depressed.

When I can’t wrap my mind around a problem, then I become more and more worried and stressed. Certainly some of the big news items are too big for most people to comprehend and understand. When we get trapped in looking at all the negative things around us and analyzing how this or that event affects us, we can easily find ourselves falling into despair. The world seems out of control and with it our lives.

There is a different response though. Jesus assures us that though there will be “wars, tumults, and rumors of wars...earthquakes in diverse places…the end is not yet.” In I John, we are admonished “Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God…you are of God and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.”

Anyone with children knows that they don’t worry about little things. They just want to figure out how to climb higher or explore more. We, on the other hand fret about the ‘what ifs’ of their adventures. Like ‘what if he falls from the climbing net?’ Our heavenly Father wants us to be just as care free.

Our Lord calls us to “come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Only when we can let go of trying to make sense of life and problems on our own and let God be in control of our minds, only then will we find peace.

Joseph in the Old Testament had a lot to worry about. He was sold into slavery by his own brothers. Then just when things started looking up, he was falsely accused of rape and imprisoned. Joseph had a lot to worry about. It was only when he was finally able to let God be in control of his mind and actions that he found peace and freedom. In my book, It is I, Joseph, he finds himself in prison and begins to understand that it was his actions that brought him low.

“I wept for the love I squandered in my arrogance and cried out for pardon even though I knew that I would never have the chance to be reconciled to my brothers. Suddenly, one morning I awakened not troubled, but with a sense of peace. I knew, somehow, that the One God was real and that there was a plan for my life. On my knees, I offered myself to God.
“God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I know You have a mighty plan. I see that I needed to learn humility and dependence on Your power alone. God of Abraham, who You brought from Ur and promised descendants as the stars of the night, let me follow You as he did. God of Isaac, saved from sacrifice by the ram of God and made heir to the promise, may my life be a sacrifice to You. God of my father Jacob, wrestling with You and named Israel, I see that I, too, have wrestled against You. My God, Ruler of the Universe, You have kept me alive in the pit, in slavery, and in prison. You are still with me. Whatever Your plan is, here I am. Use me as You will. I will no longer seek my way, but your will.”
Then I cried tears of healing and cleansing for my soul. The rage was gone, replaced by peace. Fear and despair were swallowed up in a deep serenity of spirit.”

It’s hard to do, but just for a little while, try letting God be in charge of your mind and leave the worrying to God. I wonder what changes that would bring about in our lives and world if we each did that…?

Are there problems that keep your mind from being fully God’s? What part of your mind do you need to let God take over so you can fully Love God with all your mind?

Like Joseph, we need to remember that God is in charge and ‘all will be well, all manner of things will be well’ as Julian of Norwich is famous for saying.