Monday, December 15, 2014

Hope, Heaven, "Epiphanic Pointers"

I value words highly. I especially value words that are able to convey something that is deeply meaningful to me. Sometimes I'm not able to pull it off myself, but I find someone else who has. That's when I post quotes.

"Hope is the virtue that prevents us from setting our hearts on this world as the final aim of living. Knowing how much more awaits us in the life to come, we shed all clothing that would kill or erode this hope. Thus we learn the greatest lesson of Christian commitment: how to live in this world in service to God while at the same time rising above the things of the world (cf. John 15:19). I mean things insofar as they are seen as merely worldly rather than as epiphanic pointers to the Most High. We thus comprehend what it means from experience what it means to care for the persons, situations, and things entrusted to us by God without tarnishing our green veneer of hope for the home He has prepared for us from the beginning."

Susan Muto, St. John of the Cross for Today: The Dark Night, p. 277, emphasis mine.
 I have waited years to come upon this phrase: epiphanic pointers. Yes. 

Sunday, December 14, 2014

When Weirdness Gives Way to Delight

This has been a strange Advent for me thus far. But if ever I have known a peace that surpasses understanding and a joy that makes no earthly-calculable sense, now would be it. My heart is so full of a peaceful gratitude that I just have to write about it.

There is something about following the Lord's lead. It grieves; it consoles. It confuses; it gives clarity. It takes things away; it gives everything. The path is dark, but it gives light. I feel heavy, but He gives freedom. The more I follow, the less I understand where I am going, but the more sure I am. I want to say everything to explain, but words fail (multi-dimensionally); and something deeper than words germinates.

All I can say is that I am so grateful to God for my life and His call to me to Carmel. Today is the feast of St. John of the Cross, my spiritual father. His words almost always embody to me exactly the state in which I find myself tonight. He is all about renunciation, detachment, penance, and self-emptying. And yet I find such joy in his words. It's the type of joy that makes me want to embrace my own soul, this dwelling place of God, and exclaim that indeed, something makes my life make sense. A human being is actually able to convey to me that my life makes sense. It is the opposite of the feeling of alienation, disorientation, self-loathing, and mistrust. From the first time I met St. John and St. Teresa of Avila when I was in college, this has been the affect these saints have had on me.  And a few years ago it was like St. John of the Cross seemed to seek me out to explain what I deeply needed to understand about where my life was going. I can't find adequate words to describe the delight this gives me. For someone with an intellectual bent like me, there is a strong temptation to view life at its core as absurd and meaningless. This is the joyful dance of knowing that to be a lie -- and that another human being is an instrument of that certainty, which can only come from God.

Jesus said to His disciples: "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Or what can one give in exchange for his soul?" (Mt. 16:24-26)

Friday, December 12, 2014

Intercession Evolution

This morning at Mass something prompted me to think about the path on which God has led me in learning to intercede for others.

There was a time when I did a whole lot more thinking than praying, and most of that thinking centered on myself, even though one could term it "thinking about God".

The Lord had to catch my attention before He could shift it, and in my case He did this by making me feel my needs and then by meeting them through other people. And after this, I began to feel the urgent need to pray for others.

Sometimes this felt need was extremely intense, and it seemed I could not escape it. I could not turn my heart to any kind of prayer at all without feeling this compelling need to pray for one or another specific person, or for some collective of people.

Out of this compelling felt need, I developed a discipline of daily prayer with this intercessory component. In other words, the need I felt to intercede overcame my natural haphazard, start-again-stop-again approach to everything in life. Where I once mostly lounged and lazed around in my general thoughts about God, His will and His ways, I was now steadily walking in prayer.

It is said that you can never remain angry at anyone for whom you pray. But there can be dangers as well as blessings in interceding. It is possible (ask me how I know... no, don't) to start to feel the good one is praying for to become one's project, one's possession, one's attachment. And as soon as a soul wants anything other than God, there is a need for purification in that soul. The way God led me when this happened was first to call me to penance. The penance followed the pattern of a compelling sense of my need to do this at first, and then a discipline. At first it seemed to me the process was mostly about penance I was offering for the good of others, but in due time I realized how much I needed it to purge me.

But there came a deeper purging, too, because the need for purification really goes deep. In this step, it seemed I simply could not deny that God knows through and through every desire I'd ever presented to Him. I had asked Him repeatedly, I knew He heard, and I was not seeing much if anything of the outcomes I had desired. But regardless of how intently God Himself seemed to beckon me earlier to pray, now it seemed God was simply saying, "Shhh. You, come to me."

Can I just say yes? Can I let go of ever seeing results? Can I realize that God's ultimate desire for me is that I grow in union with Him? Can I want that more than I want to see thousands of people exhibit tangible and measurable characteristics of conversion? I say I want to see the Lord Jesus be loved deeply by many, but it seems the Lord is content that I concern myself with my response to Him instead of theirs. Do I pray and intercede so that I feel or look powerful, or do I pray that I may know Love and hide in Him? How in the world do I reckon myself so terribly small that I really and honestly want nothing at all but God?

This, like everything else, is only a work of God's grace. It's utterly impossible for me. Just like causing my own existence, or sustaining the universe, or planning salvation, or creating a world-wide family of communion. Just like all the other things God gratuitously does for me and for all of us.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Insecurity, Conformity, Freedom

Our Lord has a way of coming on pretty strong sometimes. Don't know how else to put it. It's been one of those times of late. It is actually very much like having a rushing wind come blow through, because things that don't normally move or that I don't normally have to think about start fluttering and flying all over. Uncontrollable movement. And sometimes, all I can do is say, "Wow, look at that thing flying around!" It's one thing when it's a Styrofoam cup (like the one my daughter and I saw blow down the street today), and it's another thing altogether when it is something you thought your internal security was directly connected to.

But regardless, the net result is that stuff gets moved around and I'm left looking at it all.

And in this blowing, one of the more discussable things I have found tipped over is a blechy residue of conformity.

I think at heart I have always been a non-conformist in the sense that I have little natural inclination to look at others to figure out what I should do. I've never been one to try to blend in or match others, especially when the issue is the basic question "Who am I?".

Conformity, to me, seems to have roots in insecurity. I see insecurity working in two different dimensions: personal and social insecurity. My personal security is pretty strong by my temperament. I don't naturally have a lot of social security, but I have been through a lot of things the hard way and have developed my social security muscles that way.

It is, though, in social or relational settings that I am most vulnerable. And what this wind has made me realize is that I have areas where I have been controlled by my fear of others' judgments. I have felt there are certain things I must do because I want to be sure to be included on the right bandwagons: liturgical, fashion, intellectual, etc.

And in that blowing wind, I realize this is wrong and it is silly.

First of all, who wants to be on a bandwagon with a bunch of judgmental boors, anyway?

Second of all, I know myself well enough to realize that it isn't other people's standards that actually concern me; it is my own made-up standards of what I currently figure is the ideal that hamstring me. So many times I have gone through "if I do xyz, so-and-so will be hurt/upset/angry" and then I learn from the mouth of so-and-so that no such thing is actually true and that it was me keeping myself locked in a cage all along.

Some people have a natural tendency toward rebellion. I have a natural tendency toward submission. It sounds weird, but I have always longed to find someone to tell me how to live. Even though, with the non-conformist thing happening simultaneously, I often have the urge to do exactly the opposite of what a group is doing or what someone specifically instructs me to do. I realize what these seemingly opposite desires of mine mean: I have had all my life is a driving call from God for my innermost being to belong to Him alone. Only God is really able to show me how to live while actually bringing life. Any other person or system that is not in sync with God or His will for me will crush, abuse, or limit.

That is not to say that God will not bring the cross. Oh yes He certainly will! That's a clear sign of God's authentic presence. We may even use the word "crush" in connection with the cross, but the cross always brings life. Life is found in repentance from sin, in an amended life, in greater detachment from created goods and greater attachment to eternal goods.

And it's not that I want to thumb my nose at even my imaginary judgmental community and do "brash" things to prove a point. What God has always pointed me to is the glorious freedom to be myself. To choose for myself. Maybe that person who makes a bugaboo about how we all need to do X is really saying it vacantly, out of a need to say something, or some other need. Goodness knows that not every word that falls into public hearing is well discerned, chosen, or intended or actually worth listening to.

Freedom doesn't mean doing whatever the hell I feel like. Freedom means having the power to live in increasingly deeper union with God.

And that, my friends, is exactly what I desire.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Reporting from the Bottom of the Pit

So, it's true: I've been feeling the tug of depression lately, and yesterday pretty much the tug-of-war rope snapped and I fell over. It happens. It happens to some people a lot, and it happens to me often enough for me to remember very well exactly how it goes.

But here's how my life works: while I am sitting where I have fallen, I am also analyzing the experience. So I have this thing going on where I have feelings of depression just like I might have feelings of fever or sinus infection. And at the same time I have a slightly delighted appreciation for what is going on, too.

I'm not quite able to put these in any logical order. But here are some pieces of the realization.

Communion with other people and with all of creation, in Christ, is pretty much what heaven is about. Our earthly sojourn is about recognizing the difference between the goods of earth and the higher goods of eternity, and choosing. God always presents us with choice, and He's constantly upgrading. The good things of this earth are by no means contemptible, but the more we recognize the infinite goodness of heaven, the more we are drawn to choose that in everything and in every way. That's what dying to self and dying to sin are really about. I look at how beautiful something is here, and even so, by grace, I am willing to say yes to something higher, like loving Jesus in His distressing disguise.

I can't expect ultimate help from penultimate sources. My husband, my best friend, can't give me what I need because they don't have it. What I need is from God. God always provides what we need, but sometimes He doesn't give it to the people we want it from. The solution is to turn to God alone. That's not a problem; it's God's design.

God makes Scripture come alive as we live with Him and live in His Word. His Word is alive, but maybe it is like a virus: it needs a host body to live in.

The most obvious thing to do when in need is to ask for help, specifically to ask for prayer.

The devil will do everything he can to harass, submerge, irritate, discourage and lie to me. And to end my life. The devil is not a gentleman.

Purgation is the greatest gift God can give on this earth, but it sucks. But it's worth it. The sucky feelings don't last.

Depression takes all of one's power and turns it into jello. That's why in these moments it is vital to surround oneself with prayerful people. Thank you, God, for Mark Zuckerberg because I'd be in danger without Facebook.

And that's just it: the Christian call is all about being faithful with the graces God gives to each one each day. I can't stop disaster in Syria or North Korea or change the course of history by some great plan I devise, but I can be faithful to whatever grace God gives me, offering my joys, sorrows, labors and prayers for the salvation and conversion of the world. That's what God wants and needs from us so that His mission can go forward.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Patron Saint of 2015

I wait for this day every fall. It is the last day of the liturgical year; tomorrow begins Advent. And every year I have this custom to basically pull out of a hat (actually, to randomly select by computer program) a patron saint for the year.

It is almost disconcerting how excited I get about this.

And every year almost the same thing happens.

I greet the day with great anticipation, I go to get my new saint, and my initial response is something like Huh? Who? But as the year progresses and I do what I can to learn about this saint and ask his/her intercession, I develop some kind of fondness for him/her, and I also see how whatever glory was in his/her life speaks to me in my concrete circumstances. Sometimes there is an prophetic tone to the choice that I only recognize as the year moves along. And almost always I feel the transition from one patron to another with a tinge of bittersweetness. Yes, I have issues with getting emotionally attached even to patron saints.

My new patroness of 2015 is St. Catherine of Sweden. She was the daughter of St. Bridget of Sweden, was married young but persuaded her husband to a vow of virginity and was widowed soon afterwards. She accompanied her mother on pilgrimages for years after that, and concluded her life as Abbess of the convent her mother founded.

I'm going with this picture of her, since I like the headgear she's wearing. Looks very Scandinavian.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Mysticism and the Normal Life of Faith

What's on my mind today is a phrase I've heard in various settings. This was not directed to me personally, but to an audience of which I was a part: Of course you've had touches of mystical experience. If you hadn't, you wouldn't be here.

This phrase strikes me like summer. Summer is when the warmth in the air allows the pores in my skin to open fully and soak in the comfort of not needing layers of clothes to produce heat for me. Summer is when I don't have to buffer myself against my environment. I can just be. Such peace, beauty, and union with all that is good.

People get afraid of the term mysticism for many reasons. I would simply call it the experience of God, who is real. Now, granted, I realize a lot more theological nuancing than that is necessary, but let's take it for granted that I am speaking of someone who is in union with Christ's Church and in submission to his Bishop who is in union with Rome. It also presupposes a healthy prayer life rooted in Scripture, liturgy, and community. It supposes that one is seeking to live a life of virtue and penance and mortification from sin in all its forms, but probably especially pride.

But with all that, mysticism is simply life with God, who is real, personal, and who acts as such. God is Emmanuel.

Years ago when blogging was still new I remember reading a Catholic blog where someone had the courage to ask whether mystical experiences were a common factor in people's stories of conversion. Several people tentatively acknowledged this to be true, almost as if they were letting out a closely held secret. Perhaps it is because Catholics are talking more with each other via social networking, or maybe it is because of the particular circles in which I move, or maybe it is a broader move of God, but since that time I have heard countless stories from regular ol' Mass-going sinners about experiences of God intervening in the course of their lives by vision, locution, revelation, and visitations of various sorts. For believers, it seems completely normal.

These things don't make people holy or special, or even necessarily does it mean that they understand what God may have been trying to convey. I also know that real visitations from God can be grossly misconstrued and dangerously interpreted so that people run off in weird and dangerous directions. I'll never understand why God is so peaceful with allowing us humans to play such an active role in the salvation of the world. I mean, I get it, but it puts me in awe. God takes such risks and is patient with so much foolishness from us. If we were better at acknowledging these simple truths, I believe there would be less foolishness because everyone would be better equipped to speak to these experiences, and fewer people would be deceived by the further ends of weirdness.

Bottom line: I believe that Christianity is broken and in serious danger when we do not consider that our faith and life have this mystical dimension as a part of being normal and healthy. We say we believe in the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, and is that not a mystical reality? My goodness, yes. If we lose these basics, a faith becomes a ritual-based morality system that is opposable based on personal taste and perceived "common good." But if Almighty God interacts with human beings, well then, every knee needs to bow to this ultimate reality and every heart needs to align itself with it.

If Christianity is not mystical it is worthless.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Graces, Math, Practice and Delight

I'm not one given to sentimentality, particularly not about things like thankfulness on Thanksgiving. Reality is good, but I often find sentimentality is more in touch with creativity than reality.

So here's my take on what I am thankful for today.

The other day I experienced something that I could recognize as clearly a gift of grace. There was a situation that was not unlike other situations I've been in in past months and years that has caused me grief, bitterness, pain and turmoil. But on this recent occasion, it came and I was ok. I greeted it with acceptance, and there wasn't the slightest bit of pain involved. In fact, I had a smiling feeling of delight precisely because I recognized the grace involved in this. I was happy in facing this difficulty.

A day or so passed, and I admired this little experience. Ah, how good God is to me. I'm making progress. Indeed.

And then out of the blue, in a setting I didn't at all expect, there were comments innocently made to me that cut me down to the heart. Ouch.

Oh, wait. This is just like that other thing I was just so happy about. Ok, take a deep breath, and go to the same place. I managed.

Then there was another situation where I was already prepared for it to be rough. I was not disappointed. But dang, all of a sudden I realize that the same principle is in play here as in that graced victory the other day. No wonder I've never liked it. The pummel came like a slow, swinging pendulum. Again. Again. Again.


There's nothing at all wrong with delighting in evidence of grace working, because it is the gift of God. But there's everything wrong with sucking on the sweetness of being a location of God's grace working. Yay me. It's going so well for me now. I'm so, you know... where it's at.

It reminds me of my daughter's approach to learning math. She will dutifully sit with me, attend, and while I work with her, she will grasp a concept. Her face will beam. "Ok, now you do this same thing on this two-page exercise, all in different ways."

Wait. What?

"Oh, and this is a skill that you'll be using over and over and in combination with much more complicated skills for the rest of your life."

Crap. It's not fun anymore.

Well, guess what my dear. It's lovely for you to find it fun, but the need really is that it becomes second nature to you, so that you have the skill to do this automatically and use it in situations where math, or virtue, is actually called for and needed. Because that's the whole point of learning. It forms you, and you master it. And so you are more fully human in this one little way. Oh, and there are hundreds and hundreds of these little bits for you to learn. Some will come easily and stay with you, and some you'll probably have to do some little mental gymnastic to accomplish for the rest of your life.

Let the delight of your soul simply be looking at your Lord and loving Him. Let everything bring you back to Him, lest you get stuck in even the most lovely bit of creation or the most wonderful effect of grace.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Unexpected Presence

I didn't sleep well last night, and currently my children and I are scurrying about, getting the house ready for Thanksgiving guests. My daughter, who can be such a balm to my soul, has been consistently asking for more tasks to do to help everything go smoother.

So this morning I was dealing with my third or fifth load of laundry in the basement. Dryer humming, water emptying into the machine. I was quietly intent on what I was doing. Suddenly I turned and saw a bright blue sweater containing my daughter sitting on the chair in the laundry area. I screamed at my full energy capacity for a good solid three seconds as I held my heart in my chest to make sure it didn't fall out. She and I collapsed into laughter for a few minutes as we both recovered from scaring each other to bits. I did not hear her enter. I did not see her sit down. It was just all of a sudden -- she was there.

An hour later I still felt the physical change from that few seconds of a scare.

And I told the Lord, "You know, this is what you do to me! All of a sudden, when I don't expect it at all, You show up just like that." I'm not saying I see Jesus physically present in a blue sweater (or any sweater, or at all) in my laundry room (or other places. Just being clear.), but yes, spiritually He does have a way of just showing up to me like that. Now I don't feel so bad about it scaring the crap out of me.

Do you suppose that He has that sort of crap scaring-out thing in mind? I firmly believe that part of understanding God's personal love for us is realizing His sense of humor. What greater bonding is there than to share this kind of moment of raw reaction? It may not be the most sophisticated form of prayer, but whoever said prayer always had to be sophisticated?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

To be Seen and Heard

Today I was reminded of an elderly gentleman who used to write letters to the pro-life office at which I worked over two decades ago. He may have written three or four times, and he always inclosed with his letters a significant stack of photos. The letters made me raise my eyebrows at the time, and today as I thought about them, they made me sad for him.

I don't remember the exact wording or content of the letters, but in general they revolved around his belief that God was sending him messages through the candles in his church. Specifically he was convinced of these messages because when he looked at the candles, they seemed normal. When he took the photos and had them developed (because, you know, that was how it worked in those days), there was a special "twist" and shape to the flame. This shape consistently showed up in all of his pictures. He was convinced that this was in answer to his prayers.

I recognized the kinds of pictures he sent, because my elderly grandfather who could not hold a camera steady took similar completely blurry pictures.

Today I thought of a spiritually hungry and lonely old man, sending his revelation to the only people he could think of who might listen and be interested -- the state Right to Life office. May his soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

This story reminds me of the adage that we must be "fully human before we can be safely spiritual." In other words, if we don't have certain human needs met, if we are starved for companionship or deeply lonely, or if for whatever reason we have a psychological crisis underway, we need to address these things before it is good for us to go off in solitary retreat and ask God to speak to us. And in the same way, we who do regularly seek God and ask Him to speak to us need to take into account that the basic and primary needs of those around us are not for theology lectures or liturgical precision directives. This is what Mother Teresa had to say about the need in the West:

“The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty -- it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There's a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.”
Today as I think about the man, his pictures, and his sending them to our office, my response can't simply be to pity the poor soul. My response needs to be to go into the silence where I learn the way God's mercy sees and hears people's desire to be seen and heard. It is nothing that I see or hear someone. It is everything that God sees and hears them. But how will anyone experience that of God if they never experience it from a person? And if they do not experience God seeing and hearing them, how will they believe that God loves them and calls them to serve Him?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Deeper Silence

Here's an irony: I spend this month with the writing-every-day challenge, saying more, putting more into words than I typically do. And at the same time, I find myself being called deeper into silence.

When you spend time with me in person in at least a slight variety of settings, you realize that I am not often a talkative person. Listening comes naturally to me, and I like to think before I talk. I can be comfortable sitting with someone in silence.

But none of that is what I mean. I probably couldn't get more silent that way if I tried, at least not while my children still live at home with me.

The silence I am talking about is stillness. It involves the mind, the soul, and the attentiveness. My mouth is calm, but my mind is able to go a mile a minute.

Over the last several years, I've experienced other times when it seemed I was being called to deeper silence, and in retrospect those were about deepening prayer, or turning off the talking-inside-myself and turning fuller attention to reality, to God's presence, and to God's Word. As a result, I don't have racing-brain like I used to. I don't have the thought-obsession I used to. Each of these seasons seemed to be proceeded by a more intense outward focus in my life in general. And now I find this looping back again.

It's the "be still and know that I am God" moment. The one who beckons is God, and God is real. The reality of God is also scary and disconcerting for those of us who live in the mortal coil. And yet, it is silly to think in terms of being called without concerning oneself in the first place with the One who calls. God is a Personal Being, not a force. He acts with design, with purpose, and for good. There is a dynamic going on that is not of my origination.

Here's a little secret: ever since I was a child I would get very nervous at the prospect of contact with God. Every Sunday when we pulled into the church parking lot, I had a sense of expectation that was like butterflies in my stomach. Now, for better or for worse I have grown accustomed to some means and avenues of encounter with God. My church didn't even have a tabernacle in it as a child like my parish does now, but I do not regularly tremble when I enter a church anymore. But there are moments, like what I sense now in this call to deeper silence, prayer, and stillness, that make me nervous. It always involves a sense of death, which means unknown, fear of loss, the need for courage, vulnerability. It is a gift, and I know that, but I also recognize that I fight and resist God every single time He gives me a gift.

Lately I have been asking St. Therese to pray for me, to teach me to "simply love." Because it seems that's what it boils down to. Leave the drama, leave the complicated thoughts, leave the desire for a human buffer, enter with trust and humility, and simply accept that God is real, and He calls. This is a normal relationship with God. It is to be lived.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Sin of Superficiality and the Antidote of Love

I don't usually blog about other people's blogs, but today I will.

A Facebook friend posted this from Ten Thousand Places called The Essence of What God Wants. The author is a priest apparently affiliated with Madonna House, which was founded by Catherine Doherty.

What strikes me about the post is two-fold.

First, he talks about the sin of superficiality among Catholics. Everyone wants some label. Conservative, liberal, Traditionalist, charismatic, communal. I used to really love labels for all sorts of aspects of my life, and I think it was because I was new to sorting through a lot of things like being a Catholic (once I came home from Japan, settled in, and got finished being a grad student and therefore too busy to do anything other than study), being a wife, and being a mom. I wanted a label to define everything I believed, everything I practiced, and that showed me with whom I fit.

After a while I realized I change and I didn't always fit and I didn't stay sure about all of my theories forever. But when it comes to the Catholic Church, "Catholic" is enough for me. I don't want to hear political terms connected to my faith at all. I believe in Tradition, I exercise charisms, and I seek to live communally. But I am a Catholic. If that doesn't cover all that and more, we are in trouble. Superficiality as a sin is spot on. That's all a faith-label is.

The other thing that strikes me is the antidote to this superficiality, which he cites from Doherty's writings: it is to feel God's pain. We feel God's pain by falling in love. When we fall in love, something deep in the heart rips open. It's true. And suddenly we can realize the way God is not-loved by ourselves and by others, and we marvel at how God lets it persist, and the agony it must cause Him.

I wrote a song ("Deliberate") that I put on my CD that used this exact image of being taken, blessed, broken and given for the life of the world. This was a phrase that was impressed on my early in my journey as a Catholic, except at that time I knew I had only made progress through the first three stages. There is something about being given, like Jesus is, that teaches one how Jesus is also rejected. I'll admit that this process of being in the hand of God to be given as He wills is frightening. But as I just wrote the other day fear, when in the hand of God, is silly and useless. What is required is faith and courage.

Don't you think it takes a lot of courage to love?

Friday, November 21, 2014

RambleRamble NO RambleRamble

So, yeah, that daily blogging thing is going better than I thought it would. It is good for me to go back over my day and capture something significant to ponder over and work out. It is actually easier to write (and process) this way than to write once every two weeks or something when I have the proverbial ton of thought, then, to work through.

Sometimes when I read other people's blogs I have to admit I am amazed at what people find inspirational and helpful. Someone will have 500 comments of oohing and ahhing over something that strikes me like "if you wrap your bread and seal the bag, it will stay fresher," and I scratch my head and wonder why this strikes a chord with people. I'll write something that seems soul-moving and profound, and the only reader I'll get will be a bot from Russia.

No one ever said life was fair.

And even I can't handle being in the depths of profundity every day. I am a very serious person, and I'm comfortable there, but since I live in society with people who are nothing like me, I need to develop other comforts, and other abilities, too. One of those abilities is to say, "No, I disagree" or "I have no idea what your problem is, but there it is again" or "Thanks, you depressed me." If I am me, I do need the comfort to identify other people being "other" and even to just reject what they say. Yes, for some people this comes naturally, all the time. I always want to be open to whatever possibility a person offers, and sometimes I want that too much. I recall a certain episode in my life where I wanted a person's advice so badly that I eagerly took some of the worst advice I was ever offered. I am really learning that the only directives I can be that eager for come from heaven.

Yeah, so, even when I ramble I can get out what I want to say. Gotta learn to finesse my words a little bit, too, sometimes.

Learning awesome skills, I am...

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Don't be Afraid of What You've been Given

While people were listening to Jesus speak,
he proceeded to tell a parable because he was near Jerusalem
and they thought that the Kingdom of God
would appear there immediately.
So he said,
“A nobleman went off to a distant country
to obtain the kingship for himself and then to return.
He called ten of his servants and gave them ten gold coins
and told them, ‘Engage in trade with these until I return.’
Yesterday I heard this gospel, and it was all lit up in my ears. (You only think that's an oxymoron.)

The people were thinking Jesus was going to offer them a completely finished work, something they would simply consume like a product. They did not realize that the kingdom He embodied and was bringing was the Way they needed to come into union with, build, and live. And they certainly didn't grasp that that Way was the way of the cross. One does not consume the cross; the cross rather consumes one.

This nobleman went off to obtain his kingship, but first he entrusts gold to servants. "Engage in trade," keep what I've given you busy and growing. There is a necessity for faith here. The servants had to trust the nobleman's ability to get what he was after. They had to have a bond of trust among themselves that was stronger than the corrupting power of gold.

His fellow citizens, however, despised him
and sent a delegation after him to announce,
‘We do not want this man to be our king.’
They had quite a bit to act against, since he was rejected on a grand scale by the very people he intended to rule.

But when he returned after obtaining the kingship,
he had the servants called, to whom he had given the money,
to learn what they had gained by trading.
The first came forward and said,
‘Sir, your gold coin has earned ten additional ones.’
He replied, ‘Well done, good servant!
You have been faithful in this very small matter;
take charge of ten cities.’
Then the second came and reported,
‘Your gold coin, sir, has earned five more.’
And to this servant too he said,
‘You, take charge of five cities.’
Then the other servant came and said,
‘Sir, here is your gold coin;
I kept it stored away in a handkerchief,
for I was afraid of you, because you are a demanding man;
you take up what you did not lay down
and you harvest what you did not plant.’
He said to him,
‘With your own words I shall condemn you,
you wicked servant.
You knew I was a demanding man,
taking up what I did not lay down
and harvesting what I did not plant;
why did you not put my money in a bank?
Then on my return I would have collected it with interest.’
And to those standing by he said,
‘Take the gold coin from him
and give it to the servant who has ten.’
But they said to him,
‘Sir, he has ten gold coins.’
He replied, ‘I tell you,
to everyone who has, more will be given,
but from the one who has not,
even what he has will be taken away.
Now as for those enemies of mine who did not want me as their king,
bring them here and slay them before me.’”

After he had said this,
he proceeded on his journey up to Jerusalem.
 Now, I'm not sure what happened to the other seven since only three reactions are mentioned, but it is fair to say that some of the servants remained faithful, trusting that the nobleman was going to accomplish what he set out for, and they stayed busy with investing, despite the naysayers.

What dawns on me is that the investing these servants were to be busy with was a testimony to their faith in the absent nobleman. The dynamism of putting capital to work was to strengthen their own faith-resolve as well as mark them out as decidedly different from those who were actively working against the establishment of the kingdom. Who is the wicked one here? The one who wants to stay neutral. The guy who hides what the noble gave him doesn't want to put out a lot of effort or risk faith that the noble will be crowned, nor does he want to completely reject him by going with the anti-king faction. He just doesn't want to commit his life one way or the other. The fact that he has the gold coin betrays the fact that he had been in intimate enough communion with the noble to receive it. But all he wants is to give it back, sort of regretting that he ever got mixed up in this ordeal in the first place.

That guy is not just lazy, he is a coward. He is afraid of the dynamism of living, afraid of enemies, afraid of the noble, afraid of what he had been given.

And that just never can be the right answer. It seems the one who is afraid of what he has been given does not actually believe in the Giver. He does not really believe it has been given to him; he believes it is some freak accident that his own freakish nature has originated. He is proud. He does not realize he is a contingent being, that he did not make himself.

The joy of the dynamism of working and investing is that of trial and error. This works; this flops. This needs something else in order to go further. All this development process is like growing in holiness, and it is the work in building the kingdom we are called to do. We only do it with the gold we are given. The capital is not ours, but the development of it is. We have all the helps of grace we can ask for, as well as all the goads we need (like those anti-kingdom workers whose efforts spur us out of comfort). I would rather move forward by trial and error, trusting the grace of the Holy Spirit to correct, guide and inspire, than sit and fret and worry and be afraid and stew in my own juices.

Work in the kingdom is meant to combat fear and to build trust in the One who gives everything we have.