Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Feast of All the Saints


"I want to be a saint!"

I was standing in an elevator with a bishop when I made this announcement almost 40 years ago.

"I think you would make a very good saint," the bishop responded, though he had never met me before this moment. Was he just being polite? How was he supposed to respond to this odd young woman, bedecked in her sweatshirt and patched blue jeans, making such a declaration to him?
I smile when I remember that woman, my younger self. She was so enthusiastic and full of longing to share God with the world.

It seemed, at the time, that being in college was like the opening of doors into a life where I could choose who I was to be and how I was going to live.

I wanted to be a saint because God's love and healing could then flow to others through me for all eternity. I saw that this was what the saints did for me - and I wanted to join that club. What could bring me greater joy?

Looking back on this moment with older eyes, it now seems so pretentious, so naive.

Does one become a saint just by wishing it, proclaiming it? Am I so special that generations of people over the centuries will know of me to ask for my prayers?

The answer to both questions: hardly.

At that young age, I knew nothing of the hardships of life. I had no idea how hard it could be to remain faithful when afflicted in body or mind. Even now, my understanding is limited in that my own afflictions have been relatively few.

I knew that I was in love with God but I had no way of knowing how many detours there would be on the path of staying in love. I was familiar with the detour of doubt but had no perspective to see how even my wish was part of a much more dangerous detour: ego (aka the wrong sort of pride).

While reading a delightful book on Russian Orthodox monasticism recently, I came upon a powerful reminder of what the path of Love really entails:

"...a monk must have no powerful desire for anything except God. There are no exceptions. It doesn't matter what that desire might be, whether for higher rank, or more knowledge, or better health, or for some material thing, or even to become an elder, or to obtain spiritual gifts. Everything will come of itself, if such be God's will." (from Everyday Saints and Other Stories by Archimandrite Tikhon Shevkunov).

While we may all be heaving a sigh of relief now that we are not Orthodox monks (!), we are not really "off the hook" all that much. Very few if any of us will be the sort of saint that is recognized by canonization, a formal declaration of the church. However, we are all summoned to be "everyday saints", no matter how ordinary or limited our lives may be.

To be an "everyday saint" is to take my own little corner of being and allow it to be filled with God. And to be "filled" with God means that there is not room for much else - certainly not things that I want for myself - only God and whatever unexpected gifts He brings.

I cannot even bring my desire for sainthood there. Only the desire for God.

Thus, even if it is my destiny to die in obscurity, a shriveled up old woman with dementia lying in a nursing home bed, remembered by no one, that is all right. As long as God fills that little corner of space that is me, my desire is fulfilled.

(Though I would be unaware of much, I can only hope that whoever had the unfortunate task of taking care of my body at that point might detect a little brightness there because of the One who dwelt within.)

It is easy to write these words - but a far different thing to live them. I did not know that when I was an enthusiastic young college student. But I know it now.

I am so far from that Way now that I might despair - if there were no grace and no community of saints to carry me with their prayers into the safety of their fold.

It is this that I celebrate today - the "communion of saints" - the eternal community of both the canonized and the everyday saints who dwell in the presence of God and want nothing more than for you and me to join them.



...I had a vision of a great multitude,
which no one could count,
from every nation, race, people, and tongue.
They stood before the throne and before the Lamb,
wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands.
They cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne,
and from the Lamb.”
...
Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, 
“Who are these wearing white robes, 
and where did they come from?”
I said to him,  “My lord, you are the one who knows.” 
He said to me, “These are the ones 
who have survived the time of great distress.

(Revelation 7:  9, 14)




            St. Francis of Assisi



      St. Clare of Assisi




    St. Catherine of Genoa



    St. Elizabeth of Hungary



st therese of the child jesus photo: St Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face StThereseofLisieux-1.jpg
   St. Therese of the Child Jesus




                 St. Teresa of Avila




     St. John of the Cross




   St. Mary Magdalene




   St. Maximilian Kolbe




  St. Kateri Tekakwitha




St. Charles Lwanga & companions




St. Paul Miki & companions (26 martyrs of Japan)



  Oscar Romero (not yet canonized)              


(These are only a few of the many, many saints who are part of the eternal community. Most will never be formally named by the church - but they still love us and pray for us.)


Friday, October 25, 2013

forgiveness


This evening, as I sat down to reflect on the Scripture for the day, these were the words that greeted me:

I know of nothing good living in me - living, that is, in my unspiritual self - for though the will to do what is good is in me, the performance is not, with the result that instead of doing the good things I want to do, I carry out the sinful things I do not want. When I act against my will, then, it is not my true self doing it, but sin which lives in me.

In fact, this seems to be the rule, that every single time I want to do good it is something evil that comes to hand. In my inmost self I dearly love God's Law, but I can see that my body follows a different law that battles against the law which my reason dictates. This is what makes me a prisoner of that law of sin which lives inside my body.


What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body doomed to death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7: 18-25)


I suspect that most of us can relate to this passage. We want to do good. We plan to do what is right but often find ourselves not carrying out these intentions nearly so well as we had hoped. It is rather consoling that St. Paul wrote this about himself. If one of the greatest of the apostles felt this way, perhaps there is hope for someone like me. 

What I am about to write next, however, is much harder for most of us to relate to.

Many years ago, a man I knew mailed these very words to me, painstakingly copied in his own hand. He was writing to me from prison - where he was incarcerated for molesting little girls. 

The crime of which he was accused and convicted is considered among the most heinous in our society. To prey upon the innocence of children seems unforgivable to most of us and many of us might label such a man "a monster". 

Yet here he was writing words that any one of us might have written, "instead of doing the good things I want to do, I carry out the sinful things I do not want." And I believe that he meant those words quite sincerely.

For him to copy this passage from the Bible was a great deal more work than it would have been for most of us. He was unable to read and write. He had to look at every letter of every word, one by one, and copy its shape. I suspect it took him hours.

The tragic childhoods he most likely contributed to only reflected the one he himself had lived. He was an abused child in an adult body, a severely damaged human being who could not be permitted to live freely in society.

And yet he was a person, created in the image and likeness of God. It was not his desire to hurt children nor was it his desire to offend God. And yet undoubtedly his behavior did both.

Can God's forgiveness be granted even to someone like this? Should God's forgiveness extend to a person who does such things? If I were one of his victims, could I forgive him?

These questions drive us deep into the heart of great mystery. The mystery of  forgiveness, what it is, what it means. The mystery of God's love for his broken people. The mystery of Jesus' teaching that, in our prayers, we should ask to be forgiven as we forgive others...

On a human level, forgiveness is often defined as a cessation of anger or resentment toward another. In psychological terms, it is often regarded as a process - but also a conscious decision. If I want to hold onto my anger, most assuredly I will not let it go. If I want to renounce it, I begin the process.

It also interesting to note that, on that same human level, there is research evidence that people who forgive tend to be happier and physically healthier. (And this research was done with people who had some pretty big things to forgive, such as murder of family members in political violence.)

And yet, forgiving is so hard for us to do.

It may not be quite as hard for me to forgive the people I love. It may not be so hard to forgive offenses that I could imagine myself doing in a moment of weakness...But what about those other ones? The acts so horrible that I could never, ever imagine doing that to another human being...

And this is where the forgiveness of God enters in. Not just that God forgives me - but that, if I accept that forgiveness, truly embrace it, I become empowered to forgive on a level transcending my own very limited goodness.

It is here, in this place, that we truly meet God and begin to understand.

I myself have never faced a challenge anywhere close to this and therefore it would seem false for me to try to explain. But I can share with you someone who has.

Corrie ten Boom and her sister, Betsie, were imprisoned during World War II at the Ravensbruck, a concentration camp for women. Their crime? Concealing Jews in their home in Holland. Betsie died in the camp. Corrie survived - and went on to preach to people around the world about God's forgiveness.

In the short video that follows, she tells of a meeting of a man following one of her talks in Germany. Listen with me:





(Excerpt from Corrie ten Boom's autobiography, The Hiding Place):

It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavy-set man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives. ...

And that's when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister's frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent. ...

"You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk," he was saying. "I was a guard in there." No, he did not remember me. "But since that time," he went on, "I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fraulein, ..." his hand came out, ... "will you forgive me?"

And I stood there — I whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and could not. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. "If you do not forgive men their trespasses," Jesus says, "neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses." ...

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. "Jesus, help me!" I prayed silently. "I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling."

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

"I forgive you, brother!" I cried. "With all my heart!"

For a long moment we grasped each other's hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God's love so intensely as I did then. 


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Week of Light: Day 7


It is with a heart full of gratitude that I approach my blog tonight to wrap up the Week of Light and the project of the 7 holy pauses. I have learned and grown so much.

Those who have been reading regularly may recall that in July, as an act of contrition for having neglected my blog for over a month, I made a commitment to post every day for a week on one of 7 words: hope, peace, grace, mercy, love, joy and light. Then I invited readers to share any art, poetry, photos, etc. on these topics and promised to post them two weeks later.

When I found that I had very few contributions by early August, I decided that I would post the ones submitted and make up the difference myself - 7 days straight for each of the holy pauses.

It seemed almost an impossible challenge to lay upon myself. Where would I get the time? How would I think of enough to write about - that would add up to 49 posts - more than twice the number I had done in any previous year?

I did not have the answers to these questions. And that is perhaps one of the most important lessons I have learned. I did not need to have the answers. What I needed to do was make a commitment based on faith and then live it out one day at a time.

The faith that fueled my leap into this frenzy of blogging certainly wasn't faith in myself. As I have commented on and off throughout, I have most often not had any idea what I was going to write and sometimes sat down feeling too exhausted to write anything.

A second important lesson learned was that often this was a good thing. When I was feeling empty and depleted, I was best able to recognize my dependence on God. If I thought for a moment that I was full of good ideas or poetry or art, I would not feel such a need to turn to Him. And that would have been a great loss - surely for me and likely for you as well.

Turning to God to help me blog - it sounds so silly - as though the Creator of the universe would be concerned about what I posted on the Internet! And yet, time after time, it has been made clear to me that I was not alone in this endeavor, that the holy One used my keystrokes to express His love for you and me.

If that should sound grandiose, please know that my intent is quite the opposite: I feel very humbled by this entire process. A friend commented to me today about some of the late hours at which I posted. I found that often I couldn't stop until I was finished.

(And it wasn't just me being compulsive about my commitment to get it done on the same day, though I don't deny that factor!).

When I was writing The Broken Wing, part 2, for example, I needed to find out how the story was going to end. How was this painful question of God allowing the little one to suffer going to be resolved? I truly didn't know. But I kept typing until the resolution made itself known.

There have been many times when I have been stuck in the middle of a post, not knowing where it was going, and paused to ask God for help. And help always came. That does not mean, of course, that I think that everything posted here is brilliant and divinely inspired. Certainly not!

It does means that I have learned more profoundly how much I need and want to turn to God for help in all that I do. There is much greater hope, peace, love and joy in my life when I rely on His grace and mercy, bringing my confusions and dilemmas into His light.

I am not sure that I ever explained why I have referred to these words as "holy pauses". If I have forgotten, perhaps you have as well. I first heard the phrase from Christine at Abbey of the Arts. While it more than I can explain here, I learned through a number of online retreats with her the importance of "pausing" to remember the holy in the midst of our busy days.

The Catholic church accepts the exhortation to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17), with seven pauses for prayer each day. Most people outside of religious life do not have the time to incorporate all of these prayers as they are written in the Divine Office. However, we can all "pause" for a minute or two 7 times a day to remember God - and these words became the themes of my pausing.

So...let us pause once more with the Light. I would like to share with you a poem and an image.

I wrote the poem earlier this year as part of an online class through the Abbey. We were offered the first line of a famous poem to use as the beginning our own poem. Thus, the first line of the following poem was first penned by William Carlos Williams.

(I am offering the option for you to listen to my poem if you prefer that to reading it - or do both. Just click on the little arrow and it will play.)




so much depends upon
me – or so i had imagined –
until one day, i was no more.

it is hard to say just how it happened.
it was a gentle, loving sort of thing
hardly noticed for all its power –

much like morning dew
imperceptibly drawn into
sun’s warming rays

or like summer’s long shadows
sinking with setting sun
into peaceful darkness.

once gone, all the longings,
needs and rages of old
seemed but a bit of dust.

it was, in the end,
only the Light that mattered –
glory upon glory to Him.

amen.




Many blessings...I will be taking a bit of a break but plan to be back posting about something or other before too long. Remember that you can sign up for e-mail notification (upper left corner) if you would like to know when I have posted.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

Week of Light: Day 6


I am beginning this post rather late because I just finished watching a captivating 60 minute video on prayer. The speaker (Anthony Bloom) had many interesting reflections but one thing in particular caught my attention at the beginning of his talk: his use of the phrase, "to see in a new light".

This familiar idiom, of course, stood out to me because I have been reflecting on light all week.

What does that mean, "to see in a new light"?

While I don't know the origins of the saying, my imagination stirs up an image. I am straining to see an something in a dark or dusky location and, being unsuccessful, turn on a light (or take the item somewhere else) to see it in a "new light".

In other words, if I can't see clearly where I am, I'll try a new light and perhaps I shall see more clearly.

(Of course, as an idiom, it means more than this. The phrase is typically used to suggest rethinking, re-evaluating or gaining a new perspective.)

Ironically, quite a number of things he said about prayer caused me to see it "in a new light". For example, he told a rather amusing story about how he had a bad quarrel with his good friend as an adolescent and he decided that he was never going to forgive him.

However, this created a problem for him every time he tried to say the Lord's prayer and he got to the part about "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us". He brought his dilemma to his priest and was told that he should not say anything in prayer that isn't true.

He tried out some alternatives, such asking God to heap burning coals on his own head since he wanted to heap them on the head of his friend. But that didn't work for him because he wanted to be forgiven. For the same reason, it didn't work when he tried to skip over that part of the prayer.

Finally, he was able to say the Lord's prayer, with his priest's approval, as "forgive me as much as I wish I could forgive my friend". After a year of saying it this way, he and his friend finally reconciled.

Although it doesn't seem like this should be so surprising, the speaker's emphasis on the importance of truth in prayer caused me to see it in a different light. Certainly it is not as though, prior to hearing this message, I was in the habit of lying to God. But, often enough, prayer can come from somewhere other than the deepest truth of one's heart.

Prayers can be recited because we were taught them. We may say them because we have been told that it is "good" to do so. They may be expected of us in certain situations or we participate because we don't want to be left out. But no prayer is good for me if I cannot say it and have it be true.

This small example causes me to consider how many things I routinely look at in "an old light".

I may have an established way of looking at myself that has been with me for so long that I consider it to be "true" and not open to a different perspective.

I may have a certain way of looking at the world, religion, politics, other people (and countless other things) because that is how I have always seen them. It doesn't occur to me that I might not be seeing them clearly and should try a new light.

And, of course, I may have a particular way of looking at - or thinking about - God.

I may conceive of God as an angry old man sitting on a throne, deciding moment by moment who gets to live and who gets to die. Or I might view him an amorphous spirit who brought everything into being but has now lost interest. Or I might even think of him as a myth, a fairy tale invented to make people feel better about their pointless existence.

Regardless of what my "old light" may be regarding God, it is very likely that I have one. Very few of us have grown up without any images or ideas about God, whether positive or negative. As with our other well-established views, it may not occur to us that there may different "lights" than the one in which we currently view things.

As the saying goes, it is what it is.

Or is it?

If you are at all like me, you have had experiences like the one I just described about truth and prayer. I wasn't conscious that I didn't demand that my prayers be true. I just hadn't really thought of it that way before. So my perspective on the "what it is" was modified a bit when I viewed it in a different light.

But there is even more here.

It has been written:

"God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all." 
(1 John 1:5). 

The meaning here is not that God is like the sun - only bigger. Rather, in God, there is nothing hidden. Truth is revealed in His presence. And it is a truth that loves and desires to help us - to see what we cannot otherwise see, to understand what we cannot otherwise understand.

In Him, there is no more being confused or lost or afraid.

My spiritual brother, Rodger, was again kind enough to share an image and reflection for this week of Light. He too apparently loves the evening light, having received the image of this grand old tree as it was illumined by the setting sun.

















(photo by Rodger, used with permission; minor editing by me.)

He sent me an e-mail today to say that the image helped him remember "how God shows his brilliance right before or after a dark night".

Indeed. There is no denying that life holds its "dark nights" - some of them very dark. So dark that we cannot see. And we may not even know that there is any alternative to the darkness.

Come along with me, you who are in dark nights.

Step out of the "old light" and into the brilliance of His new light. Do not be afraid.

Allow the light of His truth to love you and lead you, right now, tonight. And forever...for, even if you slip back into darkness, His truth is always waiting for you to come back.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Week of Light: Day 5


Yesterday, in my ramblings, I extolled the glories of morning light. While evening light is also a great blessing, October in Ohio doesn't not offer us very much evening. The hours of daylight seem to shrink at an alarming rate each week. 

But how I love that evening light! 

There is something about the light cast by the setting sun that gives even the simplest blossom a resplendence befitting a rare treasure. It is as though the sun, as its parting gift to the earth before it slips away, bathes all things in its own radiant joy.

And so it was that, just over two weeks ago, my camera and I walked to the park down the street to be so bathed in evening light. I brought with me a book of the Scripture readings, marked for the feast day: Guardian Angels. (Even the printed word seemed more alive in the light.)

















Allowing the Light to wash over me, I read: 

"See, I am sending an angel before you,
to guard you on the way
and bring you to the place I have prepared."
(Exodus 23: 20)

This is extraordinarily consoling news to those of us travelling through the darkness. The One Who is Himself Light has dispatched a guardian to guide us and illumine the treacherous path each of us travels on our journey Home to Him. We are not alone or lost. We are protected and led by messengers of Light. 

It is sad that so few of us believe this anymore. 

We live in a world that tells us it is foolish to believe in things we cannot see or prove. And yet so much of what gives our life depth or meaning cannot be seen or proven.

Can anyone see love? Can anyone prove beauty? While science may be able to describe light in photons and wavelengths, can it tell me why evening light brings me joy? 

Probably somewhere there is scientific study that tries to explain it - but I do not care. 

I do not disregard science but neither do I not turn to it for any of the answers that really matter. I no longer march with that army. Rather, I am marching in the Light of God.*

As has been happening to me more and more of late, some words joined with one of the images that I received on that evening walk on the feast of the Angels. Please allow me to share it with you:
















Let us allow ourselves to bathed in His light. May it cleanse us of whatever darknesses remain, in or around us, that keep us from seeing His great love. 

Let us march on in His light...


I have embedded for you a YouTube rendition of the Zulu hymn, "Siyahamba". Whether you've heard it a million times before - or never - I suggest you click on the little arrow and listen - or even sing or dance along.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Week of Light: Day 4


I woke to a pleasant surprise this morning. All of the weather forecasts I had seen the night before had little pictures of rain pouring down from storm clouds. I hadn't expected much.

When I opened my eyes and saw that my surroundings were still gray and dull, I resigned myself to clouds. Yuck. However, when I walked into my dining room for a better view, I could see that bright sunlight was inching its way past the tree and roof tops, so as to brighten my little garden.

I looked up to the sky. Not a cloud to be seen.

And it just so happened that, although there is always work to do, I did not have any patients to see until late afternoon. This has not happened recently and I had even been feeling a bit disappointed that my schedule was so light.

However, when I saw this "uncloudy" morning unfolding before me, all thoughts of disappointment evaporated. Before the weather changed its mind, my camera and I were going to take a walk.

Although the fall foliage has not yet peaked here in northeast Ohio, I knew that one street on my walking route typically has breath-taking beauty before all of the others. If I waited too long, as I had some years, I would miss some of the richest hues of the season.

After a bit of breakfast, I bundled up - it was a brisk morning - and we locked up the house to begin our sojourn. However, as my camera and I ventured out, I reminded myself that we were not going to take pictures or capture beauty but receive whatever images we were given.

I wanted this to be a contemplative walk, an opening of my heart to God - not a venture to collect photos so as to impress (as though I had created the beauty).

There is something about the morning light that is absolutely luscious. It has a vibrancy that is somehow sharp and soft at the same time. It defines every detail, in both light and shadow, but has a joyous aliveness that prevents any impression of being cold or hard.

As we made our way down the sidewalk, I almost immediately encountered a simple little leaf that had fallen onto my path at some earlier time. I saw its beauty in the illumination of the sun's fresh rays. I accepted its image with gratitude.



As I continued on through the neighborhood, I was blessed with many images, some quite colorful. Late-blooming roses held their own against the chill. The anticipated foliage was indeed stunning against bright blue sky.

But it was for the unexpected gifts that I felt a deep surge of gratitude: the images of the very ordinary fallen leaves as they encountered the Light.

Each fallen leaf, no matter how withered and worn, seemed to have a singular beauty of its own - a beauty that could only be revealed when exposed by the fresh morning light. I wanted to accept - no, embrace - each and every one, to experience its ordinary but unique story made manifest before me.

Even now...



I can relate to these leaves...



Each one is fallen...



Most are broken.



Each finds its beauty



Not in itself...



but in and through the Light...



given to it from Above.


Let us welcome the Light, humbly. Let us surrender ourselves to Its holiness and be enlightened by It.

All glory be to Him Who is our Light. Amen.


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Week of Light: Day 3


"The wound is the place where the Light enters you."   
                                           
So says Rumi, the Persian poet and Sufi mystic. I have been pondering these words of his on and off throughout the day today, sensing their truth but wondering what they really mean.

My post yesterday made it all sound so easy. The Light of the holy One is merciful and removes our sin and darkness - all we have to do is accept the gift and allow it to transform us. 

There wasn't any mention of wounds...

Perhaps this isn't going to be so easy. 

This afternoon, I was catching up on some work on the computer when, for no discernible reason, I lost my Internet connection. I tried resetting the wireless system and it still wouldn't connect. 

While I was considering this dilemma, I thought, "Maybe I'll paint for a bit." Having a perfectly valid excuse to avoid my work, I allowed myself to be pulled once again by the allure of alcohol inks. (Far better than getting frustrated with technology, after all.)

I had this quote from Rumi in mind when I began dropping the ink but, as usual, the ink led me to an image I hadn't planned. But in this case, it led to something I really hadn't expected: an image of the wounded One - with the Light entering through His woundedness.

"What is this all about?" I wondered to myself, as I quickly got ready for an appointment. It seemed like something important but I had to leave any further reflection for later.

After the appointment, I was blessed with the opportunity to share Eucharist with a small group at my church. I came home and studied at the painting some more. Sensing that I was going to want to share it with you, I moved the image from paper to computer screen, with a little help from my camera. 

And now, to make sense of these words and images...

Rumi, though not a Christian, seemed to intuit something very important about the nature of wounds. Whether physical or emotional, wounds are painful points of vulnerability. But they are also openings. The pain of our wounds opens us to seek healing from the Light, even when we are afraid or prefer to hide in darkness.

And we are a people of many wounds. It is not God who wounds us - but rather our movement away from Him. We are wounded, not only by our own sins and faults, but by the destruction left in the wake of all of human sin. I am damaged by someone who was damaged by someone before me and so on, until it seems that all we see around us is brokenness.

Any of us who have had even a little exposure to Christianity have most likely heard it said that Jesus suffered and died for our sins. And to many of us, this is rather puzzling. How does His suffering and death do anything for my sins?

If we have been raised with angry-God theology, the rationale was probably something like this: because people sinned, God was angry and we owe Him a debt; some sort of sacrifice has to be offered to appease His wrath and Jesus took our place. Jesus suffered and died instead of us and "paid" the debt for us. 

If the debt has been paid, why are we still suffering so? Why is God still so angry?

The angry-God theology is not mine. I believe in a loving Creator who sees what a mess we are in. In the person of Jesus, He comes and unites Himself to us in every way except one. He does not sin. 

But He allows Himself to be broken and wounded by our sin. He takes on our pain and suffering and feels it in a very real and human way.

Now, if the story stopped here, we might think that He was a very kindly God for doing this. Nice to have Him walking along with us in the dark while we suffered our plight...but we would still be left wondering what the point was. 

But the story does not end here. 

The resurrection of Jesus changes the picture entirely. Uniting Himself with us, making our wounds His wounds, He carries us through death to a new life. In this new life, there is no death because the power of sin has been destroyed. And the Resurrection is evidence that sin has lost its ultimate power - because its ultimate power was death. 

He does much more than walk with us in the darkness. He is the Light. 

He is the Light who enters our wounds and heals them. He is the Light we follow to find our way Home...




(If you would like to enlarge this image, click on it. As always, comments and contributions are most welcome and may be e-mailed to me at findhope@roadrunner.com.)



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Week of Light: Day 2






















I love watching the antics of the squirrels that frequent my back yard and that of my next door neighbor. Sometimes they seem very serious as they go about their business of searching for food, eating and occasionally storing it. At other times, they are utterly silly, suddenly chasing each other, rolling on the ground and scrambling full tilt up a nearby tree. Their faces can be so expressive.

After writing yesterday about how my heart longs for the Light, it occurred to me that this is true only some of the time. 

Allow me to explain.

When I think of light, I quite naturally think of "created" light, i.e. the light that I see from the sun (created by God) or from light bulbs (created by people). Generally, I find that I enjoy the light. I love sunny days and mourn the passing of the longer days of summer sunlight.

However, there are times when I might prefer to avoid the light. If I have a migraine or if I'm trying to sleep, I might prefer a dark room to an open sunny one. And, while most of the time I'm grateful that I can turn on a light to help me see, there may also be times when I prefer not to see or be seen. Darkness covers. Light exposes.

In the image above, received last month while wandering the yard with my camera, a squirrel-friend appears to be expressing similar ambivalence about having been spotted in the light of evening sun. He looks, in fact, rather alarmed.

As with the created light, the uncreated Light of the Holy One may be met with mixed reactions. 

Many people who have described near-death experiences relate an irresistibly loving Light to which they feel drawn. Coming back to this life, by contrast, is related as almost a let-down. Deep prayer and meditation can leave some people filled with a sense of sacred Light that is wondrous beyond description. 

On the other hand, some people (like me) feel rather alarmed when reflecting on the following Scripture passage:

For there is nothing hidden that will not become visible, 
and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.
(Luke, 8:17) 

Although the footnotes explain that this is referring to the mysteries of the Kingdom of God being made known to all, I still cannot help but squirm. Like the squirrel, I don't like the light giving me away when I thought I was safely hidden with my secrets in the darkness. 

In other words, I am a sinner. I carry within me memories of experiences that bring a sense of shame. I would like to meet that wondrous, holy Light - but if it means that all must be uncovered and everything must be exposed by the Light...well then, maybe I'll pass.

Or so it might be if I had not learned anything from the other 6 holy pauses: hope, peace, grace, mercy, love and joy. 

Left to our own imaginations, we may picture ourselves with the police interrogation room lights beating down on us as God's "light" accuses and condemns. But rather than just a prison door clanging shut, we may imagine something far worse, especially if we have been raised with images of angry God and hell fires.

But we have learned otherwise. For we have come to know of such things as grace and mercy and love. We have heard of our God: 

As far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our sins from us.
(Psalm 103: 12)

And we know that east never meets west, i.e. I could head east around the earth, end up where I started from and still be going east. I will not have met west. 

In other words, it is not the plan of the uncreated Light of God to expose and condemn. Rather, the Light of the holy One separates us from our sins and shame so completely that we will never have to encounter them again. They are gone.

So why, the curious reader might ask, do I still carry around those shameful memories if I don't have to? A very, very good question.

The gift of mercy has already been given. We don't have to beg for it. 

All we need to do is accept the gift and allow our lives to be transformed.

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(To help us imagine this transformation, I'm sharing here an image of how a bit grass gone to seed was transformed by the setting sun. And this created light is but a hint of the uncreated Light of its Maker ...)



















Monday, October 14, 2013

Week of Light: Day 1


It is so easy to slip into the darkness.

Hardly ever do we mean for it to happen. Who ever says to themselves, "I think I will go into that black hole of depression today"? Or "The dark night of the soul sounds good - maybe I'll have myself a good crisis of faith..."?

Even with the darkness of sin (i.e. thinking or acting in ways that move us away from God), seldom is it our conscious intent to reject all that is good and holy.

More often, something is hurting inside and we find ourselves wanting to make it feel better. And we are good enough at hiding things from ourselves that we may not even have conscious awareness of what it is that is pushing us to seek relief.

Furthermore, the remedies that most often occur to us first are the ones that provide the more immediate and certain release to the inner tensions of our pain and suffering. Raging, drinking, taking drugs or sexual acting out all tantalize us with promises of instant relief. If we manage to resist this first wave, the second wave typically includes the mind-numbing habits, such as playing video games, surfing the Internet or watching TV for hours on end.

Prayer and meditation do not promise us rapid relief. Neither do acts of kindness, sacrifice or forgiveness of those who have hurt us. Going to church or 12 step meetings...they're all right, I suppose, but...

It's just that the activities that may be most likely to lead us further into darkness are the things that seem the most immediately appealing. When I feel bad now, I don't want to wait around for weeks or months or years for a process that possibly - but not certainly - could make me a better person. I need relief now...

Thus, easily do we slip into the darkness and just as easily do we stay there. We long to escape our state of "blindness" but the darkness is familiar. And, seemingly, a lot simpler. We grow tired of fighting it.

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Tonight, I begin a Week of Light, inviting you to join me. (Light is the last of the 7 holy pauses in this blog series.) As always, I begin with some fear and trepidation, not knowing what will be given to me to post here for you for 6 more days. I'm as blind as the next person and do not see the path ahead of me.

But I know that my heart longs for the Light and I believe that there is a path. Seeming to confirm this, I heard these words earlier today while listening to Morning Prayer:

I will lead the blind on a way they do not know;
by paths they do not know I will guide them.
I will turn darkness into light before them,
and make crooked ways straight.
These are my promises:
I made them, I will not forsake them.
                                                                                     (Isaiah 42:16)

Join me in this Week of Light. We do better together than alone. Though we fumble in the darkness and our efforts seem small, let us gather our courage and take up the journey anew...


















(Comments and contributions to this Week of Light are welcome and may be e-mailed to me at: findhope@roadrunner.com. Many blessings!)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Week of Joy: Day 7


Frankly, today has not been one of my favorite days. As I prepare to draw this Week of Joy to a close, I would much prefer to be feeling in a positive, joyful state. I'd like to feel well physically, emotionally and spiritually so that I could send us all off in a happy state.

But it was not to be. Nothing serious, mind you - lest you kind-hearted souls worry. All the things that I've had to deal with are things I'm sure will pass or soon be resolved. 

In some ways, though this is not my preference, I see some good in it. Or rather, I see some God in it. 

As suggested in some of my postings earlier in the week, joy is not merely a transient state of feeling happy. Quite to the contrary, joy, in order to be of any significance, needs to be enduring. As with love, it is both a giving and a receiving, a sacrificing and a consolation. 

If I respond affirmatively to my own poetic question of Day 2, I must be prepared to "hold the joy" through even the darkest and most difficult seasons of my life. I cannot expect that, having said that I will follow the Way of Love, I will experience nothing but harmony and wellness thereafter.

Love that never sacrifices, that never gives, isn't really love. So too with joy. Rather than being a passing emotion, joy is a deeper knowing, a deeper commitment to not turn to negativity or sin because all is not what I want it to be.

Of course, sometimes life is really not the way we want it to be. Sometimes, despite our commitment to the Way of Love, we are cast into circumstances so terrible that we feel we cannot bear it, much less find any joy in it. 

The story of St. Francis' preaching on "perfect joy", posted on Day 1, sounds good on paper but far less good when you find that it is you who is starving, cold, beaten and rejected unfairly. To see where the joy is - where God is - at such times, is beyond the capacity of most of us.

And this is what allows me to be grateful, to see God in my not-so-great day: I do not have to do this alone. I do not have to find the beauty in my unpleasantness by being a strong or good or holy person. It does not come about by my efforts alone.

I need God.

When I think of some of the greatest of saints, when I consider how some of them endured horrific sufferings because of their commitment to the Way, I am reminded that they were able to "hold the joy" because they had a deep love relationship with the Holy One.

Whether our sufferings are large or small, there is nothing that can save us but that, there is nothing else that can bring us to the Joy.

Julian of Norwich wrote: "The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything." She did not qualify this by saying, "everything in nature" or "everything that God made". She just said "everything". 

As we journey along, praying to be led to that fullness of joy, I would like to share some simple signs of God, of joy, as balm for our souls when we are challenged. 

(Click on the image below to be taken to my album of photo images from this summer. Some will appear familiar, having been part of other holy pause postings; other are new. Several appear as mini-posters, with words accompanying the images. As always, you are welcome to download any of them for your personal, non-profit use.)


Summer 2013

{Following a brief break, I will begin posting for the Week of Light, the last of the 7 holy pauses. Comments and contributions may be e-mailed to me at findhope@roadrunner.com.}

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Week of Joy: Day 6



















(Photo by Rodger, with minor editing by me; reprinted with permission. Special thanks to the parents of the children for permission to post the image online.)

This image, submitted by my spiritual brother Rodger, hardly needs any words from me. Yet I will offer a few, for it is perhaps my favorite of all of the images he sent. It certainly speaks of joy - but also of every one of the 7 holy pauses we are celebrating.

Joy - Rodger indicated that these adolescent siblings were a joy to be with during their visit to California, always together, having fun, sharing humor - often without having to say a word to each other.

Hope - Seeing two such beautiful young people appreciating nature and their family offers hope when so often we hear the words, "What is this world coming to?" in reference to the younger generations. If this is what it is coming to, we have nothing to fear.

Grace - There is no word but grace for the gift of receiving such an image, the beauty of the brother and sister, the beauty of the ocean meeting the shore. There is special grace also in the gathering of good friends from days long ago, the context in which this image was received.

Mercy - The ocean and the skies above it can be powerful and dangerous. There is a mercy in a stormless horizon. {Though admittedly this sky has some clouds, contemplating this mercy brings to mind a favorite recording of mine by The Blind Boys of Alabama, Uncloudy Day*.}

Love - Certainly there is love here, love of brother and sister, love of life and the earth, love of God in His majestic beauty.

Light - The radiance of the late day sun casting long shadows on the beach is breath-taking. (Soon we will be reflecting on Light as our 7th holy pause - stay tuned.)

Peace - I want to step into this picture, on to this clean, peaceful beach, to stroll with these young folks. I want to feel the sand squishing through my toes and the ocean waves swirling up around my ankles. If you are stressed or weary, join me. Allow your senses to transport you...

Joy awaits...


* If you would like to read the lyrics to this beautiful old hymn, click hereAnd if you would like to see a short video of the Blind Boys performing it, click here. Enjoy!


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Week of Joy: Day 5


When I became more deeply interested in photography several years ago, I found myself becoming fascinated by paths. 

First, I found myself searching for paths in the woods in the spring. It did not take long for me to discover that, even in the woods, there were many types of paths. Some paths were paved, some well-worn by foot travel. Some were level and smooth, others steep and treacherous. Some seemed to lead into the dark, others into the light.

Naturally, my quest for paths extended into the other seasons. The summer paths in the woods seemed a darker green, while the autumn paths were a-splash with warm, earthy colors. When I could persuade myself to explore the frozen winter woods, I found its paths hard and virtually monochromatic. 

While, as a lover of beauty, I was intuitively drawn to photograph nature, I discovered that there was a different sort of beauty to be found in urban paths, be they old red brick roads, ordinary sidewalks or stepping stones set in gardens.

In time, I came to see paths established by our fellow creatures: tracks hopped into fresh-fallen snow, wakes left by lines of paddling ducks, even formations of geese migrating through later-summer skies. 

Earlier this evening, as I was contemplating what to post, I felt more visual than verbal and so began a collage. I searched through my many files of photos dating back to 2010 and chose some of my favorite images of paths received through these past few years. 

With the magic of computer software, I allowed the computer to cull the collection down to a mere 36 images that, with a bit of editing, became my "path of joy" collage that I will share with you here tonight.

Why a theme of paths during this Week of Joy?

From the onset of my search for paths, I was quite aware of these words urging me onward:

You will show me the path of life: in your presence is fullness of joy... (Psalm 16:11)

In some sense, I am always searching for the "path of life", whether in the woods with my camera or in the noisy silence of my spiritual journey. 

As my images illustrate, there are many, many paths of life, each experienced with its own unique dangers and beauties, challenges and joys. Can there be only one that leads into the fullness of joy which is His presence?

The answer, of course, is both yes and no. (Could you expect anything else from someone who describes their spiritual journey as consisting of "noisy silence"?)

There are as many paths as there are human beings. As created beings, each of us approaches the journey with our own individual biology and personal history, with our own loves and longings, our own wounds and weaknesses. 

Even identical twins are not identical in the spiritual paths they take. Each of us walks a different path. 

Yet, there can be only one path. Truth (also known as God) can only be One - not in the sense of the number "one", but in the sense of unity. A divided truth cannot be Truth. 

And any old path cannot be the Path. There may be many paths that can lead us to happiness (that fleeting experience that we often mistake for joy) but there can be only one Path to Joy in its fullness. And that Path, we are told, will be shown to us - if we long for it with all of our hearts.

As I reach the end of this reflection, I am struck by the blessed synchronicity of the collage I created (one image while many images) with the words just written (One path while many paths). 

All praise and glory be to Him who is both the Path and the Presence we seek.

















(Click on the collage image to see it as a larger image.)

Monday, October 7, 2013

Week of Joy: Day 4


Today, October 7th, is a day on which I think of my grandmother. And thinking of grandma brings joy to my heart.

Certainly I loved all of my grandparents and was privileged to have all of them be active in my life until my young adulthood. I never had every-day sorts of relationships with them because both my maternal and paternal grandparents lived far from me all of my life. But that seemed to make the infrequent visits even more wondrous.

My maternal grandmother lived in a small city (that to me seemed more like a small town) in Iowa. When my brother and I were children traveling with our parents, the car rides to our grandparents' seemed interminable.

Before freeways made the trip more efficient, we slowed down for all of the little towns - making the journey longer but more appealing to my child-self (there might be parks or ice cream!).

Once freeways came about, it was rows and rows of corn fields, hour after hour. Once we had worn out the usual travel games, we were left alone with our thoughts.

By the time we approached the small city, it was often after dark and we were weary - but excitement rose as soon as we caught sight of the large billboard welcoming us to town. I could not help but smile as comfortingly familiar landmarks came into view.

And then we would pull into the graveled alley to grandma and grandpa's driveway and start unloading our luggage as grandma stood in the doorway to greet us. There were almost always fresh baked cookies awaiting us as well.

Once my family moved to Ohio, the trip became a two-day affair by car but, even in my adulthood, I would hitch a ride with my parents. However, when my aged grandfather lay dying, it was a difficult time for me to get away and we finally decided that I would fly out to be with my grandmother a couple of weeks later for Easter so that she wouldn't be alone.

Thus began my solo trips to visit grandma. Those wonderful trips when I had her all to myself.

My grandmother was a remarkably alert and able woman for her age. Occasionally we would take walks, with her clutching my arm because of the uneven sidewalks and the ever present fear of broken hips. We might play gin rummy in the kitchen or work the Jumble in the newspaper. We would visit with "the girls" (her older sisters), first at the large old house they shared and later at the nursing home.

When I could no longer handle the icy air conditioning of grandma's house, I would go out walking on my own for awhile, to the park at the end of the street or "downtown" to wander about "the mall". The summer heat felt like a blasting furnace, but a welcome one - until I got so hot that I again longed for the comfort of my grandma's chilly dwelling.

On October 7, 1992, I received two phone calls. I was living in a tiny apartment in Pittsburgh then, having just finished my internship. I was searching for a job - hopefully in Cleveland - without much success. The first phone call was from my mother: grandma had died at age 93.

The news was dumbfounding. My mother told me that, two days earlier, grandma had been canning apple sauce. The morning of her death, one of her neighbors had peered in her large picture window and thought something didn't look right. My grandmother was sitting in her easy chair with the newspaper on her lap and a cup of cold coffee by her side. She was no longer breathing.

I remember bursting into tears while making the plane reservation, explaining to the airlines representative on the other end of the phone that she was the first person I had told. It was so hard to believe that grandma could be gone - just like that.

As I was trying to gather my bearings, as well as my belongings to pack for the trip, the phone rang again. A psychologist was calling to chat with me and offer me an opportunity to interview for a job. He explained that he had thrown out my resume - could I send another? - because someone had put in a good word for me and now they wanted to meet me.

I ended up getting that job and working there for the 20 years that followed.

Grandmothers can be such wonderful people. I like to think that that second phone call came about because my grandma, who had worried about my unemployment, could at long last help me with it. Now part of the eternal community (often called "heaven"), grandma had become a vehicle of even more abundant grace than she had been during her human lifetime.

As I was pondering my relationship with grandma today, as I do on every October 7th, I was thinking about how I will never be a grandmother myself, since I have no children. This, however, is no cause for great sadness. I am blessed with several "surrogate" grandchildren, shared with me by dear friends.

One of them, in fact, came over to my house just yesterday. The last time we had played together, I showed her my alcohol inks and she was anxious to learn to paint with them. We had a lovely time while she painted on a tile that she proudly brought back to show her grandma.

As I was cleaning the blue out a brush she had used, I playfully showed her another way of spreading the ink on paper - by splashing it from the brush. As she moved on to another activity, I dabbled around a bit more and finished the impromptu painting below:


Not surprisingly, I decided to entitle the painting, "Joy". For the joy of grandma. For the joy of all the grandmothering (and grandfathering) experienced on this earth - and for the promise of an eternity of it in heaven with and through our loving God.



Many blessings...


(Comments or contributions for the Week of Joy? E-mail them to me at findhope@roadrunner.com.)