About Fran Rossi Szpylczyn

Pilgrim, writer, speaker, retreat director, social media minister, church secretary - it's hard to believe I was once a corporate executive, but I was. Married to an incredible man, have a spectacular stepdaughter, dog and cat.

Be merciful, and other thoughts on interfaith life

MercifulThis morning today’s Gospel from Luke offered this message to us… a brief lesson from Jesus on how to live.

The horrific massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand continues to dominate the news. Somehow this one may have touched a new nerve. Locally, the Islamic Center of the Capital District hosted an interfaith prayer service on Sunday, and I was blessed to attend this event. That’s a big part of why today’s Gospel truly hit home. This is how we are meant to live with one another, full stop Continue reading

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Transfigured and transformed

Transfiguration_of_Christ_Icon_Sinai_12th_centuryIn today’s Gospel we hear a story of an astonishing transformation known as the Transfiguration. As a kid, I would often wonder what that meant, and I figured it only happened to Jesus. It almost felt as if my eyes would hurt from the “dazzling white” of Jesus’ clothes, which apparently transfigured with him.

As an adult I have been blessed to know a few life-changing experiences. In reality, most of life is nothing like that, ordinary days sometimes punctuated by a startling and heart-churning happening. One such moment for me was Continue reading

Forgive, be reconciled – start with self

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Forgive your neighbor the wrong done to you;
then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Does anyone nourish anger against another
and expect healing from the LORD?
Can one refuse mercy to a sinner like oneself,
yet seek pardon for one’s own sins?
If a mere mortal cherishes wrath,
who will forgive his sins? – Sirach 28:2-5

This morning I inexplicably looked at my phone soon after waking up but before praying. This is something that I prefer not to do as it will lead me down a rabbit hole of non-essential information and lost time – and most importantly keeps me from the quiet time of reading and prayer that begins my day.

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The news blazed across social media sites… Horrific New Zealand Terrorist Attack, New Zealand shooting, Christchurch Mosque Massacres.  Continue reading

I Need Help (First Sunday of Lent)

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“He used to remind us that the Holocaust did not begin with the building of crematoria, and Hitler did not come to power with tanks and guns; it all began with uttering evil words, with defamation, with language and propaganda.” Susannah Heschel, daughter of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, now of blessed memory.

In today’s Gospel and readings I see so many parallels to where we are today. For those among us who have some yearning to “make America great again.” Well, that may sound nice, but I can never figure out what we might actually go back to that would be so great. Greatness, if you ask me, can never be returned to, greatness – if it is to be – is found only by going forward. For others who may long for a greatness built upon justice, unity, and equality, other things can be read into today’s readings by understanding the risk of temptation – and avoiding temptation.

Jesus has been in the desert a long time in today’s reading – even if we are at the beginning of our own Lenten journey.  Maybe he is hangry! No, I’m not trying to be funny. He has been sleeping in the wilderness without the benefit of a nice tent, cozy sleeping bag, a water filtration device, and energy bars. Think about what this means. Not exactly a comfortable retreat to “get away from it all.” Quite the opposite!

Me, I love the desert, but boy oh boy,  I have no desire to stay out there for 40 days and nights! Yet that is exactly what Jesus did. And then he meets satan, the satanas – which means the tempter or evil one in general. Now Jesus must be so tired and hungry. The evil one makes three pitches which all center on Jesus Continue reading

Even now

Lent2019Desert Heart (1).jpgEven now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.

The opening lines of our first reading from the prophet Joel sound different to me today. Even now, he begins, even now. Yes, even now, despite living through many Lenten seasons, God continues to ask me to turn around – even now. And not to simply turn around, but to do so with an open heart, one bereft of all the puffery of everyday living. It is my heart, God wants, my heart and your heart and all of hearts – not simply a world that overflows with uneaten chocolate bars, untouched French fries, quiet social media streams, and less meat. Whether not God wants those things, I cannot say, but it does seem evident… God wants our hearts. Even now, forever, always says God. Just turn around please!

Last Friday night I saw Elton John in concert. Near the end of the show he did something that brought me to tears. These tears were the kind that I hope and pray leads to the weeping mentioned by Joel in that first reading for today.  Sitting at the piano, Elton talked about how in 1990 he was ashamed of himself. His life lacked any sense of logic or control, he was living in a way that made no sense and that was harmful to him and to others. It was at that point he at long last uttered three words that changed his life… I. Need. Help.

This Lent I think that the thing I need to do before creating a list of things to give up or take on, is to simply bow my head in prayer and say out loud… I need help. Maybe it is time to stop working so hard on what I can let go of, and simply let go of my pride. In that way, as I ask for help, I have given up the biggest distraction of all. In that space, God can do some work.

As my heart opens and tumbles out before God, all messy, hard around the edges, cracked perhaps, and swollen with false pride, God can do something with it. Something I cannot do on my own, even if I have a long list, a bundle of books, and a plethora of prayers to launch my Lenten journey.  What if God is not looking for my perfectly polished List O’ Lenten Desires, but only for me to say, “I need help.” And then to simmer down and accept it?

Even now, as the dawn of Lent breaks on the horizon of my soul this year, I pray that I begin by praying these three words. “I need help.”  Lent is so typically filled with a to-do list of holiness, but I think this way may be the way to go. Each day, many times a day, may I say to God, “I need help.” With that, may I surrender to God, and may the transformation of healing begin.

What will we give?

mainslide-blessedareIt is Tuesday and I am still thinking about Sunday’s Gospel. That’s not a bad thing, as we are supposed to be thinking of the Gospel if we follow Christ. Last Sunday we heard the Beatitudes from Luke. You might recall that about a week ago I wrote about Sister Dorothy Stang. She was reading aloud from the Beatitudes when she faced her killers, I always imagine how powerfully those words must have sounded as they took her life. By that, I mean how they sounded to them, she already knew what the words meant.

Anyway, post Beatitudes Gospel, my social media feed was flooded with posts putting down the rich. A wider search of friends and acquaintances bore opposite statements reflecting the notion of a “prosperity Gospel.” Ultimately, both stances leave me wanting. Well – the prosperity Gospel actually makes me want to scream and flee, because the idea of a God who “rewards” those who behave properly with material wealth is frankly anathema to me. The idea however that all those who have wealth are somehow disliked by God has plenty its own issues.

That’s why Continue reading

Desert heart

Edit Desert HeartA prickly heart
beats inside a chest.
Thump thump thump,
the thrum of blood
coursing through veins,
like a river swollen with melting snow.

How sharp that heart appears,
pointed, angry, dangerous.
How dry and desiccated,
like something that might turn to dust
if you touched it, if you could touch it.

For the brave who might reach out,
even tentatively, with a gloved hand,
delicately probing the sharpened points.
Like tiny knives poised to cut
the one that comes close, they wait.

Tender fingers push them aside.
Gently, lovingly pressing into the flesh,
finding a moist treasure, supple within.
A hiding place for love,
encased by thorns,
freed by human hands and a heart.