Sealed in the Book of Life

Today I offer many prayers for our Jewish brothers and sisters around the world as they fast and pray on Yom Kippur.  For the past 10 days they have been praying and reflecting through the Days of Awe and now the holiest day is here. There is a fast that began last night, the Kol Nidre service ushered in this solemn moment.

Fasting, prayer, and repentance are intended to draw anyone who seeks God into the reality of life. It helps us to recognize our sin and confess, and God willing, be transformed. On this particular day, our Jewish brothers and sisters pray fervently to be sealed for another year in the Book of Life.

Such hope and desire is something for all of us, no matter how we seek it. Today may we all pray for such renewal and change so that we might bring good to the world. G’mar Chativah Tovah!

This is real

At sundown tonight, Rosh Hashanah begins. May all of our Jewish brothers and sisters be blessed with a sweet new year – we could all use that, right?

Each year I read the book cited in the link below. I find it an extremely important element of my spiritual life.  May we all find ways to embrace suffering; it spares no one. If that is not evident this year, I do not know if it ever will be.

My retreat from last weekend is still being processed, but this much is clear to me – honesty without shame, suffering with vulnerability, and offering ourselves openly to God and one another is the only way forward. May we soften, open, embrace – and be transformed. It is all very real, and we typically are, to riff off of Rabbi Alan Lew’s book title, completely unprepared. Yet God awaits us.

L’shana tovah to our Jewish friends. May peace prevail for all, may we each do our part of it, one surrender at a time.

“Our suffering, the unresolved element of our lives, is also from God. It is the instrument by which we are carried back to God, not something to be defended against, but rather to be embraced.”
― Alan Lew, This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation

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

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.

Breaking glass

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Eighty years ago, on November 9-10, 1938 the lives of many were shattered. Like shards flying every which way, the existence of Jewish people of Germany was splintered in ways we have yet to recover from. This is the anniversary of the time of evil known as Kristallnacht. The night of breaking glass. Although they may age, and their numbers dwindle, there are those still alive who witnessed these events, such as Ruth Winkelmann and Jill Pauly.

In an almost spontaneous moment this explosive event turned the course of anti-Semitism, creating momentum that would spin out of control. – Of course, the moment was anything but spontaneous if you study the history of that time. Which also signifies the need to pay attention to the current events (like this or this) of our lives. There are so many more, many that we do not even know about.

This short post serves to remind us of how forceful the power of hatred and division is; we are living it right now.  The horrific massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh two short weeks ago, the rally in Charlottesville in August of 2017 are simply two incidents of the rise in anti-Semitism. As for prejudice against people of color, the evidence is so voluminous I hardly know where to begin. The rejection of people of other faiths, especially Muslims is ever present. As for people from other lands who seek a better life in the United States, often arriving on foot seeking refuge and asylum from extreme violence and poverty, there has been an abominable welcome. The list goes on and on, unfurling like a ribbon of infinity unraveling from a spool over all time.

Often the rejection of others is justified in tidy legalistic terms by people of faith. What dissonance this reveals, given that Jesus Christ pretty much spent his entire time of public ministry reaching out to those unwanted ones at the margins, and was himself rejected by the standards of the day. If one claims him as their God I am not sure how one reconciles this belief. I’m not here to judge, but I am curious as I cannot understand how one can believe in that fashion. God does not love white people, Christians, or any one other person more than another.

Ironically the readings for tomorrow (Sunday, November 12) are rooted in what it means to give not from your surplus, but from your very need. This can mean giving away your last bit of food to a stranger, or donating the smallest coin, knowing that your own livelihood may be imperiled by such an act. It can also mean that we are to give of our hearts in ways we simply cannot imagine.

One example of that might be something like stretching the door to our hearts, forcing ourselves to open a bit wider, in pursuit of our God. This could mean starting to see “the other” in a more loving light. Love could be a big leap, so let’s start with seeing “the stranger” at least as someone who is not a threat. That too is part of giving out of your life, not from the surplus. It is what we are called to do, at least those of us who are Christians. We must be transformed through, with, and in Christ. That is hard work, but so far Jesus has not given up on us, so maybe we should not give up so easily either. Just a thought. And trust me, I’m talking to myself as much as to anyone who reads this.  My own struggles with rejecting the other have less to do with race, color, creed, but coalesce around ideology. I’m always trying to keep that heart-door open, but man, does it stick a lot. Where is the WD-40 of grace that I need to lubricate the hinges that will enable the transformation that I myself require?

quote-you-can-safely-assume-that-you-ve-created-god-in-your-own-image-when-it-turns-out-that-god-hates-anne-lamott-107206

This quote is remarkably appropriate pretty much every single day.

For this Catholic, the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht reminds me that Jesus (who was in fact born as a Jew, lived as a Jew, died as a Jew – just saying) is forever knocking at the door of our collective hearts.  I’m trying to go open mine – what will you do with yours? One need not be Christian to open the heart, but must be human. When we get to that point, the Kingdom will truly be here.  In the meantime, the only glass to break is that surrounding our own hearts.

Caminoversary

EDIT SJPP Waymarker Sept 17.jpgIt has been quite a year… I am at the one year anniversary of going on Camino Santiago. Once again, I thank everyone who supported me in various ways; materially, by walking with me as I trained, and always in prayer and love. Thank you from the bottom of my heart and my feet.

It is interesting to note that now that the anniversary is here, I am emerging. Something happened to me on Camino, not one thing, but it did what pilgrimage does, it set off a series of reactions within me. I’m not even sure how – or if – I will ever write about that, but I can say that I traveled down to the depths. Our culture is based on either denying, ignoring, fixing, and other meddling with these deep dark caves where transformation happens. I will say this much, had I needed medication or feared anything, I would have gone for it, I truly believe that. But no, and no red badge of courage here, I went down and stumbled around in the dark.

But guess what?!  Light is found, a tiny stillpoint of it is found once your eyes adjust to that place. God was there, I never doubted God even though I doubted a lot of other things. It was another pilgrimage, one that went deep within. Today I am grateful for the place I went, the place I stayed with God. It kind of sucked in a lot of ways, mostly that I gained a lot of weight. On the other hand, I can and will work on that, and I can never thank God for what now grows from that seemingly fallow, even dead, field in my heart.  Things are stirring!

For some this may seem too vague and creepy and you may worry about me. If this sounds confusing, I can only recommend reading and studying the work of Carl Jung, and shadow work.  I am being as clear as I can be, and I am doing really well, as happy as I have been in a long time. Along with that, I’m deeply grateful for my “second pilgrimage.”  Let’s see what lies ahead! In the meantime, buen camino one and all! Ultreia!

The road ahead

View_of_Judean_Desert_from_mount._Yair,_Israel

The Judean desert. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.)

 

(Today’s post is a little bit of #tbt, also known as Throwback Thursday, or a day of looking back at something from the past. I have posted it before, although so long ago I forget when! It is a good reminder on our second day of Lent. May we all pray for one another.)

We all know where the pathways of our desert journey are leading, and annually many of us set out again, in search of change and transformation. The road ahead is difficult, but we press on, over and over again, following Jesus. Stepping into the wilderness, we proceed into a place that appears barren and lacking hope. Each day carries us into the wilds, the challenges, the struggles. Tempted again and again, we make our way to the Cross. There can be no resurrection without a crucifixion. And what sense would a crucifixion make if there were no resurrection? These questions stay with us, but for now, early in the pilgrimage, we place one foot before the other, praying for our souls and our very being to be at last made more whole in Christ.

This is the road ahead. Let us go forth, praying for one another.

Unchanging, yet transforming

Pope Francis talks with cardinals as he leads the synod on the family in the Synod hall at the Vatican, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Max Rossi (no relation!)

Pope Francis talks with cardinals as he leads the synod on the family in the Synod hall at the Vatican, October 5, 2015. REUTERS/Max Rossi (no relation!)

(Today I present a few rambling, insomnia fueled thoughts on the Synod on the Family and the state of the Church. I hope you will consider commenting, and I hope that no matter what you say, you will pray before doing so. The pause offers us all a moment of grace. How we move forward depends on the bishops – yes, but also the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us hope for the best – even if that best breaks our hearts. What are you praying for?)

You are more than likely aware of the Synod on the Family that began last year, which has resumed in Rome at this time. Depending on how you look at things, we are Continue reading

Authority, transformation, and dirty feet

hi-pope-kissing-feetTrue authority presents itself in service and flows downward. Authentic change presents itself in justice through community and flows upward. Transformation happens when they meet in they dynamism of the Spirit. This is only accomplished through life in Christ.

I have washed feet and I have had my feet washed. No surprise that the getting washed was more challenging than the washing. Well, except for maybe when I had my feet washed by someone with whom I had a difficult relationship.

As a former corporate executive and leader, I can tell you that you can’t make anyone do anything. As an ordinary human, I can tell you that cannot make someone love you. Of course you can force people to do things, you can chase someone to no end, but no real authority, change, or love will come from that. The only change will be the disintegration that comes from anything to discomfort all the way to hate. This is not the integrity that emerges from the love known as agape.

jesus-washing-peters-feet-by-sieger-koderWhatever you do this Holy Thursday, whether you get your feet washed or you wash those of another, don’t think of any church service as a nice re-enactment. That is why the Eucharist is different, we are not re-enacting anything, we are not “getting” anything, we are not forced to something.

Eucharist is about what we give in love, put at the service of world in Christ. Eucharist is about how we are all transformed into what we are becoming. This can only happen in community, it is not a moment that is between any one of us and Jesus alone, it is about the whole, the entire Body of Christ – which is Continue reading

God hates who?

(Today I repost something that I wrote for this Sunday in 2010. Today’s Gospel story about Zacchaeus is one of my favorites.)

There is a group of people, a worship community actually, that goes around from city to city, town to town, even leaving the country to go abroad to preach their message of God.  You might see them in certain cities, near schools, in parks. Very, very often they show up at military funerals.

It is hard for me to even use them as the launchpad for this post, so I won’t call them by name or link to them. Their signature sign and chant might point out to you who they are – and even then, I present you with a parody of their sign.

Do you find it hard to conceive of God hating anyone or anything? It seems antithetical to all that our Church teaches us about the Lord. And even if God was displeased, do you think that God would encourage us to call people names?

In the first reading this week, from the Book of Wisdom, we hear this (emphasis mine):

For you love all things that are
and loathe nothing that you have made;
for what you hated, you would not have fashioned.
And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it;
or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?
But you spare all things, because they are yours,
O LORD and lover of souls,
for your imperishable spirit is in all things!

Yes, God loves all things that are and loathes nothing that God has made. Our God is a lover of souls and God’s imperishable spirit is in all things.

All things.  That is the inherent dignity of each and every human person… No matter what.

In the second reading, a letter to the Thessalonians, St. Paul offers the reminder:

…not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed either by a “spirit,” or by an oral statement,
or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand.

God hates who?

Again, so many claims can be made in the name of God, but we can’t be thrown off or alarmed by what is not of God. Yet we are given so many conflicting messages about how we are rejected by this all gracious and loving God that is is hard to not be “shaken out of (y)our minds” at times.

Of course God reaches out to us and through Jesus Christ offers us new life. And yes, response to that outreach makes some demands upon us to conform to the life Jesus gives us. The love of God is not conditional and it is very hard for most of us to really internalize and appropriate that in an integrated way. The only condition is that we respond and be transformed. God’s love is always there, our choice to be in that love is our own condition.

God hates who?

Earlier today I watched a video by Father James Martin, SJ.

In this video, Fr. Martin was reminding our LGBT brothers and sisters, who feel very rejected by organized religion in general, and whose lives may be at risk, that we are all beloved. I liked that in this video he said that Jesus was “always inviting people into community.” That’s kind of where we are headed with today’s Gospel.

In today’s Gospel from Luke we are treated to a compelling parable about Jesus and Zacchaeus. It seems that Zacchaeus was not just any tax collector. He lived in Jericho, a pretty rough and tumble town by many accounts, and he was one of the most reviled tax collectors there. That is quite a designation, the most hated of those who are hated. Not only did he collect taxes, he was quite wealthy himself, perhaps because he was collecting some taxes of his own. He seemed to serve not only the occupier, Rome, but also himself as he skimmed off the top. Who knows exactly what happened – what we know is that he was a real outsider.

Now it appears that he was short and as such, he had to climb up a sycamore tree in order to even see Jesus that day. An aside, Fr. Pat mentioned this in his homily – the prophet Amos was the dresser of Sycamore trees and Amos brought a message of repentance. In any event, Zacchaeus did seem determined to see Jesus, so he scrambled up that tree. And Jesus – being Jesus – did not say “God hates tax collectors,” nor did he wave any signs. No, he simply looked up at the right moment and said,

“Zacchaeus, come down quickly,
for today I must stay at your house.” 

This is not a casual “let’s get together” remark but an imperative. Jesus says he must stay at Zacchaeus house. Now people are unhappy because not only is Z an unpopular guy, he is thought of as a real sinner.

God hates who?

Here is Jesus – calling Zacchaeus by name and insisting that he stay at Zacchaeus house.  That’s a pretty big deal and not done lightly – God knows your name, you have been called by name.

God hates who?

Of course, the good people of Jericho – you know, the ones that follow all the rules – are scandalized…. Once again Jesus does the unthinkable, he calls the outcast into the light. Imagine that, instead of Jesus going to the most upstanding citizen’s house he does the opposite by interacting with the man that Jericho loves to hate by getting him out of that tree.

After scrambling down the tree, Zacchaues does what? He makes good. His transformation is set into motion. He offers restitution and fourfold restitution at that. Can you imagine Bernie Madoff or someone like that saying that not only would he repay the people that he frauded, but pay them back at four times the rate?

Jesus is glad to point out what this means:

And Jesus said to him,
“Today salvation has come to this house
because this man too is a descendant of Abraham.
For the Son of Man has come to seek
and to save what was lost.”

This man too is a descendant of Abraham. Jesus has come to seek and to save what was lost and once again, Jesus has done so.

God hates who?

Perhaps the next time we are about to revile someone – a relative, a friend, a neighbor, a politician, a societal outcast, a person of a different orientation, a person of a different faith or of no faith at all, we should stop and consider the parable Zacchaeus.

And then we might know that it is Jesus calling our name, asking us to come down quickly, demanding to stay at our house, asking us to be transformed.

Zacchaeus stands for anyone who we might believe God hates. And God clearly hates no one.