Monday, January 17, 2022

Letting Compassion Rule

As I was reflecting on the story of the Wedding Feast at Cana, I suddenly had the following insight: Jesus was an introvert.

Think about it. We know nothing about his life between the ages of 12 and 30; he didn’t adopt the fiery persona of his cousin John, but instead quietly walked along the seashore and invited fishermen (also solitary sorts) to join him in his mission; he was reluctant to perform his first miracle, and only a handful of servants and his disciples even knew about it; he was constantly telling people not to broadcast the miracles he performed; and whenever the opportunity arose, he slipped away to be alone with God. 

Introverts often are slow to act because they tend to overthink things and don’t want to draw attention to themselves. At the time the wedding feast occurred, Jesus was probably struggling to figure out how to begin his public ministry; the problem of a lack of wine would seem like an ideal opportunity, but it arose too suddenly for him to grasp it. His mother, who had been observing her son carefully since his birth, surely knew why her son was hesitant to act and was testy when she drew his attention to the problem. However, she also was aware of the depth of his compassion, which is why she had the confidence to say to the servants at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you.”

It appears that compassion ruled Jesus’ life. He spent long hours healing people and teaching them, against his better judgment, because he knew it would draw unwelcome attention from the high priests. He spent most of his time with the marginalized and downtrodden. In the last hours of his life, as he was suffering on the cross, he had compassion for his persecutors (“Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do”) and for the man hanging next to him (“This day you will be with me in paradise”).

Jesus’ study of scripture led him to understand that he should be compassionate as his heavenly father was compassionate. Those of us who are followers of Jesus, whether we are introverts or extroverts, also should let compassion be our guide in our encounters with others on the road to everlasting life.

Friday, January 14, 2022

God's Dwelling Place

After God gave the tablets listing the Ten Commandments to Moses, the Israelites built the Ark of the Covenant to house the tablets, along with Aaron’s rod and a pot of manna. The Ark became a symbol of God’s presence and was carried by the Israelites during their 40 years of wandering in the desert, and later in advance of the Israelite army when it marched into battle. It appears that for the Israelites, God was portable — although it can’t have been easy to transport the gold-covered wooden chest topped by an elaborate golden “mercy seat” and two cherubim, along with the heavy veils that concealed it.

With the coming of Jesus, our understanding of God’s presence among us evolved. Jesus understood himself to be one with God the Father and God the Spirit through his relationship with them. When Jesus said to his current and future disciples, “Take and eat: This is my body,” he was inviting us to become the dwelling place of God ourselves.

Paul made this clear when he said, “Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16) and “For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, ‘I will dwell in them and walk among them; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people’” (2 Cor 6: 17-18).

No longer do we have to lug around a golden ark to be in God’s presence. God dwells in us; you can’t ask God to be portable than that!

Think about the implications: Whenever we desire to be with God, all we have to do is look within ourselves. We need never be lonely or frightened. We have a constant companion to share our joys and sorrows and an ever-present guide we can turn to when we are confused. We don’t have to go out and find Jesus when we or our friends are in need of healing and mercy, as when a paralytic man was lowered though a roof of a house where Jesus was teaching; Christ is already within us. And when we desire the physical presence of God, we need only look to others who also are part of the body of Christ. 

What is asked of us in response to this gift? The prophet Micah has an answer: “What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). It’s the least we can offer to God who chosen us as a walking, breathing dwelling place.

Monday, January 10, 2022

Finding the Light

Last week many of us at the Mount were sad and discouraged because of the abrupt death of Sr. Carolyn Rohde and the necessity of new pandemic restrictions. It didn’t help that the skies were gray and the temperatures were frigid. It was easy to long for brighter days. However, today St. Leonie Aviat (1844-1914) reached across the years to provide a response to that desire in a quote provided in Give Us This Day: “You must not wish to live outside the ‘present moment.’ It contains the light that you must follow and the help necessary for each circumstance.”

Sometimes the light of the present moment seems very dim. In his poem about January called Runoff, Stanley Burris says,

Just get on with it,
doing what you have to do
with the gray palette that lies
to hand.

When we look at paint chips in the gray family, it’s easy to see that some are lighter, darker, cooler, or warmer based on how much white or cream is mixed in — but they all contain some measure of light. It might not be as much as we wish, but it is enough to let us recognize the help we require, whether it is birdsong or a silly situation to lighten our hearts or the listening ear of a supportive friend.

Darker days also increase our awareness that the light of God’s love is always with us: “Even in Sheol you are there,” as it says in Psalm 139. There are lessons we can only learn in dimness and darkness, it seems, but in those times we are never alone.

“The sun’s coming soon,” Burris says later in his poem. And we’ll welcome it, while recognizing that its light has been with us all along in another less conspicuous form.

Friday, January 7, 2022

What's In a Name?

During the Christmas season, we hear these words from the prophet Isaiah: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is 9:6).

It appears that we humans are able to come up with a lot of names for God. That makes sense, because God told Moses, “I Am Who Am,” which means that God is part of everything that exists. Thus the names of God are as numerous as everything that has being! We could call God “The One who gives the cardinal its song,” “Creator of kaleidoscopes,” and “Maker of sprouting violets.” Individually, we can acknowledge the God who knows us intimately with names such as “The One who laughs at my jokes,” “Hearer of my deepest fears,” and “Lover of my attempts to bake pies.”

Perhaps a good meditation practice in the coming year would be to give voice to a new name for God every day. It would be a way to remind ourselves of God’s presence in all things and to explore some of the facets of the One who is constantly revealing Himself/Herself to us.

What’s in a name? God is inviting us to find out!

Monday, January 3, 2022

Gifts for a Servant King

Artwork by Edward Hays

On the Feast of the Epiphany, we hear the story of how three magi (astrologers) “from the East” pursued a prophecy that a new king would be born in Bethlehem. Persians believed that the rise of a star predicted the birth of a ruler, and myths from their culture described the manifestation of a divine figure in fire and light, so when a rising star led them to the dwelling place of the child Jesus, they took him to be both divine and a king. The three gifts the magi brought reflected their understanding of who he was: gold symbolized a king’s power and wealth; frankincense (incense) was a symbol of deity;  and myrrh, an anointing oil used for embalming, symbolized the death that this king, although divine, would one day face.

When he became a man, Jesus embraced poverty rather than wealth and repeatedly told his disciples that he was not a typical king who embraced human power and glory. When signs of his divinity manifested through his transfiguration on a mountain and his acts of healing, he tried to keep them quiet so he would not be worshipped as the long-awaited Messiah. The one gift of the magi that Jesus accepted was the myrrh, as reflected in his comment when others criticized Mary of Bethany for anointing him with costly ointment: “Leave her alone. She has done this in preparation for my burial” (Jn 12:7).

The magi are not to be faulted for bringing Jesus gold and frankincense, because the concept of a servant king was outside their understanding. Today, we know that the gifts Jesus desires most of us are to follow his teachings: to love God above all and our neighbor as ourself, to act with justice and mercy, and to be humble. These are the gifts that are pleasing to Christ — no wrapping required!

Friday, December 31, 2021

Keeping Christmas All the Year

We should never tire of celebrating Christmas. Yes, it is natural to tire of the sugar overload and clutter of decorations and constant activity. But that is not what Charles Dickens meant when he said, “I will honor Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year.” No, he meant honoring the good news that the Christ child brought.

What is this good news? As Brian McLaren describes it, “…the story of God’s work in history has never been about escaping Earth and going up to heaven. It has always been about God descending to dwell among us.”

We don’t have to wait to go to heaven to be with God — God’s presence is already here among us. We don’t have to wait for Christ’s light to illumine our darkness — that light already shines within us. We don’t have to wait for a gate to open to enter the kingdom of God — it is already open to anyone whose heart is open to love others.

This good news calls for a change of perspective. Hard as it is to believe, we don’t have to wait until we die to be with God; God has already come to us. We need only ask for Wisdom, who “passes into holy souls from age to age, producing friends of God and prophets” (Wisdom 7:27) to open our eyes and hearts to God’s presence, where we will never tire of celebrating the good news of Christmas.

Monday, December 27, 2021

All Will Be Well

I learned a new word today: agathism, which is the doctrine that, in the end, all things tend toward good. It is from the Greek word “agathos,” which means “good.”

Some teachers who affirmed the doctrine of agathism were St. Paul, who wrote, “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28); Julian of Norwich, who heard Jesus say in a vision, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well”; Teilhard de Chardin, who counseled, “Trust in the slow, slow work of God”; and Martin Luther King, Jr., who observed, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Persons who believe in agathism don’t deny the presence of misfortune or evil in the world but trust that everything ultimately will end well. Christians are agathists because they believe that the betrayal, crucifixion, and death of Jesus could not prevent him from being resurrected as the Christ. The love and mercy of God does not prevent misfortune or evil but transforms it. As Catherine Upchurch says in Give Us This Day upon reflecting on the death of the Holy Innocents, “Violence would not magically disappear in the coming of Jesus, but [the evangelists] knew his very presence in the midst of it would begin to transform the world.”

We can hasten this transformation of the world by participating in the work of Jesus, who demonstrated God’s love through his ministry of presence, healing, teaching, and advocacy for the poor and oppressed. As John of the Cross said, “Where there is no love, put love and you will find love.” And thus we will taste and see the goodness of the Lord (Ps 34:9).