Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dinner for Fifteen

We had a lovely evening last night, with many visitors, both Sisters and "extended family."  Two crockpots, one full of chili and one of stew, bread, cornbread, salad, wine, and brownies!  I was the cook, and I have to admit I was anxious about cooking for so many.  But all was lovely, and the food was good and filling.  The evening was a beautiful continuation of the Christmas celebration, plus a little New Years mixed in.

And this morning:  Snow, in big fluffy flakes.  Best of all, it's supposed to stop soon, which means the roads won't be too horrible!

Blessings!  And drive carefully!

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Vulnerable God

Merry Christmas, All!




I heard a wise woman speak last week about the Incarnation and the idea of vulnerability.  On Christmas, we celebrate the fact that God became a tiny baby.  God, out of love for all of us, became human.  Think of how vulnerable an infant is -- totally dependent on parents for food, shelter, safety, love...  and yet our God chose to become that incredibly vulnerable, just for us.

The speaker went on to talk of our divinization.  God became human that we might become godly.  And we become more like God by opening our hearts and being vulnerable.  Love makes us vulnerable, because when we love another, we suffer with and for them, feel what they feel, and risk the pain of loss ourselves.  Our love, our vulnerability, is necessary if we are to follow Christ.

I've been thinking a lot about that idea, and also about the connection to the cross.  Really, the vulnerability of the God-human is shown in its extreme in the events we celebrate during Holy Week.  But that's what the Incarnation is about--our salvation, which comes through the resurrection of Christ, happens only because he was vulnerable enough to suffer and die on the cross.


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Advent Beauty

PEACE
LIGHT
JUSTICE
SAFETY
TRUTH
SALVATION

Once again, the readings today are full of hopefulness and beauty.  Isaiah reminds us of creation, of God's role in setting the world aright, designing it with beauty and for our benefit.

I am the LORD, there is no other.

John asks the question: "Are you the one who is to come, or should we look to another?" and Jesus answers by curing illnesses, making the blind see, and healing all sorts of sufferings.  (Isaiah answers, too, with "I am the LORD, and there is no other!")

Let us seek healing from God, for all that ails ourselves and the world we live in--injustice, lack of peace, depression, poverty, illness, grief, any of those things that wound us.   Our needs will be met by the Creator God who sets the world back on track for us.

Turn to me and be safe,
all you ends of the earth,
for I am God; there is no other!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Receiving Love

Do you ever have those days when you think God is trying to send you a message?  When ideas keep returning to you, from all different sources? 

My "message" this week is something that I mentioned in the last post--being open to receive the love that is offered to us.  I've been pondering this, and then it returned in the meditation I read yesterday, with a slight twist.  The meditation says this:

"Scripture is very clear that God knows everything about you.  Do you believe it? That can be a scary thought, because we all have 'stuff' lurking in the shadowy corners of our hearts.  But God loves you unconditionally, regardless of what you have done or failed to do.  God loves you in spite of your judgments and biases.  God loves you through your weaknesses and infirmities."

So the variation is that the love spoken of here is God's love, not human love, but the idea is the same--being open to receiving the love offered, having an open heart.

It seems so hard sometimes, and so important.  I do have stuff "lurking" in the shadows, just like everyone else.  I know God is with me in that stuff too (maybe even most especially in that stuff), but sometimes I feel unworthy of the incredible blessings that God gives. I know that's not true, but I don't always feel it.

I am reminded, too, of St. Paul, who recognized his failings, and "boasts" of his weakness, for God tells him:  "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor 12.9)

When I do allow myself to feel the love of God, and the love of those around me, I am so humbled by it, so grateful... and I know that by allowing myself to receive it, I am better able to give love as well.

May God grace our weaknesses with strength and power.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Gaudete!!





image from:  http://www.clynnponderings.com

It's been a busy weekend, full of Advent celebrations.  My community met yesterday for a morning of reflection, prayer, and calendar coordinating, and then in the afternoon we put up and decorated our Christmas tree!  Baby Jesus made a brief debut in the creche (oops!) before being put back in the incubator (i.e. drawer) until Christmas.  The house is lovely and festive.


Today is Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent.  I love this feast -- the sense of anticipation and joy at the coming of the Christ Child.  Many of my Sisters went to mass together this morning (we often go our own ways), and we had nearly two pews full!  I truly love that communal experience of liturgy and prayer together.


I was privileged to hear a talk this morning by Paul Coutinho, S.J., about Advent and darkness.  His spirituality is such an interesting blend of Catholic Christianity and Eastern traditions.  There are many things that resonated with me from his talk, but I think the most important is the assertion that we need to be more attentive to the love others show for us.  He says that we are quite good at loving those around us (though, with some exceptions, I'm sure).  But that it is often harder for us to accept the love offered to us.  For whatever reason -- maybe we feel unworthy of it, unloveable -- receiving the love of others is challenging.  He gave the example of a small child recognizing the sadness of her mother.  The mother's first thought is that the child shouldn't worry about her, but that she must always be caring for the child.  It may be hard, but rather than denying her own sadness, she should accept the comfort offered by the child.

Gracious God, on this day of rejoicing in anticipation of the coming of Christ, help us to receive the love you offer with open hearts.  May we recognize our own worthiness of love.  Allow your love to flow through us, that we might share it with all we meet.  Amen.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Learning the Right Path

I suppose being a teacher (and also always a learner), my ears perk up when I hear readings about teaching.  Today's first reading, from Isaiah, speaks of Yahweh as a teacher:

Thus says the LORD, your redeemer,
the Holy One of Israel:
I, the LORD, your God,
teach you what is for your good,
and lead you on the way you should go.

God wants our happiness, our good, and so God leads us in that direction.  And if we listen (learn!), God will give us great things.

If you would hearken to my commandments,
your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea;
Your descendants would be like the sand,
and those born of your stock like its grains,
Their name never cut off
or blotted out from my presence.

I'm enjoying the readings lately speak about the end of time, about the final coming of Christ.  But they speak to us today too, that we must listen to the goodness God teaches us, and then we've got to follow it!  My attention lately has been turned toward the coming of Christ in our hearts, that particular "advent" for which we constantly prepare, and yet which is already with us.

We are called to be Christ for each other, to share love with one another as Jesus loves each of us.  And the great reward:  both we and our loved ones will enjoy the presence of God.

Ah, Isaiah.  Thank you for your prophetic voice in our world.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Prayer of Silence

I had a little talk with one of my classes last week about spirituality, and about the importance of silence in the growth of relationship with God.

It's fascinating to me to hear some of the responses.  Some of my students are simply afraid of silence.  I'm not entirely sure where that comes from, but I think it's partly that noise allows them to avoid thinking about difficult things.  And they have plenty of noise--television, ipods, phones, etc etc etc.  Plus most of them live in dorms--I'm sure it's hard to find quiet at all in the dorms.

Advent seems like a good time to spend silence with Jesus.  To just be.  Not to think about what's happening today, or who needs prayers, or anything at all.  Just to be with Jesus. 

We might even hear something we like.  At the very least, I think silence gives me a better sense of who I am, a reminder of what's deepest in my heart.  It's hard to be silent--my mind wanders into words, and I have to consciously grasp at silence once again.  And over and over again, but eventually the silence sinks in, and I can enjoy it.  Then, I just am, with Jesus, who just is with me.  I know that I am loved, and that me being me is what Jesus wants.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Mysterious Feast



I grew up in a household that was not particularly devoted to Mary.  In fact, I don't remember ever saying the rosary, except one week at Catholic summer camp, and then I really learned how to say it in college.  It's still not a big part of my prayer life.

So, Marian beliefs were a mystery to me for a long time.  The Immaculate Conception is perhaps still a mystery to a lot of people (particularly those who mistakenly think it refers to the conception of Jesus... no, it's about the conception of Mary herself, in her mother Anne's womb). 

There are two lines from today's readings that stick with me:
"Nothing will be impossible for God."
and
"Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”

I know, that second one is just not so favored lately.  But it speaks to me:  that I am striving to be attentive to the will of God, and that I hope to be pliable so that God's will might be done through me.  It seems this sort of phrase is sometimes used to justify that women should be submissive in general--but that's not what it says to me.  It says that I need to be obedient to God.  Sometimes that means obedience to other human beings, but sometimes it also means standing up to authority figures to defend the truth. 

A book that helps me see the humanity of Mary in such a way that I relate to her better is Elizabeth Johnson's Truly Our Sister: A Theology of Mary in the Communion of Saints.  Johnson beautifully establishes Mary in her ancient Middle Eastern context.  I can see her as a little, strong, dark-skinned woman, one who works her fingers to the bone to take care of her family.  It helps to get away from the blond beauty who holds a book in Renaissance paintings.  Johnson speaks of the trials that her life probably entailed, being Jewish in the Roman Empire, living in a tiny town where all had to work together in order to survive. 

It's helpful to me to recognize that the Mother of God faced the same struggles of everyday life that we all face, with only the exception of sin.  Being free of sin did not free her from worry, from hard work, from sorrow and loss, from sickness... Mary is truly our companion in that she can relate to our struggles.

And, don't forget, Nothing will be impossible for God.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Through the ceiling

Today's gospel reading is one of my favorites -- the paralytic's friends can't get him in to see Jesus, so they climb up on the roof and lower him down.  Can you imagine how important it was for them to see Jesus, that they would do such a thing?

The thought brings up community as well--the paralytic couldn't do this by himself, but he depended on his friends to help out.  And they did, probably to their own discomfort and trouble.

Today was our last day of classes, and on we move to exams and the Christmas break.  I'm looking forward to the time off school, time to do other things!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Blessings of Community



image from: emailajoke.com  (and picture links to more Christmas cartoons...)

Today has been one of those days... It started off great, and then life got confusing and hectic.  It was slated to be a busy day anyhow--with finals approaching, there's really no way to avoid it.  But then: my car got a flat.

But here's the sweetness of living in community.  One of my sisters noticed the flat before I drove off on it.  Another loaned me "her" car to get to mass.  A third called AAA and got the tire changed while I was at mass.  And all (including fourth and fifth members of my community) have been helpful in getting me to and from the tire place and the meetings that we all had today.

I'm stressed out and busy, but I'm so fortunate to have others to help me take care of these disruptive things that happen to everyone.  If I didn't live in community, I probably would have missed mass, I would have had to change the tire myself (I've never had AAA), and I wouldn't have had the kindness and support (and caritas!) of community.  And I would have needed to wait at the tire place, and so missed the afternoon's meetings.

So, thank you, my lovely sisters!


Saturday, December 5, 2009

Confusing readings

I've been thinking about this line, from the end of the first reading today (Is 30:26):

On the day the LORD binds up the wounds of his people,
he will heal the bruises left by his blows.

I love the image of God binding up our wounds and healing our bruises.  We all have those emotional wounds and bruised psyches that need healing, and God can be trusted to bring peace to those places.  But what does it mean that they are "left by his blows"?


I think I have to pair it with another phrase from the same passage to make sense of it:

No longer will your Teacher hide himself,
but with your own eyes you shall see your Teacher.

Does God hide from us?  I don't think so, but we sometimes hide from God. I've been reading Paul Coutinho's How Big Is Your God, and he speaks of God's non-interference.  God will not force us to see the work God does in our lives--we can choose to ignore it if we wish.  I have a hard time believing that God would hide from us, but I have no doubt that I hide from God sometimes, even sometimes when I know I'm better off not to do so.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Miracles



image from sundayschoollessons.com

One of my students this morning asked a question that fits appropriately with the gospel reading from today.  She asked why the Church doesn't talk more about miraculous happenings, like statues weeping or the apparitions of Mary.

The gospel today was the healing of the blind men, Matthew 9:27-31:
As Jesus passed by, two blind men followed him, crying out,
“Son of David, have pity on us!”
When he entered the house,
the blind men approached him and Jesus said to them,
“Do you believe that I can do this?”
“Yes, Lord,” they said to him.
Then he touched their eyes and said,
“Let it be done for you according to your faith.”
And their eyes were opened.
Jesus warned them sternly,
“See that no one knows about this.”
But they went out and spread word of him through all that land.


Jesus, like the church today, wants his followers to focus on FAITH, not on miraculous actions or events.  The blind men are healed by their faith, healed because they believe Jesus has the power to heal them.  Jesus then tells them not to talk about what happened, not to pass on word of his miracles.  Of course they do, but that's beside the point.

Another one of my astute students said that if she was presented with the miracles but had no faith she would probably think that Christians were a little crazy, that the events were more like special effects from a sci-fi movie than actually reality.

What do you think? Are miracles, such as weeping or bleeding statues, helpful, or a hindrance to faith?  Would they convince someone who is unfamiliar with Christianity, or would they just roll their eyes in annoyance?  What about miraculous healings?  Could an experience of healing make an unbeliever turn to faith?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Sanctuary

A little quote from St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, foundress of the Society of the Sacred Heart:


"We should meditate often in the sanctuary of our hearts on the wonderful intimacy which our Lord desires to have with us and which he allows us to have with him."



Many spiritual writers speak of entering that little room where we are alone with God, but the image of the "santuary of our hearts" tops them all.  There, alone with God, nothing else matters but that relationship, that love that flows between God's heart and our human heart.  What a beautiful image.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Human Compassion



(image from www.slu.edu)

Last night, I was privileged to hear Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace laureate, speak.  He was fantastic.  He had the audience captivated by his gentleness and his stories of human life.

The part of Wiesel's message that spoke most clearly to me was his sense of human ethics:  we are all part of the same human family, and we are, not one of us, alone.  Only God is alone, he says.  We know who we are by seeing through the eyes of another looking at us, and thus as we are looking at them.  We must value and care for others because they are human, and in their humanity they are just like us.

For one who lived through the profoundly horrific experience of the Holocaust, his message is remarkably life-giving and beautiful.  Perhaps it's because of his suffering that he has such wisdom to share with the world.

I've been thinking about suffering a lot lately, too.  If given the option of an easy life instead of any sort of suffering, I think most would desire the easy life.  But, in a life without trials, would we really grow as human beings?  Would we be able to become deep-thinking people, compassionate people without some suffering? 

On the other side of those questions is the reality that each of us experiences suffering, and we seek to find meaning in that experience of hardship.  How have my trials, little as they are compared to those of others, shaped my own life, my own ability to be compassionate toward those around me?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Many Blessings


There are days when I simply realize how blessed I am--to have all the basic necessities of life (food, shelter), to have a job that I love, a family and friends who love me, and an amazing community of sisters.  Most of all, I'm humbled and thankful to be called by God -- to be a Christian, to be a Catholic, to be a teacher and a theologian, and to be a sister.

from today's Gospel (Luke 10:21-24):
“Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
For I say to you,
many prophets and kings desired to see what you see,
but did not see it,
and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it.”


I know that the world is full of people who think that living as a religious is abnormal or unnatural, or just plain weird, but it has already (in 4 short months!) brought me more blessings than I dreamed.  That's not to say that all is easy, but I have the love of Jesus and of my community to support me through the harder things.  It's so different from living alone and believing that I could (and should) do everything without anyone's help.