Monday, September 28, 2015

Shoes for Mother Teresa (Morgan Ray)

 In the half light of a gray San Francisco day 
she walked in asking for Pietro, the shoemaker. 
She wanted to thank him for cladding 
her Missionaries of Charity all these years; remaking 
their Dollar Store flip-flops into substantial footwear. 
An entourage of young nuns wearing thin white saris trimmed in blue 
flitted about her like excited birds.  She was a small woman 
but not frail and when she entered the tiny shop, 
time paused for a moment.  She took Pietro's worn hand 
in hers, and I knew I was in the presence 
of not one saint, but two. 
A fragrance of compassion surrounded me and 
when I looked into her eyes, I saw a little mystery 
and a little mourning.  Pietro knelt, 
not in supplication, but insistence on tracing her feet 
to make a pattern for sandals. 

They were not delicate feet, but sturdy 
with the texture of well-worn leather; feet belonging to a soul 
who had walked barefoot under a waning Calcutta moon, 
laying hands upon the dying and the destitute 
until darkness faded. 

She stepped onto the paper, her whole body 
luminous, Pietro gently pressing her foot, 
outlining the shape of it 
with a pencil he took from behind his ear, 
carefully tracing curve each toe like a scribe 
recording an encounter with the divine. 

--Morgan Ray, Shoes for Mother Teresa
Image source
Poem source

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Work or calling? (A. W. Tozer)

  Let every man abide in the calling wherein he is called and his work will be as sacred as the work of the ministry.  It is not what a man does that determines whether his work is sacred or secular, it is why he does it.
--A. W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Sunday Gospel Reflection, September 27, 2015: Would that all the people of the Lord were prophets!

Who is called to serve?  
In our Old Testament reading from Numbers, the Lord bestows the spirit on seventy elders, including two -- Eldad and Medad -- who weren't even present around the tent of meeting, and the seventy go forth prophesying, praising God in mystic exaltation, transported by the fervor of their new ministry.  Would that all the people were prophets, Moses says in response to Joshua's complaint, Would that the Lord might bestow his spirit on them all!

As ministers of the people, those called must embrace the precepts of the Lord, each of which gives us insight into God's attributes:  like God's law, God is perfect, trustworthy, enduring, true.  If we are diligent in keeping these precepts, Psalm 19 suggests, we will become a faint reflection of who God is; cleansed, we will become blameless and innocent. Some of the people in James' community clearly have not embraced God's law; they will weep and wail over their impending miseries, rather than be equipped for ministry; they are not ready to serve.

Jesus recognizes the existence of the sinful and godless in his own time:  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.  Yet Jesus discounts no one who performs a mighty deed in his name:  Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink will surely not lose his reward.  In Mark's Gospel, the ministers of the Lord are those who embrace service, genuinely called by the Spirit to pay attention to the lowly, to serve the needy, to drive out the demons of injustice and fear.  In so doing, they will be transformed -- and so, should we join them, will we.

What opportunity to serve is calling you today?
Image source:  Wordle

Monday, September 21, 2015

Thee, God, I come from (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

       Thee, God, I come from, to thee go,
       All day long I like fountain flow
       From thy hand out, swayed about
       Mote-like in thy mighty glow.
       What I know of thee I bless,
       As acknowledging thy stress
       On my being and as seeing
       Something of thy holiness.
       Once I turned from thee and hid,
       Bound on what thou hadst forbid;
       Sow the wind I would; I sinned:
       I repent of what I did.

       Bad I am, but yet thy child.
       Father, be thou reconciled. 
       Spare thou me, since I see
       With thy might that thou art mild.
       I have life before me still
       And thy purpose to fulfil;
       Yea a debt to pay thee yet:
       Help me, sir, and so I will.
       But thou bidst, and just thou art,
       Me shew mercy from my heart
       Towards my brother, every other
                   Man my mate and counterpart.
--Gerard Manley Hopkins

Saturday, September 19, 2015

The call to something greater (Bruner & Vare)

Living by faith includes the call to 
something greater than cowardly self-preservation.  

--Kurt D. Bruner & Jim Vare, Finding God in the Lord of the Rings 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Sunday Gospel Reflection, September 20, 2015: The Lord upholds my life...

Who's directing your life, anyway?  

  When, in our reading from Wisdom this Sunday, the wicked beset the just one, they do so because the prophet has taken them to task for failing to engage with God, for failing in relationship.  But when they put the prophet to the test, they are really testing God.  Is relationship worth it?, they seem to ask?  Is it worth it to follow God's law, to allow God to direct your life?  Psalm 54 suggests that it is:  The Lord upholds my life, David prays.  In contrast to the ruthless, the psalmist lives justly, setting God before his eyes, and therefore trusts that God will save him, that relationship will be his salvation.

  In Mark's Gospel, Jesus similarly takes the disciples to task for losing sight of God and God's direction when he realizes they have been discussing who is the greatest among them.  Their human experience is rooted in self-direction; Jesus wants to redirect their focus, calling them to the humility that will allow them to submit to a God-directed, rather than a self-directed life.  Like children, who are completely dependent, open to God, we need to remain focused, open to what James calls the wisdom from above, which is pure, peaceable, gentle, and compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, so that our relationship with God can direct our relationship with other. 

  How willing are we to let God direct our existence?  We can answer this only insofar as we receive others openly, in peace, as we receive Jesus himself, our arms around him, embracing the relationship he has to offer, trusting in his love and mercy.

This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
Image source:  Wordle

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Empathy (Cantor Arts Center)

   Empathy, that human capacity to understand or feel what another person is feeling or experiencing, is the subject of a new exhibit at Stanford University.  Mounted in conjunction with a course taught by Jane Shaw, professor of religious studies, the exhibition contains works of art from a variety of esthetic movements and traditions, and, as the Cantor Art Center's website notes, traces the meaning and practice of empathy through artistic representations of Buddhist compassion, Christianity's commandment to love our neighbor, Enlightenment moral philosophy, and Civil-Rights-era photography.  

  The eighteen works on display include Hieronymous Bosch's Last Judgment (above), paintings based on the story of the Prodigal Son, and more.

  This exhibition can be found in the Robert Mondavi Family Gallery, Cantor Center for the Arts, Stanford University, Palo Alto.  It runs through January 25, 2016.  For more information, visit the Center's website by clicking here.

Image source:  Cantor Center for the Arts, Stanford University

Monday, September 14, 2015

Love itself, without its pain (Mary Oliver)

  A Certain Sharpness in the Morning Air  
  In the morning 
it shuffles, unhurried, 
across the wet fields 
in its black slippers, 
in its coal-colored coat 
with the white stripe like a river 
running down its spine --
a glossy animal with a quick temper 
and two bulbs of such diatribe under its tail 
that when I see it I pray 
not to be noticed --
not to be struck 
by the flat boards of its anger - 
for the whole haul of its smell
is unendurable --
like tragedy
that can't be borne,
like death
that has to be buried, or burned --
but a little of it is another story --
for it's true, isn't it,
in our world,
that the petals pooled with nectar, and the polished thorns
are a single thing --
that even the purest light, lacking the robe of darkenss,
would be without expression --
that love itself, without its pain, would be
no more than a shruggable comfort.
Lately, I have noticed, when the skunk's temper has tilted
in the distance,
and the acids are floating everywhere,
and I am touched, it is all, even in my nostrils and my throat,
   as the brushing of thorns;
and I stand there
thinking of the old, wild life of the fields, when, as I remember it,
I was shaggy, and beautiful,
like the rose.
--Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems (volume one)
Image source

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Living completely in the world (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

  I remember a conversation that I had in America thirteen years ago with a young French pastor [Jean Lasserre]: We were asking ourselves what we wanted to do with our lives. He said that he would like to become a saint (and I think that it is quite likely that he did become one). At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said in effect that I should like to learn to have faith.  For a long time I did not realize the depth of contrast.  I thought I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, or something like it. […] I discovered later, and I am still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in the world that one learns to have faith. One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a coverted sinner, or a churchman (a so called priestly type!), a righteous man, a sick man, or a healthy one. By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly life’s duties, problems, successes, and failures, experiences and perplexities.
--Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Friday, September 11, 2015

How can we live in harmony? (Thomas Aquinas)

  We Are Fields Before Each Other

How is it that they live for eons in such harmony --  
the billions of stars --  
When most men can barely go a minute  
without declaring war in their mind against  
someone they know.  
There are wars where no one marches  
with a flag,  
though that does not keep  
casualties from mounting.  
Our hearts irrigate this earth.  
We are fields before  
each other.  
How can we live in harmony?  
First we need to know  
we are all madly  
in love  
with the same   
--St. Thomas Aquinas

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sunday Gospel Reflection, September 13, 2015: The Lord God opens my ear that I might hear...

God wants us to hear; are you listening?  

Generally speaking, prophets were good listeners.  In our reading this weekend, Isaiah notes that The Lord God opens his ear that he may hear, and he has not rebelled or turned back.  To the contrary:  God fills Isaiah, bringing him confidence.  In biblical times, the prevailing belief was that by speaking to someone, you could open their hearts and thereby enter in, creating a sense of intimacy.  God thus enters into Isaiah, who therefore has nothing to fear, because the Lord God is his help.

In the Gospel of Mark, Peter hears… and then he doesn't.  His ability to acknowledge that Jesus is the Christ, a remarkable insight into Jesus' identity, is possible because God has opened Peter's ears.  But Peter doesn't understand what this means:  he's looking for a power-hungry messiah whereas Jesus speaks of his own future suffering.  Peter is too caught up in his own self-focus, thinking as human beings do.  It's time for him to listen, to pay attention to Jesus' statement that Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  Peter wants to show faith, as James writes, but fails in the implementation; his works are not yet sufficient, his understanding not yet profound, and he needs to engage in ongoing listening if he is going to move forward in faith.

God is a good listener, as Psalm 116 notes:  he has inclined his ear to me.  And if we manage to listen in turn, we too will be saved, freed from death.

God wants us to hear; are we listening?

This post is based on Fr. Pat's Scripture class.
Image source:  Wordle

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Our souls must give birth...

  On September 8th, the Church celebrates the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary:  Mary, future vessel, the one who is to bear the Christ child, who will carry him close to her heart, in her very being… Mary, who will walk the journey with him, his whole life long, and who will stand at the foot of the cross, carrying her beloved son, still, carrying his memory and his teachings into the future that is the Church…

  Though today's feast honors Mary's birth, it is, at its most profound level, a celebration of Emmanuel, God with us. God is with Mary, to be sure, but there's more: God is with us.  Mary, who was vessel, is to be our model:  we, too, are to recognize God-with-us, the child Jesus in our womb, so to speak; we, too, are to give birth to that child, Jesus, Emmanuel, Yeshua, God-who-saves.  St. Francis de Sales wrote, Our souls must give birth, not outside themselves but inside themselves, to the sweetest, gentlest and most beautiful child imaginable. It is Jesus whom we must bring to birth and produce in ourselves.

  But what does it mean to give birth to this child?  In a sense, it is to strive to live all that Jesus was, and is, and ever shall be; it is to be grace-filled, full of grace, as Mary was, full of the love of the Son, a vessel for the love of the Father, a window, like Mary, through which God's love shines.

Happy Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary!
And happy birth-day to all that can be
sweet and gentle and beautiful in our lives!

Image source:  Tamara Rigishvili, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary