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Saturday, February 25, 2012

Sabbath

"If you call the sabbath a delight,and the LORD's holy day honorable; If you honor it by not following your ways,...then you shall delight in the LORD." Is 58:13-14

For the Jews of old Sabbath was both an obligation and a privilege. Jews were obligated to slow down, to spend time with family, to honor God by letting go of the events of the week in order to pray, listen and celebrate all that God did among them. Sabbath was also a privilege because it reminded the community that God wanted to be close to them, to dwell among them, and to animate them for the works of justice.

Many years ago, while a student at Boston University, I asked an orthodox Jewish friend why it was forbidden to play the shofar on the Sabbath. His answer has remained with me for more than forty years. Because, he said, God wants even the air itself to rest on the Sabbath. To change the natural flow of air by forcing it through a shofar with one's breath dishonors the God who wants everyone and everything to rest one day a week and turn their thoughts and prayers to God.

Lent is a good time to reexamine our own Sabbath practices. Do we take time to rest, to listen to others intentionally and completely with our hearts as well as our ears? Do we pause to think about how God was present to us each week even when we failed to listen to God? Though we know that Sunday worship is the time each week that the Church urges us to do this, we often fail to celebrate Sabbath, even when we are in church. Because the sermon is shallow, the music does not please us, or the liturgical gestures are sloppy, we allow ourselves to get distracted from our primary obligation and privilege.

The Sunday Eucharist is our Sabbath, even when it does not do what we think it ought to do. It is a time to listen to God and remember that as a community of faith, with all our faults, God has never stopped loving us even when we stopped listening to God.

Today, take some Sabbath time and thank God for life itself.

What has been your best experience of Sabbath Eucharist?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Fasting

"This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; Setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; Sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; Clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own." Is 58: 6-7

It did not take the church long to place before us a telling and important reminder about our Lenten practices. Fasting is not a subtle way to lose weight. Neither it is a practice to give us personal satisfaction or assure us that we are close to God. Fasting, and every other Lenten practice, has only one purpose, to draw us into the heart of God for God's purposes, and will be known by its fruits.

Are we more just, are we more open to the stories of those who struggle with life and life's most basic demands? Are we slower to judge others? Are we more committed to submitting ourselves to God? Are we content being God's servants? God's yoke, as Jesus reminds us, is easy. God's burden is light. Of course, we do not regularly experience any yoke this way, but it is true nonetheless. Our problem is simple. We resist God's yoke and insist on our own path.

Any farmer who still uses oxen or horses to plow her fields will tell you the same thing. When an ox or a horse goes in a straight path, it does not even know it is saddled with a yoke. It simply goes where it is directed. Though a harsh image, imagining God putting the yoke of the gospel around us at Baptism can help us not to struggle against any correction or instruction we receive.

Today, yoke yourself to God and let God lead you.

What yokes have you worn that you first resisted, but now accept as transforming?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Losing one's Life for Christ

"For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it." Lk 9:24

We often do things to save ourselves. We lie, we deceive and manipulate others and situations, all to protect our reputation. Of course, we know that when we act in this way we are being dishonest, but the alternative seems uncomfortable at best and impossible at worst. Although we know that lies follow us around like a bad penny, we get trapped in our pride and embarrassment. Literature is full of stories that emerge from a simple dishonesty but grow into terrible tragedy.

Is anyone in literature a more heinous Iiar than Iago in Shakespeare's Othello? While clever and insightful, Iago schemes, deceives, and manipulates others for his own gain. Eventually his lies result not only in Desdemona and Othello's death, but his own. Lies kill our spirits by diminishing both the liar and anyone who welcomes the liar's deceit for his own gain.

In today's gospel Jesus not only warns his disciples that he will be killed for telling the truth, he teaches them that wealth and power are unworthy goals for the believer. The only way to gain life, he insists, is to lose it, to let go, to put aside the mask of invincibility and put on the clothes of compassion and justice. Lent is about facing the lies we tell ourselves and examining the lies our culture promotes.

Today ask for the courage to face the truth about yourself.


What are the "lies" we need to confront in our lives and society?



Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

"Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God." Jl 2:13

Repentance or conversion, to which the church calls us as Lent begins, is really quite simple. We are to stop worrying about our troubles, our self image, our wealth, our health and everything else that distracts us from God. Lent is a time to turn to God again. We are to think about what God wants of us and from us. We are to ask for insight to know God's will and the faith to do it. It is as if we have been sitting looking out a window, which might be very lovely and relaxing, but is not what God is asking of us. God is asking us to look at God and return to our belief in the Good News. Conversion is an English translation of the Greek word, metanoia which simple means to turn back or to turn around. Admitting we are lost in our own fantasies or struggles is the first step. Turning away from them to God is the beginning of our ongoing conversion.

Karl Rahner said it well but in a different key in the last century. "The Christian of tomorrow will be a mystic, or not a Christian at all." That God is calling all of us to be mystics may be counter intuitive, but it is clearly one of the tasks of Lent. We need to take time to "gaze" at God and not at our own belly buttons. We need to open our eyes and spirits to everything swirling around us and find God at the center. God is here. Always and in all ways. God is present not only in the enriching, enlivening, uplifting moments of life. God is present when we worry, suffer, obsess and walk away. Lent is about finding God by turning away from everything that distracts us and turning back to God. It is simple, but very difficult and will not be accomplished overnight.

Today ask God to call your name so that you might turn to God again.

Share a moment of conversion that you experienced.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mardi Gras

"Throw your cares on the Lord, and he will support you." Ps 55

Though Mardi Gras is not celebrated in Northeastern United States with the same vigor as one might find in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro, it ought to be. Mardi Gras reminds us that while Lent challenges us to abstain from meat, especially on Fridays, and fast throughout the forty days, we do this, not because meat and food is bad, but because we sometimes take the simple joy of eating for granted.

More important, we often take faith for granted until we are tested. Mardi Gras reminds us not only to enjoy the delights of the palate, to savor them and to create a world in which everyone eats, it invites us to ready ourselves for the great pilgrimage of Lent when we plunge more deeply into the mysteries of faith.

As the colors of Mardi Gras, purple for justice, green for faith and gold for power, remind us, Christ came to establish justice for all, to deepen our faith and remind us that God is the source of all our power. Eat heartily today, enjoy the delights that God places before you and let us recommit ourselves to shaping a nation and world that demands clean water, adequate food, decent housing,and dignified work for all.

Today, take your time eating and be grateful for whatever you have.

Is there a Mardi Gras custom that brings you delight and challenges your faith?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Ambition

"For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice." Jas 3:16

Selfish ambition is a tough nut to crack, especially in a culture like the United States. Almost every day our children hear that they can strive for anything in this country, and if they work hard enough they can fulfill their dreams. While this is part of the "myth" of the United States and continues to draw people from all over the world to our country as immigrants, it is a dangerous notion when left unexamined.

Ambition can be a virtue when it is sandwiched by compassion and integrity. Who would challenge a young person wanting to do something to help the hungry, homeless and jobless in our country or around the world?  But when ambition is naked and unaccompanied by compassion for others and deep integrity it can lead to selfishness and the inability to consider any one else's needs or rights in the pursuit of one's dream.

All of us know people like this, and, of course, there is a bit of the selfish, worried, and self -absorbed person in all of us, but we cannot allow the "sinner" in us to direct, much less, dominate our behavior. Selfish ambition may lead to success in a career, but it can also leave us empty and confused. As Jesus says, "What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?" (Mt 16:26)

Today ask God to fill you with compassion and integrity to combat any naked ambition.

Has ambition ever undermined your life or the life of your community? Please leave a comment.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

No one is an Island

"No man is an Island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the Continent, a part of the main." John Donne

John Donne's wisdom is perhaps even more true today than when it was written in the 16th century. Unless we find a way to see ourselves in relationship to one another as human beings, and for some of us in faith, we risk isolation and violence. Only when we remember how connected we are to one another in the human family, can we avoid treating others as objects blocking our path to pleasure or accomplishment.

Isaiah and Jesus remind us of this truth in today's scriptures. Isaiah insists that God not only forgives, God forgets when he writes,  "Remember not the events of the past, the things of long ago consider not; see, I am doing something new!" (Is 43:18) Despite the unfaithfulness of the Jewish people who have been set free and led to the Promised Land, God promises to put aside their weakness and failures to do "something new."

In a similar way, Jesus, unlike so many times when he acknowledges the faith of those seeking his mercy, celebrates the faith of the four people who carry their friend to Jesus and lower him through the roof. It is the faith of his friends that makes it possible for Jesus to heal the paralytic. No one is an island, Jesus implies. Without the help and faith of friends, especially when we feel lost, broken and alone, we cannot approach Jesus or even remember the foundational truths of our faith. Furthermore, while it is usually easy for us to help others when they are in need, we resist the help of others by often insisting that we are "all right," or "fine," when we are a mess.

Today, take a moment to thank God for those times when the unasked for help of others healed you and set you free.

Can you remember a time when someone else helped you when you were unable to help yourself? Tell others about it.