Saturday, October 25, 2014

Silence as a Prayer

“We do not know how to pray as we ought.” Rom 8:27

Prayer confounds many of us. It is one thing to recite prayers we learned in childhood, make a novena to the Blessed Mother or pray the rosary. It is an altogether different matter to learn how to sit quietly and ask God to guide us through troubled waters. News that a friend is struggling in marriage or a relative is seriously ill finds us trying too hard to say the right thing or not being able to say anything to God or to to those awaiting our insight or reflection.

St. Paul's assurance that “the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groaning,” for us when we don't know what to say is a comfort and a reminder that anyone who thinks they can speak easily about suffering and death is naive at best and arrogant at worst. Saying nothing is often better than a torrent of words that makes us feel better but does nothing for the struggling person.

Words are often unnecessary and unwanted by others who are hurting. If we can lean to accompany the suffering in silence, we are much more likely to help them, not because of our insights but because of our compassion and love. As Meister Eckhart reminds us, the language of God is Silence. To be like God we have only to welcome life no matter how painfully it unfolds, and let our silence be our prayer.

Today, sit in silence with someone who is hurting.

When is it most difficult for you to be silent?

Friday, October 24, 2014

Women's Voices

"We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now; and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies." (Rom 8 22-23)

I wonder if St. Paul actually heard a woman groaning in labor. Was he married for a short time? Did he hear his sisters or cousins when they were in labor? However Paul came to it, his use of the image of a groaning woman in labor is powerful and reminds us that women's unique experiences as women can add much to our understanding of faith and God.

A few years before he was elected Pope, the then Cardinal Ratzinger, presented a fascinating lecture on St Bridget of Sweden in which he reminds his listeners that history is full of women saints, mystics and theologians about whom we have heard little.

Bridget inserts herself in the great context of medieval 'female thelogy', which begins in the twelfth century with Elizabeth of Schönau and Hildegard of Bingen, continues in Germany in the thirteenth century with Mechtild of Magdebourg, Mechtild of Hackeborn and Gertrude the Great, while in Italy at about the same time Clare of Assisi gives new brilliance to the faith. She is followed by Margherita of Cortona and Angela of Foligno, and after Saint Bridget, mention must be made of Catherine of Siena. England contributes Julian of Norwich, and in this way we would continue with other names up to the great Saint Teresa of Avila.
Reading Pope Benedict's remarks I was struck by how little I know about some of the women he mentions or their writing. How sad for me and us.

Today ask yourself whether you regularly listen to women's experience and insight about matters of faith.

Do pray in gratitude for the women in your life who helped shape your faith life?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Compassion for the Broken

“And a woman was there who for eighteen years had been crippled by a spirit; she was bent over, completely incapable of standing erect.” Lk 13:11

The woman in today’s passage seems much like my mom who suffered terribly from osteoporosis in the last years of her life. Despite being bent over, mom kept going and like the woman in the synagogue, she kept listening, learning, and hoping. No doubt some judged the woman in the synagogue and thought she was possessed by an evil spirit, but she was not deterred. Like so many others who had heard about Jesus she wanted to be near him, and perhaps healed.

On the other hand, the leader of the synagogue doesn’t care about the bent over woman at all. Rather, he senses an opportunity to discredit Jesus and chastises the crowd saying, “There are six days when work should be done. Come on those days to be cured, not on the Sabbath day.” Lk 13:14

The role reversal is complete. Although the synagogue leader seems to be standing erect, in fact he has become the bent over woman. Unable to look anyone in the eye, seeing only the dark side of life, he tries to parse the law in a way that undermines the compassion of Jesus. That Jesus chose to “save the woman’s life” made perfect sense to everyone except the leader of the synagogue. How sad for him, and us when we fail to look at the sick with God's eyes.

Today, show compassion to someone you normally pass by.

Has someone shown you compassion when you thought you deserved nothing?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Love your neighbor

"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" Mt 22:36

One of the tasks of the great Rabbis was to reduce the entire law and prophets to as few words as possible without losing the power and love of the entire Torah. Jesus’ response to the question: which commandment in the law is the greatest is unique in two ways. First, no other rabbi suggests that love of God and love of neighbor are equally important because love of God is not enough by itself, but neither is love of neighbor sufficient by itself. Prior to Jesus, the rabbis talked about certain prescriptions of the law as heavy or light. Love of neighbor, while important, was considered light, while love of God was considered heavy. Jesus tells his listeners that both love of God and love of neighbor are heavy, that is, vitally important aspects of the Good news as he interprets it.

Jesus also challenges the traditional rabbinic understanding of neighbor. The rabbis taught that while all Israelites deserved love as neighbors, those outside the covenant only merited compassion. Jesus rejects this understanding and  insists that the Torah demands that Jews love everyone as their neighbor. The good news is for all. There are no outsiders in God's love and this remains the challenge for believers today. How we live this command will determine how others understand the Gospel.

Today, ask God for the gift of knowing deep in your heart that God is always with you.

Do you believe and act in a way that convinces others that love of God and love of neighbor are equally important?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Price of Arrogance

"Cut it down." Lk 13:9

Jesus often uses images from nature to help his disciples understand the Gospel. This is no accident. Because most of his disciples were illiterate, he could not urge them to read the Torah more carefully, but being unschooled did not mean they were unintelligent. In fact, the apostles may have been brilliant in ways we could never imagine, and would have been able to take Jesus'stories, songs, and images, fold them into their everyday lives, and retell them in ways that changed the lives of their listeners.

How wrong some on the Rabbis were to dismiss the first disciples because they were uneducated, and no wonder Jesus talked about cutting down the fig tree that was not bearing fruit. Too many in the Jewish community of Jesus' day were locked into a narrow and harsh interpretation of the Torah (the law and prophets) and were unable to learn from the wisdom Jesus embodied and proclaimed. Even sadder, they dismissed Jesus' disciples as poor fisherman who knew nothing about the law or the prophets. At the very least, the Jews who refused to look beyond their own artificial boundaries needed to be pruned in order to let go of branches that were sucking the life out of the fig tree of God's law.

Today, ask God to free you from prejudices.

Do you dismiss people because they speak poorly, dress poorly or are not good conversationalists? 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Looking for the Strengths of Elders

What follows is the first of an occasional reflection on the spirituality of aging.

Imagine yourself walking into a class reunion after 30 or 40 years of not seeing your classmates. What do you expect? Almost everyone I know comes away with two reactions. Some of our friends seem very old. They are bent, wrinkled and gray. Others seem very much like the people we knew many years ago. No matter how we try, our first instinct is to look at others and make judgments. Physical aging captures our attention, and while this is natural, it is a mistake if we draw conclusions about them based solely on how they look.

Too many older people are forgotten or invisible because of how they appear and we assume they are less able than they once were. How shortsighted this can be. A piece of clipart might help us understand what often happens.

Almost all the people I know who work with the elderly are very concerned with older people's bodies. Anxious to make the elderly safe, they take many precautions in their care. Health care workers and adult children put bars in older peoples showers, look for chairs and sofas that sit higher off the ground so the elderly can get in and our more easily, and send them catalogues of things that will keep them safe in their own homes. While these actions are intended to be compassionate, they also reflect diminishment thinking by reducing the elderly to their weakened eyesight or ability to walk quickly and surely.

We would serve older people better by asking them how we might access the wisdom they have gained or benefit from their strengths. Helping them only to avoid accidents infantilizes them and reinforces their growing disability, but fails to recognize the great gifts they can be to all of us. If, as the clip art suggests, the strength of our spirit is the foundation of a healthy life, then we need, without ignoring safety concerns, to spend more time celebrating what our elders have learned and practiced, not making decisions for them. In fact, too often the clip art diagram is functionally turned upside down. By paying so much attention to the bodies of older people, we have no time or energy to work with them to strengthen their spirits which ought to be the foundation of healthy living at every stage of life.

How do you look at the elderly/

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Doing What God Wants

“For I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want.” Rom. 7:19

It always amazes me how long it can take me to quiet down, to still my spirit, and to listen to God. Some days it never happens. My spirit, even in the morning, is so full of “stuff to do” in the day ahead that my conscious mind cannot rid itself of the clutter of a busy day. At times, it is a talk I am preparing, at other times it is an event I will be attending, but it is always something that gets in the way of breathing slowly and quietly with God into a new day. Most of us share this struggle. Our minds race ahead and there is little room for the Spirit of God to suggest something new.

It must have been very humbling for Paul to write about not doing the things he wanted to do, but it is the admission of his helplessness that allows him to accept the grace of God that will do in him what gives glory to God despite his faults. As he reminds us, despite his inability to live in Christ by his own devices “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Rom 8:1) according to the power of the spirit.

In the end, all of this brings a smile to my face. Clearly, God has worked in me and us, especially when we least expect it, and in ways we could never imagine on our own. We are in God’s world, not our own, and the simple willingness to let God do God’s work in us is enough.

Today smile at how good God is and be grateful for the all the good God has done in and through you despite your faults and sins.

How do you face your own faults?