Prayer Space

Several of my friends have, at one time or another, referred to having a dedicated area in their home for prayer. Some actually have a separate room as their private chapel.

I confess to being quite envious of this practice. My basement is finished and I suppose I could think of it as the catacombs and consecrate it as such. Apart from this, there’s really no satisfactory space I can set up for the sole purpose of prayerful recollection. At one time I was able to use a corner of my office as a little altar. One acquaintance (a religious sister, no less) gave me a look of horror when she heard this. “In your OFFICE?!” I inferred from her look of indignation that God let her know he was highly insulted.

In an earlier post or two I’ve expressed the discomfort I frequently feel regarding the quality of my prayer. Not having a dedicated place adds yet another element to my concern.

These thoughts were on my mind as I was on my way to the mall, pondering whether a furniture store might have something suitable to get me started – like a kneeler, for instance. Instead, my generous and faithful Muse started to speak to me.

She led me (Ignatian style) to the well where Jesus and that disreputable Samaritan woman were conversing. Disreputable she may have been, but she also had what I thought was a healthy concern about the right way to worship. Plus, she was smart enough to recognize that this unconventional man she was conversing with knew a thing or two about God-like matters. Bold as she was, she challenged Jesus:

“Our ancestors,” she said, “worshiped on this mountain; you people (Jews) say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”

[Another example of our natural tendency to compete with just about anyone over just about anything! We are so right; you are so wrong!]

Since this discussion had a bearing on my current dilemma regarding prayer space, I listened closely.

“Believe me, woman,” said Jesus, “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. . . But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth; and indeed the Father seeks such people to worship him. God is Spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and truth.” (John 4:21; 23-24)

Of all things! God, the eternal I AM, who is at all times and in all places, is indifferent as to where he is worshiped as long as we do so in Spirit (from the depth of our heart and soul) and in Truth (with sincerity and authenticity).

Time and time again, I’m amazed at how much less fussy God is about things we put great stock in. We’ve devised creative but rigid ways of praying by the numbers and, as described above, definite places for prayer to be done.

As for me, I have contented myself with the exceedingly unorthodox practice of praying while sitting in my living room, looking through the window at the trees, the sky and the birds. God listens to me here as readily as he might were I in a particular church or room in my house. Maybe that’s because he has made me — and you — his temples, and has made his home with us there. Let us adorn it.

Kitty at window
Photo courtesy of Joyce Medovich

 

The Muse shows up

It happened again.

Write, write, write. Edit, edit, edit. Think, think, think.

Whenever a post goes like this, I know it won’t make it past my office. So, ready to head out to Mass this morning, out of the blue I get a headache. Maybe I shouldn’t go. Maybe I should. Can’t win that argument. Instead, I pop a Tylenol, grab the gloves and keys, and drive the 1 ¾ miles to church. I’m hoping that the Spirit will show up as Muse.

I’m rewarded with some of my favorite Scriptures assigned for this Sunday. (I find myself saying that rather frequently.) The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom a light has shone. (Isaiah 8 )

A land of gloom. Well, there has been a paucity of sunshine this past week. (Literally and figuratively.)

Then my favorite (again) Psalm 27: One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life . . . Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord.

Next, one of those “God moments” where St. Paul says just the right thing for us today: It has been reported to me that there are rivalries among you. (1 Corinthians)

Gloom and rivalries, as the church of Corinth is splitting off in an un-Christian display of childish divisiveness: “My leader’s better than your leader!”

Well might Jesus have prayed the night before his execution: I pray that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me. (John 17:21) For the hallmark of Christianity is Unity.

Coincidentally, our national motto is virtually the same: One out of many (E pluribus unum).

Not conformity, but unity. Not necessarily agreement, but love, patience, and hope, reflecting the command of Christ not to return evil with evil; not to return violence with violence.

calling-the-fishermenThen the Gospel where Jesus invites his first followers to join him in his sacred mission. (Matthew 4) After the arrest of John the Baptist, Christ is spurred into the urgent need to teach the lessons of the Kingdom. He calls the first members of his cadre, two sets of brothers who, also immediately, respond to the call. (Choose me! I say to myself. I want to be on this team!)

The only way out of gloom is through the brilliantly lit passage of Hope and Love, which is Christ. I think of a song we frequently sing in church: Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.

When I can do what I say, I’ll know I’m a disciple.

Obedience 101

Ages ago as a teen, I used to read one of those advice columns that every newspaper has. I think I ended the practice when I read a letter from a teen and its response. They went something like this:

Teen:
Dear Smart Adult: I’m so tired of having to jump to every order my parents give me: clean your room; do your homework; pick up your clothes; go to bed! I can’t wait until I’m 21 and married so I’ll be the one giving orders to my kids and making them obey ME!!! (Signed) Sick and tired

Smart Adult:
Dear Sick and tired: I’m really sorry for your troubles, but what makes you think that just turning 21 will forever release you from the need to obey? Here are some of the examples where you’ll find that strict obedience will always be required: your boss at work (providing you haven’t yet been fired for not following the rules); the local, state and federal tax collectors (unless you’ve ended up in jail for non-payment); your spouse who may have the audacity to expect you to get out of bed and to work on time so you can support your disobedient children . . . and so forth.

This was the kiss of death. I would never be in charge of anything or anybody! Now you know why I never forgot this incident from my youth. What Ms. Know-it-all said was that Obedience is an ever-present reality. The only change is in who’s giving the orders. I’d soon find out that I’m not in charge of anything, much less anybody. (More about that, God willing, in another post.)

I also remember my teachers, members of a religious order, telling us that the vow of obedience was the most difficult of the three they were required to make. Obedience required leaving their ego behind and adhering strictly to the judgment of another person. Moreover, the superior might be lacking in the personal qualities that make obedience easy, such as being (a) older/wiser; (b) better educated/smarter; (c) gentle and tactful.

St. Benedict makes obedience the very foundation of his Rule as he writes in the Prologue:

Listen carefully, my child, to your master’s precepts, and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).

In these few words he tells us not only to obey (“listen”), but to go more deeply into the heart level. But whom do we lay Oblates, living outside of a monastic community, obey?

10-commandmentsObviously we must first start with The Law, specifically the Ten Commandments and the Commandments of the Church. Most of us feel we’re quite all right in that department until we’re told by Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:20-22), to go beyond the letter of the law:

I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, “You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.” But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.

Jesus did not stop even there. He gave us his own person to imitate as he saved the most important commandment for the last. At the Last Supper he washed the feet of his disciples, showing them that their first duty as a disciple is to serve others. Perhaps because Jesus knew he didn’t have enough time to unravel the mysteries regarding the question of law and obedience, he created one single new commandment, one which is the clearest and the most difficult of all: Love one another as I have loved you.

How did Christ love us? He served, consoled, healed and forgave. He repeatedly referred to how he obeyed the Father. He could hear the Father through his intense prayer and his constant willingness to obey. Whatever the Father revealed to him in prayer, Jesus heard and understood. What he learned, he taught and also modeled. In his final act of obedience to the divine mission, he laid down his life for us.

There is so much more to say about the virtue of Obedience, especially as to how it relates to hearing the Lord. I welcome your thoughts, and pray that we can continue this discussion together.

Here I am, Lord: I come to do your will!

The Word Was Made Flesh

Rejoice!

 

I’ve been struggling to write about the first sentence of John’s Gospel. I started by pointing out how extraordinarily different it is from the other three. Matthew, Mark and Luke all talk about Jesus’ human origins – wonderful, of course. Matthew lists the genealogy so we know that Jesus was indeed descended from King David. Mark recounts the very start of Jesus’ earthly mission as he’s baptized. And of course Luke gives us the most familiar narrative of Jesus’ humble birth in a stable.

But John, that Eagle, soars over these “merely” earthy origins, bypassing them to place Jesus in the very center of the Trinity, creating and enlightening the universe before time!

As I was trying to write  this, the academician in me crept out. It went in different directions – all related to Jesus’ amazing beginning – which was not really a beginning because it was outside of time. Because we, on the other hand, are very much creatures of time. I had opened the proverbial can of worms. How does one wrap one’s head around something that is absolutely impossible to experience? All words fail.

Then I realized: no, one Word does not fail.

           In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 

I heard that Word repeated in John’s sentence, and I heard it like a bell ringing three times, once for each person in the Trinity!

 Now I knew I was in trouble, because how do we understand the Trinity? A great mind such as Augustine’s tried to comprehend this inscrutable doctrine. And if God, as Trinity, is so impossible to understand, why do we so insist on it, in our Creed, in our Christian faith?

 Then came the answer: through the Word, the very Wisdom of God. Seeing us in this dark place and time, having pity on us, this great and inscrutable God humbled himself to become human. And the Word was made flesh . . .

 As if this were not enough, the Word, now humanized (so to speak), this Word dwelt among us. Lived with us. Felt like us. Learned as we learn. Hurt as we hurt. Enjoyed as we enjoy. Spoke with words of forgiveness, mercy and unconditional love! The Word spoke the Father and the Holy Spirit. The Son was sent, not as royal ambassador, but as a servant to teach us, to meet evil forces head on for us, to know rejection and exclusion, to welcome us and let each of us know how lovable we are. Who else would do this, but an infinitely loving God?

 And again, as if this were not enough, St. Paul tells us (in his letter to the Colossians) that the mystery of God’s love, hidden for ages, is now ready to be revealed, because Jesus Christ has taught it to us. He lives not only with us but in us. The mystery is little by little revealed in us as the indwelling Christ teaches us to love as he, God, loves.

 Though John tells us the brutally sad truth that his own did not accept him, he does not leave us without hope.

To those who did accept him he gave power to become children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born not by natural generation nor by human choice nor by a man’s decision but of God.

How lovely that we truly have reason to rejoice on this Gaudete (“Rejoice”) Sunday! Let this be our joyful and continuing Advent prayer:   Thanks be to God for the Incarnate Word.
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Click on the arrow below to hear Fauré’s choral work, Cantique – To the Word Incarnate

 

I Am the Light of the World

the-light-of-the-world

It’s Advent, and as I write this a few days before the second Sunday, I rejoice to see a pewter sky. Yes, I know most of us prefer a convincing blue that lets us feel that all’s right with the world. But in Advent it’s different. Advent is the season of hope. Overcast, no; pewter, yes.

I am drawn to ponder the readings from this weekday Mass, and other passages from Old and New testaments, dealing with light and blindness.

Out of gloom and darkness, the eyes of the blind shall see. (Isaiah 29:18)

Is Isaiah saying that  that even  the blind will be able to see in our dark world, such is the radiance of the Messiah?  If only we could remember from within our gloom that . . .

The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (John 1:9)

Jesus invites us into his light: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

The greater the troubles, the more dazzling the rescue. Advent’s hope seems especially apt for the world’s problems these days – which are certainly no worse than what humanity has been facing for eons. Advent reminds us that Christ’s teachings are his the life-giving light that offers us our only true peace.

In the Gospel, two blind men come to Jesus to be cured. “Do you believe that I can do this?” he asks. So which is it that will heal us: the strength of our faith, or the power of Christ ?

It  it is neither by the one nor the other, but by our working in cooperation with the graces Christ offers.

Patience. Faith. Trust. These are the virtues, the qualities of soul  available to us during this season. Advent ushers in true Joy as we long for Christ to visit and remain in our darkened world.  He wants to cure our blindness and fill every event of our life with the brilliance of his Light.

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom should I fear? . . .
Wait for the Lord with courage; be stouthearted, and wait for the Lord. (Ps. 27:1, 14)