Up-sizing

Thirteen years ago we moved into a home that was at least half the size of the house we vacated. We had needed a place large enough for the seven children we blended into one family: outdoor space to accommodate the sporting interests of the four boys still at home, indoor space to host out-of-town relatives and assorted high school friends for overnight holiday gatherings. But in 2004,  my husband’s health issues and an empty nest made relocation an easy decision.

I know that some of you readers may have faced the joys of downsizing. For us, it consisted of two garage sales (one at each property), truckloads of “stuff” for disposal, tons of books donated to the local libraries, in addition to several pieces of furniture given to the two local married children, still at the acquisitive stage of life.

The night we moved, we collapsed in bed, feeling that at our age we had been barely able to accomplish the ordeal. And we were still a good deal younger than 75-year-old Abram and Sarai when they got their marching orders from the Lord. One big difference: they were up-sizing.

abram-leaving-urGod directed them to take their servants and farm animals with them, and to settle in a much more extensive territory. There God would give them countless descendants to fill and eventually inherit the land.

Abram had a few questions, the most important of which had to do with heirs, since he and Sarai were childless and at their age quite likely to remain so.

Major lessons from the Old Testament have to do with total obedience to whatever the Lord commanded. It didn’t matter that the people so commanded might think themselves utterly unfit and even unqualified. Moses argued that he couldn’t lead the Israelites to freedom because he couldn’t speak very well, or persuasively. Not to mention his lack of management training. He was a shepherd, remember, in charge of gentle animals who are easy to lead — a far cry from the independent-minded, faithless Israelites.

Jeremiah complained that he was too young to be a prophet, and Abram certainly could have said, “We’re way too old for a move like this! We’ve gotten used to our life and are happy the way things are.”

“Not good enough,” I imagine God replying. “Staying in the same place all your life simply means you’re in a rut. Grow up and out! Take on an adventure, for heaven’s sake! Expand your horizons! Blossom!”

And so says He to us who would rather keep on doing the same old thing over and over, fighting tooth and nail against any change — particularly those of a spiritual nature.

Isn’t it odd that it’s usually adults, not children, who complain about change? A child can’t wait to get to the next step in its development. Like the little girl I recently met who took the opportunity to brag to me, a stranger, “I just turned 5!” Hurray!

Children consider it a badge of honor to outgrow last month’s new clothes. Bring on the new set! Moving up a grade is a significant milestone. I can remember starting 4th grade, how my classmate, with a twirl of her pigtails, proudly remarked that this year we were to launch into the new subject of HISTORY!

So how does it happen that we outgrow this eagerness to grow, especially where our faith is concerned? Our spiritual life can and must grow and change, ever deepening in our knowledge of the God we serve and of the Savior we love. How can we think that everything we need to know about God was learned in the 2nd grade? Have we so fully understood all there is to know in the Gospels? And Christ purposely told cryptic parables, challenging his audience to work at understanding their meaning and how they might change their way of looking at life, their way of living.

So here we are now in Elmira, our worship space and schedule shrinking. We may be downsizing in these respects, but in the grand scheme of things we’re up-sizing. We’re merging into one community, thankfully an optimistic development. What if it were the other way around? Instead of merging, what if there were some form of rivalry causing us to split?

Let’s offer prayers of thanks for this solution. Our graceful and grace-filled unity offers an opportunity to be seen as a public model of Christianity, an image of living evangelization. What a blessing! What new forms of living and growing in our faith might be open to us now? Christ tells us that the unity of believers images none other than his all-inclusive love for us.

“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. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one . . . that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me. Father, they are your gift to me.”
(John 17:20-21; 23-24a)
Together

Ramblings . . .

About a year ago I decided to start this blog. According to a message from WordPress, SpiritMuse now has 50 published posts. There are several more in draft form which I suppose I may use some day. At the beginning of this spiritual exercise, so many ideas were swirling around in my head that it seemed the natural and necessary thing to write them down and try to figure out what they all meant to my spiritual growth.

I confess that lately it’s been quite difficult. Ideas aren’t exactly rushing in to help me out. In describing prayer, Teresa of Avila uses the analogy of watering a garden. Sometimes we struggle with a bucket to draw up water from what seems to be a very dry well. Which is how I’ve been feeling lately — and am sure to feel again! I readily recognize that anything I write that might be worthwhile to anyone is due solely to  the Holy Spirit who is this blog’s Muse. If it doesn’t come from there, I’m just babbling.

Which is why, last week, I let the Scripture speak for itself on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi. Searching for a way to express the mysterious connection of Word with Bread was like fishing: I’d feel a nibble on the line and impatiently, prematurely, set the hook. Of course the thought simply wriggled free and was gone. For all I know it’s still there in the murky pond of my mind, waiting for me to clear up the debris, the busy stuff. Maybe by next year’s Solemnity I’ll be able to express something minimally worthwhile about this holy sacrament.

That’s the thing about the spiritual life: it’s all around us, but grabbing at it hardly ever accomplishes anything. On the contrary, there’s a need for  an attitude of passivity, of receptivity. For at the same time that God, the Spirit, is around us, we are IN Him.

A spiritual director once suggested that I not try so hard. That was so utterly counter-intuitive! How does one not try to achieve, to attain? Our fierce attempts are the only way to let God know that we’re really dedicated, and that we’re really serious about this adventure he’s called us to! As if God doesn’t know what to feed us, and when! We instinctively think that if we’re hungry, we’re the ones to put food into our mouth.

Not in the spiritual domain. There, we’re the nestlings with open beaks, crying for nourishment and utterly incapable of giving ourselves what we need. 

So here I am, rambling again. Some of these ramblings came to me this morning as I was cleaning off my porch, wondering if I’d be given any ideas for a post. I was wondering if I could say anything worthwhile — maybe on the topic of prayer. I was in a doing mode or, should I say, a do-it-yourself mode, in that delusional state of mind where I think I might have real answers of any value.

I started by thinking of how we need to reserve a time for quiet prayer, meditation, contemplation – whatever we choose to call our intimate connection with the Lord. Quiet solitude is essential to spiritual growth. “Maybe that’s what I should be doing instead of this unspiritual task, sweeping a porch,” say I. “There’s never enough time! ” Sorry; that excuse won’t wash.

I attempt to put order -maybe even routine- into my life. Let’s look at our day, the 24 hours each of us is given. Subtract time for sleeping and eating, including prep time, and we’re left with about a dozen hours. Continuing the math, deduct time at work where we need to earn a living (or keep doctor appointments), plus time to interact with family and friends. By the time we get to that “special” time of being alone with the Lord (if indeed we get there at all), our mind is often so cluttered with distractions that it’s nearly impossible to clear it. Like the stuff on my porch.

Brother Lawrence, a 17th Century Carmelite monk, knew how to handle this issue. It’s similar to the adage: if you can’t beat them, join them.

As Lawrence went about his assigned and unloved kitchen chores, he simply took the Lord with him. He saw himself always in the presence of God: he in God and God in him, praying his way through whatever “unspiritual” tasks he did throughout the day. All of it became  one seamless prayer. 

Thérèse of Lisieux did something similar in her handling of distractions. Even in a cloister there are troubling events revolving around people, situations and chores, that will simply stick to us like burs on a hiker. Typically, all this stuff comes to mind just when we most need to be quiet. Thérèse’s solution was totally practical. She simply met these distractions head on and made them the substance of her prayer. Oh, how unsophisticated!

Her patron saint, Teresa of Avila, had much deeper suggestions and explanations about prayer – which is why she was named a Doctor of the Church. “Little” Thérèse was also named a Doctor of the Church, but had a spiritual method (if you’re the type who needs a method) that was much less impressive and didn’t include levitating (such an embarrassment for Teresa!).

Ho-hum. Isn’t there a line in the Gospel that says something about becoming like little children? Isn’t there another line or two about seeking the first place at the table, being the important  one to sit at the right hand of the Lord, etc., etc.? The rest of us, lowly as we are, like Lawrence and Thérèse, just pick up the crumbs that fall from the tables of the spiritually elite.

And all of this while I was sweeping the porch. Welcome to my world!
Sweeping floor 1

Bread from Heaven

Eucharist 2 He therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by every word that comes forth from the mouth of the Lord.

(Deuteronomy 8:3)

 . . . you nourished your people with food of angels
and furnished them bread from heaven,
ready to hand, untoiled-for,
endowed with all delights
and conforming to every taste.

For this substance of yours revealed your sweetness
toward your children,
and serving the desire of the one who received it,
was changed to whatever flavor each one wished.
(Wisdom 16:20-21)

In the beginning was the Word . . .
And the Word was made flesh and made his dwelling with us.
(John 1:1, 14)

I am the bread that has come down from heaven.
My Father gives you the true bread from heaven.
I am the bread of life;
whoever comes to me will never hunger,
and whoever believes in me will never thirst.

(John 6:32, 35)

 

The Unending Gift

I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

Why did Christ consider his absence so important? Couldn’t Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, joined from all eternity with the Father, co-exist on this earth, even with us?

Abba, Father!
Though he was leaving, Jesus did assure us that he would not leave us orphans.

Ah, that word! I understand “orphan” very well, having lost my father before the age when I might have remembered him. Richard Rohr, in an interview, referred to the prevalence of “father hunger” among men doing time in prisons. The apostle Philip asked Jesus, “Just show us the Father; that will be enough.” Even though Philip had lived with Jesus for all that time, he didn’t realize that he was already seeing the Father in the Person of his Teacher who always lived in the presence of his Father:

The one who sent me is with me. He has not left me alone, because I always do what is pleasing to him. (John 8:29)

Reaching for the Eternal
One possible explanation for Christ insisting on the need for his absence  is that we must learn to stretch our spiritual capacity by reaching for the very soul of God, almost on our own. Jesus would physically leave but not abandon us, as he 
then lavished the Holy Spirit upon us.

“Absence makes the heart grow fonder,” says the old proverb. This statement might be true in Harlequin romances, but not in real life. Absence makes the heart hurt. And well Jesus knew this, and emphasized how much we need to reach out to the Holy Spirit, detaching ourselves little by little from all that is not Spirit, thus preparing to become true children of the heavenly Father.

Our vision, like Philip’s needs to extend beyond the physical, beyond the absence, beyond that empty space that we think is nothingness, reaching ultimately to that world beyond, into the “kingdom that is not of this world.”

Sometimes referred to as the “forgotten” person of the Trinity, we come to realize the importance of the Spirit in how Jesus refers to Him, especially in the Gospel of John. Here Jesus names the Spirit Comforter, Advocate, Paraclete. The Spirit is the One who will stand by us always, to enlighten and strengthen  us, to appeal to the Father on our behalf, and to speak for us in our clumsy efforts at prayer (see Romans 8:14-17).

The Unending Gift
St. Paul tells the Ephesians that we have been “sealed with the promised holy Spirit, which is the first installment of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s possession.”  (Eph. 1:13b-14a) “Sealed”: fixed, glued to the Spirit, 
never to be separated from God (despite Christ’s apparent absence). We have been given the Spirit and with this, an everlasting legacy as God’s children, adopted through our brotherhood with Christ.

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you received a spirit of adoption, through which we cry, “Abba, Father!” The Spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. (Romans 8:14-17)

Therefore, from this season on, we do not need to sing the hymn “Come, Holy Ghost.” The Holy Spirit is already overflowing within us. All we have to do is to recognize and accept the Spirit of Christ and the Father, so that we may receive with joy the gift of our unending adoption into the Trinity. 

We don’t need to understand the Trinity. We only need to bask in it.

Trinity 1

Tongues of Fire

A noise like a strong driving wind filled the entire house.
Then tongues of fire parted and came to rest on each one of them.
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
(Acts 2: 2-4)
Pentecost-1

The Old and New Testaments mysteriously refer to the Holy Spirit by various metaphors, typically as wind, breath or fire. At Pentecost, the Spirit first lets his presence be known through “a noise like a strong driving wind.”

Just imagine the fearful faithful huddled together in that upper room. They had been there before the arrest, when their beloved Master was still with them, comforting them, assuring them that they had nothing to fear. But Jesus also insisted on the need to leave them so that the Spirit, Comforter and Counselor, could continue the work of their salvation. This part was far from comforting.

They wanted to cling to their teacher, just as Mary Magdalene did when He spoke to her outside the tomb. They still had much to learn, to understand. How could they persuade others of the truth of Jesus’ person and mission when they themselves did not fully understand these mysteries? They worshiped, but they doubted. (Matthew 28:17) They needed to develop the spiritual “muscle” to act without a net, without the ready presence of their leader, relying instead on the very Spirit of God, living but invisible and intangible.

Well might they mistrust their own paltry abilities. These could never be enough – which is why they needed the Divine Advocate. I will not leave you orphans, he told them. The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name—he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you. (John 14:26)

The driving wind of the Spirit would now become the wind in their sails, would draw them out of their shabby selves to reach out in newfound strength to a hungry world.

The Spirit did not come as one huge conflagration. Nor was this the gentle dove that settled over the sacred head of the Anointed One, confirming his divine origin and earthly mission. Now the Spirit came as individual tongues of fire, resting over each of the disciples, each different from the other, distinguished by the unique gifts given to each one, all with the one purpose of building up in unity the Mystical Body of Christ.

The diversity of gifts was not to lead to a splintering of faith into factions, but was to provide the needed and varying functions that would draw all together under the single mantle of love. The Spirit was now a fire that would fill the disciples with a burning zeal to speak persuasively of Jesus the Christ, to teach immediately and everywhere his Gospel of love and service.

This great solemnity, Pentecost, is considered the birthday of the Church. Now, which church would this be? Would it be the church that St. Paul envisioned as consisting of persons (laity, because all were laity then) with various charisms? [The word “charism,” by the way, is defined by various online dictionaries as an extraordinary power (as of healing) given a Christian by the Holy Spirit for the good of the church.] Let us note that Paul refers to differences in talents and “forms of service” (1 Corinthians 12) but certainly not to differences of opinion.

Differences of opinion can only occur where specific “beliefs” or doctrines or rules are concerned. If the Gospel of Jesus Christ chiefly focuses on LOVE, then the Church’s main purpose is to teach that Gospel of Love. In that case, how can there be differences of opinion? If we are called to love one another, how many opportunities are there for disagreement? Love is care. Love is help. Love is forgiveness. Love is dedication. Love does not divide; it unites.

Is there a question as to whom to love? Who is deserving of love? Jesus didn’t really specify who ought to be loved and who not.

This should make life quite simple for us: just love and serve everybody! What, the criminals too? The terrorists? People who look, believe or act unlike us? Please find the part in the Gospel where Jesus tells us not to love certain people based on their career field or level of sinfulness. Even the sinners – no, especially sinners – are to be loved. (At least I hope so, being one of them!) If you love those who love you, what good is that? Even the pagans do that!

Our purpose as Church is to pass on to the whole world the teachings of Christ as recorded in the Gospels. If there are any distinctions as to the recipients of Christ’s teachings, it might be that where the need is greater, our service must also be greater.

When we receive Communion, we receive not only the true Body and Blood of Christ; we receive Christ in his Mystical Body. We take into our heart all the others participating in that Mass. We accept them. If there is any disdain in our hearts for those with whom we share Communion, we have violated and rejected the loving presence of Jesus himself. Viewed from this perspective, how can we possibly judge or look down on anyone?

So what is my purpose as a member of the Church? It is to teach by example, by clear demonstration, the all-embracing love of Christ as he showered it upon us all.

It’s customary at a birthday celebration to have candles aflame on a cake and to make a wish as we blow them out. As we keep the Holy Spirit’s tongues of fire alive and burning in us, let our Pentecost wish be for unity in our diversity, and love over all.
Holy Spirit