I have a memory, too, as a twelve-year-old of crying silently but bitterly face-down into a pillow on the living room floor. That day, my bird, my only life companion, had disappeared up an open flue in our apartment wall. There were visiting relatives in the house, in my bedroom, whom I knew were not to be disturbed. The needs of the guest came first, I had been taught. But when the house was safely dark, I let the pain pour out, not simply the loss of my dearest possession but also in sorrow for my own carelessness in his regard. Then, suddenly, I felt the covers around me tighten. My mother had gotten in on one side of the mattress, my father on the other, and together they held me all the long and empty night. I learned then that being human meant to enter into someone else’s pain.
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy, don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty of lives and whole towns destroyed or about to be. We are not wise, and not very often kind. And much can never be redeemed. Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this is its way of fighting back, that sometimes something happened better than all the riches or power in the world. It could be anything, but very likely you notice it in the instant when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid of its plenty.
— Mary Oliver from Swan: Poems and Prose Poems
If It Is Not Too Dark
Go for a walk, if it is not too dark.
Get some fresh air, try to smile.
Say something kind
To a safe-looking stranger, if one happens
by. Continue reading “Advent Day 12: Don’t Hesitate …”
In our joy, we think we hear a whisper.
At first it is too soft. Then only half heard.
We listen carefully as it gathers strength.
We hear a sweetness.
The word is Peace.
— Maya Angelou from Amazing Peace
Mercy & Love
I came across a quote from St. Thérèse of Lisieux: “The God who comes to us as an infant can only be mercy and love.” Every time we look at a Nativity scene, God reveals mercy and love. What happened on Christmas only shows us mercy and love.
This is the time to remember all of that. We remember how our God rejoices and delights in us. So much so that he didn’t want to remain hidden. God didn’t want to leave us alone in the struggles and doubts and questions of life. God came to us in person, in flesh and blood, to be found.
— Mark A. Villano from Time to Get Ready
There are more healings of lepers than any other kind of story in the four Gospels. Jesus is always healing lepers. Leprosy, in fact, in the New Testament is a broad term. It really doesn’t mean what we would call Hansen’s Disease today. “Lepers” were people who, for some reason, were told they were physically unacceptable. They were people who were considered taboo, contagious, disabled, dangerous or excluded for all kinds of reasons. The message seems to be: “You’re not doing it right” or “You are not acceptable as a member of society.” Every Society does this, and we do too, but just in different ways and by different criteria.
When Jesus receives the lepers, he always touches them, and often he then leads them or sends them to a new place. Invariably he reintroduces them to the community and realigns their social status and acceptability. He pulls them back inside of social acceptability. That is the healing!
— Richard Rohr from Preparing for Christmas
For Mercy’s Sake
But if you had known what this means, “I desire mercy and not sacrifice,” you would not have condemned the guiltless.
— Matthew 12:7
Jesus and his disciples were walking through a field of grain. The Pharisees became upset when the hungry disciples pulled off and ate some of the heads of grain because such activity was not permitted on the Sabbath. Jesus responded to their criticism by telling the Pharisees that he was not so concerned about the rules of the law (sacrifice) as he was about the way people related to one another (mercy).
I know Jesus’ words are true for me: I’d rather fast for a day anytime (sacrifice) than have to be kind and open to someone who has dealt me a low blow (mercy). I would rather choose my own daily sacrifices than have them come to me in the form of critical people, impatient drivers, grumbling friends and irritable coworkers. How much easier it is to give up a piece of candy or go to church on Sunday than to stay loving toward those who mess up my day. Sacrifices I choose seem easy compared to the continual kindness required by Jesus.
I will accept the difficult people of my day.
May the sacrifices I choose be ones
filled with love and kindheartedness.
— Joyce Rupp from Inviting God In: Spiritual Reflections and Prayers Throughout the Year
- Guide to Advent 2019
- My Calling Is To Love
- Without Love
- Fall On Your Knees
- Born In A Manger
- A Season of Mercy and Love
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Marvelous Truth, confront us
at every turn
in every guise.
― Denise Levertov from A Grateful Heart
We forever drift in and out of the miracle before us. As our eyes dilate and constrict in order to see, we are opened by love, wonder, and truth into the immediacy of all that is incomprehensible, only to wrestle with pain, loss, and obstacles that make us constrict. And during the wrestle, the miracle of life seems out of reach. Though once enduring what we’re given, pain and loss open us further. This is how the human heart sees. Modern culture tells us that we are entitled to a perfect, happy life. Yet if we insist on deifying a painless life free of loss, we will only be battered by the pain and loss we are given and miss the point of the journey. Much as we’d like, we can’t be happy all the time, any more than we can dilate or inhale all the time. We need to dilate and constrict, and inhale and exhale, in order to live. And so, the heart, mind, and soul need to open and close to the entirety of the human experience in order to make sense of things as they move through. Difficult as they are, pain, loss, and obstacles are dynamic forces of life that make us open and close. It is up to us to make sense of our lifelong conversation with them. Continue reading “Advent Day 07: Our Real Work …”
I say that religion isn’t about believing things. It’s ethical alchemy. It’s about behaving in a way that changes you, that gives you intimations of holiness and sacredness.
— Karen Amstrong as quoted in Profile at TED (2009)
Religions don’t agree on which day is holy, but by and large they do agree that once a week you must check in with your beliefs, your community, and yourself. For Jews, this ritual starts Friday at sundown and lasts until sundown on Saturday. For Muslims, it usually starts with Friday afternoon prayers. For the wide range of denominations of practicing Christians, it’s on Sunday, with the exception of Seventh-day Adventists, who are defined by their observance on Saturday. For Quakers, a sect of Protestants who downplay annual holidays because they see every day as an equal celebration of Christ, silent worship at their weekly meetings is the heartbeat of belief. In Buddhism, the holy day of the week changes with the phases of the moon.
For my great-grandparents the holy day was called Shabbos (the Yiddish word for the Sabbath; Shabbat is Hebrew). Each week, for an entire rotation of the Earth, they did not work or handle money or use electricity: no lamps, no phones, and no riding in cars. Just prayer, synagogue, and family time. It was about rest, reflection, and taking stock of the week, a kind of early TGIF.
There are, as with all things, loopholes even for the orthodox. For example, there are large buildings in places densely populated by observant Jews where the elevators are preprogrammed to stop at every floor during Shabbat. If you’re not pressing any buttons, you’re not breaking the rules, right? This is the subject of much debate. Other exceptions also get made. If you’re extremely ill, it might be okay to ride to synagogue as long as a Gentile drives you. But even when my great-grandfather Benjamin was dying of stomach cancer, he was so devout he still walked to services every week. Continue reading “Advent Day 03: Ritual …”
A leaf fluttered in through the window this morning, as if supported by the rays of the sun, a bird settled on the fire escape, joy in the task of coffee, joy accompanied me as I walked …
— Anais Nin from The Quotable Anais Nin (Diary 4)
The Place I Want To Get Back To
I go out to the dunes and look
and look and look
into the faces of the flowers;
and then one of them leaned forward Continue reading “Joy Accompanied Me As I Walked (Thanksgiving Meditations and Prayers) …”
I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.
— James A. Baldwin
Anger is a catalyst. Holding on to it will make us exhausted and sick. Internalizing anger will take away our joy and spirit; externalizing anger will make us less effective in our attempts to create change and forge connection. It’s an emotion that we need to transform into something life-giving: courage, love, change, compassion, justice. Or sometimes anger can mask a far more difficult emotion like grief, regret, or shame, and we need to use it to dig into what we’re really feeling. Either way, anger is a powerful catalyst but a life-sucking companion.
I can’t think of a more powerful example than the sentence, “You will not have my hate.” In November 2015, Antoine Leiris’s wife, Hélène, was killed by terrorists at the Bataclan theater in Paris along with eighty-eight other people. Two days after the attacks, in an open letter to his wife’s killers posted on Facebook, Leiris wrote: Continue reading “You Will Not Have My Hate …”