Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Feast of St. Andrew

I was an only child myself, so I never suffered the pangs of living in the shadow of an older sibling's light. But I had two sons, and watched my younger one defer to his older brother for many years. When they were boys, the older was smarter, louder, the instigator for their shenanigans. Much like Peter, he was impetuous and quick with answers and disclaimers. My younger son would often disappear into the woodwork, he was so adept at being invisible beside his brother. He also put up with his brother's bullying long after he was physically able to take the upper hand. Like Andrew, he was the thoughtful one, the practical one. He still is.

Andrew lived in the shadow of an impetuous brother. We only hear about him a few times in the Bible, next to Peter who continually hogs the limelight (for better or for worse). Andrew introduced people to Jesus (his own brother in fact) and found which kid had the lunch for Jesus' food miracle. Sometimes our job is to be a light. Sometimes it's to be a mirror for another's light. That takes inner strength and a willingness to lose our egos to a greater cause. Andrew certainly fit the bill. Here's to Andrew!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


I think the concept of forgiveness gets a bum rap because it's another one of those ironic God Truths. Folks assume that the forgiver is the one sacrificing his grudge on the altar of God, when in fact the act of forgiving is like a very strong antibiotic to help the forgiver heal.

The ones being forgiven often don't even know about it, so it's not always FOR them. They don't know or they don't care or they are dead. Even if someone asks you to forgive them, they aren't always ready for you to do it. Guilt, embarrassment, needing to find a glimmer of justification for whatever it was they did, will prevent the graceful acceptance of your forgiveness. It's for YOU. You get the prize, not the sacrifice.

Just one minor detail… letting go. You have to let go of being offended. Being wronged. Being hurt. Always a catch…

Monday, November 28, 2005

Birthday Gospel meme (what's a meme, anyway?)

December 14th (12:14) is my birthday, although I should probably look up 1:12, the date I was due to be born, according to my mom. I spent a good deal of time reading both horoscopes for a while… neither did me much good. I had a natal chart done once, too. But the woman explaining it seemed awfully interested in projecting her own issues onto my chart, so I took that with a grain of salt as well. There are some religious who believe that astrology is of the devil. I can't go there. The wise men were astrologers. They left everything to follow a star they'd never seen in the sky. The angel of the Lord came to them in a dream, for heaven's sake. I doubt they were of the devil.

Anyway… on with the meme. (Translation is NRSV, it was handy)
Matthew 12:14
But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

Mark 12:14
And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor or not?"

Luke 12:14
But he said to him, "Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?"

John 12:14
Jesus found a young donkey and sat on it: as it is written…

Well that was definitely humbling. Betrayal, treachery and a horse's ass. Yep, that could pretty much describe me if I were looking at it from the devil's point of view. On the other hand, how blessed to be one who starts out saying "No!" seeking to rid myself of God's grace, talking cleverly around the truth of it, being confronted head-on with that very grace… and then finally being sat upon by the most high God, "you're not getting away, my dear… stand still; we're going to Jerusalem."

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Advent I

O let us not, for evil past,
be driven from thy face at last,
but with thy saints for evermore
behold thee, love thee, and adore.
Hymnal 1982, #63

Advent… time of preparation, the New Year in the Western liturgical calendar, and kairos time. I'm a literal person when it comes to the church calendar and my liturgy. I don't like Holy Innocents day coming before Epiphany and I don't like to hear John the Baptist yelling in the desert when he's supposed to be leaping in Elizabeth's womb. But that's how it is with kairos time, and I'm learning (painfully) to accept it.

My first year in community had a batch of challenges. Advent was one of the difficult times: I was heavy into comparisons with all my previous Advents… and the convent version kept coming up short. No Lessons and Carols, no shopping, no decorating for Christmas. It was a mini-Lent, and wasn't one Lent a year enough already?

Last year I came into Advent a week late and a dollar short. I'd just spent three months in Wyoming and I was happy to just be home. I still had rest time coming and spent much of it restoring a beautiful, but badly beaten set of creche figures that had been in our community since the 50's. The very fact that the sisters let me even touch these things, let alone repair them and paint them was both flattering and intimidating. What if I wasn't as gifted an artist as I made myself out to be? What if I made them worse than they already were? I tested the waters with the massive stone walls that enclosed the cow and donkey. I painted a little of the backside of the walls, mixing dry pigments with polymer, just as I had been taught so many years ago. Okay, didn't mess up there. I moved on to a Wise Man. So far, so good. It all came back. Besides, the pigments had once belonged to a sister who had painted (in fresco) wall-sized murals in public buildings… she was a legend in our community. I felt like she was watching over me. "You're not messing up with my paints, Sister Claire Joy!" Work on those figures became my Advent prayer.

This year I'm in a different place again. I had a hard transition from city to country in late summer and am just now feeling the peace that comes from turning yet another corner in the spiral dance of life. When I'm in a long stretch of spiritual dearth I can't see the corner coming until after I've turned it. I think I'm actually looking forward to a mini-Lent this year. (Go figure)

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Happy Thanksgiving

Wishing all of you Thanksgiving blessings…

including: a grateful awareness of how truly abundant life is,
recognizing how we easily lose focus and concentrate on what we don't have; granting forgiveness to ourselves and to everyone else when we do that, and always… relaxing into God's infinite patience with his creation, which includes us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Seven is a good number for me

My daughter-in law, who writes her own funny blog, has issued a challenge… one of those get-to-know-you things where you list a bunch of things people may or may not know about you. Here goes:

7 things to do before I die

1. Actually publish something
2. Take a cruise (anywhere)
3. Go back to Ireland
4. Visit Scotland
5. Live to see great-grandchildren
6. Swim with dolphins or whales, not sharks
7. See Christ in every face

7 things I cannot do

1. Roll my r's
2. Add/subtract without using my fingers
3. Play any sports involving a ball
4. Hike long distances anymore
5. Read music
6. Love a cat that pees on the furniture
7. Figure out my natal chart

7 things that attract me to the opposite sex

1. Smile
2. Sense of humor
3. They think I'm funny
4. Musical ability
5. Generosity
6. Bald head
7. Intelligence

7 things I say most often

1. Uh oh
2. Well, I'm often wrong…
3. And your point is?
4. Okee dokee
5. I forgot what I came in here for
6. Hello (replaces #*@ words when I'm driving)
7. I have no clue

7 celebrity crushes

1. Patrick Stewart
2. Tom Cruise
3. Robert Redford
5. Sam Shepherd
6. Harrison Ford
7. John Denver (yes, I know he died, don't care)

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Matthew's spin

Matthew 18: 21-35
Today's Bible study from Matthew was the parable of the "wicked slave," forgiven all his debt by his master, who turned around and refused to forgive another slave who owed him. It sparked some lively discussion. (Of course it may have helped that those of us present were candidates, not professed sisters, so we're still straddling an imaginary fence between the outside world and the inner life of convent.) One of us expressed indignation. After all, the master had already forgiven the first guy. When the tattletale friends of the second guy reported what had happened, he became so angry that he took it all back. Can he do that? Is God like that? Can absolution for sin, once given, be withdrawn just because you sin again?

These were good questions, tough ones. Apparently Matthew wants to reinforce the fear of God in his readers, because it's what he believes God is like. But who died and left Matthew chief interpreter of Jesus' parables? More discussion followed regarding forgiveness in general. Maybe that first slave was so embarrassed (shamed) by his master's benevolence that his guilt led him to want to pay back that money any way he could, and that meant shaking down the first unlucky one he met who still owed him money. When you put yourself in those shoes it can ring pretty true.

We returned to the Five Gospels translation (the one with colors) and sure enough, the scholars believe that the last sentence of that parable was not what Jesus said. It was Matthew's spin. We certainly know about media spin in our own time.

Jesus' point was: pass it on. Let your gratitude work for good, not your shame for evil. Forgive and forgive and quit counting. Seventy times seven. Now we're talking.

Friday, November 18, 2005

The Seven Deadly Sins

According to somebody's definition, the seven deadly sins are those sins which are fatal to spiritual progress. Fatal, not just harmful. Yikes. In case you can't remember them right off hand, I'll give the current list in order of severity (the last is worst): lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. If you google (my new favorite website) they give a brief history as well as detailed explanations of each sin, and a handy reference of the demon associated with each particular one. That way, if you want to rid yourself of any particular one you know who to renounce. I also learned there are seven virtues, but that's another blog. I'm sticking with the sins.

Why this sudden interest in sin? Monastics couldn't possibly sin… Right. Who do you think came up with the first list?

Anyway, it's like this: I spent day before yesterday in the city convent and saw some old friends at supper. (Wednesday nights are talking meals.) One woman jokingly reminded me that I had not blogged since last Wednesday. Good grief, you're keeping track? Oh dear, pressure. But along with the pressure, there was that insidious glow of arrogance and dare I say it? Pride. The worst sin, mind you, and I was sitting there wallowing in it.

Later in the evening another conversation sparked that same obnoxious glow. Two in one day? Get a grip, girl! So I"ve been thinking about this, trying to understand what exactly in my personality craves praise. (Not that I'm the only human on earth to enjoy praise. I know that.) Still, praise always sounds a warning bell in the back of my head. Old messages from my childhood come barreling down my memory "nobody likes a show-off." or "Just who died and made you queen?"

Knowing that anything I do well is a gift from God is nice, but it doesn't really help. I know it, but when someone compliments me I can't honestly feel it. I may smile shyly and say "thank you" in my most humble voice, but inside my gut I'm crowing like Peter Pan. "Pride goeth before a fall" my grandmother always said. Look out below!

However, the more I think about pride and how it works in me, I realize that feeling these moments of satisfaction is not my real sin. I may be hearing old tapes but the tapes I'm not hearing are the ones I need to listen for. My own sin of pride eats me up when I see someone doing something and automatically think I could do it better. Or if someone makes a mistake that inconveniences me I think "why didn't they (fill in the blank)" as if I had some supernatural power to forsee how their mistake could have been avoided. It's when I recognize these times of insufferable arrogance in myself that I can fall down with true humility and get it. So, let me once again renounce Lucifer, (He's the one… wouldn't you know it?) and keep on plugging away.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Bread in the Desert

Matthew's version of the "Loaves and Fishes" story today produced lots of discussion and insights. This Bible study work can often be a lift off point for my day: new ways to think about myself and those around me.

One sister noticed the posture of Jesus on the mountain: how open and available and ego-less he was. Not only did he spend three days healing the mute, lame, maimed and blind, but he was worried about sending them off without a meal for the journey. She believed her call from this reading was to sit more in that kind of posture herself. What she doesn't recognize is that she often sits in that posture. She is one of the most concerned and caring (gracious is the word that comes to mind) sisters in our group, always willing to show hospitality and go an extra mile. But she doesn't see that in herself.

In a meeting yesterday another sister pointed out that perception is not reality. I know this is true; profound, even. I forget it all the time. My perceptions direct my actions, my reactions, my opinions and my attitudes. Until I'm willing to question my perceptions I can't begin to change them. And to do that I must ask questions of the others I perceive. What did you mean by that? Why did you say it? Why do you keep saying it? What is the reality underneath the imaginary?

Asking questions is tough work. Grueling and uncomfortable work… but necessary I think. If I am to live together with my sisters in harmony rather than constant discord, I need to do this work and do it constantly. The disciples asked Jesus "How do you expect us to find bread in the desert?" He answered by asking another question. "How much bread do you have?"

Friday, November 04, 2005

Thanks be to God

Early this week I was stricken with "Autumn Allergies". Some years this passes me by. Some years it comes in Spring. I never know exactly what I'm allergic to, but the results are always the same… Hay fever, coughing, post-nasal drip—which leads to asthmatic bronchitis. Nasty stuff, that. If I can stem the drip tide, I can sometimes scoot by with no bronchitis. If I can leave the area, I can sometimes fool my body into thinking Fall is over. When I lived in Florida a day at the beach would do the trick. (Salt air heals most all wounds.) So yesterday I guess my body got fooled.

I'm back in the city on Thursdays again. What a joy! I work behind the scenes with St. Bart's Community Ministry program. (That's the church, not the island.) I order food, organize supplies, sling cans and heavy boxes around the pantry, clean, and in general keep things stocked and within easy reach for the volunteers who work the pantry, breakfast feeding, and shelter. I used to work the breakfast feeding and shelter myself, so I know what a bummer it is to be out of cereal or milk, or coffee cups. Although I no longer work on the front lines, I know from experience what they'll need. It's a good fit.

Anyway, apparently the city isn't blooming with the same stuff as Brewster. I felt a little better on the ride back home last night. And this morning I had energy. Amazing what a couple of days of feeling rotten can do for my gratitude factor. And my compassion quotient. Maybe they're related. The sun is shining, I love the world, and it's great to be alive.

Let us bless the Lord…

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

All Souls Day

I found out this morning that we don't celebrate "All Souls Day" anymore. It's been changed to "The Faithful Departed." When did that happen? Who's bright idea was it to suddenly exclude all the unfaithful departed? Somebody that doesn't read his Bible the same way I do. In our Community, we make up a list to be read at Mass of all our dead friends and relatives that we want to remember and pray for… My own list included a lot of people that I have no idea if they were faithful or not. And, recognizing my own bouts with unfaithfulness, who am I to judge? God is in charge of all that.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

For all the Saints…

Last night was Halloween, a time to dress up and make fun of death and darkness, all things spooky that give us the creeps. But today is the Feast of All Saints… a serious time to remember death as the great leveler, and that Life is the eternal promise. We have no idea what "Life" hereafter will be like, but we trust that it will be wonderful, beyond our best dreams.

But our God is a God of great irony: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Those who wish to save their life will lose it… very little, if anything, in God's Kingdom is as we suppose it will be. Those of us who do not trust in a life after death have little to look forward to. We either do our best because it's all there is, or do our worst because it's all there is. Some of us have a fear of hell or judgement for the life we live now, and that works in varying degree to keep us honest.

I don't think I fear hell as much as I should. I've survived some hellish situations already in this life, and found (in retrospect) that I created a good deal of them all by myself. If there is another hell after death, I'll probably be responsible for it as well.

But I've also experienced in this lifetime what only could be described as the Kingdom of God: moments of amazing peace that came only by grace, not by my effort, glimpses of compassion within myself and shining through others. The memories alone still take my breath away. So for all the saints who are already in that dimension of perfection, I give thanks. I thank the ones I knew who loved me, and also the ones who treated me badly and somehow helped me grow.

Death is the great leveler. I will die at some point too. I hope to see you all on All Saint's Day.