Saturday, May 20, 2017

May Long Weekend and the Gospel of John



The May long weekend glows with promise. Where I live in Ontario, it launches the planting season for all backyard gardeners and beckons us to believe that the warmth of summer will indeed bless us again.

As I dig into dark cool soil, I think of the words of Christ – “I will not leave you desolate; I will come to you.” (John 14:18). Jesus is speaking of the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, not the season of sun that Canadians like me crave, yet somehow his words seem to fit on this day.

I plant a small seedling, nurtured over the last 6 weeks in my window. It will grow into a large tomato plant (I hope), but for now it is only a beginning. Again that reminds me of the Gospel of John with its beautiful opening that echoes Genesis 1: “In the beginning…”.
The seed began in the cool darkness of soil but now has been drawn into light. Darkness and light both provide growth. Like winter and spring. Like death and resurrection. I find myself thinking that it is interesting that, while God provides light, God does not get rid of darkness.

Winter still comes, and night, and death. But so does spring, and day, and resurrection.

It helps me to remember this when struggling with the stresses and challenges that life brings. There will be light. There will be goodness. And with the Advocate we will not be alone. But really growing will require some gardening on our part, some digging down into the soil of our souls, some watering of the seeds of love that God has planted in all of us, some recognition that the light of God shines in others as well.

We are called to light, to life, to love. Happy long weekend!

Sunday, April 30, 2017

On the Road: Jericho and Emmaus

On the road to Jericho, the attack was severe, unspeakable, crippling. And the loneliness, the loneliness. Lying there unable to move, unable to stop the would-be saviours who swept by, who pretended not to see, who were busy with other things, who rushed away with their knowledge of angels and their hearts of stone.

Betrayed.

On the road to Emmaus, the pain too was severe, unspeakable, crippling. And the loneliness, the loneliness. Fleeing in fear a world devoid of the one who should have been God, who promised, who tried, who died.

Betrayed.

On the road to Jericho, footsteps approached, a voice spoke, and gentle hands reached out, unexpected, and brought salvation.

And they went together.

On the road to Emmaus, footsteps approached, a voice spoke, and gentle hands reached out, unexpected, and brought salvation.

And they went together.

Two stories. Two roads. One journey.

Together.

Picture from: https://www.pinterest.com/roxanne_eubank/emmaus/?lp=true

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Dust of Lent


Lent - the slow-down, the rhythm of peace, the deep searching, the rediscovering of the thirst and hunger for the divine, for something beyond the possible.

Lent begins with dust and ashes; the ashes of last year’s palms, the memory of dust of the Judean desert where for forty days Jesus rests his body, his head, his soul and for forty nights contemplates the stardust of a brilliant night sky only truly seen above a barren desert.
Lent calls us to step back for awhile so we may step forward more wisely. Long after the desert sojourn, Jesus reconnects to wilderness during the dark moments of his ministry. He spends his nights on hills when he needs to get away, like the Mount of Olives, always a place of peace. Only during the day does he connect with the crowds and all the strife humanity brings. Only during the day does he endure the Temple with all its crowds and rules.

There comes a day when, having spent the night on the Mount of Olives, Jesus comes to the temple to be confronted by a frightening crowd of men (John 8:1-11). They drag a woman before him, caught in adultery. They challenge him, calling for her stoning according to the Law. The woman is a pawn. They know if Jesus says the Law is wrong he will be discredited as a teacher of Judaism. They know that if he betrays all his teachings on compassion he will be branded a hypocrite. They know, and he knows. So he reaches down, down to the dust at all their feet, down to the dust of the divine, of earth and eternity. And he begins to write.
His written words are lost, but his action of reaching into the dust to write remains. And while he writes he speaks, “Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.”

We can imagine the stunned silence. We can imagine the stones dropping from the hands of those who suddenly remember they are not sinless. We can imagine the dull thud of rock on soil and the sound of the footsteps walking away, leaving only dust behind.
Then and only then does Jesus look up, into the eyes of the only one who remains. The woman. She has a face, eyes, a past. And now a future. He sees her for the person she is. And he asks her, “Has no one condemned you?” When she answers, “No one” he says, “Then neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Jesus is the only one who, being without sin, could condemn. Yet he shares only forgiveness and compassion. He teaches that the Law in all its condemnation exists only for the pure, of which there is only One. If Jesus does not condemn – if God does not condemn – who are we to judge? The Law is meant to guide toward compassion, toward love. When it fails it is the Law that gives way, not compassion. Like words in the dust, the Law is blown away by the winds of divine love.

Lent begins with peace, with reconnection, with dust. Lent reminds us of the dust of creation, of a world that belongs to God. For what is dust, but the remnant of all that has been before? Of mountains ground down, of palm leaves burned, of memories of long past days? And what is dust but the promise of all that is to come? Dust turned to cement to build, dust turned to fertilizer to grow, dust turned to paint to record, dust turned to possibility to create.

What is the dust of Lent but the space between yesterday and tomorrow? Dust, like Lent, builds a bridge between all that has been and all that will be. Dust, like Lent, holds promise, hope, faith, and the possibility of love. Dust, like Lent, invites us to follow Jesus and write our future in it.

May it be one of love.

Monday, December 7, 2015

The Gift of the Blind

Mary reflects; she ponders. Even as a child they branded her the quiet one, the introvert. But this is only because they couldn’t see the power of the images inside her, or hear those voices, or taste that sweetness. She works hard too, even in the torturous noonday sun, bowing under the weight of the water pails, wrestling with the laundry, pounding the grain, not just for her family, but for the children, the neighbours, the sick, the weak and the blind.

The Holy Ones command, “Stay away from them! Stay back. Stay pure. They will infect you with their sin, inseminate you with their horror, ravage you with their hopelessness.”

But Mary rejects purity. She peers instead at the dust-encrusted face of the blind man by the well and is shocked by the pain etched across every wrinkle of that not-so-old brow, the loneliness on each sun-blotched cheek, the fear in each unseeing eye. His name is Bartimaeus, and she spies on him, reaching into his eyes with her own. She finds her village there, her family, herself. Her fingers brush the ragged arm of this outcast man, and as he trembles, she feels his pulse, senses his warmth, unveils his humanity. If she leaves him untended, then she abandons not only him, but every friend, every enemy, every person she has ever known.

Every day, she draws water first for Bartimaeus, and waits as he drinks. He sips carefully, making sure that none of the life-giving liquid is wasted, and when he is finished, she wipes his face with a damp cloth. Their conversation is ragged at first. It smoothes with time. Mary describes to him the landscape of their world, and he describes to her his life of solitude in plain view. If he has owned anything, it is time and thought, and these he shares eagerly with her.

The village women shake their heads, and keep their distance at the well. Only Joseph understands, pausing in his work on the hottest days to mop his brow and join in a drink of cool refreshing water. Bartimaeus smiles, grows quiet and listens as Mary and Joseph converse. He knows. He has heard it before.

Joseph and Mary only speak with each other at the well but their eyes meet repeatedly through the rest of their day. He nods at Mary across the sweltering market as he selects the finest wood, humble at that, and builds a shelter not for her but for the gnarled, sightless one. Bartimaeus shall have a home.

The shavings rise from Joseph’s workshop, swirl towards Mary, gather her to him. Mary reflects: there is a greater vision that does not require eyes, an understanding that forfeits ears, a wisdom that overflows the heart. And so they are betrothed, promised to each other, perfect one for the other in thought, in deed, and in love.

And now? Perhaps this would signal the end, the ‘happy ever after’, the grand finale, but there are no secrets in heaven. This love commands attention. This moment has come.

The universe rustles with hope, angels pause, the Spirit hovers.

Sacred night. Betrothed but not yet married, Mary sleeps. Suddenly the darkness shatters, all peace destroyed. She bolts upright on her sleeping mat. Listens. Gasps breathless before the Angel. How can this be? His call breaks through the night, explodes in her heart, shakes her to the soul.

A question lies veiled behind his words, but how do you answer a question such as this? What kind of a person can accept such a challenge? What kind of a God would ask this of her?

What kind of a woman would say yes?

Only one that is blind, deaf and mute. And Mary is all that: blind to social status, deaf to idle chatter, and mute before material possession. She ponders this in her heart; that blindness is nothing but inward sight, that deafness is just the potential to hear the possible, that silence is necessary to grasp the sublime.

And so, Mary stretches out towards the Presence, offers herself as sacrifice, trusts God and wraps herself around the Innocence that burgeons within her.

She will give her life for this Child that He may give His life for others. She will raise Him blind to hate. She will raise Him deaf to wealth. She will raise Him mute to insult and slander.

And she will give him the vision, the sound, and the Word of a world that belongs to God.

(Originally published in DisciplesWorld, November 2007)

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Questions About Cardinals

As I sit at my desk watching the beautiful red cardinal (bird) family that lives in the tree behind my house, I can't help reflecting on their human counterparts.

The College of Cardinals exists to advise the Pope, and assist him in running the Church. Typically, only bishops or archbishops are selected for the College by the Pope, but Catholic teaching affirms that in fact any baptized Catholic may be so appointed. Understandably, this is a fact rarely covered in Sunday homilies, thus many lifelong Catholics may be unaware of it.

Calling for the inclusion of women in the College of Cardinals is thus not an act of heresy. Canadian theologian Michael W. Higgins (past president of St. Jerome’s University, current vice-president for 'Mission and Catholic Identity' at Sacred Heart University, authorized biographer of Henry Nouwen – you get it, not a Catholic lightweight), stated in a 2013 article in the Globe and Mail: “Such an innovation is not a departure from doctrine, does not compromise the church’s authority, and is not a frivolous concession to faddism. More important, it makes eminent good sense.” (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/globe-debate/why-not-open-the-college-of-cardinals-to-women/article6945634/)

Recently, Pope Francis took steps to diversify the College of Cardinals by selecting 20 new members from 18 different countries. None were from the US, and only one was from within the Vatican bureaucracy. Clearly, he values advice from a variety of voices. However, all the new cardinals are bishops, so there is still work to do to include lay people - both men and women.

Francis had had his struggles with the College of Cardinals as it stood before these new appointments. In 2014, he demoted ultra-conservative Cardinal Burke from his powerful position within the Vatican court. Burke made headlines recently for lamenting the ‘feminization’ of the Church. In late December, Francis also harangued the College for its cliquish behavior and a “catalogue of illnesses” that included “spiritual Alzheimer’s” (yes, he said the words in quotes).

So the time is ripe for change, and the Pope knows it. It is time for women in the College of Cardinals. As I watch the birds twitter, circle each other, and converse against a background of pristine snow, I can only think what a beautiful thing it would be.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Advent 2014: The Impossible God


The earth spins and circles, one moving speck in a vastness beyond all imagining. Trillions of other dancing bodies weave and travel across a universe stretching over fifteen billion years. Time moves slowly, if it exists at all, across the night sky of cosmic infinity. The nebula hesitates…

And on earth, at one single point in time, in one single place, a man and woman travel through the night, under sparkling night skies, on a path to eternity.

The impossibility of it all… one single child born one single night in one single stable on one single planet, changing every single thing. Why that night? Why that stable?

The nebula explodes, and on that Bethlehem night, God transforms all at once from the universal to the intimate, and becomes unmistakably present, unmistakably vulnerable, and unmistakably real. A touch, a cry, a waving arm. Helpless without compassion, unable to grow without love, unable to continue without warm caress, unable to thrive without tender touch, God requires, demands, and receives, at least for one night, the love of the world.

And so the cosmic God of all the universe reveals a Spirit most present, most immediate, most human. And proclaims that every moment matters, and every journey, and every person, and every thing, in the interconnected web of life.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"Meadow Across the Creek"



I am six years old. I skip along a dirt road on the edge of the Ghanaian fishing village where we live, feeling the heat of the sunset against my face as it turns the world a deep reddish gold. Palm trees sway, and hibiscus flowers tremble and begin to close in the early evening breeze. My brothers race ahead and my little sister walks behind hand in hand with my parents, their voices drowned by the sound of the ocean. The smell of sea salt mixes with the smoke of cooking fires. Soon the sun will set behind the distant mountain but for one last moment it gives me everything – beauty, glory, happiness. It is my first explicit memory of utter mind-blowing joy.

This memory is my personal ‘Meadow across the Creek’, to echo Thomas Berry in The Great Work. It is my first awareness of my place in the world, and the absolute greatness of that world. It is a sacred memory, one that informs my life both in terms of recognizing the glory of our planet, and the interconnectedness of that recognition with a sense of love for family and place. Later, I will want my children to feel what I felt, and as a teacher I will want my students to feel it too. Berry notes, “if we observe our children closely in their early years we see how they are instinctively attracted to profound experiences of the natural world.” The world awakens the aesthetic instinct which yearns to be fed and then to feed the world in return.

As a chaplain at a Catholic high school, it is one of my tasks to offer students and staff experiences of the sacred, and to walk with them in their challenges and their joys. This is a cooperative venture, and together we rely on our shared talents to offer the widest variety of experiences possible. My husband Brian, an Outdoor Education and Special Education teacher at the same school, helps in designing activities that offer experiences of nature to students at all levels of achievement. The sense of the sacredness of the universe is open to all, regardless of abilities or talents. As Thomas Berry states, “This we need to know; how to participate creatively in the wildness of the world about us. For it is out of the wild depths of the universe and of our own being that the greater visions must come.”

The role of experience is critical here. We cannot talk ourselves or others into experiences of the sacred. We can only live these experiences. Sure, we need to talk in order to better understand and share our experience, and build relationships of compassion and love. But the primary sense of sacredness comes from the experience of love itself, an intimate relationship with the world since all that is loved and everyone who is loved come from the Earth. The Word that transcends all words is in the World itself, in fact, the whole cosmos.

Too often in schools, as in homes and churches, we attempt to draw students into contemplative prayer without helping them first experience the greater sense of the sacred in the world. That sense can come through any subject matter, and any revelatory experience, but an initial lasting connection must be made to the primary fact of God’s presence in the world. We must begin with the world.

Photo: http://smh-assist.ca/about/silhouette-group-of-happy-children-playing-on-meadow-sunset-s/