Worth Revisiting: A Church on the Margins

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Evangelization

is at the heart of the church- for to share the Gospel is to consistently invite all to continual renewal of heart and to lives committed to the living out of discipleship. This living out of the Gospel in our lives can be the greatest witness to the truth of salvation, and invitation to the world who has yet to know the living Christ. More than a feeling or a philosophical premise for our own individual lives, each of us is called to physical and tangible action. As a church then, together, we bridge the Good News and the social action in the midst of the world that has yet to know the saving power of transformation.

“To evangelize is to make the kingdom of God present in our world…The kerygma has a clear social content: at the very heart of the Gospel is life in community and engagement with others. The content of the first proclamation has an immediate moral implication centered on charity.” Pope Francis, Evanglii Gaudium

The kerygma then has concrete social demands in a world that is hungry, suffers violence, sickness, and indignity- it is the language of encounter. As scripture relates, it is the fullness of love expressed in mercy and justice, not just towards a few but towards all for the good of all. Thus while the Gospel is personal for each one of us it is inherently social.

“Beware then of stopping at a sterile contemplation of God present in yourself . Add action to contemplation; to the sight of the Divine presence add the faithful accomplishment of the Divine will.” St. Ignatius, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius

Agreeably these demands of the Gospel can be quite challenging at the parish level as we seek more than a few isolated acts of charity and work towards becoming a committed church on the margins. Challenging yes and yet impossible-no.

This week, our suburban Catholic parish collaborative hosted a community panel of on the ground workers speaking to violence and healing within the inner city of Boston. From the vibrant small Presbyterian church in Roxbury, Rev. Liz Walker has found that the daily struggles of poverty and violence are inseparable from the task of evangelization. Along with fellow vineyard worker Nancy Kilburn, a monthly fellowship was begun to meet the trauma of the families and community affected by violence. In these “Can we Talk” sessions, the church seeks to meet the grief experienced through sharing a meal together, providing mental health support, music and even exercise.  While listening to the story of a mother who suddenly had lost her son to gun violence, our hearts ask how we can ever hope to heal the loss she feels. And yet this church community has helped to ease the loss, by providing the space to give voice to the pain these mothers, fathers and community have experienced.

What is a church on the margins- a church focused on the active work of evangelization?

In short, a home not only where we each experience Christ, but one where we meet Christ in one another daily. The kerygma moves not only within a congregation but through doors that are open, in disciples equipped to share what that love of Christ has done in their lives by committed action to those most in need of love and healing. Perhaps you ask what is the work that I am called to do? Take time today to consider the needs of your greater community that may not be met sufficiently already. For example, in a community where poverty abounds, meal centers are seeds of transformation and healing. Notice how often Jesus came to table?  And still even with a ministry that is presently active, know that there is a way for you too to become involved.

Reflect:

What are ways that I see my own faith challenged in giving voice to the Gospel? Have I given a ready witness to the love of God in my life by my action to love of neighbor? How can my parish community better serve the needs of the larger community, and what role can I serve in working to make this a reality?

Peace,

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Waking Up to Lent

Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
Isaiah 60:1

A purple sky gradually taking on the coral, rose and gold tones of the break of day, what  a spectacular sight to behold. Since I was quite small, I have cherished the soft warmth of a sleepy awakening nestled under the protective covers of a new morning. It is where the day before has been put to bed and the new day awaits to be discovered. Hushed stirrings of hope and a renewed resolution to seek a will other than my own. Where my heavenly Father has my undivided attention, and discernment takes shape in the freedom to surrender any preconceived notions of completeness.

And while it may be so tempting to remain where we are, undisturbed by the demands of others, our Father calls us onward constantly to a graced life of encounter. Eyes opened to see Christ in one another and hearts prepared to experience the deep contrition for our failure to love. Here, we are called to live out our discipleship not cloistered away but in the very midst of community. Where knees are made firm, hearts rended and hands strengthened for the work ahead.

In these moments Father, you are lovingly and continually recreating me.

Lent comes to us in the drowsiness of winter and beckons us to be awakened recreated anew.  “Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die..”   And still to do so, we must take this essential time with God to search our hearts and steps, to even see the need for change.  To embrace this given space to delve into the commonplace, the habitual, and the un-examined parts of our life to reveal the invitation for conversion. To unearth the sin from the darkest corners that has slowly made its home, to be restored to what God has created us to be. For, “everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light.”

Now is the time of prayer, fasting and almsgiving…

Prayer:

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions… be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Prayer is a light that reveals, and directs that without it we are truly without a compass in our desire for change. Using this time set apart to pray is likewise an opportunity to reconnect with God. Who, in the hustle and bustle of life may not be our closest companion in our journey.

Fasting:

Why fast? Scripture has a lot to say about the practice of fasting and the benefits of doing so. First of all, it expresses a desire on our part to offer sacrifice and penance for wrongs committed. Yet, it is also proven to be a quickening agent to prayer, providing the perspective to see God’s direction and will. And if done with also an awareness of community, it can lead to the directed efforts to offer the allocated money for food to others who may be in greater need.

Almsgiving:

The giving of money, time, and talents to assist the poor is to be a outward expression of our inner desire for charity. ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Therefore, the Christian understanding carries with it more than just helping one another, but in doing so we actually are serving Christ. In this way, it becomes a visible witness of love in action. You need not travel far to identify ways to answer this call to charity.  In the inspiring words of St. Teresa of Calcutta, ” Stay where you are, find your own Calcutta…”

Reflect:

Is there a need in my life to wake up this Lent? Where might God be calling me to grow or serve?

Peace,

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A Storyteller’s Guide to A Grace Filled Life- Blog Tour

In reviewing this book, I cannot help but share a bit about the storyteller as who he is leaps off of every page in a humble, open, sincere and unassuming way. No different in real life, Tony has a profound gift of engaging the heart, inspiring reflection and engendering friendship. Through his eyes we glimpse the lost, lonely and forgotten and through his words we are invited to see ourselves in each of these.

“Since we cannot do good to all, we are to pay special attention to those who, by the accidents of time, or place, or circumstances are brought into closer connection with you.” St. Augustine (p. 27)

Whether close to home, at table with our families, in our daily interactions with others  or in a prison cell… grace is a chosen gift to accept.

As Tony illustrates, grace touches not only the ones we are moved to be attentive to but it can renew our faith, restore our relationships, and change the course of our very lives. What is remarkable is that when encountered, grace seeks not to occupy a corner of our hearts but to consume it entirely. Through prison and homeless ministry, Tony relates time and again our innate need to feel loved, and be reminded of our self worth despite the circumstances we might find ourselves in. Grace calls our name, and provides the reassurance that God loves us regardless of the past and ushers in the hope of change.

Within the family, Tony is key to point out the cultural influences of today that pull us away from deep conversation and allow us to settle for shallow waters of accommodation. Sacrificing both quantity and quality of time we far too often miss out on the numerous grace filled moments that God desires to bless our lives with. And in prizing our own idea of self we neglect to honor or claim who God has created us to be in our varied vocations. To this Tony is not remiss in offering a bit of well earned and honed wisdom from the challenges he too has faced in life.

Yet, more than a prescription, A Storyteller’s Guide to a Grace-Filled Life invites the reader following each story to reflect on their own joys, sorrows, weaknesses and gifts to discover or re-discover grace. For grace does not expire, or cease but simply awaits our response to more fully be who God has created us to be. And our unique stories, as Tony so beautifully remarks not only “forms the fabric” for our understanding and struggles in our lives but also “become the glue that connects each generation to the next”.

A word of gratitude to my dear friend and fellow Catholic blogging evangelist Tony Agnesi who continues to share his “Grace-Filled” journey with the world. You are such a bright ray of hope and grace…Thank you for letting your light shine!

To hear an on-air conversation between Tony and I through An Engaging Faith, available on podcast tune in here .

An autographed copy of A Storyteller’s Guide to a Grace-Filled Life is offered for a limited time at Tony Agnesi.com  with free domestic shipping. It is also available for purchase through  Amazon or at Barnes and Noble.

 

 

 

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting {Ash} Wednesday

Ash Wednesday Edition!

Today as we begin the season of Lent I thought that this beloved Catholic funny was definitely worth revisiting!  Beyond the obvious, when many of us have left with just a smear across our forehead, I see myself. (As a bit of perspective, I have actually corrected the cross of ashes on my forehead more than once in my life!) For so many years, I have let my own desire of perfectionism determine the outcome of success. It is a fruitless game of never fully being pleased. and where often the reason why we even tried gets lost in our own sense of pride.

True, this time of Lent is intended to work on those things in our life that distance us from God. However, we cannot do this solely on our own, nor were we ever meant to. Rather than seeking control, by forcing a square peg in a round hole, we are to allow God to chip away at our sins and challenges. To shape us in the true image we were always intended to be.

This is why I encourage you this Lent to:

  • Let go of who you think you once were, or who others have defined you to be to allow God to accomplish His work and what he wills within you. We cannot be transformed if we retain our old selves.
  •  Carve out space and time for both quiet reflection and dialogue.These next 40 days are a gift- an invitation to slow down, get away, and spend time with your heavenly Father. Jesus himself recognized the need to leave his everyday surroundings and daily to-do’s for clarification and direction. Yet, without ready access to a desert..we have to create the time and space in our lives apart from the noise.
  • Whatever you choose to do differently, agree to make it meaningful. If you decide to pick up a devotion this Lent, whether it be the rosary, adoration time, daily mass, Bible study, Liturgy of the Hours, or the Examen resist rushing through to check it off your list. Rather than passively going about this time be purposeful in seeking direction and unhurried in reaching a destination. Keeping in mind that our faith is a journey- one in which Our Father not only meets us but leads and indeed carries us home.
  • Oh, and don’t forget..

God Makes Beautiful Things Out of Dust!

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Thy Will be Done

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Lately these four words have spoken profound volumes in my life. With the busy fast paced work of collaborative parish life, my own vocation as wife and mother, and the decision of putting our own house on the market,there is such solace in this simple prayer. In an Ignatian practice of pause, time spent in contemplation of each word prayerfully leads us to consider what God’s word means for our lives today.

Thy

All that is within creation is God’s alone. From the smallest grain of sand to the tallest mountain, from the fiercest storm to the most placid waters it is all His and in His control. From the tiniest spark of life placed by the Creator, to the life nearing the end of its days- God is present and attentive to our cry.  In awestruck wonder I stand amidst it all and offer my gratitude both for the grandeur of all I see, but also for my place in His plan.

This week my cousin was fatally killed when struck by an automobile while crossing the street. His childhood was a difficult one growing up on the outskirts of Chicago, and he fell easily into a life of addictions as did his sister who died early of an overdose.On and off again homeless, he did have moments of stability but none lasted very long. With his mother and father now gone too from cancer, there were but a few that were close to him. Though he too, I believe, was loved dearly by his heavenly Father, he longed for that sense of belonging here on earth. The reported images of his passing, struck and laying dead in the middle of the road left me immediately heartbroken. Yet, how could I let my grief consume me when I know the certainty of the love and mercy of God’s embrace? He is Yours now Father. May his struggle here meet your joy and forgiveness, and may he know that he is truly missed.

Will

Here there is a beautiful recognition that God is God and I quite simply am not. Truthfully, I do not want my life to follow my own inclinations, despite my repeated attempts to persuade or otherwise take the reins at times.

This week in bible study we turned towards Genesis-walking in the peace of the Garden, and experiencing the pain of our disobedience and prideful use of will. Do we too desire to have the wisdom of God? Whatever would we do if we did? I do not know about you, but I haven’t always made the best decisions when I have acted on my own. What are the consequences even when we have achieved our immediate desire? The key can be found in the search itself- the longing for happiness.  So often, we look for happiness not eternally, but rather satisfy ourselves with temporary happiness. Those things which pacify us but disappear quickly are our forbidden fruit. In consuming them they give us a feeling of self-empowerment, and control and cloud the reality of our utter dependence on God.

Oh, Lord please help my will to align with Yours! Please make straight my crooked paths and set everything right when I have forgotten your loving ways. Though I do not know the way ahead, I trust that you do.

Be Done.

Release of the outcome to the One in control of it all is essential in a life directed towards God’s will. His time, His direction, His edits and our “YES!”. Are we saying yes daily but our more accurate response is a maybe?

As anyone who has gone through the process of selling a home can attest to..one wishes not only for a good price but for the pain to end quickly. Living in a constant state of readiness and cleanliness is a work of wonder with a family of boys and a playful German Shepherd. Only week two and I who began this quest in an open surrender am already petitioning God to walk the right family through our home. I know, that God’s answer might be yes..but it may be a no, or perhaps later. After we do all that we can do to prepare each day, what remains for each of us is for the resolve of the situation to “Be done”.

Reflect: How do we respond when situations are slower than unexpected, or end unfavorably for what we would have desired? Can we let God who has the big picture take the lead? If not, what could we do differently?

Peace,

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Remembering Whose We Are

“What I think is more important than what others think..The more you trust my love the less you care about their (opinions). Remember, Eli said, you are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.” You are Special, Max Lucado

As you reread these words again for a moment pause, and ask yourself if you could hear these words said by anyone who would you want for that to be? Truth is, from our very birth we have been created to seek affirmation and approval. The difficulty is that we choose, far too often, to seek it from all the wrong places. Am I smart, talented, pretty or successful? What is it that others see, and is that what truly makes me special?

In and of themselves these qualities are worthy to be appreciated, and yet they will never be the sole measure of our worth. For as we all know beauty fades, success wanes, and talents can come and go in an instant. Even the praise received by family, friends, and peers can quite easily be matched by criticism given time and circumstance. This is true too for quite the opposite. Some of the most creative minds in history have lived unnoticed quiet lives before their discovery. Prompting the world to ask , where on earth have they been?

So back to our original question, who and what are we living for?

As the youngest of three, with an incredibly beautiful sister and a successful brother ahead of me, I had decided to work on being the “smart one”. This was motivation for me to consistently aspire for the highest grade, receive recognition in the community, and be admitted to one of the top undergraduate schools in the nation. Pushing myself in this way for so long, there came the recognition that this was an endless pursuit that had not only taken a toll on me, but was no longer fulfilling. If it ever really was in the first place. There was so much more in life that lay unexplored including who I was at my core and had been created to be in this world.

While my faith had always played a substantial role in my life, somehow I had compartmentalized my interior and exterior life. Rather than approaching God to see who he wished for me to be, I was instead coming to God asking him to validate or not who others saw me to be. In doing so, I was not living like I was loved but in fear of the next critical word and anticipation of the next word of praise.  This has been, for me, a lifetime of reaffirming self discovery with God leading the way.

“You are special because I made you. And I don’t make mistakes.”

And still, what time and experience have revealed is the profound need for these words to permeate deep within the soul of every one of us in our lifetime. Yet, in order to do so we must keep our eyes and trust on him. It entails spending time with our Creator, and allowing him to remind us who and whose we are. The more often we do this, the less we care what others think whether good or bad in nature. We were created with and for an extraordinary purpose- the continual revelation of which has been, for me, an unimaginable source of true and lasting happiness.

Reflect:

Do I rely too much on the opinions or affirmation of others for an assessment of my self worth? How often do I seek God’s evaluation and affirmation in my life? 

Challenge:

Spend 15 minutes today in silence, free of distractions allowing God to remind you of your purpose and value.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Dear Pope Francis

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Dear Pope Francis: The Pope Answers Letters from Children Around the World (Loyola Press)

With the incredible appeal of Pope Francis, there has been understandably a vast array of books on him or by him featuring his homilies, angelus’, addresses and encyclicals. Yet, I am so thrilled to be able to preview a book composed of letters and questions by children and the tender responses of Pope Francis.

While I could tell you how I felt reading these personal and heartfelt correspondences..I thought that instead I would share a few of my son Thomas’ thoughts as we read these preview pages together.

I asked him, “So, Thomas, what do you think?”

Pope Francis brings out the most of everyone’s questions in faith. He speaks to each child from his heart.

(Thomas, age 10, United States)

I really like the question from Alejandra, “Why didn’t God defeat the devil?” and Pope Francis’ response that he already defeated him “in his own way” on the cross. This relieves me so much because I dislike Satan and the evil things he does. (Thomas, age 10, United States)

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I think Pope Francis’ choice for a miracle is a good one because I do not wish that children or anyone else would suffer. When Pope Francis says that it’s ok to cry, that is different from saying that crying won’t change anything. He cries because he feels for us and loves. (Thomas, age 10, United States)

To Karla, You ask if everyone good or bad has a guardian angel. I feel bad for the guardian angel that has to accompany the people that do bad things! I am happy though that people are never alone and they have a guardian angel to guide them. (Thomas, age 10, United States)

Knowing that God wants us to all be saved makes me feel grateful. If I make a mistake and am sorry, he forgives me.(Thomas, age 10, United States)

To Pope Francis: Thank you, yes Jesus wants me to be his friend. But to be a good friend, you say that this means that Jesus wants me to talk to him, and spend time with him. This makes me happy because then everyone gets to be friends with Jesus!(Thomas, age 10, United States)

As you can see, the dialogue between hearts is intended to continue with each child, parent and teacher that picks up this beautiful conversation of faith. Children have a remarkable way of meeting situations and others with a profound honesty and simplicity. Perhaps this is why we too are called to be like these children in seeking the Kingdom of heaven. 

Peace, Signature

Aquinas: On Grace

I would venture to say that both the strength and weakness of Aquinas can best be understood in light of how he believes knowledge is acquired about God and his creation, the body and soul, and the part that our grace plays through it all.

For Aquinas, much like Aristotle, much knowledge is gained by observing the world through our senses and compartmentalizing its importance by reason. Nevertheless, while there are subjects that we learn through reason, there are others that we understand only through divine revelation, and still yet concepts that require both.  When we look at the world in God’s creation we are able to see beauty, wisdom, being and goodness.This notion that our bodies are not evil but through our senses we are able to understand God’s creation and, in part, knowledge of the existence of our Creator is a strength for Aquinas. We look at creation and understand the material that comprises it (clay), and in what shape it is in (pot), understand something about the creator who made it (potter), and ultimately the purpose for which it was made.

However, although this allows us to know aspects of God, Aquinas concedes that human reason is still limited in fully comprehending God’s magnificence.  Aquinas noted that “while a philosopher can show that God exists, he doubted that reason can tell us much about God’s nature…only what He is not.” [1]  Aquinas consequently argues that human reason must be met with God’s revelation of himself simply to understand his existence.  Therefore, since they both come from God, reason and revelation do not oppose each other, but supplement each other [2] .

When it comes to understanding mankind, Aquinas makes a further distinction in his causality argument. Aquinas sees the soul as the form for the body, and although they can exist separately it is not humanity’s ultimate purpose. Rather, the ultimate goal would be at “Christ’s second coming and the general resurrection when we will exist as embodied souls”. [3] .This ultimate goal or union with God is not achieved, however, by our own reason or will but as an added salvific grace. “Moreover, the Incarnation holds up to man an ideal of that blessed union whereby the created intellect is joined, in an act of understanding to the uncreated Spirit…returns by a sort of circulatory  movement to his first beginning, being united by the work of the Incarnation to the very principle of all things”. [4]

Foremost, Aquinas saw that grace and nature complemented each other in mankind in an “indwelling of grace that elevates our nature and leads us to pursue happiness” [5]  Further, there are also virtues of faith, hope, charity, fortitude, justice, temperance, prudence that will bring us closer to God when matured. In cooperating with grace we are able to live moral lives and good works are seen. This is strength for Aquinas, because it helps us understand the search for virtue, meaning and happiness in those who have yet to experience God’s grace in conversion. [6] However ,what if one’s natural pursuit for happiness is more a product of society’s influence than of the moral law of our creator? Aquinas noted, that “ through sin the reason is obscured especially in practical matters, the will hardened to evil, good actions become more difficult, and concupiscence more impetuous”(Summa I-II, 85,3)

Further, Aquinas’ argument that some truths are only known by revelation from God, would also suggest that there are truths which will not be understood by those who do not believe in God. Hence, “the way in which we understand the substance of a thing determines the way in which we know what belongs to it” (Contra Gentiles 3, 3, 3) Those who do not believe in God, therefore will not accept divine truth and will look to society to explain the truths in the world. Thus, a salvific grace is “added to those of nature in such a way that it does not destroy the latter but perfects” [7] . On this idea of grace and the remission of guilt Aquinas notes, “Now the effect of the divine love in us which is taken away by sin, is grace, whereby a man is made worthy of eternal life, from which sin shuts him out. Hence we could not conceive of the remission of guilt without the infusion of grace” (Summa Theologica II, 113, 3). Rather, because of sin, we cannot grow closer to God without the added grace to know and love God.

Without this God given grace, mankind could not achieve ultimate union with God which is the ultimate purpose of our creation.  Aquinas notes that through Christ humanity is restored, so that “henceforth men might serve God no longer out of fear of death…but out of love of charity”. The weakness in this concept of an added quantity of salvific grace is, I believe, that it does not adequately address the grace presently working in our continued relationship with God.  Here the ” ‘movement of the soul’ towards God is nothing more than faith”. [8]

It is important to recognize that the saints, much like you and I, were working out just who God is and how we come to know God in their own lives. Each one of us is invited to do the same, which in some ways unique to just who God created us to be. 

Reflect:

Who is God in my life today? What do I find moves my soul closer to God? What place does reconciliation play in my journey with God?


[1] Placher, William. (1983) A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction. (First Edition). Westminster John Knox Press. p.152.
[2] Placher, p.153.
[3] Placher, p.155.
[4]Kerr, Hugh.  (1990) Readings in Christian Thought (Second Edition).  Abingdon Press. p. 119.
[5] Russell, (2012) Christian Doctrine Trinitarian Controversies, [Power point presentation]. Loyola University, Chicago, IL.
[6] Placher, p. 153.
[7] Ibid.
[8]Kärkkäinen, Veli-Matti. (2010) Holy Spirit and Salvation, Westminster John Knox Press, p.148.

Worth Revisiting: Leading with Humility

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In our society today, these concepts of leadership and humility might seem to contradict one another, and yet they are essential to what it means to follow Christ.

“…and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:28

Take a moment, and think of whom you might consider a good leader. Odds are they possess not only charisma and determination, but genuinely express care and concern for those whom they lead, placing these needs above their own. Going a step further, they might just realize that they are not the protagonists in the story at all. Conversely, think of the most humble people that you know of… do they not lead and inspire others by their sheer ability to authentically witness love?

So what does it mean to lead with humility?

First, it is to see ourselves as God sees us- blessed, broken and infinitely loved. It is to know that our weaknesses and failures are but reminders that we cannot, nor are we intended to, go it solely on our own.  It is to put God in the driver’s seat and to allow him to work through us in best utilizing the gifts he has given us for the task. Even, gifts we may not recognize that we even possess.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body, all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. Psalm 139:14-16

St. Ignatius extends this discussion further to consider the different degrees of humility or ways we show our love for God and one another. The 1st degree is an adherence or commitment to the commandments or laws of God seeing these as both necessary for our salvation but also a governing spirit in our life. Having accepted this, and discovering that the love of God is calling forth “more” from us, we are surprisingly more content with what we have and less attached to the pursuit of riches, power or glory.  In this, the 2nd degree, we still are not completely free from its attraction but understand that it is less satisfying.  Finally we come to the 3rd degree of humility where the choice of suffering, experiencing poverty or being foolish for Christ is no longer a real struggle but a continual choice.

Quite honestly, it would be wonderful to feel that I have successfully attained my 3rd degree belt in humility..but alas I know that I am not yet there! Am I willing daily to endure persecution, face contempt or ridicule for Christ?  While sometimes a “yes”, and other times a “no” , I am learning gradually that God is asking me to bring my whole self to every situation.  Through my weakness, and vulnerability he is able to show the magnitude of what he can truly do. In seeking to persevere, there is also such immense gratitude for those glimpses given to this selfless authentic love in our lives.

Lord, help me to let go of every spiritually unhealthy desire for acceptance, financial comfort, or worldly success. If considered a fool, then let me be a fool in love with you Lord. Let the world come to know this as a testament to the daily transformation that you work in my life. May this convincingly inspire others to discover the meaning and joy found in striving to embrace the humility of love.

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-34

Peace,

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Fear of God: A Walk in Wisdom

“Right discernment of life begins with an obedience discernment of YHWH the Creator” (Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 309).  1

This quote by Bruggeman truly calls attention to just how we understand knowledge, and become aware of God’s immanence and transcendence. For many years,  I had difficulty with the wisdom tradition’s notion of knowledge stemming from a “fear of the Lord” . Perhaps, it was simply in my understanding of the word fear, which does not aptly describe my understanding of our relationship with God. Even still, was it’s usage in the numerous fire and brimstone homilies I had grown up with. Yet, when we place this word fully in the context of scripture, there is ample clarity.

In contrast to understanding God cosmically and historically at work within the world, Israel sought to understand God as Creator within the context of everyday life. Through the Wisdom literature we are attuned to a plurality of voices that speak to who God is and experienced in the daily lived reality of the community in which God is believed to be central to its ordering. 2  Here, we behold a deep concern with the very human and routine problems of life, death, sex, commerce, and relationships encountered in living in the world. Moreover, there is considerable moral weight placed on decision making, with the responsibility seen in the highlighted and inherent consequences.  In honoring this divine order, one’s life and that of the community, it is asserted, would be blessed the gift of well being. 3

Conversely, the consequences that are intrinsic to deeds that are negligent of Yahweh’s structuring of creation invite misery, suffering, and even death for the community.4  Skillfully, it is fashioned by reflective and inquisitive teachers employing literary designs of poetry, metaphor, drama to describe a “faith in the world as intended by the Creator”.5  Knowledge, as argued by the teachers of Proverbs, begins therefore in fearing the Lord with awe and wonder. (Prov. 1:7)  Thus, what we witness is an expression of faith seeking to recognize God’s intended purpose and boundaries inherent in creation that is believed to provide meaning and safety for the whole world. 6

Here “fear” reveals more of an overwhelming marveling at considering the magnificence of God, what he has done, and continues to do within creation. This we are invited to do each time we behold a sunrise, or connect with the eyes of the believer receiving communion, or hold the tiny hands of a newborn baby in ours. In our appreciation of God as the source of all life, and desire to know his will and purpose for our lives, we begin to seek to know more and grow in our love and service to him. What is knowledge then, if not our acknowledgement of the Creator who offers this gift and desires to be in relationship with his creation?

When I was a child, I would customarily ask my grandmother her advice on various questions of life. While she did have concrete suggestions for me to follow, it always came down to her embodied philosophy..put God first and everything else will fall into place. Or, better still, it will be shown to be inconsequential in the bigger picture. This seems so simple, and nonetheless we strive to make our lives so complicated. Yet, as the wisdom teachers assert, we will never be able to even discern the right path unless we take the “Creator’s large vision to bear on these everyday realities”. 7

In order that we understand this perspective fully, we are given God’s magnanimous answer to Job which attests to his “greatness and which transcends the small moral category of Proverbs”.8 What’s more, God demands a reply from Job as well, not to his innocence or guilt, but in questioning if Job recognizes that it is God alone who holds the entirety of creation in his hands.9  In Job, we are reminded of Jacob, who also “wrestled” with God..but won. Job, however cannot respond to God equally, and realizes finally that he needs to accept God’s mystery of purpose. (Job 42:1-6) In yielding his “complaint and protest” to renewed “hope and trust” God moves forward to restoration of Job’s life and indeed his relationship with God.

Interestingly too, God addresses the three friends who had “not spoken rightly concerning” God. (Job 42:7-9)  In penance, they were to offer holocaust, and seek the intercession of Job whose guilt they had so easily assumed. Thus, there was restoration for the three friends as well, and vindication of Job’s righteousness. This highlights the significance of sound pastoral ministry whenever we speak or offer comfort. Prayerful reflection must be given to what we do choose to say. Likewise, we must be open to recognizing that we are far from infallible, and when mistakes are made, we should seek reparation as well.

Many of us cannot help but smile whenever we encounter the bumper sticker that reads, “What would Jesus do?” particularly when its driver is behaving less than Christian . While, this might provide a somewhat humorous example, it does call attention to just how we live our lives of faith daily. While Proverbs attempts to catch us before we err and in the decision making process itself, experience is far too often the teacher. These are the issues that the writers of Proverbs and Job understood..seeking God in both presence and seeming absence in our lived reality. Both illustrate our need to let God’s wisdom speak in silence sometimes..and let God’s Spirit move in and renew the hearts.

Peace,

Signature

 


  1. Walter Brueggemann, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 309.
  2. Brueggemann, p. 275.
  3. Brueggemann, p. 310.
  4. Brueggemann, p. 312.
  5. Birch,Bruce, A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 384.
  6. Birch, p. 422.
  7. Birch, p. 388.
  8. Birch, p. 412.
  9. Brueggemann, p. 298.