Worth Revisiting: 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,

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  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.
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Examen-ing Wholeness..in a Broken World

Wholeness /ˈhōlnəs/ noun
1.the state of forming a complete and harmonious whole; unity.

2.the state of being sound in mind and body. (Google;Miriam Webster)

What is wholeness in our world today? Acclaimed by wellness centers and gurus alike, we might encounter this term in promises spoken and broken. Or, perhaps as a hopeful wish to one day to be made whole. Yet, it isn’t that wholeness isn’t possible, but rather that we often are looking and going about it in the wrong way.

First, we cannot consider what it is to be made whole without examining our own brokenness. And this readily requires a standard to compare brokenness against, an understanding of that which is whole and complete. You see, this is problem so many of us encounter from the beginning. We look around ourselves and quickly settle for what we see in the world touted as wholeness.

Though each of us is created in God’s image in body and soul to be complete, mankind’s original sin having entered our world interjected our own imperfection. Through the sacrament of baptism, each of us becomes a new creation through Christ, and is invited to live a life transformed. This necessitates, however, an active participation on our part to continually surrender our will and desires for that of God’s.  And whenever we slip and fall to ask and accept forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. For the effects of sin, experienced both physically and spiritually in our lives, deter us from consistently knowing what it is to be whole.

Therefore, wholeness isn’t so much a thing ever fully acquired or achieved, but a gradual process of becoming. And just what is it that we desire to become? For, if we use the gauge of the world we will continue to be disappointed, as our measure of wholeness is itself broken. Yet, if we pause to ponder for a moment the state of perfection, unity and completeness that alone is without restriction or exception there can only be one true standard.

With God as the sole principle for wholeness, we begin to understand that our becoming is the journey of a lifetime and not one that can be undertaken without divine help. Not to say that we aren’t assisted by others, because each experience and person placed in our lives is done so with purpose. Sometimes revealing our coarse and jagged edges, and other times a witness to the goodness within.

  1. Begin by thanking God for specific gifts and offerings of the day and more general ways you feel blessed. Where has God met your need today? Where has transformation already begun, albeit in small ways, in your desire for wholeness?
  2. Silently pause to invite the Holy Spirit into the moment allowing the Spirit to guide you to consider the things you may have missed. Remember all of our brokenness expresses a yearning to become more like our Creator and can be used to illustrate where we are to grow.
  3. Review the missed opportunities. Where have you sought the counsel of the world, or yourself without seeking God’s assistance? Surrender the challenges, and reflect how inviting God into the picture could transform the situation as well as your perspective.  Keep in mind that this isn’t a time to focus negatively, but an invitation for renewal.
  4. Seek forgiveness and healing. Are there areas of brokenness in your life that God desires to heal and restore? Is this also keeping you apart from others?
  5. Pray and find hope in tomorrow.

“Holy Spirit guide my heart in its contrition to reconciliation. I understand that this is to be a new beginning in my journey to grow more like Christ Jesus, and to one day to experience true wholeness. I await the new mercies that are available in my tomorrow.”

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Thy True Self

“For me to be a saint means to be myself. Therefore the problem of sanctity and salvation is in fact the problem of finding out who I am and of discovering my true self.”
― Thomas Merton

New year’s resolutions and Lenten commitments have one important common thread, they are only as effective as they are intuitive about the strengths and weaknesses of the individual.  For this reason, neither can be a one size fits all and both need to strike a balance between being challenging and in some degree feeling achievable. For instance, setting a goal of running a 5k would not be a worthy goal for a marathoner, and running a marathon would not be a realistic goal for someone who has never ran around the block. A primary difference, of course, rests in where we seek strength and desire to follow through with these commitments. For the Christian, there is a fundamental understanding that the path of discipleship and virtue is not a solitary one. Through Christ, however, there is both strength and guidance at the ready to lead us to God’s will to becoming the best version of ourselves.

In conversation with a friend of mine recently, a retired corporate HR director, the idea of personality and leadership traits came up. Many of us have taken personality assessments like the Myers Briggs, the Big 5 or emotional inventories. While these assessments are far from perfect, they can give us a glimpse into how we perceive our strengths and weaknesses and react in various situations. This is not only beneficial for understanding ourselves but also in how to understand and work better with others in community.

I just so happen to be one who enjoys drawing out the introverted, sitting beside the wounded, communicating one on one or to a crowd, diplomatic but not afraid to stand up for what is right or see things through. Yet, on the flip side I have been known at times to spread myself too thin, be overly self-critical, and take on other people’s problems as my own. Delays due to indecision, and multiple projects left incomplete can frustrated me. Self awareness has been invaluable in discerning God’s will in my life, while also helping me to step back and reflect on how best to inspire others to learn and grow too.

As Catholics, the exercise of our faith is never separate from the larger community even when living a cloistered life. And the living out of our truest best self is always a choice. One that we can disguise, or utilize in our daily interactions with others. Though, as Merton would note, if we ignore who we are at our core we “cannot expect to find truth and reality whenever we happen to want them.” Likewise, when we  live indifferent to others and their inherent values, we fail as well to fully seek the truth about ourselves.

When we experience conflict, it not only speaks to the the behavior and inner self of others but to our own sense of identity. Conflict, therefore, has the potential to be interiorly revealing if we allow ourselves to ask two seemingly simple questions. Why it is this situation troubling in the first place and what would be necessary for interior or exterior balance?  To this point, the saints were not considered so because they lived lives of perfect peace perfectly. But rather, in the midst of conflict the saints sought to know God, to know themselves and live their truest self in the world around them.

Reflect:

In what situations in my life am I making the choice to be untrue to myself and in my relationships with others? What do the conflicts in my life reveal about myself and where might God be asking me to grow?

Peace,

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New Beginnings

Though perhaps just a date on the calendar, each new year nonetheless brings both an invitation to reflect on the days behind as well as to explore the promise of the days ahead. How is it that we examine the course of events, the successes and failures of the year behind? And for that matter, what determines what is yet to come? The lens that we view this through is essential, as only one offers both freedom and assurance for our lives.

But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? James 1:24

My mom was a perpetual optimistic. Certainly not because life had gifted her financially, or that everything in her life was in perfect symbiosis. But rather, she drew her optimism from a deep well, her trust in God. Her hope lay not that she would be given everything she may have wanted but that she would have everything that she needed. Moreover, she fully realized that while so much of life was beyond her control she knew the One who was.

“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:2-5

Not overcome..those two words really capture her life and that of so many of us in our walk of faith. For it isn’t that once we seek to follow Christ that we cease to experience sorrow or challenges. But when we do, we are given in Christ the strength and hope that he who overcame death will be with us in our greatest need. And against the backdrop of evil at work in the world, that light meets the darkness beginning quite often within us.

“The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become” CS Lewis

These new beginnings while sometimes seemingly small require a daily re-commitment  and dependence not on ourselves but on Christ alone. That is where so many of us go so wrong in making new resolutions for the year to come. While there is a part we play in our yes to God’s plan for our lives, we fool ourselves into thinking that the success or failure lays solely in our ability to follow through. For, God’s promise to us means far more than our prosperity in this world, or on a self-generating professed faith. If that were true than we would no longer need grace, or God’s guidance as we would see ourselves captains of our own ships in life.

Instead our hope must rest in our becoming who God created us to be and in what is trusted but remains unseen. We recognize it in those we encounter who the world might not measure up or deem successful who live faithfully, generously and intentionally with purpose. And, in them we see the light and life that is available to us all.  If only we are willing to enter in to the new year with trust in what God has in store.

Reflect:

Is there a new beginning needed in my life today? Where does my self worth and success lie?  What keeps me from trusting?

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Gratitude’s Expression

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This week I once again had the blessing of sitting round a table with religious leaders from within our community from all different walks of faith and backgrounds. The purpose of our meeting not for the proselytizing or the conversion of one another, but the sharing of grace, and desire to serve and work towards a better tomorrow.  Each one of us knows that there are many things, premises or subtleties, which we would most assuredly disagree on and yet that is not the reason we are there.

With a warm bowl of homemade soup, and sandwich in hand the fellowship began and the conversation unfolded. As one delightful woman, of Jewish decent, was relating a recent story she paused to add, “Though it is a small thing really.. I don’t know, it made me feel rich.”  This insightful aside prompted a searching repose of soul for the small things which we found immeasurable appreciation for. Time with our family, nourishing meals, the comfort of our bed, and warmth in the bitter cold.

Today as the forecast for blizzard conditions with snowfall up to 16″ reveals, the last one holds special importance in my thoughts and prayers. Safety and warmth in this kind of weather simply are a luxury that many of our homeless, low income and elderly cannot afford. Right now, I wonder if “Adam” has found a place to hunker down and ride out the storm, or if “Sue” whose home is now her car has found her place on the snow laden roads. Many of our elderly and poor too, due to the rising cost of utilities, cannot warm the house adequately and if the heat goes out do not have a backup.

I mention this not to invoke a feeling of guilt but to illustrate gratitude’s corresponding response. For, gratitude and action go hand in hand. John 9 tells us of the man born blind who healed by Jesus went forth and witnessed to others of the healing he had received. Then when he encounters Jesus again he professes an even deeper belief. But do we? How to we respond to God’s generous gift of love and mercy in our lives? Does our initial thankfulness fizzle or does it lead us to a greater understanding of God’s will for our lives?

What then is it that makes me feel rich?

Well more than the gift itself- it is the overwhelming presence of gratitude. For with this comes a yearning desire to go deeper in our relationship with Christ – to share what we now recognize as priceless with others. In experiencing God’s generosity, what once appeared small now becomes a precious treasure. And rather than keeping this to ourselves, we wish for others to  partake as well and know in our hearts that there is a way.

Reflect:

Take time today to ask yourself, “What is it that makes me feel rich?”. Are there others that may not readily have access to this gift or for which this is a luxury? How can I better respond to God’s generosity in my life, and encounter Christ more fully in others?

Peace,

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Restless?

“Is there a quiet stream underneath the fluctuating affirmations and rejections of my little world? Is there a still point where my life is anchored and from which I can reach out with hope and courage and confidence?’ While realizing my growing need to step back, I knew that I could never do it alone.” Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Genesee Diary

What is spiritual growth but a series of surprising twists and turns that if paid due attention to are to lead us to our ultimate happiness? Some seemingly move forward, others stand still, and at times take a necessary step back . Yet, not to be confused with regressing, it is as if we are called upon to return to that place of remembering in preparation for what God has in store next.  And where ever we may find ourselves on the path it requires a dependence on, an anchoring as it were, to the one guiding it all.

Wanting to continually move forward, however, we often become impatient with the stillness. Seeking to bypass the lesson that we are to learn,  we may notice a restlessness in our spiritual journey. Yearning to go deeper, we feel ourselves a casual observer to the spiritual consolations and joys of those around us.  This time here is necessary to renew, mend, and recommit our will to His. And if we are ever to know true peace we must make peace with the still times in life.

Having said this, I like Nouwen had been feeling a number of paradoxes in my life. While remarking that work had kept me busy, I hadn’t been able to adequately enjoy down time. Even though professionally enjoying many consolations, I fixated on the unavoidable mistakes. Was God also asking me to talk less ‘about God and more with him’? Had my own witness become stale, and my prayers rote? My soul needed a bit of respite.

“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Augustine

And who better to enter into such respite with than the source of all our true happiness and longing. For happiness is more than a fleeting feeling it is resting one’s true self in the all encompassing presence of God. It is to share, even in small ways, in the love and life of God until the day we are called to meet face to face.

Finding a spot in Adoration, I at last nestle myself in a place of humble longing. Desiring to draw close, I submit all of my fears and failures, my joys and successes, my concerns and those of others. I open my heart for God to walk through, and where he gently shows, I pause to reconsider. Here, I am his child and here my soul recognizes who I was created to be. And very quickly, I begin to shed the praise and criticism of others. And if there are places where forgiveness is needed, or trials and challenges intended to grow us are to be offered- may it find its satisfaction.

For, if our Christian life is to be meaningful, it must find its ultimate meaning and satisfaction in what God desires for us. Otherwise, we may very readily find ourselves tossed by the opinions and daily events in life. Are you restless in your walk with God today? Consider spending some alone time with God, allowing him to prioritize your life and show you your value in his eyes.

Peace,

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Worth Revisit: Still Seeking?

“It is better to be a child of God than king of the whole world!” St. Aloysius Gonzaga

With the approach of the Epiphany (Matthew 2:1-12), we behold quite a scene- one of perceived royalty and the other of unassuming divinity wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. And here, this quote by St. Gonzalga finds its resonance, revealing a profound truth of the nativity story. For regardless of worldly stature or knowledge, the maneuvers by peasants and kings alike are guided by the promised birth of a savior.

King Herod, was the proclaimed king of the Jews, and yet his Idumean family had been forcibly converted to Judaism. Herod was known to play both the Romans and the Jewish leadership against the other holding no real allegiance other than to money and power. Thus when the Magi asked “Where is the newborn king of the Jews? ” That in itself spoke to their recognition of just where legitimate power truly rested, and to whom they wished to pay homage.  Couple that with the astronomical occurrence of a star foretold in Numbers 24:17, and promises in Micah 5:2 and Isaiah 7:14 of a child to be born and Herod had good reason to be concerned.

The Magi, perhaps more accurate than the term “wise men”, alludes to their knowledge of the movement of the stars and position as Persian priests somewhere in Babylon or Arabia. Was it mere curiosity that carried them from their lands across the desert or was it more than that? They are aware of the prophesies and scriptures accompanying the signs, so we trust that they have knowledge.   Is theirs a “faith seeking understanding” as St. Anselm proposes? Have they sought God through self-knowledge and now seek God’s revelation of himself trusting that it will be affirmed under the light of the star? Up to this point, as St. Augustine would assert, though full of worldly wisdom they had yet to even understand themselves fully until they came to encounter and know God.

What is intriguing about this consideration, and their inclusion in this story is that the Magi were gentiles. And while the Jewish priests and scribes were well versed in the scriptures and could inform Herod, they are seemingly disconnected from its fulfillment. The faith of the Jewish leadership appears content in its present knowledge, and either no longer seeking greater understanding or for its fulfillment to occur differently that they had preconceived.  Their idea of a messiah was a political leader who world provide transformation in the eyes of the rest of the world not in their own lives.

This is a reoccurring theme in the Gospels, and early church. Though initially beginning with the Jews, time and time again the Good News would also be extended to the Gentiles. Was this a conversion for the Magi, we do not know. Yet, these men left behind their lives in pursuit of understanding, and humbly acknowledged the king of kings that day. One can only wonder how their faith journey continued as they returned home.

Reflect:

Am I still desiring greater understanding in my journey with God? Or do I feel that I have my place in this world and God all figured out?

Today, I’d like to invite each of you to consider if your spiritual contentment could actually be keeping you from growing closer to Christ. Maybe, just maybe, God is asking you to leave this safe space to journey with him… to discover the “more” that he has to offer. To seek the God…who is forever faithfully seeking us!

Peace,

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