Worth Revisiting:When Words Fail

“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.” Thomas Merton

In sitting down this morning to write about this, I hesitated. Such a difficult topic, and yet so needed. On more occasions than I could have thought possible, I have encountered grief. Not only through my own experience but through those expressing abandonment in their grief, and confusion on the part of those who love them. While not professing to have a perfect answer, I humbly offer the following as spiritual guidelines in beginning the journey.

  1. Speak-but speak less. Do not underestimate the gift and consolation of listening. Your presence is still needed amidst the changes in the life of the one who mourns, though perhaps in a different way. Before speaking, pause, and allow the other the space to lead the conversation. In your listening, inwardly invite the Holy Spirit into the moment to guide the direction and breadth of discussion.

“Speak only if it improves the silence” Mahatma Gandhi

There are times when silence can speak volumes, and others where we are called to do more than talk but are called into the do-ing of life. When my brother, having committed suicide, left this world my own mother was left initially in a world of silence. The suddenness of his passing left her,for a short time, unable to cope with the everyday essentials of sleeping, eating and caring for herself. This I realized was something that I was being asked right then and there to take to doing. The roles had in one swift moment been reversed. For the many countless nights she had taken care of me, I felt privileged to return in kind, albeit in some small way. With a toddler in tow, I cleaned, cooked and took care of everything I could put my hands and feet to. Then I would sit beside her and let my son do his magic. Reaching up, smiling and looking into the eyes of his grandma he connected, drawing her out of herself and into the beauty of the life before her. Though slowly she came out of shell shock, it would really be months before she could truly speak to any of the pain that she had felt. This time of silence to the experience of grief was her a much needed time of healing and reflection, one that could not be rushed or anticipated.

“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief…and unspeakable love.” Washington Irving

  2.  There is no perfect response- Perhaps the most common question that continually comes forward from those seeking to offer consolation is simply, “What do I say?” There is an honest seeking to meet the pain and loss that our loved ones are facing with some sage advice or uplifting heartfelt message to ease their suffering. And yet, our words often fall short of touching the profound pain in grief of the situation. The moment we release ourselves from the responsibility of saying just the right thing, we can embrace the other with authenticity. That is not to say, however, we should speak every word that comes to the forefront of our thoughts. Strive to avoid platitudes and clichés like, “Time heals all wounds”, “Your loved one is in a better place”, “God wanted him/her with him” or “I know how you feel”To this day, three simple words seem to be a much needed balm when spoken truly from the heart..

Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do, but how much love we put in the action that we do. It is to God Almighty – how much we do it does not matter, because He is infinite, but how much love we put in that action. How much we do to Him in the person that we are serving.                                                -Mother Teresa

3. Love –but love more. The picture of someone that is deeply immersed in the grieving process isn’t a pretty one. It is messy, challenging, and calls forth from those that love them a willingness to get dirty in the process. It requires patience and understanding holding each death and each one who grieves in the uniqueness of the moment. Comparisons or preconceived notions of recovery fail to take this into consideration. So, for all those times when our desire to console is not well received or our small act of kindness feels unappreciated…love. When they reach for support from others, or seem to have no need for support from anyone…love. When we cannot understand what is holding them back , hold on to hope and…love.

Walking with someone in their brokenness is to recognize our own brokenness too. And in helping them to find their way, we discover both community and communion in the One who brings wholeness, love, peace, and joy in the journey.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Reconciled


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Not just a prettier or more approachable  version of confession, the act of reconciling is instead, a richer and more complete description of what transpires in this beautiful sacrament. For, reconciliation means“to walk together again”[1] , to reestablish a close relationship in friendship, peace, and love. Confession is just one part of this sacrament replete with mercy, grace and love.  Reconciliation then more fully represents  “what is most important, what Jesus does”. [2]

Growing up protestant, I have heard all of the following questions and consequent arguments against the Catholic sacrament of reconciliation. Undoubtedly even for those having grown up in the faith, there still lies a temptation to rest on these as a means of justifying ourselves in our walk with God. However, there is also a challenge here to really consider the effects of sin, the grace that is present here and the freedom in walking humbly with our God.

1.“My relationship with Jesus is good..I can tell him anything. Why would I put a 3rd person in the middle since Jesus is the one who forgives me?  What this question begs is a heartfelt response. Yes, there is solid scriptural basis but the person asking this is seeking to know the soul benefit in uttering and entrusting their sins in this way.  They understand the need for forgiveness and may have a very good prayer life. Coming into the faith as an young adult this was a hurdle I myself encountered. I prayed often, went to church, read my bible and asked for forgiveness daily. So what does the sacrament of reconciliation really provide that is different?

  • In confessing our sins we give voice to that which we have privately carried and share it with the community in the priest who is also representative of Christ. The weight of our sins that we have carried is lifted, the slate with our sins wiped clean and we are free to begin anew.
  • Likewise, in both our sin and sanctity we are a community and are called to help one another in the journey. Our sin which has hampered and even damaged our relationships is removed and so, as a community we celebrate.
  • Receive peace and comfort by the grace of Christ to go forth to both amend our ways and to strive for greater justice and peace in our families, communities and world around us. Our penance is an essential first step to express our commitment towards this transformation.

2. “So, where is the need for reconciliation in the bible?

  • “So whoever is in Christ is a new creation: the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come. And all this is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and given us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their trespasses against them and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. So we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:17-20.
  • Parable of the lost sheep- Jesus’ story of the shepherd and the 1 lost sheep among the 99. Jesus leads us to reconciliation with God and others (Matthew 18:12-14)
  • Prodigal Son explores the unconditional love and forgiveness of God, and helps bring this forgiveness into our daily lives (Luke 15:11-32)
  • Great Commandment- Jesus’ teaching about loving God, ourselves, and others (Matthew 22:36-40)

3. “These priests are human too, how can they hear and absolve my sins, aren’t they just as prone to sin?”

  • As Catholics we believe that Jesus intended to give authority to his apostles to guide, teach, forgive and heal the followers of Christ to come. And, that they in turn in succession handed down this authority.

” And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven.Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19.

“Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” John 20:21-23

  • Yet, this question also points to the need for forgiveness for all of us, as a result of our human condition and our inclination to sin. St. John Paul II went to reconciliation frequently as did newly sainted St. Teresa of Calcutta who is noted for going 2-3 times a week for even venial sins.

“It would be an illusion to seek after holiness, according to the vocation one has received from God, without partaking frequently of this sacrament of conversion and reconciliation.  Those who go to Confession frequently, and do so with the desire to make progress, will notice the strides that they make in their spiritual lives.” St. JP II[3]

4. Finally, “Didn’t they just go to reconciliation? So why are they still  (*mean, rude etc.) ?

First obviously this question implies a bit of judgement of others rather than looking at our own walk of faith. Yet, to address the intended issue, does this sacrament have the grace and power to effect true and lasting change? Yes, but again we have a propensity and inclination to sin and our sins are not always exactly the same. Reconciliation is a sacrament that is intended to be received again and again throughout our lives either individually or with the community. So, it does not “end with the words of absolution”, but “in order to achieve it’s purpose it must take root in their whole lives”.[4]

In Reconciliation we are giving the opportunity to experience and celebrate God’s grace, love, mercy and forgiveness in our lives and in community. God isn’t as concerned with the “mistakes” but with repairing the relationship that has suffered.

Think for a moment about your relationship with your best friend.

If you think about your relationship with God, how could this be better? Have you made time for your friendship with God in prayer, answered his calls of love and grace? Have you said sorry when you realize that you have chosen to act unloving?

Remember, our choices not only hurt ourselves but effect our relationship with God, and so many others that we encounter daily. Mercy and forgiveness are waiting-take time today to be reconciled.

Peace,

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[1] McKenna, Meagan. (1997) Rites of Justice. New York. Orbis Books

[2] Richstatter, Thomas. O.F.M, S.T.D. (1990) “Ten Tips for Reconciliation: The Gift of Reconciliation”. Catholic Update. Ohio. Catholic Update.

[3] Pope John Paul II,  Conference of the Apostolic Penitentiary in Rome. March 27, 2004.

[4] Kane, Thomas. Healing God’s People: Theological and Pastoral Approaches.Rite of Penance 7b.

Worth Revisiting: Finding Patience

Have you met Faith, Hope and Charity in your own life?  Intended for our youngest readers ages 4-8, Finding Patience is a very endearing introduction to these extraordinary gifts from God.  When 8 year old Faith moves with her family to a new home and school, her initial excitement fades as she encounters the daunting challenge of making new friends.  Encouraged to seek patience in prayer, Faith soon finds the love and support of her family and a new puppy to help her persevere. This time also prepares Faith with a true appreciation for what was to come next…a new friend!

As we have come to discover in our own lives, the experience of change and disappointment doesn’t begin when we are old enough to equip ourselves with ready answers or are accustomed to waiting patiently. Much less is patience something acquired once and for all, but as with the other virtues, is a gift that we are to grow in throughout our lives. This as young Faith demonstrates so well requires perseverance.

flower-1-1527160Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  (James 1:2-3)

While so often we struggle to attain even a good measure of patience in our lives, this struggle is incredibly important. For, when tested we do have a choice- to give up to discouragement  or lift up and lean into God. When we actively persevere in trusting God, in his timing and will, it is then we receive that inner strength needed to endure whatever trial we face in our lives.  Only then, do we get to enjoy in the fullness of all that God desires for each of us –true peace and love.

For most of my early life, I believed myself to be patient. Since, accepting the failures and faults of others came quite naturally. What I did not do, however, is practice patience with myself and God’s timing with my own life. Meeting obstacles by seeking to control all conditions involved, I was left with anything but peace. I thought that God would act quickly, and if he hadn’t was depending on me to do my part to move things into place. Then, when things didn’t go as planned, I felt this was only because I had failed to execute the plan perfectly.

Like 8 year old Faith, I didn’t realize right away that waiting, and practicing patience, was an active journey in virtue. Exercising patience, unlike seeking control, requires a choice of placing the situation in the hands of God rather than solely your own. It is trusting in the outcome that God has in store and finding peace in the midst of it. As Christian parents, we seek to teach our children not only how to get through life but how to discern fully and follow Christ with each step along the way. The virtues are spiritual tools to do just that. So, why not start today on this path with your child to learn and grow in virtue?

 

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Worth Revisiting: Assuming Mary

For those that have grown up in the Catholic faith, this feast is well known perhaps at times a bit too familiar. Do we stop and take the time to truly ponder the life of Mary as we celebrate this honor bestowed on a life well lived? Or do we simply take for granted Mary’s yes and assume we know her while failing to see the implications for our lives today?


Assuming Mary

“When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved, he said to his mother,“Woman, behold, your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” John 19:26-27 NAB

Like all good movies, there will most definitely be a prequel and subsequent sequels to this conversational confession of my conversion to Catholicism. Yet, with the Church’s celebration of Mary’s Assumption today, I could not bear to let this day pass without sharing my own journey of rediscovery of Mary. Not having grown up in the Catholic faith, I knew of Mary, but did not truly know her. For, while well acquainted with biblical stories, I still never fully reflected on God’s choosing, her response, or her role in the life of the Church. Beginning with an initial inquisitiveness, this path has led me through faith, scripture and onto a pursuit of heart and mind to understand who Mary is and truly wants to be, in my life today.

My confirmation day in the faith was the equivalent of suddenly finding out that you have family- all over the world, spanning centuries of belief , that are joining in on the celebration. That not only are you part this timeless, vast community, but they are to be a part of you as well, and in the struggles, hopes and joys that are to be encountered.  This is such an incredible immeasurable gift that quite honestly I feel I have been unwrapping it ever since that day! So too has been the journey of getting to know our mother Mary. No longer is she resting still in the shadows of the nativity scene, just one of the many characters of a beloved story but an indelible part of my own story as a woman of faith.

mary&babyJesus
The Manger by Gertrude Kasebier

Paramount to this animation of faith, is that in considering her as God’s chosen, I am compelled to also recognize Mary’s beautiful choice to add her “Yes” to God. In doing so, she modeled a faith so pure and trusting, expressive of her love of God and desire for service, that in this moment she became the very first disciple.  At the tender age of probably 14 or 15, she possessed an awareness of the situation before her, expressed deep acceptance and commitment, and spent a lifetime of learning and growing in faith and understanding. Isn’t this what we too desire in our own lives as Christian daughters, sisters, and mothers? Do we not want to be known by our love, dedicated lives of service with hands and feet that lead others to Jesus? Following Mary’s guidance, over the last few years, I began recommitting myself to God at the start of each new day. Before my eyes even open, and despite my inclination to stay in bed,

  I simply say “Thank you God for the gift of this new day”. Then quite deliberately before my feet hit the floor I say “Yes!”. To what you might ask? It is my yes to what God has in store for me, in the ability to accept the unknown as opportunities of grace and the choice to be a part of God’s loving plan in my life.

So too has it been in my life as a mom. With each of my three children, I have prayed, “Lord please grant me a healthy child that is loved, nurtured and is to flourish within. May I be worthy of this gift of life, and may you continue to guide me in guiding him or her in the light of your love”. (Lk. 1:39-56) For me, Mary has been a part of God’s promise to do just that- to become a constant guiding light for my children. Equally as true, she has comforted me when I have been at wits end, seeking more patience than that day had allowed. In keeping with this very thought, one of my favorite scriptures as a parent has been the finding of Jesus at the temple (Lk 2:41-52). Tangibly, I can sense the very real frustration, and “anxiety” of Mary and Joseph as they, having searched for 3 days, finally discover him teaching all present including themselves.  It is said that Mary, not fully understanding, took her Son’s words and “kept all this in her heart”. 

Yes Lord, when I have failed to understand the why I too need to keep your words in my heart.

This is no more fully witnessed than at the foot of the cross. Oh, the profound sorrow that she as a mom felt at the loss of her Son, and the love poured out for a rejecting world! Yet, here too Mary was asked to meet this both with an open acceptance, and allow God to transform the pain into the hope of salvation. Even in Mary’s life, there is transformation, for in the simplicity of Jesus’ presentation of the gift of Mary to John we begin to grasp the importance of the larger family. We are never alone, but part of an immense communion of believers. Thank you God for the hopeful promise that we like Mary will enjoy an eternity with you one day. Until then,

“Father, please use my humble hands, feet, voice, and heart to serve you as you will.”

In Christ Always,

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Worth Revisiting: Portraits of Martha and Mary

As they continued their journey he entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary [who] sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Luke 10:38-42

Personally, I have always been able to identify strongly with the personality and perspective of Martha. Ingrained with a strong work ethic and desire to serve, I have been often called and always quick to step forward. Discernment and ample grace have even helped me to see how best to use my gifts to help others.  Yet, with a “Martha” disposition there can also be a temptation to frustration and jump to judgement of those not working.  Likewise while true that “many hands make light work”,  not all are being called to serve at that time.

Two different but essential illustrations of what it is to follow Christ in our daily lives are given here. An inner awareness and desire to seek to simply be with Christ as well as an outer response of that encounter with Christ provides a balanced portrait of what a full life in Christ entails. For how can we serve fully without time and prayer spent at the feet of Jesus? Without our labor being sourced and steeped in love from the One who is love itself? This is the better part that Jesus speaks of- that continual respite and turning of our hearts to God and the journey he has intended. Pulled by the pace of the day and the weight and concerns of life we may have found that we have wandered far away.

Becoming Mary

With a quick cup of coffee, light breakfast and short reflection I pause as I head out the door. Having tended to the most immediate needs of my family, I recognize all of the others things that were left undone. Laundry that needs to be folded, homework that needs supervision, and errands to be run. Very easily I could (as before) allow these loose ends to consume my thoughts and keep me from becoming Mary. What then is the difference in today? Simply, I have chosen in this moment to sit at the feet of Jesus, to listen in silence. An appreciation that though the world is moving swiftly my soul is not. As the sunlight streams through my window and the trees sway in the breeze I am in utter awe for the beauty of the day. As the rain beats upon the windshield in the grey of the day I feel refreshed again. Whatever the day might bring, it is here in the place of Mary that I find rest and am able to see God in every detail. Though broken and imperfect, I am loved and this time with my beloved is beyond measure. No longer far away , though the Eucharist I find myself ever closer- intimately sharing in the very real presence of Christ. Breaking into my day, God has confirmed that I am where I am meant to be.

Active like Martha

If our journey were to remain here, I am sure that you might agree it is a graced place to be. And still, like the disciples our path of discipleship carries us out into the world to share this love that we have received. Within our families and communities there is a hunger for love and a tendency to be fed by everything that leaves us unsatisfied and unfulfilled. The need and work ahead can seem overwhelming if we go it alone. That is just it- having spent time with our Father we know we are not alone in the work that we do. Our prayer lifted, our petitions spoken, now with Martha we step ahead. With faith in the one who is always faithful, we seek guidance and strength to be attentive to the needs of others. Following Christ is not passive, but calls forth from us a response and a challenge. Though we know through scripture that Jesus spent much time in prayer he also encountered. The lost, broken, and marginalized sought, taught and healed were not to be his alone.

 “Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.” Isaiah 6:8

Wherever you are in your walk of Christian discipleship take time today to rediscover Mary and Martha. We have much to learn from these two close friends of Jesus, and all of the saints in discerning the path ahead.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: The Scent of Her Presence

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“An awareness of smells can illuminate our present. It can help us live more mindfully and gracefully. It can help us recognize that God’s goodness saturates the world, in scents that are both obvious and subtle.”

Ginny Kubitz Moyer, Taste and See ( Loyola Press)

Early morning dew, the scent of grateful peonies and roses greet me.
The aroma of homemade strawberry rhubarb and blackberry pies cooling midday meet me.
Nighttime breezes carrying a day well spent at play, leave me ..the promise of yet another summer day in the South.

My Grandmother’s house was my favorite place to be as a child, particularly in the summertime.  What might appear as lacking in structure or activity, each day was abundant in hidden treasures that could only be discovered by a slower pace and ready spirit. All this I too might have missed had I not been seeking- albeit anticipating- God’s respondent grace and presence. Grandma’s hard work in the garden wafted through her small home as she baked and canned the fruits of each day’s gifts. Receiving the present she also prepared for the future, when these would not be as easily gathered. Mindful also that nothing given should ever be wasted.

Indeed, there are so many indelible memories forever tied to the smells of my childhood spent with my Grandma. Sunday mornings brought an even more unique scent- as my Grandma readied herself for church service. Not accustomed to wearing makeup or perfume during the week, grandma was on this day a delightful combination of Ivory soap, Jergens lotion, Covergirl makeup and Emeraude perfume. How I loved this smell, so much so that I would take it all in as I cuddled close before church. Infused with the understanding that Sunday’s were intended to be special, she put forth her best for God.

Many years later I would smell that smell once again, over 1, 400 miles apart. Then 33 and in my third trimester I could not travel as she feel seriously ill this time. My heart was nonetheless with her, and almost without pause I found myself praying for her throughout the day.

“Lord let her know how very much I love her, let her know that though I cannot be there in person that I am truly beside her. If I could carry her as she carried me all these years, I would.”

God heard my prayer, and knew the close bond he had established between us would not end in death. Only moments before the phone rang, God gave me an otherwise inexplicable gift-my Grandmother visited me. In the shower, I suddenly and overwhelming experienced the all enveloping scent and presence of my Grandmother. It was all around me, permeating every space with love and memories. As tears of joy and grief streamed down my face, I said my goodbyes- for now, fully embracing the gift of being with her again. Profoundly aware that God was allowing me to experience this sacred moment of my Grandmother’s passing from this world to the next.

Then just as suddenly as she had come, she was gone. Though I tried to recover the scent for an instant, I knew that she was no longer there. As the phone rang, with my cousin who had been sitting with her in these last few moments on the line, I knew her words before they were spoken.

“Liz, Grandma just left us..”
“I know..she was here..and just left too.”

I then shared with her how I knew and the unbelievable love that I had felt in these last moments.Together we cried tears of joy for the gifts given to be with our grandmother all these years. Though eleven years have now passed- the fond memories of growing up through every season infused with the scent of her presence will forever remain, evidence of the world unseen .

Peace,

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Worth Revisting: Theology and Spirituality

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Sandra Schneiders, defines spirituality as the experience of conscious involvement in the project of life integration through self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives.”  “Religion and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals, or Partners?” Santa Clara Lectures v.6. no. 2, Feb 6, 2000.

In Schneiders discussion of spirituality, she begins with a very narrow understanding and use of the term in regards to the intensification of an interior prayer life, and communally within a guided retreat setting. As described, it seems limited in its effect where its participants seek to leave the everyday world to experience the Holy Spirit in a contained setting. This level is then expanded somewhat in a second approach to be a transformative experience intended to affect not just one’s prayer life but a lived increase of an everyday life of faith and service. The third approach encompasses both of these but redefines our prior catholic understanding of the body and emotions as something outside the realm of spirituality to include these in lived spirituality. Lastly, we have the broadest approach which also considers how one’s spirituality and life experience can and has impacted the world both politically and socially. Even to reflect that one’s own worldview, and life experience itself is a product of and affected by the historical social contexts of the world around us. In moving concentrically outward in depth of experience of spirituality, we also move from a narrow understanding given to a chosen pious group of believers to that which can be shared by all, and essential in a holistic life in the world.

For the majority of my life, I would say that I have understood spirituality primarily within the second approach. Growing up I had been given a wonderful role model of spirituality in my grandmother, whose prayer and faith life radiated not just within her own life but in all those who journeyed with her. Like her, I have desired and seek to live my faith both in prayer and within the entirety of my everyday experience. Therefore, when I attended the Cursillo retreat several years ago, it wasn’t novel- but first of all a re-commitment to give all aspects of my life to God and seek greater discernment in my path of discipleship.

It is in this discernment journey that I have begun to understand the tie of spirituality to that of the body and emotions. How can I better impart the gift of being a woman, wife, mother, and friend in the realities of life and share fruitfully the gift of love wholly? In my studies at Loyola, I recognize this approach to a lived spirituality calling me to broaden my horizons again from the microcosm of my immediate community to that of the world at large. As a hopeful “awakener” of the faith, I understand that the questions of those I encounter are ones that have the potential to allow each to find meaning and purpose in their lives and in the world.

Yet what is the dialogical relationship between spirituality and theology, and how do they impact one another? 

Very broadly, spirituality and theology appear as seekers in trying to understand the mystery of and our relationship with the Other, and in a perfect dialogical relationship can add support, understanding and indeed life to the journey. Visually, I see this as one’s left hand and right hand, which are both needed together in prayer, supporting the other in receiving communion (i.e. the Eucharist), and in reaching out and serving as communion to others. While one can perform these actions one-handed, or allowing one hand to dominate, it is in the partnership that one can embrace the fullness of the opportunity set before us. Thus, we look to the unique contributions that both spirituality and theology can provide to understand the breadth of the human experience and relationship with God.

According to Schneiders, Christian spirituality is both a lived awareness and experience of seeking God, which involves our whole self but goes beyond our finite selves, and which is enabled by the Holy Spirit. [1] This is compatible with how I also understand spirituality as a conscious commitment to seek God in all things that is dependent on the Holy Spirit for guidance and strength. Likewise, I would agree that although Christian spirituality is a personal experience, it also involves a community of believers.[2] This is clearly visible in the experience of the disciples and early church but is also true in the contemporary experience of spirituality.

Yet, today we can benefit from centuries of faith understandings to fully appreciate our own experience of spirituality. This is where theology can inform, inspire, “criticize”, and “challenge”[3] this lifetime journey by providing a degree of structure, points of reflection, and others’ experiences for the believer to consider. Without a backdrop or context in which to place one’s experience, how could one interpret the similarity or uniqueness of it at all?  Conversely, theology without adequate spirituality provides theoretical truths and boundaries, but lacks the witness to the Spirit continually at work in the unique experience of the individual. The role of theology should therefore be to guide and not “control” the field or “subordinate” experience of spirituality.[4] Rather, in partnering with spirituality, theology is enlivened, dynamic and transformative reflecting also the contemporary lived experience of its believers.

Peace,

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[1] Schneiders, p. 266. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”. Horizons. 1986
[2] Schneiders, p. 266. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”. Horizons. 1986
[3] Schneiders, pgs. 270-271. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”. Horizons. 1986
[4] Schneiders, p. 273. “Theology and Spirituality: Strangers, Rivals and Partners”

Worth Revisiting: Living Privilege

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privilege
noun priv·i·lege \ˈpriv-lij, ˈpri-və-\

  • : a right or benefit that is given to some people and not to others

  • : a special opportunity to do something that makes you proud      (Merriam-Webster)

I grew up in a single parent home, the daughter and granddaughter of educators, not affluent but replete with love and the basic necessities of life. While I didn’t always like the food or the clothes I had, I never spent a day hungry or lacking shelter. Instilled in me was the understanding that despite the meager and lean times, there were always others who had so much less. I was indeed privileged.

One day when I was about 6, a young woman with three young children in tow approached the door of my house. I had recognized the two little toddlers clinging on her dress from the neighborhood, and had curiously wondered where they actually lived. Entering, they were unusually quiet and withdrawn not even wanting to make eye contact. Immediately  inviting them to take a seat, my mom got quickly to work. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, she had produced a fine meal from our dinner the night before. And using our best tableware she welcomed these new visitors as honored guests. The once shy faces lit up as they saw all of the food before them and boisterously became themselves once again.

Asking  me then to go and play with them for a bit, my mom sat down with their mother as she fed the infant in her arms. In hushed tones they spoke, their conversation forever remaining just between them. Packing up more food and clothing for them to carry with them, my mom reminded them that they could always return. This they did, though not staying for any great length of time. I asked my mom once why she gave, when that merely meant that we had less that week, or had given up that shirt she had just purchased with the tags still on it.

“This is what it means to love unconditionally”, she told me, “to care for others more than yourself. You may not understand this today but you and I have been blessed with the opportunity to share”.

This is the very definition of privilege and with it comes a tremendous responsibility to do all this with great love. Perhaps you do not feel that you have much to give or that others more able will step up to help. Yet, you have what only you can give…yourself. God knows your struggles, your needs and desires but he also knows your gifts. After all, he gave them to you. You see the world and ask why it all seems so troubling and unchanging- it begins with each of us to be the change in the world around us. One life at a time, every day anew. I promise that one life that will most certainly be changed is our own.

“You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them” – St. Teresa of Lisieux

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: What Truly Matters

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Can you recall a landmark moment in your life? A  time when it became suddenly visible what truly mattered, and where God was in it all? The following is one of my very own- all but a blink of God’s eyes yet a graced moment when I will forever felt held.

It was a late Spring morning in the South, ominous skies grey and overcast coupled with warm and humid conditions were the makings for the perfect storm. Locals knew the weather system well, and it wasn’t long before the tornado warnings ensued. I had never worried about these storms, not because there was nothing to worry about or because of my youth, but quite simply my mother worried enough for the both of us. Yet, that day would be different.

As students were sitting at the long adjoining tables in the school cafeteria, the alarms resounded through the halls, school, and town. Beckoned to get down beneath the little protection that we had, warnings were issued to tuck in and resist looking out the windows. That is when I saw it, just outside the huge glass window that encompassed the side wall.. An unbelievable enormous swirling combination of wind, dirt, branches, and other objects it had accumulated in its wake hovering just above the ground. There it was right before my eyes, not more than 8 feet from me, and I could not help but be both in amazement and fear.Unable to close my eyes I prayed for protection, “Lord please protect us and keep us safe from harm. Lift this tornado and carry it up and far away”.

After what seemed like an eternity, the greenish grey funnel lifted taking with it its new found treasures but leaving the middle school cafeteria building untouched. Though we breathed a quick sigh of relief, we were not out of the woods yet as there were a total of 9 funnel clouds that had formed and remained over this small town that day. Quickly, the school staff  ushered us all into the main building and into the hallway by the lockers. Deemed the safest place, we all huddled there and waited till we could leave to join our families. Beside me was a boy that I knew well, for we shared a strong Christian faith- a fact that did not go unnoticed to me that day.

Marvin, was a bright, joyful thirteen year old boy who just lit up a room whenever he entered. This was because he always carried the love of Christ with him. As we sat there, there was a brief pause and then I asked, “Marvin, I am concerned about my mother, and our families and friends..can we pray together?” “Yes..me too. Let’s pray.” And there we were- two kids praying in the hallway of a public school, oblivious that others would take notice. I still remember our prayer so clearly.

“Father, please protect us all in your loving care. Watch over our families and loved ones, and let these tornadoes pass us by. Though we would miss the things we have become attached to, it is the safety of the people we pray for today. Please take away our fear and concern and leave us with your peace. In this we pray-Amen.”

As I parted from him that day to be picked up by a neighbor of mine, I knew that God had been present in our midst. Arriving at my apartment building, I saw the devastation. No longer was there a roof but open sky in its place. Part of the roof had been hurled into the apartment of another neighbor and the rest wrapped around a lamp post. Yet where was my mother? Finally my eyes spied her,  standing solemnly inside the doorway of our apartment. To everyone’s amazement none had been injured.

Virtually everything I owned was damaged or destroyed by the winds, rain and debris. Yet, as I stood there hand in hand alongside my mother, in a pool of dirty water surrounded by the stuff in life, I realized that everything else was meaningless. I had my mother and nothing else-not the toys, the pictures, the clothes or the furniture truly mattered. Here was a recognition that God had not only answered my prayer, but of the small list of essential things in life.

With an internal prayer of gratitude I then watched as men from my community approached with tarps, tools, and provisions to cover the apartment and remove the debris. Here God was once again caring for us, this time in the shape of benevolent strangers who had stepped forward to volunteer their time and gifts for others. And while I would never see these men again, they will be forever etched in my heart.

It would be some time before I could move back into my house, but I had gained a better sense of where home truly was. It was for the moment beside my mother but always in the presence of my God. It needed no accouterments, but could be found in prayer. This was the meaning of joy in simplicity, grace through destruction and peace in crisis.  It remains for me a spiritual guidepost when I get preoccupied with the accumulation of comfort and the material things in life.

Peace,

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Worth Revisiting: Freedom Prayer

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This Memorial Day, we remember family members, friends and loved ones who have given their lives in service to our country and for the freedom we so cherish. At the heart of all of this, we long for peace. My Grandpa Ferrell penned this poem while the Vietnam War was in full swing. It echoes this tension we feel today, and the hope we have for tomorrow.

Freedom Prayer: Carl Wyatt Ferrell

In this dark hour of nation’s woe
When paths of peace men do not know,
Lord, show us now which way to go-
Protect us with Thy arm.

When Tyrants seek men to enslave
And power drunk more power crave,
Lord, help us all to be more brave
And keep us safe from harm.

Let freedom be our battle cry
And may its banner ever fly
Above the world when tyrants die
And peace we have again.

When useless wars shall cease to be,
And haunting fears no more have we,
Lord, may our land that now is free
In liberty remain.

Peace,

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