Good Friday–Remembering Christ’s immense love

Christians observe Good Friday today.

I find myself pondering what tremendous love God has for each one of us, and all of us together, one gigantic family of humanity.

Candles--palm--Were you there--Julie McCarty

Whether your life is full of joy now or weighed down with sadness, grief, or loneliness, I totally believe that God loves you, just as you are. God’s compassion and mercy is held out, as a gift, to all of humanity, to every single human, and that includes YOU.

You and I may not “feel” this love at all times (it’s only natural!). However, that love radiates out to us, nonetheless.  If I care about you so much, I totally believe that God cares about you much, much more… immensely, infinitely more!

My words are few today.  What can I say when all falls silent, hushed before the immense beauty and mystery of God’s love for you, for me, for all of us?

Until next time, Amen!

 

Good Hair Day– Mary’s painting to feed hungry children

This original painting, called “Good Hair Day,” was recently created by 9-year-old Mary K., a young person I know who attends our church, Easter Lutheran.

It’s called “Good Hair Day,” and Mary has decided she wants to help feed starving children by selling prints of her work, which is approx. 13 x 19 inches.

Good Hair Day--by Mary Kotrba

 

The prints are $10 and Mary is donating the money to Feed My Starving Children. I know this family and this offer is legitimate. I am so happy to see a young painter create something so lovely and use the experience to help those in need.

If you would like to purchase prints, you can find more information on the April 8th post on “Sara’s Blog” at http://kotrbapianostudio.blogspot.com/

Until next time, Amen!

 

 

Les Misérables: Who do you belong to?

Les Miserables This past weekend I enjoyed Les Misérables, the 2012 movie fresh out on DVD. As most of you know, Victor Hugo’s story is swimming with meaningful themes. One could explore how Les Misérables focuses on the power of truth, redemptive suffering, compassion for the poor, devotion to God, forgiveness, letter of the law vs. spirit of the law, or a host of other spiritual themes. 

One theme that caught my attention this weekend is this: Who do you belong to?  That is to say, who are you, in your deepest, truest person?  (Who am I?)

To understand what I mean, watch for how Jean Valjean struggles with these questions throughout the movie. At the beginning of the story, Jean Valjean has been in prison for 19 years, a sentence that began because of stealing a loaf of bread to feed starving family members. From the perspective of Javert, the ruthless prison overseer, Valjean is nothing but a stinking criminal, a “dangerous man,” whose only name is his prison number: 2-4-6-0-1.

And, unfortunately, the prison experience has indeed made Valjean’s heart embittered and filled with hatred. He has come to the conclusion that an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is the way to live. Upon his release, he is given identification papers which label him for life as a criminal.

Finding it impossible to find an honest living with the label “dangerous man,” Valjean likely would have remained forever in his angry 24601 identity, if not for a churchman’s simple, yet bold act of mercy. This freely given kindness pierces the bitter armor of Valjean, who comes face to face with the realization of who he has become, a man of hate and revenge.

Standing on the threshold of new possibilities, Valjean must decide if he will continue to live the life of “24601,” or become a person who values his soul, the way the kind bishop viewed him.  Valjean sings “my life he claimed for God above” and “my soul belongs to God.”

Valjean vows to become a different person, and he truly does reform his life. However, that is not the end of wrestling with “who am I?” and how to live the moral, spiritual life. (Would that life were that easy!) He will have to ask these questions again and again, throughout the rest of the story.

( Taste test the movie at  http://www.lesmiserablesfilm.com/  .)

This week, Holy Week 2013, is a good time for each of us to ask, “Who am I?” Do I see myself as ultimately belonging to God? If so, how does that belonging to God influence the choices I make, here and now?

Easter Church--Hill focal pointJesus stayed true to the person God intended him to be. He did a lot of good upon the earth, but in the end, the world made him pay the price for following his divine calling. We who call ourselves Christians will also, at times, find ourselves paying the price for following Jesus. It is the way of things. Jesus reminds us:

I have said this to you, so that in me you may have peace. In the world you face persecution. But take courage; I have conquered the world!   (John 16:33)

We journey this week with Jesus, to the cross, knowing that our lives will not be free from crosses. But we can trust in the promises of Christ, knowing that death does not have the final say. In Christ’s death there is also Christ’s resurrection–and the promise of new life for us as well.

Violet Gravatar of Julie McCartyUntil next time, Amen! 

P.S. Giveaway coming soon: Watch for upcoming giveaway of a brand new, free DVD of Les Misérables here on Spiritual Drawing Board blog or Facebook page “Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty.”

Where’s the fruit? Guest post by Barbara Keffer

sacredgroundspirit

Fig TreeIn the past, I would read the parable of the fig tree that we hear this year on the third Sunday in Lent, and feel shame.

What have I accomplished with my life? When I measure with the values of our culture, not much.

As a child, I was told that I would accomplish big things in the world.  I could do or be anything I wanted.  I thought I would be a chemist and devote my life to science. I took in the high expectations people had for me, and excelled in school in high school and college. But then, as faith became more important to me, I found myself making choices that led more to experiences of vulnerability, and sometimes insecurity rather than accomplishment as I saw it.  Parenting, taking in foster teenagers, working as a spiritual director or therapist, took me to the edges of what I…

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Healing after elections

The room was filled with spiritual directors, planning for an upcoming event, and one person pointed out that there would be a need for healing after the elections are over. In response, I heard an audible gasp around the room, the kind of “aha” moment signifying agreement and the silent, collective wonderment of why didn’t I think of that?

Every election has its share of mud-slinging and truth-twisting, but I don’t think I have ever witnessed such an intense, prolonged period of antagonism between groups. The sheer volume of messages–not only on TV and radio, but via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, and so many other ways of communicating–certainly is new.

As I write this, it is the day before the U. S. election. I do not yet know if we will elect Mitt Romney or Barack Obama as president, if the propositions in our state will pass or fail, or which parties will control the many legislative bodies throughout the country.

The thing I do know is this: there will need to be healing between co-workers, friends, families, and many other people, if we are going to improve the country we live in. In this political climate, many people on both sides of issues have been hurt through angry words, harsh attacks, and twisted half-truths.

In the past, newspapers and televisions ran ads for politicians. This year, it was also our friends and coworkers sending us political messages electronically. (Were there lawn signs when I was a child?)  This is a wondrous exercise of free speech–and as a writer and budding artist, I greatly treasure freedom of expression!

However, in our excitement with lightning speed communication at our fingertips, some of us may have hurt others we love. We may have expressed things in type we never would have said in person. We may have stereotyped people or demonized people of the opposing group.

Now is the time to reach out with kindness to people you may have hurt in this process. Now is the time to stop blaming others for all sorts of problems, to put forth our own efforts to make the country and world a better place. Now is the time to shake the hands of your opponent, and show respect for people of all shapes, sizes, political groups.

What really makes the United States a great place is the ability to work together despite our cultural, regional, or religious differences. Our beliefs and values may vary, but our oneness exists because of something deep within that unites us. That unity is not based on all being clones of each other, but rather of working together to form a good place to live and grow and work and dream together.

The healing of the divisions in this country begins with you and me, when we reach out our hands in kindness and hospitality to those around us. This is not always easy, but it is classic for true followers of Jesus, the one who said:

Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.  (Matthew 5:44-45)

Until next time, Amen!

Spiritual Drawing Board Page now on Facebook

Looking for a short spiritual nugget to brighten your day? A reminder that God’s divine presence is with you, even on a “bad day”? Something motivational, thought-provoking, or creative?

ImageSpiritual Drawing Board now has a Facebook page of its own. I’ll be continuing to write here, on this WordPress blog, but now you can also receive little spiritual nuggets on the Facebook page “Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty”. 

Expect to find encouragement to pray or meditate, to love others, to seek wisdom, to go beyond politics and “group think,” and to learn from famous spiritual figures.

To find the link, log on to your Facebook account and search for this:

“Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty”
(click on “like” to start receiving in your news feed on FB)

And, while you are there, I hope you will share your own inspiring thoughts or questions you wrestle with. The spiritual journey includes community focus–and I would love to hear from you, on the FB page, in the comments on the blog, or via e-mail (see contact page for e-mail).

Please, do spread the word. Share what I post on SDB on FB all you like. The world has enough sin and hate. It is up to Spirit-filled people to spread the message of  compassion in whatever ways they can.

Until next time, Amen.

P.S. For those new to Facebook:  If you “like” Spiritual Drawing Board FB page, you will receive “news” from the page, but your personal posts will not come to me unless you choose to put something on my page or message me directly. I will not see the messages you send your FB friends unless I’m already one of your friends on FB.

Mother Teresa speaks about loneliness

Today is a special day honoring Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The 2-minute video below shows Mother Teresa talking about her concern for those who feel lonely, unwanted, or rejected–and how Jesus knew their suffering in the Agony in the Garden.

For reflection:

–Who in my circle of friends or acquaintances might be feeling this unwanted, left-out feeling or great sadness at this time? How might I reach out to them with compassion?

–Who in my community or country is most likely to feel unwanted, lonely, or rejected? What might I do to help them feel wanted and loved by God?

–Mother Teresa saw in the poor the suffering of Jesus. Is that how I view those who are poor or disadvantaged?

Prayer:

O God, you know sometimes I am less than Christ-like in my approach to others. Help me to find ways to put aside my selfishness or poor attitudes, so that I may reach out to others with the love of Christ.  I especially pray for . . .  .   May all who feel lonely or unwanted receive comfort this day.  Amen.

Happy Thanksgiving

O give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever!
–Psalm 118:1 (NRSV)

Wild turkeys in a nearby suburb--photo by Julie McCarty 2011

When I am feeling a little blue or worried in the middle of the night, I sometimes stop the negative thoughts by attempting to list 25 things for which I am grateful. The list can be wild or seemingly insignificant–whatever occurs to me at the time. I am thankful for a lush tomato from the garden, the color lavender, the scent of bread baking; for specific people/relationships in my life; for time alone with God and time together with others to celebrate. By the time I list 25 things, whatever was bothering me seems a less significant.

The above verse from Psalm 118 reminds me that one thing to be grateful for is the way God loves us no matter what. We sin, we hurt ourselves or others, we make mistakes–and yet, God’s love is ever-present, ever-faithful, ever-merciful.

In the original Hebrew of Psalm 118, the word for “steadfast love” is checed (pronounced  kheh’ – sed ). Checed or hesed, as it is sometimes written in English, is translated various ways depending upon the bible translation and the particular context of the bible verse. Sometimes it reads like this:

O give thanks to the Lord;  for [he is] good:
because his mercy [endureth] for ever.
–Psalm 118:1 (KJV–my underline)

Or, this:

Give thanks to the Lord,  for He is good:
For His lovingkindness is everlasting.
–Psalm 118:1 (NASB–my underline)

Checed can be translated all of these ways. God is good, and God’s faithful love, kindness, and mercy are all everlasting.*

Thanksgiving is a time of offering prayers of thanks for  many things. Most often, we thank God for the food on the table, a roof over our heads, our family and friends, our health, our jobs. These are all good prayers of thanks.

But the bible verse above makes me wonder: when have I ever thanked God for his love? Have I told God I appreciate his presence in my life? Have I expressed thanksgiving for the good Lord’s compassion, his kindness, his mercy and forgiveness?

Thank you, God, for your blessings this Thanksgiving–and thank you even more for the gift of Yourself, given to us through the sacraments, the Word of Scripture, the beauty of nature and other people, and your Spirit deep within our hearts.

Until next time, Blessed Thanksgiving!

* Note: Information on checed was found in the Blue Letter Bible online using the bible verse and Hebrew lexicon.

Also note: You can now print off these reflections, email them to others, Facebook or Twitter, using new features of WordPress at the Spiritual Drawing Board shown at the end of each post. (If you have trouble with printing using your server–as I did–try using Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox servers.)

 

Light the Night Walk

Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.  –Matthew 25:40 (NAB)

Many of you have been praying for my dad, who lives in Arizona and is struggling with Burkitt’s lymphoma, a cancer of the blood. I am so grateful for your prayers!

"Bobski" (my dad earlier this year)

Since May, Dad (called “Bobski” by his friends) has been doing an intense regimen of chemo that involves long stays in the hospital in Arizona, where he lives.

This past week, my husband and I spent time visiting Dad and other family members. It felt so good to put my hand in his and think back to the days when I was his “little girl.”

I firmly believe that God does not target people for suffering, but rather hopes that seeing others suffer, we will do something to show our love for others and make the world a better place. My dad certainly does not deserve this suffering of Burkitt’s lymphoma any more than anyone else does. If I could, I would remove Dad’s current pains, just as he would have removed my illnesses as I was growing up, if it had been in his power.

But God can bring about something good out of our suffering. In this situation, my family has created a team to participate in the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s “Light the Night Walk” on this coming Saturday. Light the Night Walk is a walkathon to raise money to provide free information and family support groups to those affected by these diseases, life saving research to end blood cancers, and other similar services to families affected by leukemia and lymphoma. We are not able to prevent my dad’s condition, but we can work together with the hope of helping others or maybe even one day preventing these diseases.

If you would like to make a donation to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Dad’s honor, you can support “Bobski’s Team” by clicking here.  (You should see the same picture of Dad as in this blog post.)

Until next time, thank you for your prayers and support–and Amen! 

“Dare We Hope for the Salvation of All?”

…for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.
       
–I Corinthians 15:22.

All will be made alive in Christ? All? All might end up in heaven?  Or just Catholics? Or just Protestants? Or just Missouri Synod Lutherans? Or maybe just baptized believers? Or maybe “good people” of any spirituality? Or just those who do good things? Or those who give enough money to charity? Or those who believe the right things?  

Rob Bell brings up questions like these and many others in the book we’re reading in my church group, Love Wins: A Book about Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (HarperOne, 2011). In case you haven’t heard about this book, here’s a preview video (if you are reading this in your email, the YouTube preview is on my blog):

Bell raises important questions about heaven and hell that many Christians secretly wonder about but are afraid to ask. He particularly challenges the types of church-goers who seem to relish the thought of some people being sent to hell. They consider themselves “saved” and righteous, but anyone outside their select group “condemned.” They seem to worship a God who is loving one moment and wrathful the next. 

Reading Bell’s book is one thoughtful way to consider how we view Christ-followers of “other groups” (denominations, political parties, that “other choir” at church, etc.), those of other religious groups (Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, etc.), the “merely spiritual,” or those of no particular philosophical or faith adherence. Do we treat them will equal dignity and compassion? Or, as Rob Bell points out, do some of us secretly rejoice to picture certain people in hell? Would Christ our Lord rejoice to see someone be cast into hell? Bell asks, Is this “good news”?

Christians of other centuries have also wrestled with these questions. In the article “Dare We Hope For the Salvation of All?” Greek Orthodox theologian, Bishop Kallistos Ware  examines how Origen, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Isaac the Syrian considered the salvation of all people and the restoration of all things in Christ.  He also draws material from a variety of others, including Julian of Norwich, C.S. Lewis, and St. Silouan of Mount Athos. (Theology Digest 45:4 (1998); also reprinted in The Inner Kingdom, Vol. 1, pages 193-215).

Like Bell, Bishop Ware is trying to remain true to the immense love of God, while also upholding human free will. My favorite story in the article was about a conversation between St. Silouan and a hermit. St. Silouan was so convinced that hell might not be a forever situation that he actually prayed “for the dead suffering in the hell of separation from God. . . [Saint Silouan] could not bear to think that anyone would languish in ‘outer darkness.'”

When the hermit criticized St. Silouan for this, the holy man said, “Tell me, supposing you went to paradise, and there looked down and saw somebody burning in hell-fire–would you feel happy?”

The hermit responded that it would be the condemned person’s own fault.

The holy St. Silouan replied, “love could not bear that…we must pray for all.”

(Quotes above from Saint Silouan the Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony, quoted in The Inner Kingdom, page 194).

For Eastern Christians, heaven is less a “me and Jesus” and more of a mystical communion of persons. God is “communal” in the sense that God’s oneness is Trinitarian–and to truly mirror God and be taken into the glory of heaven, the multitude of saints (all God’s beloved people) would need to be included in order for the joy to be complete.

The best way to explain this is to consider that the definition of hell for Russian Christians is two people, tied to each other but back to back. They are with each other but not really one. The opposite of that, heaven, is “face-to-face”: face-to-face intimacy and union not only with God, but with each other.

Saint Silouan didn’t think he could be completely happy in heaven until every last person was there, “face-to-face,” dwelling in glory with God and each other, including every single person.

“Into these things, angels long to search.”

Until next time, Amen!