My sheep hear my voice, says Jesus

I’m working on a sermon for Sunday, and pondering these words of Jesus:

Bon_pasteur_BnF_Ethiopien_389_fol_1v-large--Good Shepherd--Vanderbilt

“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”
                                                                      –Jesus (in John 10: 27-28a)

I know almost nothing about sheep. They give wool and go “baa..” Children play sheep in Christmas pageants. I may have petted a baby lamb at the zoo sometime, maybe (I’m not even sure!).

People of biblical times, however, would have been familiar with sheep, shepherds, and the sheep-herding process. Their meals included sheep cheese and lamb. Their clothing and blankets were woven from the sheep’s wool. The lamb also was a symbol of God’s deliverance during Passover, and associated with other religious rites.

Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice…” and the sheep follow that voice.  In those days, as the shepherds grazed their sheep, the sheep from various flocks would intermingle while the shepherds chatted or lunched at the watering hole. When it was time to return home in the evening, each shepherd had a special way of calling or whistling to his sheep, and they would quite naturally separate into the right groups.

Below is a video of a modern-day shepherd, calling to his sheep. Notice how the sheep magically appear out of the hillside mist. The sheep hear the shepherd’s voice and come running:

Here is another current-day shepherd. She has her own way of calling her sheep. Notice how the sheep are reluctant to cross the little patch of water, but her constant calling reassures them it’s safe:

When Jesus calls us, where will he be leading us?  We might have to come down off the mountainside to be feed in the meadow. We might have to jump over little puddles or even walk through the “darkest valley” (Psalm 23), but even then Jesus is with us, leading us beyond, to a better place.

Jesus knows us well, each one of us individually. This knowing is not a mere intellectual knowing, but an experiential knowing  from being with us, and loving each one of us, all along the way of life’s journey. Jesus is lovingly present in our midst at all times, so he knows our special talents, challenges, past joys and future hopes.

Jesus calls to you, and to me:  Come here, my beloved… Come!

Where is Jesus leading you (and me)  today?  That is, what might Jesus be inviting you to do in your life?  Anything new? Anything needs changing in yourself?  Any way you might assist another?

Dare you go where Jesus leads? Will you trust that the Good Shepherd will be with you, lovingly, through thick and thin?  (I’m preaching to myself here…)

Amiens26-large--Good Shepherd image-- Creative Commons licence--Vanderbilt Library

 

Will you follow?

 

 

Image credits: 

Top image: Unidentified. Jesus as shepherd with the lost sheep, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=55688 [retrieved April 15, 2016]. Original source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bon_pasteur_BnF_Ethiopien_389_fol_1v.jpg.

Bottom image: Le Breton, Jacques ; Gaudin, Jean. Jesus the Good Shepherd, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=51560 [retrieved April 15, 2016]. Original source: Collection of Anne Richardson Womack. 

Paying Attention . . . to the Holy Spirit

(Note: Below is a reflection I offered recently at our church on Sunday. I was asked to share a personal faith story relating to Matthew 1:18-25.) 

In today’s gospel reading, we hear about the amazing ways God sometimes communicates: Mary has her angelic vision, and Joseph has his remarkable dream. These things are recorded in the bible because they were outstanding experiences –God knew they needed these angelic visions because of their extraordinary calling to become the parents of our Savior.

007-prophecies-birth-jesus--from freebibleimages dot org

I am given to thinking, though, that for most of the time, Mary and Joseph found their inner peace in ordinary ways: in paying attention to the Holy Scripture, in praying, in practicing Sabbath, in listening to their rabbi, in watching the seasons of nature and the experiences of ordinary family living.

I would like to share a time when my husband Terry and I felt that the Holy Spirit helped us in a way that felt extraordinary — and yet others might see as “ordinary”…

Capture--Ely Minnesota 2--from Google MapsWe were fairly new to Minnesota, having moved here from Arizona/New Mexico, and we were excited about camping up in the Northland.  On this particular trip, we were tenting near Ely (EE–lee–rhymes with “really”) in mid-summer, and things weren’t going so well. We came to the place for the quiet, and instead heard loud partying late into the night, just two spaces away. We came for hiking, but the generous use of bug repellent didn’t keep the mosquitoes from swarming around us (it was a cloudy, muggy day, and apparently they knew we were “green Minnesotans” and took special delight in annoying us). Yes, too buggy outside the tent and too humid inside the tent…

In the midst of all this, we had this one night of intense heat, humidity, and unusual stillness… How could this be the frigidly cold Minnesota I’d always heard about?

In the morning, we saw a gray cloud appear in the west (you will recall campers didn’t have “weather apps” in those days). We considered cutting the trip short and going home, but wondered if that would keep us from becoming “hardy Minnesotans”?

In the end, we hurriedly threw our tent in the car and headed home. We were only as far as the city of Virginia, when the darkness hit in midday and the wind and torrents of rain forced us to stop at a restaurant.  Inside, a crowd of people was huddled by the door, talking about how bad this storm was.

Eventually, we made it home okay. The next morning, the news reported that this was a gargantuan size storm– you may remember this storm! It happened on July 4, 1999, and you may recall it took a full week to rescue all the campers in the Boundary Waters due to the millions of trees downed (they couldn’t even hike around all those trees). [Note: You can read about this special, unique storm, called a “derecho”,  on the National Weather Service link: July 4, 1999 storm. ]

U.S. FOREST SERVICE PHOTO -- BWCAW blowdown on July 4, 1999.
U.S. FOREST SERVICE PHOTO — BWCAW blowdown on July 4, 1999.

When I think of this experience, I always think of the Holy Spirit. One could say it was a “coincidence” that we decided to go home, but I think it was more than that. We didn’t have some fancy spiritual experience with “special effects,” but I think the Holy Spirit was our “advocate” on that day, nudging us to pay attention to the signs around us, to pick up our tent and return home.

Holy Spirit--stained glass window--Julie McCarty--Spiritual Drawing BoardSo, yes, sometimes the Holy Spirit brings us peace through the “special effects” of holy visions and rarified dreams, but other times, I think the Spirit of God reveals things through ordinary, hidden ways, and waits to see what we will do with it. It is in responding to God’s invitation, with love in our hearts, that brings true inner peace.

Until next time, Amen! 

[Photo credits: 1) Image of Bethlehem from freebibleimages.org, 2)Ely, MN from Google Maps, 3)Boundary Waters Storm clean-up from US Forest Service, and 4) Stained glass window from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Litchfield Park, AZ–taken by Julie McCarty in 2013, with permission from pastor.]

 

Finding Your Calling, Living Your Vocation

Open water 3--photo by Julie McCarty

Someone very experienced in the spiritual  life recently gave me this quotation:

Each man has his own vocation.
The talent is the call.

There is one direction in which all space is open to him.
He has faculties silently inviting him thither to endless exertion.

He is like a ship in a river;
he runs against obstructions on every side but one;
on that side all obstruction is taken away,
and he sweeps serenely over a deepening channel into an infinite sea.       
              
–Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Spiritual Laws

As a woman, I have found that changing the pronouns for my personal journal makes me more aware that the words are intended for me. After all, Emerson intended the words to be for all people. So in my journal, I also wrote this version:

Each woman has her own vocation.
The talent is the call.

There is one direction in which all space is open to her.
She has faculties silently inviting her thither to endless exertion.

She is like a ship in a river;
she runs against obstructions on every side but one;
on that side all obstruction is taken away,
and she sweeps serenely over a deepening channel into an infinite sea.
              
–Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Spiritual Laws (adapted pronouns)

In our time and culture, one can experience multiple callings at once, or different callings over the course of a lifetime. One man may live out the callings of parent, spouse, construction worker, and part-time artist simultaneously. A woman might be head of a business, school board member, volunteer, and the caretaker of her aging parent.

Woman paddling on water--photo by Julie McCartyI think Emerson is talking about those gifts within us that light a fire in our lives. They are callings that become a driving passion for our existence. Many things may seem to obstruct these callings, and we may feel impatient. However, Emerson believes that eventually, we find a way for what is most important. I think of it this way: God opens the door for us when the time and place are right.

What are your gifts calling you to do at this point in your life?
What step might you take this week to test the waters?

Think about it–and I will, too.

Until next time, Amen!

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The Waiting Heart

Mailboxes wait. . . and wait. . . and wait.

Mailboxes in snow--by Julie McCarty--Eagan MN USA

Mailboxes serve as the “waiters” of messages, providing a space for something specific to happen. They don’t appear to do anything, and yet mailboxes are serving the purpose for which they were created.

So, too, the contemplative heart waits upon the Lord, dwelling in prayer, being observant, listening, pondering the ways of God–doing precisely what the Lord intended.

Wait for the Lord, take courage;
          be stout-hearted, wait for the Lord.   
Psalm 27:14.

Will you pray with me?

Lord, we know you are always with us, listening to our prayers and guiding our ways. Help us and all who “wait” to do so with patience and courage. May we truly listen to others this day–not only with our ears but also our hearts. May the words we speak be filled with your compassion. Come, Holy Spirit, guide us in all your ways! 

Until next time, Amen!

P.S. Are you on Facebook? Check out “Spiritual Drawing Board by Julie McCarty” for little spiritual nuggets to get you through your day!

Following Jesus–even when times are hard

Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.    –St. Philip Neri *

Sometimes we feel the nudge of the Spirit asking us to do things we think cannot possibly do. Perhaps we have been hurt in the past by rejection or loss, and are afraid to take up loving someone again. Maybe we feel we don’t have enough education, good looks, or poise for a task. We may feel too young to qualify, or too old to try something new.

But following Christ (or any spiritual path) involves remaining open to new things, to go wherever the Spirit leads us. Sometimes this is easy to do, especially in the first flush of spiritual enthusiasm. However, when times get hard, when we are tempted, or when others around us ridicule us, it can be very difficult to live as Jesus lived. 

St. Philip Neri reminds us that God does not ask us to do the impossible, at least not what it truly impossible. Even in the rough places in the road, God is there with us, to guide us, to comfort us, and to challenge us to grow.

Is there something in your life that God is asking you to do, but you are shrinking from out of fear?

If that “something” really is God’s desire for your life, then we can be sure that somehow, some way, God will bring it about, sooner or later—if only we open ourselves to receiving divine guidance, divine strength. It’s worth reading Philip Neri’s words again; write them on your heart (as I will strive to do as well):

Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything of you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.

Until next time, Amen!

 

*Philip Neri quote from The Wisdom of the Saints: An Anthology by Jill Haak Adels (Oxford University Press), p. 58.

Elizabeth of Hungary: Patroness of “Juggling”

Rising very early before dawn, [Jesus] left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. (Mark 1:35)

St. Elizabeth–Spinning to make clothes for the poor–Marianne Stokes

In my Catholic upbringing, I got the impression that the only path to sainthood would be priesthood for men and religious life (becoming a nun) for women. I rarely heard about married women saints, and when I did, they were described to me as holy because of becoming nuns or founding convents after their husbands died.

Because of this, I have a special place in my heart for St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the medieval wife and mother who didn’t merely “tolerate” marriage (after all, the marriage was arranged by one’s parents) but rather genuinely liked her husband.

In her short lifespan of 24 years, Elizabeth integrated many callings: queen, wife, mother, woman of prayer, personal service to the poor and sick, etc. Elizabeth’s example appeals to people of many walks of life for many reasons, but I like to think of her as the patroness of “juggling:”

When I feel overwhelmed with balancing the pieces of my life, I think of St. Elizabeth of Hungary, the thirteenth-century queen who could be called “the patroness of juggling.” This young woman not only devoted herself to raising her children and spending time with her husband Ludwig (whom she adored), but she also attended church frequently, managed the castle while Ludwig was away on extended business, developed a rich prayer life, and personally ministered to the poor and sick of the kingdom (something the elite found rather revolting). 

Apparently Elizabeth couldn’t find enough prayer time to satisfy her, so she instructed her maid to sneak into the royal bedroom each night, reach under the bed covers, and pull on her toes to wake her. Elizabeth would slip away without disturbing Ludwig’s sleep to pray in secret. This clever plan worked well for a time, until one night, when the servant girl reached between the sheets, the king suddenly bolted upright in bed. Apparently she had found the wrong toes.

Jesus, too, often had to find ways of stealing away from his busy ministry to catch his breath. [In Mark 1:35-39], it appears that the disciples do not know where he has gone. When they find him, Peter sounds exasperated: “Where have you been? Everyone is looking for you!” It’s as if he thinks Jesus is missing a photo-op and the chance to work the crowd. But Jesus knows his priorities: his work must be grounded in a healthy, personal relationship with his heavenly Father.  

from The Pearl of Great Price: Gospel Wisdom for Christian Marriage (by yours truly, Julie McCarty; published by Liturgical Press)


When we feel pulled in many directions, unsure which task to do next, whether to say yes or no to this or that, or how much time to devote to prayer, we can take heart that others before us (including Jesus!) certainly faced similar human challenges–yet ultimately found their true Christian fulfillment.

St. Elizabeth of Hungary’s feast day is Nov. 17. For more about her read here  or view a slide show here .

Until next time, Amen! 

New Page about Spiritual Direction

Yesterday I learned how to add a whole new sticky page to the Spiritual Drawing Board. The page I created tells about the time-honored practice of spiritual direction, often called “spiritual companioning” today.

(You can access this new page by clicking on the tab labeled spiritual direction above the sunrise photo. If you are receiving this post via e-mail subscription, you can click to my blog or else just google “Spiritual Drawing Board.”)

If you are looking for a safe place to explore your own spiritual life, to wrestle with soul questions, to learn about prayer in a one-with-one setting, think about finding a spiritual director. If you live near Eagan, Minnesota, and feel you might like to work with me, my contact info is on the Spiritual Direction page. You can locate other spiritual directors by asking church staff, spirituality or retreat centers, or searching on the website of Spiritual Directors International.

By the way, Spiritual Directors International website has some great YouTube videos of people talking about their experience with spiritual direction.  

Hope your Lent is proving fruitful–and if not, it’s not too late to delve into a good spiritual book, take a soul walk,  or turn to prayer. 

Until next time, Amen! 

P.S. If you are receiving this in e-mail, feel free to pass it on to others who might be interested in spiritual direction. (It is always okay to forward my Spiritual Drawing Board posts!)