Francis de Sales quote about love

Today’s quote deals with how love draws us toward what is truly good:

33 Lent--Week 5--Compassion--Francis de Sales

I’m thinking that this “advancement” is a word referring to growth. When we love others, our souls move in a positive, good direction. Love draws us into a better way of living.

“Effusion” refers to giving off something like a liquid or scent. It’s an “outpouring” of sorts. Love has a quality of pouring out itself, overflowing to others.  (Makes me think of the sermon on Sunday when the pastor poured water into a glass that eventually filled and overflowed. When we allow God’s love to enter our hearts, the love fills us, and then overflows into loving others, giving God’s love to others.)

There is much to ponder about love–and much to put into practice. Love is one of those things that is ever-growing, ever-expanding… if only we agree to allow love to do its work.

Until next time, Amen! 

 

Trust in God–even in hard times (or poor weather)

Lately I’ve been working on lots of creative projects.  One is serving as coordinator for a Christian spirituality blog for Easter Lutheran Church.

At the same time, the weather has been pretty crazy this winter. I say winter, not spring, because yesterday we had serious snow swirling around and it’s currently 11 degrees F.   Again.

…and so it was, I enjoyed this post by Pastor Paul Harris about trust in God, no matter how wacky or trying things may be (for me, even poor weather–which is a much easier cross than others have):

May the God of all hope
fill you with joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope
by the power of the Holy Spirit.

 — Romans 15:13

In my late teens I had a great struggle with the Christian faith in which I had been raised.   After rejecting Christianity as both irrelevant and untrue, I found myself in a terrible disquiet of heart.  How could I live in a world without God; a world with neither moral nor spiritual guideposts?

After many turns and twists of mind and heart, I …

READ MORE at —>> www.easterprays.com  (March 24, 2014 entry)

 

Budding leaves--Trust in God--Julie McCarty

 

May the good Lord bless you with faith, trust, and perseverance.

Until next time, Amen!

 

Gray hair, wisdom, and following Christ

My child, from your youth choose discipline;
and when you have gray hair you will find wisdom.
–Sirach 6:18

Gray hair connected with wisdom?

I don’t dye my graying hair, so I experienced a kind of delight in this reading this verse today in Give Us This Day (Liturgical Press). I don’t consider hair coloring to be sinful or anything–so please don’t be offended if you, well, improve your hair color. I just find it freeing and natural to be true to who I really am before God, by letting my hair “be itself,” the color God gave me. (My husband likes it that way, too.)

Of course this bible verse isn’t really about gray hair, but rather the search for wisdom– genuine wisdom, not just memorizing facts or getting a passing grade in school. Youth can be extremely insightful about certain things, but there is a special wisdom that some people receive through lived experience and years of spiritual attentiveness.

Being of an older age is no guarantee that one will be wise, of course. The book of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) tells us that if you want to have wisdom in later years, you need to have discipline in your life. Our culture often thinks of discipline as punishment, but that is not what is meant here. Sirach is talking about self-control, dedication, and hard work, like a farmer who works at plowing and planting a field, and then must wait for the harvest.

Growing corn plants--photo by Julie McCarty

If you are like me, you have self-control in some ways but not in others. I can finish a college course, but waste time on Facebook when I should be writing. I can eat a healthy breakfast yet pig out in the evening. I can control cussing in public only to say something hurtful to a friend. You get the idea.

The roots of the words discipline and disciple are connected with learning. A professor teaches an academic discipline, such as chemistry. One who is learning from a spiritual master or guru is called his follower or disciple. The followers of Jesus were not called disciples just because they walked down the road with him, but because they were his spiritual apprentices, learning Christ’s spiritual teachings.

To be a disciple (follower) of Jesus Christ in our own day is to follow his spiritual teachings. Occasionally I get the feeling that some who call themselves Christian in this country are losing sight of this fact. Yes, our profession of belief in Christ might be the minimal requirements, on our death-bed, for God to take us to heaven out of his infinite mercy and love (like the good thief on the cross).  Yes, it is true we cannot “earn” our salvation by our own good works.

Good Shepherd stained glass window--photo by Julie McCartyHowever, if we are really disciples of Christ, that is, believers in the “Jesus way,” then we will seek to live as he taught us. That takes courage, self-control, effort, and many gifts of grace and the Holy Spirit. Jesus taught us that not everyone who cries out “Lord, Lord” (believing in God) will be saved, but rather those who actually do the will of God (see Matt. 7:21).

I want to be that kind of follower of Jesus, someone who not only intellectually believes in Christ or goes to church on Sunday, but also one who lives her life according to the teachings of Christ. Yes, I am a sinner. I cannot live as Christ taught without the help of grace and the Holy Spirit. But I have to do what I can, put forth a little effort to truly love God with my whole heart, mind, soul, and body, and to love others as myself.

For me, living that way would be the Ultimate Wisdom.

Until next time, Amen!

A New Serenity Prayer by James Martin

Thinking of all my cyberspace friends this week, as we begin celebrating various holidays/holy days… Below is a prayer from priest and author James Martin  I hope you will enjoy as much as I do.

A New Serenity Prayer 

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the people I cannot change,
which is pretty much everyone,
since I’m clearly not you, God.

At least not the last time I checked.

And while you’re at it, God,
please give me the courage
to change what I need to change about myself,
which is frankly a lot, since, once again,
I’m not you, which means I’m not perfect.

It’s better for me to focus on changing myself
than to worry about changing other people,
who, as you’ll no doubt remember me saying,
I can’t change anyway.

Finally, give me the wisdom to just shut up
whenever I think that I’m clearly smarter
than everyone else in the room,
that no one knows what they’re talking about except me,
or that I alone have all the answers.

Basically, God,
grant me the wisdom
to remember that I’m
not you.

Amen.

(“A New Serenity Prayer” used with permission from the author.)

 

Jesus, Saint Clare, and the Gospel of Prosperity

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.  —Mark 10:21-22.

Today is the feast of Saint Clare of Assisi (1194-1253), a Christian who fully embraced these words of Jesus. A young woman from a wealthy family, Clare gave up a luxurious lifestyle at age 18 in response to the preaching of the now-famous Francis of Assisi. Like Francis, her goal was to embody the gospel message completely, to imitate Christ so much that her life might become a sort of mirror image of the Savior.

In founding the Poor Clares, a religious order of women who follow Franciscan ideals, Clare made living a life of utter simplicity or “holy poverty,” a foundational principle. Clare wanted to be free of all that might keep her from experiencing the fullness of Christ in her life.

That is not to say that poverty is a glorious thing. It is not glamorous or desirable to be forced into poverty. The Lord does not want people to starve. The key thing here is that those with much wealth and many material things (and most Americans fit into this category) can become so attached to these things that they focus their lives on obtaining more and more things or money rather than focusing their hearts on God.

The man in the gospel reading above goes away “shocked and grieving”–he can’t  believe his ears. He’s kept all the commandments and now Jesus wants him to get rid of his treasured possessions. This man probably spent his whole life amassing those possessions, maintaining them with repair and upkeep, and protecting them from thieves. His “things” were probably his main focus–and Jesus encourages him to get rid of them.

In her time, Clare took these words of Christ very seriously. I’m trying to imagine what this teaching means in our lives today. Certainly Christ desires that we have basic food and shelter. After all, he taught us to pray, “give us this day, our daily bread.” But I rather doubt Christ would want many of us (if any) to pray “give us this day, increased stock dividends,” or “save me from higher taxes.”

Yet, some Christian speakers of today give the impression that following Christ is a recipe for wealth, success, and earthly power. If you pray the right way, or donate to the right ministry, money will come back to you in return. This is known as the “gospel of prosperity.”

I wonder, how does one reconcile the gospel of prosperity with these words of Jesus telling the man to sell all he owned? To build up treasure, not in bank accounts, powerful cars or sleek electronic gadgets (confession: I just bought a Kindle), but rather “treasure in heaven”?

Saint Clare was counter-cultural when she dared to say no to her parents’ plan for her life (prestigious marriage, no doubt) and took up instead the cross of Christ in holy poverty. She even stood her ground on this issue when church officials wanted to release her from her vow of holy poverty because they thought it too strenuous for a woman. “Release me from my sins,” she said, “but never from the vow of holy poverty,” or something to that effect (I regret I can’t find where I read this).

Today we are bombarded with messages that would lead us away from the true way of Christ, some of them coming from people who call themselves “Christian.” May we have the courage of Clare, even when it means giving up wealth, power, or prestige for the sake of the gospel.

Spiritual Aerobics

Think about your possessions. Is there something you own that you could give to someone in need? Perhaps a closet filled with things you never use? Magazines? School supplies? Dishes? A table? Socks? Suitcases? Phones? Radios? Winter coats? School clothes? Books? A musical instrument or sports equipment? Blankets?

Prayer of Saint Francis

In our broken and hurting world, the Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi reminds me what is really important in life. The words of the prayer have the attitude and mind of Christ, who did not seek fame or glory, but rather sought to love and serve others.

The Prayer of Saint Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
 
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.
Amen.
 
There is a beautiful visual mediation of this prayer on YouTube using the music of Christian musician John Michael Talbot (video by heywaldojr). The photos that accompany this 4 minute song make a wonderful prayer meditation, a good break from the work of the day (if commercials appear, just click on the X to get rid of them):
 
If you cannot see the above video, click on the following link or copy and paste the link into your browser:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXyYm1yIL-g  — or google “Prayer of Saint Francis” and “John Michael Talbot”

Hope this video brings a smile to your heart–I know it did mine.

Until next time,

Amen! 

The Jesus Prayer

“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

As I mentioned last time, I’m  involved in a small faith group this summer which is exploring various ways to pray. We are using the book Creating a Life with God: The Call of Ancient Prayer Practices by Daniel Wolpert (Upper Room Books).

"Christ the Pantocrator--Jesus Creator of All" --Icon by Marian Zidaru 2002--photo by JAMThis week I finished reading the chapter that focuses on the Jesus Prayer.  This ancient way of praying reminds us of God’s presence through praying the words the blind man shouted out to Jesus as he passed by: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47)

The exact wording of this prayer can vary. Some pray, “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” or other similar words. I once met a nun who simply prays two words in a slow, meditative fashion, sometimes in rhythm with her breath, “Jesus, mercy.”

This way of praying is not done in order to earn salvation or win God’s favor by repetitive prayer. The short prayer is used to draw one’s attention to God’s love, mercy, and presence in our lives, whether we are eating, sleeping, working, or sitting in church praying. Praying in this way draws our hearts and minds away from trivial, passing things, and into the realm of God’s presence, seeking to follow the instruction of First Thessalonians to “pray without ceasing” (5:17).

While reading Wolpert’s book, I was touched by the way he described praying the Jesus Prayer in the wee hours of the night:

One of the best times for me to pray the Jesus Prayer is at night when I cannot sleep. Rather than tossing and turning and getting upset that I am still awake, I simply begin to pray the Jesus Prayer. Remember that the pilgrim was told to pray the prayer even in his sleep! Often I do fall asleep right away. The times when sleep comes more slowly are wonderful periods of prayer. In the deep silence of the night, I can lift my heart and mind to my Creator—a soft voice ringing out into the infinite.

“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” 

I, too, on occasion have prayed this prayer in the middle of the night. I like to do the short form, in time with gentle, slow breathing: “Jesus” (while gently inhaling) and “mercy” (while gently exhaling).  It’s like inhaling the presence of God and asking for God’s love and mercy all at once…mercy for my sins, mercy for the one who has hurt me, mercy for the sick and suffering, mercy for the broken and hurting world all around us.

If you think that this prayer practice is nothing but sweetness and light, think again: it is not always so. During an interview I did one time for an article on the Jesus Prayer, an Orthodox priest told me the this prayer form “is no picnic.” He explained that if one is serious about the Jesus Prayer, practicing it in the context of truly following Christ, Christ the Pantocrator -- Jesus Creator of All -- Detail --2002 Icon by Marian Zidaru -- photo by JAMthe prayer gradually leads a person to recognize his or her own impurities of word, thought, and deed that previously went unnoticed. This awareness of our own sins and imperfections leads us into a gradually deepening conversion process.

The Jesus Prayer, this priest observed, “is an effective tool in the very difficult work of gaining control of one’s mind in order to center it on the constant remembrance of divine beauty and awakening it to the eternal realities of the Spirit.” The process makes it possible for us to become “servants of divine Compassion, students of the Lord, studying how to die to ego, so that we might be reborn as children of the Spirit.”

“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

Until next time, Amen!

Jesus said, “Peace be with you.”

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews [the leaders who handed Jesus over to the Romans] , Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19)

After Jesus was crucified, his disciples were in hiding, afraid of what might happen next. If Jesus, their beloved rabbi and leader, the one with all those miraculous spiritual powers, had been tortured and killed, it could happen to them.  

I imagine they were confused, crushed with disappointment, and experiencing the intense emotions of grieving. How could this happen? All those miracles, their belief in Jesus as the Messiah, the Anointed one of God–all that goodness destroyed by the Romans who put him to death! And their own religious leaders, who had also condemned Jesus of blasphemy. Would they also turn on Jesus’ disciples?

Surely they had feelings of remorse and guilt. After all, they had run away when their friend needed them most. They had given in to fear, even though their Lord had told them repeatedly, “Do not be afraid.” What kind of followers were they, insisting to Jesus’ face that they would stand by him, even to the death, and then, instead, immediately fleeing when the going got tough? Peter, “first among equals” or the “prime” apostle, even lied when questioned about his association with Jesus.

When the Risen Lord appears to this disloyal group for the first time after his death, what does he say? If he were a married person, talking to his or her spouse, he might have said, “Told you so! I knew you would leave me when things got rough.”

If Jesus were a politician, he might have fired the disciples from their managerial posts. If Jesus were like certain religious leaders, he might have assigned the apostles a penance, banned them from teaching, or withheld communion. After all, most the apostles abandoned Jesus after he was arrested. (We only hear of John, Jesus’ mother, and other women followers standing by Jesus as he suffered on the cross.)

But the Lord Jesus is not like us sinners. He is not self-centered or self-righteous. In relationships, Jesus does not grab at power over others. He has no need to be a superstar, dictator, or spiritual bully.

When he reappears to them after his death, the first words Jesus says to them are “Peace be with you.” This peace is the inner peace that only God can give. It is not a peace based on owning a lot of material possessions, being wealthy, having a sexy appearance, belonging to the winning political group, or even forming the perfect liturgical translation. Christ’s peace is a gift of the Spirit, given freely with love.

The peace that Christ is offered them–and offers us–is not only peace within each soul, but also peace among people, creating spiritual networks of loving relationships. The Greek word in this passage of John’s gospel is not merely about the absence of disturbance or conflict. It is a word that probably is from the root word that means “to join.” Christ desires that we be joined together in relationships of love. The peace Christ wants is one of harmony among people, which is what he prayed for just prior to his death, that all may be one, not one in physical appearance, worship style, culture, or dogma, but one in the Spirit, one in the Lord.

When Christ wishes the disciples peace, he is offering it to them without strings  attached. The Risen Lord loves all people, sinners or so-called religious. If we would be his followers, we must do the same.

Until next time, Amen!

 

Note: Many thanks to my hubby, Terry McCarty, for the photographs in this post. He took them this past month at the Como Park Conservatory in Saint Paul, Minnesota. Copyright 2011, Terry McCarty. All rights reserved.

Holy Week: Meditating on Marc Chagall’s White Crucifixion

White Crucifixion–1938 oil painting by Marc Chagall (click on picture to enlarge)   (more details at end of post) 

 

 As you probably know, this week is the celebration of Jewish Passover and Christian Holy Week. Because of this, I wanted to do something special, so I hunted online for a work of art to use for visio divina (meditating with art, see Feb. 24, 2011 post). As a Christian, I was looking for an image of Christ on the cross, and ended up being drawn to a 20th century painting called White Crucifixion by the famous Russian and Jewish artist Marc Chagall.

People have highly individualized reactions to art and I want to state up front that this post is not a historic analysis, an art critic’s review, or even a theological examination of the White Crucifixion. This post is simply my own personal feelings, thoughts, and prayer reactions after spending several days pondering the work. I respect that there are many ways to view the White Crucifixion, and I believe the artist himself would be the first to acknowledge that.

Many of Chagall’s paintings could be described as lively, romantic, humorous, imaginative, and filled with brilliant colors, but the White Crucifixion is largely drained of color. Chagall painted it in 1938 while living in Paris, in response to the horrifying events of Kristallnacht,  the “Night of Broken Glass,” when Jewish homes, businesses, and synagogues throughout Germany were systematically vandalized or destroyed, and thousands of Jewish men were carted off to concentration camps.

In White Crucifixion, Chagall arranges various scenes of this Jewish suffering around the crucifix, much like an altar screen adorned with biblical scenes around the perimeter. In the upper left, Russian soldiers turn Jewish homes upside down and set them ablaze. In the upper right, Nazi soldiers throw sacred objects from a burning synagogue out into the streets.

Below, a Jewish man is fleeing with a bag of belongings on his back, while another stands ready to sprint away, the sacred Torah firmly clasped in his arms. A woman holds her child in a protective stance; an old bearded man stands with a sign around his neck, his hands open, as if to ask “Why?”; refugees on an overloaded boat look as if about to die of hunger; a sacred scroll in the lower left corner is rolling on the ground, about to disappear from our sight; and the ghosts of Jewish rabbis and ancestors float above the scene, some covering their eyes or looking away—the sight is too horrendous to behold.

In the middle of all this, a Jewish man hangs on a cross, his only clothes a simple head covering and a tallith, a Jewish prayer shawl, to hide his nakedness. The words above him identify him as “King of the Jews.” With his hands and feet nailed to the cross he cannot move to stop the chaos and suffering all around him. He, too, suffers with all those others suffering. He bows his head in silence, as if in prayer or mourning. A light shines from above, while silent candles (a menorah turned sideways?) hold vigil at the base of the cross.

If the picture makes you feel uncomfortable, as it did me, I suggest you stay with that feeling for awhile. I did. I pondered the many evil things people have done, supposedly in the name of Christianity or other religions. I thought of all the times we think of Jesus as a blue-eyed, blond-haired little baby in a manger and how wrong it is that so often Christians have stripped Jesus of his Jewish heritage—and, much worse, committed heinous crimes against his younger, modern-day nieces and nephews.

The White Crucifixion reminds me that the observance of Good Friday ought not only to be about remembering the sacrifice of Christ, but also of the suffering that is going on all around the world today. Even as you read this, someone somewhere is being tortured, unjustly imprisoned, raped, kidnapped, enslaved, or murdered. Do we pray for these unseen, silent victims?

This Good Friday, let those of us who dare to call ourselves Christians take a good hard look at how we treat people who are seemingly “different.” Let us meditate long on the words Jesus said: “. . . love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. . .” (Luke 6:27) May we respect life in all its forms, treating every human with the same dignity we would treat Christ.  After all, it was Jesus who said [in the words of the song based on Matt. 25:40], “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.”

 

 

Notes:  Image of the painting above was copied from Wikipedia under the creative commons agreement. To view a larger image, visit the Art Institute of Chicago website, http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/59426.

Other resources consulted: Marc Chagall and the Lost Jewish World by Benjamin Harshav (Rizzoli); Chagall by Jacob Baal-Teshuva (Taschen); and Marc Chagall by Jonathon Wilson (Nextbook-Schoken).