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2 Maccabees 5:10: Holy Place and Holy People

Friday, April 12, 2019

Image from “Places of the Spirit” published by Lake Placid Institute

But the Lord did not choose the nation for the sake of the holy place, but the place for the sake of the nation.

So many times we get things backwards.  We forget that we become weak in order to be made strong, that we serve in order to lead, and that we die that we may live in Christ.  We have looked at the books of Maccabees many times before and just last spring we spent time with this chapter reflecting on the stark difference between mystery and problem, impatience and trust, pride and humility, anxiety versus openness to God’s awesome power, sedition versus fidelity.  Here is some of what we were thinking.

We need to relax into the mystery of life more.  We need to adapt a humble stance with our Creator and a willingness of heart to do as we are bidden.  We need to immerse ourselves in God who is always with us . . . rather than trying to swim upstream or downstream with him.  We need to move away from sedition, death and the slandering and killing of fellow pilgrims.  We need to move toward the light, toward the mystery . . . and allow it to embrace us.

We can view the mysterious way that God moves in our lives with awe or with skepticism.  We can choose to believe or to disbelieve that Christ overcomes the barrier that death presents to the rest of us.  We can choose to be faithful to our covenant agreement and call, or we can strike out on our own to find another God to worship . . . or we can even choose to worship ourselves and our own ideas.  But none of this will satisfy because we will be making holy places where there is no holiness.  We will be creating holy communions where there are none with whom to commune, for nothing can be made holy without God’s presence.

In 1 Corinthians Paul tells us several times in the opening chapters do you not know that you are living temples of God, members of the body of the living Christ?  He echoes this on his other letters when he asks us to step away from immorality, from idolatry and to turn to the one true source of life: God the creator, God the redeemer, and God the love that exists in an inscrutable way deep within the mystery of each of us.

Mount Agung, Bali

This is all that we are asked to do . . . yet we so often make life much more complicated than it really is.  We are a holy people who come together when God calls us and thus we make holy places in which the Spirit will abide.  And in so doing we will rise even amidst the worst of circumstances, even above the pillaging of the temple . . .  to be sheltered in God, to live eternally in the Spirit, to be renewed in hope and forged in fidelity . . . to remain of and in Christ.  For we are his holy people . . . and he is our holy place.


A re-post from February 26, 2012. 

Image from: http://www.hcc.commnet.edu/artmuseum/exhibits/2004/izzy-places/index.html 

To see and read about the top ten sacred mountains, go to National Geographic’s Ten Sacred Mountains page, click on the image above, or go to: http://traveler.nationalgeographic.com/books-excerpts/ten-sacred-mountains-text

You may also be interested in Sacred Places of a Lifetime at: http://shop.nationalgeographic.com/coupon.jsp?code=MR35082&URL=%2Fjump.jsp%3FitemID%3D4464%26itemType%3DPRODUCT or Places of the Spirit at: http://www.hcc.commnet.edu/artmuseum/exhibits/2004/izzy-places/book.html

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2 Maccabees 13: The Fire Tower

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Ruins at Shiraz: a city in ancient Persia

Upheaval in the Middle East seems to be a human curse.  It is a land over which many civilizations – both ancient and modern – have fought, and continue to fight.  Today’s Noontime reading is as brutal as any modern headline.  Intrigue, slaughter, deception, parlay, betrayal, treaty, treason, murder, truce, assault, skirmish, daring, withdrawal, indignation, victory, defeat, and death – we find all of these in today’s story.  We find persuasion but we do not find peace.  We see wrangling but we do not see union.  We read about standoffs and stand-downs but we do not find true coming together.  In this ancient story we might change a few details and find ourselves reading a press release from our favored news source about the conflagration that is the Middle East.

Old tribal fears and alliances govern the lives of those we read about today.  Compromise is often seen as a weakness.  Honesty is employed only by the foolish.  Integrity is not valued.  And love of enemy is regarded as idiotic.  We also find these clannish tendencies in our own culture despite the fact that we may define ourselves as a mosaic or melting pot or amalgam of ethnicity and customs.  Even in our own modern political arena we have the smoking infernos that resemble the fire towers of ancient Persia that we read about here.  We will want to study this story in the hope that when we recognize it as our own . . . we will know to turn back to the God who calls us forward together . . . rather than follow the little gods who doom us to our own fiery tower and smoldering pit of ash.

Ahura Mazda

Commentary tells us that the tower we see in verse 5 resembles those erected to Ahura Mazda, or the Wise Lord, who “was the supreme deity of Persian mythology. The Zoroastrians identified him with purifying fire and tended fires on towers as part of their worship”.  (“Myth Encyclopedia”)  And this leads us to our examination of conscience today as we continue our Lenten journey.  What fiery towers to self do we erect?  Into what smoldering ash pits do we lead ourselves and others?  How do we react to tribalism and the worship of false deities?  Do we hate or love our enemies?  Do we prefer the fire of self destruction to the salvific love of Christ?  Do we seek comfort in our hope to avoid suffering rather than willingly follow the living God whose only focus is our salvation?Today’s narrative is so violent that we might pass it off as an episode in ancient history that deserves only a moment of our time.  We might also see it as sectarian violence that takes place only in far off places on the other side of the ocean.  We might fool ourselves into thinking that there is nothing here for us to learn.  And in this thinking we evade God’s word to us today for when we look closely we can find ourselves.  As we enter into interactions with family, friends, colleagues, neighbors and strangers we see all the characters of our intimate and public lives: the invader versus the defender, charioteers who ride swiftly through our days swinging swords and mahouts who seat unmoving elephants in our path, foot soldiers who obey and distant leaders who reign over the lowly, Jews and Gentiles, pagans and believers, rebels and loyalists.  We brush against these people each day as we move from sun up to sun down, and through it all we have only one question to ask ourselves.Do we throw ourselves from the fiery tower we have built to the gods that have become so important to us that we foolishly take part in daily scenarios that we read about today . . . or do we love our enemies despite the ash pits they build . . . do we ask for peace through our own actions and not just our words . . . and do we love the Living God who saves us more than the tumult of war? 


A re-post from February 25, 2012.

Images from: http://www.infohub.com/vacation_packages/26382.html and and http://history.factoidz.com/mysteries-of-the-persian-empire-the-faith-of-zarathustra/

Read more: Persian Mythology – Myth Encyclopedia – Greek, god, legend, names, ancient, war, world, Roman, creation http://www.mythencyclopedia.com/Pa-Pr/Persian-Mythology.html#ixzz1nPJV2ALp  “Persian Mythology.” Myth Encyclopedia. Advameg, Inc., n.d. Web. 25 Feb 2012. 

http://www.usccb.org/bible/2maccabees/13/

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Matthew 5:17-20: Teaching on the Law

Saturday, April 6, 2019

Joseph Mallord William Turner: A Mountain Scene, Val d’Aosta

A re-post from Good Friday 2012 . . . 

We might notice that the teaching on the Law finds its place among other teachings: the new Law of Love expressed in the Beatitudes, being salt and light, teachings on anger, adultery, divorce, oaths, retaliation and love of enemies.  In Chapter 6 we find teachings on alms giving, prayer, fasting, treasure and our dependence on God.  Chapter 7 reveals more teachings on casting pearls before swine, expecting answers to prayers, judging others, the Golden Rule, the Narrow Gate, false prophets and true disciples, and finally . . . where and how to build a foundation that lasts.  These 3 chapters are an exact and simple road map to find our way when we are lost.  Today we focus on a portion but if there is time in our schedule to read through these chapters, we will find that we will have made an excellent investment for ourselves.  We will have made another payment into our real retirement plan . . . our plan to live in the house the Father has built for us.

My friend Lucy gave me a book for Easter several years ago. I have read it many times, and passed on copies to friends. Because I often have grandchildren fluttering under my wings during a holiday, I find it more important than ever to remind myself that I need to live in the second half of life if I hope to impart any wisdom to those who watch what I do more than what I say. Perhaps on this Friday we might find time to rest in Rohr’s message that we must do more than build a container for life.

Joseph Mallord William Turner: A Sail Yacht Approaches the Coast

Once we spend time with his meditation, we might consider the following: Do we truly wish for our old systems to crash so that a new flourishing might begin? Do we strive for a righteousness that holds us up, or take refuge in what we know? Do we long for union with Christ enough that we agree to enter into a dialog with the God who creates us and our world? Do we believe that God’s kingdom is here and now?

And Jesus says . . . I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. 

For a Richard Rohr reflection on the two halves of life, visit: https://cac.org/two-halves-life-2015-10-12/


If you are looking for more information on a Jungian approach to finding meaning in the second half of life, go to: http://www.psychceu.com/hollis/findingmeaning.asp

If you are looking for something that will lead you to investigate how you live God’s Law of Love, you will find a simple study guide to reflect on Rohr’s ideas in FALLING UPWARD at: http://www.cacradicalgrace.org/programs/pastwebcasts/wc-fallingupward 

To reflect on the narrow gates in your own life and how to grow from them, go The Narrow Gate page on this blog.

Adapted from a reflection posted on April 5, 2012.

Images from: http://www.psychceu.com/hollis/findingmeaning.asp

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1 Chronicles 23: The Levitical Classes

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

A re-post from April 3, 2012.

Aaron

Catholics in the Archdiocese of Baltimore recently received a letter from the Archbishop letting us know that the clergy were aware of the shortage of priests and they understood that the laity would be taking more authority in their parishes.  It seems that the Levitical classes of this church have so isolated themselves as a group that this fact is just dawning on them.  Those of us in the pews have seen this coming for quite some time.  Priests can barely genuflect, seminarians are scant, and more of the daily running of the parish is overseen by lay people.

There is an interesting article in the NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER (April 15, 2011) describing the “hidden exodus of Catholics from their faith”.  Thomas Reese writes: “Any other institution that lost one-third of its members would want to know why.  But the U.S. bishops have never devoted any time at their national meetings to discussing the exodus.  Nor have they spent a dime trying to find out why it is happening.  Thankfully, although the U.S. bishops have not supported research on people who have let the church, the Pew Center has”.  Then Reese describes the report results.  They are fascinating.  http://ncronline.org/news/hidden-exodus-catholics-becoming-protestants What do the people want?  They ask that liturgy be more pertinent.  They ask for more opportunities for Bible study.  I cannot find a reason that these requests go unanswered.

As I pray, I juxtapose David’s acknowledgement of his own mortality and his good shepherding of the people with the apparent benign neglect of present day Catholic Church leaders.  And I do what I always do when I am perplexed . . . I go to God.

In today’s Gospel we read about Judas’ betrayal of Christ.  This seems significant to me.  In a perfect world, spiritual leaders actually tend to peoples’ souls rather than to their own needs.  In our world, the closest to us are often those who betray us most quickly . . . and always this kind of unfaithfulness cuts deeply.

The MAGNIFICAT Morning Prayer is full of guideposts for those who are betrayed by those closest to them.  This also seems significant.  We cannot suppose that just because people wear the trappings of office that they perfectly fulfill the duties they are bound to perform.   In a perfect world, our spiritual leaders concern themselves with real people in real time . . . and they are aware that they lead by serving.

Psalm 55: My heart is stricken within me . . . and so I must trust God with my fears.

John 13:21: Jesus was deeply troubled . . . so I cannot be upset with my own turmoil.

Jeremiah 20:10: Yes, I hear the whisperings of many: “Terror on every side! . . .  Yet God is with us always.

Job 19:19: All my intimate friends hold me in horror . . . Still I remain faithful to God. 

We know the story of Peter’s denial of Christ and his later confession of faith when the Resurrected Jesus asks, Do you love me? (John 21)   We know that Christ offers Peter this opportunity for conversion and opens the door to newness, honesty, and a deeper fidelity than had before been possible.

Our question on this Holy Tuesday is this . . . Does our love in Christ and for Christ call us to forgive all those who have harmed us in big ways and in small ways . . . even as Christ has forgiven us?


Image from: http://webspace.webring.com/people/up/pharsea/PeopleOfGod.html

For more information on Aaron, and the Levites, go to: http://eastonsbibledictionary.com/a/aaron.htm and http://eastonsbibledictionary.com/l/levite.htm

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 4.19 (2011). Print.  

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Lectio Divina

“God spots” in the human brain

Monday, March 25, 2019

Spiritual reading is often seen as a desperate last step in a series of pleas to God. Many of us see the contemplation of the sacred word as a last resort or a last worried petition for God’s attention.  The reality is that we constantly have God’s attention and need do nothing special for God to “notice” us.  We are well-loved and well-attended although there are times when we feel this may not be so.

Contemplative prayer is often seen as something we do when we can find the time.  It is seen as the work of the consecrated religious or the spiritually gifted. The truth is that each of us has the capacity to consider and reflect on God’s goodness.  We need no special talent and no special tools.  We each have a God spot that scientists have identified and in fact there are likely “several areas of the brain that form the biological foundations of religious belief”.  (“Independent”)  We are well-equipped and well-blessed with this gift from God.

Today is the Fifth Sunday of Lent, a time when we approach Holy Week and the miracle of Easter.  Let us spend some time today with just a bit of scripture if we do not have time for a chapter or a book.  Let us spend some time today with the process of lectio divina even if for only twenty minutes or so.  Let us spend some time today with the Creator who loves us and tends to us.  This Creator longs to commune with us, yearns to touch is in special ways, wants to bless us and grace with all manner of gifts.  Let us give a bit of time today to God in a bit of reading, a bit of meditation, and a bit of communication.  We will find that the time we spend will come back to us in the form of patience, wisdom, and a newly-found peace.


Image from: http://ymiblogging.org/2010/01/god-spot/

“Belief and the brain’s ‘God spot’ .” Independent. 10 March 2009: n. page. Web. 25 Mar. 2012. <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/belief-and-the-brains-god-spot-1641022.html&gt;.

If you do not know how to begin, go to the Scripture as Prayer page on this blog, of go to:

For more information on God spots, go to: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/belief-and-the-brains-god-spot-1641022.html, or http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=2886, or http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/03/10/brains-god-spot-discovere_n_173705.html, or http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104291534, or http://ymiblogging.org/2010/01/god-spot/

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Isaiah 46: Little Gods

Monday, March 18, 2019

Baal

Today we read about the effects of living a life of enslavement to the many little gods that appear in our lives.  These tiny dieties may appear suddenly and either announce their arrival or enter our lives to take hold of our habits stealthily.  They come with no warning and have little or no overt manifestation.  If we take a moment to review commentary for Isaiah 46 we understand that this is a familiar theme to Old Testament people who lived among the many tribes of Baal worshipers.  Looking at cross references to the New Testament we see that it is a well-known theme in Jesus’ day.   Even today we daily come upon incidents of little gods holding sway over us and hijacking our decisions.  Many of us carry Bel and Nebo on our shoulders allowing them to govern our spiritual, political, social and family life.  Today we ponder these little gods who demand much of our time . . . and bring us no enduring consolation or lasting hope.

Who are these demons who haunt us and how do we recognize the fact that they govern our lives?

They must be borne up on shoulders, carried as burdens by the weary.  When we find ourselves enslaved to a custom or habit that exhausts and does not edify us, it is time to call out these little gods.

They stoop and bow down together; unable to save those who bear them, they go into captivity.  When we realize that we are drained of energy and that the structure we believed in has abandoned us, it is time to put an end to the demands of the little gods.

Although they cry out it does not answer; it delivers no one from distress.  When all that we relied upon has taken our life force and has disappeared into nothingness, it is time to amend our ways and turn our allegiance to the Living God who saves.

Remember this and be firm, bear it well in mind, you rebels; remember the former things, those long ago . . . And so as we continue in our Lenten journey, what do we do to shed our faith in these little idols?

I am God, there is no other; I am God, there is none like me.  We turn to God who has loved us despite our folly in abandoning him, and we see that God has always been beside us . . . even when we were blind to him. We hear the voice of God calling to us and we know that this voice has been guiding us . . . even when we could not hear him.  We see the works of God in the many little graces and in the enormous saving actions he has granted us, and we realize God has loved us all through our comings and goings . . . even when we have ignored and even reviled him.

I am bringing on my justice, it is not far off, my salvation will not tarry . . .

We have a clear choice before us today.  We can muddle along with our little gods or we can choose to follow the Living God.  St. Paul writes to the Romans: Our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.  Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day.  (Romans 13:11-13)  

Psalm 27 is one of my favorites and it reminds us simply of this: The Lord is my light and my help; whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the stronghold of my life; before whom shall I shrink?

If we are too afraid of our little gods to turn them out of the temple of our lives, we turn to God for strength.  If we fear that the Living God has tired of our constant wandering and will not welcome us home, we need only remember the many promises the Living God has kept, and the savior he has sent to redeem us all.


A re-post from March 19, 2012. 

Image from: http://willcookson.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/review-bibles-buried-secrets-did-god-have-a-wife/

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Numbers 14:11-38: The Lord’s Sentence

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Tissot: The Grapes of Canaan – The scouts return from the Promised Land

Written on April 22, 2010 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

In the Old Testament God measures out rewards and punishments and today’s reading is an example of this kind of relationship that humans have with the creator.  This is a story about trust, fidelity and awe (or fear) of the Lord.  Jesus and the New Testament tell us a broader story, one of forgiveness, compassion and love.

I do not believe that God really means to strike down his own people in this episode; rather, I believe that he gives his creatures the opportunity to enter into dialog with him and to speak on their own behalf.  What I like most about this story is first, the way that Moses steps up and speaks frankly with God and second, the way God responds in fairness.  It is easy to see that fidelity and trust are paramount in God’s kingdom.  These are qualities that bring Caleb and Joshua to the Promised Land.  They are also qualities that bring serenity to us today if we can only believe that God provides all that we will need in life.  And this is the sentence he delivers to each of us . . . God always gives us guarantee of mercy, forgiveness and love.


A re-post from March 13, 2012.

For more on the Book of Numbers, visit the Numbers – Arrangement of the Tribes page on The Book of Our Life tab on this blog.  Tomorrow we will reflect on the Israelite’s’ Unsuccessful Invasion.

Caleb and Joshua are interesting players in today’s story and for more information about this pair we might go to http://ezinearticles.com/?The-Story-of-Joshua-and-Caleb&id=19374

Visit The Stones Cry Out site to take a walk through the Bible.  Click on the link or the image above or go to: http://thestonescryout.com/the_bible/walk_through_the_bible

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2 Samuel 2: Abner

First Sunday of Lent, March 10, 2019

Abner

Written on March 5, 2008 and posted today as a Favorite . . .

Abner was Saul’s general – a courageous and loyal man.  He found himself serving Saul at the time that the power and prestige of the House of Saul was waning while that of the House of David was waxing.  After Saul’s death, Abner and David reconcile, but one of Saul’s remaining sons, Ishbaal, trumps up charges about Abner and Rizpah (one of Saul’s concubines).  We see peace and unity again threatened by plotting and division.  Abner is murdered, David laments.  We can see what happens to Ishbaal in the next chapter, but what we see here is an ever-resent theme in the human drama: Humans always seem to succumb to envy and greed.

What do I do when I meet the Abners, Ishbaals, Joabs, Davids and Sauls in my life?  What do I do when presented with the possibility of union with people from whom I have (with good cause) previously kept my distance?  How do I know if an enemy heart has been converted?  How do I respond to the hand offered in peace?  How do I know if that hand is truly offered in peace?  We do not have the human answers to these questions; but we know what we must do.  We must trust God.

From today’s morning prayers and readings:

Isaiah 40:1: Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem . . .

Isaiah 49:13: The Lord comforts his people and shows mercy to his afflicted.

Psalm 103: The Lord is compassion and love, slow to anger and rich in mercy.

Psalm 145: The Lord is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works.  The Lord lifts up all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down.  The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.

We have no way of reading human hearts and minds.  We can rely on our gut reactions to people and circumstances, we can imagine what someone may be thinking or doing . . . but we cannot know for certainty what occurs deep within someone else’s mind, heart and soul.  That is for God to know . . . that is for God to handle.

David and Abner

In today’s reading, David asks that the Lord requite the evildoers in accordance with the sin committed.  This is an Old Testament response.  We are New Testament people, so how do we respond to acts of betrayal?  By moving into intercessory prayer for those who have done us harm, by relying on the goodness and mercy and justice of our God, by asking for this mercy and justice for ourselves and for our enemies.

The Lord is faithful in all his words and holy in all his works.  

We are God’s word as adopted brothers and sisters of Christ.  We are God’s works in this world where we have been planted.  How do we respond to the Abners, Joabs and Ishbaals in our lives?


For more on this story click on the images above or go to: http://patty-patcards.blogspot.com/2010/12/people-multiple-choice-in-what-city-did.html and http://sharingknowledge.org/wb/pages/bible-studies/history-of-the-characters-of-the-bible/king-david.php#wb_section_423

Cameron, Peter John. “Prayer for the Morning.” MAGNIFICAT. 3.5 (2008). Print.  

A re-post from March 10, 2012.

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Luke 8:22-24Calm

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Ludolf Backhuysen: Christ in the Storm on the Sea of Galilee

Moments before opening scripture I came from the classroom of a teacher who is new to us this year and we spoke about creating calm in the midst of rush.  Today’s Noontime brings us the same message: when we have difficulty finding peace in the hectic pace of our lives, we can always turn to Christ . . . for Christ knows best how to still the storm.  Christ reminds us to . . . Be still! 

Steven Curtis Chapman performs Be Still and Know, a song based on Psalm 46.  The lyrics are well worth reading, and the song worth hearing. They remind us that we cannot survive the wind-tossed waves alone; they tell us that we must seek refuge from powerful winds and mighty seas in Christ only.

In Exodus 14:14 Moses tells his disquieted people, The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still.

As Nehemiah and Ezra rebuild the temple and city of Jerusalem and call the people back to God, the Levite priests say to the people: Be still, for this is a sacred day.  Do not grieve. (Nehemiah 8:11)

The Psalms remind us: Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways,when they carry out their wicked schemes(Psalm 37:7)

Be still, and know that I am God;I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.  (Psalm 46:10)

The prophet Zechariah tells us: Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.  (Zechariah 2:13)

And in Mark’s version of today’s story Jesus rebukes the wind with the words: Quiet!  Be still!  (Mark 4:39)  The wind dies down and all is completely calm . . .

Christ’s followers are amazed when Jesus commands even the waters and winds . . . and so may we be once we fully hand our lives over to the one who has created us.

Christ’s detractors complain that Jesus breaks all the observed laws . . . and so may we if we allow the laws to become our gods.

Christ’s enemies stalk him with envy and greed . . . and so may we if we allow the details of life to overcome us.

Christ’s true disciples read this story and believe . . . and so may we believe once we live each moment in Christ rather than fret the minutes of each day away in ourselves.

And so we pray . . .

On this day when we consider all that is turbulent in our lives, let us allow Christ to silence the tumult of our lives and let us be still.  In this rush of activity, let us invite Christ into our lives and let us give over to him all that troubles us.  In this season of waiting in joyful hope, let us make room for Christ – even if we can only manage a small pocket of quiet.  In this time of anticipation, let us surrender to him all our dreams and desires.  Let us give willingly to him all that we are, and all that we have.  Let us go to Christ openly, honestly and lovingly.  And let us hunker down in the ship of life and trust that God will calm both the wind and the sea.  Amen. 


Link to Chpaman’s Be Still: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lHlbnNUHQGI 

Adapted from a reflection posted on December 1, 2011. 

Image from: http://freechristimages.org/biblestories/jesus_calms_the_storm.htm

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