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

2 Maccabees 4: Hellenization

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Girl Friends

The definition of Hellenization in conjunction with scripture refers to the time when the Jewish people were lured into imitating the Greeks who placed much importance on transacting business in the gymnasium.  When Jews entered this place were nudity was the norm, circumcision suddenly took on new meaning.  This outward sign of fidelity to Yahweh sometimes became a stumbling block to transacting business and some Jewish men went to the extreme of enduring a painful surgical reversal of this mark of Abraham in order to hide this mark from others.  The important point for us today is this: how do we allow ourselves to become Hellenized?  What small places in our lives that have been places of constancy to God become inconvenient?  What small steps entice us to give up God in small ways?  What small detours become major deviations from the truth?

Not long ago I asked some of the girls we teach what they do when they feel embarrassed by “doing what is right” when they are with friends rather than going along with the crowd?  They looked at me in an odd way and then said: “Those people would not be my friends”.  How simple.  How true.

In today’s reading we read about laws put in force and also abolished.  We read about intrigue and sedition, the lure of power and money, about violence and deceit.  This is a bloody time in Jewish history which we have visited often.  We usually come away with the same truth: When we find ourselves embroiled in schemes and complex schemes . . . the only way out is to revert to simple truths that bring true satisfaction and joy.  We remember that we find our power in our willingness to empty self and listen for God’s voice.  We recall that we find our strength in our eagerness to put aside any personal agenda so that we might listen for God’s agenda.  When we reflect and turn to God in this way, the tension, the anxiety, and the pain that had been paralyzing us begin to melt away.

When we have a sense that we have entered into our own Hellenization, it is time to assess and re-evaluate.  When the world intrudes and asks us to forfeit our intimacy with God, we know for certain that these will be the first small steps away from God rather than steps toward God.  When this happens, we know what we must do . . . and we remember the simple statement: Those people would not be my friends.

A re-post from February 27, 2012.

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. 


John 7:10-24: A Spiritual Microscope

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Whoever speaks on his own seeks his own glory, but whoever seeks the glory of the one who sent him is truthful, and there is no wrong in him.

Another Gospel writer, Matthew, tells us that the Christ urged us to cease judging one another (7:1-5) and to take care of the timbers in our own eyes rather than accuse others of not tending to the sawdust in theirs.

It is difficult to discern which voice of the many we hear is the genuine voice.  It is difficult to separate ourselves from our own ego to stand back in order to get a clear view of how we act in the world. It is also impossible for us to separate ourselves from our life experiences which always form our thinking and acting.  It seems that rather than trying to split ourselves into two halves – one side dealing with unpleasantness, the other avoiding it – we might try to use our daily experiences and the beams in our eye as a spiritual microscope . . . to take a look at how we represent God in the world.

We might ask:  Am I looking at the whole picture?  Am I rushing to judgment?  Am I enabling myself or others to preserve a narrow view?  Do I work toward finding common ground in difficult situations or do I add to the turmoil?  Do I obfuscate and cross lines or do I seek reason and order wherever I go?  How do I express God in my daily living?  These questions are endless, but nonetheless important.  They provide us with a means to look at self.  They also remind us that God is in charge, that when we find ourselves  in difficulty we need to look to ourselves first . . . then turn to help others . . . always relying on God as the guide, the scientist who focuses our microscope so that we might better see ourselves.

When we read the Gospel we also find something else . . . as we examine ourselves and then act on our reflections and the urgings of the true inner voice, we must expect rejection from those around us.  The Pharisees we read about today are angry with the truth the Christ brings them.  Jesus asks: are you angry with me because I made a whole person on a Sabbath?  Jesus does the Father’s will and is heavily punished.  The Pharisees go away grumbling, plotting his death.  They are angry that his teaching is not his own . . . but comes from God.

When we turn our spiritual microscope inward to examine who we are and how we act, we must allow God to focus the lenses.  When we speak . . . we must speak from God . . . not from our fears or anger.  When we listen . . . we must listen for God . . . for it is the only one true voice that guides to fullness, to glory, to peace.

A re-post from February 24, 2012.

Image from: http://www.americanartifacts.com/smma/micro/bausch.htm

Luke 15: The Lost

The Shepherd and the Lost Sheep

Luke 15: The Lost

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

“God is not withdrawn, waiting for humans to come begging, but is actively seeking those who are lost”.  (Senior Reading Guide 431)

Today we read three parables that speak to us about how deeply God loves us; it is important for us to hear them often.

The parable of the shepherd who leaves the flock to search for the lost sheep is also told by Matthew (18:12-14) and it presents for us a perfect image of God as we begin our Lenten journey.  He sets [the sheep] on his shoulders with great joy and, upon his arrival home, he calls together his friends and neighbors and says to them, “Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep”.  In this season of repentance we must remain faithful to God, calling on God for help when we realize that we can go no further alone down the road of life.

Luke tells us that God will call out continually for the lost.

The Woman and the Lost Coin

The parable of the lost coin describes the persistent search the housewife makes, searching carefully until she finds it.  And when she does find it, she calls together her friends and neighbors and says to them, “Rejoice with me because I have found the coin I had lost”.  In this season of hope we must continue to trust that God will abide, trusting that God will answer our cries for help when the buffets of life overcome us.

Luke tells us that God will search endlessly for the lost.

Rembrandt: The Prodigal Son (detail)

The parable of the lost son is one we know well and we revel in verse 20: So he got up and went home to his father.  While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight if him, and was filled with compassion.  He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.  In this season of repentance we must continue to confide in God, telling God all that troubles us and all that blocks our successful completion of our journey.

Luke tells us that God will always welcome home all those who were once lost.

We draw strength from Isaiah 40:28-31 in which we are told that God always persists, God never fades, God never gives up. Do you not know or have you not heard?  The Lord is the eternal God, creator of the ends of the earth.  He does not grow faint or grow weary, and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.  He gives strength to the fainting; for the weak he makes vigor abound.  Though young men faint and grow weary, and youths stagger and fall, they that hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar as with eagles’ wings; they will run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint. 

And so we pray . . .

Good and gracious God, how is it that you never lose patience with us when we believe we do not need you in our lives?  Why is it that you love us despite all our turnings away from you?  When will we begin to understand the depth and the breadth of your love? 

Great and loving God, we know that for you we are pearls of great price.  We understand that because of you we are temples in which you hope to dwell.  We believe that you will ceaselessly call us back to you so that like the sheep, the coin and the erring child . . . we are never truly lost. 


A re-post from February 23, 2012.

Images from: http://www.hansgruener.de/docs_e/krippen/e_strassenkrippe.htm and http://saints.sqpn.com/parable-of-the-lost-coin/ and http://transformingordinary2extraordinary.blogspot.com/2010/04/school-paper-prodigal-son.html

2 Chronicles 24: Joash

Monday, April 8, 2019

Joash repairs the Temple

Two years ago we looked at the struggle to save the child king Joash who is the centerpiece of today’s reading.  Today we take time to reflect on his life and how he did what was pleasing to the Lord as long as Jehoiada the priest lived. 

Joash is an example of one who restores all that was lost; and he is also an example of a leader who is empty of God’s promise.  As long as Jehoiada lives, Joash focuses on what is good and true.  Once the priest is gone, the king shows who he truly is: someone who lacks an authentic core.

Suffering is deepest when first we hold goodness for a time.  Pain is more searing when we have known harmony.  Sorrow is more keenly felt when we have experienced great joy.  So it is with the people ruled by Joash . . . the dreams they once thought reality become dim memories.  In their anger and grief, the people in this story ask for revenge . . . and they receive it.

It is likely that we have all loved someone or followed someone who showed great promise and have later been disappointed.  Perhaps we have discovered a dark emptiness in one we thought held a solid center.  If we have been wounded deeply by a Joash, we must not act in anger but in love.  We must not look for revenge for when we do we sink into the same emptiness we see in today’s story.

As followers of Christ, rather than asking for a settling of scores, we intercede for our enemies to ask for peace.  As Disciples of Christ, rather than falling back on hatred, we act in love.  As true apostles of Jesus, we seek concord so that darkness, and cruelty, ignorance and disunity have no place to take hold.  As children of God we pray, we witness, we watch for the opportunity to be Christ-like, and we act in love, always in love.

We might see Joash as the resounding gong or clashing cymbal St. Paul describes in his first letter to the Corinthians, for he is one who worships God because it makes a good appearance or because it gains him something.  When we meet Joash in our lives, let us ask God for the mercy and compassion to turn away from dark thoughts, and let us go to the Lord with our petitions of forgiveness and love.

A re-post from December 2011.

Image from: http://plantedatoakhill.blogspot.com/2011/05/chest-of-joash.html 

Matthew 20:17-28: Prediction

Fifth Sunday of Lent, April 7, 2019

A re-post from Holy Week 2012 . . . 

Thursday and Friday evenings as I stepped off the church walkway and into the darkness I realized that the night sky was not as dark as usual.  The large Paschal Moon hovered over the campus, challenging the brightness of the large, artificial, man-made lamp stands.  Having stayed later than most worshipers to spend a bit of extra time reflecting, I was nearly alone on the campus . . . and I said a small, quiet prayer to the Creator for all the gifts I so easily use that he has so lovingly given.  It was a sacred moment which I wanted to hold, much as the apostles wanted to hold the beauty and fullness of The Transfiguration.  We who live in a place where food and peace are aplenty have much to be grateful for.  We who are called to labor in the vineyard of the one who knows us intimately have much to be faithful to.  We who are so well-loved and guided in the Spirit have much to be hopeful in. God’s justice, Jesus’ compassion and the Spirit’s fidelity can be counted on  . . . always  . . . this we can predict. Just as Jesus’ predicted his own passion, so too can we predict our own struggle with loved ones, colleagues and strangers . . . and our own struggle to follow Christ.

Hans Suess von Kolmbach: Mary Salome and Zebedee with their sons James the Greater and John the Evangelist

Perhaps the Sons of Zebedee today give us a picture of our relationship with Jesus, or maybe we better see ourselves as their mother, Salome.  Like the early friends and relatives of Jesus, we often do not see the consequences of our requests; and we are surprised and even angry at the twists and turns of fate that seem to us to be capricious gods that play havoc with our hopes and dreams.  We become bogged down and may even wallow in self-pity and indignation when events and people beyond our control disrupt our plans.  We see that what we had predicted for ourselves is somehow not budding, is for some reason refusing to come to fruition.  We blame all sorts of people and circumstances, all the while neglecting to give thanks for the one sure thing that we can all predict with ease:  we will be loved always, we will be cared for and rescued always, and we will live in eternal union with our brother, the Christ.  What a great, and awesome and marvelous God we have.   What a sureness.  What a constancy.  What a greatness. What a God!

The full Easter moon rides high across the skies during this extraordinary season of forgiveness.  Its cool light breaks through the darkness, telling us of the daytime sun that bathes the opposing side of the globe.  The tin-tinted orb reminds us that even when we do not feel the warmth and brilliance of Jesus he is with us anyway.

The Paschal Moon rises just as expected, just as predicted.  God guides and protects us, just as expected, just as predicted.  Jesus sacrifices self and rescues us, just as expected, just as predicted.  The Holy Spirit abides with us and graces us, just as expected, just as predicted.  Discipleship will be difficult and arduous . . . just as expected, just as predicted.  The reward for fidelity will be greater than we have ever imagined . . . just as expected . . . just as predicted.  All of this we can foretell with certainty.  The events of our lives, the time and manner of our dying, the size of our income, and the number of our days we cannot.  So tonight, if the sky is clear, step outside your door for just a moment to search the heavens for the Paschal Moon and remember all that has been predicted.  And in the hush and quiet of that moment let us recall all that we have requested and all that we have been given.  And let us pray:

Jesus dies, Jesus rises.  We are saved.  We are loved.  And all . . . just as expected . . . just as predicted.  Amen.

For an inspirational reflection on Salome and her sons, click on the image of the Zebedee family above or go to: http://teamnoah.info/Stirred/ms.html

To learn more about how the date for Easter is chosen, click on the image above or go to: http://news.yahoo.com/moon-affects-date-easter-131202555.html

For the names of the full moons and what these names mean, go to: http://www.farmersalmanac.com/full-moon-names/ 

Images from: http://news.yahoo.com/moon-affects-date-easter-131202555.html and http://teamnoah.info/Stirred/ms.html

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

Sirach 6: True Friendship & Wisdom

Friday, April 5, 2019

A re-post from Holy Thursday 2012.

These are wise and beautiful words.  We cannot read them too often.

Verses 5 through 17 are full of sound, solid advice that is easy to absorb and use.  There is nothing complicated here.  We are encouraged to examine not only who our friends are and why, but who we are as friends . . . and why.

Verses 18 through 37 delineate the blessings of wisdom, and when we read them with care it is not difficult to judge if we are wise or foolish.  We are given a clear prescription: Put your feet into [Wisdom’s] fetters, and your neck under her yoke.  Stoop your shoulders and carry her and be not irked at her bonds.  With all your soul draw close to her; with all your strength keep her ways.  Search her out, discover her; seek her and you will find her.  Then when you have her, do not let her go; thus will you afterward find rest I her, and she will become your joy . . . if you wish, you can be taught; if you apply yourself, you will be shrewd.  If you are willing to listen, you will learn; if you give heed, you will be wise.

Our questions on this Holy Thursday are these . . . When it comes to friendship and to wisdom, who are we and how are we?  Do we recognize ourselves in any of these descriptions?  Whose commandments do we follow?  Are we willing to listen and to heed?  Are we eager to hear Godly discourse?  Are we ready to give ourselves over to God . . . do what it takes to be a loyal and wise friend?

A faithful friend is a life-saving remedy . . . if you are willing to listen, you will learn; if you give heed, you will be wise.

Image from: http://taberstruths.com/walking-gods-wisdom/

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