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Mark 2: Paralysis

Holy Saturday, April 20, 2019

Saint Anne de Beauprés church in Quebec, Canada: Wall of discarded crutches

It is in this second chapter of Mark that we see the power of freedom against the power of restraint.  Jesus arrives in the world as an expression of God’s love for us to transform our paralysis into movement and even action.  This is no easy model for us to follow as we see him in constant collision with the nearly overpowering influence of the Jewish church and social framework.  Jesus speaks truth and mercy to corruption, jealousy and greed every day.  He does not relent. In the end, he is crucified and thought dead and out of the way in what appears to be a bitter irony.  Yet the beautiful inversion and paradox of the story of Christ is that he triumphs over his enemies by dying for them, by loving them more than they love themselves.

It is easy to read these stories of a man who lived two thousand years ago and smile at the authority and courage with which he moved through the world in a brilliant flash of compassion and simplicity: Love one another as I have loved you . . . child, your sins are forgiven.

It is another matter to follow this man and repeat his actions endlessly knowing that obstacles will be thrown in our path which will be impossible to circumvent: Follow me.

The secret to following Christ is to give ourselves over to him and accept his offer of newness:  No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak . . . no one pours new wine into an old wine skin.

We so often allow the familiar to govern our lives, even when it paralyzes us and prevents us from accepting what can be new about us.  We would rather dance with the devil we know than with the God we do not.  We prefer the dirge of a sadness known to us and reject the hope that the news we have heard from this God Among Us is true.  It is so strange to me that we would prefer our paralyzing fear and reject the freedom offered by the one who comes to forgive and heal: I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.

When we are paralyzed by life, we must choose freedom offered by the Spirit.  When we are overcome by fear or sadness, we must give ourselves over to joy as we take the hand of the groom who comes to bring us to the feast: As long as they have the bridegroom with them they cannot fast.

During Lent we are accustomed to giving alms, making reparation and examining our motives and actions.  Perhaps this Lent we might begin to allow ourselves to dream of what we might do with the freedom we already possess . . . the freedom to allow ourselves to be healed of our paralysis and to follow Christ when he invites us into true and eternal union with God.

Imagine if we only had the courage and strength to . . . how do we want to finish this thought?  What chains do we yearn to throw off?

The possibilities are endless when we drop our crutches, when we put away our paralysis.


A re-post from March 6, 2012.

Image from: http://grandforet.blogspot.com/2009_05_01_archive.html 

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Proverbs 9Folly or Wisdom

Saturday, July 29, 2017

There are seven columns on the front portico of Notre Dame Preparatory. The design is not casual; it is meant to evoke the columns upon which Wisdom builds her house where all are invited to sit at the feasting table of instruction, where we learn of, about and in God.  Wisdom also sends out maidens to call others into her house of training.  From the HARPERCOLLINS STUDY BIBLE: Poems on Woman Wisdom (9. 1-6) and Woman Folly (9.13-18) frame a central collection of sayings (9.7-12).  The focus on the houses of the two women continues familiar themes [seeking and finding as a quest for Wisdom, seduction of worldly things, choosing which house to enter, the ideal wife] and also seems to expand upon the proverb in 14.1 [The wise woman builds her own house but the foolish tears it down with her own hands]. (Meeks 954)

This description is followed by a description built of opposite parallels, with more typical themes for living an ordinary life in an unordinary way.  If only we choose the portal of wisdom, we will see which way to go when the road of life bifurcates to the right and left.

There are seasons when we have enter into a holy period of spiritual quiet and anticipation much like a mother about to give birth; but this quiet and virtue are juxtaposed against the clamor of the commercial world in which we exist.  When we open our eyes and ears each morning, what is it we see and hear?  When we step out the door and move to the car or the bus, what are we thinking?  As we breathe and move through the day, what do we do?  As we interact with others, what do we intend?

Wisdom calls us from the heights of God’s instruction.  She invites all to feast and relax with God.  She prepares a banquet, readies the house, and serves as the handmaiden of God in a plan that is too wide and too amazing to comprehend.

As we move from place to place today, as we greet and say good-bye to others, and as we return to our own houses to lay our burdens down before we put tired heads upon pillows, what do we see as the path of our day?  And what do we imagine for tomorrow?

Do we choose the House of Folly . . . or the House of Wisdom . . . ?

Meeks, Wayne A., Gen. Ed. HARPERCOLLINS STUDY BIBLE (NRSV). New York, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989. Print.  

Adapted from a reflection written on December 1, 2009.

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Sirach 15:14-17: The Mystery of Free WillFree-Will-10

Monday, June 22, 2015

God in the beginning created human beings and made them subject to their own free choice. If you choose, you can keep the commandments; loyalty is doing the will of God. Set before you are fire and water; to whatever you choose, stretch out your hand. Before everyone are life and death, whichever they choose will be given them.

The concept of free well is one with which we struggle and frequently we hear ourselves asking God the familiar question. Dear God – if all things are possible for you, why don’t you fix all that is wrong with the world?

God says: I love you so much that I do not want to force you to love me in return. I have infinite patience and limitless persistence so I am willing to give you free rein as you decide how you want to live. Our goal is not to have you do precisely as I say; rather, our goal is to come into union in celebration of our mutual understanding and love. Our goal is not to have a perfect world; rather, our goal is to come together in the kingdom I have described for you in which we are motivated by love rather than anger, envy or self-interest. I want to love you into loving me. I want you to love me as much as I love you. I created you in the hope that you and I will have an eternal relationship. And this is entirely possible for us because yes, for me . . . all things are possible.

The mystery of free will is one we might easily misunderstand. When we spend time today with this wisdom from Sirach, we begin to trust in the potential God has planted in each of us.

Use the scripture link to compare these words from Jesus Ben Sirach and consider how we might show God that we understand this gift of free will.

 

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

matthew7_1[1]Matthew 7

Lessons in Serenity

As Matthew closes this section of his Gospel he records Jesus as speaking plainly and simply to his followers.  There really is no mystery here.   What must we do to gain serenity?

Jesus tells us clearly.

Stop judging others and tend to your own progress.  The criticisms we level at others are a good place to begin with our own self-development.  We critique in others what we dislike most in ourselves.  Let us recall the negative comments we have made about others and let us lay them out neatly.  We will find an apt and accurate map of the journey we must take.

Matthew-7[1]You are pearls of great price so there is no need to claw your way over those you perceive to be in your path.  Once we see where our journey must take us we will want to relax into the great gift God has for us.  All of our striving and fixing and arranging may, in fact, be counter to the work we must do on ourselves.  Let us learn to bear good fruit in due season.

Ask the creator for all the desires of your heart.  Who knows us better than the hand that carved us out of nothing?  Fashioned us in God’s image, we do not have to search long or far to discover why we are here or where we are going.  Who leads us better than our human and divine brother Jesus?  He understands the dichotomy we hold in our hands, the tug from two directions, the calling of two diverging worlds.  Who abides with us more faithfully than the Spirit?  God’s wisdom and grace dwell within us to guide, protect and console.

matthew_7_13_14_by_phoenixoftheopera-d4247gw[1]Discipleship is difficult and the way to peace is narrow.  Quick fixes, easy solutions, pat answers, immediate satisfaction, and feelings of control and power must be put aside in favor of process, dialog, reflection, shared decisions, forgiveness and redemption.

Expect false leaders.  And work to be honest followers.  Integrity, honesty, courage and persistence are wells from which we must draw.  We must learn to rebuke gently, to walk humbly, to accompany without judging, to pray ceaselessly.

You have a choice to make; build on sand or rock.  We are free to choose.  Stand on solid ground where everyone is open and honest, or allow ourselves to slide into the shifting world of denial, obfuscation and illusion.

The way is clear.  The path is open.  The winding is narrow but there are signs along the way.  These are lessons in serenity.

And so we pray.

Matthew7_24sm[1]Patient and loving father and mother, help us to refrain from judging lest we lose ourselves in the trial.  Remind us that we are well loved and well protected.  Repeat to us often that we are to knock, ask and seek.  Support us as we sift through true and false teachers and leaders.  Lead us out of the boggy quicksand of a life lived with the only goal of personal comfort.  Steer us away from all that is alluring.  Lift us to stand on the rock that is both fortress and refuge.  Guide us always back to you.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, together with the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Reflect on the past week’s posts and determine what lessons for serenity you hope to learn in the coming season of Advent.

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Sunday, September 8, 2013

imagesCAUA46DLProverbs 2

The Blessings of Wisdom

For the last two weeks we have spent time with the opening chapters of Proverbs reflecting on the nature and blessings of Wisdom.  What does she look like?  Where do we find her?  How do we discern true Wisdom from false?  And what can be gained by sitting at Wisdom’s knee?  The answers to these questions are outlined in Chapter 2 . . . and they are well worth sorting out and sharing.

One of the qualities of Wisdom is that she is both seen and felt.  We turn our ear, incline our heart.  We must listen and empathize.  We must put aside old parameters and open ourselves to the suffering of others.  We put away pat answers and old prejudices.  We unbend our stiff necks.  We thaw our hardened hearts.

Another of the qualities of Wisdom is that she is a treasure more valuable than any imaginable and yet she is under our noses at all times.  She is elusive and yet as tactile as silver.  She is mysterious and yet as clear as daylight.  She brings the security of knowledge, understanding, counsel, rectitude, justice, honesty and discretion.  She saves us from darkness, perversity, crooked paths and those who commit evil.

The meaning of these verses is clear.  Those who succumb to the adulteress are lured away by smooth words.  Those who look for easy relationships with no thought of commitment and no promise of constancy sink down to death.  Closed self-importance and disdain for the pain of others.  Self-reliance and a willful disregard for the vulnerable.  These are the tendrils of unwise thinking that draw us into the crooked paths of the wicked.

Listening and opening ourselves to the suffering of others.  Reliance on God and a willingness to change direction when called by God.  By these paths will we find Wisdom.  We may come upon her abruptly, or we may see her first from afar and struggle to reach her; but no matter the way our path will be made straight.  Those who seek Wisdom are protected by God and by Wisdom herself.   Of this we are assured.

The choice laid before us could not be more stark or more important: we may be cut off from the land and rooted out . . . or we may dwell in the land and remain in it.  These are the blessings of Wisdom. They are many, transforming and vital.  Let us turn the ear, let us incline the heart, and let us call out to Wisdom and seek her like silver.   This is all the security we will ever need.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

two-paths[2]Deuteronomy 30:15-20

The Choice before Us: A Prayer with Psalm 1

Israel has a choice to make. and each of us has this same choice.

Every morning when we wake and rise we greet the day and the Lord with evidence of our choice.  As we dress, as we eat, as we prepare to go into the world.  Every action we take is a sign to God of what he means to us.

As we go to school or enter work places, as we unlock doors and prepare for the day, we are an expression of God’s love for humanity and creation.

As we interact with colleagues and students we tell God what we think of our relationship with God and others.

As we write and administer assessments, evaluate work – that of others and our own – we use the measuring stick with which we will be measured.

As we end our work day to move back into our homes, we see God in the way we live, the people and things which have import for us.

As we bend on our knees or sit in our chair, or lie on our bed to recall the day, we see what treasure we have stored up in heaven to return to God.

We each have choices to make.  As Psalm 1 tells us, we are a forest of trees planted along the bank of the river that flows to the New Jerusalem.  We are to bear fruit many-fold according to our gifts.  We bear this fruit with great Hope.

Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Blessed is the one who follows not the counsel of the wicked nor walks in the way of sinners, nor sits in the company of the insolent, but delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on God’s law day and night.

Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Not so the wicked, not so; they are like the chaff which the wind drives away.  For the Lord watches over the way of the just, but the way of the wicked vanishes.

Blessed are they who hope in the Lord.

Dearest Lord, may we produce fruit in abundance for you in due season.  Not when we wish, but rather as best suits your plan for all of us . . . in your due season.  May we choose light when we rise, light as we go about our day, light as we tuck ourselves into hearth and home.  May we never stray from you, from your truth, from your Way.

Amen. 

To read the Robert Frost poem, The Path Not Taken that begins with the words: “Two paths diverged in a yellow wood”, go to: http://www.bartleby.com/119/1.html

Adapted from a reflection written on October 11, 2007.

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Betrayal


Tuesday, January 29, 2013 – John 13:21-30 – Betrayal

Caravaggio: Taking of Christ in the Garden

Caravaggio: Taking of Christ in the Garden

Often during our Noontimes we have explored the theme of infidelity and the effects it has upon our intimate relationships and our collective experience as a people of God.  We have spent time thinking about how an act of betrayal never has a single secret effect.  We have prayed for those who deceive and harm us.  We have pondered how to handle an act of betrayal when it slices through our lives.  Today we see God himself allow each of us to make a choice for freedom and life or slavery and death.  Judas has become a slave to an idea which leaves his soul open to darkness.  Jesus allows him to proceed along the path he has chosen: What you are going to do, do quickly.  Yesterday we reflected on Judas’ betrayal of Jesus.  Today we explore John 13 more closely.

Today’s citation comes from the portion of John’s Gospel often called The Book of Glory; Chapters 13 to 20 tell the story of the passion, death and transformation of Jesus.  Here he has just delivered his discourse on the relationship he has with the Father – one of deepest intimacy.  And he has just told his followers – his followers of that evening and his followers today – that the same intimacy is open to each of us, that God yearns to hold us and to possess us more than anything we can imagine from our human experience.  Yet this citation begins with: Jesus was deeply troubled . . .

Able to read our inmost thoughts, Jesus understands that Judas is disappointed, disgruntled, and about to act on his envy and anger.  Judas Iscariot, despite so much time spent with the Master, is unable to enter into this intimacy offered.  And so he strikes at that which he cannot experience.

Jesus dipped a morsel and handed it to Judas . . . extending an ultimate invitation . . . knowing that it and he will be rejected; for after Judas took the morsel . . . Satan entered him. 

Who and what are Satan?  I believe that this force of negativity cleverly appeals to the narcissistic child in each of us; and I believe that it is present always.  Only through our fidelity to God and the light . . . do we evade that which relishes the night.  The risen Christ offers this invitation to unity constantly.  How do we respond?

Jesus shares a last meal with a man who believes that he operates in secret and who has likely convinced himself that his actions are for some greater good.  Judas’ actions will set a course of events into motion which cannot be recalled.  The calculus has been set much earlier than this through a series of moments of discontent, of wounded pride, of self-importance.  Judas resists the call to goodness and falls to the darkness.

So he took the morsel and left at once.  And it was night.

In an understatement of fact, the writer John tells us all we need to know about betrayal and the evil on which it feeds.  Envy, wilfulness, desire for control of self and others, attendance to our own needs at the expense of others . . . these are signs that lead only to darkness.  And it was night.  Goodness, mercy, kindness, gentleness, prudence, courage, openness, perseverance . . . these are the signs that lead to light and life.

Heavenly Father, keep us always open to Christ, your Word among us.  Count us among your faithful.  Create in us a spirit that will always recognize you and welcome you . . . even in the most surprising places and unexpected people. 

Today we receive you; we receive your word.  Keep us ever mindful of your love for us.  Call us always to the light that is you.  Amen.

Written on January 27, 2009.  Re-written and posted today as a Favorite. 

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