Friday, January 27, 2012

Keeping my Word

Today's old testament reading is the infamous story of David and Bathsheba. As I read this particular story I could hear my two-year-old's words echoing in my head: "What it means, Mama?  What it means?"

This particular story seems to be about moral decadence, but there is more to the story than that.  It is more than the achetypal story of power going to one's head. It is a tale of what happens when one fails to keep his word.

King David was, by all accounts, a man of God.  As such, he had no doubt made certain commitments and promises to God, both explicit and implicit.  In this story of his encounter with Bathsheba, we see him turn his back on these commitments over and over. In choice after choice -- many of which were no doubt unconcious -- he departs from his religious identity.

It's a powerful story because it really is that simple in my life too.  It begins with what seems like an innocuous choice; in his case, staying home to take a nap instead of being in battle.  I am making an assumption here -- a big one, I realize -- but clearly he wasn't sick.  I am guessing that the King on that particular day decided to take the afternoon off, and I am guessing that in so doing, he broke his word to himself.  And once he did, breaking his word to God was a little easier.  That one, little, insignificant moral let-down opened the door to a series of moral compromises that ended in homicide.  It's pretty shocking.

All of this got me thinking about yesterday.  Yesterday, I broke my nap-time commitment to myself.  My commitment is that during naptime, I will either actually take a nap if I need it (rarely), or I will use my sitting down time to good purpose; study my anatomy book, pay bills, blog, etc.  Instead, I procrastinated by watching TV and browsing Pinterest.  God kept trying to wake me up; he sent me three little imps who refused to be quiet or stay on their beds, 4 phone calls, and two ringing doorbells.  But I stubbornly held on to my laziness and refused to keep my word to myself.  As a result, I had an unhappy evening.  I was "on my case," I was tired and depressed.  It was so not worth it. 

Fortunately my evening didn't degrade to the point that David's did.  We kind of love to look down our noses at the King, don't we?  However, I've known more than one person who had affairs and they all began with one simple, insignifcant, seemingly innocuous decison. 

I have countless opportunities every day to keep my word (both to myself and God), to put my best foot forward, to stand taller.  Food for thought.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The Sunday "Obligation"

I know a lot of people who consider themselves "Christian" but don't go to or "believe in" church or organized religion.  I find this troubling.

I was raised Protestant, but we went to church every week.  We did not have a holy obligation as I do now, but we were there every week, not just for major holidays.  My family of course goes to Mass each week.  There is always a bit of grumbling from one or both of the teens, but we go.

A French friend of mine recently pointed out (proudly) that the French people are now largely non-religious. They are very proud of their tradition of secularism.  It is sobering to think that a once Catholic country is now a country of non-believers.  While about half the country still considers itself Catholic, only 4% attend Mass regularly.  Compare that with the 5 to 10% who are Muslim and a trend seems clear. With half a million inhabitants of France now professing to be Muslim, I think they will eventually become a Muslim country.  A lack of religion or belief leaves a void that will eventually be filled by belief in someone or some practice.

Many years ago I worked at a Methodist church and we had a great preacher as pastor, Dr. William H. Hinson.  I worked in children's ministry so, although childless, I paid great attention to his sermons about families and child rearing.  On one Sunday I vividly recall him saying, "Folks tell me that they don't bring their kids to church because they want them to have a choice.  I am telling you that if you do not bring them to church, you are depriving  them of that choice.  They cannot choose between God and 'the world" because they don't know God!  They only have the world.  They have the world 7 days a week.  Perhaps you can give back 2 hours of that to God and give them a chance to know God.  Only then will they truly have a choice."

Dr. Hinson has been on the other side for many years now, but his words still ring in my ears.  The other day I was thinking of a particular friend with children and wondering if now that the kids have arrived, if they go to church.  I am going to ask them about it, because I know they consider themselves to be Christian.  They consider themselves such because, like me, they grew up going to church.  The next generation will not be Christians if their parents don't take them to church, just as they won't be Catholic if they don't go to Mass.  How can they be something that they know nothing about?

All of this converged for me today.  This week as we listened to the story of God calling Samuel, I thought about how God calls us each, but sometimes we need our "Eli" to point the way.  I remembered that video reflection from Epiphany Sunday to which I referred recently the one about how our guiding stars are "just for us."  Then yesterday, I read about Samuel pointing out to King Saul the error of his ways.  I wondered if I am to be that star to my friends; or perhaps I am to play the role of Eli or the unenviable role of Samuel.

I am praying for  direction and boldness of heart to talk to my "no church" friends about these realizations.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Conversion Part 3

Today in Mass we will celebrate the feast of the Epiphany.  I started celebrating on the traditional day of Ephiphany, January 6.  We made a King's Cake, and before we enjoyed it, we moved our kings back to our nativity sets.  I couldn't wait for today!

I love Epiphany because I have had a few epiphanies of my own over the years.  One such epiphany came in the midst of volunteering (being on team) for a Walk to Emmaus.  Walk to Emmaus is an ecumenical form of Cursillo.  In our area, the "Walks" were held in a local Cursillo center, which had formerly been a small convent house.  It had a small, simple chapel with a very large crucifix.

Although I was close to two Catholic families growing up, I had not spent that much time in front of a crucifix.  I have noticed that Catholic children are not bothered by the image of the crucifix, but not having grown up with it, it was an uncomfortable image for me.  Prostetants place a lot of emphasis on the empty tomb and that tomb is symbolized by the empty cross.  Crucifix's were not a part of my world.

As team members, we were encouraged to spend time alone in the chapel in prayer.  One late night, something overcame me in that time of prayer.  I did not hear a loud voice or see a choir of angels.  It was nothing like what I'd read about in books.  Yet suddenly and quite discernibly, a sense of profound peace came over me as I sat gazing at that crucifix.  Suddenly, it became so deeply beautiful to me.  In fact, instead of seeing the crucifixion as something that had to be endured to get to the empty tomb, I saw the true sacrifice and importance of the cross.  I saw that figure, then, as the slain lamb, the atonement for every sin of my life, past and present. It was dazzling yet still utterly keenly sincere; it was all-embracing.  (I am finding it quite challenging to describe as I have never spoken of it before.)  I found myself prostrate at the bottom of the altar steps though I do not remember thinking to move there.  I stayed there through the night, alternately praying and dozing, unwilling to move.  I was vaguely aware of others moving in and out of the chapel during the night, but no one disturbed me.  When the light of dawn began to beam through the windows, I reluctantly removed myself from the chapel, forever changed.

It was one of many epiphanies I would have in my life and one of the most profound, as well.  I have not thought of that event in some time, but was reminded of it when listening to the video reflection for today, Janary 8.  As the speaker in that reflection suggests, many times in my life God has sent me my own personal messenger, even once in the form of star.  This time it was in the form of the crucified Lord and it was a definite turning point for me.

More to come . . . happy Epiphany Sunday!`

Part One of my story
Part Two  - Midnight Mass
Part Four - Seeker
Part Five - Signs and Wonders
Part Six - Annulment
Part Seven - Taking it on Faith

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Beloved, we are God's children now;
what we shall be has not yet been revealed.  (1 John 3:2)

I find such hope in this passage from today's readings; I'm grateful there is more and that I am still evolving into the follower I want to be.  I'm grateful this isn't "the best" I have to offer.  There is still hope for me!

People are often surprised when I tell them that hopefulness is part of what attracted me to Catholicism.  There is so much hope in the sacrifice of the mass;  each time I say the words, “Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed,” I become that Centurian from the New Testament;  I know I am not worthy and yet I have great hope.  Jesus entering "under my roof" is the very embodiment of hope. I want that hope every day. 

Some time ago, there was shirt for kids that read, "Be patient with me, God is not finished with me yet!"  The same could certainly be said for me.  As I prepare for the feast of Epiphany, I am thinking about how God is being made manifest in my life.  What will my gift be to the newborn king in this new year? 

Happy 10th day of Christmas!