Monday, February 27, 2012

A Useful and Educationational Sacrifice

Today these words from the first reading struck me: 

You shall not go about spreading slander among your kin;
nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor's life is at stake.
I am the LORD.

"You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart.
Though you may have to reprove him,
do not incur sin because of him.
Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen.
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
I am the LORD."

Leviticus 19: 16-18
Have you ever noticed how just when you need it most, God sends you a little reminder, a little peck on the shoulder, a whisper in the ear? 

As a family, we gave up criticism for Lent.  It was a last minute, off-the-cuff addition to my own Lenten plans and it took a bit of enrolling to bring the big people aboard.

It is harder than you would think!  The four oldest of our clan have a tendency to be a bit mocking. Not of each other, necessarily, but of strangers, people in news stories, or  even ideas.  Oh, that makes us sound terrible, doesn't it?

It is terrible, in a way.  It sneaks in, that judgment, as a little bit of wit meant to amuse another, and it slowly corrodes, like a sprinkle of salt in the silver box, unnoticed and unchecked. It's like some of the critters who make their way into my garage in the night; they slip in under the door, make their mischief, then depart undetected but leave behind an abiding, unmistakable and intolerable stench. 

I suggested the sacrifice because I know my "inner judge" is all too ready and willing to render an unbidden verdict.  I am appalled by how many times I have to check my tongue and how often my mind flies to critique as if my own faults are negligible or non-existent. How untrue that last is and how alluring, the terrible temptation to use criticism as a foil for my own flaws.

I am not suggesting (as my girls originally feared) that we never poke fun at one another or that we become overly protective of ourselves, quite the opposite.  Instead we have committed to take responsibility for noticing that critical bent in ourselves, examining our motives and then seeing if clear feedback -- absent the judgement -- might be offered instead.  It's quite different, isn't it, from Thumper's mother's terse but pointed advice, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all?"  Our goal is to be alongside each other on the way, shoulder to shoulder, without taking on the role of judge and jury.

I am so grateful for my daughters and my dear hubby who have agreed to travel this road with me for Lent.  It may prove to be my most educational and useful sacrifice yet!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lenten Flow Chart

Funny but serious but funny.  I don't know.  Is it funny?  Is it serious?  Judge for yourself.

Lenten Resolution Flow Chart

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday.  I love this day.  It's like New Years, only a million times better.  I am a maker of resolutions, for sure, but Ash Wednesday signals a different kind of fresh start.  Instead of making resolutions, we make sacrifices.  Whereas New Years is all about "I," Lent is all about "Thou."  That speaks to me somehow.

There is something in we humans that longs to be tested and stretched. There is a longing inside of me to know the breadth of my willingness; power is borne in letting go of control.  In as much as I tend toward rebellion, I am attracted by submission, too.  There is an easing of my spirit in knowing  -- in deeply knowing --  that I do not have the burden of authority.  For the forty days of Lent I can surrender that grave office, that responsibility, that weight to God.  It always belongs to God, of course, but slowly over the 320-something days between Easter and the next Lent, I begin to pull it back.  The insidious and corrosive belief that it is somehow all up to me starts sneaking in, like wisps of smoke creeping in under the door.  The illusion of control is a silent and seemingly innocuous imposter that creeps ever nearer, unnoticed and unchecked.

Lent is the opportunity to surrender, but more, to abdicate.  The throne is not mine.  I am but an imposter here -- a poseur -- and the weight of the crown is far too great. 

And there is more.  Through this Lenten sacrifice, through the righting and restoration, there is a breach in our amour and an opening for the miraculous.  On Sunday, Father Jonathan beseeched us to remember that miracles are still possible and to ask and pray for such a miracle.  "Do not give up," he said, "God is not done with us."

I had briefly forgotten this.  Lent is, surely, about the way of the cross, and walking that way in willingness, barefooted and naked.  But Lent is also an opportunity for conversion in its deepest sense, for metamorphism and for miracles.

What are we waiting for?

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Being a Seeker - Conversion, Part 4

Today's scripture readings are about how the faith  Solomon and an unnamed Greek woman affected their children.  Solomon's faith affected his son because he began showing an interest in the false idols of his foreign wives' religions.  The Lord did not take the kingdom from Solomon because He had made a promise to Solomon's holy father, King David.  Instead, these measures were applied to Solomon's offspring.  Conversely, the Greek woman had such faith in the ability of Jesus to heal her daughter that the very proclamation of that faith inspired her healing.  Jesus says, "For saying this, you may go.  The demon has gone out of your daughter (Mark 7:29).   It's an interesting "God-incidence" that today's reading should be about the faith of parents since I am in the middle of a 10-day focus on my family. 

I think my protestant parents would be surprised to learn how much a hand they had in my conversion to Catholicism.  When I look back on how I was raised, my choosing this particular path of faith had a certain inevitability. 

When I was very young, only my mother went to church but she went regularly and took us children with her.  By the time I was in 2nd grade, we'd moved to a new neighborhood and only 3 blocks from where they were building a new United Methodist church.  At that time, my Dad began attending church with us.  Though Methodists do not have a "Sunday obligation," they took us to church every week.  I do not remember either of them ever complaining that they did not want to go.  I remember my dad being a seeker.  He read a great many books on Christianity and faith; he had many conversations with the young and faithful pastor of that congregation. That pastor baptized my dad and brother (then probably about 5 years old).   Their joy in their faith was always apparent to us.  You see, neither of my parents grew up going to church; they were raising themselves in their faith as they were raising us.

My dad is a physicist and I think it's fair to say that being such means his bent is about 1/3 mathematician, 1/3 engineer and 1/3 scientist.  He is a lifelong student and he looks for evidence.  He and my mother are both avid readers and our house was always full of books.  The one way in which we were "spoiled" as children was that my parents always bought us all the books we wanted, and it worked.  All four of us love to read.

This seeking, this curiosity, this search for truth affected me profoundly.  In my long career as a United Methodist, I never stopped seeking.  My particular search was what I would call a seeking out of the "true church."  I was always looking for the method of living out my faith that would bring me closest to what Jesus intended.  I wanted that experience of being around the table with Jesus --an experience of true discipleship -- and that seeking was borne out in me growing up as I did.

As I read these passages about Solomon and the Greek woman, it reminded me how seriously we who are parents must take our responsibility to rear our children in the faith of our family.  We have a responsibility not only to teach them to seek the truth for themselves, but also to be faithful disciples ourselves. Our joy  (or lack thereof) in our faith sets the stage for our children will feel about the Church. The ways in which we live out or faith -- or don't -- has an impact far beyond the span of our years.

As start a cold and gloomy February day, I see my focus brightening.  Today we will make some more preparations for St. Valentine's day, but I will also be telling my kids about faithful St. Jerome Emiliani, the patron saint of orphans, an important saint in a household of 5 adopted children.  Today, I will strive to let the joy of my faith shine out as an example to my kids and be sure that I am more "Greek woman" than Solomon.  And there you have it!

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

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Thoughts on Prayer

Not too long ago, I read a book -- a work of fiction -- that was about life at the turn of the 20th century.  Near the end of the book, the protagonist's grandfather quite unexpectedly sounded forth about the passage in the gospels where Jesus said, "whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you." This grandfather's perception of this passage is a profound one;  he said, in essence, that Jesus did not mean physical things, like riches, or even a roof over our head, or healing of a sick friend but that he meant spiritual gifts, like forbearance, or wisdom.  I do not know the theological solidity of this point of view, but it is one that sits well with me.

I was reminded of this last week when I read about the young Solomon's petition. It strikes me that he does not ask for anything at all tangible -- not even healing of a sick friend or relative -- but he asks for a "listening heart" to help him guide God's people.  What a simple and humble request this is, and yet it could change everything.

What if the grandfather is correct?  What if instead of asking for the things I think will improve the world, like rain or even healing for a friend, what if I focus my prayer life on asking for the strengthening of spiritual gifts?   I was thinking of the spiritual gifts I taught the girls in second grade:  Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and fear of the Lord.  Every one of those gifts could use fertilizing in me.

I wonder what kind of difference I could make in the world if I concentrated my efforts on these things?   It's worth finding out!