Recently second-graders made First Reconciliation. When Father raised his hand in absolution above a boy’s head, the boy raised his hand and gave Father a high-five. Although amusing, it made sense that the ritual of receiving God’s forgiveness deserves a high-five.
My aunt’s funeral landed on Friday the 13th. It was funny that no one in my huge relationship even mentioned the inauspicious timing. The perfect temperature and sun may have been part of the reason. And no one could have wished a better life for this 95-year woman who was always out and about and difficult to find in her assisted living apartment. She was a gift, and her family was grateful for the great gift that God had bestowed in letting us be part of her relationship. Being her niece made Friday the 13th my lucky day.
Has there been even one evening over the past few weeks that we watched the evening news without sorrow and empathy for the suffering of thousands throughout the world? Devastating natural disasters and violence make us feel helpless.
Walter Brueggemann writes in The Bible Makes Sense: “The Godness of God does not consist in his sovereignty but in his obedient suffering for the sake of the world.” This view of God makes us look thoughtfully at ourselves as made in God’s image. Since God made himself vulnerable, we are called to make ourselves vulnerable. Since God in Jesus gave up his power, we are called to do the same in an emptying of ourselves like that of the self-emptying of Jesus. Then we can be filled with the power to suffer in solidarity with others. We have had so many opportunities to suffer with others—the thousands suffering from hurricanes, floods, fires, violence, war, homelessness. We have probably helped through prayer and almsgiving. We have shared the God-ness of God.
For a moment, think of Life—God’s Life–flowing through every vein and in every artery, and between every synapse. Breathe joy into every cell. Did you know that you can reduce carotid artery build up by saying “Joy is flowing through every cell”?
It has been said that if you made it a rule that wherever you are, whenever you can, you try to act a little kinder than is necessary, the world really would be a better place. And if you do this, if you act just a little kinder than is necessary, someone else, somewhere, someday, may recognize in you the face of God.
Madame Guyon (French, 1648-1717) writes in her poem “Live to Love” that “Our days are numbered, let us spare/Our anxious hearts a needless care,–/’tis Thine to number out our days,/ Ours to give them to thy praise.” With the coming of November the Church turns our thoughts to those who have gone before us. The calendar turns our thoughts to veterans, living and deceased. The landscape looks barren, death-like. And those in middle-age are prone to look to their own demise and wonder When?
Guyon continues “Love is our only business here,/Love, simple, constant and sincere,/ Oh blessed days Thy servants see,/ Spent O Lord, in pleasing Thee!” November is also a time of thanksgiving. For each day let us give thanks and spend the twenty-four hours in pleasing God.
When I get to heaven, I’m going to ask Mary about the infancy, childhood, and young adulthood of Jesus. Probably Mary has already told the story millions of times to those entering the celestial heights. Yet I can’t imagine she’d tire of telling the story by the time I get there. Moms seem to relish opportunities to talk about their children. What were Jesus’ first words? Amma? Abba? When did he take his first steps? What were some of the cute things he did? Tell me about his schooling and his early efforts in the carpenter shop. Just what was it like to be the “Holy Family”? If only archeologists could find Jesus’ baby book!
When I give talks on prayer I ask the audience to call out the things that fill their day. Depending upon whether the audience consists of adults or students, answers may include work, study, meals, sleep, homework, sports, piano practice, and so on. As they call out each item, I throw a piece of dry sponge into a glass. When the glass is full, I observe, “There’s hardly room for anything else. So when can we pray?” Then I pour water into the glass. Yes, there’s room for prayer. And the water makes the sponge soft and pliable. The “water” of prayer can easily surround the busyness of our day. George Herbert said it well in his poem “Prayer (II)”: “Of what an easy quick access,/My blessed Lord, art thou! How suddenly/ May our requests thine ear invade!”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning in her poem “Substitution” pens that there are times when nothing meaningful can fill the silence. It is then that she begs in her last line: “Speak THOU, availing Christ!—and fill this pause.” We’ve all had times of boredom, emptiness, a feeling of meaninglessness or hopelessness. We might look for something to excite us or fill us or at least give us something to look forward to. Some thing might be a bit helpful momentarily. What our hearts really need and want is God to caulk our holes. So call out “Speak THOU, availing Christ—and fill this pause.”
Lectio divina refers to meditative reading on the Scriptures. Sarah Arthur speaks of lectio sacra or holy reading. Good literature, not only the Bible, presents itself as a source of communion with the Divine. Arthur describes it thus: “Here at the still point, in the nook at the top of the stairs, the Holy Spirit hovers, waiting, waiting for the sound of the turning page.” I am very grateful to the editors and writers of spiritual, liturgical, and ecclesiological publications. I read America cover to cover. Worship magazine presents challenging information, but the magazine is taken in small bites. Articles like ”Thyranoixia and Hajmah: A Study of Polyvalence in Antiochian-Usage Byzantine Liturgical Ritual” can wait another month or three. Many of us religious sisters read The Occasional Papers published by the Leadership Conference of Women Religious. I relax each evening before bedtime with a novel. Fiction can also be lectio sacra. The novel’s characters give insight into humanity. And, after all, isn’t that what Christianity is all about—Jesus Christ coming among us to teach us how to be human?