It is not fair…thank God!

At times, it can be easy to be lured into a false sense of security….enticed to be surface-centered…tricked into thinking that value and uniqueness lay in external things rather than in substance and being. Almost constantly challenged and urged to move faster, to be first, to be best, always to be and do more. We are surrounded by rapid change and quick-fire solutions many of which make things different, but not necessarily better.

In the midst of all the flux though, certain truths remain the same. For starters, life is not fair. We can try to understand, but we never really know all the reasons why things work out the way they do. Most often, though, there are hidden or unexpected gifts in the things that do not go as hoped for or planned.

Around the time of my college graduation, I was not sure what I wanted to do. I had no job lined up. I planned to take the summer off. In the weeks that followed graduation, almost every day I would go for a run. One day as I was jogging I decided I was going to enter the Army. Soon after, I took a test and filled out paper work. I felt very strongly that being in the Army was for me and would be good for me. I felt so excited for what might lay ahead. I had a vision of all that could be…a path to follow. Then, I received a call notifying me that for a medical reason, I could not enter the Army. I felt extremely disappointed, and once again I had no idea what I was going to do.

A few months later, though, I got an entry level job at a company for which one of my brothers-in-law worked. I worked on the 9th floor with eyes toward being on the 10th floor or above. Those were the floors with more prestigious jobs.

There I was on the 9th floor with a number of other recent grads and people close to my age. As time progressed, there was a group of us who started to go to lunch together, and sometimes to happy hours on Friday nights. Wanting to be in the Army became a distant memory and was replaced with a new desire to rise to the top. I had a new path, or so I thought. Meanwhile, from within that lunch bunch and happy hour gang, I would gain a fantasy football team partner. One with whom I shared laughter and had lively discussions over the course of the football season and the months that followed. Little did I know, I had met my soulmate. I was not looking for one. It just happened, and when it did, I chose a new path.

When I think back to how it all unfolded, I feel amazed that it all started with life being unfair. Then I realize, more often than not, it ends up being glorious beyond compare.

“In the dark night of the soul, bright flows the river of God.” – St. John of the Cross

DaffodilCAK

 

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Connections; Key Along the Way…

ConnectionsTree

Ezekiel connected dem dry bones,
Ezekiel connected dem dry bones,
Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones,
Now hear the word of the Lord.

Toe bone connected to the foot bone
Foot bone connected to the heel bone
Heel bone connected to the ankle bone
Ankle bone connected to the shin bone
Shin bone connected to the knee bone
Knee bone connected to the thigh bone
Thigh bone connected to the hip bone
Hip bone connected to the back bone
Back bone connected to the shoulder bone
Shoulder bone connected to the neck bone
Neck bone connected to the head bone
Now hear the word of the Lord.

Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around.
Now hear the word of the Lord.

—“Dem Bones” by James Weldon Johnson

Connections are vital for all living things. Our connections to people, places, and things often have great impact on our decisions and choices as we journey through life. Sometimes this can be a good thing, leading us to greater union with the Divine. Other times it can be a bad thing, pulling us away or clouding our vision from that which would lead us closer to God.

Whether someone of great experience or someone just starting out on her or his spiritual journey, like Ezekiel, we can all find ourselves in a valley of dry bones. It can be within us or around us. No matter how advanced we are—or we might think we are—if we are being honest, none of us are immune.

What exactly are dry bones? To me, dry bones are bones that cease to be aware or to be open to experiencing or learning something new. Dry bones shut out and close down. But dry bones are not hopeless or beyond repair. The choice is theirs.

It is only through slowing down and taking a closer look that we are able discover which connections are helpful and healthy, which might require some work, and which ones may be faulty or have become blocked and are no longer life-giving. None of this is possible though, without the most important part, listening, and the most important connection, “Now hear the word of the Lord.”

Bones full of life, rooted and strengthened or renewed in God, remain hopeful, see possibility, and recognize importance in both the big and the small. Bones full of life know that no connection is wasted and that each one holds something sacred. “Dem bones, dem bones gonna walk around!”

*The above is adapted from a post that I wrote for Spiritual Directors International’s blog and that was published on April 20.

 

 

To the Earth…

The glory of God is constantly in our midst. It is there in so many ways. Sometimes we are aware of it and sometimes we are not. As Earth Day (April 22) approaches, look around in the days to come. Bathe in the splendor of the earth. No matter where you are or how busy you might be, take time, even if just a moment or two, to seek and embrace the beauty of creation. Let joy spring from within and wash over you as you receive the glory of God; a gift to each of us, God’s beloved.

In celebration and honor of Earth Day, thanks be to God.

1SwanLake

2SnowCoveredTreesAtSunset

3Sunrise

4RockWashing

5DaffodilClose

6CrookedBranchTree

7Clouds

8MoonRising

9SnowOnHollyBush

10NiagaraBridge

11NiagaraRainbow

12Fall

13BAliveTrees

13MountainCross

14WhiteMountains

15OceanShimmer

16Sunset

 

For the beauty of the earth,
for the glory of the skies,
for the love which from our birth
over and around us lies.

Christ, our Lord, to you we raise
this, our hymn of grateful praise.

For the wonder of each hour
of the day and of the night,
hill and vale and tree and flower,
sun and moon and stars of light,

Christ, our Lord, to you we raise
this, our hymn of grateful praise.

For the joy of human love,
brother, sister, parent, child,
friends on earth, and friends above,
for all gentle thoughts and mild,

Christ, our Lord, to you we raise
this, our hymn of grateful praise.

For yourself, best gift divine,
to the world so freely given,
agent of God’s grand design:
peace on earth and joy in heaven.

Written by Folliott Sandford Pierpoint

Feed…Tend…Feed…

It is interesting to look at what goes on around us today through the lens of what transpired long ago. In one of his appearances after the Resurrection, the third time he appears to his disciples, Jesus has an interaction with Peter that affectively provides a bridge for Peter from his 3 denials of knowing Jesus to him fully embracing his role as a leader. (John 21:1-19)

Jesus says to Peter three times, “Do you love me?” When Peter answers each time in the affirmative, Jesus responds, “Feed my lambs,” “Tend my sheep,” and “Feed my sheep” respectively.

Jesus says, “Feed my lambs,” not “count them.”

Everywhere we go, we are numbered. We are given an identification number at birth or at a young age, a driver’s license number, a student ID number, a medical record number, etc. Numbers are all around us. How much, though, do numbers interfere with our spiritual life? There is another scripture passage where Jesus says, “where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them (Matthew 18:20). It seems, as with most matters, quality or substance (“gathered in my name”) outweighs quantity. We can all probably point to an experience(s) in our lives where our heart was moved and our attention captured by what was going on more than the dollars or the ticker counts. We live in a world where it can be tempting, a lot of the time, to focus on numbers or quantity over substance. Yet, time and time again, we can see examples throughout history that show us that numbers without substance (authentic, engaging and varied), usually become a passing fad rather than everlasting. Jesus says, “Feed my lambs,” not “count them.”

Jesus says, “Tend my sheep,” not “corral them.”

How do I take care of that which I have been given? According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of the word “tend” is “to move, direct, or develop one’s course in a particular direction.” If we are to take the example of Jesus and the call to discipleship, to tend His sheep would be to move, lead, or develop them in the direction of God. This is not the same thing as “corralling” (to gather into a pen or enclosure for confinement or capturing). We are not called to all line-up, speak the same, look the same, act the same, and to be the same. To “tend” is to nurture and to allow room to grow into one’s true self. Tending can be accomplished in countless ways. I have only to look at my experiences tending and being tended to, to see that there is more than one way, time or place to “tend.” Jesus says, “Tend my sheep,” not “corral them.”

Jesus says, “Feed my sheep,” not “shear them.”

Jesus uses the word “feed” again, emphasizing the importance of “feeding” which is an act of providing…providing for the benefit, development, sustenance, and well-being of. There are many sheep in the fold and Jesus instructs Peter, a second time, to provide for them…not to take from them. As the shepherd feeds the sheep, guides them, and protects them, the sheep grow strong and healthy. Their wool grows thick and is plentiful. If the shepherd continually shears the sheep, neglecting to properly feed and tend them as well, the wool becomes thinner and thinner, until it is gone. Jesus says, “Feed my sheep,” not “shear them.”

LakeMassapoag2

“At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.” ― Mother Teresa

Without doubt, does seeing really lead to believing?

“I won’t believe it until I see it.” While society has taken the disciple Thomas and uses him as an example of what not to be like. One has to stop and think about the fact that the scripture passage in which Thomas says, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” reveals so much more than “don’t be a doubting Thomas.”

The disciples are locked away in the upper room, but Thomas isn’t with them when Jesus appears. This suggests that Thomas had to have some level of courage and faith to have left the safety of the upper room where they had all been hiding out of fear.

Also, given all of the circumstances, it seems reasonable that Thomas, or anyone in his shoes, would question or have a hard time believing that Jesus appeared. Scripture states that Jesus showed his hands and his side to the disciples who were there in the upper room. This is curious. The other disciples had the benefit of not only seeing Jesus, but also seeing proof that it was really Jesus. Thomas did not have either. Jesus showed the disciples his hands and his side without them asking for proof. In essence, they are no different than Thomas, they did not believe without seeing either.

I cannot help but wonder if this passage would even be in the Bible if Thomas was not honest about his doubt, and instead responded, “How wonderful!” when the disciples told him that Jesus appeared to them. Thomas’ honesty is striking. He did not hide his doubt, but instead he was truthful, he made himself vulnerable, and gave voice to it.

As a result, look at what happens. Jesus appears again, a week later, to the disciples, including Thomas. While Jesus speaks about believing without seeing, He is not mad at Thomas and doesn’t kick him out of the “posse” for his doubt. Instead, Jesus meets Thomas where he is and gives him what he needs to believe and to trust. Jesus reveals the truth directly to him. Had Thomas denied or hidden his doubt…had he not given voice to it, the outcome would have been much different. Thomas would not have shared the experience of the Risen Lord in the upper room.

So, does seeing really lead to believing? No, but experience does.

“The key to wisdom is this – constant and frequent questioning, for by doubting we are led to question and by questioning we arrive at the truth.” – Peter Abelard, philosopher and theologian

Doubting_Thomas_By_Guercino
Doubting Thomas by Guercino

On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the doors were locked, where the disciples were,
for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood in their midst
and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side.
The disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord.
Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you.
As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”
And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,
“Receive the Holy Spirit.
Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them,
and whose sins you retain are retained.”

Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve,
was not with them when Jesus came.
So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands
and put my finger into the nailmarks
and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

Now a week later his disciples were again inside
and Thomas was with them.
Jesus came, although the doors were locked,
and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands,
and bring your hand and put it into my side,
and do not be unbelieving, but believe.”
Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples
that are not written in this book.
But these are written that you may come to believe
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God,
and that through this belief you may have life in his name.

-John 20:19-31