Traveling the Terrain…

Yesterday, the snow was falling and the roads were slippery on the ride home. Given the conditions outside, it was natural to slow down, happening almost automatically and without much thought. Proceeding with caution and at a slower rate of travel made it much easier to navigate and to be aware and to respond appropriately to icy spots along the way, even those that were hidden and caked over with snow.

Throughout life and the various paths as we journey, there are the things that we may see as well as the things that seem to come out of nowhere. At times, we can be left questioning, “How did I get here?” “Was this avoidable?” … “Was there something I did or did not do?” So often, one may never know the answers to such questions. Even when we do though, we are still in the place in which we are.

It is written of John the Baptist that he was, “A voice of one crying out in the desert: Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths” (Mark 1:3). Surely, his journey included roads with slippery spots… even in the desert. As human beings, we never really know exactly where the curve in the road, or the tricky terrain, will be until we come upon it. However, perhaps the best way to manage whatever that territory may be is to slow down and to remember that in the dark of night, our eyes with the help of the smallest ray of light are able to seek and find the way. Just the same, when we persevere in faith, strive to be faithful, and trust in the Lord, we are guided to life, even in conditions, and at times, that may seem to be the worst.

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A Better Deal…

Even during the darkest nights of the year, or in our lives, there are so many stars in the sky and so many bright spots for us to see each day. Among them, and always there, is the Star that came before all others and leads the way, only to be missed so often. Jesus said, “Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come.” (Mark 13:33).

The time is now. It has always been now. Jesus was in front of the disciples when he spoke the above words to them. Jesus, “God with us,” is always present. Oftentimes when we cannot see, we may ask, “Where are you, Lord?” Imagine if we actually heard the response, “I’m right here. Where are you?”

During such a busy time of year, advertisements abound at a level 2… 3… 4 times or more than the typical volume. We are beckoned, in so many ways, toward discounts often referred to as amazing deals. In the mix, it can be easy to move away from the best deal ever. One that is available no matter who you are or where you are — Salvation.

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Mirror, Mirror…

When I was a young child, I first heard the Hans Christian Andersen story, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” As the fairy tale was read aloud, I remember listening with great interest and a desire to know what was going to happen. I wondered how so many people could ignore what they saw for themselves.

The people knew that there were no “new” clothes, yet they were afraid to speak the truth, and so they lied when asked their opinion, pretending to marvel at the “brilliant” clothes created by two conmen. This charade continued and was embraced by nearly everyone until a child spoke the truth aloud.

It is clear from the story that the people recognized that there were no clothes to see, but the men “making” the clothes had preyed on the emperor’s weakness, a penchant for fine clothing. Once they caught his attention, they also promised something that the emperor did not possess, but wanted—knowledge of who was fit for their position and who was not.

The emperor fell for the scam, and because he did, his people, out of fear, went along with it too. After a child states the truth, the emperor continues to carry on as if he is wearing the most fabulous clothing as he walks down the street, when in fact he is wearing no clothing. The reader also learns that the emperor does this despite fearing that the child and those who have joined with him are correct. The emperor clings to pretense.

Looking back at the story, the conmen presented themselves as skilled weavers, using what they witnessed to take advantage of the emperor and his subjects. They did not come to town in the name of anything resembling goodness. The emperor presented himself as someone who was wise and “better than.” He used his wealth and appearance to try to impress as well as using what he thought was the skill of others to try to uphold this image. No one under the king wanted to be viewed as unfit so they presented themselves as seeing what was not present—the emperor’s clothes. Then there is the child, the one who presents her/himself with no pretenses, giving voice to the truth.

During this time of year when there is much talk and effort around presents, perhaps a question(s) worth asking is, “How do I present myself? And what is operating behind it?”

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. – Mark 11:9

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At the Center…

While two out of the three servants made something of the talents (ancient monetary units) given to them by their master, “the man who received one (talent) went off and dug a hole in the ground and buried his master’s money” (Matthew 25:18).  In the verses that follow in this Gospel passage, we learn the reason behind the servant’s choice. It was fear that essentially paralyzed him. It prevented him from putting to use the talent he was given, leading him to make what ended up being a poor choice… one that did not bear any fruit.

Isn’t that fear in a nutshell? It seeks to restrict or incapacitate one’s ability to see the broader picture and to make the better choice. It seeks to pull us away and distract us from the action that is true and honorable… the action that is best. Not only that, but fear has a way of trying to creep back into the picture, trying to make us lose focus, become discouraged or question what has already been decided.

So what is one to do to guard against any fear that seeks to unravel us? Perhaps the greatest thing we can do is to stop in our tracks and remember. We have been given many powerful gifts with which to walk the path that is ours from beginning to end. God is not only on our side, but also with us, every step of the way. Fear, on the other hand, is the thief in the night seeking to knock us off kilter and to make us forget the truth.

Like the servants in “The Parable of the Talents,” in life we get to choose what we hold on to and what we do with the lot that is ours at any given time. When we allow fear to grab hold of us, we are sure to fall, but when we cling to God, and allow God to be at the center, then not even death can bring us down.

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Staying Up Late vs. Staying Awake…

The first time my children asked if they could stay up until midnight, I remember my husband and me saying, “Okay,” thinking that it was highly probable they would fall asleep well before midnight, which was a good deal beyond their usual bedtime. However, as midnight approached, to our surprise, they were wide-awake and charged full of energy. It was not because of a late afternoon/early evening nap or anything else we would have thought of, but rather it was all due to a Wii racing game.

To our children, staying awake far beyond their nightly bedtime and reaching new levels of Wii greatness was exciting and a great feat accomplished. To us, it was an interesting lesson on the power of Wii—a new addition to the “things that can rev us up when we really need to be winding down” category.

Thinking back on that night, as I recollect it—much more fondly these days—I am reminded how at every stage of life there are many things that can cause us to become revved up, distracted and/or pulled away from perhaps recognizing and responding to the better choice among the possible options.

Oftentimes it can seem as though there is so much to do and so little time in which to get it done. There can be pressure to keep pushing and plugging away, rather than pausing, if only briefly, and reassessing the direction in which one may be travelling. Coming to a complete halt can also be unthinkable… unspeakable, but it can also be life altering for the better, even when it may seem to be for the worse.

Like so much in life, the view depends on from where it is taken in… from where one is standing, and the posture in which it is received.

“Every life needs a hopeful spiritual discipline that recognizes the presence and action of God at all times.” – Jerome Kodell, OSB

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By the Light…

The sky was beautiful and peaceful. It was a pleasant sight at the end of a long day. At a time when one might expect the darkness of night to overtake the day, the moon was big and bright, casting light upon the clouds as they moved across the sky.

Sometimes it can be easy to forget how beautiful the night time can be. Among the vast darkness, there is quiet to be found, and, on a crisp, cool, clear night, there is also natural light from high above. One needs only to pause, and then look up and around to experience awe, inspiration, hope, peace, reassurance, or whatever grace may be most needed at that moment.

There is much that can happen throughout life that may seek to cast a shadow over us, to cause one’s head to drop and heart to sink, or one’s gaze to move downward toward the ground. There is so much that can seek to close our hearts to the goodness that awaits us despite the circumstances or predicaments that may exist around or within us.

Then there is the sky… calling us to remember that we are not alone… that nothing is too heavy… there is Light to be experienced by both the day and the night.

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Life Interrupted…

Earlier in the week, I was running late on the way to an appointment. I was feeling pressured as well as surprised by the amount of traffic on the local roads. As I drove, I could not help but think that if only there had been one less interruption earlier in the day I would not be in this position. However, the fact of the matter was that there had not been, and I was on the brink of being late… something I prefer not to be. As I arrived at my destination and put the car into park, I looked up to see a beautiful tree across the street; somewhat interrupted by power lines and signs, but still a pleasant sight.

Trying as it may be, isn’t that the way life is at times? Interrupted or laden with interference. It is like tuning the radio to a high definition station that is playing a favorite song only to have the signal repeatedly cut out as you drive along. Or possibly stronger, like losing a Wi-Fi connection in the middle of transferring a file. Yet, maybe even more impactful, like losing power altogether.

We all experience unplanned and unexpected interruptions or times when we may set out on one path only to end up on another. Times when we simply cannot get “from here to there” in the allotted time, or at all. So what is the point of all this interference? Perhaps it is to resist letting the perspective that whatever I may have been held back from was more important, or to always seek to remember the sacredness of moments spent with, or on behalf of, another. Still, more than anything, perhaps the point is to recognize it for what it is—more often than not, a gift—to see the beauty in each moment, even those that are interrupted or unexpected, and to ask for the grace to receive it with joy.

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