Homestead Simplicity

There’s something appealing to the lifestyle of some who have made the choice to live here in Alaska. Even they would admit that the greatest deterrent is the winter weather that seems to drag on forever with nearly twenty hours of darkness. I can’t even begin to imagine what that’s like, on top of many feet of snow and temperatures that average well below zero throughout the winter. Yet, some have chosen to make it their livelihood, leaving the lower forty-eight behind for a more simple way of life.

We met some today who have made that choice. Prior to becoming a state, some made the choice to move here with the opportunity to make Alaska their home. Of course, many had no idea what they were getting themselves into, and yet, felt called to move to a much more vulnerable way of life here in Alaska, not necessarily knowing the inaccessibility that they would face on the frozen tundra. Many years later, they remain and now others make the same choice to live off the land or “off the grid” as it is known.

We met one such guy today, Levi, a twenty-eight year old native of Alaska who continues to live on one of the original homesteads, although, made the point that now you have to pay for such a property unlike when Alaska remained a territory. He continues to live without electricity or running water, hunts moose and bear to make it through the year, and grows many of his own vegetables for himself and some of his family. Ironically, we learned that you can even can chocolate cake! Although we questioned him on whether he ever thinks that maybe there is something better out there for him, a life that wouldn’t be so hard. He never went beyond the tenth grade and yet finds himself content. After driving nearly ten miles down the road he then gets out and has to walk about three miles to his place, his home.

It was fascinating to listen to him talk about his life and the amount he has learned by living off the land and knowing the cycles of life through that experience. We all kind of stood in awe listening to him, quite possibly, because deep down we know he’s right. We know that there is something simpler about life that we lose in the busyness of it all and the technology that has often stood as a wall between us and others and the natural world. Heck, he has to nearly climb a tree to get a cell phone signal, which he didn’t even want but was made to by his family so they knew he was alright being out there by himself.

There have been other times when I knew we were out of place as tourists visiting different sites and locations, but probably no more than here. We stick out like a sore thumb here and the lives we lead and live at least give the perception that we stand in conflict with something much simpler, much more grounded and connected, despite living in a state that’s practically closer to Russia than the lower forty-eight, that has harsher winters than any other part of the country, and doesn’t worry so much about trying to live up to the haves and have nots.

I don’t want to give the illusion that it’s a perfect world. They would tell you otherwise. It’s not a place for the faint of heart. It’s tough and grueling from late September until Spring. Most of us would not make such a choice in life. But as we wander through the streets of these small towns, it’s hard not to reflect upon on our lives and all that we have that quite frankly, isn’t even necessary. But we like to have our things and we think they somehow make us more connected and more important. Then you meet people like Levi and you are reminded that there are bigger things in life and deeper things in life that draw us to that simpler way of life, a life we can call home, our homestead in which we now dwell and that gives us life.

We can all learn a little from watching some people, knowing that their lives are not going to end but rather learn to adjust and adapt to whatever comes there way. They’ll admit, they don’t like change, and yet, it’s such a natural part of the cycle of their lives that it’s seethes from their very being. It was a good reminder today of just how much we have and often complain about in our very predictable and calculated lives and yet just how free we can be when we hear the call of the wild from within, calling us home, calling us to this more simple way of life.

Living Today with Tomorrow in Mind

Revelation 7: 2-4, 9-14;  1John 3: 1-3; Mt 5: 1-12a

The feasts that we celebrate at the beginning of November have always been somewhat of a struggle. We, of course, have All Saints Day today which always seemed like the feast of impossibility for normal folks like ourselves. Then tomorrow we have All Souls, which on the other end, seemed like the day for those who just didn’t quite have enough stamina to make it to being saints. In the end, we’ve created this winners and losers reality with us stuck somewhere in the middle of it all, working hard, hoping to be promoted to sainthood but knowing the odds are against us and will wind up heading to this place called purgatory with the less than stellar. Well, what a crappy way to live our lives! Heck, we’ve all known people who have died that we know have lived and become holy people! Maybe it shows just how much we’ve tried to reduce it to our own language and experience rather than allowing these realities to shape us in a different way, of a God who encompasses all, the great mystical body, with endless love and mercy. Somehow our language and are drivenness to prove our worthiness and working hard at it come up short every time. Quite frankly, we’re trying to understand and know something that is way beyond our comprehension but at the same time, can deepen our faith and trust in the Lord.

The feast, though, provides the opportunity to maybe look at things differently since no saint begins that path after their death. Rather, from the moment we are born and pass through to this life we begin this journey to holiness and wholeness that is given to all. The readings today give us some framework of that path and how we consistently work towards becoming holy and saintly in this life. Keeping in mind that much of what we hear in Scripture is written for those who need encouragement in the time of great distress. It’s not window dressing and then go about our business at it sometimes can be for us. Rather, these are individual and communities that were facing constant persecution for their faith and their belief in the radicalness of a God who took on human flesh. John, the writer of Revelation which we know of as being this great apocalyptic message, gives that message of hope today. “Who are these wearing white robes?” is the question asked today. The response, “The ones who have survived the time of great distress.” Rather than seeing it as the end time of the world, it can also be viewed as the end time of this moment and God’s love always being revealed before and within us. The time of great distress for those on the path of holiness comes in our own purification, purgation we can say, of a continuous passing through into the newness of life that comes with trusting God and a deepening faith in this radical God.

Jesus, of course, lays out the blueprint for living a saintly life today and beyond. As I said earlier, looking at life from a different perspective often helps us grow into holiness, and Jesus is notorious for turning us on our heads. Today, in the Beatitudes, it is no different. To become saintly people we often must be humbled in the same way, by allowing ourselves to be turned upside down and inside out. He continuously calls us back to the “bottom” to the place of those who have been deemed losers in order to become great in his way. The reality of the afterlife as we have known is mirrored in the path we are on if we allow ourselves to enter into it. By surrendering to this process of faith, we internalize this blueprint and begin to live our lives differently, free to choose the way of the Lord. That was the struggle for Matthew’s community because they lived differently than the world had wanted or expected. In turn, they challenge everyone to live differently and more in line with the way of Jesus. When we do, holiness abounds in God’s children, as John tells us, for that is who we are and continue to become, for like God, we are a mystery that continues to unfold, never fully understood or revealed.

From the lens of God’s love and mercy, we have no need to fear the unknown of our own lives or what lies beyond them. Jesus never says to simply kick back and wait it out and hope for the best. No, he reminds his disciples over and over again to seek the greater now in this life, despite any adversities that come your way. Look it square in the face and allow it to move you to a deeper place in the mystery of you and of God. I can never be any of those other saints; all I can be and continue to become is the man that God has created me to be. That’s the path to holiness and saintliness. The more we can surrender to the love and mercy of God to free us of the worldly attitudes the more it becomes are way of life. We pray today for the intercession of all who have gone before us and continue to show and light the way for us, encouraging us along the way, to become the best of who we are, children of God. Saintliness begins now for each of us by surrendering daily to this great mystery we call God, to be revealed in fullness in the life to come!

It’s Too Hard

Ephesians 5: 21-32; John 6: 60-69

I came across a book this week entitled Thieves in the Temple. The basic premise of the book is that religion in America has become bankrupt in many regards, it’s lost it’s purpose. The author cites that it’s become much more about entertainment, money, and membership, a more business model rather than the intended purpose of salvation of souls and the conversion of hearts and minds. Now he is speaking of a very large umbrella of the institution of church, beyond just Catholic, but has also at times. I thought of that as I was looking at this gospel that we hear today and how what it is that Jesus speaks of is too hard for the some of the disciples. We look for the easy way out, least amount expected of us, choosing sides, and so often fear-based over the life-giving faith that Jesus speaks of to the disciples. It’s too hard for them and often for us.

But think about what we’ve listened to the past few weeks in this Bread of Life discourse. We’ve heard this constant bickering and tension between Jesus and the Pharisees and in the middle of it all, listening to every word, are the disciples. They’re left with a choice and many choose to go back to what is known. I’ve thought about it, the Pharisees would have at least been perceived as the greater threat. They’ve already heard what they’ve thought about Jesus and the animosity towards him. If they’re being called to live such a radical life are they willing to face the same thing. Fear has a way of taking a strong hold on us and them in those situations. It was never that Jesus was even expecting them to give up what they held so closely, the law that they knew, but rather to fold it into something deeper, to reconcile these pieces of life that often become fragmented over the course of our lives. It’s hard work, living a life of faith and living wholly and holy in the way Christ calls. Even for Peter, despite his firm acclamation in today’s gospel, we know when the going gets tough at the end, he too is taken hold by fear and will have to be led to a place of reconciliation as well. It’s hard stuff when we commit ourselves to a life of faith; how easy it is at times to choose the easy way out…settling for entertainment, money, and simply filling the pews. That’s not faith and rather than blaming the world, sometimes we have we have to be willing to look at ourselves and see how we are contributing to the problem. If we’ve strayed from our purpose of conversion and the salvation of souls, not only does religion become bankrupt but so do we. We become divisive, violent, make politics into a religion. It’s hard but it’s the way to life.

Then there’s this second reading from Ephesians. Paul takes a lot of heat for it and quite honestly, there’s question whether he’s really the author of this letter to begin with! I did a little research to see what was going on culturally and in society at that time as to why he would write these words. At that time there was a struggle with differing understandings of marriage. There was, of course, still that sense that the woman becomes property of the man and Paul is trying to reconcile that with faith. Maybe most importantly is that at the end of the reading he too returns to the roots of who they are and speaks of the two becoming one from the Book of Genesis. It’s where Jesus tries to lead the disciples, although some split by differing values, to a place of oneness within themselves, a life of wholeness and holiness which only comes through a reconciliation of our “former way of life” to what it is that Christ calls us to; that’s how we become one but it’s also why this is so hard and why some choose not to proceed and accept the call. It’s easier to choose the lesser and be satisfied. I do wonder, though, that once the word has been planted, do any of them begin to feel something missing from their lives when they return to the former way? Will they go away restless for something more in life?

As we wrap up this jaunt through John’s sixth chapter, the Bread of Life discourse, we ask ourselves if it’s too hard for us. What kind of life are we looking to live? Can we be satisfied with anything less that the word that has and gives eternal life, Jesus Christ? It’s easy to say that we are committed, but when push comes to shove as it will for Peter, what will we do? Will the former way of life look all the more appealing in that moment? When we commit ourselves to Christ and a life of faith, we will never be satisfied with anything less. It may be hard, but a life of wholeness and holiness is hard to beat and nothing else will do!

Movement Toward a Deeper Call

Exodus 16: 2-4, 12-15; Eph 4: 17, 20-24; John 6: 24-35

I’ve often wondered what must have been going on in the mind and heart of people like Jesus and Moses in the situations they find themselves today. In some ways, I’d imagine that it was somewhat of a parental experience. The disciples, the crowds, and people Israel, ask a lot of questions, are never satisfied with the answers, and it’s always about them. Isn’t it the way kids often are in our lives as well? Certainly in our call to discipleship, we all begin there. Yet, in the larger context of this gospel that we hear today, we must be mindful of themes that take place in John. If we think about the stories we are most familiar, Lazarus, Man Born Blind, and the Woman at the Well, there is always movement that is taking place, a movement to somewhere deeper within themselves. There is a time for questions but not always the answers that is expected. There is a movement towards what we would call mature discipleship as opposed to where we often begin and where the crowd finds itself today in a more childish discipleship; they are looking for specific answers and for physical nourishment but Jesus in turn never answers their questions directly but is rather trying to move them to those deeper places within themselves and to be able to sit with the questions and not always know the answers and not always understand in the futility of our minds as Paul says.

The movement in the Bread of Life discourse is no different. But before they can come to the finality of this gospel and a question of whether they can commit to what is being demanded of them, there is a process of deepening and understanding that Jesus is leading them and us in our lives at this very moment. When it’s time to commit, can we stand with what is being asked of us, such a radical way of life. In the end, as I mentioned last week, some will make the commitment to a new and different way of life in which they are called; but most will walk away, unable to meet the demand of what is being asked of them. Paul tells us in the second reading today that it’s time to put away the old self, our former way of life because something new is being asked of us.

Moses, whom you have to feel for at times, never has it easy with people Israel either. You wonder why he never gives up on them over time. Again, think of the context of what we hear today. They have just been freed from Egypt. The Red Sea parted and they crossed over, only to see the Egyptians swallowed up by the same sea that saved them. Their lives were spared of slavery and hardship. All of that, and yet, today we hear them grumbling and complaining. It’s easy for us to say that they should be grateful for what has been given to them. But Moses never gives up on them on their own journeys of life. Despite never making it to the promised land, Moses, knows it within and has committed himself to that promised land, which gives him the hope and perseverance he needs in these difficult times and to accept that not always having the answers and at times, being unhappy with life’s circumstances, is a part of the process of moving towards mature discipleship and to know that there aren’t always answers to life’s questions and I may not always be fed in the ways that I desire. Before any of us can commit to this demand that is given, we have to, as Paul says, let go of the former way of life, stop feeding with what doesn’t nourish and seek out in this journey the bread that lives forever.

But it’s what they knew. Even though a life of slavery for people Israel was wrong and something we would certainly condemn, it’s what they knew. Their basic needs were met and now they have nothing. We’d complain and grumble as well! Moses, with his eye on the promised land, assures them that they will be fed. This God that has been faithful to them now for generations will once again see them through this time of change and transition into the new life that they have been called. Who knows if they can commit to such a change. It’s almost impossible for the crowds to change in that way; it’s often one by one that change and grow and with that the community.

It’s hard when it comes to faith. We don’t change easily. We get comfortable with what we know and want to stay there. But that’s not the discipleship we encounter in John’s Gospel. Jesus continuously is trying to move them to something deeper, to a more radical way of life where the only thing that will feed the deeper hunger is the bread that comes from on high. What comes from on high feeds us in our deepest hunger and in turn, we feed others. That bread that lives forever is not just something out there and something received, it’s already within. That’s where he tries to lead from what can be seen with our eyes and known with our minds to what is seen with the heart and known with our souls. The same will be asked of us as is asked of the crowds and disciples, can we commit to such a radical way of life and to trust a deeper call within ourselves? It’s not easy, but it is the discipleship that we are called to. Life’s not easy. There aren’t always answers to our questions in life and sometimes we’re left with simply sitting with the question while keeping our eye on that promised land. The more we do the more we learn to put away the old self and become the new creation in and through Christ, who we have been all along!

Becoming Love Through the Cross

The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ According to John

You need only turn on the news for a few minutes and see how easy it is to become what we hate. There’s so much violence, judgment, hatred, which signifies just how much hurt and suffering exists. We become what we hate when we don’t have the ability to self-reflect,a prophetic eye, to see what it is that needs to die within ourselves. All this, so often as we have seen, in the name of God, in the name of religion, which has gone on since the beginning of time. How easy it is to become what it is we hate.

How quickly, also, the crowd turns on Jesus. Remember back to the entrance on Palm Sunday as they waved palms, welcoming him into the eternal city. Hosanna in the Highest! And yet today, crucify him! When the tension begins to build between Jesus and those John refers to as “the Jews”, which isn’t what we mean it today, but rather the leaders of the faith, the Pharisees and others, the crowd quickly begins to change its tune. They quickly give into the fear projected on them by the leaders who are threatened by Jesus’ true power, as he refers in today’s Passion reading, a power from above. Fear becomes the call of the people in the face of such love, passion, and suffering; Jesus stands in the midst of it watching it crumble, a world created by man while he opens the door to THE Kingdom, built on love.

Yet, we become what we hate. We are uncomfortable with Good Friday and everything that is good about it. We’re uncomfortable with the emptiness of the church, showing the depths of our own being and where God invites. We’re uncomfortable to come and reverence in some way the wood of the cross that will lie before us. Something deep within us tries to hold us back from approaching the emptiness, the wood of the cross, despite the knowing of a deeper reality that this is the true us imprinted on our very souls. Rather than becoming what we hate, the Cross invites us to become the love that God created us to be.

You see, this cross isn’t just some external reality that we come and venerate. No, it’s our story, unfolding every day of our lives, leading us deeper into the recesses of our being, the emptiness that leads us to a radical poverty, a radical love, that can only be manifested by a God that loves beyond all understanding. This is the day, not to mourn, but, yes, to remember the death of Christ, but the reality that it’s our story as well. We don’t have to settle for becoming what it is that we hate. There’s enough hatred and violence in the name of God in our world; but our God leads us to the truth of who we are as people, through the cross, into the depths of our being, our soul, imprinted by Christ, to become who Christ was and is to us, God’s great and everlasting love and to share that gift with the world. It comes through a radical poverty and emptiness of our lives, through the cross. It comes through a radical love, only possible through the cross. It comes from a great trust that Christ invites us into this day, naked, vulnerable, exposed, and yet, a love that transforms our lives and our world not into what and who we hate but into a manifestation of that love. O Come, Let us Adore.

A Changed Vision

Genesis 22: 1-2, 9, 10-13, 15-18; Romans 8: 31-34; Mark 9: 2-10

The first reading today from the Book of Genesis probably sounds rather bizarre to us, especially if you’re a parent or grandparent. I can’t image anyone wanting to be in Abraham’s position today as he prepares to sacrifice his son Isaac. What makes it even more bizarre is we know the back story and the waiting and questioning that Abraham and Sarah did in their lives in wanting to give birth and now here he is about to do something that we’d consider quite crazy! The obvious connection between this reading and Jesus is of course the sacrifice of the son and the Son. Yet, like in our own lives, it’s often not about the obvious; there’s often something deeper going on in our lives that is beyond words and understanding and maybe by means of reflection, can we ask ourselves if we’re willing to give up and sacrifice what’s most important to us?

Again, think of the context of their lives, Abraham and Sarah. Think about how they struggled in life and with God, how they would question and wonder and doubt what it is that God was doing in their lives, working on them constantly. When they learn that they were to give birth to a son they laugh in the face of God! When they can finally let go of the doubts and how they thought God should act and what God should do in their lives, somehow shorting them of something they felt they should have in the birth of a child, the Spirit begins to break through in their lives. The same thing happens with Abraham in this reading today. He think he understands what God is calling him to do, again, in his own need to grow and change over time and in life, is being called to see and hear and listen from a different point of view. In that moment, the Spirit breaks through his life and his soul begins to expand, “countless as the stars in the sky and sands of the seashore”. Once again, Abraham is invited into a deeper place, a more radical place in his own life in becoming the father of faith and living the will of God.

The disciples will get there eventually. Their own vision and hearing is still limited to what they are being called to, despite the invitation that they are given in today’s Gospel. The glory is revealed before their very eyes and yet they are warned not to tell others of the experience. Jesus knows quite well that they aren’t there yet and it would be from a place of authenticity yet because their vision and their own ego and thought pattern of who God is and who and what it means to be the Christ; they remain limited in the midst of the unlimited. It won’t be until their own interior lives are rocked by the Cross that their own vision and hearing begins to change and the transfiguration will begin to make sense, not as something seen beyond them but rather something that unfolds within them and to live the more radical life of love that God calls them to in their lives. They have to come down off the mountain and out of their heads in order to not just think who this God should be but to experience the God they will come to know. Sometimes the most important thing we have to give up and sacrifice is the way we think, our opinions, our judgments that we hold onto, even the ones that we hold about God before we can embrace that radical life that we are called to as disciples.

As we continue this journey through the lenten season, we pray for a breaking through in our own lives and in our own journey as individuals and a community. Lent, and these readings, are a good reminder of how limited we can become or allow ourselves to be limited, avoiding a change in our own vision of life and God or our inability to hear that voice of God calling us to come down off our own mountains that we create for ourselves and delve deeply into our humanity and to see the divine within, straight to the Cross of Calvary, leading us to a more meaningful life, one filled joy, a life with an expansion of soul as Abraham experiences when never growing weary of God who remains faithful through it all, always trying to break into the world and into our sufferings in order to bring life and love, for as Paul tells us today, nothing can separate us from that love. God calls us to that more radical way of living, a life filled with love and meaning; a love that leads us to even sacrifice what we have deemed most important to us and, in turn, a love that expands from the stars of the sky to the sands of the seashore.