Penetrating Silence

I Kings 3: 5, 7-12; Matt 13: 44-52

The first reading, from First Kings is one that I’m quite familiar.  It’s the reading we use each year at the celebration marking the end of the Pinkard Scholars at the seminary.  There’s a lot to like about it.  Solomon finds himself, like many others in Scripture, in a position he’s not sure he’s capable of fulfilling, despite the call from God.  He’s also free to ask for anything to help him become the leader that he’s being called to at this point.  It’s almost like asking for a wish, and yet, despite all of it, Solomon asks not for what he wants but what he feels he needs in that moment in this momentous call from God.  Solomon asks for an understanding heart.

It appears that even God is taken back by the request, assuming he’d ask for a long life, riches, the life of his enemies.  Anything; and yet, he asks for a heart that understands.  Even in the request, this prayer of Solomon, shows the depth of his wisdom and understanding, a deep penetrating silence, that is already there and somehow, in the midst of the unknown, God is going to take it and use him as an instrument of that wisdom and understanding.

It’s a great reading to reflect upon in our own lives as to what the treasure, the pearl of great price, in which we’d ask of God at this moment.  Not this is not to say that our prayers are futile in some ways, but in my experience, we tend to tell God what we want, as if somehow God is the dispensary of wishes.  We know exactly the way things are supposed to be or should be and we want it that way and so that’s what we ask.  However, that’s not a treasure, nor a pearl of great price, nor the wisdom that Solomon exemplifies.  Rather, it’s so often the God we think we want rather than the God that is trying to reveal in the penetrating silence of our hearts, a deeper mystery, to be able to let go and surrender to the mystery and allow the prayer to fall within.

If there is one thing I have learned up in the mountains of Acadia this week it’s just how much noise we have in our lives.  First, with the noise that I create for myself in the busyness of life but also all the noise that surrounds us and in so many ways violates that deep penetrating silence of our hearts, to the point that we no longer know what it is that we need when God asks and gradually get swallowed up in life, unable to breathe, unable to fall into the mystery in which God is inviting each of us.

More often than not, in my experience, people have no idea what they’d really ask God for.  Sure, there are the standard prayers of praying for everyone else, for the world, and so on, but to understand and touch the deepest desire of our own heart is a whole other story.  One, we often feel unworthy to even say it or even because we already know deep down that if I do ask as Solomon does, it may just happen and something more may be demanded of me, just as it was for him.  So I hold back that desire out of fear, unworthiness, as even he thinks because of his age, and I choose to live with a constant restlessness until I can finally rest in that deep penetrating silence in my heart as Solomon does, realizing that the prayer has already begun to bear fruit in the simple act of naming the desire from deep in my heart.

Solomon is one of the key wisdom figures in Scripture and has much to teach us in our own prayer and in the barrage of noise in our own lives that often prevents us, knowingly or unknowingly, from moving to that place of deep penetrating silence in our own hearts that knows our truest desire, maybe an understanding heart as it was for Solomon.  His invitation and mirror to all of us is, that despite our own fear, our anxiety, our own feeling of unworthiness, can we step away from the noise of our lives long enough to move to that deeper place, that ocean of silence that often reveals what we truly desire and know that we have nothing to fear all at the same time.  In the end, did the disciples really understand what Jesus was trying to convey.  Probably not, but somehow it at least spoke to them on that deeper level, stirring something within them and preparing them for that descent in their own lives, in the face of the cross, to that deep, penetrating silence revealing their deepest desires and the heart open to understanding the mystery of God.

 

 

 

#holyresistance

Zephaniah 2: 3; 3: 12-13;  I Cor 1: 26-31; Matthew 5: 1-12

I’m a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen them all and still believe that the originals from back in the 70’s and 80’s were some of the best. It is mythology at its best and transcends time. But we also often want to reduce it to a battle of good and evil or light and darkness. However, the main characters of the originals were not choosing sides. As a matter of fact, they were the resistant movement, including Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. Now it’s not resistant in the way we want to use it today, in our politics. That’s more oppositional energy being exerted and often spending most of its time fighting rather than resisting, trying to seek another way.

The resistance movement were in many ways the wisdom figures. They tried to find truth in all things while what appears to be good and evil continues to fight. The archetypal character becomes Luke Skywalker in his training with Yoda. He wants to fight. He loves to fight! But Yoda keeps pushing him to a different place, to a place within himself and to see that the war he’s fighting the most lies within him, not just beyond him. This is the path to resistance, when he comes to a place where it’s no longer about choosing sides and winning and losing, but a path towards humility when he recognizes his own participation not only in bringing about good but also towards what he’s been fighting. It is the true path of resistance, a holy resistance.

It’s what this great Gospel is about today as we reflect upon the Beatitudes. There is a sense of humiliation in the current times, where there is poverty, there is mourning, war, violence, hunger, and persecution. They are the lived reality of the disciples and the people of Jesus’ time and of course of today. The resistance that Jesus proposes and the tension that lies within, is not to react to all of it and allow ourselves to enter into war after war. Certainly there is a place for opposition in the face of injustice, but the resistance movement of Star Wars is about finding another way. That’s what Christianity was about; it was about following the Way, not about choosing sides and fighting battle after battle. The opposition is typically only what I’m fighting within myself anyway. It will take the Cross before the disciples could begin to make sense of what these beatitudes were really about. The resistance we face is accepting this lived reality as it is but feeling that pull to a more just society, a more just life, an unfolding of the Kingdom.

Paul speaks of that oppositional energy today as he speaks of boasting and how that opposition often comes from our own pride. We want to prove ourselves to be right and the other wrong. Paul knows it because that was Paul. For him the cross becomes the point of resistance and the point when that begins to break down in his own life. He says the weak will shame the strong and the foolish will shame the wise. There is this breaking down and this entering into this interior journey for Paul that awakens him to this reality and to recognize that this battle is first fought within himself. He must face his own humiliation and the fact of how he persecuted, and even despite the good, Paul was still capable of unspeakable darkness towards humanity and to face that head on becomes his cross, becomes his place of transformation. For Paul it was no longer about winning and losing. That’s not the gospel anyway. It becomes about sitting with that resistance in these collision of opposites and finding another way.

It is also the roll of the prophetic voices that we hear throughout the year as it is with Zephaniah in today’s first reading. There is a great deal of opposition towards the new King Josiah at that time. They don’t like him. They don’t like what he’s doing and the reform he is bringing about, but the risk is always to fight and to become just like him. It is the warning of the prophets throughout Scripture. For him he too tries to lead them to this path of humility, by seeking justice and peace. Oppositional energy will eventually begin to fizzle and often cannot be sustained. What we seek is that resistance within ourselves as it was for our ancestors. This holy resistance is an invitation to ask ourselves the questions of our own lives and what it is God is trying to move us to letting go of and opening the door for the breaking in of the Kingdom. If anyone knows the reality of opposition it’s Israel. It’s part of their storied history and the invitation, as it is with Luke Skywalker, is to go within ourselves and look at our own injustice. Look at where we want to oppose and fight rather than seek a more just life, the common good. That is what our faith teaches us.

These are trying times for us individually and as country. Like Paul, our own pride often stands in the way, including our pride of who we think we are supposed to be as a country. It’s not the path of resistance and it certainly isn’t the path of humility that all the readings touch upon today. Whether we can admit it about ourselves or not, we all partake in the humiliation of our present age, we fight, we stand opposed, but we so often want it to end there. It leads to war and violence. It leads to division. It leads to winners and losers. I can’t say it enough; that’s not the gospel. The Gospel, especially the one we hear today, points us to another way. It points us to this holy resistance in our own lives, where it’s not about winning and losing, but a path to justice and peace. When I allow myself to go to that place within and learn to be patient with it, it will transform us. We will tap into that humility and become a more just person so, in turn, can move society to a more just place for all peoples.

Falling Into Mystery

Prov 8: 22-31; Rom 5: 1-5; John 16: 12-15

It’s good that we are given such beautiful images in Scripture on this feast of the Holy Trinity, otherwise we run the risk of trying to figure out three Persons, One God logically, and it just can’t be done. Nor is it really meant to be figured out logically, but rather something we’re called to live into, feel into, and fall into deep within our hearts and souls. So we hear this beautiful image of wisdom a part of creation, breathing life into all around, just as God does into human life at the beginning, finding delight in the human race, as we hear in Proverbs today.

In some ways, we have to imagine ourselves in that reading today as God breathes life into each of us, trying to break down the many layers of our lives that become hard to penetrate but only through the breath of God. Wisdom speaks of the presence in the mountains and hills to the depths of the sea. And there we are, climbing the mountains of our challenges and tumbling down the hills. There we are, drowning in the depths of the sea of our own grief as the disciples are in today’s gospel. All along, wisdom and love gradually breaks through taking us deep within our very being, to the depth of God, always inviting and asking, how far into mystery are we willing to fall and to go? There’s the real question of the day for each of us, just how far will we go into this endless mystery.

You know, if we’re ever to tackle the problems of our lives and those of the world, we must be willing to far deep within. So often we think it’s about going up and certainly this mystery extends there as well, but deep within, seemingly hidden out of sight, lies something and someone that connects us all, this ever-present mystery. Yet, we’ll continue to try to tackle the problems our society in our own way, this way or that way. The problems of famine, inequality, racism, the problems of poverty and war will never be resolved when we stay locked in the either or of politics. Rather, only when we move to the deeper place and begin to see the other as one with myself and move toward empathy for the human race. Like Proverbs, when we allow ourselves to be taken deeper into mystery the more we find that delight in the human race.

Like the disciples, sometimes we’re just not in a place to go to such a place. We are grief-stricken about our past not being the way we think it’s supposed to be. We are still clamoring for power somewhere beyond ourselves, as they were in places of position against the other disciples. We hold on for dear life to what has been never allowing ourselves to be moved to such a deeper place as mystery and oneness with God and humanity. We become stuck in our labels for one another, trying to solve everything logically when in reality, we’re being invited to move to this deeper reality, the deeper mystery we call Trinity.  It’s only when they finally encounter something they can’t explain that they’ll begin to be broken open, the experience of the Cross.

Crazy enough, it’s as St. Paul tells us today in his letter to the Romans, the more we accept this invitation to go deeper and to grow into mystery, the more we grow in endurance and character because we learn to trust this deeper mystery that is so far beyond us and yet so imminent we can touch it and fall into it and gradually become it. What grace that is for each of us to accept such an invitation, to see beyond our human eyes and begin to see as mystery sees us from the depths of the sea in our souls.

As we celebrate this great feast, we’re called to delight in the human race as wisdom does while breathing life into each of us. We’re called to accept the invitation to go deeper into this mystery and ask ourselves how far into mystery we’re willing to go. It’ll change lives and ultimately begin to change the world around us. Sure there are many mountains we’ll continue to climb on our own and we’ll certainly tumble and fall. But with each fall comes an opportunity for new beginning and an invitation to be asked just how far and deep into mystery we’re will to go and to grow.

Our Choice on Who is Fed

Proverbs 9: 1-6; Eph 5: 15-20; John 6: 51-58

There is that old Cherokee legend of the grandfather who speaks to his grandson about the fight of the two wolves that is taking place within him. There is the evil one of anger, envy, guilt, shame, self-pity, resentment and whatever else you would add. Then there is the other of love, joy, serenity, freedom, peace, and the likes. The grandson, as we all might do, asks the question of which would win. The grandfather, of great wisdom, simply states, the one you feed.

Our readings these past weeks have been about eating and feeding in many different ways as Jesus continues this confrontation with the Pharisees in the synagogue. I was mindful of that image of the Cherokee legend as I read this gospel this weekend and this ongoing struggle between Jesus and the pharisees. We’re often too quick to read into our eucharistic theology when we read these gospel passages, which have a whole lot more going on in them than what we have made them to be!

I mentioned a few months ago some of the symbolism, such as the synagogue or church being symbolic of our own sacred space within, our heart and soul. And in there, like the legend, we too have this fight going on, often times feeding the wrong one. There is even two ways of eating in this passage as we have been hearing. There is Jesus feeding with what gives life and then there is that useless chatter and quarreling going on among the pharisees, not creating much other than more fear and anxiety in their own lives and those they try to inflict it upon, only boxing themselves further into what they can’t see about themselves. There, in the midst of the story as we have been hearing, is the fighting of the two wolves; which do we choose?

Paul uses similar language to become a wise rather than foolish person. To live the will of the Lord, he says, we must choose to understand this fight within ourselves in order to reconcile and to choose that which gives life. The write of Proverbs as we hear in the first reading is writing in comparison to two feasts. There is the great feast that we hear today, which gives great joy and life, a meal rooted in wisdom compared to the one that leads to greater darkness and despair. I had read one commentary likening them to choosing between sanity and insanity. Isn’t that useless chatter in our own minds and hearts seem somewhat insane at times? Yet, it’s what gets fed and it’s what is often feeding us; more darkness leads to greater darkness.

When we finally, hopefully, get to that point in our lives where we become aware of the fight and no longer have to blame like the pharisees and the pharisee within ourselves, then the choice becomes much more obvious. It gets harder and harder to choose that voice that leads to greater darkness and despair in our lives because we have seen and tasted the one that gives eternal life, the true bread from heaven. So we are left with that choice today in our lives. What are we feeding and what is being fed; do we continue to choose the negative within ourselves and that which we often absorb around us, only, at times, affirming our own self-pity and lack of worth, boxing ourselves in like the pharisees? Which voice are we feeding and in turn, what are we allowing ourselves to be fed?

Proceed In and With Love

Sirach 15: 15-20; Matthew 5: 17-37

I’m guessing most of us agree that falling in love is bound to happen in our lives.  The hard part is staying in love and falling in love over and over again and choosing love to lead us in life and in our many relationships.  If there’s a bottom line for all that these readings say today, and there is a lot to digest, it’s is about living a life rooted in love.   We know that we will all fall short, leading to invitations to go deeper in our relationship with God and others.

All of the commandments that Jesus addresses today are relational.  There can sometimes be nothing more difficult in our lives than relationships and the many people that cross our path throughout our lives.  With them we bring all of our own baggage as well as theirs and somehow we are supposed to try to make it work.  Those who live the married life know that it takes a great deal of work and constantly choosing love.  Sirach in all his wisdom today makes it sound so simple and easy to choose life over death and to take responsibility for how we choose.

Jesus, on the other hand, I believe makes a different point into the grey areas of our lives; the place where we spend most of our lives because so many choices are not made as conscious decisions.  Over and over again he says, “the law says, but I say.”  Jesus isn’t throwing out the law on killing, divorce, adultery, oaths or anything else, but what he tries to stress is that in life and in our lives, there are day to day decisions that we so often are unaware of that lead us to “breaking” these laws.  Most don’t wake up in the morning thinking that they are going to kill the other, but rather what he speaks of is what leads to killing, and not just physical, but any desecration of life, is anger and grudges, and the inability to reconcile and judgment and all of this stuff festering in our hearts that lead to a break in relationship with God and others.  The law gives us something to buck up against.  Jesus gives us the grace to reconcile and to choose love, to choose life over death.

So much of this comes to fruition when we can work on ourselves through God’s grace to live honest lives and to observe our behaviors with our inner motives.  None of us, again, will live up to it all, but the more we are aware and live our lives consciously, the more we will choose life and love and our behaviors and actions will reconcile with our inner motives.  We pray for that awareness in our lives, the grey that often gets lost in our striving for black and white when God’s grace is so often somewhere in between leading us to love.

The Presentation

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Luke 2: 22-40

A few weeks ago on the Pope’s Twitter feed there was a quote, “No elderly person should be like an “exile” in our families.  The elderly are a treasure for our society.”  He has spoken of the throw-away culture that we live in, and for many elderly, they are seen as no longer contributing or producing in the way we have become accustom.  Yet, he recognizes a greater gift in many of them as wisdom figures.  They are beyond the “producing” stage of life and now act as guides and as these wisdom figures to many of us, not because of any knowledge they may have, but lived experience, humility, learning to let go of so much, including judgement and expectation, and most importantly, they have never finished growing.  They keep on growing into themselves and into the mystery of God well beyond their years of being “producers” in our society.

Nowhere is that more true in the Gospels than in the stories that bookend the Christmas story.  Prior to the birth of Christ we hear the story of Zechariah and Elizabeth, both well beyond child-bearing years and yet over years of learning to let go and surrendering to God, stand humbly by as God delivers a miracle into their lives.  It leaves Zechariah speechless, still, at his age, unable to fully trust God and given yet another opportunity to grow in faith and trust.  These two figures act as wisdom figures for Mary and Joseph as they learn to trust that same impossible message of life that has been given to them in giving birth to Jesus.

Then there’s the other end of the story that we hear today.  The story of Simeon and the prophetess Anna that we just heard in today’s Gospel.  The story of the Holy Family is cradled in between these two stories and now Simeon and Anna will lead them out of this stage in life to where God leads next.  The message of Simeon is two-fold.  Simeon is first overwhelmed with gratitude for the gift revealed to him in the Christ.  He has awaited many years of his life in a world that has lost hope in the coming of the Messiah and has turned in many different directions looking for answers and certainty in life, and yet, Simeon, and Anna for that matter, simply wait.  Learning to let go, over and over again, of their own expectations of the Messiah and then find themselves overwhelmed with gratitude, to the point where Simeon delivers this beautiful prayer that God may now take him from this world and pass on; the great gift has been revealed before his very eyes and in his heart and soul.

The other side of the message is directed towards Mary and Joseph and probably not one that they had intended to hear.  What young parents want to hear that this is going to be a difficult road ahead.  Just because you have seen the Messiah does not mean that all will go as planned without any pain or hurt.  Simeon tells them just the opposite.  This child will be a sign that will be contradicted, destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel.  Like us, Mary and Joseph had expectations of their son.  Could they ever anticipated their son would be hung on a cross?  Even in the following passage as they make their way from Jerusalem, Jesus is nowhere to be found.  From the very beginning, Jesus has taught to let go of these expectations of who you think the Messiah should be.  Do you not, as parents, often have to let go of your own expectations of who you think your kids should be so that they may become who it is God has created them to be?  They relied on these wisdom figures, these elderly folks in their lives, to point the way in a time of uncertainty and in a time when their lives were immersed in understanding and the raising of their son.

On this feast of the Presentation, we pray that these wisdom figures may be raised up in our lives, in our community and in our world.  So many have gone astray and pulled away from their faith by the desires of success, judgment, and much else that carries much pull in our lives, and we all need these figures to point the way for us, in our own uncertainties, and to learn to let go and to trust as Simeon and Anna teach us in today’s Gospel.  Also, as the Lord is presented to us in this Eucharist today, how are we presenting ourselves?  Are we open to the mystery, delving into the unknown, still learning to grow in our faith and to let go of our own expectations and to see the gift for what and who he truly is?  Have we grown into a spiritual malaise that Malachi often speaks of in his writing where we take all of this for granted.  We pray that this feast provides a spark in our lives to present ourselves fully, openly, and with much gratitude, as we see in Simeon, as the Lord is presented to us.  The gift that lies within is now revealed to us in this Eucharist.