Monday, February 29, 2016

180 Degrees

What might it be like to be closed off totally from God's love?

I can't even imagine that would be possible. Just as I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose totally the love of my mother or my father. No matter how bad things may have gotten between one or another of us - and there were those times - no matter how far apart we seemed to have grown, there was always the possibility of "coming home." I don't mean physically - but always a chance that whatever it was that caused the rift could be healed.

To be sure, there would be scars. My mom was one of those who never forgot. Yes, 30 years later, the event, the hurtful words, the bad action, whatever it was, would surface during an argument or disagreement. She never forgot -- and in fact, the memory might even be a little embellished from what I remembered it to be. That might be the fact that I wanted to forget and so I wasn't so keen on remembering. But I do believe the one who was indeed keen on remembering maybe enhanced that memory just a wee bit - but I digress!

The real point is that all through my life, even when I thought I might have crossed the Rubicon - the point of no return - there was always salvation. Perhaps that is why I find it so hard to think that anyone could actually believe that they were beyond the pale of God's immense love.

Yet, in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Dives, he is often called), just such an occurrence happens. Dives goes beyond the pale. He seems to have committed the "unforgivable sin." He neglected "the least of these," as Jesus calls the poor, to his own aggrandizement and pleasure. But was the unforgivable thing he had done? I don't think so. I think the real problem comes from his failure to recognize that the pattern of his life is contrary to the life of God.

From the Scriptures, there is no doubt that God has special care for the poor, those that, through no fault of their own, fall on hard times largely because of the greed and selfishness of others in the world. Dives fails to see that. He fails to see the special care of God for "the other" - and when he becomes "the other" he reaps the fruit of the seed he himself had sown. It isn't a matter of God's failure to forgive - God would happily have done so - if Dives would have been forgiven. But how can you be forgiven for something you do not think or believe is wrong? That's the crux of the matter.

The reason I was always able to reconcile with my mom (or my dad for that matter) regardless of how off base I seemed to be, was that there was a willingness on both our parts to admit failure and to recognize that it was more important for us to be together than apart. We succeeded in that because, for some reason, as big as our respective egos were, they were never so big as to become the most important thing in the room. The need for our relationship(s) was always larger than our egos. So, when everybody cooled down, and sometimes with the aid of someone on the "outside" - the blessed dynamic of reconciliation took hold. We could never be totally cut off from one another.

So, too, I believe it is with God. God will never cut us off, regardless of what we may have done or failed to do. There might be an argument or two along the way. There might be scars in our relationship, but reconciliation will always bring things right - that is why God sent the Son. The grace for which I must pray, then, is always to have control over my ego - always to be willing to see that maybe, just maybe, the pattern I have established for myself has to be adjusted. Even a little adjustment will bring me closer to God. The only direction that is fatal is to turn 180 degrees away from God and keep walking. Maybe my compass never read 180 degrees opposite from my God.

-- read Luke 16:19-31

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Adam and Eve

For a very long time, I have struggled with the reality of sin and evil in the world. Scholars of philosophy call this struggle the quest for a "theodicy" - otherwise known as "the problem of evil."
I am afraid we will all be totally frustrated if we simply see evil as a "problem" - likened to a mathematical or other problem that works to a solution.

The "problem" as most see it, stems from the seeming contradiction that one of God's properties is to be "all good." The Muslim name for God in this characteristic is "The Beneficent One." Yes. God is "The Beneficent One" - the power beyond human nature that embodies all that is good in the universe. Our small minds, however, cannot hold together the notion of an all-good God and one that would create a universe that contains evil and the possibility of sin, that is, our direct participation in that evil.

In our studies, we are told that the point of reconciliation is in human freedom - that in order to be free, to be able to choose, we need real options, real choices. In other words, in order to be able to love God, we must be able to choose not to love God. While that satisfies on one level, it still does not help to fully reconcile the idea that God (The All Powerful One) could not create us with a freedom capable of choosing only the good! I guess that is relegated to the category of the same question which asks: Can God (the all powerful) create a stone too heavy for God to lift?

What this all does for me is point me away from the feeble attempts of my mind to comprehend what is in the end incomprehensible (God) and grow in my appreciation of "mystery" (something that we seem to be able to know but which defies explanation). Once I engage that awesome element of our knowledge, I am able to sing once more, as the Church has for centuries in the Easter Proclamation, "o felix culpa" - "o happy fault, the necessary sin of Adam, that merited for us so great a Redeemer!"

In the end, I don't need to understand how and why evil came into the world, or why a most beneficent God permits it to exist, all I need to know is that the same God has made it right, by sending us the Son, our Redeemer, to speak to us of a love so great that the Son would freely lay down his mortal life, so great a love.

Thus, even in the face of any evil, even evil that evokes visceral horror, I can stand confident that it need not triumph for we have the promise of this same God, that no evil is stronger than the love of God for God's own creation. Our revulsion at such horrendous events is the marker that we, made in the image and likeness of this beneficent God, are not formed from evil stuff. Rather, we are formed from God's own life. We need only let that life emerge in great love - even if it means laying down our lives for our friends.

The greater temptation, then, is to disbelieve this good news and refuse to accept that our innate goodness and the goodness of others flows from the creative will of God. When we do this, we insist that we must do something else to become like God or become valuable in God’s eyes. It is in this that we begin to sin.

-- read Genesis 3

Friday, February 26, 2016

Not what we always expect

It’s very easy when thinking about God’s plan for our lives to have the attitude: “it’s all about me.” Yes, it’s true that God cares about every intricate detail in our lives.  In fact, Jesus said that even the hairs on our heads are numbered.  We can also mistakenly think that God’s plan is always going to be a “feel good” plan with the intent to make us happy. Jeremiah’s message in these verses is actually radically different.  He’s writing to a group of people who are being held captive, and are in exile from their homeland.  He’s writing to let them know that although they're not where they would have expected, nor where they would have asked God to place them, God has not forgotten them and He still has a plan for their lives. Even in the midst of a difficult situation, God wants them to know His plans

-- read Jeremiah 29:11-14

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Why do we always want more?

In both the story of the fall of the Angels and the stories of Genesis 2-4, God's created want more-more than they have been given even though what they have been given is more than enough. In a sense they had everything they could want, but there is always that nagging drive to acquire what is not in their grasp. This is especially so when God tells them what they have is enough and withholds something, anything, from them. Their freedom, God's ultimate gift is not enough for them, so they misuse it and chose to rebel - to move toward that which they really don't need.

Did God place this inner desire for more within us? If so, did he. It plant the seeds of rebellion within us? Why would he do such a thing? Perhaps that desire for more is directed toward himself. After all, Adam and Eve ate of the fruit of the tree so that they would be like God-that was the deceit of the serpent. The defining character of the rebellion is not their desire to be like God, but their desire to control the means by which they were made as God.

How do I participate in this sin? How don't seem to be as God, but on my own terms? I have been given so much - more than enough, really, but want more. And the more I desire is on my terms. In that desire to I misuse my freedom by holding onto that which God has freely given and so can freely take away? Titles. Purple cassocks. "Places of honor." These God has given. When they are taken away, my feelings of anger and betrayal are misplaced, are they not? These things are but means to an end. They are not the path to contentment. By grasping onto those things even as they are taken away, I come no closer to being able to walk with God "in the cool of the day."

My heart is restless O Lord, until it rest  in thee. (St. Augustine)
Let it rest only in thee, O Lord - this is the grace for which I pray.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

It wasn't about the money

It wasn't the money Jesus was teaching about but the "grasping" the "holding on." Immediately my mind goes to the kenosis described by Paul in the Philippians hymn: "Though he was in the form of God ..." I have always been fascinated by the term used that is translated "grasped at" or "held on to" in Philippians 2:6: harpagmon - "a thing to be seized or greatly desired, a prize, a piece of good fortune".

The fear of letting go whatever it is that I
genuinely prize in my heart of hearts. Truly, I must say that I do not know what that is. In Mark 10, Jesus knew what this was for the young man. I pray for this grace - that this will be revealed to me - what it is that I prize so greatly that it could keep me from embracing Jesus fully - and that it might cause me to turn away.

-- read Mark 10:17-27

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Good news? Really, now.

Good news! At least that's what Gabriel called it. Good news, my ***! What sort of good news comes from nowhere, totally unexpected telling you that all of your plans and dreams are no longer valid-that everything you wanted is now at best "on hold" or more likely gone forever. 

That's what I fear about such so called "good news." 

Someone once said, "Be careful what you pray for, you just might get it." Therein is the problem. Not  the"getting it" but what happens once the prayer is answered. That's the funny thing about God and about grace--it's free for the asking, but once you're in...boy things do change.

It's almost never what you thought it would be. It's always different - and unexpected. Mary's fundamental disposition was one of divine acquiescence. So when Gabriel pops into the picture, it's almost a forgone conclusion what Mary's answer will be. But I am not so disposed.

As I move through this time of seeking, and I seek to make that disposition of acquiescence to the divine will may await around the corner. Who will my Gabriel be? And what his or her message?
my own, I fear what "good news"

--read Luke 1:26-38

Monday, February 22, 2016

In emptiness I am filled up

"All things come from thee, O God, and of thine own have we given thee."

Kenosis. Self-emptying. It's ironic that in seminary, while in direction with Fr. Gerald, this was the constant theme. And yet, as I have progressed through my adult life, I still have not learned that core lesson: before God can fill me, I need to be emptied of self. 

The emptying is not really a throwing away but a deepening realization that I really own nothing and have genuine control over nothing. That realization applies most radically to matters of the Spirit. If I would dare to enter deeply into the Spirit's life, I must be prepared to realize that I am opening myself to the great perichoresis - that inner dance of the Trinity. My emptiness provides a ready conduit for the life of God to course through me giving, taking, receiving . . . not me but God giving, God taking, God receiving from himself, by himself, to himself but all through me. 
I become as a great electrical grid. I am not the source of power. I only provide the means for the power to get from here to there and once there to accomplish "that for which it was purposed", which is ultimately simply the life of God in God's creation. 

Does that diminish my importance? Not really. How could the power of Niagara Falls get to my light fixture to enlighten my dark room if not for "the grid"? It is not only important, it is essential. In all of its sophistication from high tension wires to delicate electronic controls -- it's the means by which power is distributed and accomplishes its purpose.

Is this not the way with God? How else is God's creative, redemptive, and sustaining power to be delivered to this creation except through me and countless others like me? We are "the grid". But it is not MY power -- I am only the means by which that power is delivered. It is through me that God works God's purpose out . . . and only if I am empty of any obstacle. Otherwise the power short circuits, is frustrated, and is set for purposes not intended. In these obstacles, I frustrate the will of God.

My grace for today: show me the obstacles I place in the way.

-- read Ephesians 3:14-21

Saturday, February 20, 2016

With groans from within

Somewhere in my memory bank is a statement by an Orthodox teacher that we in the West have an imbalanced view of God: that we so emphasize the person of Jesus (the Son within the Trinity) that our sense of the Spirit (person #3) is minimal at best. Consequently, we downplay the role of of the Spirit or relegate the Spirit to a phenomenon of the Pentecostal movement. Today's prayer text reminds me of this. This passage from Romans has always been a bit problematic for me. I have often simply skipped over it paying it little heed, but today's focus in prayer does not allow me to do so.

"The Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.” What does this mean? I don't think that it is about speaking in tongues as some would argue, since that is a gift given only to a few. I think that this passage has a more universal application, that is, to all believers and so must mean something more.

When do I "groan"? Usually it is when I am in some sort of pain, or when I am "bone tired", or when I am at a total loss for words. Usually at these times, there is a deep emotional component to it -- more often than not, feeling that I am at my wits end and have no strength. I cannot rely on my own resources any more. Is this when the Spirit's groans take over? When I have finally exhausted my own resources and cannot think of another thing to say or do in my relationship with God?

If this is the case, why do I have to wait so long . . . why do I insist on "doing it all my own" until I can't "do" anymore??? Looking back at my life, I have found this to be so in my prayer. Oh, I pray and do all that the forms require and even a bit more but upon examination, I am beginning to realize that it is almost always on my terms and with my own "strength" whether that be intellectual, emotional, or even physical. Only when one or another (or all) these "strengths" fail am I driven to pray in the manner I hear described in the gospel as when Jesus is driven into the desert by the Spirit.

There it is again . . .  that pesky Spirit . . . driving even Jesus.

When I have experienced this great sense of weakness is when I finally "cry out" (a sort of groaning, I suppose). On these occasions, I have felt totally vulnerable, sometimes driven to tears, not just a tear or two, but deep wails. On these occasions, I have often questioned my own worth, wondered what was "wrong" with me, why I didn't seem to deserve "a break". Perhaps these times are the occasions of weakness of which have St. Paul speaks here. The wails are the sighs "too deep for words" and the questions are the beginning of real prayer - a discovery that only in God can I find the true meaning of my experience, my life.

I pray for the grace of reaching this point without the need to be at wits end to experience it.

-- Romans 8:26-27

Friday, February 19, 2016

That for which I thirst

For what does your soul thirst?

Frankly, I don't know. This has been one of the problems in my life. I have spent so much time taking care of others or worrying about what others want of me that I have never really been able to answer the question concerning what it is for which I thirst.

I am put in mind of at least three times of genuine desert experience: each time sinking into the depths of loneliness and wondering just what it was that God was asking of me. The most recent was at St Mark's when in the quiet of he night I went into the Church and prostrated myself before the altar. There I literally cried out to God, "What do you want? Give me some sign. Something. Anything."

Yes. I was deeply thirsty then. What eventually emerged was a quiet confidence, "I am enough for you. I am all you need." That seemed to slake that thirst for a while. But that same challenge arises again and again. Maybe I need to begin to realize that the answer will be the same again and again.

Perhaps I am looking for an answer that is right before me. Somehow I think that the solution to my thirst, my hunger, is outside of me-- something that I need "to do." Maybe the answer is already in my grasp-it is simply "to be."

Maybe my penchant for pleasing others has infiltrated my relationship with God, the one whom I can never really "please" by anything I "do" but who is pleased simply by my being and becoming that which God has created me to be.

Maybe, just maybe, my thirst is simply "to be" in the presence of God.

-- read Psalm 63

Thursday, February 18, 2016

It shall accomplish that for which I purpose it

Am I able to be still and simply listen to God?

That's a good one! I find it hard to be still and simply listen to the world around me.

I often begin my prayer time simply trying to do that - the ticking of the clock, a car passing by ... and before I know it, my mind is being crowded by internal noises. All the things I need to get done today; what will I preach about this Sunday; I think it's starting to rain, and just when I needed to get the front door painted; when should I schedule that committee meeting; and on and on. After a moment, I try to refocus -- I do this several times -- yet each time, I it seems that I can listen only for a moment before the distractions start again.

I remember the advice of a director some time ago: when distractions come, be gentle with yourself, a gentle correction and reorientation is all that is needed. So I seek to put this into practice each time.  It becomes a continual pattern of reorientation . . . kind of like driving a car
. Going forward requires many small corrections of the wheel. Failure to make these constant, little corrections for the sake of a disciplined straight line would cause the car to go off the road in short order. I find that it is like that in my relationship with God - a series of small (sometimes not so small) corrections to keep on course. So must it be in my prayer. Gentle, continual corrections reorienting to the focus of my attention and affection.

In the passage for today, I am struck by one verse in particular:

"So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth,
It shall not return to me empty,
But it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
And succeed I the thing for which I sent it."

Each of us is part of that word - we result from God's speaking, his breathing (ruah) into existence each human life. Thus, I will not return to God without succeeding in the thing for which I was created, for which I was sent. But we are not mere automatons - we are free. Thus, to succeed in this, I must discover/discern "that for which I sent it"-- in other words, what God's will is for me. I can only do this in a life of prayer - a life designed around listening. And how fraught with difficulty this is when I can barely be still enough to listen to that which is clearly in my environment. How more difficult will it be for me to listen for that "stills all voice" within? This day, then, I pray simply for the grace of being able to listen.

-- read Isaiah 55:1-13

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Prayer . . . Frustrating

If I have prayed it once, it's been thousands of times. English, German, Spanish, Polish. Most times it starts automatically and powers through to the end - it's over before you know it and it seems not a word meant a thing.

Is it because of its nature as a form prayer? Is there value to such prayer. Even as I go to this prayer with real intention, it drifts by - no matter how hard I try to concentrate on it. Like a road with a thousand forks, I keep taking one to distraction. Frustrating.

But then Jesus tells us to keep asking -- and to ask rightly. I ask him, "How can I ask rightly if I can't really ask at all?"

Phrase by phrase. Word by word. Taking the petitions backwards. I've done it all. "Teach us to pray" say the disciples. I am with them 100%. "Teach me, Lord. I can't seem to manage it alone."

-- read Luke 11:1-13

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Something Unexpected

The hands of the potter are at once strong and gentle. They are strong in that the palms and the fingers must exert just the right pressure to make the clay form. They are gentle in that the slightest movement alters the form of the pot. So it is with God, no? Just the right pressure to take a lump of clay and raise its sides to form the beginnings of a vessel ... And the gentle pressures begin to place the nuances that compose the beauty of the final form.
Sometimes the clay does not respond to the hands. When this is so, alternate pressures seek to right it ... and even when the clay fails yet again, even in the extreme, the patient craftsman simply keeps the wheel turning and begins anew.

So it is with God - he is the potter, I am the clay. Even now I feel his strong yet gentle touch molding and forming something new, something of singular beauty within me. What the final form will be is only in the mind of the potter - and even then, depending on the response of the clay, that form may be changed to something unexpected even by the potter.

Just what God is forming in me, I do not yet see. Perhaps he has something in mind, but depending on the clay and how it responds to God's hands, neither of us is quite sure -- yet.

-- read Jeremiah 18:1-6

Saturday, February 13, 2016

God loves you and has a plan for your life

When I went to college (Houghton College in the southern-tier of New York State), I lived in a religious culture that was very certain about who God was and how God operated. Very often I heard, “God loves you and has a plan for your life!” (one of the "Four spiritual laws"). At times this was a comforting thought—after all, wouldn’t it be nice if someone else mapped out my life for me and made sure everything worked according to plan?

But over the years I’ve discovered that I often mistook my own desires for God's plan. I eventually came to appreciate God’s lack of pushiness. Yes, God loves me. And, yes, God has a plan, but it’s a huge plan, one that encompasses the entire universe. God invites me to cooperate with that plan, God "invites me to join the party" - as it were. But in order to participate in God’s big plan, I have to make choices every day—about the kind of person I want to be, about the priorities I keep, about the loves I nurture.

I no longer believe that there’s a connect-the-dots plan for David's life. Every day, David has options from among which he may choose; some are better than others. Yet, some are obviously wrong and harmful, but many are indeed good. When I learn to distinguish what is the best of the good, that’s called growth.

What’s my purpose? To grow into my God-created potential to love. That happens as I make decisions, but it involves more than that. I become my best self as I become more intimately engaged with God. So, I guess, it’s really not about a plan; it’s about a relationship.

-- based on Isaiah 43:1-7

Friday, February 12, 2016

How insignificant can I be?

The seminary where I was formed for the priesthood is located in a semi-rural area southeast of Buffalo, NY. On a cloudless night, you can walk out near "the lake" (an overgrown pond) and lay on your back and stare at the sky. There on a clear winter's night, you can see stars never seen by anyone in the city, or anywhere that experiences "light pollution." The sky is crystal clear, I seem to remember that you could even see elements of the Milky Way.

Then you start to think. How far away is that nearest star? How long did it take the very light that twinkles in your eye to reach this tiny world through a vast universe? Upon realizing that even the little bit of this vast universe we can perceive, how and why should God care about me - a mere "speck" in this incomprehensible universe?

Yet even with thoughts about how insignificant I may be, there is a certain peace that fills my breast, my very soul in contemplating how immense God is. That very insignificance becomes itself a gift - grace: that even so small, God cares about and shows God's love for me in revealing this part of creation to me.

-- based on Psalm 8

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Someone to lean on

"With your rod and your staff, you give me courage."

For most of my life I have been "the strong one" - smart, entrepreneurial, willing to risk, and all making it look like I know what I am doing. The fact is that most of the time I am "flying by the seat of my pants." Many times I can feel like I am out there all alone. It also leads to a pattern where it seems to me that everyone looks to me for an answer or a solution, so when I am vulnerable, it makes it hard for me to find support in others. It's hard to ask for help and support, and even when I do, people often look at me quizzically like they don't know what to do since I was more often their "go to" guy.

The image of strength I see in this passage and the phrase I quote is reassuring to me. Even when I feel out there and alone, I can turn to God for the strength and the courage I lack. The grace I desire today is to be able to be more vulnerable in the eyes of others and to be able more easily to reach out to others when I feel weak.

"Surely goodness and kindness shall follow me all the days of my life." (sigh)

-- based on Psalm 23

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

It's Ash Wednesday - Again

The ritual associated with Ash Wednesday is simple and clear.  It reminds us that we, like everything else on this earth, will die.  Today we remind ourselves about the certain cycles of life and death – the beginning and the end.  We also remind ourselves who we are and from whom we come – God.
Today is a sort of reality check.  The prophet Joel calls us to look at who we are and how we are living and, when it seems we come up short, return to the Lord.  Today we begin a journey inward to encounter and confront all that separates us from God and from one another by taking account of all that causes pain, damage, and separation in our lives.

The season of Lent that begins today, is a time to acknowledge that to move to a new way of life, we first must die to the old – to give up the things that get in the way of our knowing God and one another more deeply and completely.  Lent is a time to remember our baptism and the call to know, love and serve God and one another that came with it.  It can be a season of great change.

During Lent, we reconnect with who we are, with who we can be, with whom God made us to be.  We are humans – made in God’s image and likeness – but unlike God, we are also made of dust – and into that dust we shall return.  Now, then, is the time to make the most of it all!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016


Fear. I don't know why I am ever afraid but I realize that I live in a low state of fear almost always. On many occasions it has been about pleasing others, making sure they were happy or at least not upset with me. An example: in a former relationship, I would make sure all the spoons were aligned in the drawer for "fear" that J would be upset if they were all akimbo. (The reasoning? When aligned they won't scratch!!) I often use that example to show myself how silly it all is.

But fear is more for me. While in prayer in this passage from Luke, I began to realize that my deeper non-neurotic fear is much more existential. It is about being relevant, about making a difference, about mattering or having a purpose in the world that others will notice and appreciate. Put in a different way, it is about wondering if I matter in the world.

The grace that descended on me in this prayer time is related to yesterday's post: the only one I really matter to is God., and God loves me utterly even in my vulnerability. His living gaze never leaves me even when I am in a "dark place."

Thus, I am loved by God and my relevance is rooted in simply becoming whatever God  has made me to be. I am allowed simply to be me and do not have to worry about keeping spoons in order. I have "beauty" (relevance) simply because I have been "wonderfully made". Wow! What a revelation to my heart.

I still fear being irrelevant, of not mattering, but I have an antidote to those dark feelings. Recalling God's loving gaze calms my heart.

-- based on Luke 12:22-34

Monday, February 8, 2016


Psalm 139

How does God gaze on me?
How open am I to receiving this intimacy?

It's interesting how disconcerting it is when people realize that almost nothing they upload to the internet remains private. The old adage scripsit maneat ("What is writeen remains.") is more true than ever. This gives me pause on praying through Psalm 139 and realizing that there are no secrets from God to whom "all hearts are open and from whom no secrets are hid."

There is no light and darkness. There is no place where God cannot know me and nothing about me that God does not already know -- even things that I don't know about myself are already known even "while I was being made in secret and woven in the depths of my mother's womb."

We are fascinated by ultra sound pictures of an unborn child, yet these are just rough images in comparison to what God sees and knows of me even there.  I begin to feel a little foolish, then, when I realize how much I think I can hide from God: all my imperfections, my sinfulness. God knows it all. And therein is the great truth - that God does know it all and because of it all - good and bad - continues to love me into being. "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain to it."

Unconditional love is what is too high for me. Hard to fathom, even more difficult to grasp.

I am put in mind of Bubba, my ever present canine companion. I heard someone recently describe that dogs stare at their "masters" because it is a way of expressing affection - it is the way they hug you -- with their eyes. So it is with God. God is "looking" at me always -- and with that gaze is enveloping me with love. Awesome.