Friday, October 31, 2014

In God We Trust, Always

Perhaps because of the time my class takes, and its requirement for daily reading and reflection on Scripture, it seems the guidance the Holy Spirit sends my way of late is through those readings.
I’ll take His presence any way He offers.
Gen 12: 1-9
In this passage of Genesis, Abraham is a rich old man, living the good life in his declining years, when God calls him to pack up his households and flocks and move to a new land where: “I will bless you and make your name great.”
I received great insights last week when I reflected on the passage where Abraham trusted God, even being willing to sacrifice his son, but as I read today’s passage my initial reaction was: Why?  Putting myself in Abraham’s shoes, I found myself questioning God’s call:  Go to a strange land with all my things so that I can get more things, and be called “great.”  But what if, meek and humble as I am, I’ve got enough?  “Thank you, Lord, for your great blessings.  I don’t need anymore.”
But Abraham went.  He trusted God, in good times and in bad.  I like to believe that I trust in God in bad times, and trust that He will make sense of evils which befall me, but in good times?  Maybe it’s like the words I read in Divine Intimacy yesterday:  “Many secondary intentions steal into our actions because we are so wrapt up in ourselves.”  Maybe when things are going well I have a perception that it is I who made the good things happen, and so I don’t want to change things --- even if it seems God is calling.  Maybe in facing change I see risk --- certainly in Abraham’s shoes I might have:  “Risk all I have, God, for a more I neither need nor want?  You want me to give all this up?”
But then I read another passage in the Divine Intimacy meditations:  “The apostle is sent to ‘give’ and not to ‘receive,’ to sow and not to reap … he ought to know how to give his time, his work, his energies, and even his very self, even in situations which offer nothing consoling, and even to those souls from who he receives neither satisfaction nor gratitude.”  Ah, this is what Abraham possessed that I lacked:  trust, a trust that God has a reason for when He leads us, and what He asks us to do.  If you totally trust the one leading you, there is no risk.  Even if you should lose all you have, He will gift you with even more, and even better, and despite the fact you might find it hard to believe:  even more joy.
I have a good job, a comfortable retirement, or a loving family:  safety.  Why change?  Why take risks?  Man’s words are:  “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
If I think things are well, will God make them better?  Recall that the promise of eternal life was worth dying for; we don’t know how good things can become.  Trust.  But, I might object, Abraham was promised by God!  But, I recall, so was I.
“In God we trust;” words more important than the paper they are written on, more important than our good job, safe retirement, or security of a loving family, because all these will pass away --- to something better, to more love, to eternal safety and security.  Why take risks?  For the reward, the promised one.  Why take risks?  For more money?  For more power; a cuter spouse or better sex?  Abraham knew why --- because God said so.
If we are moved to take risks, we must look at the likely rewards:  Is this what God wants?  Trust implies risks, calculated risks.  How trustworthy is the one asking us to take the risks?
            - - - - - - - - - -
Running a caregiver’s support groups and having lost my mom last year, I could not be moved by these words of Fr. George Montague, from his book:  Living in the Father’s Embrace.  He is talking here about the most precious possession of his life, and the time when God called him to give it up, for something better:
“Nine years after Mama’s death, I can say I never consciously gave Mama back to the Lord.  I’m still living in the pain of her being taken.  If I want to give the Lord something, surely she is the best gift I could give, other than my own life.  In a sense, though, what is my own life if not in great part at least what has been give to me through the love of others, especially Mama’s?  So perhaps the first step in giving my life back to the Lord is to freely and consciously give him Mama.
Yet what does the Lord get out of this gift?  Why should he find it preferable that he have her in a way that he didn’t have her when I had her too?  The only thing that makes sense is that she might be with him in a way that she was not while with me.  And that is a matter of faith, of course.  But it must also be true that my giving her to him is also important to him, perhaps as important as her being with him.
And so, Lord, for her sake, for yours and for mine, I ask for the grace to say with all my heart: ‘Father, thank you for Mama.  Thank you for giving her to me.  Thank you for taking her to yourself.  I forgive you for taking her before I had really given her to you.  But I acknowledge that you are God, and it’s not my role to tell you what to do.  You are the God of the taking as well as the God of the giving.  But now in the awesome freedom you have given me, the freedom you treasure so much, the freedom that dignifies me with your divine likeness, the freedom that can give birth to a gift that would delight you, I surrender:  I give Mama to you.  She was the best I had, and only you are worthy to receive this, my gift to you.  I rejoice that you now have her.  I have not lost her after all.  I have given her to you.
To give the ones we love back to God is, in the final analysis, to love them as they truly are.  For they, like us, are from God and for God.  This appears so clearly as death approaches.  There is nothing so cruel for the beloved one who is dying to feel as if he is betraying the survivors by leaving them.  Thus, the last act of love that we can do for the dying is to give them permission to leave.  In doing so, we are simply accepting and affirming who they are, who we are, and who God is.  It is to love them as they truly are.”
Lord Jesus, you wept at the tomb of Lazarus.  You know what loss is and what grieving is.  You used your power to bring your friend back to life.  But in our lives, we do not have that power, nor is it part of your ordinary wisdom to give it to us.  But you use the rhythm of love in our lives, the rhythm of holding and letting go, to draw us closer to you.  When someone or something I love is taken from me, at first I feel loss, even the sense of being robbed.  But Lord, grant me the grace to not simply accept the loss but to thankfully give it to you.  It was yours in the first place, but you allow me the honor of freely giving it back as my gift to you.  Amen.

Monday, October 27, 2014

It Hurts Sometimes

As I genuflected, a pain shot through my upper thigh; it’s been that way these past few days.  Meanwhile, I’ve been doing some exercises trying to strengthen my weak arm muscles causing tennis elbow pain, and it seems a bit better.  One pain lessens, and another increases.  I guess in old age it always hurts sometimes.

When I go for my workouts Nick, my trainer, accommodates my pains and my weaknesses.  Today we’ll probably skip those squats which stretch the thigh muscles --- he’ll have to find some other way to torture me,  :-).  I pay Nick for his services, but it is worth it; I am getting stronger.  Some days though, there are pains, and some days my muscles just don’t have the strength to complete the reps required.  When that happens, and Nick can see me straining to do the last few reps, he’ll gently put his hand over mine, taking some of the weight off me, but still requiring that I bear what I can.

I guess God is like that with us.  He helps us carry our crosses sometimes, but still we must carry them.  He doesn’t make them disappear.  I think that’s an important lesson to remember, that just knowing He is there is a lightening of our load --- we are not alone, even when sometimes it just hurts.

This weekend I was asked to join the board of a non-profit which runs homes for mentally challenged adults, children in mind who grew too old to live at home, but too mentally young to live alone.  The organization ensures they live semi-independently, finding them jobs and only stepping in to help when some tasks are more than they can accomplish --- kind of like Nick helping me when the weight is too heavy some days.  Now the organization’s hundred-plus children are aging, and facing new limitations, as are their caregivers.  My experiences and contacts as a caregiver and with eldercare resources are being sought by the organization’s board of directors to develop a strategy and plans for the future they foresee.

I’ll do my homework and pray on their request, asking the Lord:  “Is it I Lord?  Is this what You’d have me do?”

I’ve dealt with this organization in the past, and its charges.  The direct caregivers the organization hires are special people; the ones they care for often grow angry with them as they try to help.  I think it’s a combination of frustration at what they can’t do, and their limited mental capacities, which they are well aware of.  I recall my brother’s words when he noticed that people perceived his mental weakness:  “I’m just a little slow,” he said, never in anger.  He was indeed a special man.  But dealing with these others who more readily grow angry is something which I am considering; if I accept this new challenge I will undoubtedly be in contact with them more often.  I’m not sure how well I will measure up to the task.

Even as those thoughts were in my mind, the priest this morning said his short homily at mass, and included these words:  “Some people who need our love will get angry at us when we give it.  We need to love them anyway.”

It hurts sometimes, when it seems we’re not appreciated, when it seems we’re not loved, or life just isn’t what we would like it to be.  Sometimes we have to bear these pains anyway, knowing God will shoulder some of them, if it is beyond our strength.  But still, He expects us to bear our part.

I have these things to think and pray on.

            - - - - - - - - - -

I was out raking leaves yesterday afternoon.  I noticed my neighbor was doing the same.  A thought came to me, and I stopped and called him over to the fence to have a chat.  “Look at that,” I said, pointing up at the large tree in the middle of his yard.  “How many bags of leaves do you think are still on that tree?”  He stared and then replied: “I don’t want to even think about it.  Do you think I should get it cut down?”  I looked aghast at him.  “No, that would be a big mistake.  You need that tree for the shade it gives your patio, for when you do your cookouts.  No, cutting it down would be a major error.”

We stared up at the tall tree for a few more moments.  “No, what I was thinking as I was raking was that you and your wife aren’t getting any younger.  Maybe it’s time for you to have some kids.  I’m thinking of maybe ten-year old and perhaps twelve-year old boys.  Now they might be some work, but I’d help you with teaching them some important things, like cutting the grass or raking leaves.  Heck, if you had them before Christmas I’d even buy them some snow shovels for presents.”   He smiled.  “No, I don’t think anything will happen before Christmas, but in six months something will,” as he announced his wife’s pregnancy.  “Well, I guess that’s a start,” I said. 

“I guess I can stand ten more years of raking ---- maybe.”

It’s funny how God talks to us, isn’t it?  The touch from a physical trainer, the words from a priest, or the neighbor across the fence.  He shows us little things to let us know He is there, always there.

Take the time to consider how He’s there for you, too ---- perhaps especially when it hurts sometimes.     

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Long Way Home

As I left the church parking lot after Sunday mass, I gazed into the sun and the large expanse of blue sky above.  I considered if I should stop for breakfast, and where, but checking my stomach’s thoughts on the matter I realized I was not hungry.  I thought about the tasks I planned for the day: reading the morning paper, the weekly raking of leaves this afternoon, the taking out of the trash, perhaps some reading and/or exercise, and then the day’s closing prayer time.  I saw nothing unusual there, nothing important, and nothing of particular interest in the hours ahead.  As I drove, I noticed the streetlight up ahead, a long green light for this main highway, and then for some reason I considered the long red which simultaneously shone on the little-traveled cross street. 
And then I put my turn indicator on, and turned onto the long way home, down that quiet byway.
I’m not sure if it really is longer mileage-wise, but I knew the 20-minute ride home would turn into a 45 minute one --- but I felt no reason to hurry this morning.  My usual drive’s 55mph speed limit (where everyone did 65) was 30 on the dirt road in front of me, and with no one behind me I could do 25 if I wanted. 
I passed through an area of dense trees, and saw little dirt roads going off on either side to hidden homes.  After a while the scenery turned to farmland, with open fields and ponds.  The ducks and geese gathered together in some, and in some of the fields wandered horses, with some little foals traveling behind.  And I waved to the cows.
I saw new mansions and homes built in the 1800’s; estates and hovels.  I saw expanses of lawns, and piles of old rusting farm equipment.  And I saw some farmers on their tractors, working out in their fields, hauling in the last of their crops or tilling the land in preparation for the winter.  I saw the large old home, and the small headstones which stood in its yard; generations have lived and died there. 
I saw God’s creation in all its glory this Sunday morning, as I traveled the long way home.
I felt a great peace as I reached the paved roads again near my house.  I had left church thinking there was nothing important to do this day, but I had already done something important.  I wanted to document it here and now, for those days when peace would not come.  I wanted to write a reminder to myself that God is not just in his church, and not just in the adoration chapel I find so much peace in.  Genesis tells us He created this earth for man; and on a bright sunny fall day, with the beautiful colors all about, we can fully appreciate this gift.
Perhaps I’ll take a drive to a park or nature preserve this afternoon and take some bread to feed the ducks, and just sit and enjoy the world created for me. 
I am so blessed.
And so are you.

Friday, October 24, 2014

What Is God Saying?

Gen 22:1-19
The weekly class assignment includes meditating and contemplating on an assigned Scripture passage each day.  The first day this week was the above chapter from Genesis, which tells of God asking Abraham to travel to a place and then to sacrifice to God his only son, Isaac.
I read the passage and saw the oft-referenced imagery to God’s later sacrificing of His only Son, Jesus.  I even noticed the similar use of numbers, the two servants who traveled with Abraham (ref the two Good Thieves of the cross?), and the three days journey (ref the three days in the tomb?).  I read the passage a second time, looking for any further insights, but in reading it again I had a “is that all there is?” feeling ---- I perceived no great new insights here.  Oh well, I thought, some days prayer is like that.
The next evening, when I looked for the assigned Scripture passage to read, I found the word “Repetition” indicated --- read it again.  Uh-oh, it was to be another some-ol’, same-ol’ night, but I dutifully took the time and re-read that passage from Genesis.  Blank.  Nada.  Nothing.  Been-there, done-that, heard-that.  Same-ol’, same-ol’.  All Scripture reading is good, but apparently this one had nothing to say to me.
Or so I thought, but God had other plans.
The next morning as I spent time with my morning prayers, the Genesis passage came back to me --- and I found myself walking in Abraham’s shoes.  He traveled for three days with his son Isaac, I suddenly realized, knowing all the while that he would soon be sacrificing him.  What fear would fill my heart, what darkness, and what pain?  And despite Abraham’s love of God, surely he must have been thinking (as I would): why?  And then thinking further on that I perceived an answer:  the answer must lie in the depths of Abraham’s love.
Real love trusts:  it sees no fear; it sees no darkness; it sees no pain.  It does not ask “why” in self-pity (for self-pity is the root of that question).  Real love just trusts the other.
I saw my reactions to past difficult circumstances in my life.  I saw my fears, my pains, my darkness, and my anger, and my asking: why?  And I saw clearly my self-pity, for the real question I was asking was: why ME?  I have walked many difficult roads, as Abraham did, but I saw rarely walked them with his firm love and trust in God, trust that this bad situation was for a good that I could not see.
And then I saw the related imagery of Abraham’s walk, of God the Father and Jesus in Their walk, with the two thieves, and the real death of the beloved Son on the cross, and then their three dark days.  They foresaw what seemed a terrible thing (to us), but in them I saw no fear, no darkness, no spiritual pain, and perhaps most telling, no self-pity.  They trusted all this was for a good reason; They trusted in Their love of us.
In our class we are studying the spirituality of St. Ignatius, and his rules for discerning spiritual feelings hidden in our emotions:  is what we are feeling from God, or from evil spirits?  It’s often a confusing thing to discern, and I find myself wishing there rules which could be simply applied to yield a definite yes or no answer, but there are none, because many of the questions I ask are only answered in due time, God’s timing, not mine.
And then it came to me:  I have found this day some simple answers.  Feelings of fear, darkness, pain, and anger:  these feelings are always of the enemy, not of God.  I can bet on it, and I can reject those feelings.  And the same holds true for those feelings of self-pity.  These are not feelings God wishes for me.  All these feelings are encouraged by bad spirits, encouraging me to not trust, not love, the God who so loves me.
Later that morning I went to mass, and as the priest held the host in front of my eyes before placing it on my tongue, I clearly smelled the fragrance of roses, and I knew I had gotten the message God wished me to perceive from that passage of Genesis.
In reading Scripture daily and contemplating on what God is saying, there is much to be learned, even from the same-ol’, same-ol’ words --- if we would just listen, and pray to hear.