Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Following (with) Imagination: Feast of St Andrew

“At once they left their nets and followed him … and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him.” – Mt 4:20, 22

The call of Andrew and the first disciples is at once inspiring and daunting to me. How can the disciples follow, decisively and definitively, someone they hardly knew? I, like others, have been captivated and have followed. But my fears, sins, and limitations have often kept me back. It seems as if the more I follow Christ, the more I am challenged to be countercultural, the more I am confronted with my failures and unfaithfulness.

Yet, something else is also at work.

The parallel passage to today’s Gospel is Luke 5:1-11We see Jesus meeting the disciples when they are down and out. They fished all night yet caught nothing. They had given up for the day. When they followed his guidance, not without some disbelief, they were surprised by the biggest catch. Peter did not want to follow because he defined himself as a sinner. Acknowledging this before Jesus begins to free his imagination to how greater he and his life can be. Likewise in my life, my failures and limitations can be gateways to grace – to genuine encounters with Jesus who unlocks my imagination to something greater.

That something greater might be called hidden grace. Grace as strength to face my failures and limitations. Grace to re-imagine stumbling blocks as launching pads. Grace to risk and take another step in following.

Although I would modify the way she poses her “life defining” question, Amy Purdy is inspiring in this TED video:

“Instead of looking at our challenges and our limitations as something negative or bad, we can begin to look at them as blessings – magnificent gifts that can be used to ignite our imagination to help us go further than we ever knew we could go.” – Amy Purdy

What if we ask God for the grace of imagination? Then face our present fears and failures but focus on God’s personal love and grace.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday, First Week of Advent: God's Spirit Resting

“The spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him: a spirit of wisdom and of understanding, a spirit of counsel and of strength, a spirit of knowledge and of fear of the LORD.” – Is 11:2

Archbishop Oscar Romero once said that “the Kingdom of God is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.” People call me an idealist, that I live in the clouds, that I am not practical enough. That I live in the “what if’s” and not in the “what is.” There is truth to this. There is a lot I need to learn to see what is real and not what I’d like to see.

Yet, picture of the idyllic paradise in Isaiah 11 is God’s promise that the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Jesus, the new Davidic king. The peace and harmony even among natural predators and their prey is a dramatic symbol the reconciliation and justice under this leadership:  “The wolf shall be a guest of the lamb,
 and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat … the baby shall play by the cobra's den, and the child lay his hand on the adder's lair. There shall be no harm or ruin on all my holy mountain; for the earth shall be filled with knowledge of the LORD, as water covers the sea” (Is. 11:6, 8-9).

I may have my own way of envisioning how this new order might come about: young adults active in parishes; communities that care more for the least than the survival of the fittest; families that helps children find their true voice; leaders more concerned about the growth of those under their care than promoting the organization’s name or ideals. But knowing the how  is less important than trusting in the who. The more I befriend God in moments of prayer, moments of letting go, moments of trust, the more I experience the spirit of the Lord resting in me. The more I am can accept difficulties and challenges, the more I can compassionately be with others, the more at peace I am. I remain the same, idealistic, perfectionistic, self-preoccupied self. Yet, I am less affected by my shadows. Somehow, I trust more in God’s dream beyond my vision, allowing God’s Spirit to work greater in my life.

Archbishop Romero was killed by the powers at be while celebrating Mass. His dream for a peaceful El Salvador or a church truly for the poor only began to emerge a decade later. It remains an ongoing, slow growing shoot. The Spirit of the Lord - that divine force given to individuals to enable fulfillment of missions otherwise beyond them - rests in him, as it rests on Jesus. That same spirit is promised to each of us. Wow!

Let us rest in God’s love and care. Take a few minutes, just stop, take 5 deep breaths and get in touch with an experience of being loved and cared for. Let’s allow the Spirit to pray through us.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Monday, First Week of Advent: Faith that Heals

"Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed." – Mt 8:8

At mass, when I whisper the words, "I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word, and I shall be healed," I sense most deeply at this point God's divinity and greatness versus my humanity and weakness.  It is a beautiful prayer we recite each Sunday, acknowledging that despite who we are, what we have done, God loves us.  Through our faith, God heals broken wounds.  We are all alike in this way, connected by a human condition, and I am left humbled before God.

The words above were spoken to Jesus by a centurion, an officer in the Roman army.  It reminds me that even people of rank bow before God.  I am inspired by the centurion's faith.  He recognizes that Jesus, a man of no rank during this time, only has to say the word, and his servant, who is paralyzed and suffering, would be healed instantly.  

I desire such a faith that recognizes that God would help me with every situation in life, if I would invite Him in.  I see that I try to solve problems myself before going to God with them.  Yet, God so desires to be with us, each day, through each moment of joy and through each obstacle.  If only I could see this and open myself up to Him even more, recognizing that I never walk alone.

Do we invite the Jesus who heals to personally journey with us and help us through our trials or tough decision-making?  Do we put our faith in Him with matters close to our heart, trusting that He loves us and will care for us?


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Waiting for New Dawns

“Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, with the mountains quaking before you, while you wrought awesome deeds we could not hope for, such as they had not heard of from of old. No ear has ever heard, no eye ever seen, any God but you doing such deeds for those who wait for him.” – Is 63:19; 64:2-3

At this time of the year, there is much anticipation. The shopping season is beginning; the holidays are coming; final papers and exams are looming; other yearnings - surface cravings as well as deep desires - are stirring within us. Among these longings are those for new beginnings.

The Advent Season is about waiting for new dawns and celebrating new beginnings. Today we begin the liturgical year. Today we begin new responses and prayers at Mass, guided by the 3rd Edition of the Roman Missal. Today we begin four weeks of anticipation and hope to celebrate the birth of Jesus, our Savior.

To be honest, I feel both eager expectation as well as uneasiness about what is to come. I woke up last week at 7:30 am in Anchorage, Alaska eager to begin a new day. Instead, I was greeted by two more hours of darkness. I am excited for new developments in ministry to young adults and online, for an upcoming Advent retreat at a nearby parish, for connecting CLC members with God’s poor, for a wedding of two good young people, for the grace of deeper trust that has been growing in me. Yet, I am also a bit wary about the busy-ness of this over-commercialized and super-packed pace season; I feel my resistance to God more acutely through the challenges of integrating prayer, caring for others, and self-care; I struggle with the fact that the new wordings at Mass will initially be less prayerful.

I believe that Jesus-God comes to us anew. As we remember his coming 2,000 years ago; as we await his Second Coming in the parousia; as we are open to his surprising presence in our lives today. I hope for these new dawns. To see things anew, to be awakened from my spiritual laziness, to dare see people I find questionable as God’s Beloved; to risk embracing my limitation and sinfulness without settling. The Jesuit John Powell once wrote that “Jesus comes to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” This describes me accurately. While I wait with hope for hint of a new dawn, I struggle in befriending the present manifestations of fearful night and seductive darkness. For the night is darkest just before the dawn, according to Irish wisdom. Yet, it is good that we wait together, for the coming One whose “awesome deeds we could not hope for.”

What are you looking or longing for this season? How or with whom or are you waiting?

For more Advent prayer resources, click here.