Father, I am so sorry for my sins. I do not feel worthy of your forgiveness. I do not feel worth your son's sacrifice. I feel more like I've caused him suffering. There are gashes in His side from a whip I've held more than once.
I have tasted, if only a minute part, both closeness and distance from You and your love. I truly desire to be with you for eternity. I beg your forgiveness, though I've done nothing to deserve it. Please do not turn me away when my time for judgement comes. I do not want to sin anymore. I need the strength of your Holy Spirit to resist my weakness to sin. I cannot suffer it alone. I truly desire to be one with your love, not as a reward for what I've done or been, but because I belong to you. I need you. I love you.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
In a small room, set aside for silent adoration, I sat with my Lord and began to read the Gospel of John for the third time in my life. This day however, the opening chapter struck me differently. Rather than continue on, I let the words sit with me for a while, then read them again. With my assigned hour coming to a close, I quietly prayed a Chaplet of Mercy while still contemplating what I had just read. The most incredible experience happened during these prayers, as a flood of wisdom and understanding was granted me concerning the nature of God and his relationship with mankind. This wisdom has since been confirmed and reinforced by further study and instruction which has left me with a hunger for more and to share it with others.
The idea of Jesus as the living Word of God, made man, led me first to contemplate the Eucharist. A stumbling point for many, the Eucharist as the real body and blood of Christ is a mystery I began to understand through John’s writing. I thought of Jesus calling himself the bread of life. (Jn 6:35) I understood that the Word of God is the bread of life. I recalled the written word; “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Dt 8:3; Mt 4:4). I imagined the host, transformed at mass, being digested and absorbed by my body, becoming one with my body. I came to perceive the Eucharist as a real Communion. I could now see that we truly become one with the Lord through the sacrament.
Another point I was led to consider is the divinity of Christ. I was very familiar with Jesus, the man, the Son of God. I had been taught of him since childhood. He is my friend, my mentor, my brother. John’s gospel however, reveals the Christ as Word of God, who always existed and through whom, the world was created. Never before considering the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as God in three persons, I began to think the term “Son of God” helped to hide the divine Christ behind the human. The more I simply said “of God”, the more I saw Him as everlasting and one with God. I recognized Christ as authority and law, the way, the truth and the life.
A question formed in my heart. How can a word, even that of God, become man? I believe in the power of God to manipulate the body of a man and/or woman and create a child within her, as he did with Abraham’s wife, Elizabeth, mother of John the Baptist and Mary herself, but to make his word flesh, how is that even possible? Almost immediately an answer came. Even the word of man has the ability to gain a life of its own. In poetry, prose and song, do not the words of men live on? They can move the spirit, inspire the mind and motivate the body. They can live across generations. One word can encourage or dishearten a brother or sister. A father’s word can create or destroy the life of his child. If the words of men have this capacity, what more then has the Word of God?
I had always expected God’s wisdom to come as if downloaded to my mind or spoken, as from a teacher. This felt more as if a veil had been lifted or that I had put on polarized lenses. I was seeing something that had always been there, but I had not been able to see. Some years later, I was researching prayer for a lesson I was to give middle school students. The book seller suggested an introduction to Lectio Divina. I was unsure it would fit, but she was insistent and I bought it. Reading it, I thought back to that evening in the chapel and realized what I had stumbled (or been led?) into. Today, I find myself reading the bible in a different way, in contemplation with Christ, rather than in historical or literary context.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
You created my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, as I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works! My bones were not hidden from you, when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together as in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
We always refer to God as father, but in this beautiful poem I find, in God, mother also. If God is love and is the source of all love, then do we not first see Him in our mothers? Recently I have listened to my daughter describe how she is coming to know her own daughter while she is still being formed. She describes the baby’s behavior when daddy rests his hand on her belly and when mommy is awake or sleeping. She notices the different types of movements, when baby is calm or seems excited. It leads me to recall learning the same things about my children before they were born.
In Genesis 1:26, God says “Let us create man in our image, in our likeness”. I believe He says this every day. He said it about you, he said it about me and he said it about my grand-daughter, who is to be born soon. Most of us are created in human love, in our parent’s likeness. All of us are created in God’s love, in His image and likeness. Every part of our person is known and loved by Him in a perfect way. He knows us so intimately because we are truly his own, formed in a collaborative effort of human and divine.
In prayerful meditation, some time ago, I had a vision of heaven. It had no pearly gates or golden cities, but only love. It had a closeness to God himself that I could only describe as the feeling, from when I was 4 or 5 years old, of being on my mother’s lap, wrapped in her loving arms. It was so warm and safe, that I imagined no wrong in the world could find me there. This is where I came from. This is where I want to return to, with all my soul, this is where I want to return to.
Thursday, February 6, 2014
I sometimes find the timeless poetry of the prophet Isaiah inspiring. That tends to be rare, for me, in the Old Testament as it can be difficult to identify with. I love today’s passage in how it speaks to his own people, offers grace to us today and points all of us to Christ. I see the words Isaiah writes here speaking of hope, and hope is a message from God which flows throughout time.
In Isaiah’s day, the Assyrians had become strong and would soon be invading from the north. Israel and Judah were divided. They had become wealthy and complacent in their obedience to the law. They had taken other gods into their homes and hearts. Israel, the northern kingdom had already been dissolved by Assyria. The king of Judah himself had committed atrocities, sins against man and God that would shock us even today and he was about to die as a result of his own politics and intrigue.
To a people threatened with death or slavery, Isaiah offers the hope of a strong nation which others look to for counsel, a secure place to live without fear of war. That hope however, can only come from lives lived in observance of the precepts handed down from Moses.
How often are we like the people of Isaiah’s day? What are our other gods? Where are we putting our time, our first fruits? Doesn’t it become so easy to avoid the word when our bellies are full? How often do we look to our own word over the word of God? Isn’t it then that life begins a downward spiral? Is it punishment from God, or is it the natural consequences of our own actions? Whether for the Israelites in slavery to the Assyrians or for us in slavery to sin, Isaiah points us both to Christ as “the instruction out of Zion” and “the word of the Lord from Jerusalem”. He foresees that it is Christ, the Word, as judge and arbiter of all who gives us the hope that only exists in the Lord. It is through that word, embodied in Jesus the Christ, that we can begin to eliminate the wars we fight within… and without ourselves.
In the southern kingdom of Judah, a new and righteous king took power. He listened to Isaiah. He lived and ruled as the Lord had proscribed. He united the people and saved them from the cruel fate suffered by Israel in the north. Today we have Christ as king. His word is the word of God. His law asks us to love God and love our neighbor. In fact Jesus later says that by loving and serving one another, we are loving and serving God.
Isaiah was asking the same of his people and he was competing against false prophets who fed the people conveniently believable lies leading them to serve themselves before God. How many false prophets do we choose to listen to when we turn on our TVs and radios? Where are they leading us? Is it into union or competition with Christ?
Yesterday and today, we are called to repent, called to turn ourselves away from the things and the ways of the world. Why the need for repentance if not for one thing…? Hope. Hope of peace, of swords to plows or tanks to tractors, of violence to non-violence; hope of spears to pruning hooks, of death to life; to never know war again.
Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light which the Lord our God gives us.
Being a father has taught me more about the nature of God than any other experience. As I read the Old Testament, at this point in my life, I identify with God the father and begin to notice a progression in the language and lessons used to tell and teach us to live with Him and one another. From the children’s stories of early Genesis to the complicated life lessons of prophets and proverbs, God seems to be speaking to an ever maturing audience.
The stories told of creation through the flood are simple and easily visualized by the reader. They are like the “Sesame Street” of the bible. With uncomplicated, memorable characters and simple settings, they teach us of our origins and our dignity. They show how important to our survival it is to listen to God (our father). Illustrating how disobedience distances us from God and how envy can kill our relationships are examples.
Further along in Genesis, when told about Abraham’s later life and that of his sons we learn about family relations. The behavior of and motivations of the characters become more mature and begin to address deeper issues in relationships both human and divine. God makes his covenant with Abraham while his sons conspire with one another concerning their father and youngest brother, but they (and we) are introduced to forgiveness. These stories come closer to real life drama and start to add positive consequences, such as riches and happiness, to our lawful actions.
With the Exodus story, Israel is coming of age as a people. Their identity is changed from clan to nation. While they cry for independence, God sets some rules. Using the written word now, as opposed to oral tradition, God undertakes a great teaching, exponentially greater than before. We learn about responsibility, self-discipline, cleanliness, social organization and community relations. Consequences here are more global, affecting a whole population rather than just one person or family. Israel is still dependent on God in a very child-like way as he feeds and clothes her in the desert.
Once in Canaan, the lessons become more intricate and complex. Social interaction, leadership and politics are among the subjects taught by judges, prophets and kings. Time and again teachers instruct while Israel, now so much like a teen-ager, disobeyed with a self centered angst or in choosing comfort and pleasure over communal well being. These episodes of “falling away” were followed by punishment handed down from a parent trying to teach that all our actions do have consequences, but the idea that God’s law gives rather than limits our freedom and happiness begins to grow out of the action/consequence model.
Breaking away from the story format, Songs and Psalms teach us to pray and show the young how their prayers and passions would be spent. Joy and lamentations, thanksgivings and petitions are all written in prose, poetry and hymn with great emotion. In our adolescence, strong emotions can be quite overwhelming at first. In dealing with love, anger, justice, helplessness etc., God teaches us to cry to him in all things.
The timeless Wisdom and Proverbs offer the more personal and practical advice and admonitions of parents sending forth their children into the world. While hearing about friendship, marriage, finance and worship, we are also offered keen insights into understanding human behavior.
It was only when I, myself had said farewell to my children, as they left the place they were raised, was I to see Israel as God’s child, brought up in loving discipline as told progressively along the myths, stories and history of her birth and early life as a nation through the Old Testament.
I recently started a course of study with the Diocese of Manchester, "Called to Servant Leadership". Each class has writing assignments which have been reflections on biblical passages or some aspect of my own faith journey. I had seen some faith based blogs before, but was somewhat hesitant to put my writing into that format. I was unsure it was good enough or that it might be seen as boastful. One Thursday, I went to daily mass over lunchtime and our pastor delivered a homily dealing with our fears and reservations about sharing the Word of God with our friends and faith community. It seems my worries had been heard. This evening I was feeling unsure about my ability to do so while shopping for sites and came upon an encouraging post.
So here I am, ready to share my faith with whom ever cares to read in the hope we may each come a little closer to our Lord. I place my efforts in His hands and bring my light out from under the bushel.