Monday, December 19, 2011

Ladybugs and Labyrinths

I sat at the entrance of the labyrinth for a few minutes before I started to walk. I had brought books and my journal with me but as I sat there in the drafty second floor of a quiet building that smelled of old books, I just looked at the swirling path before me. It was one I knew well.

The first time I encountered a labyrinth was when I was in about the 7th grade.  One painted on canvas was traveling around our diocese and was making a stop at my childhood parish where it was splayed out on the parish center's linoleum floor.  I can't quite remember what it was about the labyrinth that caught my attention.  Maybe it was its shape- smooth, concentric, intricately simple, and symmetric- or maybe it was because it was a treat for the youth group to be able to walk. No matter the reason, I can remember being ushered onto the canvas in my socks, being given a brief explanation of what the purpose of this experience was, and set loose to walk it with my peers.

Being the overtly intentional preteen that I was, I took my time as I was told, meandering through the twists and turns of the maze.  There was no rush after all. This was prayer and contemplation. There was no way to get lost; simply follow the path and you would be lead to the center.  There was something magical and mysterious about it.  The journey enticed me. It was my own and yet it was so many people's.  It is a path that has acted as a metaphor for life and it is a path that has met me on all different places on my journey, quite literally.

In Ireland, I would walk it on a hillside over looking Galway Bay.  In Connecticut, I would walk it in the wilderness of a retreat house.  At my home parish it would permanently be installed in paving stones, allowing me to walk it day and night. In Philadelphia, I would conveniently come to one at Sister of St. Joseph Motherhouse. In Sydney, it would greet me as a pilgrim. Each morning it greets me as I get ready for the day and pick up my rings and necklaces off a miniature version of the Chartres Labyrinth that I have come to love.

Friday I found myself again at the Labyrinth at the Lutheran Theological Seminary here in Philadelphia.  In its own room on the second floor of the school's library, the labyrinth is a smaller version of the Chartres Labyrinth that is open to the public whenever the library is open.  I've found myself there a few times, Friday it was a stop after a morning meeting about my Formation and a good time to just sit in prayer.

Certainly, my journey has led me places I never would have imagined, but like the labyrinth, you can only follow the path ahead of you sensing what might be ahead but never knowing more that a few steps ahead of yourself and a few steps behind.  There are times to pause and times to look up and see where you are in relation to the center.  For me, that is where God dwells.  If this path you follows is a journey or a metaphor for life- it is the constant pursuit of God.

You enter moving straight ahead, directly towards the God you desire, but, as is so often the case, that path soon turns.  You trace the Divine.  In and out you weave, knowing always where you are headed but not always knowing the exact route you're going to take to get there.

No matter how many times I walk it, I never remember the exact turns.  Each journey inward is its own. My feet fall softly and slowly.  I reflect and like my preteen self I travel slowly. In time I've learned to stop. To pause where necessary... to wait in the Spirit.

Friday, Jesus sat at the center of the labyrinth, sitting cross legged in prayer.  I knew I needed to move towards him, why else would I have stopped off at the labyrinth on a morning when I could be doing anything else.  Before I took my first step, a movement caught my eye- a lady bug dawdling over the tight wound fibers of the carpet.  This bug would be walking with me.  I paused and let her cross the entrance before I moved inward.  As I walked, more lady bugs made their way through the maze. They made me stop, cutting my thoughts short as I witnessed their slow movement.  Some would stop completely and I'd nudge them along- no need to stop moving little fellow, let your little legs carry you where they may.

In time, Christ, who remained at the center, came to lead me by the hand, pulling me faster than I might usually move along.  Gentle nudging, inward and outward, toward a place of contentment with my faithful companion.

Making the final ninety degree turn, I entered the sanctuary of the labyrinth. The journey takes time and yet when I make that final turn I always seem to be surprised that I am there already.  Aren't there more steps to be taken?  How could I already be here? Yet I am. The journey leads me here- as it always does, whether I'm ready or not- to God.

In Chartres Cathedral, the Labyrinth lies in the nave, as if it were a womb. There the Cathedral's famous rose window can cast a light that perfectly encompasses it. Recently I heard it said, "this blessed light reminds us that in the quest for the Divine, we must always remember that in Christ the Divine becomes man within Mary and within our own journeys we are invited to bring the Divine to life in us."

How fitting that new life come through divine light in this journey, especially in this season of Advent.  The Annunciation propels us into this last week of Advent. We look towards Christmas with the yes on our lips that will bring Christ to life in this world and in our lives.  The last four weeks we have prayed for that coming, as we have navigated the twists and turns of the season, of prayer, and of ourselves. Now we make that final faithful turn, the one that always seems to be a surprise. And trusting in the Word, we stand face to face with our God, the God who leads us on our journey, nudges us along, sits at our center, and asks simply in humility and trust that we give birth to him each and every day.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

An Advent Prayer

A prayer for all of you as we enter this last week of Advent and move towards the joy of Christmas. May God illuminate your lives with grace and meet you in the manger of your hearts, transforming you in ways truthful & ever unexpected.

O God, most high and most near,
you send glad tidings to the lowly,
you hide not your face from the poor;
those who dwell in darkness you call into the light.
Take away our blindness,
remove the hardness of our hearts,
and form us into a humble people,
that, at the advent of your Son,
we may recognize him in our midst
and find joy in his saving presence.
We ask this through him whose coming is certain,
whose day draws near:
Jesus, your Son and our brother.

Taken from the Daily Prayer, Daily Bread, CSJ/SSJ Prayer Book, Advent/Christmas Edition. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Maybe it will be clearer...

I had never met anyone named Ita before Ita Ford.  In fact, I don't know if I can say that I ever actually met Ita  Ford but at some point in my life, her words, which are in fact older than I am, entered into my life. And as is the case with words, with them came herself and so, we met. We met and the words she had written in 1980 to her niece on her sixteenth birthday spoke directly to me.

Brooklyn is not passing through the drama of El Salvador, but some things hold true wherever one is, and at whatever age. What I'm saying is, I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you...something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for...something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can't tell you what it might be -- that's for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search. Maybe this sounds weird and off-the-wall, and maybe, no one else will talk to you like this, but then, too, I'm seeing and living things that others around you aren't...

I want to say to you: don't waste the gifts and opportunities you have to make yourself and other people happy... I hope this doesn't sound like some kind of a sermon because I don't mean it that way. Rather, it's something you learn here, and I want to share it with you. In fact, it's my birthday present to you. If it doesn't make sense right at this moment, keep this and read it sometime from now. Maybe it will be clearer...

Each year I re-read those words on the second of December, the anniversary of Ita Ford, Maura Clark, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kozol's deaths.  In a way it is kind of like a birthday present. Reading them is like seeing candles burning brightly in the midst of the darkness.  Each time I read, there is something else that strikes me;  there is a new understanding to what I thought I understood.  Like the candles of a cake that illuminate your face and bring the hope of a new year.  Maybe this year it will be clearer...

Wherever one is... 
whatever age...
find that which...energizes...enthuses...enables... 
don't waste the gifts you have to make yourself and other people happy...
Maybe this year it will be clearer...

In the same way, the four American church women martyred in El Salvador offer hope and light in the darkness.  Yet rather than candles in a cake, I wonder if their lives and witness aren't better suited to the candles of the Advent wreath. As one blogger put it, "In El Salvador, a country named for the savior, they lived an Advent life, waiting for Christ to arrive amidst grave suffering, injustice and violence."  

The thing that drove them was a deep love of Christ and that is what shines forth in who they were.  There is a reason that Ita, Maura, Jean, and Dorothy have not been forgotten... that their light has not been extinguished.  It is because they embodied the light of Christ that gave them life and like Advent their lives call us to a new awareness of the work that is being done in us and all around us.  Christ is being born. We wait for him and hope for the day when he will come.  That day is coming and that day is already here. Today. Right now.

I talked to a dear friend this week and we struck on this same sentiment.  We want to give birth to God today.  Christ's love is dwelling deep within us and we can only wait for it to spring forth.  Waiting is not what my heart wants to do.  I want to keep moving. I want it to spring forth. Why can't it just be?!?  But that's the thing, most of the time it can't and I can't make it.  I want to want. But all I can do is recognize that desire and the simple waiting such a want requires.

We don't wait because we want to, we wait because we have to. We wait because God is nurturing His love in us. Advent is a time of waiting and in this time we live our lives awaiting the God we are invited to meet every day.  Along the way we encounter those who are sure to show us God's grace and love. Some we will know by name, some not. Some we will encounter in person, others in their affect on those we meet. Wherever and whatever.  We wait with them and as the weeks wear on, the light within us will grow brighter.  In our expectant waiting, our desire grows and our hearts find newness in this hope-filled season.  Coming again into Advent in a spirit of waiting, hoping that as the light grows, maybe this year it (God's Love & Our Desires) will be clearer.

Artist: Lewis Williams, SFO

Saturday, November 5, 2011

This is not what I signed up for...

Work in the inner city is always full of surprises. Poverty. Violence. Drugs. Homelessness. Hunger. Unemployment.  Add on top of that the fact that as the director of social outreach at the community center I provide aid to those in need and my share of surprises becomes disproportionate to most.  For the most part (knock on wood), I have become more comfortable with handling the unexpected on a daily basis. As time has gone on, the importance of faith and trust have been reinforced and reaffirmed as "God will provide" has moved far beyond a simple axiom and become a way of being and ministering.

I truly believe that God will provide. If I didn't, I wouldn't be able to do the work that I do. That's because a) I would worry myself to death about where we would get all the help we need, i.e. why the food pantry is empty, b) I would realize that there is no way we should be able to do the work we do with the staff/help we have, i.e. who in their right mind delegates event coordination to teenagers?!?, and c) If I didn't think God would provide, I pretty sure I'd be saying that we can do/ are doing this on our own, which is just plain false.  Those are just some of the reasons I believe God will provide.

That faith though does come with some consequences.  God will provide. That means whether you like it or not, God is there and is going to come up with something. God will provide. And that means that you don't really get a free choice in what exactly the Good Lord giveth.  Whatever it is that God provides, I have to believe it's good.  That each new experience/ surprise/ twist in the road is a blessing and/or opportunity for grace. I wouldn't be able to do the work I do without that.

But what about when what God seems to provide isn't exactly what you signed up for?  Not that you were expecting something in particular, but nowhere in what you expected or thought would be expected of you did this ever come up.

Empty food pantry? Vietnamese elderly couple in need on Federal disaster grants? Volunteers with criminal backgrounds?  Putting on large scale community events on 2-weeks notice?  No problem. I've got it covered.

Accompanying a neighbor through diagnosis and treatment for breast and lymph node cancer? This is not what I signed up for.

In fact, I don't like doctors, I have no medical training, and blood makes me woozy.  Our neighbor, Sally, is not the most agreeable woman in the world, has smoked all her life and won't admit that that is the root of her emphysema. She can't and most likely wouldn't go to doctors appointments if someone didn't accompany her, in essence making her go.  That someone doing the accompanying is me.

In the midst of my ministry last year, I wrote about a breakthrough moment with Sally.  Soon after Sally opened up to me I wrote of the experience of caring for her:

I can feel that moment. The memory of it is triggered deep within me and while the details of our conversation fade, that touch does not. And I wonder, did Christ ever forget those he touched? The lepers and the blind people he healed- each one had a connection through touch with Christ. For healing to happen they needed to touch, not because healing is somehow linked to touch, no, they needed to touch to believe that change could happen. Such belief comes from a connection, a presence, a belief and care by those who touch us. Jesus touched those in need and changed their lives... I can hope to reach out like that in/with my life. If I do, God is bound to touch me and that's the type of feeling you don't forget- it changes you, it heals you, it stays with you, and it makes you stay in touch with what's all around you.

Our relationship had been rocky leading up to that moment of connection but in that moment barriers were broken and progress was made.

I wish I could say that the smoothness of that moment continued... it didn't.  That's probably why I haven't really written about Sally since.  Grace abounded vividly that day. It opened my heart and gave me the opportunity to love another in a new way, connecting with God and making a difference in the process.  The day that we spent seven hours in the waiting room of an inner city Emergency Room, because Sally told me she couldn't swallow and hadn't eaten in days, only to have Sally storm out of the waiting room without being seen and demand to be taken home was less obviously graceful.  As we yelled at each other in the parking garage, I could feel the moment but in a much different way.

The ensuing months have been rough. I've learned that giving your heart to others in ministry does not give them the right to trample all over it, that vulnerability is a two-way street that must be tread with caution, and that sometimes to best serve someone you need to detach yourself from them so that they can walk on their own. After all, once healing takes place it is the healed that gets up and walks not the healer that walks for them.

As we've traveled towards this diagnosis, I've put these lessons into action.  The work I do requires commitment to a lot of people and as such I can't let one person monopolize my time and energy and I also have to leave time and energy for myself.  I've made other parish staff go to appointments, dropped Sally off to fend for herself, and emotionally distanced myself from the case.  None of this has been easy.  Once my heart is invested in something or someone I want to see it through. Detaching my well-intentioned heart and placing responsibility on Sally has been difficult, but I know it is for the best.  In moments of doubt or guilt, I think that I should be doing more, that somehow pulling away and making Sally self reliant is cold-hearted and uncompassionate. Yet, this is what I need to do... for her and for me.  To do anything else would be a disservice.

So, when the results of a biopsy and other battery of tests came back today and the doctor called me into the examining room to bear the news and be with Sally as we looked towards what this future with cancer will mean, I didn't (and still don't) quite know what to do with it all.

This is not what I signed up for, no way no how.  Still it seems to be what I've got and what God is calling me to work in and learn from.  It's one of those surprises that comes with the work I do.  All I can say is that  God will provide.  What exactly? I'm not sure. Perhaps a new way to serve, a different way to grow, a discomfort that I would never wish for, or an opportunity for grace and mercy.  Really, I don't know. I can just believe that God will provide for Sally and myself.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Balancing Act

The last few weeks, and in all truth months, have been filled with transition. That has left me out of whack and steered my writing much more toward the personal than the public.  A sort of haze settled in over my mind, clouding my writing process and leaving me to deal in the story of my life much more in person than in writing.  

What I have written for public consumption has been much more strained. Withstanding rounds of revision and slowly, laboriously being brought out of me, these pieces have been helpful in jump starting my writing if only through the necessity of deadlines.  Despite this block or in light of it, life has gone on.  I am transitioning into living in a local community with four Sisters of St. Joseph, women who are at least double my age but still companions and compatriots to me on this journey.  As I sit in the haze of transition, it is these women who sit with me, knowing all too well what it feels like to be in a new place, with new people, in a way of life that no matter how much you try to wrap your mind around is still very foreign.

A dear friend recently asked me what it was like to live with these women.  At first I looked back at her quizzically, how is this any different than the transition I made into community last year?  Then her question hit me. I knew what she was asking- what is it like to live with these women? These women are sisters... but even more, these women are old ladies. Truthfully, I didn't quite know how to answer. If I think about it, they are old. The thing is though that I haven't thought about it. Sure there are moments when it is striking clear that the women I live with have been alive much longer than I have, when stories predate my birth, and I realize the woman I am having a heart to heart with is my mother's age.  These are facts. And this is a fact of this life especially.

My preoccupation over the last few weeks though has been with my own life and not the sum of the years in anyone else's.  Moving into a new community, returning to an intense work setting, making my way along in my application to the SSJs, and dealing with the ups and downs of everyday life has shown me that life is a balancing act.  In the midst of transition, it is easy to get off balance.  Lots of things throw you for curves and everything seems to have a different degree of impact on you than it might otherwise. 

In times less hectic, balance is something that comes with greater ease. You have it and you must simply maintain it.  When life is jumbled, it takes the tension of honesty with yourself, others, and God to pull things together.  I catch glimpses of balance every now and then, but know it will be a while until it is a more permanent feature.  For now, I must simply recognize and be at peace with this fact. If I feel like life is balanced and the uneasiness of all this transition has passed for good, I am most likely lying to myself. Remember that whole honesty thing?! Truly though I am coming more and more to understand the balancing act.

This means balancing time with community and time of prayer and contemplation. It means straightening out tasks in my ministry so I can serve those most in need, while also giving myself enough space and time, to care for myself, so that I have enough energy to serve to the best of my ability.  It means being attentive to myself, being gentle, so that I do not lose the balance within myself that is so critical. Without such balance, I lose my adequacy in many things. I can't write. I falter in prayer. I find myself exhausted. I can't be present to others the way I'd like to be. I find myself unable to fully minister to those who come to the Center for help.

Yet, each day brings with it a new chance to take steps towards balance.  I find myself becoming more comfortable with my new community; comfortable enough to take time away from them- to walk out on a television show we're watching to go pray, to fond time to write or nap when I need it.  I'm not perfect. Sometimes the Spirit hits me and I choose to stay, bargaining for a few more minutes in community, only to find I'm tuckered out once I move out of the room. Still, even in not heeding the call, simply recognizing the call to balance is a step in and of itself.  

The same can be said in ministry.  Remembering why I do what I do in the midst of frantic demands on my time and energy is a blessing.  I do not do this for me. This is for God and neighbor.  I need balance so that I can be united with both.  Dependence on both will lead me to a well balanced life, one full of love, grace, joy, and gratitude.

Slowly but surely I will move toward balance.  Slower than I would like at times, but more surely than I could ever imagine. The work of such a balancing act is the act of living. It is takes a lifetime to achieve but ultimately, such balance will allow me to live this life... my life.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Bound by Ignition: a poem

You deserve to receive all of my love.
Anything less, Lord, would not be enough.
I'll lavish you, Lord, with all I have received.
I'll spend my whole life to anoint you as King.
- Danielle Rose, "Anointing at Bethany"

Bound by Ignition

Your steadfast love swirls within me.
My heart aflame
Burning as I seem to have always felt it.
In the way I will never forget.

Doubt flits away in the vapor of smoke;
Trails of apprehension, crumble like crystalline.
Flakes fall, soft like snow.
There my feet fall.

"Follow me," you call.
My will chimes in with a 'but' on the end.
"I will, but..."
No. Not Here.

The flame rises,
the resistance melts away.
In the fire, my will is transformed.
Merged, Fused with yours.

You rise in me, I but follow.
If I withdraw, I freeze
the fuel stands still
no spark- no fury for life

a life of the heart

no need to remember;
never forgotten.
muscle memory.

no knowing how it will beat,
assured that grace trumps certainty.

Bound by ignition
to burn brightly in you.
to love deeply in you.
to always be yours.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Transitions & Updates

The last month has been one of chaos. I moved back to Philadelphia midway through August, moved into a new community, and returned to work at the community center as the new assistant director in charge of social outreach, volunteer coordination, and all sorts of various other programming. Add on top of that the general state of a life in transition, a dear friend deciding to leave the congregation, and a death that shook the entire community and you have a glimpse of where my life has been (and why it hasn't been here on the blog) over the last month. Oh yeah... and I'm becoming a nun.

So all in all, please excuse my absence over the last few weeks. I'm glad to be back and hope to have a new entry up very soon. In the meantime, I need a favor, can you comment and let me know your favorite entry from the last year? I'm working on a piece for publication that reflects on my year of service & which draws off of my writing, so I need to know what might be the best piece to feature. I have my favorite but I want to hear from you, so get to it and I'll get on a new entry right away.

Peace to you all,

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Speaking Injustice.

"Yo no hablo espanol pero yo en entiendo."

This is a phrase I have become fairly familiar with over the last year. Roughly translated it means "I do not speak Spanish but I understand it." I am so familiar because, in the last year, it has passed my lips more often than almost any other Spanish phrase.

It is the one phrase that my Spanish speaking roommate taught me in our year together. It is enough to get people to begin talking to me when I find myself a stranger in their home. To be a stranger who cannot communicate is not a good situation to be in, especially when all you want to do is help the person you're trying to communicate with.

For the longest time, I found my way around this phrase. I found other ways to communicate. Taking on interns added to my work load (doubling the need to ease neighbors whose homes we entered and coaching students simultaneously in the basics of social work) but it allowed me to have a translator when I entered a home where English wasn't spoken and certainly wasn't understood. In these cases, the phrase acted as an endearing excuse. As if to say, I'm sorry I can't speak your language, but please accept this butchered phrase as a sign that I'm trying and know that I do know what you're saying. I would use it as a means of comfort- a plea of sorts to explain to those I wished to relate to that I could understand what they were saying, even if I couldn't verbally respond. Thank goodness for nearly a decade of French and the power of a reassuring smile.

Other times, if I found myself on home visits without an intern, I would turn to neighbors or, on occasion, I would call back to the office in the hopes that our parish secretary would translate for me. Neither of these situations were/are ideal. They are humbling, to say the least, but still when push comes to shove they make sure that people who need assistance were able to be served.

Now having returned to Philadelphia after a bit of a hiatus, I find myself catching up on visits that have piled up over the last month. Yesterday I scheduled fifteen visits in one day. That's a lot and, actually, I didn't schedule them... a volunteer did. I had her mark next to each person she called if they'd be home at the time I'd scheduled and what language they spoke. When she returned from making phone calls with the list, more than half were Spanish speakers. "No problem", I thought to myself, "this volunteer needs hours and I need a translator, I'll just bring her with me." That was the plan.

Then, late in the afternoon, right before I left the office my phone rang. On the other end, my volunteer told me she had forgotten she had an appointment scheduled for today and wouldn't be able to come in. Like I said, that was the plan.

I left the office not quite knowing what the next day would hold. Today, I came back into the office still quite unsure. "Trust," I told myself. That seems to be the frequent order for life at the community center. So I hit the road with trust in mind.

As I began to visit homes, my fears eased as the first few homes marked as 'Spanish-speaking' were bilingual and manageable. Then I came to Luis's house.

I say house and not home for a reason. The building I came up to had no front stairs, instead I hoisted myself inside the shell of a house. Luis was sweeping when I arrived- sweeping the plywood floor, mind you, trying to get rid of as much dust as possible. In fact, the house's interior was only wood. No carpet. No furniture. No drywall. No running water. Only some windows and even those were boarded up. The situation was beyond words, but even if I had words Luis and I wouldn't have been able to communicate.

I tried. I really did. I mixed Spanish, French, and English to try and understand the situation. Luis got frustrated as he tried to reply back in English to my questions. I turned to my famous phrase. Yo no hablo espanol pero yo en entiendo. I understand. A stream of Spanish came back at me and I understood: This place had no heat; Luis had no other place to go; There was only so much I could do.

Without the ability to speak to Luis's concerns and situation, I couldn't do any justice. I don't know if I could have done anything even if we were speaking the same language. Yet, we weren't and in failing to communicate I felt like I was doing an injustice. As a volunteer, I had screeched past with my broken, nearly-nonexistent Spanish; now, as a paid employee, how am I supposed to do my job when, without language, I cannot fully serve those I minister to? And it wasn't just Luis, it was so many that I meet; How much more could be accomplished if I was just able to talk one-on-one with the person across from me- to not just feel their pain but to speak to it.

I left Luis knowing change needed to happen. I left him with a voucher he didn't understand and I left him in a situation that no voucher could fix. It wasn't just Luis though. (His situation was extreme.) It was the recent immigrants I meet and cannot give full attention to because I don't have words. It is the cycle of injustice perpetuated by the inability of one to meet another where they are at, to sacrifice time and self to learn a new language so comfort can be found. Comfort that stems far beyond a phrase or two. 'I understand' can only go so far. At some point it has to be followed up by "and because I truly understand, I find myself more like you. More able to help because I am enriched, challenged, and humbled as I seek justice in a world where injustice seems to pass as the norm."

Poco a poco, estoy aprendiendo.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Live Jesus

I was recently asked to write a Gospel summary. The instructions given to me were as follows:

"In your own words, write a summary of what is important in living as a Christian. This summary pertains to both basic values and concrete ways of living as revealed in the Gospels by the words and actions of Jesus.

Imagine that you are explaining the teachings and example of Jesus to an adult who is interested in Christianity. This person is intelligent and well disposed, but not yet familiar with the Gospels and, therefore, has asked you to write this summary. The length of the summary depends on you, but you should try to give what you consider to be a representative summary of the Gospel message."

I was to write the summary without looking at Scripture and do so in one sitting. The result was two very different pieces. One was much more theological and reflected on what it means to be a Christian, the other a more literal summary that dealt with Christ's life and the challenge it poses to followers. The piece that follow is the latter.

On the table next to my bed stands a small card that reads: "Today's Challenge: Live Jesus."

The card may only be the size of a business card and the challenge it poses only two words, but its message is so much more expansive than that. Those two words, live Jesus, mean so much more.

To live Jesus is to live the Gospel. Living it is no simple task, neither is trying to summarize the message of the Gospels, but I guess it wouldn't be called a challenge otherwise, now would it?

It is today's challenge. A challenge renewed and reawakened each day. The challenge starts in a manger, under the cover of darkness, where God became human. Born to a simple family, Jesus defied all odds and brought the Divine into the everyday, bringing with him hope and a new way of relating to God. To live like this Jesus is to recognize the Divine in our midst.

From there the challenge took form through the life and ministry of Jesus. On the banks of the Jordan, he fulfills the prophesy of his cousin John, who baptizes him with some reticence, as the Spirit falls upon him and Jesus is called forth to the life he will lead unto death. Jesus seems to sense the challenge that lies ahead for him (if he doesn't sense it then, the next forty days in the desert communing with God and being tempted by the Devil surely make the point clear.) Yet when he emerges from the wilderness he invites others into the journey he has already begun.

Calling fisherman to cast out their nets, to have faith, he wrangles a ragtag group of disciples to follow him, to become fishers of men. These followers leave behind their livelihoods to follow this teacher. He leads them for miles on foot, teaching them in word and deed. As they travel they meet people of all sorts- the rich, the poor, women, children, temple officials, prostitutes, tax collectors, and many more. In one way or another he talks with and relates to each one of these people.

In some cases, he challenges them and their way of thinking. He questions the temple official's motives and blind adherence to rules (he heals on the sabbath and replies to the questions of commandments meant to trip him up), a move that does not make him popular by any means. Of the rich, he instructs the rich young man that he might do all the things in the world right but to truly find God he must leave his riches and follow Christ.

In other cases, he uses them as examples. "Be like a child," he instructs his disciples, for to do so is to trust and love purely. "Whatever you do to the least of these, you do unto me." He crafts stories from the Good Samaritan to the Prodigal Son to teach his disciples about how to live, the gifts of faith, and the call/responsibility that comes along with such faith.

This call was lived out even further in the way he welcomed those he met and was welcomed by them, growing in relationship and allowing lessons to be learned, healing to take place, and people to find God. Dining with prostitutes and tax collectors, he was one with them. And on the hillsides, he instructed many, feeding them with loaves and fishes and nourishing their souls by instructing the masses in how they would be blessed for being true to themselves and following God in the Beatitudes.

Through all of this Jesus lived fully and after three years of ministry he went with his disciples to Jerusalem for what would be his Passion, death, and resurrection. Here, the challenge to "live Jesus" takes all the life and teaching from his life and is distilled. Here, to live Jesus is to be the hands of Christ; the hands that break bread and share it with friends, so that all might be fed. Here, to live Jesus is to have the eyes of Christ, eyes that look up from the floor where you kneel to wash the feet of others, humbled in service and love. Here, to live Jesus is to feel the pain of betrayal by friends in the garden and to forgive. Here, to live Jesus is to carry the cross to death. There, on the hillside, Christ died, nailed like a criminal to a cross. To live Jesus is to be present to that.

And finally to live Jesus is to live the Resurrection, Christ's rising from the dead. Returning to share the Good News, as he had before his death, but with a new spirit, one that called those he taught to action in remembrance of all he had taught them. He told the women at his tomb not to weep but to share the hope of his return. He met his terrified followers in an upper room and on the road to Emmaus, where they didn't recognize him, and in each place he brought them joy and promise, bolstering their faith and calling them to more. He was alive and calling them to live too.

And so, the Gospels end. Jesus ascends to heaven and the Holy Spirit is left with his followers. But the Gospel message doesn't stop there. We wake up to it every morning. It stares us in the face. A story lived thousands of years ago, a challenge that is still alive today: live Jesus.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Life in Abundance

"To the East, P.O."

In July, I was blessed to spend time on retreat at St. Mary by-the-Sea in Cape May Point, New Jersey. My time away was full of grace and I returned renewed and refreshed. Whereas I would usually offer words to convey my experience, I offer instead some artistic impressions of my time with God. May these do justice to the abundance I've encountered and reveal what your eyes are meant to see.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Whoever Has Ears

Romero Center Ministries in Camden, NJ runs wonderful, faith filled programs for youth and young adults. Over the last year I've gotten to know the crew over there and have been blessed to work and interact with the Romero Center in a number of ways. The following is the latest of those interactions: a reflection on this Sunday's Gospel- the parable of the Sower and the Seed. If you want the added bonus of pictures or to find out about the wonderful work the Romero Center does, check it out here.

I feel like I’ve always known the parable of the Sower. You know the story- seeds scattered, birds eat, sun burns, thorns choke, and rich soil bears fruit. Chalk that reality up to the fact that the story is so easily adaptable to felt board story-telling and coloring book pages a la early 1990’s catechetical (CCD, in my case) curriculums.

Just as I can’t exactly recall the first time I heard the parable, I also can’t tell you how many reflections I’ve heard on the topic. The amazing part, though, is that every time I hear the parable of the Sower something new seems to surface.

Writing this reflection, I turned first to the idea of seeds but as I read the Gospel for this Sunday it was the solitary line at the end of the short version of the reading that stuck with me: “Whoever has ears ought to hear.”

All the times I’ve heard this reading, I have never heard that line.

“Whoever has ears ought to hear,” Jesus continues as he talks to his disciples, “but blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear…many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and hear what you hear but did not hear it.” (MT 9, 16-17)

And so, the blessing is ours. Our eyes can see. Our ears can hear. Our hearts can understand. That is the immense blessing that we have been given.

It is easy to recall the times you did not hear, to look back and see the moments of recognition you missed. However, to even know that we have not heard and not seen means that at some point we caught a glimpse of the Greatness and Grace we longed for. Ultimately, it means we have seen the goodness of God and now we can never look back.

I think of the times I have met God face to face. From monumental moments, like the child of the Manila slums who fell asleep in my lap three years ago today, to the almost mundane moments of my everyday life, the high school youth I work with daily to help complete their community service hours, I have seen the difference care and compassion can make in a life, not least of all my own. These are the moments that I’ve been able to hear God’s voice and see God’s hand at work. In them, I’ve found myself most alive and because of them, I can never again live a life that doesn’t seek to share love and discover God. It may sound cliché but these are the moments that make you who you are.

Like seeds exposed to the light, faith has sprouted within us. Seeds that lay dormant for years can flourish at a glimpse of God. With a single exposure we can see and are called to find the Divine in each new moment. Our hearts have been converted. We have been changed. Where once we were seeds, we are now changed into plants.

Growth though does not stop at that moment of realization. When we understand what we are seeing and hearing, when our whole being becomes invested, then true growth can occur. At that moment, our ears become tools to hear the voice of God and the cries of the poor; our eyes are transformed to see the face of God among each person we encounter; and our hearts understand that God is both the sower and the seed. All we can do is allow growth, no matter how fast or slow, to take place. Remaining ever mindful that ‘whoever has ears ought to hear’ and praying that we might hear what we ought to, bringing it to fruition in fullness of life.

Photographic Memories: Monumental Endings

June has come to an end and with it my time with the SSJ Mission Corps has also come to a close. The month was full, as so much of my time in Philadelphia has been. Time that gladly will not end with this chapter. Yet as I move on from this year of service, the year behind me stands as a testament to the wonder that God has laid out before us. It has been a year filled with creativity, both written and visual.

June was no different. My roomates and I set out on the road commonly traveled, becoming tourists and taking in the sights in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia. On these journies the beauty was chiseled in stone, stalwart and proud. The US Capitol to the National Shrine and Bascillica displayed visions of granduer. While the muse that has caught my eye all year, City Hall, revealed that mystery, intricacy, and austerity abounded both inside and out. Endings and beginning can each be monumental in their own ways. They loom large on the paths that we travel but ultimaely do not dominate, truncate, or eliminate the journey we take- the simply add to the wonder, marking where we've been and showing us how far we've come. The visions below reveal part of the beauty that stands on my pathway. May these images mark something bigger and reveal what your eyes are meant to see.