General

Where is He hid? – Jessica Powers and “The Hidden Christ”

The call to presence these days invites us to open our own eyes and heart to the Infant Jesus in tender flesh, to Mary and Joseph, to animals and feedbox, visitors and travelers, vulnerability and poverty and great joy. The Child reaches out for care and love, and as we draw near perhaps we can see his newborn glance take us in.  And so, as we reflect these days to Epiphany (January 5th), these reflections from others continue to be offered to feed our encounter and our silence.  

Carmelite Jessica Powers (Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit, OCD) is well known for her well crafted words in poetry. Follow her seeking. Where are you to seek?

empty cave by jerusalem

The Hidden Christ

I went into the Christmas cave;
there was no Child upon the straw.
The ox and ass were all I saw.

I sought His stable where He gave
His goodness in the guise of bread.
Emptiness came to me instead.

Filled with my Father’s words, I cried
“Where have You hid Yourself?” and all
the living answered to my call.

I found Him (and the world is wide)
dear in His warm ubiquity.
Where heart beat, there was Christ for me.

I went back to the Christmas cave,
glad with the gain of everywhere.
And lo! the blessed Child was there.

Then at His feasting board He gave
embrace. He multiplied His good
and fed in me the multitude.

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Categories: Christmas, General, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Presence to the Mystery in the Manger: Sister Maura Eichner, SSND

Another day, another way to be with the Mystery in the manger, and some words and wisdom offered (which will continue through Epiphany, Jan. 5th, 2014).

The call to presence these days invites us to open our own eyes and heart to this Child and his family, to the visitors and travelers, to song and embrace, to all this season in holy night and early days, in incarnation flesh, and vulnerability holds.  It asks us to hearken to this Word, this Proclamation, this Love, definitively present and spoken directly to our world, to creation, and to each of us each and all of us.

sister maura eichnerStill, these gifts from others may help us travel the distance into our own silence to encounter.  So, shhhh… let us… See. Listen. Treasure. Ponder. Hold and be held. And then be still. And perhaps be moved to worship. To song. To poetry. To service. To sharing. I’ll meet you there.  Rejoicing!

Today, find two poem selections from Sister Maura Eichner, SSND (School Sister of Notre Dame). I was fortunate enough to have Sister Maura as an undergrad professor, after having dined on her poetry in adolescence and early young adulthood.

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Atonal Carol for the
Present Moment

Son of God
you took life
from a gentle girl
the Jewish wife

of Joseph. You
also wholly took
our laughter, grief,
ironies and jokes.

Take us, too,
again, again,
on this lonely planet
world of men.

Orbit our veins,
look out our eyes,
be a now
surprise! surprise!

Like that human girl
who cradled you,
Son of Man,
we need you.

 

Love Travels Far

Love travels far
To be home.
Carols echo –
“Come, O come. . . .”

God is where
He chose to be –
Living in you,
Living in me.

Categories: Christmas, General, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Being with the Mystery in the Manger: “First Coming” by Madeleine L’Engle

SAMSUNGThese days call for ways to be with the Mystery in the manger, and you’ll find here some words and wisdom (through Epiphany, Jan. 5th, 2014).

This call to presence invites us to open our own eyes and heart to this Child and his family, to the visitors and travelers, to song and embrace, to all this season in holy night and early days, in incarnation flesh, and vulnerability holds.  It asks us to harken to this Word, this Proclamation, this Love, definitively present and spoken directly to our world, to creation, and to each of us each and all of us.

Still, these gifts offered here from others’ reflecting may help us travel the distance into our own silence to encounter.  So, shhhh… let us… See. Listen. Treasure. Ponder. Hold and be held. And then be still. And perhaps be moved to worship. To song. To poetry. To service. To sharing. I’ll meet you there.  Rejoicing!

For our initial reflection then, a poem from Madeleine L’Engle, found in A Cry Like a Bell.

First Coming 

He did not wait till the world was ready,
till men and nations were at peace.
He came when the Heavens were unsteady,
and prisoners cried out for release.

He did not wait for the perfect time.
He came when the need was deep and great.
He dined with sinners in all their grime,
turned water into wine. He did not wait

till hearts were pure. In joy he came
to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.

He came to a world which did not mesh,
to heal its tangles, shield its scorn.
In the mystery of the Word made Flesh
the Maker of the stars was born.

We cannot wait till the world is sane
to raise our songs with joyful voice,
for to share our grief, to touch our pain,
He came with Love: Rejoice! Rejoice!

– Madeleine L’Engle

Categories: Christmas, General, Poetry | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Last Judgement – A Story Telling

This All Souls Day, I am reminded of a powerful image passed along to me, oh, about 25 years ago.  It seems appropriate to re-gift it today.

A volunteer catechist for high school youth that was working with me at a parish at the time gave me a reflection on the Last Judgement.  It didn’t have a source, but was a favorite of hers.  I was pleased to receive it, and have never forgotten it.  Over the years, I have, of course, embellished it!  And so what follows is a combination of the original, and subsequent thought and prayer.
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For this judgement after death, you crawl into God’s lap and tell him the story of your life… all of it.  This takes a LONG time.  Tears, of course, ensue… and whatever else you might imagine to be fitting for you.

Hours later, exhausted, still in those arms, God looks deeply into your eyes and asks if it might be El’s* turn.  You nod, pinned and held in El’s gaze.  God then tells you the story of your life with great love, truth, humor, compassion.  There are more tears, yes, but also laughter, deep joy, wonder, wholeness, humility, grace, healing, compassion, connection, forgiveness, celebration, communion and community, wisdom, understanding, surrender, and an intense sense of being safe and sheltered, while receiving even more energy to love, as you unite with the One whose life in love always flows outward.  Imagine it.

I hope that encounter for all we love this day, surrounded by clouds of saints and souls, hoping and loving for and with us.  They are anxious that all those now living would share in the mission to communicate about the tenderness of God’s wondrous action in lives.  Trusting God with each chapter of our mixed up and wondrous story, mended with mercies and lavished with love, we are sent to tell others of this grounded way of living and hoping.  May we all, part of ALL souls, support and pray for each other’s journeys and lean on and in the Love that created and draws all of us, all the time.

I’ll meet you there.

*  Long ago, in reading Madeleine L’Engle’s works, I discovered that she solved the problem of an appropriate pronoun for God by using “El”.  El is short for Elohim – a Hebrew name for God, found throughout scripture.  I have claimed its use here, happily. 
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God Wishes to Charge You with a Mission: July 31st – Ignatius of Loyola, Elizabeth Ann Seton, Catherine Laboure

Yes, it’s the feast of St. Ignatius, Loyola.  There are many who will today reflect on this man who was a listener and chronicler of his own journey of discipleship, and whose rooted guidance still shape the growth in faith of many today.  His feast is a celebration of discernment, of education, of commitment, of companionship with Jesus and with others – and it is close to the heart of those who have so benefitted from the gifts of Ignatian Spirituality and the Society of Jesus (SJs), and the many religious communities which draw their charisms from these roots.

Ah… but let’s remember two other women saints for whom July 31st is an important day.  They too have words for our journeys, and invitations for our ways.

  On July 31, 1809, Elizabeth Ann Seton arrived in the valley in Emmitsburg, MD.  This woman who found in the Catholic faith an amazing anchor and in the Eucharist a way to keep her heart “like a needle to the pole” was a mother and wife, educator and foundress, prolific writer of letters, friend and guide.  In Emmitsburg, Catholic education continued that had been birthed on Paca Street in Baltimore… and her fledgling community found roots and spirituality as they lived simply, served much, taught more, and prayed throughout.

  On July 31, 1830, young novice Catherine Laboure, on the eve of what was then the feast of St. Vincent de Paul, had an apparition of Mary in the middle of the night in Rue de Bac chapel in the motherhouse of the Daughters of Charity.  Eventually this would lead to a November encounter with the Virgin that birthed the miraculous medal (“O Mary, conceived with sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”)

What Catherine heard from Mary that night I find quite fitting for my reflection, and I offer it to you this day.

“God wishes to charge you with a mission.  You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary.  Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you.”

“God wishes to charge you with a mission.”   If we’ve read anything that has been quoted from Pope Francis’ statements since his election as pontiff, we have definitely noted this focus on going out – on mission.  It’s part of “the mess” he told young people at World Youth Day in Rio last week that he wanted them to stir up back in their home countries and dioceses… to go out to share the good news.  The other clear theme that shows up in Pope Francis over and over again is mercy.  Receiving God’s mercy and tenderness, we in turn proclaim it and go to serve each other and have it make a difference in the world.SAMSUNG

“You will be contradicted, but do not fear; you will have the grace to do what is necessary.”  For those who care to serve and proclaim the Gospel, internal arguments waste time.  (See my earlier blogs on polarization in ecclesial conversations.)  While we argue around the bonfire of faith, so many are without light.  We must takea torch and go!  Pope Francis again can be seen to weigh in here as he speaks about Catholics and Christians and leaders in faith needing to be joyful, to not be arguing, to not be gloomy, to be simple and pastoral and close to people.  If you and I encounter contradition and conflict on our mission, well — that’s to be expected on our journey.  A pilgrimage entails learning and growing and dialogue and encounter and sometimes nay-sayers — whether or not they are accurate.  Our focus is to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12), and to trust and lean on the grace that will consistently appear for the mission we are on, as God’s beloved ones to God’s beloved people and God’s beloved world in God’s beloved creation.

“Tell your spiritual director all that passes within you.”  Catherine Laboure is reminded that she needs a companion.  Don’t we all?  I KNOW I do!  We need what the celts call an anamchara – soul friends – guides – companions – listeners – confessors – siblings in faith – intercessors.  (These are not all the same person, in our lives, usually!)  We need assistance in receiving tenderness and mercy, and in following Jesus whom we encounter.  We need places to be unerringly honest, as we are often so clueless about our own journeys.

SO… these three injunctions to Catherine Laboure (Zoe), I recommend to your reflection and mine.  Elizabeth Ann Seton too was on a mission, set for her and uniquely suited to her story.   Ignatius, whom we celebrate today, would happily share his feast with attention to these other two stories of Gospel life — especially in light of his own focus on mission.

Saint Catherine… pray for us

Saint Elizabeth Ann Seton… pray for us

Saint Ignatius…  pray for us

Mary, sister and mother and disciple…  guide us too as we reflect on your words, lean on your Son, and go out on mission to “make a mess” for the Gospel!

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Brushstrokes of the Spirit – Day One

I find delight in the companion, tutor, gardener, whole-er, healer, pray-er, weaver, friend, playful one, formator, artist, counselor, therapist, integrator, fruit-producer, gift-giver, embrace, draw-er in to relationship with the Trinity who is the Spirit.  And her* feast of Pentecost approaches in a few days.  My delight in her and dependence on her in the work that I do (through In-Spirited!  Hmmm… wonder who its patron is!) is prompting a few reflections over the next days that I’ll call brushstrokes.

I am not an artist with paint, but I have watched others reverently or courageously or hesitantly or boldly choose color and make first strokes on blank canvas.  The first strokes are not the picture, but they are part of the beginning.  That’s all I seek to do here.  There is no capturing the Spirit – nailing wind or fire down is a ridiculous endeavor.  And yet…  she draws me, she draws us… and this feast provides an excuse to look at her directly in the midst of the Trinity’s relational dance (and perichoresis – intimate indwelling of each other) and celebrate her love-living, especially as she does it in us these days of our lives!

And so, an initial brushstroke and image for your reflection:

Many years ago, in my VERY early young adulthood, I spent four years in a religious community.  You know how memories are some combination of what actually happened, what you remember of what happened, what you have associated with it since, and subsequent learnings and integrations?  Well, I have an amusing memory from my seminary days (that’s what we called the 18 months of novitiate).  And it’s one of those combinations – but I think mostly accurate.

SAMSUNGIn the midst of what we experienced as rather intense formation processes, and what we knew to be the Spirit’s collaboration with our personal/human/spiritual growth, someone expressed well what was felt at times.  “Bird — get off my shoulder!”  It was addressed to the Holy Spirit, and was a comic way to express a very human plea: “I’m on overload.  I’m learning enough about me right now, thanks.  I can’t integrate any more.  And I don’t want more awareness of what seems to be off kilter in my ways of being.”  It might have said something too about how we understood growth, and perhaps that we had to “fix ourselves” by ourselves, but that’s another story, and one that risks an off-target compulsion that leaves little room for grace.

An on-target truth that my sisters and I were experiencing deeply and trying to name was that the Spirit is very VERY involved with us – intimately and constantly.  We just weren’t sure it was a friendly involvement – at least our image captured some of that hesitancy.

Today I am absolutely certain that the Spirit’s involvement in the work of our lives is entirely to be trusted — much more than my own perspective!  And that the Spirit’s methodologies are always good.  If we but open our eyes and ears – partially with the Spirit’s help – we will see so many ways that God is communicating specifically with us and to us, shaping and forming us inwardly and outwardly with invitations.  We will find in our daily experiences opportunities to see and to respond, to learn and to develop.  We will locate the place where the Spirit prays deeply within us, for we do not know how to pray or what to pray.  We can trust that we will experience from the Spirit strength and gentleness, firmness and tenderness; and rest knowing that we are utterly safe in her tutelage.  Jesus has sent the Spirit to us to teach and remind us, to dwell in and with us, to guide and journey with us.  We are never alone – within or without.

SAMSUNGSt. Basil of Caesarea used the image of the Spirit as ‘brooding’, as a mother bird over the eggs in her nest.  It is true that her warmth causes the eventual cracking of the eggs.  And perhaps the eggs, and the baby birds within, might prefer to remain encased and not be ‘cracked up’.  So it is with us.  But the Spirit broods over us, providing heat and safety, and makes us restless within.  Her presence cracks us open from without and within, if we allow it: and she will be there to feed us, as a mother bird remains.  She will help us encounter Christ who feeds us with his very self, and teach us to leap and fly and sing and be who we are, within the love of the Trinity in the world the Trinity loves.

“A bird does not sing because she has an answer, but because she has a song.”  Heard that one before?  The Spirit has a song of relationship and unending love in the mystery of the three/Trinity.  She sings in us and around us.  As we come, over and over again, to new birth with her help… we too learn to sing.  And our singing is a witness to the delight of knowing the Creator, the Son, the Spirit.  It is an invitation to others to take part in the flight, the dance, the growing, the enterprise that is God’s wonderful desire for us, the world, the cosmos – participating in a love that is extending and outreaching, in-gathering and embracing.  Let us sing with the Spirit, not chase her off our shoulders in fear!  The Spirit loves us too.  Speak with her today.

*  I’ve used the feminine pronoun for the Spirit, with no intention of limiting the Spirit to any gender.  There are no limits on God, on the Spirit.  Still, pronouns are helpful in prose, and only come in his/her/it. Given St. Basil’s image (see later in the blog) of a brooding mother bird, I have chosen to utilize “her” here.  I actually love the work of Madeleine L’Engle where she used “el”  as a created pronoun to refer to God (connecting with Elohim).   

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Christ Alive! Burst Into Explosive Songs of Joy!

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Christ behind us in all our yesterdays.
Christ with us in our today.
Christ before us in all of our tomorrows.
Alpha and Omega, Christ, Lord of all!

Leap and spin, you powers of heaven!
Burst into explosive songs of joy,
all you companies of angels.
Let the throne of God be surrounded
with the praises of all that has life.

The earth glories in her Maker.
Now mountain and valley glow in splendor;
The sea on the shore whispers the praises of Jesus.

Rivers stream through thirsty soil,
bringing news of gladness –
the Redeemer is risen!
His glory fills the earth!
The trees thunder their praises,
And loudly clap their hands.

Sound a trumpet throughout all the earth.
Our Morning Star is alive!
Risen in splendor, He is among us;
the darkness is driven back.
We, His people, join in the dance of all creation.

[excerpt from Exultet in Celtic Daily Prayer, Northumbria Community]
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And an Easter Prayer for you, friends/fellow journeyers/disciples:
 

May Christ alive, raised by His Abba,
give us peace and light in every darkness,
song and joy and dance that inspires us to see as He sees;

foolish exuberant wonder in the beauty of moments,
the extravagance of creation – in microcosm and macrocosm,
and a partnership in praise with creation’s voice.
 
 
May we grow – with grace – a committed humble love,

patterned on Christ’s,
that serves and celebrates;

committing to real presence

with those he would have us love as he loves us –
fragile, beautiful, frustrating, beautiful people –
the focus of Trinity-Love and deepest delight.

Christ alive, our love,
guide and tutor us.
But this Easter day, we dance!

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Lightning Bugs and Fireflies: Lessons from Tiny Light-Bearers

This time of year I am entranced with the lights behind our house that have signaled summer since I was a small child. Then we, the children in the row home neighborhood in Baltimore City where I grew up, would take our quart jars with punched holes in their metal lids, fill them with some grass in the bottom, and go catch lightnin’ bugs! It was a wonderful sport that stretched from twilight to full dark, or until our moms called us home. Akin to catching dandelion wishes in the spring, it always seemed to me that we were reaching for magic, and expected it to bless us.

Once a few lightning bugs were captured, we’d sit and look at our jars full of flashing lights. It didn’t take forever to notice that if you left them in there too long, despite our dads’ punched air holes, the magic flying bugs would die. And so, the end of any evening, when childhood’s scatteredness did not distract us into forgetting them for games of tag or hide and seek, included releasing them. I liked to do that one by one, carefully letting one crawl out on my hand (or shaking one there!) and then tossing it into the air and watching it grab the current and fly, at first a little crookedly, away. On nights when I forgot my jar for other entertainments, and it filled with largely deceased light-bearers in the morning, I mourned them. They deserved my care and attention, since they graced the night and were willing to be held however briefly in my own spell.

It’s June, and as they visit this time zone once more, my mind has rested lightly in awareness of them. I have done a little reading about them, to feed my relaxed attention. And I find the wonder is not diminished by the prose I find. There are possible learnings from these little visitors. Maybe a “Top 10 list” or a “Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned from Fireflies” kind of take? Perhaps my reflections are not that ambitious. But still, these are some thoughts these light bearers prompt, and perhaps some wisdom for our lives.

  • FIREFLIES IN LARVAL STAGE HIBERNATE IN WINTER, SOMETIMES FOR YEARS.  It is good for children – or all of us in moments of beginnings – to find safe places to rest as we grow.  Doing so will help us be all we can in maturity.  We need space, hiddenness, rest, in order to become.
  • LIGHTNING BUGS ARE BEETLES – YUK!  I can’t stand bugs, but I love these summer friends.  Even beetles can be beautiful.  And we too are beautiful, no matter, and precisely because of, the roots of our identity.
  • POTENTIAL PARTNER FIREFLIES ENGAGE IN A FLASHING COMMUNICATION THAT RANGES FROM A SINGLE FLASH TO MULTI-PHASE FLASHES TO A CONTINUOUS GLOW.  When we find people in life that we wish to spend more time with, we usually recognize something about the way they carry the light are and we are attracted.  Subsequently, our own light-bearing may change due to our relating.
  • FIREFLIES ARE NOCTURNAL.  I can’t resist.  YAY for night people!  (Mornings are for rest!)  More seriously, fireflies show up when their light will be most beautiful.  Imagine the moon during the day – it sometimes shows, but is lost in the sun’s bright upstaging.  The tiny flickering bugs know that context matters.  And so it does for us.  Where and when do we most shine in our brightest glory?  And living there may be the place from which we can best inspire, tutor, encourage, be the light we are!
  • LIGHTNING BUGS ARE DISTASTEFUL AND SOMETIMES POISONOUS TO PREDATORS.  Sometimes the ‘perfume’ we put out just be being true to who we are is enough to bat back those who would be destructive to us…  we simply need to be more and more of who we are.  Psalm 37 puts it, “Be not vexed, it will only harm you.” What trouble will come, will come.  To our own makeup, our Creator’s design – to this we must be true.  The rest is about living light, and trust.
  • LIGHTNING BUGS’ LIGHT IS BIOLUMINSCENT.  Their lighting up is built into their very biology, and is no technique.  We are created to be bioluminescent too.  Our very being bears light.  This is true for all of us.  An interesting more physical reflection – how do our bodies do this?  How do we recover, in a society both increasingly health conscious and increasingly ill in preventable ways, a sense of being embodied in a ‘light’ way?  Where do we find the energy to allow our bodies to teach us how they too can shine?
  • FIREFLY LIGHT IS THE MOST EFFICIENT LIGHT IN THE WORLD.  100% of the energy is emitted as light (fyi: incandescent bulbs are at 10% with the rest as heat, fluorescent at 90%).  Here we may find a two way invitation – to integrity and commitment.  Be only and all what and who you are, and give all when you give.  These two ways of being will produce wonderful light for you and the world.
  • LIGHT POLLUTION CAN DECIMATE LIGHTNING BUGS.  Lightning bugs use light to communicate, and this light must be seen by potential mates.  When they are in settings where their light doesn’t show up – well, it’s not good.  There are ‘givens’ that must be in place for communication, and overwhelming extremes in our environment are destructive.  Perhaps we need to think about the various pollution around us – light, noise, ‘stuff’, clutter, arguments, polarizing statements.  You name more!  How does it affect our communicating, our relationships?  What do we need to be free of to grow?  We can turn out our backyard lights to help the lightning bugs.  What needs turning down or off in our contemporary world?  In your life and mine?
  • FIREFLIES NEED GENTLE HANDLING.  If you and I, or our children, go out to catch fireflies these nights, we need to remember to do it gently.  Whether we use hands or a net, damage can easily be done through thoughtless grasping or handling.  People – you and I, those we love, those we disagree with or find most annoying, the strong, the weak, the poor, the rich, the opponent and the colleague – all need gentle handling.  Life is difficult, and the ways each person experiences this difficulty are wide and varied.  We never know what is happening with – or within – another.  TLC is a good maxim.  Be tender:  be caring:  treat lovingly.  Gentleness is a strength in relationships and community building.

These are just samples of the lessons that may come from our lightning bugs, the tiny light-bearers.  They can tutor us, and have been tutor and inspiration for others over time.  Sources note that the Aztecs used the word firefly to mean a spark of knowledge in a world of ignorance or darkness.  In Japanese culture, fireflies contain the souls of soldiers who have died in battle, and lanterns are filled with them.  The Chinese believed they came from burning grass – these sparks of life.  The Ancient Mayans believed that fireflies carried the light of stars.  Ah, that one is a favorite of mine!

I invite you to join me in just being with fireflies or lightning bugs this June, if you can find them near you.  If not, find some online!  The gazing they prompt, if you just sit still, is contemplative.  There is a mantra effect to watching the lights flicker, and perhaps looking overhead at the stars.  Don’t miss their magic.

As a child, I chased them to capture them and hold them.  As a woman, long now, I watch and let them help me come to quiet and BEing in the night.  May they be a compline prayer for you, a primer for living, a reminder of truth.  And this deeper magic is a holy mystery in the ordinary, in creation… the place our Creator meets us so often.

May we meet, you and I, somehow – somewhere – someday, as light-bearers too!

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Polarization in Ecclesial Conversation – An Addendum

Thanks to those folks who read through my previous blog post addressing my concerns about the polarization in ecclesial conversations.  This is just a “quick” footnote with a couple of references.  I was commenting on a comment on this in a LinkedIn group, and decided some of what I added there should be reflected here for other readers.

The previous posting jumps around a bit… so thanks for your patience and perseverance too if you made it through it!

I wish now that I had referenced in the posting the October 24, 1996 address by Joseph Cardinal Bernardin on the Common Ground project.  Below is a link to that text, which I think would be interesting for your review.  It is appropriately – I think – titled “Faithful and Hopeful”!

http://archives.archchicago.org/JCBpdfs/JCBatcommonground.pdf

The Common Ground Initiative begun then is now coordinated out of the Bernardin Center for Theology and Ministry, housed at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago.  Here’s a link to that specifically:

http://ctu.edu/bernardin-center/catholic-common-ground-initiative

I am always inspired by Cardinal Bernardin.  I am an alum of CTU – an institution which I love – and fortunate to have been part of the Bernardin scholars program.  Through it I had the opportunity to meet and speak with a number of individuals who knew Cardinal Bernardin well and who could share not only his story, but his spirit.  I am forever impacted by that opportunity and those interactions.  I also entered CTU with great interest in the Common Ground project.  I had worked in parish, school and diocesan office settings for nearly 25 years and seen many times a tension and loss of energy that – in my opinion – took away from what could be invested more helpfully for the mission we are all committed to.

Cardinal Bernardin wrote regarding the Catholic common ground project: “My aim was to help Catholics address, creatively and faithfully, questions that are vital if the Church in the United States is to flourish as we enter the next millenium.  At every level, we needed, I felt, to move beyond the distrust, the polarization, and the entrenched positions that have hampered our responses.”  October 1996, this was.  It’s 16 years later.  What do you think?  I think his words are quite relevant, perhaps even more so.  I invite you to give this document and others a thorough reading of your own.

I also wanted to assure readers that I was NOT suggesting that, for the sake of refraining from polarizing and potential conflict, we avoid dialogue in order to experience some “peace” between us.  Such peace is not really peace.  We know this in any number of relational contexts — the silent treatment or the grudging presence that is not presence but quite obvious animosity.  We are the Body of Christ – called to build something wonderful together – not just ‘get through’ being in the same room, in the same house!  We need each other.  And we are poorer without all of us.  Do we believe this?

Honest and passionate dialogue is a desparate need today intrachurch.  Such dialogue is sometimes feared, and often not easy.  True dialogue, spoken from where we humbly and actually are, is messy (see Acts of the Apostles this Easter season!).  But we MUST find ways to dialogue, and dialogue from that attitude of faithfulness and hope as we are members of this one body.  We must find ways to do so that reflect the message we wish to convey.  And we must find ways not to judge or condemn each other as “in” “out” “not committed” “narrow” “eclectic” “cafeteria” “conservative” “liberal” or any of the other labels that are sometimes used to belittle the others’ experience, education, faithfulness.  That we fear to enter dialogue, I understand.  We may not feel “safe” with each other:  it is a risk with no guarantees.  And yet, I am greatly saddened.

Dialogue is a skill and an art… which must be taught.  In some ways this is an adult faith formation issue.  It can also be introduced well with younger adults and adolescents.  (Yes, I worked in youth ministry for LOTS of years.  Young people want to hear from each other and learn.  They are ripe to learn some of the hows to do so, and how NOT to do so.)

Dialogue-readiness is also a spiritual formation issue.  There is humility and trust involved – yes, with the dialogue partners – but also before the God who calls us all his children, his beloved ones, his coworkers in the vineyard of the Lord, his disciples, his friends – and who bids us not to fear.  St. Francis de Sales oft quoted line comes to mind:  “Be who you are, and be that perfectly well.”  Dialogue participants need to be who they are – not just be a position, but be the story and the faith journey they are – and trust that the one who fearfully and wonderfully made each of us (psalm 139) can strengthen us all, teach us through our attempts, and bring something new to life.

The mission in which we are engaged as collaborators in our short life times is God’s mission.  And when I read today “Behold I am doing something new” in scripture, I’d love to witness this being fulfilled in the ways we talk with and about each other…  appreciating and affirming what we bring to a work larger than us that God leads.  Something new can always come.   Of course it can.  This is the work of the Spirit, and we get to engage the work and be taught by it all at once.  How fortunate we are!  We are on a great adventure, and what a tour guide and companion we have in Christ, who walked with us, and does today!  I hope that – with him with us – we can together enter the places and spaces for dialogue without threats and fears and judgements, and find peace in collaborating with what God is inviting us all to now in this time of great need.

I pray too that we face together the fields where the Gospel needs proclaiming and hearts need comforting, where earth needs healing and wars need peace-ing, where amazing atrocities and everyday relating need reconciling, where people need bread and homes and a caring touch.  Can we bring joy and hope to the struggles of our day?  Can we mobilize and look at our ways of interacting with each other through the lens of what we need to act toward together – and who we need to be together?

I hope so.

Categories: General | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Polarization in Ecclesial Conversations: We Know Where We Stand, We Know Who We Belong To

In recent weeks I’ve been reading lots of articles, blog posts, official and unofficial statements, and even status updates that describe (and exhibit) how at odds various perspectives and voices are within the Church.  I find some of the polarizing arguments and the enmity expressed disturbing.  Understand that it is never surprising to me that there are differences, conflict, tension, various points on differing continuums.  What saddens me in ecclesial conversations is the occasional tone and/or attack  encountered.  Even in the printed word, one can read a raised voice! – and disrespect or sarcasm are even easier to spot.  There is a toxicity too when misrepresentations or smooth – almost poisonously polite – dismissals and challenges to others’ integrity, commitment or faith journey are the delivery system.

In the last week alone I withdrew from two LinkedIn groups that exhibited some of these ways of communicating.  At first, I tried to stay particularly with one group, so that I could really understand better where folks were coming from.  Eventually I found it too destructive to do so.  I did not want to be counted a ‘member’ of such a discussion, as if I agreed with the mode of communication.  I’m honest enough to tell you though that I was tempted to enter the fray a few times, in response to content in one or another discussion thread.  NO!  Though I managed to hold back, I very much understand the temptation and the danger.

The draw to enter the fight is almost seductive, and most of us know how to fight this way pretty well.  For my part, I certainly hold a perspective and a position… but there’s a primary one I wish we all would spend more energy on.  More on that in a bit.

Again, it’s not that the polarization in communicating is particularly surprising.  It seems when we humans dig in to a position we have a tendency to exhibit little patience, not enough listening.  When the position taking is heightened, we may exhibit an unwillingness to believe the best of the other, a too simplistic negative characterization of others’ takes on items of significance, and a poverty of appreciation for the gifts and the struggles of the other (individual or group).  We also may look for others who are “on our side” and “awful-ize” about the other/s.

In ministerial and ecclesial dialogues, such behavior flies in the face of what we would teach…  planks in our own eyes, not throwing stones, cases in point!  As I look at things from a human and spiritual formation perspective, I wonder at what the learning is that we have not focused on, not appropriated as our own, or that we deliberately shirk that leads us as Church to such (from my perspective) lows.  What does the other threaten in us?  If our reaction says more of us than it says of the other, what can we learn about ourselves from these reactions?  And we each need to determine these answers as “I statements” – though it’s more fun to name what others are threatened by!

If this was viewed as a “temptation in the desert” type of experience for the Church, what would Jesus’ own responses in the desert teach us about what misperceptions we are counting as truth when we behave in this manner?  We need his help, I believe, to contradict the untruths we are acting from, to help us release what we are clinging to.  And when dialogue is more like public dueling, it seems we can approach this desert-taught Jesus with an entreaty that all sides’ distortions be revealed, righted and healed – by God, not us.

It’s the Easter season, and I’ve been reading today a 2006 Easter homily from Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.*  His words and images have spoken to me as I reflect on the above, and it has reminded me of what is most important that we stand in and proclaim this season TOGETHER in our holy communion as one body:  He is Risen!  And so I am taking the liberty here to offer whole segments of Archbishop William’s homily for your consideration.   Focus on his message and the example he uses, and see if you find insight.

For the Church does not exist just to transmit a message across the centuries through a duly constituted hierarchy that arbitrarily lays down what people must believe; it exists so that people in this and every century may encounter Jesus of Nazareth as a living contemporary.  This sacrament of Holy Communion that we gather to perform here is not the memorial of a dead leader, conducted by one of his duly authorized successors who controls access to his legacy; it is an event where we are invited to meet the living Jesus as surely as did his disciples on the first Easter Day….  Everything the Church does — is meant to be in the service of this contemporary encounter.  It all ought to be transparent to Jesus, not holding back or veiling his presence.

All we do is to be about encounter with Jesus, and bringing one another into communion with him today.  For those with document interests, this mirrors the Catechism of the Catholic Church #426 which quotes On Catechesis in Our Time #5, and the General Directory for Catechesis #80.

But stay tuned.  There’s more!

The Archbishop goes on to tell the story of an Anglican religious order known as the Melanesian Brotherhood who lost seven of their members to murder by a rebel group during the bloody civil war in the Solomon Islands in 2003.  This community…

…of local men [are] committed to a common discipline of praying and teaching and spreading the gospel as they travel around the villages, by drama and song and preaching…. The shock of that act of gratuitous butchery [the bloody murder of the brothers] jolted amost everyone involved into beginning a peace process; the brothers continued to be involved in every level in that work.  Last summer, a number of the brothers visited England, taking their songs and dramas into churches and schools.  One of the things they did was to perform a Passion play, and this is what one of them wrote about it:

“This Passion was our own testimony to our seven brothers who were murdered in 2003.  For Christlike they became the innocent victims of the violence they had worked so hard to stop.  They were beaten and mocked and tortured…  put to death.  And they live on.  Our story of the Passion of Christ took place 2000 years ago, but it is still taking place throughout our world today.  But we have been changed.  We did not travel from the other side of the world to preach a death but to preach a resurrection.  For we know where we stand and we know who we belong to.  And we believe there is a choice in all this, a choice to belong to the life giver.”

We know where we stand and we know who we belong to.  Beyond all the history of confusion and betrayal that surrounds a lot of the Church’s history, beyond the power games that we still play in the churches, this one rocklike conviction remains, the conviction that drove the writing of every word of the New Testament.  Nothing to do with conspiracies, with the agenda of the powerful; everything to do with how the powerless, praying, risking their lives for the sake of Christ and his peace, are the ones who understand the word of God.  And to accept that is not to sign up to the agenda of a troubled, fussy human society of worried prelates and squabbling factions.  It is to choose life, to choose to belong to the life giver.

I long for our dialogues and our passions as disciples and ministers to focus with all of our diverse gifts and significant energy on the rocklike conviction on which we stand, the one to whom we all belong, and our mission to empty ourselves in service to one another as we go about making visible the same kind of love the Trinity loves us with.

As we evangelize – inviting others into this contemporary encounter with Jesus – perhaps we need to approach him humbly too with all our intrachurch arguments embarrassingly in our outstretched palms.  Take them, Risen Lord, and send us back effectively to the vineyard!

As Church we must center – in all our members from every continent, age, position, authority, vocation, education, culture, lifestyle – back on this mission as primary.  Our world is in need of witness, and our public choosing for the life giver, as one body in Christ.

What can it mean to act from that choice, and that urgent need for witness?  And how can we deal with the present tensions and conflicts in the way the God who loves us all would invite?  I do not know that I know the answers to these questions, but I believe in the urgency of the questions.  Our ability to engage our mission faithfully and with great impact in a world, a creation, and in lives with great needs depends on it.

  • As you send me into the world, so I send them into the world.  (John 17:18)
  • The Church on earth is by its very nature missionary  (Ad Gentes Divinitus, #2)
  • To say Church is to say mission (To the Ends of the Earth, #16)
  • Church –  Having been born out of being sent… It is his (Christ’s) mission she is called upon to continue.  For the Christian community is never closed in upon itself.   (Evangelization in the Modern World, #15)

———–

*  Archbishop Rowan Williams is the primate of the Anglican church.  He is bishop, poet, theologian.  The text of this homily can be found in Best of Catholic Writing 2007, published by Loyola Press.

Categories: General | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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