God or God and…..

Awhile back I was actively involved with mentoring refugees who had been resettled here in Sioux Falls by the Office of Refugee Resettlement. It was a privilege to walk alongside an individual or a family as they negotiated the very hard transition from a war-torn nation where genocide was destroying tribes because of long-held resentments that reached back hundreds of years. In my training for the ministry I learned that even though a refugee is freed from the impending threat to their life with their refugee status, they were now in a new kind of refugee status: a stranger who had lost everything–land, culture, family–they held dear to them to live in a new land with a culture and language that is vastly different from what they had escaped. I could spend much more time addressing what I observed over those years, but I would like to share what came back to mind as I read today’s Office of Readings.

In reality we are all refugees to some degree because we are not at home in this world’s culture, or at least we should not feel at home. The language and the mind-set of the culture should feel foreign to us. The values of the culture should feel odd when we try to fully embrace them. We should feel like sojourners rather than denizens. The LORD Jesus Christ emphasized this in so many ways as he taught His disciples and the wanna-be followers who tagged along during his earthly ministry. Today’s passage from Matthew 8 is just one exchange he had that reveals to us how we should then live:

“Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.”
Jesus answered him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests,
but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.”
Another of his disciples said to him,
“Lord, let me go first and bury my father.”
But Jesus answered him, “Follow me,
and let the dead bury their dead.”

Jesus wasn’t conveying to his followers that a home or a dead relative wasn’t important, he knew the heart of the men who were asking the questions and could see the reasons for not following him were excuses to stay in their comfort zone. As I read the passaged I recalled a conversation I had with one of the Lost Boys of Sudan who I was helping tutor in order to get his GED. During that conversation, I asked him how had he and the other Lost Boys had survived as orphans during the years of wandering further and further away from their destroyed villages. He replied with words that are forever etched in my memory. We had God. The gaze of his eyes were set on the horizon and I imagined all the moments of despair and hopelessness he must have felt as he literally ran for his life and how God revealed himself to him. After a few moments of silence I asked Deng if he still held to that truth now as a refugee in America, his answer stunned me. “In Sudan we knew God was all we had and all we needed. Here in America I notice that people have ‘God and…,’ I am afraid I will forget God when I get what you American’s have.” We talked about that for quite a bit because I was the one who needed to learn to live as a refugee in this world and Deng was my sage. I am a better person because of Deng’s influence on my life.

Like the men in today’s gospel I was prone to be more concerned about where I lay my head rather than Who I can rest in. I was prone to allow earthly obligations and societal norms to cloud my eyes and detract me from the values of God’s Kingdom. My “God and….” included loop-holes and self-justification. My “God and….” had the disturbingly familiar image of my SELF. My “God and….” was a trinity of me, myself, and I. I would spend hours fretting over what people thought of me or all the ifs and buts that I used to qualify my faith in God.

I am sure that it is not an accident that The Church offers up an example from Abraham’s life in today’s reading. We do well to remember what the God of the Old Testament required of the great heroes of our Faith. Abraham lived much of his life as a refugee, the LORD intended it so. “Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you…I will bless you…All the families of the earth will find blessing in you.” We will never know how Salvation History would have looked if all God’s people put their faith in what God said and obeyed accordingly. Because of Abraham’s obedience to the LORD we can see how the Story of Salvation did unfold to reveal what LORD intended through His people: Abraham and his descendants. Like us, the people of God got into a lot of trouble when they chose to worship “God and….” and over and over the LORD drew them back by reminding them of their ultimate purpose. Prophets would regularly hand down a message from God to His people that usually began with, “On that day…..” A vision of the “promised land” would then be told where justice and mercy ruled the day. And then God’s people would forget Him because the distractions of what the culture offered up was seemingly more attractive.

It’s the human condition, we forget to remember who we are, where our true home is and what we are to be about. The LORD, ever-patient, allows history to unfold but He is always calling us back to where we belong. The book of Hebrews in the New Testament is the handbook for refugees! The exhortation to remain faithful to what we have seen and heard about our identity as citizens of the Kingdom of God is strong. Abraham is recalled as the example for us as we sojourn in the kingdom of this world: “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents…for he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and maker is God….” Abraham had struggled with trying to serve “God and….” It didn’t go well for him, but in the end he lived his life worshipping God, life improved! The key to the map of faith was this: “…he went out, not knowing where he was to go. By faith he sojourned in the promised land as in a foreign country,…”

How about you, friend? Do you see this world as a foreign country? Does your faith in God include an “and”? What does your “God and….” look like? Perhaps you worship God and…political party or position or reputation or family obligations, or stuff. “God and….” has many faces!

Heavenly Father, remind us again that your Kingdom is not of this world. In you alone we are truly at home, draw us back to You.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Let It Be

When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
And in my hour of darkness she is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.

–The Beatles

My first encounter with the beauty of our Blessed Mother came through the 1968 release of the popular song, Let it Be, by the Beatles. What the Beatles communicated in that song, though not exactly scriptural, began to draw me to Mary long before I converted to Catholicism decades later. The notion that the mother of Jesus could speak words of wisdom to me intrigued me.

Later in life when I was a tenderfoot Catholic I began contemplating all the words of Our Blessed Mother and I found that praying, “Let it be” could usher me into the grace the LORD has for all who will magnify Him. How so? By observing this grace-filled woman, this perfect mother, we learn how to detach ourselves from our own notions about how life should go. Let’s use the Beatles song to expand on how Mary’s fiat leads us into wisdom.

“When I find myself in times of trouble…” Our Blessed Mother knew times of trouble, she knew what confusion felt like, she knew what rejection felt like, she knew what poverty felt like. Her response to those rugged realities– “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” reveals her humility. As we learn to respond rather than to react when the unexpected throws us off-kilter we leave room in our soul to reflect on the circumstances from the LORD’s point of view as Mary surely did. In that space of reflection we learn to listen to the Holy Spirit’s wise counsel. Though life may remain rugged, we may more readily accept the pratfalls of life as sacred ground for our spirit to rest in the LORD’s great love for us.

“And in the hour of darkness…” Allow me to use my own experience with “the hour of darkness” to show how our Blessed Mother comes to us speaking words of wisdom. In the years before I officially converted to The Catholic Church, I devoured books written by contemplative Catholics. My spirit kindled to reading about the sacramental life of The Church, especially when the life of Our Blessed Mother was the topic. My spirit opened to belief in her intercession for me. One afternoon in the midst of a collection of grief-filled realities, I was feeling the seer of pain from an unspeakable tragedy our family was enduring. The hours, months, years were filled with dark hours! I cannot say I put Mary to the test but, somewhere deep down I hoped that she would be my Mother as I was being a mother in the midst of loss and grief. A moment came when I dropped to the floor from physical exhaustion of the trauma; I began to pray. Who did I pray to? The LORD of course, but who was there holding me, weeping with me, crying out with me the extreme of my emotions? It was Our Blessed Mother! I cannot articulate the infused comfort and hope my spirit received that day, but I experienced the “lifting up of the lowly” that Mary declared in her Magnificat.

“And when the night is cloudy…” When we are on our last tether and we can’t see our way through a dilemma, if we listen, we hear the echo of Our Blessed Mother say to Jesus, “[She] has no wine.” When our resources don’t measure up to the expectation of others, if we listen we can hear her say, “Whatever He says, do it.” And what do we do when Christ abundantly supplies? We do as Mary, we reflect on God’s goodness and treasure it in our heart.

“I wake up to the sound of music…” As we pray the rosary of our Blessed Mother we join Mary in contemplating the joys of the life of our Saviour. He laughs, he celebrates; when He walks in He literally lights things up! And we can imagine Mary laughing right along; why? For she knew that “He who is mighty has done great things!” We receive the same peace and joy when our mighty Saviour does great things in us!




Give it a Rest

Definition: REPOSE

a place for resting or lodging; peace of mind or spirit;

a rhythmic silence in music; free of anxieties.

I went for a walk awhile back on a blustery day here in South Dakota. As I was walking, a hawk caught my eye as I looked up at the azure blue sky. I revel in observing birds in flight, it’s fascinating to consider them effortlessly winging to and fro, doing whatever the LORD created them to do.

That particular day I observed that the hawk that can easily glide on zephyrs struggled to find the current where it could glide through the air with ease. Flap, flap, flap, flap, rest, flap, flap, flap; fluttering it’s wings against the drama of the gusty conditions. It wore me out just watching the struggle. However, I observed that the hawk didn’t give up trying to fly through the gale force wind working against it, because the LORD didn’t design it only for gentle breezes. He created it to fly, no matter the momentum of wind surrounding it.

That moment has come to my mind often as I consider the currents of my life–those times when life is a gentle breeze in which I feel as though I could soar forever, as well as those that I feel I can’t flap my wings any longer because of the momentum against me!

Do you have experiences like that? Months of soaring can pass when I sense the LORD energizing my life with zeal and fulfillment in what he has created me to be. When the consolation of the spirit is present, or at least, more keenly felt. Answered prayers, sacred exchanges with the LORD, the sense that “all is well and all manner of things are well.”*

Other times I feel that everything is effort, there is seldom a zephyr that I can glide upon. Life is topsy-turvy and there seems to be a hitch in my get-along. What I am learning is this does not seem to bother our Creator because he created me for the topsy-turvy currents of life as well. He ordains the breeze AND the gale to give me a rhythm of life that waits for him no matter what is happening around me. All he asks is that I keep being what I am created to be and to choose to abide in the him. This makes me think of the words of Isaiah:

Why do you say, O [Daughter of Mine], and speak,
“My way is hid from the Lord,
    and my right is disregarded by my God”?
 Have you not known? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
    the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint or grow weary,
    his understanding is unsearchable.
He gives power to the faint,
    and to her who has no might he increases strength.
Even youths shall faint and be weary,
    and young people shall fall exhausted;
but she who waits for the Lord shall renew her strength,
    she shall mount up with wings like eagles,
she shall run and not be weary,
     she shall walk and not faint.
–Isaiah 40

As the eagle is created to cooperate with the Creator by simply mounting up her wings in order to do what she is created to do, so I find my greatest rest in cooperating with the LORD by choosing to do what I am created to do–to abide in the LORD, to worship God in all things through obedience and thanksgiving, and a fair amount of sacrifice when the winds batter my spirit. I imagine that as in the eagle mounting up with wings, I too must mount up with my wings of faith before the LORD. And then…..then the effort is enjoined by his everlasting faithfulness to me.

Lord, I enjoy the consolation of your Holy Spirit and the abundance of your love for me. I fancy the idea of soaring effortlessly through life, but my wings would weaken if living was a breeze (pun intended). Help me to cherish the breezes and give thanks for them.

I’m grateful to you for the gale, even though I’m reluctant at times to ride against a current that causes me to become weary for I know you ordain the course of my life to strengthen me in what you’ve created me to be.

And when I feel I am too wearied by all the flapping my soul’s wings have to do to stay in rhythm with your will for me, remind me to wait upon you and allow you to renew my spirit within me.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

*St. Julian of Norwich

P.S. I enjoyed this post as I considered the bird’s innate abilities. https://jonathanpomroy.wordpress.com/2020/07/22/july-22nd-little-owls-and-the-best-swift-day-of-2020/

Making Room for Christmas

I’m making room for Christmas in all sorts of ways. I’m finding more hours in my days to clean and to scrub, to deck the halls and trim the tree. My rooms will be clean and ready to welcome holiday guests.

I’ve cleared room on my counters to hold all the sweet treats I plan to make in the room I make for Christmas. With my grocery list in hand I’ll scan the market aisles and find all my ingredients and even some I more along the way. I’ll slice and I’ll dice. I’ll bake and I’ll shake.

With each treat and hors d’oeuvre that passes my lips, I’ll find room in my stomach and some on my hips. Then when I find no more room in my clothes, I’ll find more room in my days to work out at the gym. I’ll jog ’til I faint, lift weights til I ache. I’ll dance ’til I’m trim or maybe go for a swim. If that all fails, I can always shop ’til I drop, I’m sure the credit card company will be glad to help me find more room for holiday spending. An increased line of credit is their promise–somehow I think I might regret it.

Maybe I’ll remember to make room in my schedule to hold quiet vigil on the night before Christmas. I’ll remember the Savior and ponder His birth. Why was there no room in the inn, I don’t quite understand? Who doesn’t have room for Jesus?! I don’t have any room for considering that right now. I have gifts to purchase, parties to attend and neighbors to impress while together we drink to much gin. There’s roomy stockings to stuff and cards to me sent.

Hope Springs Eternal

Mom had an expression I heard often growing up, “Hope springs eternal.” In my teen years she would remind my melancholishness that not all is lost in circumstances that seemed hopeless. She would remind me of that during my long bouts of depression that accompanied the passage from a child to an adult.

Many a night when she would come into my room to pray with me, she’d sense my blues that increased when the sun went down. They were always accompanied with fear because I was still learning that the LORD is a faithful Father and ever-present to my needs. Needs seem so monumental when you are a melancholy teenager, now I look back and chuckle. I’ve lived a lot of years since then and I’ve been through the school of hard knocks–I’ve learned what real struggle and doubt feels like.

Later in life she would remind me to hope when life threatened to crowd the joy out of my heart or when life as a mother challenged my abilities. She would remind me of that when I began to face some of the real-life challenges that everyone faces from time to time. She would often tag on the line from the psalms, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Mom was a strong-willed optimist and that eventually rubbed off on me. I’m grateful for her presence in my life and especially that she modeled before me the importance of choosing hope in the LORD.

The time came though, when those were my words to her as she slowly lost her battle to live. She lived before me what I think Ralph Waldo Emerson was hoping to communicate when he penned, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” It was the hope in the LORD that filled mom with endurance and courage in the face of chronic disease. Her hope was her strength and it was eternal in the fullest sense of the word.

Mom’s words whispered to me today as I cleaned up winter from our garden today; as I brushed some decaying leaves away from the soil I saw the evidence of my Creator’s everlasting care. There beneath the refuse of the past season’s death there were the tender green shoots of our Crimean Snowdrops lifting their delicate white caps upward toward the early Spring sun–“Hello again beautiful world, I’m here again to glorify the Creator!” I saw mom in that moment, her head was raised in hope fulfilled:eternal worship of our LORD!

LORD, there are times now when I feel short on hope. Help me to see beyond the present moment that threatens to steal my joy. I look at the whole scheme of things, to the very edge of my soul, and my heart wants to respond with a “YES” to mom’s words woven into the fabric of my life. It is there in that crossover moment that I see I have a choice to make: either I will dig down deep into the wellspring of life as my eyes gaze heavenward into Hope Eternal, or I will stand ankle deep in the despair, or resentment or pride or just plain sloth that has stopped me in the tracks of doubt.

LORD, I choose hope!