In A Word….”Selah”

Today’s readings from the psalms and oracles of the prophets serve as a soundtrack, as it were, for us as we have been considering the beginnings of God’s chosen people, the Israelites, recorded in Genesis. It’s not hard to recognize the same soundtrack plays as a backdrop for our own lives as we grow into our identity as God’s child. In fact, I believe that is why the psalms and oracles are so prevalent in The Liturgy of the Church, the words unite our spirit with the Spirit of God’s voice throughout the ages.

There is a certain word that is often sung or implied as a theme and by heeding it I may receive the LORD’s help as I walk the path of salvation. The word acts as a pop-up reminder to us to remember who we are and to whom we belong as we tread our own way through the high and low places of our journey of salvation. Consider this paraphrase of Psalm 46.

God is [my] refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.  Therefore [I] will not fear …… Selah

…God is in [my] midst; [I] shall not be moved;
God will help ….
 Selah

….“Be still, and know that I am God.
    I will be exalted among the nations,
    I will be exalted in the earth!”….
 Selah

The words of the psalmist convey the ever-present help of the LORD to us as the way to mindfulness of the LORD’s quiet presence to us. The psalmist ends each phrase with the word “Selah”, which means “forever” or “to lift up; exalt”, it’s presence in the psalm is a cue for us to pause or to take a breath allowing our minds to take in what the psalmist has proclaimed. It serves as a sacred and silent interlude for us to receive the LORD’s truth. Within this particular psalm there is the implication of the “if/then” of the fullness of God’s Covenant with us. He calls the people to “Be still and know that I am God,” to consider what the LORD in his mercy is trying to teach us as we live out our salvation: If you will remain silent, listen and linger with me, then you will know I am your fortress; I will be your salvation! Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Yet in practice it can take a colossal effort to remain silent. I am sometimes tempted to rely on my own judgment to quickly plow through the interruptions of life or become so enamored by the shiny parts of life that I’m distracted from the reality of the LORD’s Covenant with me.

We see this evidenced in what we’ve been reading about the history of God’s people; how fear and pride dogged their path, how they allowed the so-called gods of the culture around them to lose sight of the LORD’s Covenant. Eventually fatigue from their striving to fit in with the culture wears them down. What I have observed in my own life is that if fear and pride doesn’t drive me to my knees before the LORD, fatigue certainly will. I need “Selah” for I weary of the tug of war between my own will and the LORD’s will…..that’s just like him, isn’t it? He allows us to come to the end of ourselves where we finally cease striving. It’s as if the LORD says, “Lois, I finally have you where I need you…..now, let’s consider how you are striving to achieve and acquire what comes from Me alone.”

Two other passages from the psalms and the prophet are included in the Liturgy today that draws our spirit into a “Selah”. From Isaiah 30:15, “By waiting and by calm you shall be saved. In quiet and in trust your strength lies.” And again in Psalm 124 we can imagine the psalmist seated on a mountainside of the rugged terrain of Israel. As he sits there, he is pondering all the “what ifs” of life and remembers the faithfulness of the LORD as his rock and refuge. In that “Selah” a song formulates in his mind and he begins to sing,

If it had not been the Lord who was on my side
    when people rose up against me,
then they would have swallowed me up alive,
    when their anger was kindled against me;
then the flood would have swept me away,
    the torrent would have gone over me;
then over me would have gone
    the raging waters.”

Friend, are there “what ifs” in your life? Do you sit still before the LORD as you ponder them?….Selah

Have you come through a time of celebration and are left with a sense of satisfaction and gratitude?… Selah

Were you following a path set before you when circumstances went sideways for you? …Selah

Has someone you trusted betrayed you? ….Selah

Has the pandemic brought about financial reversal in your life?… Selah

Do you tend to focus on what the LORD hasn’t done for you?… Selah

When you scurry after pleasures that are passing, do you….Selah?

The joy of our salvation comes through our own willingness to Selah; to be still and know that the LORD is forever faithful and true. Only He can truly satisfy.

LORD God, remind us that nothing is new under the sun. You never change and your responses to our own choices are the same as they were to our ancestors in the faith. LORD, you are faithful and true even when we are not. Slow us down, train us to embrace “Selah” in our posture before you.

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

Thursday of the Fourth Week of Lent 2021

LENT:

Getting Egypt Out Of Us!

Sometime around this fourth week of Lent I find myself scuffling in my lenten vows leaving a limp in my stride through the Lenten Desert. What I can vow on Ash Wednesday seems doable, even noble. This year, however, has been a particular struggle for me. Rather than allowing me to go through the motions of keeping my lenten vows that I THINK are good enough, the LORD has used the scuffle in my spirit to reveal a deeper sin in my life. Do you go through that?

Generations had come and gone since Joseph led the way for the tribe of Israel to escape famine. In the meantime, God’s chosen people had lost their way and fallen into the ways and means of the Egyptian culture. In today’s reading we find that the Israelites had just been freed of that 430 year bondage in Egypt in a stunning way because the LORD desired to get the Israelites out of Egypt–the slavery, the persecution, and the rampant idol worship of the culture. He called Moses to lead the way and one of the greatest stories of all time unfolds. The first step of the LORD’s deliverance is accomplished, and now the Israelites are in the desert around Mt. Sinai–a rag, tag tribe betwixt a rock and a hard place–of trusting the idols of Egypt and trying to remember how to worship God. Nothing about the desert appealed to the Israelites, they were moaners and groaners, a stiff-necked people who had a big problem. As we do, I might add. They had spent so many years immersed in a pagan culture that worshiped created things instead of the Creator. In spite of the pain they endured they were apparently comfortable with the Egyptian way. So not only did the LORD want to get the people out of Egypt to worship Him alone, he wanted to get Egypt out of the people! Hmmmm? This sounds a bit too familiar to us, doesn’t it?

This year in particular a memory has come back to me several times as I’ve gone to prayer with the LORD about what I am struggling against during this Lent. Decades ago our youngest child was climbing around on some landscape timber when she lost her balance and fell. She is a tough one, so she didn’t complain or cry, she just got right up and continued to play. A few days passed before I noticed some redness on her knee, I didn’t think much of it because she always had bruises, cuts and bumps on her body. A week passed and I started noticing that her gait had changed, she favored the leg with the bump. I rubbed some salve on it and sent her on her way. The bump continued to inflame, but it wasn’t until she voiced to me that she had an ouchie that I took her seriously. She laid down next to me and I began to prod at the inflammation, she winced. I noticed a light red line running down her leg from the bump; blood poisoning! Her and I tried to figure out what she had done to get the ouchie, she didn’t have an answer and I couldn’t remember which of her many falls might have caused it. It wasn’t until I placed more pressure on her leg that we discovered the source of her pain. She screamed and hollered once I became serious about the pressure of my kneading her leg. I didn’t stop though it took quite awhile. Eventually a 1& 1/2″ inch splinter with the circumference of a toothpick shot free from her leg! Success! That large splinter was finally expelled from the inflamed tissue around it. Immediate relief came from the threat of the infection, but it took time for the wounded tissue to heal and for the antibiotics to conquer the infection. She eventually got her stride back and was off to find another adventure where she would no doubt be left with more bruises and cuts.

I’ve been feeling a splinter in my soul’s flesh during this season of Lent. It’s been there quite awhile, years, in fact! What I am learning now, through the grace of God, is that he wants to do for me what he did for the Israelites. He desires to “get [poison] Egypt out of me.” There is an inflammation in each of our spirits that is caused by sin in us. Just like the Israelites, there’s an infection within us that if left untended, will destroy us. I am in need of liberation from the enemy of my soul– the bondage can take on the form of one of my greatest strengths and turn it in on me, infecting me with the sin of over-weaning pride. How about you? Is fear or anger or pride so deeply embedded in your life that you can’t recognize the source of that infection? Healing and transformation take a life time even with our willingness to cooperate with the LORD. No amount of vows or almsgiving or penance can substitute for the humility that comes when we expose the source our limp to our loving Father.

Healing Savior, you know our deepest wounds, you know how they affect our lives? Holy Spirit, Counselor, would you help us to recall where the wound came from?

If others caused our wound, would you grant us the spirit of forgiveness so that we can be freed from the oozing resentment and bitterness in our souls?

We scamper about in this good life enjoying the good things you have given to us, forgive us when we believe the lie of the enemy that our limp is not serious enough to stop us from playing hide and seek with You.

Oh, LORD, the wounds we cause ourselves when we forget to remember that You alone are God are infinite and ugly! Give us courage to see that we are our own worst enemy when we try to hide or refuse your healing hand.

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

Amen

Nothing But a Walking Stick

And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He charged them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; but to wear sandals and not put on two tunics. And he said to them, “Where you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.  And if any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.” So they went out and preached that men should repent.  And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.

This curious passage from the Gospel according to Saint Mark reveals Jesus confidence in his disciples–the fledging group of 12 nobodies who are somebodies in Jesus eyes–he tells them to take nothing but a walking stick to unknown places. He must have seen something in these twelve that others could not see; better put, he saw what the disciples could be if they would simply trust in him.  

Jesus Christ, their rabbi, whom they had followed from the beginning seemed to have a purpose for the journey into new territory and strange landscapes. The disciples had been privy to a show and tell sort of relationship with Jesus as they followed him about, observing his healing actions, hearing his teachings. But he surely knew some still doubted his divinity and questioned his motives, how they misunderstood that the kingdom he referred to is not about their earthly liberation from oppression by the Romans. Yet Jesus sends them on a field trip tailor made to accomplish one thing–to teach them to trust him.

The disciples must have said to themselves, “Jesus, why only a walking stick? If this is some great pilgrimage that you send me on, you must know I need more than a walking stick.  How is it going to make this assignment easier to accomplish? And where am I going anyway? And why? How will I know when I get there? Will I get there? Who will I be able to rely on?……..

Pilgrim daughter of mine, leave your conjured security behind. Nothing but a walking stick, dear daughter, keep to the path.

Pilgrim daughter of mine, stop allowing your pride to thwart your journey, it gets in the way. Nothing but a walking stick, dear daughter, to beat away all that rivals for the throne in my Kingdom.

Pilgrim daughter of mine, I know your weaknesses, I created you, remember? Nothing but a walking stick, dear daughter, will suffice to schooch away the brambles that poke around in your soul. Then you will travel from strength to strength rather than wandering in the desert of your weaknesses.

Pilgrim daughter of mine, I know the utter joy and peace you feel in the shade of our conversations. I know you want to linger there, I understand, I created you, remember? Nothing but a walking stick to remind you that you are on a journey. Yes, the walking stick is a fine thing to lean on and rest awhile. There will be more shade,  more refreshing waters; if you linger here how will you reach the joy and peace of what is ahead on your journey?

Pilgrim daughter of mine, I know you’re prone to wander, binding yourself to distractions of this earthly kingdom. Nothing but a walking stick to keep you from stumbling on those things behind you. I have a greater purpose for you then living between boredom and anxiety, but you must let the distractions go before you grasp the walking stick.

Praying at the Doorstep

“If you sit on the doorstep long enough, I daresay you will think of something”

― J.R.R. Tolkien

The unrest going on around the world does not surprise you; it’s the human condition that you came to atone for and to transform. History proves your faithfulness in every age. My time in history seems the most important to me and right now my heavy heart joins others across the ages. I’m choosing the same remedy the Saints and Martyrs of The Church chose in the midst of their time; fervent intercession. I heard it said that evil is both global and local, I believe it! I’ve also heard it said that as the home goes, so goes the nation.

What’s challenging for me to consider is the gravity of the global dis-ease without becoming overwhelmed by the suffering and injustice, or the fear of how it may affect my family. I choose hope, therefore, I desire to pray in confidence, not despair. The enemy’s tactic is to always distracts me with bad news, but I choose good news! The Gospel truth that I am a Messianic Christian praying in hope of the LORD’s redemption here and now! So many people, good Christian people, pray out of an apocalyptic fear. I’ve observed that they are people who struggle to maintain hope and peace in their lives. I won’t give up on your Messianic redemption–your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven! It takes courage and fortitude to swim upstream in this downstream world, but it is the only way to maintain levelheadedness when the world around me seems to be coming apart at the seams.

What comes to my mind as I pray these days is the old Irish tradition of praying at the doorstep. The folksy tradition each New Year’s day of going about and pounding on the doors and windows of a villager’s home with bread was practiced in order to chase out evil spirits and ensure bread for the coming year–a curious display of wishing luck to their neighbors. That once a year tradition eventually evolved into a turn of phrase Christians would use in their intercession for others. The notion of “praying against the doorstep” became a logical way for prayer warriors to intercede against any evil that might be threatening a home. Their presence at the doorstep as they prayed was a visible demonstration of their faith and of Whom they put their faith in as they prayed, The Bread of Life.

“Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.'” St. John 6:35

I pray in your name and the truth that you alone can satisfy the deepest needs in our lives. It is easy for me to visualize you, The Bread of Life, in my praying hands as I pray against the doorstep of the world’s needs. The longer I sit there, the more I receive insight on how to pray. Yet, even with the truth of that you alone can make satisfaction for sin and evil, I find myself wondering if it’s possible. But, what recourse do I have other than faith and hope in your unfailing love for your creation? Thomas Merton’s teaching on prayer encourages me:

Prayer does not blind us to the world, but it transform our vision of the world, and makes us see it, all men, and all the history of mankind in the light of God. To pray ‘in spirit and in truth’ enables us to enter into contact with that infinite love, that inscrutable freedom which is at work behind the complexities and the intricacies of human existence.”

Bread of Life, I pray against the complexities of conflict in our nation. Please exorcise the evil that threatens to dominate our culture.

Bread of Life, I pray against the intricacies that are deeply ingrained in the culture of death that takes the lives of innocent babies and the elderly. Please render the instigators powerless.

Bread of Life, I pray against the perverse hatred between religions, tribes, and ethnicities. Please speak peace into the hatred.

Bread of Life, I pray against the despair and anger that has hijacked the minds of our world during this pandemic and the effects it is causing to our collective emotions. Please restore common sense to us–the decision-makes for our society, as well as ourselves. Hold us back from fetching fears.

The main source of a good and happy life – for the human
race, for each nation and community, and for each family –
is the personal virtue of each individual. No system or set
of laws, however perfect, can work for good without
virtuous individuals.”

–Peter Kreeft

There is another doorstep you desire of me to remember as I pray for the global needs and it’s not far away, it is my own home and my relationships with those around me. It is true that as the home goes, so does the nation. I have a hunch that prayer for my own doorstep will influence the doorstep of the nation. The door to world peace pivots on “prudence [ wisdom], justice [fairness], fortitude [courage], and temperance [self-control]” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1805) That’s no conjured system by mankind, it’s a manner of living your divine life here and now. When I open my eyes to the daily violence that can happen in relationships, I see with new eyes what a careless word can do to those I love. You promise to replace strife with peace as I pursue your Holy Spirit’s virtues. When I choose to live with my door wide open to you, I receive you as the Bread of Life. Bread that nourishes, satisfies, and fills me. Can prayer against my own doorstep bring about world peace? Yes, yes, yes! As I allow you to remove the clutter of evil that come when I chose vice over virtue, you feed me and protect me, and you nurture in me your divine image.

“Personal virtue is the key to improving the world, finding
happiness, and helping other people to be good and happy too; yet
the ultimate end of virtue is even greater than these great goals:
‘the goal of a virtuous life is to become like God’”

–Peter Kreeft, Catechism of the Catholic Church #1803

Bread of Life, when I am gluttonous for my own desires, feed me temperance to develop a balanced mind in the midst of chaos around me.

Bread of Life, when I allow anger to rule over my thoughts and deeds, strengthen me with patience that chooses mercy over wrath with another.

Bread of Life, when I become envious of another, teach me kindness and fill me with compassion for the other.

Bread of Life, when pride tries to carry me away into self-preoccupation, humble me with reverence for the other.

Bread of Life, when I become slothful in practicing the divine life, feed me diligence to do your will; to persevere when I’d rather ignore a problem with another.

Bread of Life, when lust of the flesh and the boastful pride of life crowd out purity in my thoughts and deeds, consume me with chastity that values purity of heart above all things.

Bread of Life, when greed motivates my attitudes toward others, increase charity in me that leads to sacrificial generosity and benevolence with others.

Amen

Cease-Fire

I learned recently about CeaseFire, a faith-based intervention organization that’s mission is to stop gang violence specifically and racially-motivated strife generally. I learned they have what are referred to as “interrupters” who mediate potentially volatile circumstances

with the objective of peace and reconciliation. One interrupters name is Tim, a former gang member who found Jesus in a prison cell. Tim now stands for peace and he “punks” peace on the streets. I am inspired by his rough humility and transparency. He shared a story of a time when he himself had just successfully interrupted a confrontation between two gang members and on his way home from that meeting he was confronted by another gang member who purposefully cut him off in traffic. They ended up out of their cars and trash talking to each other. Tim said this, “I suddenly realized I was riding the same wave of pride that causes the violence I’m trying to interrupt!” He went on to say the toughest mediation is the mediation inside you. That’s what got me! I’ve never been in a gang, never faced significant injustice, heck, I’ve never even been in a fight that came to blows with my fists.

To mitigate peace, You said, “don’t fight back.” Well, actually you said more than that:

“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire….“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you…”

Matthew 5: 21-22; 38-42

It is highly unlikely that I will find myself myself on the streets of an inner city known for racial strife. I doubt I’ll ever be stuck in a war-torn country. But, I am painfully certain that I ride the wave of pride that can inflict pain on another. Your Word in so many places reminds me that when pride or fear rules in my heart in any relationship, the potential for violence is there, though it is often disguised in words and attitudes and motivations.

That’s the rub about You, Jesus; you look right past my entire pretense, all my righteous appearance as if You didn’t care about that at all. Dog-gone-it, LORD, don’t you appreciate how much effort I put into my Self-righteousness? When I stand before you in the final judgment and for that matter, when I stand before you in every moment, you aren’t comparing me to a gang member, or a Stalin, or a Hussein, or even my grumpy neighbor, No, you compare me to you! Nuts! That’s a tall measure.

William Barclay says it is much easier to go about declaring that there should be no such thing as violence, than to live a life in which we personally never allow any such thing as bitterness to invade our relationships with those we live every day. That kind of violence is everywhere, no boundary lines exist on that one and that kind of gang territory can tear apart a relationship faster than any verbal fight.

Back to being an Interrupter. How can I interrupt the cycle of anger or pride or fear or resentment? Slowing down, wearing the shoes of the other, seeing with your eyes and not my own. That kind of action is easier to do when the other is not so important to me. Much, much harder to do with the ones who are closest or when it’s something I’m passionate about.

Some of the most painful, cutting, violent words are words between husbands and wives, siblings, and family members. Occasionally I’m the one who must an interrupter in someone’s relational conflict. To bring peace with a word seems impossible; to mediate resentment that has built over years require much more than a few words. The word can only come from your Spirit’s gift to me–wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude and knowledge, piety and reverence. That manner of interruption accomplishes the impossible.

And then there’s times when I feel what Tim said, “the toughest mediation is the mediation inside you.” I ask your holy Spirit when I get caught up in my own resentments and the temptations to retaliate or to even the playing field, “What needs to be examined in my spirit; Why am I stuck in these emotions?” Eventually, your Spirit faithfully brings me back to this thought: “In the grand scheme of things is what I consider my territory, my rights, and my way important enough to forfeit your forgiveness?” That stops me in my tracks, sometimes it takes me awhile to come to a full stop, but I eventually give over.

God of Peace, lead me with your staff away from the temptation of comeuppance toward the people around me.

God of Peace, release me from the briar of collected grievances that twist through my thoughts and choke out patience and gentleness.

God of Peace, anoint the wounds I allow to fester with your healing oil.

God of Peace, lead me to the still waters and cleanse me of the violence my spirit wields in my thoughts and words.

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!