D.T.R.: Define the Relationship

St. Peter —

“The Most Successful Failure of All Time”

Today’s, April 8, 2021, first reading in the Mass is from the book of The Acts of the Apostles, otherwise referred to as Acts. The book itself appears right after the four Gospels that proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Good news, indeed, for in reading the gospel accounts of Saints Matthew, Mark, Luke and John we learn from Jesus, God Incarnate, God with skin on, how to act on the good life our Creator offers to all who will believe that Jesus IS the Son of God. The books that follow contain the acts of The early Church as they proclaimed Christ to the world, they are the sequel, so to speak, about how the Truth, Beauty and Goodness of Jesus Christ begins to take hold in the disciples and followers of Jesus Christ. That sequel, however, has no end; it continues through time into eternity. When we read of how The Catholic Church was established through St. Peter and his disciple, we can recognize how the death and resurrection and ascension of Jesus yielded the magnificent transformation in his disciples that he had promised. With the descending of The Triune God’s holy Spirit recorded early in Acts, everything changed for his followers. Men and women who were once washed up ne’er-do-wells were filled with the fullness of God’s spirit and emboldened by the Truth. They suddenly knew who they were and what they were about! We recognize it in the action of St. Peter in today’s readings.

Chapter 3 recalls St. Peter’s fearless zeal in declaring that Jesus was the fulfillment of the prophecies in the Old Testament on the coming of the Messiah, Jesus, who was sent to bless the world. St. Peter, considered the most successful failure of all time KNEW this because he had had a number of moments that defined the relationship between himself and Jesus. Peter’s transformation from his once fallible, weak, fickle, impulsive, and undependable nature BEFORE the resurrection of Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit of God. His transformation to the bold Peter we hear from in today’s reading was one filled with fits and starts, much like mine I might add. How about you? We can glimpse the beginning of Peter’s transformation with his answer to Jesus’ question on a road just outside of Caesarea Philippi. We read of that encounter in St. Matthew 16:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” 

When Jesus Christ declared that apostle Peter was the “rock” (Matthew 16:18) on which he would build his Church it certainly wasn’t on what was visibly attractive about Peter’s faith in Christ at that point in his life. He declared it because of Peter’s answer in their conversation along the road; He knew that this saint-in-the-making would eventually prove his love for Him. We can observe that God’s sense of humor and his consolation settling down on a man with a nature much like ours, fulfilling a purpose much greater than himself. Does this give you hope? It does me. When I fail at representing the good news of our LORD Jesus Christ, I think of St. Peter. When I’m quick to judge, I think of St. Peter. When I fret over sins of my past, I think of St. Peter. When I’d rather hide from a conflict over theological Truth, I think of St. Peter.

Considering the questions that Jesus asks of his disciples and his detractors is intriguing for me. I find that they are questions I myself need to answer. In doing so I am able to define my relationship, to have my own D.T.R. with Christ in as much as I allow the Holy Spirit to probe my heart and mind for the answer to those questions. Try it sometime, I think you will find that as you answer those questions in prayer and meditation you will open yourself up to the transformation Jesus desires to accomplish in your life just as he did in St. Peter’s life.

Here are some of the many questions Jesus asked of Peter and the other disciples, the accounts surrounding the spoken question are a great place to begin your D.T.R. with Jesus.

“Who do you say that I am?” (Mark 8:29)

“Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:16)

“Why are you terrified?” (Matthew 8:26)

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but not do what I command?” (Luke 6:46)

“If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why are you anxious about the rest?” (Luke 12:26)

Holy Father, our hearts know St. Peter’s heart all too well. Forgive us for our fumbling attempts to follow you in all ways. Fill us with your holy Spirit, exchange our waffling pride and fear with the courage to not only say, but to live out–“You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God!”

In the name of the Father, 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

The Return

The word Lent derives from a Middle English word lenten, meaning springtime. I kindle to that image as I consider that the purpose of Lent is to lead us into Christ’s passion through a season of examination and growth that will renew our strength and determination to love the LORD God with all our heart, mind and strength. We take up this practice every year, sometimes with a sense of duty or dread about the fasting, almsgiving or penance, but I believe we are missing the point of this our Catholic tradition. If we are not mindful of God’s desire to renew us as springtime renews the earth, Lent can be seen as a burden. Lent is more than making resolutions or enduring a penance by taking on something we think will be extraordinarily difficult. If we consider that it was Jesus zeal for us, his beloved, that led him into temptation like our own in order to reveal that he alone is our life-giving Savior, then we come closer to understanding Lent as a gift not a burden. Jesus alone delivers us from evil. Satan the enemy of our soul is the tempter, but Jesus is the conquerer!

The Liturgy of the Word during these 40 days of Lent offers us the armor, as it were, to journey with Jesus into this higher calling beyond enduring temptation to “proving” our desire for Him alone. I learned awhile back that when the term “40 days” is used in scripture it is usually associated with a period of time that includes trouble and hardship for the purpose of “proving” someone. Proving in the sense that you proof yeast, allowing time for the enzymes to activate in its environment of water and flour. Well, the environment we live in is rife with temptations that diminish us, intended to waste us in its concoction–the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life.” St. John goes on to say that this [concoction] “is not of the Father, but is of the world.” ..

Let’s consider another purpose of the daily readings during Lent. When we read the WORD, we are reading Jesus Christ, we are hearing Him say to us all we need for our salvation. His Spirit penetrates our hearts and minds with the sharp awareness of our own sin. If we choose, this Bread of Life, the Word of God, will raise in us new life. We enter into the temptation and penance of Lent with the daily Liturgy of the Word and the Liturgy of the Eucharist in Mass as our weapon and our sustenance for endurance and transformation. In consuming the Word, Jesus himself, the LORD offers us food for this journey as we align ourselves with the truth that the LORD’s strength is sufficient. He also offers us insight into the vices that keep us from his new life!

I recognized this gift of armor and the awareness of our sin as I considered the theme of return in today’s readings. The psalmist cries out to the Lord to “remember His mercies” In every instance of God “remembering,” we see that it always includes an action. God never forgets His Covenant or His people. He doesn’t suffer from memory lapses about us, no, to “remember” means God has us on His mind and he is ready to act is we allow him to. In the lenten season He is drawing us away, up into a desert for us to recollect his mercies as we suffer our temptations.

The prophet Joel’s words are read today just before the proclamation of the Gospel: “Even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart; for I am gracious and merciful” And then the Gospel reading from Matthew teaches us how to return to Him with a lesson on forgiveness that Jesus taught His disciples. Do we need to be reminded of that today? I know I need to remember that a forgiving spirit guides me in returning to the LORD in order to be renewed and to become like him!

As we consider the greatest temptation of our life is to forget how much you love us and desire us, remind us that you always have us on your mind and you are waiting for us to always have you on our mind.

LORD God, we ask that this season of Lent be a season where we allow You to penetrate our spirits through our fasting, almsgiving and penance. May we allow you to prove us so that we would grow into the life you desire for us. Bring springtime to our hearts as we walk with you during this Lenten fast. Renew a right spirit within us!

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

Amen

Transfiguration: “It is good that we are here.”


Jesus took Peter, James, and John 
and led them up a high mountain apart by themselves.
And he was transfigured before them, 
and his clothes became
dazzling white, 
such as no fuller on earth could bleach them
. Elijah appeared to them along with Moses, 
and they were conversing with Jesus.
Then Peter said to Jesus in reply, 
“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!
Let us make three tents: 
one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He hardly knew what to say, they were so terrified.
Then a cloud came, casting a shadow over them; 
from the cloud came a voice, 
“This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.”
Suddenly, looking around, they no longer saw anyone
but Jesus alone with them.

The Gospel according to St. Mark 9

Have you noticed that climbing mountains seem to be a thing for the LORD? In today’s reading the disciples climb Mt. Tabor and suddenly some other mountain climbers appear in holy companionship with the LORD Jesus. Those mountain climbers of the Old Testament had indeed experienced what Peter, James and John were experiencing–a moment of shut-my-mouth-wide-opened stupefaction at what appeared before their eyes. The disciples saw the metamorphose of their Rabbi and they were terrified, yet enticed to keep their eyes opened. I imagine Jesus whispering to Peter, James and John before they parted from the other disciples, “Come away with me.” I kindle to the idea that Jesus draws his disciples: up mountains, into deserts, through rivers, across lakes and to places of solitude. Places where his divinity touched the ground of their humanity–transformation indeed!

Enter Moses and Elijah, great heroes of the Old Covenant. Their climbing lessons were similar to what Jesus had in mind for the three disciples that day. When Moses climbed Horeb [Sinai] and Elijah climbed Carmel and Horeb, an immense transfiguration happened before them and within them: the LORD God transforming a burning bush in order to arrest the attention of Moses, a cloud shrouding Moses as the LORD’s finger wrote his Law on a stone tablet (where did he get that?)  Elijah shattered the cult of Baal-worship on Mt. Carmel through a cloud the size of a man’s hand bearing the rain that no graven image could conjure. Elijah’s fear sent him running away and into the shade of a broom tree where the angels of God ministered to him , then on to Mt. Horeb after that rest when he was under an edict of death by the powers at be. Through the whisper of a gentle breeze he reveals himself to the battered prophet….and he asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?”

In today’s gospel the show and tell lesson of Jesus’ Transfiguration doesn’t ask any questions of the disciples, rather it reveals the answer for the unspoken questions about Jesus’ divinity. In hindsight we understand they needed this glimpse of eternity and the real purpose of life, for they would soon find themselves alternately hiding away in fear and boldly conveying the truth of the Transfiguration and the Resurrection Their own transfiguration into God’s desire for them would eventually end in their martyrdom, but I imagine they welcomed that because of what they had seen and heard on Mt. Tabor that day.

They heard the LORD’s answer about the purpose of life from within a cloud that shadowed them. The answer was simple enough for them to understand, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to him.” Just like Moses and Elijah, the disciples had challenges with listening to the LORD. We have the same hearing problem some times, don’t we? The LORD is always speaking, he waits for those who will listen!

The LORD longs for us to see him as well. Are you like me, suffering from nearsightedness? Distracted by fear or pride when all around me there is the stunning revelation of God. He is always showing himself to those who look for him, to those who will behold him! The mystery of transfiguration is revealed in us when we learn to listen to the LORD’s voice, to respond in obedience, to see that every moment is suffused with the divine waiting to touch the ground of our humanity? It is in that overshadowing of the LORD’s grace that  turns the here and now into the holy ground of our transformation into God’s likeness?

LORD, you tell us that we become what we behold. Help us to contemplate your love for us, free us of our fears and pride so that we may be transformed into your likeness. Remind us that life is not the ground we stand on in our corner of the world! Life begins and ends in you! Reveal to us in the meantime the shut-my-mouth-wide-opened wonder of the good life you have for those who choose to follow you. “It is good that we are here.”

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

Amen

What’s That in Your Hand?

The Lord said to [Moses], “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.”  –Exodus 4:2

Before God revealed himself to Moses on the backside of the desert around Mount Horeb [Sinai], he caught his attention through a burning bush. And Moses turned aside to look at the burning bush, this was not simply a glance, Moses beheld the sight. And that made all the difference for Moses and eventually for God’s enslaved people. To behold is to gaze and discern–I kindle to that. We could say Moses clapped his eyes on the burning bush and entered into a stunned suspension of thought at the mystery of God revealed! “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”

God waited for Moses to behold the theophany and once he did, God revealed himself to Moses! By rights, Moses could have been consumed by the fire of God in that moment, but God invited Moses into the posture of anticipation, indeed, of worship! In spite of Moses’ fear and trembling at the sight, he proceeded to tell Moses where to go! Of all things! Moses, a fearful man, reluctantly ask God a question, “’Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’  [God replied], ‘But I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain.’” Follows is another comeback from Moses about his doubts about this mission God had in mind. Me thinks God must have been wearing thin on patience by this time, yet there’s no indication of that, in fact, God reveals more of himself to Moses by revealing his holy name.

God’s holy name, “I am who I am” discloses the penultimate, up to that point, nature of himself, we could spend so much time mining the depth of his revealed name here, but let’s move on to what that name exposed about the nature of God in that moment. He instructed Moses to speak for him in what would become one of the most fascinating revelations of the lengths God will go to to keep his covenant with his creation. He tells Moses to say for him, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt; and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt, to the … land flowing with milk and honey.”’

The LORD knows Moses–he’s intimately familiar with Moses’ doubt, fear, and his speech impediment. He, too, sees Moses’ afflictions and he want to bring him out of the slavery he has to those afflictions. Not only does God plan to free the Hebrew slaves, he plans to transform Moses. God’s love for Moses is so great that he seems to concede when Moses puts up his arguments about what he has in mind. In response to Moses’ doubts: The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.” The rod was most likely a staff or walking stick but more importantly to Moses the rod defined his own limitations–“Who am I but a shepherd?”

Moses story is my story, it’s everyone’s story. I like Moses can doubt my own abilities, I can fear change. I find myself sometimes questioning the LORD about his providence and my role in it. I am reminded of something Sister Ruth Barrows wrote about the position we find ourselves in from time to time:

“… God is always working to bring us to an awareness and acceptance of our poverty, which is the essential condition of our being able to receive him, and the petty frustrations, the restrictions, the humiliations, the occasions when we are made to feel poignantly and distressingly hedged around, not in control of the world, not even in control of that tiny corner of it we are supposed to call our own, are his chosen channel into the soul. It is the one who has learned to bow his head, to accept the yoke knows what freedom is.”

Sister Ruth Barrows, o.c.d.

The LORD used a the burning bush to draw Moses into his presence, and in doing so invited him to learn to bow his head, to accept the yoke he had for him. Freedom would follow in the moment he was willing to reveal what was in his hand. In one fell swoop he let Moses set him free. He worked with what Moses was able to hand over to him. In the same way, the LORD sees me in my tiny corner as he did to Moses–infinitely patient yet stubbornly persistent in his great love for me and for his great providence to be accomplished through me. He waits for me to turn aside and behold him! The LORD asks of me, too, “Lois, what is in your hand?……What identity do you hold onto?…..What limitations have you put on yourself because you are afraid of what I might ask from you?….What is hedging you in that keeps you from trusting that I know what I am doing?”

Eternal Burning Bush, you patiently wait for me to turn aside and to fix my gaze upon you, forgive me for the time I’ve wasted chasing after a burning twig.

Sovereign God, the ground around me is your holy ground, it is not MY ground to protect. Teach me to move, and live, and have my being on your holy ground!

Great Shepherd, I open my hand to you, releasing the walking stick of my existence. I accept the yoke your desire to place on my shoulders. Lead me toward freedom.

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

Amen

*To learn more about what the LORD does with what we have in our hand, see my post, “Nothing But A Walking Stick”

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/

“Stretch Out Your Hand”

“On another sabbath [Jesus] entered the synagogue and taught, and there was a man there whose right hand was withered….he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come and stand here.” He got up and stood there….After looking around at the crowd, he said to him, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was restored. –St. John 6

I, too, have a “withered hand.” My hidden affliction comes with me into this sacred place where your almighty Presence stands before my weakness; where you are waiting to become my Hope. I have silently observed your divinity as woebegone humanity grabs for deliverance from their suffering. I’ve lingered at the edges of life, hiding my infirmity while longing for your word, your touch, your gaze to fix on me. 

My withered self has narrated my existence with waning courage, whispering that it’s just a hand, a slight barrier between acceptance and rejection. I have lived until this moment: self-confident, self-reliant–hiding behind  declarations of my capability and strength, parroting confidence. I stand in the synagogue alongside other worshippers waiting for a word from you. I reassure myself that they do not know me, they don’t know the extent of my shame. I’m very good at hiding.

My inner battle and private fears, drive me to hide in the crowd rather than to grab for your attention.  I’m just another broken display of the miseries of humanity trying to stay out of the way. But today I choose to be here, today I’ve come to listen to your Word, Jesus. As you look about, your eye’s fix on me! It seems as though you see behind my mask, right into my doubt! In an instant a fissure in my soul gives way between my affliction and your gaze.  You see me, I feel your eyes piercing through the folded cloth that hides my weakness, and it seems you don’t regard it as the hindrance at all. Is this strength I’m feeling?

Come and stand here.”  You say to me.

I respond to your request, but I carry with me my greatest distress at not being accepted, of being chastised. I stretch out my withered hand from my prison of self-sufficiency toward your Divinity, and I am transformed! Yes, my withered hand was restored, but I was also released from my self-protection and doubt, my pride and my fear. Suddenly, in that moment, I understood! I know that you are the Living God draped in flesh so that my broken flesh can be transformed into your divine image. At once you know my brokenness and you take it into yourself and render me whole. How is this? How can I be a favored one?

Friend, you may feel as that man felt, I know I do sometimes. What is your withered hand? Yes, it may be physical but, more so it’s those hidden impairments in our soul that keeps us withered in spirit. Resentments, jealousy, envy, bitterness, pride, anger, fear; Christ came to heal all wounds and his eyes are always fixed on us waiting for us to respond to his offer of healing.

Do you find yourself standing at the margins of grace stunted by the belief that Jesus can’t possibly realize how broken you are? Can you see him reaching past that brokenness into your heart, beckoning you to trust him? It’s hard sometimes, isn’t it? Just like the man, we are offered a choice. When our spirit moves closer to the fullness of Christ, he is faithful to fill us with courage to believe we can be healed and accept his healing power.

The man entered the synagogue that day full of himself. He left the synagogue emptied of himself–all that hindered him. He stretched his withered hand toward You, he drew it back restored and whole. You are standing before us now waiting for us to reach for you, grant us courage.

Healing Savior, I reach for you believing that you hear every cry, no matter how silent. You know my inner longings for holiness and wholeness, grant me the courage to expose my whole mind, body and soul to your healing hand. Reach into my innermost fears and my over-weaning pride. Restore me to what you believe about me.

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

Amen

Prayer: The Upward Surge of the Heart

There are some people I just avoid; you know the types–self-centered and critical, distracted. I walk away from time spent with them feeling depleted in spirit sucked dry of joy.

Friend, do you have people in you life like that? People that seem more interested in talking to you instead of listening to you. Their postures reveal they’re in a hurry. They keep their eye on the phone they hold in their hand while you sit there hoping for a conversation with just them, and not with their in their phone. I can’t tell you how much I resent that black-screened rectangle idol sometimes, yet I know you are probably holding one in your hand right now to listen to this podcast. I don’t resent them for how they are used, I resent them for the distraction they are.

Sometimes I wonder what the LORD feels when I am distracted in prayer with him overly concerned about the voices in my head. I wonder if he look at me and feels the absence of my spirit? I wonder if he resents the idol I hold in my hand? I wonder how he feels when I rush in and out of prayer with all tongue and no ear. I know where the problem lies, it’s in me and the idea that I hold on to that I am praying to Him. What kind of relationship is that? Sometimes I wonder if he says to himself, “Shut your mouth, Lois….can you listen for a minute?….will you turn off the noise between me and you?

It seems to me that when you and I allow the distractions of our self to dominate our idea of the relationship we have with God, we ARE all surface and no depth; consumed by what I have to say instead of what the LORD is whispering to me. Absent of any sense that He is Emmanuel, God with me. Our LORD is a perfect gentleman, he waits for us to weary of our own redundant preoccupations, he waits for us to fix our gaze on him and to simply stop.

Father Jacque Philippe’s book, Time for God, has been an essential guide for me for the prayerful life. “What matters in prayer is not what we do but what God does in us during those moments, the essential act in prayer is, at bottom, to place oneself in God’s presence and to remain there… This presence, which is that of the living God, is active, vivifying. It heals and sanctifies us. We cannot sit before a fire without getting warm.”

I’ve come to believe that the remedy for praying to Him is learning to understand that prayer is with Him. Doesn’t that sound genuine and inviting? How can we get there? When I unite my prayer and my desires with his heart I change my posture; placing myself with him in his presence. When I enter into his rest this way I believe he hears me saying, “I’m glad to sit with you, to kneel before you, to enjoy your company!”

The question I ask myself, you may ask yourself: Why do I delay the graces God has for me by filling the air with my words? A monologue that’s all about me, myself and I: my self-promoting desires, my self-centered attitudes, my selfish wants….do you notice the theme here? Is it familiar to you? I remember something Dallas Willard wrote about the effect of praying with God. There is a pervasive and spiritually strengthening effect on all aspects of our own sense of self when we relax into conversation with God. I kindle to that image!

I think of the words of St. Teresa of Avila, “Prayer is an upward surge of the heart.” Now, there’s the posture I need to take that will free me from the navel-gazing I’m prone to do. As I begin to understand that prayer is the response of my whole self, born from my reverence for and trust in my heavenly Father, then I am moving closer to intimacy with my LORD. The knowing and being known through conversation where my eyes are opened wide to the genuine life of communion with the LORD.

Friend, do you sense that our heavenly Father is patiently waiting for Your presence to him? Do you weary of struggling against the thoughts that distract and dismay you? I sure do!

Oh, LORD, when we are all tongue and no ear, silence us.

When we wallow in regrets pick us up out of the mud we’ve made of our life. Hold us in your arms, speak to us your cleansing words of life.

Teach us how to listen. We desire quietness to rule our spirits. Would you enlarge our hearts with longing for you? Would you unite all our desire with yours?

You speak words of life, you give wisdom to those who listen, you grant insight to those who will look into your eyes with humble gratitude. Teach us to pray with you!

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

Amen.