Salt and Light

Jesus said to his disciples:

“You are the salt of the earth.
But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned?
It is no longer good for anything
but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. –Matt 5:1

*     *     *

My late father was an introvert.  At his funeral the joke was that he would have preferred a smaller event, so that he wouldn’t have to talk to so many people.  He was intelligent and well-educated, having studied eight languages while working on a PhD in English—but he chose all dead ones, thus avoiding the risk of having to converse in them.  These ranged from familiar ones like Latin and Hebrew and Ancient Greek, to Hittite and Sanskrit and Tocharian (which in my uneducated mind was spelled Tolkarian, and which I assumed was something that hobbits spoke—until I had to google it).  He tended to stay on the periphery of conversations, only occasionally injecting bits of wisdom, humor or an odd pun.

So it was something of a shock when the phone rang, one day years ago, and it was for him.  It was a collect call from a Massachusetts prison, from a young man named Scott, looking for my father.  Even more of a shock was that my father stayed on the phone with him for close to an hour, using more than a few month’s quota of words on someone we didn’t even know he knew.  This was repeated many times, as Scott had found in my quiet father something of a mentor.

Indeed, my father attracted quite a fan club among surprising populations.  This is probably not the best place to mention “Boomer”, another prison inmate, who saw in my father’s Sicilian features an underlying presence, and took him for a Godfather figure.  He refused to believe that my father was who claimed to be (ironically at the time, a sales rep for a large stuffed animal company) and thought he must in fact be a Boss.  “Let me work for you!” Boomer insisted.  “I could be your hit man!” (true story)

At his funeral many commented how my father spoke rarely, but when he did, people listened.  I know in my own life, I have held on to these bits of wisdom, which while infrequent had more impact than many longer conversations or even entire courses in theology.  And I have come to recognize that this unassuming wisdom was the fruit of a life of prayer.

“One of the greatest evils in the Church today,” my father told me when I was seventeen and on the way to college in Steubenville, “is the number of people in positions of authority who have long since ceased to be holy themselves.”  I heard these words long before the Church was rocked by public scandal and had the veneer of public piety removed from some of the most horrifying of private sins.  But my father’s warning was not directed at others, but as a caution to me.  “It is very easy when you are learning about God, doing things for God, talking about God, to forget to talk to God.”  For my father this was the worst possible fate.

“You cannot give what you don’t have.”  I don’t think that expression was original to Dad, but it points to the necessity of prayer, and is the heart of today’s Gospel.  “If salt loses its flavor, what good is it?” Jesus asks, after telling his disciples to be salt and light for the world.   Similarly, one cannot give light by studying it, talking about it—only by being filled with it.  And the place we are filled is prayer.

There was one cause which propelled my Dad from the comfort and confines of a hidden life, and that was the prolife movement.  In his retirement he went weekly to an abortion clinic, more than sixty miles from our home, to stand alone peacefully offering literature about the help and alternatives available to women as they entered the clinic.  But then later in the morning he would stand across the street with a sign, across from the parking lot where they would see him as they left, with a sign that said: “Jesus forgives and heals.”

Many people thought it was “too soon.”  That the women were not ready for repentance and thus not ready for Christ’s mercy.  But my father believed that being prolife was more than just saving babies, that it was about saving souls.  And he knew from the experience of many who shared their personal stories of abortion with him, that memories of the day would come back years later.  He hoped that with them would come the memory of that message of mercy.*

I think of this too when I think of salt and light, and how the one thing that they cannot be is hidden. Like my Dad, I prefer quiet and solitude, and more than he, invisibility when it comes to controversy.  I don’t like to be the one to speak out, to stand out.  I prefer to be one of the crowd.  But we all know what the “crowd” does to Jesus.

It is in prayer that I draw both the strength and motivation to step out of myself. Just as improbable as my father’s prison ministry is my own public speaking.  I have learned how true it is that “the one who does not speak to God has nothing to say to the world.”  That it is only by practicing faithfulness to daily prayer that I have anything at all to say, and more importantly, the courage to step out of myself and my fears to say it.

Let us ask God today that we may be truly salt and light for the world, witnessing by what we are and have received.

Like my father I have only love for those who have had abortions.  I know the sometimes unbearable pressures of circumstances, boyfriends, family and friends that weigh into such decisions.  I also know that for many, often years later, there is great anguish and pain following that decision.  If you know of someone who is seeking healing from an abortion, there are many organizations who can help including the Sisters of Life linked here.

Stinkbugs and Fleas

In every age, O Lord, you have been our refuge. (Psalm 90:2)

Living in a city shoebox apartment may have its down side, but living in a big house in the country has its outside.  And when winter departs and the tundra thaws, the outside springs to life—and then the outside starts to make its way inside.

The worst of these unwanted interlopers is the stink bug, which I defy even Saint Francis to love.  The other morning, I was awoken by my 88-year-old aunt shouting with great alarm, “There is something…prehistoric…crawling on the wall!”  One of the world’s ugliest but otherwise harmless (apart from smell) insects was indeed making its way up toward the ceiling. Being the generous, virtuous soul that I am, I said “No! I am not killing anything until I have had my coffee!” and stomped downstairs.  And I guzzled a few days-worth before grimly making my way back upstairs to begin the day’s extermination, which did not end with just one.

And so it is that when Corrie ten Boom wrote in The Hiding Place about fleas, I was entirely on her side.  Corrie and her sister hid Jews during the Holocaust, and the first part of her book is filled with remarkable stories of God’s providence, and how they were given the grace not only to witness to Christ heroically but to save countless lives.  But then they were betrayed to the Gestapo, and sent to Ravensbrück concentration camp.  The suffering and abuse they would experience was horrific, but what nearly put Corrie over the edge was the infestation of fleas they encountered when they first moved to new barracks.  “How can we live in such a place?” she wailed.

Her sister Betsie believed that the answer to “how” was to be found in Saint Paul’s exhortation to “give thanks to God in all circumstances,” and she led Corrie reluctantly through a litany of thanksgiving for everything—including all of the awful aspects—culminating with the fleas.  Corrie writes:

The fleas!  This was too much. “Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.”

“Give thanks in all circumstances,” [Betsie] quoted.  It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are a part of this place where God has put us.”

And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas.  But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.

But Betsie would have the last laugh.  For it turns out that the flea-infested room was their one place with sufficient freedom for prayer and bible study, which was for the prisoners the sole source of peace and calm in the years of torment.  It was the one place the wardens never entered, never caught them worshipping.  One day they discovered that their freedom was directly due to the infestation—the guards refused to enter the room precisely because of the fleas!

Corrie writes: “My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place.  I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”

When we think of God as our “refuge and help” throughout the centuries, we are often tempted to think of the highlight reel of good times and blessings.  But we are invited to look deeper, to discover a God who is Emmanuel, with us in all things—including times of evil and suffering.

“The mystery of suffering is the biggest challenge we face in living out our faith…Faith doesn’t take away the mystery or the suffering, but it offers us another mystery: that God does not run from those who suffer, but instead draws close to them,” writes Sr. Marie Paul Curley, FSP in See Yourself Through God’s Eyes.

“The Lord is close the brokenhearted,” the Psalms tell us.  The Incarnation shows God taking on our suffering Himself in the person of Christ, but He also continues to love each of us in our own particular suffering.  And just as His own Cross brought about both Redemption and Resurrection, God can bring good out of everything in our lives too.  Some we see in this life; some will be seen only in the next.

The gratitude Betsie preached was important not only as spiritual etiquette, as giving God His due, but also in placing the situation, and all of its ugliness, in the palm of Providence.  When we thank God for His gifts, we build our own trust in Him as Giver, and our confidence that He will continue to keep us in His care.  When we recognize the good even in the midst of suffering, we strengthen our hope that future evils will also be accompanied by, and used for, good.

In a recent homily Pope Francis spoke about joy “not as living from laugh to laugh” but as a gift of the Holy Spirit that can be lived even in suffering.  The key to this joy, he said, is gratitude and memory.  It is the memory of God’s faithfulness that both sparks joy and gives hope for the future.

Let us pray for the grace of grateful hearts, to receive all as good from the Giver of All Good Things.

*            *            *

*Betsie would eventually give her life in the concentration camp, and when they found her body it was radiant and joyful.  Corrie survived the holocaust and went on to be a great Christian speaker and writer, whose works include The Hiding Place in which this story is found.

You can find See Yourself Through God’s Eyes by Sister Marie Paul Curley FSP in the Pauline bookstore or in the embedded link, or on Amazon here.  The above quote is from page 119.

“The Lord is close the brokenhearted” is from Psalm 34:18.

Not From Me But For Me

Peter began to say to Jesus,
“We have given up everything and followed you.”
Jesus said, “Amen, I say to you,
there is no one who has given up house or brothers or sisters
or mother or father or children or lands
for my sake and for the sake of the Gospel
who will not receive a hundred times more now in this present age:
houses and brothers and sisters
and mothers and children and lands,
with persecutions, and eternal life in the age to come.
But many that are first will be last, and the last will be first.”—Mark 10:28-31

*            *            *

It is the sound that every mother of a toddler learns to fear: an eerie silence, followed by piercing squeals of unfettered delight.

My friend Heidi and I ran down the stairs from where we had been packing for a day at the pool, to find her not-quite-two-year-old Nicholas splashing about with great enthusiasm in the toilet.

Even the future Saint Grace was quite appalled, and we immediately moved to extract him. He quickly became as stiff as a board and twice his usual weight as he began to wail piteously and thrash about.  He remained inconsolable, as we cruelly re-dressed him, buckled him in his car seat and drove him further away from his sole source of joy.  That we were driving to a pool, a much bigger and more glorious version of his tiny heart’s desire, was an irony not lost on me.

This fear of trusting, this doubt that good things can follow a No to what we think we want or are currently enjoying, is not only a quality of toddlers.

A friend of mine who was preparing to enter the seminary tried to explain the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to his secular friends.  “Dude, you’ve got to be kidding me!  Those are the three things I am most trying to avoid!”  one responded in shock.

It’s easy for me to laugh at that guy, but my own conversion was significantly delayed because I feared that if I took my faith seriously God would “make me a nun.”  (That this was for me the worst possible fate is itself quite telling).

In today’s Gospel, Jesus promises that those who give up “house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands” for His sake will receive “a hundred times morein this present age”—as well as persecution, and eternal life.  We get the persecution and the eternal life part; but do we believe the hundredfold in this life?

This renunciation, this death to self, this emptiness, is a characteristic of all Christian life, not just those with what we call a “religious vocation.”   And all, whether lay or ordained, married, single or professed, are called to live not as corpses but as “witnesses to the resurrection.”

In my first ever attempt at Lectio Divina, we were invited to imagine ourselves as a person or object in the story of the Wedding in Cana.  I found myself imagining myself as one of the six stone jars in the story, and imagined myself being emptied and filled, day after day after day (before of course the Big Day in the story).  As I felt the weariness of being emptied yet again, I felt a question rise to the surface of my mind, “Grace, why are you focusing on being emptied rather than being filled?”

Later, when my life unraveled and I felt as though everything was being taken away from me yet again, I was on my knees asking God, “What is it that you want from me?”  And unmistakably the voice came back, “It is not what I want from you, it is what I want for you.”

One of the marks required for considering sainthood is a life characterized by joy.  Although the saints invariably lived lives of renunciation and at times profound suffering, they were filled with something, and this emanated in a life of joy.

God is never outdone in generosity, and indeed I have experienced on many occasions this “hundredfold” and gifts of joy I never imagined possible.  Whenever I have surrendered something to Him, He has replaced it with something better.

Yet, this is an ongoing story—I can look back on this as a promise fulfilled, but I must also look to it with the eyes of faith as a promise still to come.  Some days I am gloriously happy in my current life even without a lot of things I thought I wanted/needed.   But some days “dying to self” is like blowing out trick candles on a birthday cake, and Christianity can feel like a cruel joke.

Anyone who has attempted the Christian life for any significant stretch of time is familiar with these ups and downs, these seasons of plenty and famine.  St. Ignatius called these spiritual seasons “consolation” for the good, and “desolation” for the down times.  It is helpful to remember that just like the seasons of earth, they will come and go.  In times of good, it is helpful to build memories and gratitude to recall and strengthen us for the times that are harder.  And in the tough times, we can hold on to our memories of good and the promises of Christ.

Let us pray today for the grace to trust in the goodness and generosity of God at all times.

The King of Glory and the Pink Bunny

Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and said,
“Father, the hour has come.
Give glory to your Son, so that your son may glorify you,
just as you gave him authority over all people,
so that your son may give eternal life to all you gave him —John 17:1-2

*            *            *

I have two distinct memories of our second grade Christmas pageant.  The first is of the lyrics to The King of Glory which we sang with such joyful exuberance that we were marched through the hallway to the upper grade classrooms in hopes that they would catch some of our enthusiasm and volume.  “Who is this King of Glory, How shall we call Him?….Open the gates before Him, lift up your voices!”

The second was that I was forced, against my will, to wear in public a pink bunny costume for our tableau of Noah’s ark.  I had volunteered to be a bunny, imagining appearing soft, white, furry and adorable.  When my mother pulled out the entirely pink costume, I was aghast.  Bunnies are not supposed to be pink!  I would not, could not appear in something so obviously what a bunny should not look like.  It didn’t matter that I otherwise loved pink; it mattered that it was not a suitable color for a bunny.

I decided instead to wear a white turtleneck and tan pants, appropriate bunny colors, and to affix a cotton ball to my posterior to look like a real bunny.  My mother broke the rules and came to our classroom, where she conspired with my teacher to cover up my authentic costume with the horrific, fake, pink abomination.  I don’t think I even sang The King of Glory that night, my eyes filled with tears at the terrible humiliation and shame of wearing something that so obviously wasn’t right.

If I am amused as an adult at my youthful squeamishness and perfectionism, I have also come to realize that so much of Christmas is in fact neither fitting nor right.  That the King of Glory should be a helpless baby, confined by swaddling bands in a trough from which animals ate, is of course more incongruous than an oddly hued rabbit.

In his (highly, highly recommended) new book The Word Made Flesh: Foretold, Fulfilled, Forever, Father Richard Veras tells of the awe of the angels that see God in this tiny human baby.  “Who is this King of Glory?” they wonder, marveling that God would appear in a place and form so horribly beneath Him, so at odds with His power and glory.  But this awe is not just for Christmas he notes.

We focus so much on the descent of God, the humble lowering of Himself as He comes to earth with a full human nature.  We sometimes forget how much the angels must likewise marvel when human flesh ascends into heaven!

How surprised would seven-year-old-me have been to read Father Veras and learn that Psalm 24:7-10 (see full text below), on which our Christmas song The King of Glory was based, was believed by Church Fathers to be in fact about the Ascension.  Writes Father Veras:

The image proposed by these Fathers is that the angels ascending with Jesus are telling the angels in heaven to open the gates to the King of Glory.  But the angels guarding heaven’s gates question them.  For the ascending angels are accompanying a man of flesh and blood who bears wounds in his body.  That a man, that a human nature could be approaching the very throne of God causes the angels at the gates to ask again, “Who is this?” And the ascending angels, with great rejoicing, repeat their proclamation and verify that this man is indeed the King of Glory.1 [emphasis added]

Jesus is glorified not when He “finishes” His human life and returns to one that is purely divine.  Rather, He is glorified when in His human nature He is raised from the dead and then ascends into heaven.  Forever, the human and the divine are linked; humanity is now infused with unimaginable glory into eternity.  Fr. Veras quotes Jean Danielou, noting that:

 …the mystery of the Ascension is not that [the angels] are to adore the eternal Word—that is already the object of the liturgy—but rather that they are to adore the Word Incarnate; and that overturns all of heaven, just as the Incarnation revolutionized all of earth.” 2 [emphasis added]

C.S. Lewis believed that heaven and hell were not merely conditions of the afterlife, but conditions that begin in this life.  One can see a glimpse of this in the joy of the saints, or the horror and misery of great sinners.  Similarly, our own glorification, our union with the divine, begins with a transformation in this life, when with the power of the Holy Spirit we are changed to be more like Christ.  While we can wonder when merely human beings are given the power to heal, or speak in or interpret foreign tongues, or to prophesy, it is an even greater wonder when merely human beings can love like God, forgive like God, humble themselves like God.

At the beginning of the time the Opposition Voice told Eve that if they ate the forbidden fruit they would “be like God.”  Since then our image of God has been backwards, as have our attempts to imitate Him.  When we say of someone “he thinks he’s god” we are generally implying one who is arrogant, bossy, even tyrannical.  How unlike this image is the baby in Bethlehem, the gentle healer riding on an ass, the man who lets Himself be nailed by His hands and feet to the Cross.

As we continue in this space between the Feasts of the Ascensions and Pentecost, let us pray for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that God may be glorified through what we become, beginning now to be completed in eternity.

*            *            *

I highly recommend that you read the entire book by Father Veras.  You can buy the kindle version on Amazon here or a paperback version through Magnifcat here.


Citations:

1 Veras, Richard. The Word Made Flesh. (New York: Magnicat Inc.,2017) pp. 174-5

2 In the second quotation from page 175, Father Veras quotes Jean Danielou:

Jean Danielou, The Angels and Their Mission According to the Fathers of the Church, tr. David Heimman.  (Allen, Tex.:Thomas More Publishing, 1987), 34.

Psalm 24:7-10

Lift up your heads, O gates:

rise up, you ancient portals,

that the king of glory may enter.

Who is this king of glory?

              The Lord, a mighty warrior

              the Lord, mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O gates:

              rise up, you ancient portals.

              that the king of glory may enter.

Who is this king of glory?

              The Lord the hosts is the king of glory.

Better Off

But I tell you the truth, it is better for you that I go.
For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you.
But if I go, I will send him to you.  (John 16:7)

We all have those particular passages of Scripture that test our faith and strain our credulity:  When Balaam’s ass thinks his master is being one, and so strikes up a conversation about it.  When Jonah is swallowed by the whale and then spit out again so that he can go to Nineveh after all.  When the Apostle Paul is preaching so long that Eutyches falls asleep, falls out the window and dies.  Yes, Paul raises him from the dead, but then he goes back upstairs and goes on preaching.

And then there’s today’s Gospel.  Why in the world does Jesus say: “It is better for you that I go”?

How can this be?  Jesus is claiming that we are better off with the Holy Spirit, than if Jesus Himself were sitting right here bodily among us.

Do I really believe this?  What do I do about it?

In the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles, as Jesus is about to ascend into heaven, He tells His apostles: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.”

The word “power”—dynamis in Greek—is closely related to “dynamite.”  The gift that Jesus is promising is no wimpy substitute for Himself.

I thought about this in March when three successive snowstorms dumped almost thirty inches of snow on us in less than ten days.  The heavy wet snow in combination with storm winds caused trees to topple, severing multiple power lines and leaving many without power for days.

At first, it seems almost romantic, eating and reading by candle light as in times gone by.  But then one notices that the internet does not work without power.  Foods that don’t require cooking are used up, and there is nothing to prepare for dinner without the power of the stove.  Water from wells likewise cannot be pumped through faucets without power.  The furnace cannot heat the house without power and so things quickly become cold.  And then very, very cold.  The dark is no longer fun; we wait impatiently for the power and light to return.

So it is with the power of the Holy Spirit.  It was by His power that The Light entered the world when He overshadowed Mary and Jesus was conceived; it is by His power that we receive the light of faith and understanding.  It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the bread becomes the Body of Christ at Mass, our ultimate Food.  It is the power of the Holy Spirit that awakens for us the thirst for God, for goodness, for truth—and He that ensures that we are drawn to the Living Water.  It is by the Holy Spirit that we are given the Word Made Flesh, and the words to communicate this love to one another.  It is by His Power that we are made clean in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.  It is in this power that we can live the abundant life and joy that Jesus desires for us.

Just as on a large scale the power of the Holy Spirit makes the Christian life possible and real, we need the power of the Holy Spirit on a practical and personal level even to pray.  Scripture tells us that not only does the Holy Spirit inspire us to pray, He prays with us and in our place:

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. (Rom 8:26)

Not only has the Holy Spirit inspired me with all of my deepest desires, He expresses them to God when I cannot.  And if He does this for me in prayer, how much more will He do if I open my entire life to His Power?  For God “gives the Spirit without measure.” (John 3:34)

As Pentecost approaches, let us ask for the grace to be ever more open to the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in our world.

They Thought They Knew Him

Coming to his hometown, He began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed.  “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked.  Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?…Where then did this man get all these things? And they took offense at him.  But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.” And he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith.

Matt 13:54-58—Gospel from Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, May 1st

*            *            *

It’s easy to feel smug about the crowds in today’s Gospel, who don’t recognize God in their midst in the form of the local carpenter’s son.  They are outraged because he’s a local boy; they’ve watch him grown up, they know his parents, they know all about him and what to expect from such a one.  When He claims to be More than what they know, they are scandalized and offended.

We of course know better.  We know to expect more of Him than from an ordinary man.  We know not to be shocked when He claims the power to change things, to work miracles, to be something other than what one might expect.  We know He’s God and He’s bigger than anything our tiny human minds are able to conceive.

Or do we?

Years ago when I was going through a spiritual crisis a priest suggested I spend some time each day reading the New Testament.  I nodded politely but inwardly sighed.  I “already knew” all of those stories.  I had a Master’s Degree in theology, I had read them repeatedly and had taught many of those passages so often that I could recite them almost verbatim.  How could God possibly speak through the same old stories I knew so well?

I look back sometimes, stunned at my ignorance and my arrogance, humbled by the fact that years later when I did put that advice into practice, God did show up in new ways and did work some “mighty works” that astonish me even to this day.  Simple words that I had heard thousands of times became at divinely appointed moments portals into paradise.   When I finally opened my heart, God showed up in so many unexpected ways and places that I could only stand in awe.  Even now, He continues to surprise me on a regular basis.

I would like to claim that I learned my lesson and no longer limit God to my low expectations.  But even now I am tempted to put God in a box, expecting Him to answer only in the ways I am familiar with and accustomed to.  And sometimes not even that.

Awhile ago my spiritual director suggested that I answer the question that Jesus asks of the blind man (Luke 18:35-43) and in turn to each of us, “What is it that you wish me to do for you?”  On one particular morning, I decided to get very specific and spent a long time journaling about various (pretty big) problems in my life and how I hoped He would fix them.  I felt better at the end, and thanked God for letting me get it all off my chest.

It was months later, on New Year’s Eve, when I was reviewing my journal that I came upon that list and realized how God had concretely and specifically answered the biggest of my requests!  I had been surprised and thrilled and suitably grateful when the gifts had come, but had frankly forgotten that I had been inspired to specifically request them in prayer.  How could I have so easily forgotten?  If I am honest, I never really expected God to answer me.

That same day, I also enjoyed one of my favorite little traditions, Jennifer Fulwiler’s “Saints Name Generator” and her new “Word of the Year Generator.”  Each randomly generates a word or saint for you for the year.  I did the Word one first and was given the word “see.”  I admit, I was hoping for something a little more personally meaningful—that word did not resonate at all with my past experiences or my hopes for the future.  Then I did the Saint generator and was given Saint Cosmos—invoked as patron of the blind and against blindness!  Could it be that God has something new to teach me?

There is no divine title “Lord of the Everlasting Same-Old Same-Old.”  Rather He promises “Behold I make all things new.”

Let us resolve not to limit God by our experiences or expectations!

*            *            *

*I chose today the (optional) readings for the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker.  On the feast day we pray especially for those who are unemployed or underemployed, that they might find meaningful work, and that all workers throughout the world receive a just wage, just working conditions, and be treated with dignity and respect.  St. Joseph the Worker, pray for us!

**For those beginning the 30 Day (15 minutes a day) Prayer Challenge, the linked reading to the story of the Blind Man can be a good place to start.  Using your bible, read the passage a few times, asking the Holy Spirit to help you, and imagine yourself in the scene, perhaps as the Blind Man (but let the Holy Spirit guide you).  Imagine Jesus asking you that same question, “What do you want me to do for you?” and answer Him, speaking as you would to a friend.  Let the conversation go wherever it goes (without fear or judgement), asking for help as you need to (Lord, help me to know what it even is that I want…or, Lord, help me to know the deepest desires of my heart…or Lord, help to trust that are even there, that you care enough to hear me speak these desires to you…)  When your 15 minutes are up, thank Jesus for your prayer time but do not pass a judgement on “how it went”—trust that all prayer is fruitful, whether or not we experience or feel anything. 

If you have questions you are welcome to email me, but please be aware it may take me some time to answer and/or I may try to work answers into future writing as I pray about them (generally, if one person has a question, many others are wondering the same thing).

 

Stoned

“But whoever enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens it for him, and the sheep hear his voice, as he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice…  My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish. No one can take them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.” –John 10:2-4; 27-29

“Does anyone know what it is like to be stoned?”  The teacher realized in retrospect that was probably not the best way to phrase the question to a group of eight-grade students, who promptly burst out laughing.  Needless to say, it was not the martyrdom of St. Stephen they were picturing in that moment.

I smile now whenever I hear the story of St. Stephen’s stoning, remembering this anecdote and also how, as a small child, I heard about this martyrdom of Stephen (and others) and decided that I too, wanted to be a martyr.  Not because I was particularly holy, nor because I had any real tolerance for pain (ha!), but because like every child I wanted to imagine myself as a hero.  Every child dreams of being the courageous one, the strong one, the one that stands up to evil and saves the world.  “I want to be the coward that runs and hides, or that stands there doing nothing” said no child, ever.

But often time reveals in us more weakness than courage.  Not only do we fail to stand up for those under attack, we pick up stones ourselves.

For most of us, the stonings that we experience—as victims, bystanders, or participants, are verbal rather than physical.  If I am honest, I still fear these more than the physical.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  This childhood rhyme so often shouted across the playground is patently untrue.  As I have participated in healing ministry over the last few years—for myself and for others—I have seen lifelong hurt and damage from name calling and other forms of rejection, that last longer than any bruises or physical trauma.

The antidote, to both wounds and cowardice, is to hear our name being called by Jesus.

When I know who I am, more properly Whose I am, I am less vulnerable to the lies of those who would attack me.  The truths that Jesus speaks into my heart, about who I am, who He made me to be, can undo and heal the lies that I have believed over the years.  And when I know who is calling me, and where I am going, with His grace I can have the courage to follow, even if like Stephen it leads to death.

In a world in which our identity in Christ is questioned or even lost, we seek all sorts of counterfeit measurements to validate and give us worth.  How arrogant and absurd to claim superiority in the amount of melanin in our skin, the amount of education or experience on our resume, the amount of income on our tax returns.  Let us pray for the peace that comes through knowing that we are all called by the same Good Shepherd.