A Reflection on Death, Abundance, and Compassion

Today’s scripture readings have a few themes:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/120617.cfm

  1.  Death
  2.  Abundance
  3.  comfort/compassion

Death

In my late 20’s and early 30’s, I struggled with panic attacks.  I had an immense amount of anxiety about dying.  This manifested itself in different ways, mostly through a fear of getting sick or having a heart attack.  A few factors contributed that I could think of.  One, I was a new father.  We had Christopher and David a year apart and I was pretty nervous about not being present or available to them.  This had symbolic meaning to me as a fear of abandonment.  I didn’t want to abandon my kids and see them struggle without a father and I also had to cope with my own fears of being left fending for myself.  Two, I was just starting to work as a corporate chaplain and the stories I was hearing were very overwhelming.  Three, lack of self care.  I wasn’t eating, sleeping, or exercising very well.  The result?  Panic attacks.  

Here’s what helped me:  

  1. Talking with a therapist.  I was able to talk about the pain of being abandoned and how much it hurt.  It helped me realize that, while I felt abandoned, I could learn new ways of parenting myself so that I’d know that I can handle whatever life might throw my way.  In spiritual terms, I learned that I was never alone and that the Higher Power (Jesus) would be with me.  Growing up latino and in a pentecostal home, seeing a therapist was a taboo because we were taught that we really didn’t “trust God”.  That was nonsense!  🙂
  2. Self-care.  For me, this meant getting 8 hours of sleep, staying away from fast food and greasy food, and cycling.  I took up road biking, lost 20 lbs, and felt great. I also started making time to take regular retreats throughout the year.  I have to plan them in advance and then stick to them.
  3. Community.  I needed more friends in my life that I could go to eat with, go to concerts, and just be silly and laugh.  I needed connection and deep friendships.  

Abundance

We grew up with not a lot of money so I developed a fear of not having enough.  It’s driven many of my financial decisions.  But as I think about life and God, the scripture is clear that God thinks in terms of abundance, not scarcity.  I’m not talking about or promoting a “prosperity gospel” where abundance is the sign that God loves you and that you are more special than others.  But God does care about abundance and wants to lack no good thing.  I’d be very wary if someone used this to try and make a case for materialism or consumerism.  That’s just bad theology.  I’m talking about being able to have an attitude and heart that is at rest with what we have and isn’t ruled by “stuff”.  Fear of not having can be very costly.  And it usually doesn’t get us what we really want. 

Comfort/Compassion

In each reading, there is provision and comfort for the hungry, the needy, and the sick.  Death is overcome.  Sickness is healed.  And there is a feast of table for all people.  Jesus has compassion on the crowd.  Some are sick.  Others are hungry.  We read about a God who cares about the daily stuff, about the burdens that we carry.  He is not a god who sits by idly.  Jesus is engaged with the people and is about making wrongs right.  

I’m not sure I wholeheartedly believe that God is that compassionate.  I feel like have to earn his abundance and comfort.  I feel like if I don’t perform well as a disciple, I will be mistreated.  When I feel this way, I look at a picture of my sons or a picture of “little Roy” and imagine how much God loves us.  I want to trust that love from a Heavenly Father who is in heaven, and yet breaking into my world to transform my heart and mind.  This the concept of grace at work.  This energy, favor, love that God bestows is His hearts’ disposition.  

Questions for Reflection

*What are you most afraid of these days?  Can you tell God about it?

*Where do you feel like you are lacking?  Ask the Great Shepherd to lead you beside still waters and restore your soul.  

*How might God want to comfort you today?  Tell him where the pain is.

Father in Heaven, hallowed be your name.
May your new life fill us afresh.
May you cause to see how you are abundant in our lives.
May you have compassion on us.

Amen

A Prayer of Desire by Thomas Merton

Source:

A Prayer of Desire by Thomas Merton

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”

 

Listening: the art of Pastoral Presence

When I think about our work, I think of the God who listens.  He hears our cries, petitions, longings, and hopes.  In Jesus, we find the Good Shepherd making space for others to share their stories (i.e. Samaritan woman, the blind man at the pool).  We see them share specifics as Jesus asks poignant questions.

When we listen to the stories of others, we entering into a dialogue that is already happening with the person and God.  The Spirit is active, working to heal, save, and renew.  So as the people share, we are being invited into the work of the Spirit in their lives.  

  • Be attentive to the specifics.
  • Notice the words, pictures, thoughts.
  • What feelings are you most present to?  
  • How might the Spirit be stirring?

We learn to listen in silence and solitude.  We can only learn to listen as we take moments throughout the day to be still and know that He is God.  God spoke to Elijah in the silence.  Jesus got away to be with His Father…to listen.  

We can deepen our ability to listen through contemplative prayer—the prayer of active silence.  Try it for a few minutes in the morning.  See how it changes the inner contours.  See how you’re more attentive and able to listen.

In contemplative prayer, we silence the mind and heart of anything that is heavy, burdensome, and release it to the One who can carry it.  We even release all thoughts of good intentions, our gifts, and words so that we might receive the Word.  And it’s in receiving that we can then return to the world with a heart that is able to listen.

Spiritual Formation – A Reuniting to God

Spiritual Formation:  A unifying initiative with God, others, self, and creation.

Prayer:  where mind + heart are wide open in the Presence of God, fully vulnerable-transparent, one with God + others + self + all of creation.  God’s heart and our heart, fully open and meeting each other.

Spiritual formation was trending for a while.  Then I stopped hearing much about it, but not after the subject made an impact on me.  It’s actually been trending for millenia.  The Psalms are a great example of someone longing to be one with God.

One of my favorite books on the subject is Henri Nouwen’s, “Spiritual Formation:  Following the Movements of the Heart” (link:  http://a.co/c6HSUmA).  He says that spiritual formation is “…not about steps or stages on the way to perfection. It’s about the movements from the mind to the heart through prayer in its many forms that reunite us with God, each other, and our truest selves.” (K.Loc. 152)

Doesn’t that sound like something we long for?!  To experience God’s nearness and heart in our hearts?  His love in our hearts for others and for this world?  God’s love for you and I in totality, with every movement within vulnerable to God’s unending grace?  Breathe in/breathe out!  Take it in.

And prayer becomes one primary way (in all it’s different forms) that sink into mind and heart before the face of God.

Prayer is like breathing.  We don’t think about breathing, we just do it as a natural impulse to live.  Like any habit or discipline, prayer takes time, effort, intention, grace.  There are some days when prayer feels very natural and connected, but also at times, very rough and disjointed.

Sometimes I resist entering into prayer.  I feel the resistance in my emotions, sometimes even in my body.  So my prayer time my start with a quick acknowledgement of those feelings with God.

I long for my heart to be transformed and my hope is that prayer is a way to experience this formation in my mind : heart : soul.

Nouwen says:

Spiritual formation requires taking an inward journey to the heart. Although this journey takes place in community and leads to service, the first task in to look within, reflect on our daily life, and seek God and God’s activity right there. People who dare to look inward are faced with a new and often dramatic challenge: they must come to terms with the inner mysterium tremendum—the overwhelming nature of the inner life. (K.Loc. 194-196)

If we have a theology that views God as angry at us, or if we only see ourselves as corrupted sinners, it’s hard to see any good in us or others.  I content that spiritual formation will help us to have a right, sober, and healthy view of God, ourselves, others, and this world as we see God’s activity in our lives.

I’ll be writing about Nouwen’s book on spiritual formation for the next few weeks.  I hope you join along and see this as a journey to “Christ in you…the hope of glory”.

On Seeking God’s Help…

A prayer of participating in God’s redemptive work…He’s not a puppet master that pulls strings.  He has created us to be coworkers, co-creators, co-participants.  That means we do His work WITH him.

“If I am actually to do it, I must ask for your help
and mercy, ask you to fill with wind the sails
I have hoisted for you and to carry me
forward on my course—to breath, that is,
your Spirit into my faith . . . and to enable me
to continue . . .”
(Hilary of Poitiers, 4th c.)

Morning Musings

remembering the dead

remembering the dead

There is no remembrance of men and women of old…

You turn people back to dust,
saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”

Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

It seems to me that when I talk with people on the cusp of retiring, some are afraid to stop working for fear of not having something to do that is meaningful or purposeful.  Getting old and being old makes some to feel forgotten and obsolete.

It seems to me that people fear not being remembered after they have passed away.  Jesus, as He is about to face death, says to His students, “Remember me”.  This is much of what the Eucharist is about. It’s about remembering Someone who faced the reality of death and was given a new life.  Even Jesus had a need to be remembered.

I told my parents while we were at my Tata and Nana’s burial grounds that I would remember them.  That I wouldn’t forget them.  I cried over the future reality that I won’t have them.  But I promised to remember them.

A couple of thoughts come to mind:

1.  I want to live a storied life that at the end of it, people will remember how much I loved them.

2.  I want to be someone who remembers my close family and friends, even after they’ve passed away.

3.  Remembering that our life is dust and will come to end is a great motivator to live a worthy life now.  There is a wisdom in remembering that our life will end.

Love now.
Have Faith now.
Forgive now.
Do charitable work now.
Pursue a dream now.

Prayers for the Dead

God our Father,
Your power brings us to birth,
Your providence guides our lives,
and by Your command we return to dust.

Lord, those who die still live in Your presence,
their lives change but do not end.
I pray in hope for my family,
relatives and friends,
and for all the dead known to You alone.

In company with Christ,
Who died and now lives,
may they rejoice in Your kingdom,
where all our tears are wiped away.
Unite us together again in one family,
to sing Your praise forever and ever.

Amen.