Tag Archives: gospel

Live radically

Planted in my heart early in life was a desire to live the Gospel as the early Christians had, to live in community and share my possessions. This early Christian way of life was different from what I saw around me, radically different.

For a few years after college, I was affiliated with a congregation of Catholic Sisters, thinking I might become a nun. But when I decided not to enter the community, I was unsure what was next for me.

At the time, I was working for a small nonprofit, matching volunteers with people who have developmental disabilities for one-to-one advocacy relationships. It was important work that had a big impact on the people who were involved, but it did not feel radical enough for me.

Living in community as the early church had (or as a nun might) shaped not just work hours, but every hour of the day, and I wanted that—for my life to be wholly lived for God, to have God be the number one priority in my life. I wanted to invest every day in my God relationship and to be submerged in the spiritual, like a fish in the ocean.

During my garden year, I was continually led to pray with Matthew 25:31-46, the Final Judgment, and I gained greater clarity about how Jesus inhabits vulnerable people so that what we do for “the least” is what we do for Jesus. I remember replacing the word “for” with “to,” and seeing Jesus as the person who is hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, a stranger and imprisoned. “I am doing this (or not) to Jesus,” I would say.

That realization affected how I interacted with every vulnerable person. If I walked by a homeless person without at least saying hello, I knew I was bypassing Jesus, being rude and unfriendly. If I let an opportunity pass to visit someone in hospital or another institution, I knew I was neglecting Jesus, and I imagined Jesus tsk-tsking at me for my lack of concern.

It was not just some poor person I was neglecting; it was Jesus himself; I was deliberately choosing to ignore Jesus.

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After a year of discernment as to how to live Matthew 25 in the most radical way, I moved to a l’Arche community, which seemed pretty radical. Then, perhaps even more radical, I lived and worked with Mennonites.

And what I learned from four years of trying to live some radical way of life was that no one way of life is more radical than another and no one way is better. I had left everything familiar only to discover that the outer structure of my life had very little to do with my interior spiritual journey.

It turned out that the nonprofit work I had been doing was radical enough.

I realized that what helped me live the Gospel most radically was to make God my priority and to spend time in prayer every day; and I could do that anywhere.

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God-caregiving-cancer

Lessons from caregiving

During my friend Jim’s illness, we received many cards expressing care and concern; and then after his death, condolences. I recently came across one of the condolence cards. The message read:

I know Jim was/is a good man…a good friend and is sorely missed. But for you a great source of comfort must be what a friend you were to him.

 “What you do for the least of my brethren that you do unto me” really resonates—not that Jim could ever be considered the least but he was/is a beloved friend who needed help and you certainly gave it.

 You also deserve and I’m sure will have a high place in heaven when you meet again. Thank you for a wonderful lesson.

I had read this note six years ago, but reading it now, the last line caught my attention and I felt invited to a deeper understanding of my taking care of Jim.

For me, being a caregiver meant thinking of Jim first. When asked about anything else, I would say, “Right now, my focus is on Jim,” while gesturing with my hands to show my tunnel vision.God-caregiving-cancerI was committed to giving Jim as much independence as possible and letting him make as many decisions as possible.

I had learned this lesson from my mother. When I was a child, my Uncle Steve came to live with us when he got cancer; my mother cared for him until he died. The sacrifices she made for him, her brother-in-law, showed me what caregiving was all about.

Similarly, when my dad had a major stroke, my mother honored his wishes not to go to the hospital. We called in hospice, and my dad spent his last three months of life at home.God-caregiving-cancerSo, what I did for Jim was what my mother modeled for me. I was certainly not thinking of any lesson; I just did what I could for him. Only recently have I started to consider the magnitude of my caring for him.

The cancer in Jim’s brain weakened the right side of his body. Early on, he said, “I guess I have to become a lefty.” For most of the time he was sick, I was his right hand—bathing, dressing, shaving and feeding him. We walked up the stairs in tandem—his right foot resting on my left.

Jim was both very private and very proud. He did not want anyone else to help him. When he started to fall (one of the signs of end-stage brain cancer), it could take me up to forty-five minutes to get him up because he had so little strength to help. Once he was up, I would flex my biceps and joke that I was going to challenge Arnold Schwarzenegger to an arm-wrestling match.

Taking care of Jim was physically demanding; knowing that he was going to die soon was emotionally taxing; and putting his needs ahead of mine was spiritually enriching. So many lessons in one experience.God-caregiving-cancer

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Abide in love

My Advent reflection book contained portions of a story by Bishop Ken Untener called the Dream Fixer. The reflections were about our being God’s dream, and the ways we are broken dreams. One piece read:

Let me put it in terms that have a familiar ring to them because they’re taken from the story of…Jesus.

~I am the sheep that wandered off into the wilderness, alone, hungry, afraid.

~I am the younger son who took the inheritance and squandered it…

~I am the one the robbers beat and left half dead on the road to Jericho…

 As I pondered each of these people from Scripture, it came to me that while I can easily imagine myself in these sympathetic roles, I can also see that:

~I am the failed shepherd.

~I am the older son, resentful and angry.

~I am one of the robbers, using someone to my advantage.

It seems natural for me to align myself with the innocent victim—and more challenging for me to see myself as the less sympathetic person. But, I can be both.spirituality-forgiveness-LentPreparing for my retreat last month, the phrase, abide in love (1 John 4:16) came to mind. I have been pondering the many manifestations of love and also thinking of February as the month of love, so it did not surprise me that this phrase popped into my mind.

Loving family and friends seems a like a good first step in the practice of abiding in love. Being loving toward those closest to us can be enough of a challenge, but I believe God’s calling is to go deeper and wider.

God calls me to love myself, to see myself as God sees me and to accept God’s version of me. God calls me to love those seemingly unlovable parts of myself—the failures and anger and aggression. How do I take responsibility for my failures, my resentment and my aggression? How do I love myself in those unlovable places?

And, as important, how do I love others who fail or are angry or cause harm to others? Can I see them as God sees them? And love them as God loves them?spirituality-forgiveness-LentAbide in love instructs me to do just that. To live in love, to continually dip back into the love of God to remind myself what it means to see people as God sees them and to love them as God loves them—that is the invitation and the challenge.

When I can embrace the failed, angry, aggressive parts of myself, perhaps I can have more empathy for those traits in others. Maybe a greater awareness of my own darkness will make me more understanding of others, more willing to forgive, more willing to be compassionate and accepting.

My Advent reflection fits into my retreat invitation—and into a Lenten practice.spirituality-forgiveness-LentLent is a time of conversion, a change of heart. The fact that Lent began on Valentine’s Day this year magnifies the invitation to abide in love.

 

 

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Holding on and letting go

A woman I know became sick a few months ago—suddenly. I learned about her illness through social media. Her family asked for prayers and said she was “gravely ill,” but it was not until they used the word “hospice” that I realized how gravely ill she was. In a matter of a few weeks, she went from posting pictures of her husband, children and grandchildren on social media—to dying.

Life is so fragile.

When death is near, what is happening in the rest of the world seems distant and unimportant. The passing of a loved one becomes the most important thing and offers great clarity about what really matters.

I try to remember those moments—the times when I had great clarity about what truly matters in life.God-hope-letting goThese thoughts came back to me while reading the Gospel of Mark. I wonder if St. Mark had clarity as to what was really important, if he had a sense of urgency about spreading the story of Jesus’ life and message.

I thought of how God uses us to spread the Good News. Was Mark a writer? Or was he just compelled to write the story of Jesus? As I pondered Mark’s mission, I was reminded of some notes I received when my friend Jim was dying from brain cancer.

Several friends wrote to me during Jim’s illness reminding me that we were living the Paschal mystery—facing death and resurrection every day. It was true that we knew Jim would die soon and yet every day we found a way to laugh and every day we recited our litany of gratitude.

Jim was unable to read for most of the time he was sick, so I read his mail to him, and I also read any notes I received. One of the notes about the Paschal mystery sparked a conversation about the everyday deaths we faced.

Jim’s physical decline was an obvious death, but there were others that seemed as significant. We kept being faced with situations where we needed to let go so that we could truly live.

Holding on and letting go was part of our daily conversation.

At some point, I realized that it was not just at the time of one’s death, but that living the Paschal mystery was a continual invitation to see things in new ways, to look from different angles and to be open to change.God-hope-letting goAs I reflected, the words to Unsteady by X Ambassadors, popped into my mind.

Hold

Hold on

Hold on to me

‘Cause I’m a little unsteady

A little unsteady…If you love me, don’t let go.

Holding on can offer a sense of security and stability, but there’s always the question, What am I holding on to?

While our world may seem to be spiraling out of control, Christians are called to remain “steadfast in faith” (1 Peter 5:9), not caving in to popular culture or the “prowling Satan” but holding on to Jesus’ message of hope.

 

God whispers

Whisper is a word that has been catching my attention lately—as in, hearing God whisper.

Figuring out God’s will for me has not always been easy. For many years, I was watching and listening for God to proclaim the plan for my life in obvious ways—like peals of thunder and flashes of lightening or neon signs—something I could not miss.

But, as I look back on my spiritual journey, I can see that God’s guidance was much quieter; God mainly whispered.

My conversion experience when I was twenty-two set me on a path of trying to discern God’s will. My deepest desire was to hold nothing back from God and to live the Gospel radically. Ten years later, I still felt unsure of a direction for my life that would be enough to repay God for the forgiveness and love God had given me.

I considered becoming a Catholic sister, and when that did not seem radical enough, I moved into a l’Arche community and several other Christian communities after that. Even though some of those experiences were incredibly difficult and painful, none seemed radical enough. I am not sure what I was looking for, but I knew the things I was trying were not enough.

And then on retreat one year, when I was pleading my case before God, explaining all the ways I had to find God’s will for me and how I had tried to live the Gospel radically, God spoke. I never told you to go to l’Arche, God told me. I was pleased with the way you were living and the work you were doing. You wanted something more radical. You were not satisfied with the good work you were doing. Your life was radical enough for me.

Walking the retreat center grounds, I replayed God’s words in my head. Had it really been my will instead of God’s? In a flash, it became clear—I had been projecting my insecurities onto God and acting out of my belief that I was not enough and whatever I did was not good enough.

God’s assurance that the work I was doing was good enough and radical enough freed me. Suddenly, I saw that the radicalness of living the Gospel is a new way.

While I had been looking for some big sign, God had been whispering, “That person, love her,” and “That person, forgive him,” and “That person, be compassionate to her.” If I could do that and do it consistently, I would be living the Gospel radically, I would be doing God’s will.

One thing I learned from my earlier efforts to live more radically was that just about the most radical thing I could do was to touch my own brokenness and vulnerability and to allow others to see my wounds. Loving, forgiving, being compassionate to the people I meet every day—and doing that from a place of my own brokenness—now that is radical.

Holding on and letting go

On my recent retreat, we prayed with Luke 24:13-35, the story of the two disciples walking to Emmaus. Jesus joins them, but they do not recognize him. As they near their destination, they say to Jesus, “Stay with us.”

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As I prayed with this Gospel passage, those words jumped off the page, Stay with us. I repeated the phrase again and again—Stay with us—and pondered how I invite Jesus to stay with me.

And then, as often happens in prayer, different words came to mind. Stay with us became Don’t go. The message is similar, but the words seem more insistent. Don’t go.

My friend Ted was on hospice at his sister’s home in Portland when I last visited him in January; he was nearing the end of his life. We shared memories of our thirty plus years of friendship, prayed together and planned his funeral Mass. It was a lovely visit.

On the day I was to leave Oregon, the day I was to say good-bye to this dear friend, he said to me, “Go, catch your plane, and I’ll see you in heaven.”

Go. The word touched something deep within me, and I began to cry. Ted’s sisters were in the kitchen, and I ran to them and shared Ted’s directive. “He told me to go,” I sobbed.

Don’t go is what I wish I could have said to Ted. Don’t leave me. Stay with me. But it was not to be. I did leave that day, and a week later, Ted died.

Then I thought about my friend Jim’s last days. Two days before he died, he also told me to go. “Go, be with your sisters,” he had said.

My sisters had driven in from Michigan the previous day; it was the first time I had seen them since Jim got sick nine months earlier. Jim’s directive for me to go and be with them was a shift. During his illness, he always wanted me to stay with him. Don’t go were the words I had become accustomed to hearing. Stay with me.

Another memory stirred—from the last days of my father’s life fourteen years ago. The hospice nurse had called me and said my dad was “ready to go,” but that my mom was holding on. “You have to come home and help your mother let him go,” she had said to me. I bought a plane ticket and flew home the next day.

My mother disagreed with the nurse’s assessment; she felt she had let go. But while her words were telling him it was okay to go, her whole being was saying don’t go. When she was finally able to let him go, he died within an hour.

These days of retreat helped me look at holding on and letting go, of staying and going. I came away with a profound sense of gratitude for all that has been and a renewed­­ hope for what is still possible.