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AUTHOR
Bob  »

See, I am doing a new thing!

                                    Isaiah 43:19

 

Some have described this time we are going through as an apocalypse.  In common parlance, apocalypse signifies cataclysmic end times, but in its original meaning, apocalypse denotes an uncovering or unveiling.  In that root sense of the word, we clearly are in an apocalypse.  The disunity, racial inequities and economic injustices present in our society have seldom been more exposed.  At the same time, the response to the pandemic has revealed the often unnoticed heroism of ordinary people and awakened the consciences of many.

The prophet Isaiah delivered God’s message, “See, I am doing a new thing!”  Likewise, prophetic voices today urge us to break from old ways and to not return to an old normality if it means a society that continues to advantage the few (even if the few are us!) at the expense of the many, and that threatens the survival of the planet.

Religious leaders are urging us to think new thoughts when envisioning how we will eventually come out of the current crisis.  Early in the pandemic, Pope Francis sized up the situation:

Every crisis contains both danger and opportunity.  Today I believe we have to slow down our rate of production and consumption and to learn to understand and contemplate the natural world. This is the opportunity for conversion. Yes, I see early signs of an economy that is less liquid, more human. But let us not lose our memory once all this is past, let us not file it away and go back to where we were.

Similarly, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, exhorted:

There are ways forward we never imagined – at huge cost, with great suffering – but there are possibilities and I’m immensely hopeful … Once this epidemic is conquered we cannot be content to go back to what was before as if all was normal. There needs to be a resurrection of our common life, a new normal, something that links to the old but is different and more beautiful.

Let’s pray for the grace to join with God in “doing a new thing!”

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Do you not perceive it?
AUTHOR
Mark  »

See, I am doing something new!

Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

In the wilderness I make a way,

in the wasteland, rivers.

https://bible.usccb.org/bible/isaiah/43?13= (Isaiah 43:19)

 

In ruminating on Isaiah 43:19, a relatively “famous” passage of the Old Testament – especially the ‘I’m doing something new,’ line – I am sitting with two thoughts.

First, the word, perceive. One of the characteristics I inherited from my father is not being able to find what is in plain sight, especially in the refrigerator. The butter is there, perhaps even unobstructed from view but after four seconds I call out to my wife, “Where’s the butter?” and she responds, “On the second shelf.” I quickly retort, “No it is n—oh, there it is. You’re right.” I hardly can see what is in front of me, add another layer of perception or understanding, and, no, usually I do not perceive what is being done.  

Second, the last nine months in particular seem rather antithetical to this passage. The year 2020, and really our perception of the pandemic in March, seemed to turn the life-giving rivers of our beings into socially distant wastelands; the paths of our lives which had much greenery turned into a wilderness with hardly away forward. And yet, here’s God saying he’s doing something new. In fact there was a wilderness but now in this pandemic there are now new paths, where I only thought there was wasteland, there are now rivers – if only I can perceive it.

Yes, there has been much loss and discombobulation, but indeed in this new or next normal there will be paths and there will be rivers which hopefully will soon turn our various wastelands into lush and verdant pastures where one day soon we can safely gather, in person, and perhaps also without masks! I may not perceive that day just yet, but if my personal history and inability to see what is in front of my nose is any indication, I trust that these things are happening and I have hope that what I do not see others can point out for me along the way.

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The Measure You Use
AUTHOR
Bob  »

For several years I had the opportunity to volunteer at a homeless shelter one night a month.  My responsibilities primarily involved turning off the lights at 10pm and putting on the coffee in the morning.  Other than that, I mostly talked with the guests and slept – good work if you can get it.  For me it was simply a service opportunity; for the guests being there was the result of one grave circumstance or another.

An itinerant preacher once said the foxes have dens and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.  That is the situation that these brothers and sisters find themselves in.  Given our current economic disaster, unfortunately, many more people may not have a place to lay their heads in the months and years ahead.

At the shelter I enjoyed talking with the guests about sports and politics, but the best part was hearing their stories.  I met some amazing people and learned a lot from them about resiliency, perseverance and courage.  I am better for my time with them.  The “homeless” are less an abstraction; they are persons with all the uniqueness and complexity that we all share.

It is a cliché that you get more out of volunteer service than you give.  But it is repeated so often because it is universally true.  Life is too short for us to remain in the confines of our comfortable little worlds.  Whatever sacrifice self-giving entails is repaid many times over.  That same itinerant preacher said, "Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Luke 6:38).

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I Say to Myself
AUTHOR
Bob  »

First, get rid of the idea that the time you spend praying is any more holy than anything else you do that day, I say to myself.  Remember that there is nowhere in the gospels where Jesus says, or even infers, that we will be judged by how much or how often or how well we pray.  Don’t forget that he expressly rejects the idea that babbling on in prayer in the mistaken belief that somehow simply multiplying one’s words to God has any merit.  And surely keep in mind Jesus’s distain for people that make a show of their piety.

That said, do pray.  Do your best to be a prayerful person – not for God’s sake, but for yours!  Maybe God, disguised as your life, is always whispering to you, nudging you forward when you are just mucking along, showing you the way, standing by you when you think you are all alone.  Maybe God is a river of grace flowing through your life.  Deep down you know it is true.  Stop and pay attention or who knows what you may be missing.  You know from experience that it pays to pay attention.  So, pray already.

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Strength by Faith
AUTHOR
Joan  »
This quote comes to mind as I look about me and see each person, old and young, making their way through these strange and challenging times.  We can often believe that if we are strong enough, resilient enough and have a strong will we will make life the way we feel it should be.  Then something like a virus comes along and we are stunned into disbelief.  Holding onto what I expected of this summer, this school year or job search or retirement will only wear me out and possibly make me bitter and discouraged.  Letting go of those expectations allows me to be strong in the present moment – to be loving, kind, compassionate and wise because all my inner strength is not going towards the fool’s errand of changing reality.  I pray to be given the true wisdom of letting go.  I pray that I will be strong in my faith that God is present in these challenging times and my future is in God’s hand.  That God holds that future with a gentleness beyond my imagining.  I am not asked to be strong in will but strong in faith. Strong is my releasing of my will and my ability to let go and most definitely let God.  
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The Meek Mentality
AUTHOR
Mark  »

Strength. Two passages of Scripture populate when I hear the word strength.

Scripture passage number one, “I can do all things, through Christ, who strengthens me,” (Philippians 4:13); Scripture passage number two, from the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the meek…” (Matthew 5:5).

Strength is a fickle word to define. A good leader, especially in politics, like a good lineman in football is thought to be “strong,” but certainly the strength of the lineman and the strength of the politician are not the same, or are they? I think strength is born of will or desire, determination or practice. I think also strength should not be thought of as entirely synonymous with the word “might” or relegated only for the concept of physical strength. A better synonym for strength, on a football field or in a hall of power might be the word resolve. Strength as resolve is the reason, I think of those two Scripture passages. And I think those two passages are very much interrelated.

Blessed are the meek, I do not think means blessed the weak. Rather, the meek are those who are gentle, those who have the power, the strength to overwhelm, strike-down, to hurt or annihilate, but have also the strength to not react in that manner. The meek keep their swords sheathed, they do not react or over-react with their might. And, I think, that that is hard. I think it’s Christ who strengthens our resolve not to respond with might but rather with meekness. Many times, a show of force or lashing out is easier, perhaps automatic, compared to walking away, being meek. Because meekness is hard, perhaps unattainable on our own, we need Christ to strengthen us in meekness, to choose peace, or quiet, or gentleness, or compassion, or empathy, over “I’ll show you,” or “what about me!” actions and mentalities.  We do not have to up the ante, we do not have to view life as a zero-some game, but it takes strength, or rather meekness to choose a better way.

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Refuge in Friendship
AUTHOR
Joan  »

These are words to remember during these challenging times.  When I keep my friends in my mind and heart (and maybe in the little image box on my computer screen) I find the time of social distancing and staying at home are much easier.  I find myself complaining less, if at all, because I know I have friends who I can reach out to and find common ground with – if only in our sharing of creative ways to manage this new normal.  So Eeyore, the perfect mascot for the less than content and optimistic among us, finds the bottom line is friendship.  His friends in the Thousand Acre Woods keep him moving along.  Similarly, my friends keep me from feeling overwhelmed or discouraged and I do my best to keep them from feeling discouraged and isolated.  As with the inhabitants of the Woods, we all share this common space called Earth and are called to find in friendship a refuge and salve.  

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Patient Practice
AUTHOR
Jill  »

Traffic, long lines, end of a work day it’s these little things I miss most of all (just kidding). The daily practice of patience is not for the faint of heart. Actually patience takes much heart; in 1 Corinthians 13:4 we learn love is patient. In the past the watching of a clock or the jitter of a limb gave our angst a “free pass” to steer us emotionally onto the road of intolerance. Learning to take a deep breath and trust in God when you feel you have lost all control; exercises an even more substantial virtue…LOVE.

 Practice does not always make perfect, but the practice of patience during these enduring times will steady our focus on the journey ahead of us.  So easily we may forget, and become short tempered or anxious; but it only fuels ignorance and fear. We must remember we are all in this together, so keep practicing!

How are you exercising patience in the world around you?


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AUTHOR
Joan  »

Let your hope keep you joyful, be patient in your troubles, and pray at all times.
(Romans 12:12)

At first, this quote from Romans is easier to read in “normal” times.  But, without a doubt, these are not in any way normal times to most, if not all, of us.  However, I find a surprising sense of calm emerges when I reflect about the circumstances in which these words were written.  The people this admonition was directed at were having some pretty rough times.  They probably often felt besieged and unsteady in their daily lives.  The uncertainty of the future was very real and they had little to depend on BUT hope, patience and prayer.

I remind myself of this passage often as I move along in these challenging times.  To be “patient in (my) troubles” often seems too high a bar but when I pray I find it is possible not only to be patient but to be joyful.

What simple phrase can help you sustain a sense of patience, hope and joy during these days of uncertainty?

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AUTHOR
Mark  »

“The rain to the wind said,
You push and I'll pelt.'
They so smote the garden bed
That the flowers actually knelt,
And lay lodged--though not dead.
I know how the flowers felt.”
-- Robert Frost


April showers bring May flowers. And as we are in May the poem above seems both apt and timely; for flowers and for each of us. We have bent low or laid lodged, but we have also two reasons for hope.

First, knowing that every storm we’ve experienced eventually ends and because this rain has fallen so hard and for so long, we have reason to believe that we are progressing, in time, towards a break in the storm or even this rain’s end.

Second, we have the capacity, like flower stems, for flexibility, for bending without breaking. We also have trust that with God’s grace our roots that can keep us in place even as the previously solid ground around us morphs into messy mud.

Now knowing how the flowers felt, we need not feel stuck in sorrow, but planted in empathy and solidarity. We know we can pray just as hard as the wind can push or the rain pelt.

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