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Greetings to all who love to wander along the paths of the Holy Scriptures! The purpose of this blog is to share some of the insights of ordinary Catholics who have begun to delve into the mysteries of the Sacred Scriptures. Hopefully you will find these reflections inspiring and insightful. We are faithful to the Church, but we are not theologians; we intend and trust that our individual reflections will remain within the inspired traditions of the Church. (If you note otherwise please let me know!) Discussion and comments are welcome, but always in charity and respect! Come and join us as we ponder the Sacred Scriptures, which will lead us on the path into His heart, which "God alone has traced" Job 28:23.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

He Shall Rescue the Poor

A reflection by Sharon Nelsen

For the first Sunday of the New Year, the Church proclaims Psalm 72:

“For he shall rescue the poor when he cries out,
And the afflicted when he has no one to help him.
He shall have pity for the lowly and the poor;
The lives of the poor he shall save.” (12-13)

The question for us is not will God help us, will God help the most desperate among us, the most desperate within each one of us?  The question is not will God, but how will God save us?  How does God want to save the lives of the poor?  How does God want to rescue those of us afflicted with broken relationships, festering and wounded spirits, addictions of all kinds, mental and physical diseases, poverty, helplessness, hopelessness, bondages?

Over the years, in praying with small groups, I recognize a polarization between believing in the power of prayer, one’s own or the prayers of others, and in believing in the power of medical treatment, social outreach ministries and material resources.  I found it more common than I anticipated for good praying Christians to fall into an either-or mentality, thinking that faith means God comes singularly with a mighty ZAP, or, that God works only through what has been scientifically discovered, manpower and resources.

Recently, I was reviewing a section of a book, The Healing of Families: How to Pray Effectively for Those Stubborn Personal and Familial Problems, and found a wonderful wording that addresses one aspect of how our wounded condition affects our prayer.  Father Yosefu-Balikuddembe Ssemakula, or Father Joseph, as he so graciously translates his name for us, says:

Watching this happen over a period of time, my hypothesis crystallized as follows:  God dwells in people, and anything that isolates us from people isolates us from God.  He meets us in people and we meet Him in people, this is why our faith in God is always to do with relations with others.  When traumatic situations happen, for the most part caused by people to people, the victim, because of the hurt, experiences an automatic isolation from “people”, whether personally from that person, or even any people who in some way may remind the victim of the offender, even if just a simple resemblance.  This therefore leaves the person (the victim) on a bad note with people, which note the Lord doesn’t want to underscore by healing the person directly or miraculously, or the person will be confirmed in this negative view of people in general: people are bad, they do me harm; but my God is the only good one as he heals me!  This attitude obviously becomes a problem to the God who always comes to us through people.  He would be setting Himself up to be systematically missed by this person, as the person will be looking up to a God in the sky, the good God, surely not in people of whom the person may naturally tend to be suspicious. So what does God do?  It seems God prefers first to seek out other people who will first undo the traumatic damage done by the first person, or at least some of it, and then He comes in with His own healing power to heal whatever else remains to be healed.  What is the effect of this?  The person remains on a good note with people: yes, there may be people who do harm, but there are also good people, like the one who helped me redress my trauma, you just have to look for them.  The trauma victim’s openness to people seems to be what the Lord intends to obtain first, by not short-cutting the healing of heavy trauma. (Pages 254-55)

This dynamic resonates with my forty years of leading prayer in small faith-sharing groups.  First, Father Joseph names the lie that begins the isolation process—“People won’t help me; only God will help me.”  This lie generates another that lays the heavy burden of “having enough faith” on one person: “I have to generate the faith that will in turn generate the healing response for me.”  Or, another lie that only holier others can pray effectively--the Contemplative Orders, the Ordained, someone who expresses prayer “better” than I do.  The truth is, it’s me and thee.  I agree with Father Joseph’s hypothesis that God’s primary desire is that the humanity He created, creates and heals in community, not in isolation.

So, what does God want us to do?  I hear God saying, “Adios, Lone Ranger!”  First, get in touch with our own tendencies toward isolation.  Then, with Jesus, gather together and share our neediness, our brokenness, our giftedness, our resources and talents with each other.  Share them in meaningful, concrete, open and obvious ways, with trust in, and respect for, each other.  Pray together, hold what we hear as a sacred trust, and move out together, strengthened by each other’s expertise, talents and insights.   

God could have sent Jesus as the greatest Zapper of all times.  Zap, you’re healed, Zap, the world is healed.  But the way God shows us through Jesus is that the power to transform the world resides in each one of us, individually and collectively.  Jesus chose to form community and to work in community as the Master Teacher. 

Ben Franklin said, “The Lord helps those who help themselves.”  Followers of Jesus say, “The Lord helps us to help ourselves”—and we interpret the plural form collectively.

A hundred years ago, God cried out, “There are lonely, abandoned boys living on the streets of Omaha--whom can I send to help them?”  One person responded, “Send me!  I’ll do what I can.”   He begins, others join him and together a healing home is created—Boys Town.

While suffering is caused by humans who harm, healing happens when we as a people hear and respond to God’s invitation to rescue the poor, the one who has no one to help him. 

A note for our readers, there have been some pastoral (not magisterial) concerns raised about Father Joseph's work.  In the interest of our readers having all the information they need in their spiritual jouneys we are including a link to the Fathers of Mercy website for more information:   http://fathersofmercy.com/events/official-statement-fathers-mercy-healing-families/

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Even As We Sleep

Merry Christmas!

I have been trying all Advent to post something for Journey to Wisdom, but time is not on my side! So here it is Chirstmas Eve, all four candle are lit and if it is not done now, it didn't need to get done, right?  So I may as well write!

This has been a good Advent, though I would not have said so even a few days ago.

Because even though I thought I had all things under control as we lit the first candle; our Magnificat in hand with it's beautiful prayers and our children's nativity Advent calendar ready to go. (It usually comes out after we are past day 5 and we have to catch up with our readings!)  But then everything spun out of control!  The crazyness of the December activities had something to do with it, a new grandson living with us took up some time and energy, plus, as if those were not enough, a brief, but still burdensome, stint on Federal Jury Duty.  That was all it took!  We fell behind and our evenings got late so our prayer felt hasty--  when we had time to say them! When we did, I was always scolding (yelling at) the kids who never seemed to be listening, or much interested at all! So yeah, I was all like this:

Which always tells me that I am focusing on the exterior appearence of devotion rather than simply opening my heart up to God's intiative and allowing Him to pour out His  grace on us just as we are.  Instead, in my fear of not being good enough, or that I have to do something to catch His eye, I grasp and clutch at spiritual feelings, even though I know that when I grasp and clutch I lose more than I retain! As a result there is much anxiety that goes along with this type of spritual rapacity.
Unless the LORD build the house,
they labor in vain who build.
Unless the LORD guard the city,
in vain does the guard keep watch
. (Psalm 127;1)
Of course this isnt to say that we need not keep Advent devotions;  they nurture our desire for the Lord, and we need to desire the Lord more, much more!  But even in our deficient, but growing desire we need to trust that He is pouring out what we need:
God gives to his beloved in sleep (Psalm 127;2)
Which is the gift He gave me this year, He calmed me down and let me know that my desire for Him is all He needs; I do not need to let anxiety overcome me, but yeild the deepeining desire He draws from me even as I sleep, or bumble thorugh my prayers.  

So as I tuck my children to bed this Christmas Eve; as I bless them and help nurture their desire for Him, and as I myself go to sleep, I will not allow my desire to be turned into fear and anxiety. Rather, I will know and believe, that Christ is being born in my soul, because He desires to be and He is deepening my desire for Him!  No matter what!

In the tender compassion of our God
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
to shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death,
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Luke 1: 78-79

Know today that the Lord will come!  In the morning you will see His glory!
Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Merry CHRISTmas

A Reflection on Mark 1:1-8 N.A.B.

By: Larry T

In ancient times when kings toured their kingdoms messengers were usually sent ahead to herald the king’s coming to his subjects. Local communities, that wanted to stay in the good grace of the king, rushed to repair any rough roads so as to help ensure the king’s travel comfort. Similarly God sent messengers ahead to proclaim the coming of his Son.

The book of Isaiah heralded the coming of the Lord in chapter 40, which was written just before the end of the Babylonian exile in 587 B.C.:

  3 A voice cries out:
In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
  Make straight in the wasteland a highway
     for our God!
4 Every valley shall be filled in,
     every mountain and hill shall be made low;
The rugged land shall be made a plain,
    the rough country, a broad valley.
-Isaiah 40:3-4 N.A.B.

The coming of the Lord was likewise announced in the Book of Malachi, which was written around 455 B.C.:

1 Lo, I am sending my messenger
            to prepare the way before me;
And suddenly there will come to the temple
            the LORD whom you seek,
And the messenger of the covenant whom you
Yes, he is coming, says the LORD of hosts.
- Malachi 3:1 N.A.B.

Next, John the Baptist was hand-picked by God to proclaim the coming of his Son. John began to echo the ancient prophecies of Isaiah and Malachi concerning the coming of the Lord somewhere around 28 or 29 A.D. In a manner of speaking, by proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins and conversion, John became God’s spiritual road grader, smoothing out the way for the coming of the King of the Universe:

1 The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ (the Son of God).
2 As it is written in Isaiah the prophet:
“Behold, I am sending my messenger ahead of you;
he will prepare your way.
3 A voice of one crying out in the desert:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.’”
4 John (the) Baptist appeared in the desert proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
5 People of the whole Judean countryside and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the Jordan River as they acknowledged their sins.
6 John was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist. He fed on locusts and wild honey.
7 And this is what he proclaimed: “One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.
8 I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the holy Spirit.”
- Mark 1:1-8 N.A.B.

As baptized Christians we too are messengers, chosen by God, to prepare the way for the coming of the Lord, chosen to be his spiritual road graders. One of the ways that we can fulfill our prophetic duty is to herald the coming of the Lord by keeping Christ in Christmas.

At stake during the Christmas season is the question of assimilation: to what extent will Christians conform to the non-Christian culture for the sake of economic gain or social acceptance. How many of us are willing to accept non-Christian beliefs as normative, failing to recognize that these values will not stand up to the scrutiny of God?

In the Old Testament, Joshua had a firm answer concerning assimilation by alien cultures:

15 If it does not please you to serve the LORD, decide today whom you will serve, the gods your fathers served beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose country you are dwelling. As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
16 But the people answered, “Far be it from us to forsake the LORD for the service of other gods.
- Joshua 24:15-16 N.A.B.

As for me and my family, we will keep Christ in Christmas!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Reflection on Endings and Beginnings

By Sharon Nelsen

Today is the last day of the liturgical year. It is also the end of month, near the end of the calendar year, and, for me, born in December, close to the end of another year of life.

Tomorrow is the first day of a new liturgical year. It is a time of beginnings. I decided to leave behind with the old year some patterns of thinking, old beliefs that aren’t leading anywhere helpful to me or to others--such as still feeling like a victim in certain areas, at the whim of everybody else, subject to others’ power, prestige and position.

I pray for truth that will set me free: The TRUTH is, God, You have given ME life

·         and with it, free will, choice
·         and with it, abilities and talents
·         and with it, relationships
·         and with it, obstacles to overcome
·         and with it, resources
·         and with it, TIME
·         and with it, opportunities
·         and with it, Your promises – “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10.10b- NAB) or, the New Jerusalem translation that touches my heart, “I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full.”

And so, Lord, as I leave behind false beliefs and distortions of the truth that lead to hopelessness, discouragement and despair, I look for new beginnings and I hear You say:
Remember: Bring to the now words that give life; habits that generate new life, joy, hope and love.
Reflect on what you really want in your relationships and with your life, with the time you have.
Record – Write down your deepest desires.  Do not be afraid to express them.  As you do, it will sort out your true desires and those you think are yours but really are someone else’s you’ve adopted or that have been put upon you.
Repent – Change direction!  Walk away from destructive thoughts and habits, attitudes and acts, and embrace generative, life-giving thoughts and habits, attitudes and acts.
Rejoice – Celebrate the new life!  Express it joyously any way you want—in song, in dance, in laughter and in sharing, embracing life in all its forms.

“I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Choose life—if you and your offspring would live—by loving the Lord your God, heeding His commands, and holding fast to Him.  (Deuteronomy 30.19b-20 Jewish Study Bible). 

“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes.”  (John 5.21 NAB)

  “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh has nothing to offer.  The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life."  (John 6.63 NJB).

Thursday, November 27, 2014

A Thanksgiving Reflection

By Sharon Nelsen

“Enter his gates with praise, enter His courts with thanksgiving,” the psalmist sings in Psalm 100.  As we prepare our Thanksgiving celebrations, I find myself looking more closely at how I interpret celebrating that holiday. 

As I reflect on family celebrations where we gather around an abundant table, I recognize a distortion about what is good.  What is good is coming together, being with each other, listening, sharing, catching up on many aspects of each other’s lives.  Being with each other in the context of a meal is a relaxing, enjoyable, healing and so often a fun-filled time.

How does that get distorted?  How does it become something else?  Sometimes the focus is more on the meal than on the people gathered; so all of the talk can be about the food.  Those who prepared the meal like to be thanked, but no one really got on an airplane or drove half a day to talk mainly about food.  Likewise, the turkey isn’t the only animal being stuffed at the meal.  There is another distortion that overeating is a sign of gratefulness—to God and to the cook!  How twisted is that?

Another distortion of a truth is that the way to relax, the way to enjoy each other, the way to celebrate being together, is to drink more alcohol.  I began to understand binge alcoholism in my family—getting drunk was a way of celebrating—a job, payday, a gathering, it didn’t matter, it was a time to celebrate, and that meant drink--for having the alcohol itself was a sign of success--and the more alcohol one drank, the better.

Better, perhaps for the one drinking who needs the drug in order to relax;  who works hard and so “deserves” some psychic time off (at least in their perspective).  But what about those moderate family members?  The ones who really want to be together in a meaningful, sharing way?  What about those present who are actively working for sobriety?  What about the minors around the table; the little children;  What about those with restrictive dietary needs due to medications, illness, age, or allergies?

What does it mean to be a good host, to have good manners, to accept all present graciously?  Who sets the standard at the table?  What if the host is the one over indulging?  What if the most “important person” present is also the alcoholic?  What options are there for those who enjoy being together and don’t need excess in order to celebrate? 

For me, it’s a matter of truth, and that means not joining in the lie with those who overindulge, no matter how accepted it is as an apparent religious mandate or a national pastime.  Enjoy what is real and authentic in each person present and share your own authenticity. God is with us at table, present in all gathered, though perhaps smothered a bit in the excess.   

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

“Seek and you will find”

A Reflection by Sharon Nelsen

 In the daily reading from Give us This Day, a quote from John Kavanaugh, SJ (1941-2012) struck my heart:

“It is only when we let go and turn to God in total trust that our searching hands are at last open to a final embrace of Love who is our Risen Lord.”

I prayed:  Dear God, I let go of all; I unclench my holding-on hands.  Take and receive, Lord, all I have and possess—particularly, my writings.  I connect holding onto with caring.  Please show me Your Way, Your Perspective, Your Vision.  Amen.

As I listened, I heard these words:

 “Ask and you shall receive.  Seek and you will find.” 

Why?  How?  Because the search for truth you so faithfully pursue will eventually meet with All Truth.  The bit you have—the fragment you cling to, will connect with All Truth—God!  God who says, “No one can snatch you out of My Hand!”  Even if you feel loosely held, “I have called you, and you are Mine.”  Continue to walk in that hope.  Who counts the stumbles?  Not important!  The fact that you keep moving with Love—that is the important element.

Now—let’s look at holding on and letting go.  You immediately associate that with control, lack of trust and, a bad thing.

 What if what you are holding onto is a fragment of truth?  What if it is good?  Can you pray?

Lord, God, Creator of all.  I hand to You the truth I hold.  I ask that you return to me whatever you have entrusted to me to complete for You, for the building of Your Kingdom on earth, for the part you ask me to do in the life time you gave me.  I give you all thoughts, feelings, expectations and hopes associated with this truth.  As You hand it back to me, may it be purified of my limitations, and shine with the wholeness that is you, so that in Your Light, we recognize the Light of the world, Jesus, Your son.  Thank you, Dear Abba, now and forever.  Amen

 Do you think you can pray that way—letting go of the fear and self-condemnation associated with your former thoughts?

 Beloved, you are Mine and what you cling to is Mine.  And what is Mine is yours in My son Jesus, who wants it that way because I want it that way.

  Trust Me to complete the good I have begun in you—the uncovering of the Light of My Son shining within you.  I can do that, and, I do it in the particularities of your “you-ness.” The unique image of Me that I created—sending you into the world to be like My Son, a light.  What do you see in the light?  What is there; what is real; what is present.  You see it materially, and baptized—given—into My Son, you see what is real, what is present spiritually.  As you connect that truth, you are able to see more clearly My Will in each situation.  My Kingdom comes as My Will is done!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Pax Vobis! (Peace to You)

A Reflection on Romans 5:3-11 N.A.B. 

By: Larry T

In the second creation story of Genesis, God established moral and spiritual order by giving certain instructions to Adam and Eve; the presence of the tree of knowledge good and evil in the garden presented the possibility of acting contrary to the moral and spiritual order; the temptation to act contrary to God’s instructions is personified in the serpent; sin was symbolized by the eating of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. In the story Adam and Eve represent humanity. Their sin created enmity, or ill will, between all humanity and God, and human beings on their own were powerless to undo the effects of it.

It was not God who needed to make peace with humanity; it was humanity that needed to make peace with God. The process began when Jesus took upon himself human nature, lived among human beings, and suffered crucifixion. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) establishes the new moral and spiritual order for all humanity. It demands discipleship and can be understood and lived out only by following Jesus and accompanying him on his journey.

In his letter to the Romans (Romans 5:3-11 N.A.B.), Saint Paul expressed his firm belief that this is how God reconciled us to him and is proof of his love for us. 

3Not only that, but we even boast of our afflictions, knowing that affliction produces endurance, 4and endurance, proven character, and proven character, hope, 5and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. 6For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. 7Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. 8But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us. 9How much more then, since we are now justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath. 10Indeed, if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, once reconciled, will we be saved by his life. 11Not only that, but we also boast of God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. – Romans 5:3-11 N.A.B.

Saint Paul was similarly convinced that the risen Lord continues to play an active role in the process of leading believers to salvation – something confirmed by the close connection in Paul’s thought between the Spirit and the impact of the risen Lord, who creates the righteousness that leads believers to life. He made this clear in his second letter to the Corinthians:

18And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. - 2 Corinthians 3:18 R.S.V.

Concerning ill will with God, Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Enmity with God is the source of all that poisons man; overcoming this enmity is the basic condition for peace in the world. Only the man who is reconciled with God can also be reconciled and in harmony with himself, and only the man who is reconciled with God and with himself can establish peace around him and throughout the world.”– Jesus of Nazareth, 2007

Will being in harmony with God make me a better husband? Will it make me a better parent? Grandparent? Co-worker? Better driver? Umm, well maybe better driver could be going too far! But will the world be a more peaceful place if I am reconciled with God? Is it possible for a mentally healthy person who is reconciled with God to be a bully, a spouse abuser, a rapist, a murderer, a drug dealer, or a suicide bomber?

Friday, October 31, 2014

Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence

Today is Halloween.  I have always loved Halloween.  And, since becoming Catholic many years ago, I have come to love it more. In what often seems like such a mundane life, Halloween reminds us of our dramatic struggle between good and evil; between life and death.  Celebrating Halloween can help us strip away the false sentimentality of our culture's religiousity because on display before us is the horrifying disfigurement that our humanity incurs when we pay homage to anything other than the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The haunting stories that we hear often relate what easy prey we are to the evil that inhabits the world.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence, 
and with fear and trembling stand; 
ponder nothing earthly-minded, 
for with blessing in his hand, 
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

What gets lost in so many modern Halloween celebrations is hope.  Hope that can penetrate the darkness of this world; hope that there is a power that can break the chains that bind us; hope that the disfiguring effects of sin and suffering can be healed and reformed. Hope that we can endure in the midst of a depraved and darkened world without being consumed by it. That hope is Jesus Christ, who took on our human flesh, faced evil in all its ferocity and defeated it!

King of Kings, yet born of Mary, 
as of old on earth he stood, Lord of lords, 
in human vesture, in the body and the blood; 
he will give to all the faithful his own self for heavenly food.

The struggle is real, the enemy is real and there is real danger, but we are not alone.  Christ is in us and He is victorious, and His Light penetrates every darkness -- yes, even yours, even mine --every darkness.  Without that hope, without Christ, Halloween becomes a celebration of evil, and that, my friends, is hell!

Rank on rank the host of heaven spreads its vanguard on the way, 
as the Light of light descendeth from the realms of endless day, 
that the powers of hell may vanish, 
as the darkness clears away.

But no, it is not so!!  We know there is hope for all those zombies walking dead in sin; hope for those who keep finding themselves opening windows and inviting in the vampires of temptation to bind them under their evil authority; hope for those who have had their identities as children of the Father debased and diverted and used against them and others!

At His feet the six-winged seraph,
cherubim, with sleepless eye,
veil their faces to the presence, as with ceaseless voice they cry:
 Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Lord Most High!

So be not afraid to meet with all those scary zombies, vampires and werewolves!  Be sober and aware of those ghosts, goblins and demons!  Be calm and confidently  courageous in the face of death! Have faith and venture forth with adoration in your hearts for the One who conquers all evil! Allow His light to shine forth for all those who are too enmeshed in darkness to know how to be released!

Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia, Lord Most High!

Happy All Hallow's Eve!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Show Me the Path to Life

“You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.” (Psalm 16.11 NAB)

A Reflection by Sharon Nelsen

In my younger years, I frequently prayed that God would show me my path to life.  I prayed, thinking God would show me a numbered path, like “Walkway #38,” and even put me on it, just as He had set the planets in orbital paths.  Later, I believed that it was my job to find the right path.  Once I found it, (because there could only be one right one) I knew I would have peace. I would be able to move ahead in my life’s journey with confidence— I am on the (legally) right path!

God is always challenging me to grow up; to move beyond legalism, literalism and its easy answers.  Jesus’ words in Matthew 7.14, affect me: “How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life.  And those who find it are few.”  But somewhere in my thinking a wisp wonders if the Divine One is playing some kind of game with me, having selected MY path and now is watching closely to see if I find it.  What kind of image of God is that?

It is the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi, my patron and good friend who bumbled a bit finding his path to life.  I think about him, his various paths, and write:

Well-worn is the path of suffering
Thorny is the path of doubt
Delightful is the path of praise
Challenging is the path of justice
Wearying is the path to peace
Joyful is the path to wholeness, to holiness
Smooth is the path to acceptance of God’s Good Way

I recall from years ago the words of a woman in our faith-sharing group:  “You know, sometimes we think that God is saying, ‘I wonder if she will find the path I have picked out for her?’  But, I think the truth is that God is looking at our lives and asking, ‘I wonder which path she will choose out of all of the many options before her?’”

I think about how I looked at the choices our children made as emerging adults.  When one declared a triple major upon entering university, I thought, ‘Now, that’s a challenge.’  Yet, I respected his right to choose his path even as I wondered about his choice. 

We can be certain that God knows the life-giving path for us in each situation in our lives.  We can be equally certain that God respects our free will, the God-given freedom to choose that the Deity will not take away-- even if we make it harder on ourselves, even if we are setting ourselves up for failure, even if we don’t do it right.

One of the most difficult challenges in our walk to become adult Christians, mature followers of Jesus, the Master Teacher, is the act of choosing.  It is much easier if someone tells us what to do.  Why?  Because now it is not our responsibility—we are just doing what we have been told.  And if we are told by an ordained clergy person -- all the better, for now it’s someone else’s fault if things go wrong (as we intend to explain to God on the day of judgment).

My pre-Vatican II religious formation reflected the times – it was the adult’s job to tell us what to do:  The doctor told us what we needed to know about our bodies; the teacher told us what we needed to study and learn; the priest told us what we needed to know about God, and our parents told us everything else we needed to know--except about sex. I am grateful for the healthy, foundational formation of my childhood that existed because a wiser, experienced generation told me what to do.  The wounding began when the being told didn’t stop.  Guidance became a method of control that hampered growth and abandoned us not only to figure out how to choose, but to assimilate the fact that we had the right and the duty to choose.  That process of accepting choice, especially in religious matters, took many years of struggle.  In order to move healthily into the adult arena of making real choices and taking responsibility for them, we need awareness—the conscious examination of our childish ways, thoughts and behaviors.  Wise guidance in that process, especially in learning to hear the word of God within, is not only helpful, but necessary to nurture our growth as a mature people of God.

One day, while praying about this dilemma in my theological thinking (which at the time only the rebels seemed to be addressing in our Church) I heard God say to me:  “Sharon, the pope has responsibility for pope things; the pastor has responsibility for parish things; and Sharon has responsibility for Sharon things.” 

Well, that was a welcome relief and, yet now I had something else to ponder:  Exactly what are my things?  Fortunately, by that time I had acquired some tools (searched for diligently by seeking out mature guidance) that helped me recognize and honor questions arising from within.  Those tools were prayer, contemplation, studying God’s Word, sharing my real life situations with a listening faith community, reflecting on what was life-giving in my day’s events, and, learning to recognize manifestations of God’s Power and Presence in a word of knowledge, a dream, or through a special anointing.

I looked at my domain --the “things” God had given me: family, friends, neighbors, communities of believers, resources, talents, skills, a healthy body and mind, an education, political freedom, opportunities, inspirations and, most importantly, the Holy Spirit, empowerment to choose what is good, what is life-giving in my domain--for immediate situations and for the long journey.

I began to grasp the narrow way as very specific to my life.  
Preceding Jesus’ words about the narrow way, is his proclamation that “the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many.”  (Matthew 7.13 NAB)    Those words summarized what we did as teenagers-- we sought to discover life by grouping on a wide road with our peers.  We wanted to be grown up and we thought the best way to accomplish that was to swarm together.  We were quite concerned about appearances, our possessions, how we were compared to our peers and what those peers thought of us, and, we tended to discount any input (especially the unasked for variety) of wisdom from our elders or ages past.  It was a wide and crowded road.  If we didn’t step off of it as we progressed through our teen years, putting the childish behaviors behind us, we could not step into maturity.  Rather, we morphed into a kind of empowered teenager with enough religion to tinge our selfish desires with pious thoughts and guilt without actually transforming them.    

The seeds of many behaviors planted in childhood are good seeds, but like all seeds, they have to mature into the fruitful plant.  For example, when we were children, we often felt sorry for another’s plight.  It was our response to seeing hurt.  That is a seed, a beginning.  But if the same response persists into adulthood, it ends up diminishing self and others, labeling all as helpless victims.  Those seeds of caring that began as feeling sorry for someone need to grow into the mature Christian gift of compassion, a gift that focuses on the person, not on the circumstances.  Compassion strengthens the giver and the receiver; it communicates and shares love through appropriate assistance, aware of each person’s struggle and the challenge to grow in the midst of difficult and challenging situations.  Compassionate Christians trust in God and in every person’s ability to make conscious choices within the milieu of grace without diminishing the person who is suffering.

God asks us to be grown-up Christians and shows us how to get there, asking only our cooperation in the process.  God gives us Jesus, who sets us free and heals our crushed spirits; God sends us the Holy Spirit to empower us and enlighten us so that we are able to recognize our options and to make informed choices; God gives us each other in the Church that He promises to be with until the end of time;  God entrusts us to make choices that are life-giving for us, for each other, and for our world. 

Sunday, October 26, 2014

I Call You Friends

A reflection on John 15:15 
By Sharon Nelsen

“Let us rejoice and be glad for God has saved us,” was going through my mind.  I remembered, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.”  (John 3.17).  I recalled Jesus telling us, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.  (John 10.9)

I wondered:
·         What have you saved me from, Lord?
·         How do you save me?

I wrote my prayer:
Dearest Friend Jesus whom I can address as friend because you called me as “friend” first.  Thank you for wanting a deep and intimate relationship even as I have sought (and still sometimes seek) a relationship based on “I want,” “I need,” and “Please help me.”

All of that is human and good, but it is just a beginning.  I may begin human friendships with needs – a need to be understood, a need for companionship, and a need for strengthening.  But if the relationship stays at that entry level, it does not develop and grow; instead, it slides into a child-parent relationship of neediness; it is unbalanced.

Friendship is reciprocal—we lean on each other’s strengths.  I think, Dear Lord, you are wanting me to understand how I lean on You, and how You lean on me; how I depend on You, and how You depend on me.  That thought alone is almost too incredible to grasp!

How do I lean on You, Jesus?
I lean on You:
·         For understanding – the enduring aspect and the temporal aspect in my part and in Your part as my life unfolds.
·         For strengthening and courage on my journey and for boldness to speak up for truth.
·         For Love – to know I am accepted “as is,” and to be able to love those who have hurt me, or use me, neglect me or abuse me.
·         For forgiveness – of myself for my sins; of others who continually hurt me; of those who are annihilating whole groups of peoples through war, starvation, unemployment and greed.
·         For joy – that cleanses me of the residues of sadness; that brings Your Light to my perceptions, enhances my perspective and celebrates our relationship.

And now, I ask You, Dear Divine Friend, how do you lean on me?

Beloved Friend, Beloved of My Heart-- Yes, I call you friend:
“I no longer call you slaves, because a slave does not know what his master is doing I have called you friends, because I have told you everything I have heard from my Father.” (John 15.15)

I lean on you, dear friend to:
·         Trust Me – entrust all needs, hopes, desires, and works to Me.
·         Hear Me – take time to listen to my counsel before you begin any new work, whether it is writing, volunteering your services, taking a trip, running a meeting, whatever--I will not lead my beloved astray.
·         Move for Me – to be my word, my hands, my healing touch, my eyes and my ears in the place where you are-- in these circumstances, with these people, for this purpose.
·         Recognize  your limitations AND gifts; My Power AND My Desire for you (The good, life-giving Will of Our Father)
·         Remember and give thanks – When you do that, every good work grows.  I can strengthen you for the next endeavor because you are open to My Way, My Grace.
·         Rejoice and Celebrate with Me – Can anyone truly celebrate alone?  Rejoicing with Me increases the power of God’s Deeds Done!  The goodness spreads.  That is why I have inspired you to write - to lift souls above the waves of despair into the heavens of hope.

Lastly, Dear Friend, I lean on you to let Me work through you; to save you in areas where you believe it is impossible.  For “All things are possible with God.” (Mark 10.27b) As soon as you start to think something I have inspired in you is impossible, pray to Me for Truth to dispel the lie, and send the liar out. 

 I lean on you to let Me love you, now and forever,
            Jesus, Your Eternal and Best Friend

Thank you Jesus, for letting “…your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.” (Psalm 80.4)
Thank you, that you tell me,  “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he may give you.” (John 15.16)

May I place above all else our friendship, the friendship You have chosen -- especially when I am tempted to believe that I am “on my own;” that I have to do it all by myself.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Reflection on Habakkuk

by Sharon Nelsen

One day in our weekly faith-sharing group, we prayed for the Lord to give us words of knowledge for each other; words that would build up our faith.  I received the word, “Habakkuk.”

I knew the short book of Habakkuk, which is found between Nahum and Zephaniah and was written just prior to the Babylonian Exile, and I wondered why God was leading me to it now.  As I began to read, I was struck with the dialogue between Habakkuk and God that begins with the prophet strongly expressing his feelings:

   “How long, O Lord? I cry for help but you do not listen!” (1.2)

And God responding as if Habakkuk had asked a totally different question:
“Look over the nations and see, and be utterly amazed! For a work is being done in your days that you would not have believed, were it told.” (1.5)
Well, here I am, writing letters to God for over thirty years, expressing a cauldron of feelings and always hearing God respond with words that seem to circumvent what I was asking.  I’m beginning to relate to this man with the drum-like melodic name who speaks with such boldness to God. 

Does this have anything to do with what the Lord might be asking of me now? I am very aware of my inner reality.   Oh timid spirit, where is your boldness?  Are you waiting for God to do something magical--to wave a holy wand, and “poof” out springs a manuscript?

A woman mired in waiting, I go back to Habakkuk.  Now he is boldly asking God, “Why then, do you gaze on the faithless in silence while the wicked man devours one more just than himself?” (1.13)

Again God responds by getting to the heart of the matter, this time with an encouraging mandate:

        Write down the vision clearly upon the tablets, so that one can read it readily.  For the vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and will not disappoint; If it delays, wait for it, it will surely come, it will not be late.” (2.2-3)

Well, old Habakkuk, I hear God speaking to me through you--right to the heart of my dilemma: “Write down the vision clearly so that one can read it readily.”   I decide to talk to God about it.

“Help me, Lord.  You know how uncomfortable I feel in sharing what I hear from You.  I am waiting for You to show me if what I hear I need to pass on to others, and if so, how?  I ask you to remove all barriers within me.”

And the Lord says, “Yes, I hear you.  Yes, I answer you-- in My words to you and in My words to Habakkuk.”

“First,” I hear God say, “Let’s look at how you perceive waiting: It is difficult for you to wait when apparently there is no resolution.  Things are not clearly resolved and that bothers you.  Why?  Because you think unresolved means:
·         Not good
·         Not what I hope for
·         Not favorable.

Unresolved simply means, “not yet resolved.”  If you believe and trust that I complete what I have begun, and you believe and trust that even if it is something that seems like your idea, I can bring good out of it, you will be able to wait in peace while the “not yet” unfolds.  In regard to our dialogues, you remain in an unresolved state because you are waiting to receive permission from a “higher authority.”  You have received permission from a higher authority, but you don’t trust that you have.  Essential to the walk of faith is stepping out because the Truth has embraced you and you cannot ignore it, deny it, or suppress it.  What you hear in the dark and are able to proclaim in the light comes from the gift of boldness that you so admire in Habakkuk and that is resting in your soul waiting to be activated.

Can you trust that I will not lead you, my beloved, astray?  Are you self-conscious because you are aware of your flaws, your weaknesses, your sins?  Whether you do things perfectly or not, I am with you.  Does “with you” mean agreeing with you in every aspect of your life?  Do you agree with your spouse, your children, your siblings, your friends on every issue, every subject?  Do they agree with you on every issue?  Yet, are you not “with each other” for life?  Do you not love each other deeply?

Agreement is not the issue; you can agree without love and you can love without agreeing.   When you let go of self-conscious and become God-conscious, you are in right relationship with Me, and you will find yourself “agreeing” more and more with My ways, which as I have said before, are not your ways.  Yet, know that I love you whether I agree with you or not.  And, I love you whether you agree with me or not.

Let’s look at My words to Habakkuk that struck your heart: “If the vision delays, wait for it.  It will surely come.  It will not be late.”

Delay is the key word here.  Delay means, “not yet here.”  Delay is about your perspective of My timing.  You hope for it now, you think it is better the sooner it arrives, and when it does not meet your expectations, you fall into your old thinking patterns about unresolved issues. And, like many before you, you risk missing the vision when its time has come. 

Those who wait for Me with courage, who are stout-hearted and wait through the delays, knowing that the vision is Truth, that its source is Me, recognize the vision when its time has come--when it is fulfilled.  A good example is Luke’s story of Simeon who waited for the vision to be fulfilled and recognized the Savior of the world. (Luke 2.27-32) 

While “not yet” is at the core of delays, “not timely” is at the core of late.  Late is about the earthly reality of time-- a time to be born and a time to die, a time for everything under the sun.  When the rains are late, the seedlings will wither and die.  If you arrive late at the airport, you miss your flight (unless it was delayed!)  Late misses the acceptable time, the day of salvation.

You are able to stay with the delays in the unknown and unresolved when you are confident that the source is Me.  Then you can wait, trusting that I bring all things to fulfillment at the proper time; that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, that I make all things new; that My words to the Church, My words to each person who listens and hears My Voice are trustworthy and true.

Recognize, as did Habukkuk, that now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation, and write down what you hear clearly so that it can be read.  Boldness in My Spirit empowers you to proclaim the Truth you have heard.  As you obey, new life is born in you, life that bears fruit as a tree planted by running streams. Even as we speak, it is being fulfilled.

I thank you Dear Father of Life for waiting for me to catch up to the vision you have for me.  Thank you Habukkuk, for writing about your own process clearly so that I could read it today. I can sum up today’s experience with your own closing words:

God, my Lord, is my strength;
He makes my feet swift as those of hinds
And enables me to go upon the heights.” (3.19)