Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Angels in the Kitchen

Bartolome Esteban Murillo painted this large canvas titled Angels' Kitchen for the Franciscan Monastery of San Francisco el Grande in 1646. It might be the three-part story of Brother Francisco Perez, a Greek monk who worked as a kitchen assistant for thirty years.

The painting is essentially about Francisco's prayer - that it was of such an intensity and filled with such a love of God that he entered into ecstatic states symbolized by the depth of light in which the brother is suspended and the animation of his habit. A warm, alive and light-some prayer! Indeed, perhaps we see in the little paper beneath him on the floor, left behind,  the composed, pre-fabricated prayers he was required simply to recite. 

On the left we see Francisco's Father Superior who has brought a couple of outsiders to either admire the scene or perhaps to check-out what's going on in the kitchen. In other words, maybe the superior has brought in a doctor to be sure Brother Francisco is alright in the head! The clergy are usually not quick to delight in mystical events - witness Father Peyramale at Lourdes who hassled young Bernadette who claimed to have seen a lady of light in the grotto of Massabielle. Or the bishop who scoffed at Juan Diego who reported a heavenly lady with a request at the top of Tepeyac.

No matter, as these things come from heaven they endure beyond the objections, hesitations and fears of the clergy in charge. But while Francisco is flying in his prayer he's also falling behind in his kitchen responsibilities. The bell will ring and the friars will assemble for dinner and there'll be no food. But heaven is grateful for Francisco's love and so heavenly help arrives to put dinner on the table.

In the center we see two very prominent angels with colored wings and tunics. One is clearly the chef-in-charge, perhaps giving directions to the other angel who seems to have just arrived. To the right is a whole kitchen staff of angels: one in the back is tending the oven, another is stirring the pot, another is putting out the soup bowls and a little group of putti is scouring out a large and shiny copper pan.

Murillo was only about thirty years of age when he painted this joyful scene. He introduces us to his skill in the painting of still life vegetables, a glazed pitcher and bowl, a large metal pot, an earthenware jug. 

But to be sure, the painting isn't just about little Brother Francisco. Murillo wants us to know that God is a God of delight, joy and even humor. It's easy to forget this today, isn't it? And God, whose love for us is compulsive, hopes for a return from us. And each day, however obscure and routine, is filled with the presence of heaven. And wonder is close at hand. But we must look and listen with inner senses and even anticipate God's delights. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

I lift up my eyes...

Graham Owen photographer ~ California Hills in Spring

There are 150 psalms (poem-prayers of ancient Israel) in the Old Testament. They are a wonderful way to jump-start prayer. Jesus would have known the psalms by heart. A psalm is always prayed at Mass between the first reading and the Gospel. Father Ronald Knox has given us a very wonderful translation of the entire Bible in which the Psalms are beautiful, fresh and alive. Here is Psalm 120. We might pray this psalm these days of danger, insecurity and discouragement. 

I lift up my eyes to the hills to find deliverance;
from the Lord deliverance comes to me,
the Lord who made heaven and earth.
Never will he who guards thee allow thy foot to stumble;
never fall asleep at his post!
Such a guardian has Israel,
one who is never weary, never sleeps;
it is the Lord that guards thee,
the Lord that stands at thy right hand to give thee shelter.
The sun's rays by day, the moon's by night
shall have no power to hurt thee.
The Lord will guard thee from all evil;
the Lord will protect thee in danger;
the Lord will protect thy journeying and thy homecoming,
henceforth and forever.

Msgr. Ronald Knox ~ 1888 - 1957

Intercessions ~ First Sunday of Advent

Advent's violet is the color of transition./ We ask for awareness/ to realize personally the need to transition from inner darkness to light./ We pray to the Lord.

Pope Francis is visiting Africa through Monday./ We pray for his safety,/ and blessings for Africa,/ facing many challenges/ and often forgotten or ignored./ We pray to the Lord.

Monday is the Feast of the Holy Apostle, Andrew./ We pray for the countries which claim him as their patron:/ Scotland,/ Greece,/ Romania,/ Russia,/ Poland,/ Ukraine and Barbados./ We ask for these countries to love each other/ and to model solidarity and commonality for all the world./ We pray to the Lord.

As in our hemisphere we move into the cold and dark time of year,/ we pray for those whose lives are filled with discomfort and insecurity./For those for whom everyday is a dark day./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for the world's children who are unwanted,/ turned away,/ disposed of,/ emotionally pained,/ hungry or abused./ And for hearts that welcome and support these littlest ones./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who are already trying to stay warm./ For the sick,/ the war-damaged,/ the dying/ and all who care for people who live in pain or need./ We pray to the Lord.

Finally we pray for those who have died,/ those known to us and those unknown./ We pray for all whose deaths were violent or particularly sad/ to share in the charity and joy of heaven./ We pray to the Lord.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Another Gatha ~ As I Take This Breath

Do we remember that our religious story begins with God's breath?
God, at the beginning of time, created heaven and earth. Earth was still an empty waste and darkness hung over the deep; but already, over its waters, stirred the breath of God. Genesis 1:2)

And the end of our Gospel has the Risen Jesus echoing that creation scene.
Late that Sunday evening, when the disciples were together behind locked doors, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them, "Peace be with you!" he said, and then showed them his hands and his side. So when the disciples saw the Lord, they were filled with joy, Jesus repeated, "Peace be with you!", and then said, "As the Father sent me, so I send you." He then breathed on them, saying, "Receive the Holy Spirit!" (John 10:19-21)
For a religion that brackets itself with divine breath, we might pay more attention to our own breathing.  Many of us don't know what breathing deeply is: perhaps we're out of shape and we get winded quickly. Or we've compromised our breathing with cigarettes. Or over the years we've developed the habit of only shallow breathing, and we never fill our lungs. 

Here's a little exercise to begin breathing deeply. Inhale counting to 8. Then hold the breath for the count of  8. Then exhale counting to 8. Do this for four to eight cycles. Each day.

But there is more to our breathing than just that. Here is my gatha that highlights the more of even one breath and how that breath might be an antioxidant to hate. 

Did I just inhale the breath of saints?
Then I'm glad!
But if the breath of haters,
then I exhale it transformed
into peace and love. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Gathas Are Like Seeds

Here is picture of the young Frasier Fir tree (Abies fraseri) I bought yesterday. The nursery folks even decorated it with a little red Christmas bow. Frasier Firs are one of a few kinds of traditional Christmas trees, the branches leaving  lots of room for hanging ornaments. But this tree is for planting outside, not for chopping. While it waits for me to find the right spot, with the maximum of sunshine, I am reminded of the need for prayer.

Gatha is a prayer-form found in Buddhism but not prayers as we often understand them in the west - some sentences (maybe out of a book) telling God what we need God to do for us. A gatha instead is a little verse that sums up or highlights a spiritual concept. Without using theological terms (a kind of foreign language to many) it is immediately accessible to the soul. 

A gatha usually features some ordinary aspect of life, helping us to be mindful of what we're doing in the movements and encounters of everyday. What we're REALLY doing. A gatha invites us to be aware of the hidden aspects of living, the underneath as we: wake up, enter a room, set a table, wash our hands, brush our teeth, rake leaves, send an e-mail or make a phone call - plant a young tree.  

One author says that gathas are like planting seeds of goodness, spirit and joy. As a response to our feelings of helplessness, gathas are seeds of desire and good intention sewn in a world burdened with killing, negativity, greed, suffering and injustice. Additionally, I'd say gathas are short exhaled expressions of surprise - interior exclamation points! 

Gathas are a way for us to take control of our own minds which are often jerked around by so many silly and wasted distractions, too much media and too much talking. We can en-circle the world by writing our own - indeed - we should feel encouraged to do so. 

As I awaken
Upon waking this morning,
I stay in bed until I smile,
grateful for these hours
and greeting all who suffer.

The days first encounter with water
Streams weave through the woods here,
rain and snow abound,
now grateful for the splash of water ~
our human commonalty.

As I put on my shoes
With a grateful heart I ask
Who made these shoes?
and that I'd walk the earth
in safety and peace.

While walking my dogs
In the dark morning hours ~
tiny headlights on my cap,
grateful for this bit of creation
entrusted to my care.

As my eyes fall on the Gospel page
At seven the pretty teacher taught me to read.
What a wonderful gift!
I hold this wish for the children of the world ~
especially the girls.

For the healing of my ancestors
In my ancestral line: poverty, imbalance and fear,
addiction and despair.
Now in this moment of recalling,
I wish them healing and joy.

Setting the table
As I set the table ~
dinner for four,
Can't we spread the table
for the world that has nothing?

In the planting of the fir tree
As an antidote to destruction
I plant the young fir tree
with hopes for an
ever-greening human unity

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Feast of Christ the King ~ Dorothy Day and Antoine Leiris

In addressing Congress in the United States recently, Pope Francis extensively referenced, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King. Here is a quote from Dorothy Day by which in a sentence she gets to the essential thing, not just for religion but for all of human life.

The biggest challenge of the day is how to bring about a revolution of the heart; a revolution that has to start with each one of us.

But what might that look like? Antoine Leiris' wife was killed in the November 13th terrorist attack of the Bataclan theater in Paris. The couple have a 17 month old baby boy named Melvil. The evening of seeing his wife in the morgue for the first time after her murder, Antoine wrote a letter to the men who killed her. It lays open for us the heart-revolution of which Dorothy Day speaks. 

Here is the English translation text of Antoine's letter.

Friday night, you took an exceptional life - the love of my life, the mother of my son, but you will not have my hatred. I don't know who you are and I don't want to know; you are dead souls. If this God, for whom you kill blindly, made us in his image, every bullet in the body of my wife would have been one more wound in his heart. 

So, no, I will not grant you the gift of my hatred. You're asking for it, but responding to hatred with anger is falling victim to the same ignorance that has made you what you are. You want me to be scared, to view my countrymen with mistrust, to sacrifice my liberty for my security. You lost.

I saw her this morning, finally after nights and days of waiting. She was just as beautiful as when she left on Friday night, just as beautiful as when I fell hopelessly in love over 12 years ago. Of course I am devastated by this pain, I give you this little victory, but the pain will be short-lived. I know that she will be with us every day and that we will find ourselves again in the paradise of free love to which you have no access.

We are just two now, my son and me, but we are stronger than all the armies in the world. I don't have any more time to devote to you, I have to join Melvil who is waking up from his nap. He is barely 17 months-old. He will eat his meals as usual, and then we are going to play as usual, and for his whole life this little boy will threaten you by being happy and free. Because no, you will not have his hatred either.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Jesus Christ ~ King of the Universe

Hieronymous Bosch 1495 ~ The Mockery of Christ

The world feels very sick these days. Perhaps it has always been so but our vast media access lays it out for us graphically in 24-7 news cycles. The 15th century painter, Hieronymous Bosch, understood the world's sickness. Look carefully.

The fellow on the upper left who holds the mocking thorn-crown over the head of Jesus: is that an arrow through his hat? Maybe arrows are his weapon of choice. He wears metal gloves and gauntlets. All armored up, he's a tough guy, (or at least he wants us to think he is.) 

And then on the upper right there's another fellow who's carrying a big stick and wearing a metal breast plate. Maybe this armor symbolizes that he's got to protect himself against the love of Jesus. He leans into Jesus' ear. I imagine his breath is foul as he whispers secrets or threats.

The lascivious old man at the bottom left has placed his dirty hand on the naked knee of Jesus. And the man across from him is poised to rip open the shirt of Jesus, which would be the first exposing of his heart. 

In the passion account Jesus' heart is revealed to the world in layers: first the nakedness, then the words of forgiveness and finally the piercing of his side and the spraying of the world with blood and water from his opened heart.  All of this in a world of daily indignities. 

It is the Feast of Jesus Christ, King of  the Universe ~
Jesus in the Resurrection
loving the trillion, trillion galaxies,
and the little universe of
each human mind,
and the universe of our
blue and green planet-home,
its forests and coral reefs,
the weather, soil and seasons,
the universe of bird song and great mammals,
of insects, leaves and flowers.

And some priests will dress up
in metallic gold today,
and some parishes will
rent a trumpeter
and they'll sing about
crowns and crowns and
the lamb upon the throne.

But maybe
we shouldn't this year
with the plane just exploding
and children falling from the 
sky in flames,
the Sinai strewn
with their beach clothes
and toys.

And the city 
of Saints Genevieve and Denis ~
now a city of bullets and bombs,
of wounds, 
and fear.

And what does this mean ~
that Denis is invoked against diabolical possession.
And the banks of flowers and
tea lights - fragile flames of
hope and desire.

And the double bombing of Beirut ~
for its beauty called
the Paris of the Middle East ~
is media-lost in its twin atrocities.

And leaders wonder 
how and who to punish.
And someone somewhere
in a suit and silk tie ponders:
Who will buy
missiles from me?
in the new depth of 
conflict and hate.
And men who hide in the sand
with covered faces
shout ugly praises to God.

How did all of this come about?

And the rhetoric soars:
Who's to be excluded (even young orphans).
And the politicians can't see how to
reconcile with Jesus who said,
"Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them."

And many of our thoughts are
shameful thoughts,
and shameful thoughts
should seldom be expressed, 
or at least carefully expressed,
but surely not for all the world 
to hear on CNN.

Jesus, with the thorn-crown 
hovering over your head,
your mind already crammed with all of
this piercing universe-trouble and grief,
would you give us fresh insight...

(Americans are such talkers, you know,

we can sell anyone anything,
even the Brooklyn Bridge
and how to make a deal.)

But would you teach us
how to sell peace,
how to sell reconciliation,
how to sell kindness,
how to sell humility. 

Jesus ~ sell us the Kingdom of God!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Intercessions ~ Feast of Jesus Christ - King of the Universe

As the year of grace draws to a close today,/ we pray for grateful hearts/ able to discern the life-sustaining,/ healing,/ supportive presence of God in our own day./ We pray to the Lord.

Today at Mass/ we invite and ask for Christ to enter the little universe of every Christian heart and mind./ For the disciples of Jesus/ to establish and promote Christ's reign of compassion,/  love and justice./ We pray to the Lord.

Syria is a land of many saints./ We ask heaven to help their tormented,/ wounded country,/ divided,/ bombed and exhausted./ We pray to the Lord.

Bad theology easily brings death with it./ We pray for religion which has become a scourge for the earth/ instead of a blessing./ We pray to the Lord. 

For family and friends with whom we gather this week./ For those who are away from home by distance or alienation./ For the safety of holiday travelers/ and for people who are alone,/ jobless or depressed./ We pray to the Lord. 

We pray for persons (including ourselves) who are feeling vulnerable these days,/ badly shaken or in the dark,/ un-holy or un-well./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray for those who are fallen asleep in death/ and who have entered God's land of  light./ Grant peace to our world/ wearied and spent by violence and warring./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

My Lord God...

Winding Road ~ by Angelo Cavalli

Prayer for Trust and Confidence

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
   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.
And 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. 

- Thomas Merton

Sunday, November 15, 2015

"Let us go to the other side..."

Here we see Tigran Ghulyan's  vivid painting of  Jesus Calming the Storm. Indeed, the Sea of Galilee truly experiences roiling storms of this kind. Largely surrounded by mountains which funnel great winds down to the water, violent storms produce waves that could very well take under a little boat and crew. 

But before the storm came upon them, Jesus has said to the disciples, "Let us set out for the other side of the lake." Mark4:35. That's an important line. Did it happen historically? Why would I want to doubt these things? But while I believe in the historicity of the Gospels, I also believe that there is much more to them than just bare facts. It is a problem for the Church, when we fail to come to the more, the underneath, the beyond.

Christ (the new human person) in the little boat is a type or image of each of us and all of us. And as such, he leads us to the other side. How simple: It's his idea! Jesus takes us, leads us, goes with us, to the other side. Can you name it? Perhaps:

To the other side of knowledge
To the other side of consciousness
To the other side of God's real ideas (not our puny concepts)
To the other side of compassion and kindness
To the other side of sobriety
To the other side of my life lived in a new integrity
To the other side of inner freedom
To the other side of real listening and dialogue
To the other side of blind obedience
To the other side of just believing
To the other side of what human means

Some people are not interested in going to the "the other side" with Christ. They'd rather hug the shore, though the shore is a shallow place. "I'm not interested in that justice stuff" the Catholic church-lady said dismissively. But then religion becomes (to use the words of Pope Francis) a comfortable nest, a laboratory, a bubble

But how can I set out for the other side? Thich Nhat Hahn, the Buddhist monk referenced here before, suggests that learning to practice mindfulness is key. The past and the future are not realities, only this precise moment is real. And now this moment. And now this one. 

Time slips through our fingers, like the sand in the hourglass. "Where did the time go," we ask. And we are mindless about much (most?) of it, being dutiful, wasteful, distracted, anxious, frantically goal-oriented, selfish, lazy, over extended, sugar-ed or caffeinated up, high, resentful, fake.

I'm thinking of how Americans approach food and table: the young dad who came into the diner with his four year old son. Who plopped the boy down in the booth and at once opened up his laptop, creating a wall between himself and the little boy who sat shredding paper napkins, the father ordering without once referring to the child and who didn't even look up when the food was delivered. Poor boy, poor dad - missing the moment with his son.

In-this-moment-mindfulness. Consciousness. Awareness. Looking. Observing. Listening. Contemplating. Inquiring. We've already set out for the other side. 

Friday, November 13, 2015

We Fly To Your Patronage...

Notre Dame de Paris

We fly to your patronage, O holy Mother of God,
despise not our petitions in our necessities, 
but deliver us always from all dangers,
O glorious and Blessed Virgin.

3rd century prayer to the Mother of God

Praying for Children

Flower-Toy Memorial ~ St. Petersburg, Russia

The recent crash of the Metro jet in the Sinai Desert took the lives of 224 people. among them 25 children. Strong indications are that a bomb was planted in the cargo or luggage bays. But as depraved as someone must be to make and place a bomb that will take down a plane of people heading home after a seaside vacation, to know that your evil plan will kill children is a window into our human devolution. For all the advances: new medicine, cutting edge technology, space exploration and new forms of energy - we still kill and exploit children. We don't love them rightly.

No philosopher or spiritual leader in history ever placed children so squarely at the heart of his/her teaching as did Jesus. And so if the disciple wants to follow or be obedient to Jesus, then somehow, love for and attention to children must play a part.

Then some people came to him bringing little children for him to touch. The disciples tried to discourage them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant and told them, "You must let little children come to me - never stop them! For the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Indeed, I assure you that the man who does not accept the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it." Then he took the children in his arms and laid his hands on them and blessed them. (Mark 10:13-16)

Some scholars have suggested that religious orders of monks and nuns came into existence when it became clear that the ordinary folk were no longer living the Gospel way narrowly: we mixed with power too much, we found too little time for the works of mercy, we didn't pray as well, we loved money and possessions as much as anyone else.

But then it got to the point where we started to think that the real pray-ers were the monks and nuns, calling a monastery or convent, a powerhouse of prayer. That's regrettable, because every Christian home, every parish, indeed, every Christian, ought to be a powerhouse of prayer. And maybe  praying for the world's children could be at the top of our prayer priorities.

Often when human beings do terrible things to children we ask, "How could a merciful God allow that?" or "Where was God?" That might be the wrong question. I think the real question, the honest question, would be to ask, "How could WE allow that to happen?" "Where were WE...?" 

But will my prayer for children actually help them? I will trust it does. And even if it doesn't, then my prayer reflects there is at least one heart that cares for them in their pain and need. That's not for nothing in a hard world.

I pray for human life in the womb,
hungry children,
thirsty children,
naked children,
homeless children,
street children,

that we would
protect them,
guide them,
comfort them,
warm them,
delight them.

I pray for 
prostituted children,
disappeared children,
kidnapped children,
nameless children,
emaciated children,
unwanted children,

that we would
rescue them,
name them,
satisfy them,
discover them,
befriend them.

I pray for 
addicted children,
lonely children,
unsupported children,
uneducated children,
orphaned children,
sensualized children,

that we would
watch out for them,
embrace them,
console them,
play with them,
teach them.

I pray for 
the children of war,
children sold by their parents,
children trapped in slavery,
sex-trafficked children,
children caught in the turbulence of divorce,
friendless children,

that we would
clothe them,
house them,
defend them,
reassure them,
heal them.

I pray for 
children left behind,
refugee and displaced children,
special needs children,
failing children,
invisible children,
forgotten children,

that we would
educate them,
catch them,
clean them,
dignify them,
notice them.

I pray for
angry, violent children,
the child sufferers of terrorist violence,
verbally abused children,
physically abused children,
thrown away children,
murdered children,

that we would
search for them,
identify them,
surround them,
feed them,
love them all.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Intercessions ~ Thirty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time

We pray for the people of Paris today,/ and all of France,/ and all of Europe,/ and of all the world./ We pray for those who died in Friday night's terror,/ and for the wounded,/ their families/ and the helpers and rescuers./  We pray to the Lord.

Something is very wrong in our relationship with guns that every month dozens of the nation's children die by gun violence and accident./ We boldly ask for heaven's help to set us right./ We pray to the Lord.

In the past sixty-five years our Church has spent over four billion dollars in the sex abuse scandal./ We ask God to forgive the sins which have brought about this waste/ and to correct the Church where it has taken a wrong path./ We pray to the Lord.

Jesus has told us he wants our joy to be complete./  We pray for those who have no experience of joy,/ those who live with chronic pain,/ those over-whelmed with weakness and need./ We pray to the Lord.

We call to mind loved-ones who are sick physically/ or sick with fears,/ anger,/ despair or hate./ We pray for their healing and restored energies./ We pray to the Lord.

We pray to know the wonder of  life in this moment of prayer,/ to be truly alive/ without negativity and anxiety,/ without demands,/ judgments and greed./ We pray to the Lord.

And we entrust all of the dead to Jesus/ who shows us the Father's love,/ remembering those who have died in the Sinai Desert,/ and in Beirut and in violent places around the world./  We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

November ~ Merry Cemetery

Merry Cemetery ~ Romania

Someone sent some pictures taken around the world of amazingly beautiful places, and this Romanian cemetery was among them. The photo caption called it the Merry Cemetery. I don't know if that's its name in Romania or if someone just attached that title somewhere along the cyber-space-way. It doesn't matter ~ the cemetery is indeed merry. Happy. Gladsome. Joyful. But why?

Christ is Risen from the dead,
trampling down death by death,
and upon those in the tomb,
bestowing life.

Trampling down death by death. Isn't that a wonderful line? November is the Month of the Holy Souls. We might rehearse the little Easter verse again and again until we have memorized it. We can then bring it to mind often but especially when we remember loved ones departed or are confronted with news reports of television, radio, Internet death.

Jesus, Save Us!

Here is Ludolf Backhuysen's painting of Jesus Calming the Stormy Sea as told in the Gospels of Matthew (4:35-41), Mark (8:23-27) and Luke (8:22-25). In each of the three, the disciples call out to the sleeping Jesus, but it is only in Matthew's Gospel that they implore Jesus saying: "Save us."

Words like save and salvation have become a kind of specialized vocabulary (Church-talk) that forms a disconnect with people today, especially young people. Ask folks what save and salvation mean and at best we might hear a word or two about Jesus dying on the cross to save us from our sins so we can go to heaven. Without denying that, I'd suggest save  and salvation have to do with today and right now, long before having anything to do with going to heaven. Save and salvation are interior realities and very personal to each of us.

Save means "Get me out of here." In 1975 I was rushing back to the seminary in my bright yellow Volkswagon Beetle to make the midnight curfew, when I made a wrong turn and wound up in a neighborhood that was dark, de-populated, decrepit and utterly terrifying. I drove frantically up and down streets hoping to find my way back to a familiar road, the sense of danger and doom increasing, when I felt this deep inside prayer-urge that cried out: "Get me out of here."  That's asking for salvation in a most basic way.

But then we allow that desperate prayer to reflect inner realities:

Jesus, get me out of this need for 
and acceptance.

Jesus, get me out of this
my obsession with work,
my inability to be alone,
my disinterest in others.

Jesus get me out of this idolatry of

And for younger people: 
get me out of this worship of
media fun,
entertainment and peer acceptance

Jesus, get me out of the chattering
monkey-mind of judgments,
and assessing everyone and everything.

Jesus, get me out of the resentments
I harbor and the
victim-hood I nurture,
my inner whining,
and negative complaining.

Jesus, get me out of this dark cloud mode,
my inner tempest,
all my worrisome regrets,
and the masks I wear.

Jesus, get me out of this inner neighborhood
of fears, 
fantasy and bad-humor...

and put me on the right road,
the sure path, 
of joy,
restored dignity,
light and

Now look again at the painting. The little boat (of my life) is ready to go under - it is being swamped by violent waves (can you name it for yourself?), the sail is maxed-out and already there is an opening in the ominous sky (look to the left) and a lovely, hopeful light is breaking through. Salvation is already at hand. Everything will be alright! 

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Garden and Gate

Here is a picture of the new gate Jim built for the fenced garden at the retreat house. The original gate fell apart this past winter, but this new gate is attractive, deer-proof and strong! Jesus said: 

I am the gate, whoever enters through me will be saved, they will come in and go out, and find pasture.   John 10:9

Stepping through a gate is an experience of encounter or an adventure. A new horizon or experience opens up when we go through a gate. As a young priest I used to take a prayer day at an old Franciscan novitiate nearby which had been a rich man's North Shore estate in its 1930's heyday.

I remember pulling back the vines and going through the door-like gate and being disappointed  that the garden, with its gravel paths and wide flower beds had fallen into ruin - invaded by weeds and gone to seed. But the experience filled me with imagination too, and I found bushes there covered with ripe raspberries. And for about 7 minutes I played with the idea of asking the brothers if I could take over the garden and bring it back. Like I didn't already have enough to do in my parish.

But when going through the gate is an interior experience I might be led to ask myself questions I might otherwise never approach:
  • Why am I this way?
  • Why might someone say this or that about me?
  • Why do I keep repeating the same mistakes?
  • Why am I so unhappy? So fearful?
  • Why do I feel so shallow?
  • Why do I feel I've done so little with my life?
  • Why after so long am I still...?

We often never get around to asking the why questions about ourselves. It takes a lot of hard work to go through the inner gate to ask why.

And here at the retreat house, the new gate takes us over into a garden. A garden is an image of cultivation and growth. It symbolizes that inner place where I have things to take care of and places to grow:
  • to grow up the inner capacities I have been given
  • to find emotional balance and well-being
  • to treat an addiction or some pathology
  • to come to an understanding of what I can do to contribute to the future
  • to tend to my soul-life: that I am God's much-loved child

The prophet Jeremiah writes:
They shall come and sing aloud on the heights of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall be like a watered garden, and they shall languish no more. Jeremiah 31: 12

The soul is likened to our inner feeling-place and our feelings can be all over the place: our wounded pride, nurtured resentments, the exhilaration that lasts perhaps only a moment, the perception of God's presence in love, the peaceful awareness of inner healing.

Psychologically, a garden is a symbol of consciousness. And a walled, fenced or hedged garden is an image of protecting what is interiorly my very own (mine and mine alone). This could be a sense of shame or regret for some mistake in the past or some personal delight that others might well not understand or value. It's not necessary for everyone to know everything about me. I'd say there's a time to enter the garden and close the gate - gently. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Intercessions ~ Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time

We pray for ourselves and those around us at Mass today/ We ask for healing where we are lost in regrets about the past,/ worrying about the future,/ preoccupied with plans/ or distracted by anger./ We pray to the Lord./

We pray to be a Church alive in the Lord's love:/ to be present to others/ in their suffering,/ their wounds,/ their need./ We pray to the Lord.

The Liturgical Year is drawing to its close./ We pray for grateful hearts/ aware of the Lord's mercies in this passing year of grace./ We pray to the Lord.

Our planet suffers from greed and exploitation:/ the forests,/ the water,/ the air,/ the soil,/ the animals and plants./ We ask God earnestly for a new spirit of love and regard for our earth-home./ We pray to the Lord.

Pope Francis will travel soon to Africa,/ which is often a troubled and dangerous place./ We pray for his safety,/ and for the peace and evolution of the African nations./ We pray to the Lord.

Europe has received 218,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees in the month of October alone./ We pray for all the displaced persons around the world,/ and for the many compassionate and benevolent people who look to help them./ We pray to the Lord.

For the children known to us/ and those we do not know./ For the sick,/ the struggling and stressed,/ the frightened and the lonely./ For those who have died/ to know the love of Christ which forsakes no one./ We pray to the Lord.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

How Not To Hate People ~ The Hilandar Mother of God

This is the wonder-working icon of the Mother of God venerated at the Serbian Hilandar Monastery at Mount Athos in Greece. The monastery was founded by Saint Sava in 1198. Today there are about 45 monks living, praying and working there.

She is very beautiful, isn't she, in her morning sky-colors? Perhaps she portends for us the new and personal dawning of non-hate. Hate doesn't necessarily mean, "I want you dead." Hate means strong feelings against or about someone. We should really stop denying that hate ever finds its way into our lives.

Jesus knew our capacity for hate. In fact, Jesus would say that the real problem today is not sexual things, but that there is so much hate. No one is untouched. To understand, we just have to watch some political news, Judge Judy or Dr. Phil or pay more attention to our thoughts throughout the day. But Jesus tells us that landing in hate is not allowed: that we must get free of it as quickly as possible.

So come before the Hilandar Mother of God, who feeds the Holy Child, and who wants us nourished in kindness and compassion. She doesn't look at Jesus, but at each of us. She knows. She understands that humanity is plagued by negativity, prejudice, stewing in resentment, revenge and hate. 

Coming before the icon, mention the names of every person you feel some negativity towards: the crazy-makers, troublemakers, the jealous colleague or relative, the one who disappoints, the invaders and intruders, the ones who are too needy, demanding or who steal away your energies, the show-offs and argue-ers, the whiners. You name it...

And then after each name simply pray: Oh, Hilandar Mother of God, give her what she needs for salvation.  Oh, Hilandar Mother of God, give him what he needs for salvation. Oh, Hilandar Mother of God, give them what they need for salvation.

This is a wonder-working prayer. It has the power to steal away hate and negativity. And like the cold or flu medicine advertised on TV - take this spiritual medicine at the first sign of negative, resentful or hateful feelings. 

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Thanks to You, O God ~ Morning Prayer

The conjunction of Mars, Jupiter and Venus in October's morning sky

Thanks to you, O God, in the night-time breathing;
the beating of my heart.

Thanks to you, O God, the icon's nimbus,
like the rising of the sun.

Thanks to you, O God, for the presence of planets;
the angel-world's care.

Thanks to you, O God, in my looking upon the earth;
my feet touching the ground.

Thanks to you, O God, the first thought of Mary's smile;
the blessing-Child in her arms.

Thanks to you, O God, in the receiving of water
and the tasting of food.

Thanks to you, O God, in the lighting of candles
and the kissing of the altar.

Thanks to you, O God, in the little dog's greeting;
the misty walk,
the wet-leaf color.

Thanks to you, O God: the wild stream, the waterfall,
echo of heaven's tune.

The nimbus coming into focus ~ like the sun rising