The Least of These

Everyone has heard the story of the sheep and the goats where the phrase “the least of these” is found. That phrase seems pretty self explanatory. You don’t have to ask who is the least of these since there is a whole list of struggles and solutions right in Matthew 25. Hungry, thirsty, homeless. Got it.

Lately I have been reading Scripture in Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase The Message: the Bible in Contemporary Language so that words that have become familiar might sound different enough to stand out. Like this for instance, “I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.” (emphasis mine)

Overlooked and ignored. Those words take this Scripture out of the realm of the haves and the have nots and put it smack in the middle of every day. The middle school girl hungry for acceptance.  The UPS driver thirsty for kindness. The coal miner working two states away from home. The addict imprisoned by their addiction. The well-dressed woman in the second row, pulpit side at church who hasn’t told anyone she has cancer. Overlooked or ignored.

These everyday people are Jesus’ least of these too. When we overlook them, ignore them we are overlooking and ignoring God in our midst. Too often we identify Jesus’ least of these as people with few or no tangible resources. And that is not a bad thing. But Petersen’s “overlooked and ignored” opens up the door to the world, all the way up to the rich and powerful. And I would dare say that they too are hungry, thirsty, sick and in prison. It just looks different in my eyes. But not the eyes of God.

So who are your “least of these”? Who do you overlook or ignore? Scripture says you are doing it to Jesus.

 Bona Opera

Since joining the Mt Tabor Benedictines in 1985, each Lenten Season I’ve filled out a Bona Opera, (Good Works), a monastic practice throughout the world.  As a new monastic, I would find myself trying to go way above what was asked of me.  For example, more praying, fasting, alms giving and the hopes that one could start and finish an entire spiritual book before the Lenten Season was over.  I should have realized that I would have trouble with doing “additional and or above” as I was already having trouble with doing what was expected.

After 31 years, I hopefully have grown a little wiser as a monastic.  I believe that Benedict wanted his followers to be faithful with their prayer, fasting, alms giving and  to read spiritual books written by those who have lived monastic life well.

As we begin another Lenten season, I am not looking at what I will give up, or what more can I do, but rather how well do I do with what is given to me, how do I respect each person in my community and beyond, do I follow through on commitments made, do I take time for daily private prayer, reading books that help me become more of who God created me to be and am I present at community prayer?  Do I make good use of my down time or do I find myself spending too much time on the computer either playing games or on Facebook?

In “The Telling Takes us Home, the People’s Pastoral Letter it talks about “Practicing Resurrection in places of Crucifixion”.  May we be mindful of the crosses of people without work.  The crosses of struggling single mothers.  The crosses of those suffering from addiction.  The crosses of young people who lack hope and a sense of purpose.  The crosses of those with mental and physical disabilities, the crosses of those who are scapegoats in their own communities because of their race, ethnicity, or sexuality and the crosses of refugees.

May this Lenten season bring us closer to God and learn to look for what brings us together rather than what divides us. Sr. Kathleen

 

How Do We Respond?

Several weeks ago, in case no one noticed, our country experienced what seems to some of us to be a seismic paradigm shift as a result of the 2016 presidential election.  Upon these shifting sands, we are called to re-ground ourselves in our most fervently-held values, both personally and collectively.

The Mt. Tabor community sets aside one Sunday each month as a retreat day – a day of silent reflection, usually focused on a theme, book or article pertinent to the current situation.  Recently, this topic had to do with how each of us (given our personalities and circumstances) are called to respond to social change.  We loosely identified these “response types” as 1) activism, 2) direct service, and 3) contemplation.

As thought-starters we reflected on a reading on activism by Fr. Al Fritsch, S.J.; an article about the corporal and spiritual works of mercy (direct service); and an article by Thomas Merton (contemplation).

We found that, while there is probably overlap among the three methods, most of us are pulled toward one more than to the others in trying to “change ‘the world’” or to “change the world for one person”.

So whether we march or serve soup or consciously try to connect with the divine through prayer and contemplation, the time for action is now – and God will companion with us in however we are called to respond!

 

– Sr. Mary

 

“The Good News Gospel”

Some of us at the monastery are studying the Gospel of Mark.  Mark calls it the “Good News Gospel of Jesus Christ”.   As we learn that Mark was writing to a people who were being persecuted for their faith we realize how important it was for them to be rooted firmly in that faith and to know Jesus personally.  Only then could they understand that the “good news” means that we are saved from death.  After this life – there is still life for us!  It is a life free from persecution, pain and suffering.   And this is ours, given by God who loves us unconditionally!

Most of us have heard these things all our lives.  But have we really heard them?

As we enter into this season of lent we are presented with an opportunity to ponder what this “good news” means for us today.  Many people live in a world of fear – fear of violence and physical harm, emotional abuse and worry about what the future holds.  The words “deportation” and “racism” bring new levels of fear and anxiety.  The media is especially good at keeping the negative emotions stirred up.

The good news of Jesus does not tell us that these difficult things will go away but that we are not alone in facing them.  When we say we feel all alone, God’s response is “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Heb. 13:5).  When we say I am afraid, God’s response is “I have not given you a spirit of fear” (II Tim. 1:7).  So if God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear why is it that we have it?

In a daily meditation book called Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, we are reminded to keep our focus on Christ and his presence with us.  This helps us to be grateful for our many blessings even as we face great trials, and gratefulness blocks out fear.  Lent then can be a time to focus our lives on Christ, mindful of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Our Lenten resolutions can be ones that lead us to understand more deeply the good news of Jesus Christ and lead us to live in a spirit of gratitude.  We then can listen to what RESPONSE God is asking us to make in this time of uncertainty.  How are we being called to be neighbor to those around us who feel threatened?

We here at the monastery keep you all in our prayers, that you may know that you are loved by God, called by God and supported by God in this journey.  So then Easter will be celebrated with great joy and thanksgiving.  Peace and Easter blessings to all of you.    Sr. Eileen

 

CROCUS

Outside the front door to our residence hall, a phenomenon happens each year that stirs my spirit. It is the blooming of one particular crocus. It reminds me so much of what living in the mountains of eastern Kentucky is really about overcoming.

What makes it unique is that it is planted right next to the sidewalk of the residence hall beneath a large oak tree in compacted, rocky soil. These are the absolute worst conditions in which to grow a plant. Yet it has returned each of the eight years that I have lived in that building.

It is small. It blooms for maybe a week. It usually only puts out three or four white blooms and then disappears for another year.  And its appearance lightens my spirit.

This year the crocus came on February 10th and it has been more productive than usual, producing at least six blooms so far although it may be at the end of its season-just as we enter Lent.

The crocus reminds me that even when life is hard and conditions are rocky, I can still bloom. It reminds me that being a consistent presence may be exactly what someone else needs to get through a “rocky patch”. And it reminds me that even when something is no longer visible, it still lives.

I hope there is a crocus in your life. And that its short bloom leads you to the eternal God. Sr. Kathy C.

 

Where Am I Supposed to Be?

Discernment. Not a word you hear much, unless you live in a monastery that is. But in truth we do it every day.
Oatmeal or peanut butter toast for breakfast? Pull weeds or clean closets today? Scripture or the Rule for Lectio?

Those are everyday decisions you say, not discernment. Discernment is for “what does God want me to do with my life” things. We are to take everything to God. “Before you begin a good work, pray.” we are told in the Rule. Why is it that we think it is only the big things that we need to take to God? And if I don’t trust God with my breakfast choices, how can I believe I will listen and obey with life decisions-going to college, getting married, joining a religious order.

“But what I want for breakfast is personal preference”, the little voice in my head says. And making a lifelong commitment isn’t!?vows

I am rambling here because I have a friend who is in pain. A few years ago she discerned a life commitment, a call from God, and it doesn’t seem to be working out. And now she is questioning herself and wondering why God has led her down the wrong path. He must be testing her. What is she supposed to be learning from this experience? Discernment is a total in your head thing. For some of us, that is a dangerous place to be.

Our novice, Diantha, is scheduled to go through scrutiny on Mother’s Day. Scrutiny is when community members meet with the applicant and question her about her decision to join our community at a vowed member. It is a scary time. A time of questioning yourself, your call, yes even God. After my scrutiny, when the community agreed that I was ready to take the next step, I remember thinking, “well this is it. I know where I am supposed to be.” And now, four years later, at least once a week I ask myself what was God thinking bringing me to this mountain with these crazy women.

See even though I truly believe this is where God wants me to be, I question not God but my understanding of what I think I hear God saying to me. Which is why taking the small stuff to prayer can be as important as taking the big stuff. You create the habit of listening and trusting God in all the nooks and crannies of your life.

DSCF9465I am praying for my friend as she figures out what to do next. The great news is that she knows deep in her spirit that she is fully loved by God and she prays and listens. And God, well God has her in the palm of His hand.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11 “Let’s talk about it” God whispers between the lines.

 

Shadowboxes

This morning I started thinking about shadow boxes. You know, those picture frame type things that are really shelves so you can display three dimensional stuff. My eldest grandson has one in his room with his Lego® people in it. It was fun looking at the assembly of characters he thought was important enough to collect while I stayed in his room over the Christmas holidays.

lego men

But this morning when I thought of it I realized I do that with real people. I sort, display and admire those I deem special but others don’t even make it in the collection or even in the room for that matter.

Why is that? What is it about some people that makes me want to not only ignore them but to not have them around at all? Could it be that they remind me too much of something about myself or a loved one that is difficult to see?

There are some people that just set me off. I don’t want to be around them because they bring out such strong negative emotions in me. I have come to realize that those people, the ones with whom I struggle most, are actually my mirrors. If I am honest with myself, I see that God is showing me negativity in my own actions, reactions or speech that I am blind to.

I’m not very fond of these moments. First, I am embarrassed to be caught and then I am angry that I could even be considered that mean-spirited. Then finally I am humbled that God would love me so much and want me to be aware of the things that are separating me from a life of peace and joy.

So what about you? Shadow box or mirror?

 

PONDERING SPIRITUALITY

Today is a community retreat day. The theme is the Monastic Instinct of Helpfulness. As is my habit, I was sitting in my room reading, meditating and writing in my prayer journal. I write my prayers in the form of a letter to Abba. It is conversational and helps me see the relationship between God and me and also the relationships I have with others—people I pray for, my family, my community and the world.

My letter started out with my definition of helpfulness and then a list of what I think is “helping” and what I think is not. Reading my responses I felt ashamed of my thoughts and asked forgiveness for my “awkward spirituality.” That phrase has not let me go.

When I hear the word awkward, I think of teenagers and how their growth, both physically and emotionally, is often termed awkward. They lack the absolute faith of childhood and the lived experience of adulthood. They neither believe in Santa Claus nor “are” Santa Claus but are somewhere in between.

In my awkward stage of spirituality I lean from “God said it, I believe it, that’s the end of it!” to “Everything is filled with Sacred Presence.” Afraid that letting go of one to grab on to the other will void my contract with God and I will, dare I say it, “Burn in hell.” It seems I swing from absolute to relative and back again just trying to find a comfortable place to land.

And maybe that’s the problem. Maybe spirituality is supposed to be awkward. Maybe you aren’t supposed to get comfortable. Maybe God keeps turning the spit of my personal barbeque pit to keep me cooking but not burnt. Hmmm changed analogies there, but it fits.

The sun just came out so I think I will go take a walk and be spiritual outside for a while. It seems like I just gave myself permission to be awkward and to give myself a bit more time in which to grow. And I think I need a barbeque sandwich. I love retreat days.

Remember the Living

Today is the date on the calendar that will forever be noted as “9/11” rather than merely “September 11th.” This picture (snapped by a photographer on the scene on 9/11/2015) is the visual image that many of us hold in our hearts on this day. The dead manFr Mychal Judge being carried out in his chair by 5 other men is Father Mychal Judge, the Franciscan priest who served as chaplain for the New York Fire Department. He is #001 on the official death toll listing of all those who died in the terrorist attacks on that clear September day in 2001.

From all reports, Fr. Mychal was a fine man of deep integrity, and he risked – and lost – his life in the service of others.  As, of course, did many, many others. But because of this picture, Fr. Mychal has become kind of a cult hero, larger almost in death than he was in life. Perhaps it is our way of giving a face to the otherwise incomprehensible horror of the sudden vicious murder of almost 3,000 people.

No mistake about it, Fr. Mychal is a hero. But as we at the monastery gather today for Morning Praise – on this day of all days – it also seems important not just to be inspired by and to remember, as we usually do, the lives of those who are now dead. But instead to note, celebrate, and hold on to – as this picture shows so clearly – the lives of those who still live, whose names we don’t recognize, who are merely ordinary people who quietly go about being peacemakers wherever and whenever they happen to be. Those who step in when needed and lift up and carry those who, for whatever reason, are unable to do so for themselves.

Because I don’t recall ever hearing the names of the other five folks in this famous picture, I did some looking. I could only find the name of one of them. The man in the white police uniform is Bill Cosgrove, who was a lieutenant at the time with the New York Police Department. He never met Fr. Mychal; he just happened to be the one who found his body in the midst of all the chaos right before the tower collapsed. The other four men are merely identified as 2 firemen, 1 EMT, and 1 civilian bystander. What I did confirm is that all 5 survived the attacks. And they are heroes, too. As were many, many folks on that day whose names, and even faces, we will never know.

And so, on this day, let us remember not only Fr. Mychal Judge. Let us also remember and celebrate those anonymous folks who, apparently without a second thought, lifted him up and carried him when that was simply what was needed.

Peacemakers all.

The Fullness of Time

SAM_1755

The Dwelling Place Monastery is located on twenty-five acres of eastern Kentucky hillside. We live in the Appalachian rain forest surrounded by nature. And as so often happens, I forget the gift our home is to us. But not today.

Usually I do my reading and meditating in my room after breakfast but today I decided to spend that time on the back porch. The temperature and the humidity were both low and I realized that even though it is still August, summer is fading fast so I should take advantage of the day.

Looking out, I noticed the hills across the valley from us are not as green as they were even last week. Sap is returning to roots. Leaves are losing chlorophyll and turning, if not brown, less green. Soon they will turn red and yellow and fall to the ground.

SAM_1750

Then my eyes were captured by a falling leaf. The startling thing was this leaf was perfect–green, whole, not diseased or damaged. It just let loose from the twig and drifted to the ground.

“How strange that it would fall before it’s time”, I thought.

“Who said it wasn’t it’s time?” came the unbidden reply.

SAM_1735

To everything there is a season.  We think that a season is so many months or so many years but really seasons are as individual as snowflakes. Careers end, young people die, green leaves fall. Were they cut short? Or did they come to their fullness of time? I have no idea.

I know that I spend time regretting the past or fearing the future instead of being present to what is happening in the moment. But every once in a while I am captured by a falling leaf and find myself in the season of now, in the fullness of my time. And I am blessed.