Slaying Giants.

(an excerpt from the reading in 1 Samuel 17, on David & Goliath)

David said, “The Lord, who delivered me from the claws of the lion and the bear, will also keep me safe from the clutches of this Philistine.” Saul answered David, “Go! The Lord will be with you.”

Then, staff in hand, David selected five smooth stones from the wadi and put them in the pocket of his shepherd’s bag. With his sling also ready to hand, he approached the Philistine.

This week in the Old Testament readings, we encounter the familiar story of David versus Goliath – small boy meeting giant, beast of a man and slaying him with one stone to the forehead.

I remembered that, as a child, I had a series of “bible story records” that I could play on my record player (youngsters, ask your mom and dad what that was…) and my favorite record was the story of David and Goliath. Battle! Victory! The little guy wins! Without armor!

This time, however, my attention in the readings could not get past the word “wadi” in the preamble to the great slaying on the battlefield. So I let the Holy Spirit speak to me there. It turns out that a wadi is a dry river bed, that fills up with heavy rains, during the rainy season, but otherwise is dry, dry, dry…

Imagine that. David selects five smooth stones from the wadi. No doubt those stones are smooth, because – during the heavy rainstorms – they were tumbled over and over and over again against the rough grains of sand, settling down to sit on the bottom of that stream bed for maybe a year, maybe longer. Not polished nor perfected, but still harsh to the touch. It might take years to make that rough stone smooth enough for a small shepherd boy to find as he sifted and sorted through the sand, looking for “just the right one” to place in a sling to face a giant.

Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the big headlines – the battle and the victory and the hallelujah of good over evil, and forget that, at the heart of it all, it often begins with just one small, smooth stone. Rumbled and tumbled about by nature, left to bake in the hot sun and then be quenched by the cool rain in a deep, dark valley that seldom sees light – day after day, year after year. Sometimes, it takes time for the weapons of God to be made ready to be plucked up and tucked into the shepherd’s bag. It’s easy to overlook the tools and seek the triumph, without being sure of the path to get to where we want to go.

As a carpenter, no one knew how to ply the tools of his trade better than Jesus. Taught by his earthly father this wonderful wood-working vocation, what it must have been like to be the recipient of one of his hand-crafted tables, or a small stool, or maybe even a tiny altar, meant for a family to bend down in worship by candlelight at the end of a long day of persecution, with little to eat or drink, and feeling rather…dry.

Even the dry river bed has its time and purpose, when God has a plan.

And He always has a plan.

Never overestimate the power of picking up just one small, smooth stone when your prayer is dry and you’re wondering about your mission in life. You could be called tomorrow to pick up that stone and slay giants, my friend! As we heard in the earlier readings this week, Samuel was prepared to anoint any of the older sons of Jesse – and surprised God had picked instead this one, small smooth stone among many – the young, ruddy and handsome shepherd left standing out in the field, tending his sheep. The one with a heart of a Shepherd. Able to slay giants through faith and belief in God, not man.

“Not as man sees does God see, because he sees the appearance, but the Lord looks into the heart.”

Have a wonderful weekend, friends. The Lord will be with you.

#12WickerBaskets

Give us a king.

All the elders of Israel came in a body to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Now that you are old, and your sons do not follow your example, appoint a king over us, as other nations have, to judge us.”

Samuel was displeased when they asked for a king to judge them. He prayed to the Lord, however, who said in answer: “Grant the people’s every request. It is not you they reject, they are rejecting me as their king.” – reading from the first book of Samuel 8:4-7

In today’s reading, we have a curious situation. The people – evidently unclear on their future as Samuel is growing older without ‘acceptable’ family to follow in his footsteps – have decided to take their future into their own hands. Looking around, they can only see the benefits of having a king appointed to rule over them, not the drawbacks and sacrifices that are involved. When Samuel relays to the people all of things that are part of bowing down to an earthly king – surrendered possession of goods, crops, servants and most likely, enslavement and lack of choice or freedom – they refuse to listen, with a defense of their request falling primarily upon their goal of having a king who will be the mighty warrior in battle who they “must” have in order to win.

There are so many fruitful takeaways in this short reading (I encourage you to read it in its entirety to get the entire flow of the conversation between Samuel and the people, sandwiched between his conversation at the beginning and end with God about their request.)

Most noticeably, the people are demanding, not asking. What a contrast this is to the Gospel reading we had yesterday (Mark 1:40-45) when the leper approaches Jesus and asks to be cleansed of his disease. More than just requesting this miracle, we are told in Mark that the leper kneels down and begs, with the simple words, “If you wish, you can make me clean.” In today’s reading in Samuel, there seems to be a great lack of faith in God’s provision for their future; they are caught up in anxiety and worried that Samuel will die, and they will be left without a leader. Instead of asking Samuel to advise them, they look around at what others are doing, determine they need to model that leadership behavior, and attempt to solve the issue in their own way.

To complicate things, even after Samuel shows his displeasure (no doubt they noticed that in their exchange with him), they take no regard of his response. It’s as if they’ve now been blinded to see anything except the contrived outcome that they have in mind for a new leadership model. And then, despite his warnings of what will likely happen once there is a king, chock full of examples from real life kingdom facts that they should recognize if they look objectively at their request – they still resist and clamor for a king to be appointed.

And finally, we have the ultimate fail – they reject God as their king, and would rather settle for the earthly type with a crown and an army of soldiers. Intent upon the battle, they have lost sight of everything else.

So many powerful reminders for us today in this reading, as we sit here in this earthly kingdom where we are merely pilgrims passing through for a very short time. This is not our home, and, while we are asked to be obedient to its realm of earthly, human leadership, we answer to only one Heavenly King. And, we are reminded that we need only ASK for our Heavenly King to help us reach our fullest potential – and to trust that He will provide tomorrow, and the days and weeks and years beyond that. Trying to take matters into our own hands and be self-sufficient might seem to work in the short-term, but, it’s not always where the Lord wants to lead us.

Despite all of that, however – our desire to strike out on our own and do what we think is best, or what serves our self-interest at that moment, or, the seemingly endless demands we place before God in prayer when it would be better to simply ask (and wait) – despite all of that, God is always in control, and will bring about His plan. Samuel annoints Saul, and then eventually, of course, Saul’s rulership falls into disarray and disobedience to God – and David is appointed as king, setting up the ancestral line that will bring us to the incarnation and the birth of a small, helpless infant in a manger – Jesus Christ. God has an amazing, surprising way of bringing about His plan, no matter what we might do with all of our human grumblings, misdirected efforts and self-centered attempts to fashion our own kingdoms here on earth.

Kings fail. Kingdoms fall. God remains.

Have a blessed weekend, everyone.

#12WickerBaskets

NEW for ’22: “12 Wicker Baskets” launches today

Happy New Year! Today’s Gospel reading in Mark was the answer to several months of prayer about “where” the good Lord wanted me to go with this blog in 2022. I had some initial thoughts last Fall, but with the recent move to Kansas City, family priorities, and then the holidays – it was only in the last couple of days through some dedicated down time in scripture and meditation that I was finally able to discern next steps. My answer was solidified when I read today’s verses on the feeding of the 5,000 (Mark 6:34-44) and I am sharing the portion of that reading that stood out to me in my reflection below (also posted to my Instagram account today):

“Then, taking the five loaves and two fishes, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves and gave them to his disciples…And they picked up twelve wicker baskets full of fragments…”

Today’s Gospel reading in Mark and the feeding of the five thousand is a familiar one. Like many of you, I’ve been caught up in past readings being focused on the miracle of the multiplication of fishes and loaves.

But this morning, resting with our gracious and loving Lord in this passage, my thoughts were drawn repeatedly to the final line of the verse, about the collection of the leftover fragments into twelve wicker baskets. Although the people ate and were satisfied there on that green grassy field, surrounded by farms and villages, there was still care and attention to let no small portion of this miraculous bounty go to waste. The remnants were carefully collected in wicker baskets – and we are never told of the journey of those basket after the teaching ends.

Did some of the baskets find their way back to a nearby village – perhaps as a neighborly offering to a family in need? Did the disciples carry away a basket on one of their boats as they departed, to provide sustenance for their journey? We’ll never know.

But in reflecting upon the fate of those wicker baskets – I realized that every spiritual “food” our Lord provides deserves to be carefully collected and stored. So often, I have read something – or observed the working of the Holy Spirit in my life – yet, I don’t capture it and savor it later. I don’t tuck it away. I don’t share it with others. What a…waste.

And so, inspired by this prompting of the Holy Spirit, I’ve resolved in 2022 to turn that around. To fill those empty baskets. I’ve opened a new page here on my website titled “12 Wicker Baskets” and my goal each month is to offer short posts on the spiritual “food” I am receiving.

If you’re motivated to drop some of your own musings in 2022 into a spiritual basket, please do so! On Instagram, tag me at #12WickerBaskets or just drop a line in the Comments box on each post.

May God bountifully provide for us all in 2022!

Greater Things

“How do you know me?”

I know it’s been a few months, friends. Sorry.

It’s been a few months like no other.

God has twisted me up and turned me inside out and upside down.

He continues to tell me, among the chaos, that He is doing great things.

Trust Him.

Believe.

He has showered upon me in the last few months more graces than I deserve.

All in preparation for today.

God has been wrestling with me nothing short of the story of Jacob to convince me I need a rock for a pillow and resting on the sole fact that He is sending me where I need to go.

My bags are packed. Ready to go.

I have a lot of emotion around this post. Might take me a bit to post again.

Stay tuned.

Greater things are coming.

Prepared.

One of the Twelve, who was called Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?” They paid him thirty pieces of silver, and from that time on he looked for an opportunity to hand him over.

On the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the disciples approached Jesus and said, “Where do you want us to prepare for you to eat the Passover?” He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and tell him, ‘The teacher says, “My appointed time draws near; in your house I shall celebrate the Passover with my disciples.”‘” The disciples then did as Jesus had ordered and prepared the Passover. — Matthew 26:14-19

Part 8 in an on-going series, “Made Known.”

In today’s Gospel reading in Matthew, we have two very distinct activities taking place, right up against the final days of our Lord’s life on this earth, and not long after palm branches have been waved and coats thrown down in the streets upon his entry into Jerusalem. In my Didache bible, the two events are even broken apart in Matthew. The first passage above is titled “Judas agrees to betray Jesus” and the second, “The Passover with the disciples.”

I found myself caught up in the juxtaposition between the two as I meditated on today’s Gospel, perhaps because as we approach Triduum – Holy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday (the Easter Vigil is my favorite Mass of the year) – it’s easy to skip right over Palm Sunday and enter into the final discourse that takes place at the Last Supper. What struck me this morning was that within a few scant scripture verses we are given by Matthew, two questions are posed, and they are very different questions with very different answers and outcomes.

“What are you willing to give me if I hand him over to you?”

In this first passage, Judas is taking the action, ahead of the final supper with a man he has claimed to follow and who calls him “friend” purely on selfish motives, most likely built on disillusionment and in anger that Jesus was not the king that he had hoped he would be. We know from John’s gospel that Judas was often the one “taking from the money bag” which paints a picture of one who is greedy. His own question to the the chief priests aligns with that picture, but the words in Matthew’s text have underlying tones of greed that might be missed; Judas is groping for and self-seeking satisfaction in something that it appears he can’t even define. He doesn’t name a price to turn over information about the whereabouts of Christ – but rather asks, “What are you willing to give me…” He wants the money up front, and from that point on looks to conspire to find a time and place that he can trap Jesus in the Garden of Agony. If we read on in Matthew (and cross reference the other gospel readings) we know that it is only after the dipping of the morsel of bread and offering it to Judas at the Last Supper that Satan enters into Judas and he rushes off into the night to complete the terrible deed he agreed to do for a mere thirty pieces of silver.

In a position to bargain with the chief priests, Judas does not name a price, but is willing to settle for whatever they toss his way. What if they were only willing to offer ten pieces of silver, I wonder? Would Judas have taken the money bag with fewer coins? It brought to mind the scene in Genesis 18 with Abraham before the Lord, stating his case for God to spare Sodom, if there were but “only ten” righteous citizens to be found. And God turned his wrath of destruction from Sodom because of Abraham’s plea. Would Judas have turned away for less money? I don’t think so. I think Judas seemed to be intent on being “somebody” in some great scheme of overturning all that Christ had brought to bear up until this point. Greed manifests itself in many ways. Money might have often been an excuse for motivation for Judas, but I don’t think he would have turned away and taken a different path. Judas was prepared to carry out his task, in spite of the cost. In today’s terms, I would put it along the same lines as pre-meditated murder. He had a plan, he entered into a “contract” for that plan (with compensation, in this case, and probably a lot of hatred in his heart for where things had ended up) and he executed the plan. It’s chilling to think a man such as Judas who walked beside Christ, observed miracle after miracle, heard him preach about repentance and the kingdom of heaven, and was in the end, given every final chance to turn back – didn’t.

“What are you willing to give me…”

Sometimes, though, in thinking about that question, I find my prayers to God wandering down a similar path. It’s easy, first of all, to turn to God most often when I need or want something, and begin to barter with Him to provide. Given a set of circumstance I can’t control, or, being in a situation that is new, or uncomfortable, tends to put me in the frame of mind to ask, but expect He will only give, if He is willing and only then, if I return some favor or perform some act. In the frailty of my humanly creature-li-ness, even after so many years of God lavishing love and many blessings upon my life, when I am feeling inadequate and without resources to provide for myself, I fall into this trap most often (and most quickly). It’s something I am continuing to work on, and the words of Judas to the chief priests in today’s scripture were a painful reminder that God gives because He loves us and He wants to give His children good things – when and where and how we need it most.

Judas was prepared to do whatever it took, whatever “opportunity” came his way to hand Christ over, and no doubt he was anxious about it, hoping to cast it off and be done with it as soon as possible so that he could stand back and wash his hands of the entire affair. It’s not that way with God. He waits patiently for us to come to Him, and is delighted when we ask.

“Where do you want for us to prepare to eat the Passover?”

In contrast, the disciples are on a different path, with Jesus, and they are seeking to find a place for the Passover meal. Their question to Christ is one of reverence, deference and preference for His will to be done. If Jesus wants to send them to “a certain man” in the city whom they may not know (is he friendly? should we fear that he might call the authorities and tell them where we are eating Passover?) then they are willing to go. They might scatter later in the night like lost sheep, but at this point, they are living in the moment. It’s Passover, we need to find a place and prepare the meal. We need to eat. We want to be with Christ. To recline at table with him. To wait in expectation for what He might say or do next. Let tomorrow be what it will be.

Imagine now, if you would, Judas rejoining the disciples as they enter into the home of this certain man, knowing where he has been, and what he has done. Maybe the thirty pieces of silver are already weighing heavily in his pocket. Maybe his mind is racing with the “what if” of how and when he will carry out the deed that he is about to do. Is Judas trying to act nonchalant with the others? Laughing a bit too loudly at someone’s offhand comment because he fears they already know he has betrayed their trust by stealing in the past? Is he concerned about Christ looking him in the eye and peering deep into his soul, and knowing that the Son of God can already see exactly what is there?

All around Judas, the disciples are preparing the meal. They anticipate good food, wine, rest, music, prayer.

Judas is preparing to betray Jesus.

A day that begins with two very different questions ends that night with very different responses.

And yet, in the end, Jesus simply hands the dipped morsel to Judas and tells him to go and do what he is about to do, and do it quickly. No other words said at that point to any of the other disciples. It’s between Jesus and Judas.

The next time Judas sees Jesus, it will be to deliver the kiss of betrayal – the final touch of someone that Jesus knew, took to his side as a friend and disciple, prayed beside, walked the sea shores, and broke bread.

Every time I think about that, it breaks my heart. A kiss became the domino that fell, the thread that began to unravel, the events that began to occur.

The only one prepared for that final human brush of lips against his cheek – that kiss – will be Jesus.

As we enter into Triduum tomorrow, may we recall as we meditate on the Passion of Christ all of those times when we have felt so ill-prepared to face what lies ahead of us, especially in this past year of pandemic, calamity, riots and uncertainty. Christ knows exactly what path He is being called to take in the next three days. He is prepared to walk that road to Calvary for us, to suffer, be ridiculed, spat upon, scourged. To carry that cross to the end, be crucified amid the cries of an angry mob…and die out of love for us.

May I be blessed – and prepared – to do the same for Him one day.

Recalculating.

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at what was said, and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. – Luke 1:26-29

Looking upon grace as an expression of divine charity, we can redefine the providence of God as the constant, solicitous care he has in directing every moment and every detail of our lives to that final goal of union with himself in beatitude. Instead of considering grace as a sporadic assistance or even a static possession, we thus see it as a perpetual outpouring of divine benevolence, channeled through creatures and a dynamic power that God intends to have grow and mature under his providential hand.

Above all, if we identify grace with divine love, we place it in the stream of daily life, where it really belongs. In the last analysis, grace is an invitation; it is not coercive. Actual grace can be resisted, and habitual grace can be lost. They require a loving response on our part to become effective in one case and remain alive in the other. Cooperation with grace, therefore, is our answer to the prior love of God – “The Catholic Catechism” by John A. Hardon, S.J.

(Part 7 in an on-going series “Made Known”)

I’m the kind of person that likes to get right to the point in a conversation. A meeting without an agenda, stated purpose, desired outcome and (my favorite) action items, with assignments, can easily leave me frustrated within a matter of minutes. Friends and co-workers would tell you that I am highly organized and efficient. I get things done.

With that said, therefore, I must admit that, until recently the above (well-known) reading in Luke always left me feeling a bit like, “why does it take three entire verses to get to beginning of the Incarnation? We all know this story read so many, many times at Christmas. Let’s get straight to the end game, okay?”

And so, when I started my morning Tuesday with my scripture readings for the day (Luke’s verse was the focus of the Immaculate Conception feast day, celebrated in Catholic churches at Masses held world-wide despite a locked-down COVID world on Dec. 8), it was easy at first to gloss over those opening lines, as I have done in years past. I was eager to get to Mass where I was the 6:30 a.m. cantor, get home, and get on with the dozens of things demanding my attention at this busy, hectic time of year. Things that seemed important but yet were certainly lacking a certain amount of (ahem) grace in their execution, value or time spent.

Fortuitously, or perhaps I should better say, thanks to the Holy Spirit, on this past Tuesday, when I arrived at my computer screen after Mass ended, to start checking work emails and returning phone calls, my PC was giving me a persistent pop-up message:

“Your Dropbox is full.”

I could launch into an entire side blog post about Dropbox, cloud-based storage, tech demons that have plagued my computer lately, and my general on-going love/hate affair with all-things-Internet, but that’s not really where I want to go with this particular post. The point is, on a particular day when I was feeling like Luke could have revealed the foretelling of the birth of the Christ-child in a more straight-forward manner, without all the setting up the scene, time and place, the Holy Spirit brought me up short with a very simple warning, courtesy of the PC that has become a permanent glowing fixture in my once-sacred space in my little home office pre-teleworking-from-home-during-COVID-since-March:

“Your Dropbox is full.”

It was not lost upon me (because I pay attention to these signs and words now, like a tuning fork ready to be struck upon a rock, thank you Jesus) that the word “full” was coming at me in a brightly-banded blue box on the same day that I had just found myself more distracted with earthly things than giving honor to the one who was “full” of grace and destined to give birth to the Word, made flesh. The young girl visited by an angel, who would become the Mother of God (and who, by the way, looks spectacular in blue…)

Holy Spirit, you are the clever one, aren’t you? You find ways to talk to me that span time and space and eternity, because, well, that’s what you do, and you’re very, very good at it.

Yes indeed, my dropbox was a bit too full heading into the second week of Advent, and lacking a whole lotta grace. Instead of a Dropbox, I had a dropped box, and I was too busy peering about my feet with concern for what I was dropping on the floor when I should have been more like Mary, looking up into the face of an angelic vision, pondering this wonderfully mysterious message that had just been made known to her, and only her.

What must she have been thinking, when Gabriel left her alone in that tiny little stone cave. When the light that had filled the room and lifted her heart to God ebbed and faded away, and she realized it was true. And that any plan she had formed up until that very moment, was now re-formed into a new, and very different plan. Or, did she instead always “know” from the moment of her conception, that God had something very special in mind for her, and even if she didn’t know what it was, she knew He would reveal it when it was time for it to be made manifest. To be made known.

I thought about all of that, looking at that pop up box on my computer, and I was overwhelmed with the magnitude – the Magnificat – of that moment.

Instead of turning to my PC to clear that message, I took some time that morning to turn my heart instead back to God, and asked Him to help me see the error of my ways, and how to carve out the proper disposition and path forward to take me through a rich and meaningful Advent. How to drop that box and instead kneel beside a manger, gazing in wonder at the Christ child instead of worrying about what is, or isn’t, getting crossed off my To Do list.

It’s not easy. I’m not perfect. But I’m trying, and giving God my best. Trusting Him to say, go here, turn there, walk this way, go straight when you would turn to the right, or to the left.

In these high-tech days of GPS and Google Maps and cars that (practically) drive themselves, I think we’ve come to rely far too much on being on auto-cruise-control without having to think too long and hard about where we’re going. With my iPhone hooked into my car stereo and the “thump thump” haptic of my iWatch on my wrist reminding me to turn here, take this exit, don’t get in the left lane when you need to stay in the right lane or you’re going to be in big trouble in a minute…

Well, it’s easy to forget that, even if you get lost, Siri is going to calmly come back on the speaker and, without condemnation, tell you that she is “Recalculating” to find you a new, alternative route to get you to your desired destination. Sometimes, you can take a side street, or turn left at the next stop sign, or get off at the next exit. Sometimes, you simply have to turn around and retrace your steps.

Grace does that for us, too, if we will choose to cooperate with God’s plan for our life, and let Him provide the navigation.

If your Advent seems a bit off course, if your life seems to be journeying further away from God instead of drawing closer, if you’re anxious to just drop that box you’ve been clutching to your chest for far too long because you thought it might contain something you really “needed” along the way…I hope this post gives you the courage and inspiration to retrace your steps and begin again. His mercies are new every morning, and He is waiting for you in the stillness and awe that precedes every dawn.

O come, O come, Emmanuel.

Resumed.

But when he, who from my mother’s womb, had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were Apostles before me, rather, I went into Arabia and then returned to Damascus. – St. Paul in his Letter to the Galatians, Chapter One.

It is necessary to be disengaged from all we feel and do in order to walk with God in the duty of the present moment. All other avenues are closed. We must confine ourselves to the present moment without taking thought for the one before or the one to come…These stirrings of grace must be followed without relying for a single moment on our own judgment, reason or effort. It is God who must decide what we shall do and when, and not ourselves. When we walk with God, his will directs us and must replace every other guidance. – “The Sacrament of the Present Moment” by Jean-Pierre de Caussade

(Part 6 in an ongoing series, “Made Known”)

Everything about the story of the conversion of St. Paul speaks to my heart. I love his sort of “get in your face and preach it” style of writing. But this particular passage in Galatians has often left me wondering, “why not go first to where the Apostles were?” Newly converted, scales falling from his eyes – instead of running off to seek an audience with Peter, Paul is a zealot in preaching Christ in every city square. Enthusiasm abounds, and his journeys often seem to take him where does not think – or wish – to go. But yet, he goes.

Part of me, the sensible, reasonable and well-planned, orderly type of gal, thinks Paul should have first conferred with the Apostles. To find out more about this man who has only recently called him. Who is this Jesus? What did he say to you when he walked with you? Were you with him when he died on the cross? What was it like to feel the Holy Spirit descend upon you at Pentecost? Tell me all about it. I need data, folks. I need some input.

But the other part of me, maybe the zealot wanna-be that I secretly harbor in my heart, is enchanted with the thought that St. Paul had no need – in the presence of that particular moment – of wearying travel on dusty roads to Jerusalem and days spent with Peter, James and John in the days following his conversion – because in his heart, he already heard what he needed to hear. He saw the Lord, and he had his own, individual encounter with Jesus. When I ponder that, in the days that followed his blindness on the road to Damascus, before Ananias comes to him (a bit reluctantly, can I just say…), I have to wonder what Saul “saw” and felt. What God revealed to him in those silent days of not-seeing, not-understanding, not-knowing what would come next. Did he fear judgment? trial? stoning to death? condemnation?

Mercy must have been such a surprise for someone with a hardened heart, like Saul, in the presence of that moment.

Unable to see, relying on the goodness of others to help him on that road to Damascus, to stand him up on his feet, to transport him in his confused and perhaps despairing state to a safe place, to provide solace and comfort, to wait with him in his blindness. To wait, while he waited for the next time God might speak. To wait with him, and wonder why God had chosen him, of all people.

All other avenues are closed.

To sit and wait on God is very hard, I know.

But when he, who from my mother’s womb, had set me apart and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him to the Gentiles

That’s the sentence that leaped off of the page to me in this week’s reading of this familiar story in the life of St. Paul. It fills me with Hope. The man who was brought to his knees and blinded on the road to Damascus has been given an abundance of grace to suddenly know Christ, to have him revealed as the scales fall from his eyes, with a new mission and a new path forward: to proclaim him to the Gentiles. And St. Paul knows he was made for this, set apart while still in his mother’s womb. He knows, without the need to test his facts and question his faith and spend days with the Apostles, wondering if he heard it just right. Without concern about whether he got the message just right, whether his plans are perfect or full of flaws and pitfalls and unknowns. Indeed, to wonder whether or not he has a plan, or money, or any idea where God might take him – and yet Paul goes where God sends him.

Oh, how I wish I was more like St. Paul. It’s hard, isn’t it? To have well-laid plans, and things-you-must-do on a well-defined list, with costs calculated in a spreadsheet. And then God comes along, and interrupts those plan, and sends you on a different path. And you wonder if you should stay, or go.

What if Christ wouldn’t have intervened that day on the road to Damascus, with Saul? How many more Christians would Saul have persecuted? Who would have died at the hand of Saul? How would biblical history have been changed for us?

What if Saul would have said when he stood up, supported by friends in his new, blinded state, and instead proclaimed, “No. No, I will not serve.”

We know how that one ends.

Conversion is a powerful starting point, friends, but it is the beginning of your relationship with God, not the end. You can’t stand up, blinded, in the middle of the road, and feel your way by clutching dirt in your fist and hoping to find the finish line on your own. You need friends to support you, you need time to sit in silence before the Lord, and you need a whole lotta zealot in your heart to step out and step forward. Stay in the present moment. Worry less about where you think you should go, and more about where God wants to send you.

I’m right there with you.

Reclaimed.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” – Hebrews 11:1

“Only a person who has faith is able to be grateful for everything…therefore, even a fall, which is a great misfortune and at the same time hurts Jesus, can be an opportunity within which is hidden some kind of talent given to you from which you can profit…(Jesus) is never sad when looking at your life that may be filled with failures, problems, conflicts, unfulfilled plans, everyday difficulties, and spiritual difficulties. He is joyful because he expects all those things to bear fruit.” – Fr. Tadeusz Dajczer

(Part 5 in a series, “Made Known”)

About a week ago, I posted a commentary full of woe, woe and woe (in biblical literature, stating anything three times was meant to give the writing great meaning, and I think at the time, I wanted to lament where my head and heart were headed with “great meaning” because I went on and on about it. Sorry.)

I am sure those reading/following this blog were probably saying, “well, that doesn’t really sound like a gal who claims to be a spark in the stubble.”

No, indeed it is not. I would go so far as to say that last week’s post was an attempt to douse any spark and make sure that it stayed buried in the cold, untilled, not-bearing-fruit, destined to be cut down in a year fig tree kind of way. While I claimed it was not about me, it was in fact, all about me. Oh vanity of vanities.

Oh ye of little faith.

My training as a Spiritual Director has taught me that most people have one struggle with the theological virtues (Faith, Hope, Love), and one struggle with the main cardinal virtues (Justice, Fortitude, Prudence, Temperance).

I struggle with Faith, friends. And I hate putting that into writing, but it’s true.

One of the things I wrote in a bit of a “mission statement” almost 14 years ago when I started keeping a journal, long before I thought about being Sparks through Stubble, was this:

“If you don’t write it down, did it really happen? Is it really true? How would you know?”

In 14 years, I have “trained” myself to test everything by that statement. In good faith, I have written it down, looked it up, cast it against Church teaching and Holy Scripture. I have prayed upon it, looked for God to confirm it, and asked Him:

“Is this true?”

And waited for an answer. In the past, it came easily. Now, the deeper I delve into my relationship with God, the more I question, the more I doubt myself and seek God – well, sometimes it’s just an echo, cast out into a vast canyon, and I don’t get an answer right away. The questions are getting harder. The answer is elusive. Now, the journey is increasingly less about me, and more about Him – and about ME bearing fruit. Gathering the harvest, you might say. The more you turn away from Self and toward God, the answers aren’t so neat and tidy, and clear cut, and they are definitely not self-absorbed and answering what you might think about yourself.

Because when we dwell upon ourselves, friends, that’s not where our focus is meant to be.

I was struggling to think about how to “fix” what I wrote a week ago. I told God I was sorry for being all about me, and not Him. I went back to the Church sacraments – reconciliation, mass, adoration – and I asked Him to remind me where I’ve been, and show me where He wants me to go.

He asked me to go looking for a prayer in particular (I log a lot of prayers as I read them) and instead of finding that one prayer I thought I was looking for, I stumbled across that gem I had cut and pasted into my prayer journal from Fr. Dajczer instead. The one I shared in this post. It took my breath away to read it again.

“Only a person who has faith is able to be grateful for everything…therefore, even a fall, which is a great misfortune and at the same time hurts Jesus, can be an opportunity within which is hidden some kind of talent given to you from which you can profit…(Jesus) is never sad when looking at your life that may be filled with failures, problems, conflicts, unfulfilled plans, everyday difficulties, and spiritual difficulties. He is joyful because he expects all those things to bear fruit.”

God, you challenge me to have faith. You are so good, to give me what I need, when I need it. Open my ears to hear, my eyes to see. Everything is yours, Lord. You are unfolding my destiny with you, in you, in your own time, and of your own choosing.

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.

So, today is a new day. I may be a spark, yes, but, instead, I will be the slow burn in the chaff and the weeds when you say you have come to kindle and spread fire upon the earth, and oh, how you wish it was already on fire.

Send forth your fire, and renew the earth, Lord.

Thank you, thank you, thank you…

for reclaiming me as your own. Calling me back to the fold.

All is for thee.

Manifest.

“Beloved: Bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God. He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design and the grace bestowed on us in Christ Jesus before time began, but now made manifest through the appearance of our savior Christ Jesus, who destroyed death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” – 2 Tim 1:8-10

“The Lord manifests Himself to those who stop for some time in peace and humility of heart. If you look in murky and turbulent waters, you cannot see the reflection of your face. If you want to see the face of Christ, stop and collect your thoughts in silence, and close the door of your soul to the noise of external things.” – St. Anthony of Padua

(Part 4 in a series, “Made Known”)

These last two weeks I keep tripping across the word manifest in readings and scripture. It seems to be popping up everywhere. That’s usually a clear nudge of the Holy Spirit that he wants me to spend some time with that word and ponder it a bit.

At the beginning of 2020, when I was contemplating this series and brainstorming a list of words that I thought would guide my reflections, manifest was one of those words at the top of the list. At the time, I thought to myself, well, maybe there’s a practical reason for that. My husband is a private pilot, and a manifest is a listing of the cargo on board an aircraft (or another vessel, like a boat). When filing a flight plan, I sometimes hear my hubby asked by Flight Planning, “how many souls on board?” – that always gives me goosebumps! It’s such a vivid reminder that we may be made of flesh and bones, but as we travel through this world on our earthly journey, we are bearing souls of great importance, cargo that is precious in the eyes of the Lord.

That’s good, I thought. There, see, Holy Spirit. We’re done.

But no, the word kept recurring over and over again,  so I started looking deeper.

As an adjective, manifest means “clear or obvious to the mind,” or, as another dictionary entry noted, “something theoretical made real” if used in a spiritual sense.

Those are good descriptions of the word, and the Word, too. And suddenly, in meditating on those meanings, this verse came to me:

“Have this mind among yourselves, which was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped…” (Phil 2:5-6)

There’s not much in this verse that is clear or obvious to me when I think about “things to be grasped.” I’ve spent time off and on pondering that verse in the last two years and never had any revelation. Is it that Christ empties himself because he knows that man cannot comprehend the idea of the Incarnation, that He might desire to be born and walk beside them for awhile as their brother? Or is it that sort of desperate grab that we are sometimes all guilty of, when we see something good slipping through our fingers, beyond our reach, and can’t quite comprehend why it’s eluding us? When we turn and say to God, “I want that – why won’t you give it to me?”

So much of the life of Christ is hidden. We know of his public ministry, we get a glimpse of the last three years of his life, yes. But we don’t know much about his childhood or young adult life. Even at the Resurrection, we have an incredulous Mary Magdalene at the tomb who mistakes him for the gardener, a doubting Thomas who is determined not to believe unless he places his hand in the wound of His side, and two men traveling on the road to Emmaus who can’t seem to recognize it’s Jesus until they sit down for the breaking of bread at the evening meal. All flesh and bones, like me. All fumbling around a bit when things seem to be dark and unresolved. All unable to grasp that Christ had emptied himself out as a babe in a manger, so that he could grow and experience our humanity beside us. Walking, talking, praying, eating a meal together.

So I prayed with that last week, asking the Lord to show himself to me – to be made manifest and reveal what that pesky word meant for me at this point in my life. Asking why he seemed to be so hidden these days. No response to that question.

I tried again with a different tactic:

“I’m writing a series about You,” I told Him in prayer this week, almost with an edge of indignant righteousness, “I’m eager to have your name Made Known. Help me out here.”

Flattering the Lord gets you nowhere, I discovered. He doesn’t really need my flattery. I imagine if ever the Lord could do an eye-roll, that little tirade got one.

That brought me back around to the last definition this weekend and “something theoretical, made real” as I sat in Mass today, for the first time in over two months – face covering donned, hair pinned back (to hide the gray that’s been seeping in, absent a trip to the salon during COVID-19) and found myself grumbling, “I am frustrated, Lord. I want my old ways and old life, back. Lord, why won’t you give that to me…?” Although I was grateful to be there in Mass, I was struggling to reconcile “what was” with “what is” – at least for now.

I was…grasping. And I knew it. He wasn’t the one who had gone into hiding.

And then, at the very end of the services, after the final blessing, after being told by the Deacon to go forth and proclaim the Gospel, we were allowed one by one to walk down to the front of the church to receive the holy Eucharist, and then asked to turn and walk out of the church.

And I totally understood that last definition of manifest as I approached the altar. My heart started pounding and my feet were moving faster than I wanted them to go in my anticipation. After weeks of being deprived of this precious gift, to receive it today – no longer did the circumstances and setting matter. No sight for the bungee-corded off, socially distanced pews with hymnals removed and eyes-only faces peering out of bandanas and masks from the congregation; I only had eyes for Him. No more cares for the sad Sundays of on-line Mass being said on You Tube in front of my T.V. set; Christ was right here in front of me, and suddenly, He was VERY REAL. Arms open wide, speaking nothing but love straight into my heart:

“No more hiding,” He said to me, “I’m giving myself to you, and that’s all you really need.”

I wept as I received, and then turned and walked away down that aisle. That overwhelming sensation of His words and sincere offering began to slowly ebb away. I had to remind myself to breathe for a minute or two.  But I was fortified and fed. Ready to bear my share of hardship for the Gospel. Not afraid to travel back into unknown, uncertain, faith-is-not-what-is-seen-but-what-is-unseen moments once I stepped outside those church doors again.

Thanks be to God. He always shows up.

No longer thrashing about in those murky turbulent waters looking in vain for my own reflection, I could see Christ clearly today. I hope, if you’ve been grasping to find him in your own little corner of the world, you’ll look past this time of COVID-19 turbulent waters and see him, too. Turn off the news. Find solitude. Make way for him to manifest himself deep down to the very core of your soul. Pray.

He’ll come and find you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visible.

“Jesus moved about within Galilee; he did not wish to travel to Judea, because the Jews were trying to kill him. But the Jewish feast of Tabernacles was near.

But when his brothers had gone up to the feast, he himself also went up, not openly but as it were in secret. Some of the inhabitants of Jerusalem said, ‘Is he not the one they are trying to kill? And look, he is speaking openly and they say nothing to him. Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ? But we know where he is from. When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from.’

So Jesus cried out in the temple area as he was teaching and said, ‘You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me.’ So they tried to arrest him, but no one laid a hand on him, because his hour had not yet come.”

                                                                                                                  John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30

(Part 3 in a series, “Made Known”)

I’ve been carrying that excerpt from John around in my head and my heart for these last two weeks of Lent, and I’m not sure why.

Maybe it is because I am struck by John’s description of Jesus, moving stealthily to Jerusalem in secret, and then accused by the inhabitants of “speaking openly” once he arrives. Such resolve.

Maybe it’s his crying out in the temple as he hears the murmuring and muttering around him that stirs my heart. Such zeal.

Maybe I sense the urgency behind his message as he tries to convince the unbelieving that he is the Christ, the one they’ve been waiting for. A message that falls on deaf ears and hardened hearts. Such compassion.

Maybe, it’s all of these things that attract me to this passage, yet give me pause to stop and consider who Christ is in my life. Visible or invisible?

Sometimes, things are not what they seem. Not what we expected. Not what we were looking for.

To borrow a quote from one of my favorite books in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy:

            “All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost…”

Certainly to those in the temple, Jesus was glitter-less and crown-less. He didn’t measure up to their idea of a king rushing in to save the day. In fact, earlier in John’s gospel, Nathaneal tells Philip, who proclaims to him that the disciples have found the Messiah, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46). And Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would have a comely, not kingly, appearance (Is 53:2).

One who appeared at first to be rather ordinary, in the short span of three years in public ministry,  turns out to be suprisingly extraordinary.

Yet, presented with miracle after miracle, witnessed by thousands, personally involved and invested in this man they find intriguing and mysterious enough to follow across the sea…many of them turn away in the final hour that is now rapidly approaching here at the end of Lent. As we will soon experience in Triduum, even his disciples will fall asleep, strike out in anger, lag behind, run away…sell him out for thirty pieces of silver. Deny they ever knew him.

You know me,” he insistently tells them, “and also where I am from.”

Do I really know you, my Lord and Savior? Are you truly visible to me in my life? Have I set you ever before me – are my ways, your ways?

Are you visible to others, through me?

Wise men followed a star to find him. Fishermen left boats and nets to seek him. John the Baptist upheld him as the Lamb of God when he was still far off, barely visible. John knew.

We say in our creed at every Mass that we believe God is the maker of all things visible and invisible. That’s not always so simple, is it? We like things we can touch and feel and be sure of. We prefer concrete facts and figures and final answers.

We like to see – and be seen.

Lord, I know there are times I fail to see you – in events and circumstances and others. And I know there are times that I can’t see you, but you clearly see me. You know ME.

As I pass through this last stretch in the desert of Lent and cross over into Easter, keep my eyes fixed on you, there in the distance – on the hill and high upon that cross that will be my salvation and redemption.

You are the one who came to save us, emptying yourself when you knew we couldn’t grasp your great love and mercy for us any other way…dwelling in quiet obedience and walking unnoticed among us for thirty years…breaking that silence and opening tombs as you fulfilled your Father’s mission in your final, glorious death and resurrection.

Be that still small voice in the cave, Lord – the one we hear when we can’t see you.

Be the one who makes the earth quake and tosses the mountains into the sea, too. The one who shows his mighty arm when you know we need to see you.

We know you. 

Let us never forget where you are from, and who sent you.

 

Have a blessed Easter, friends.