A moment of choice

I feel it is essential to study and spend time with the events that transpired leading up to the Resurrection of Jesus. It is a beautiful time for me, with all the pain and suffering, to see the events unfolding into joy. This year, as I was contemplating the moments before the crucifixion of Christ, the individuals who each played a role in these pivotal moments struck me. In Luke’s account of the story, these are the players I see:  

  • The chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death.
  • Judas, who after Satan entered him, went to the chief priests and officers and agreed to betray Jesus for money.  He later joins Jesus and the disciples at the Passover meal.
  • Peter and John were sent by Jesus to find and prepare a place for them to meet and eat the Passover meal together.
  • A man carrying a jar of water leads Peter and John to a home.
  • The owner of the house offers his guestroom for the gathering.
  • The apostles spend time at Jesus’ final meal disputing which one of them is the greatest.
  • Simon Peter, in fear, denies knowing Jesus three times and yet Jesus tells him he will pray for him and that Peter will turn back and strengthen others.
  • A disciple, in fear and haste, strikes the slave of a high priest and cuts off his ear.
  • Three people point Peter out and say he is one of the followers of Jesus.
  • The men who held Jesus ridicule and beat him.
  • Pilate, finding no fault in Jesus, sentences him to appease the crowd. 
  • Herod, who questioned Jesus, found no guilt, then with his soldiers mocked and treated Jesus with contempt, put an elegant robe on him, and sent him back to Pilate.
  • Barabbas escaped his own death only because of the uproarious attention on Jesus.
  • Simon of Cyrene, who by happenstance was traveling in the area, was called to carry the cross behind Jesus.
  • The women were mourning and lamenting for Jesus.
  • One criminal hanging next to Jesus derided him and told him to save all of them.
  • The criminal on the other side said they deserved to die, while Jesus did not and faithfully asks Jesus to remember him in the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • The people cast lots for his clothing.
  • People stood by watching.
  • Leaders sneered at him and said, “If he is the Messiah let him save himself.”
  • The soldiers mocked him and offered him sour wine.
  • The centurion, after witnessing the events of the day, said, “Surely, this man was innocent.”
  • Joseph, a member of the council who did not support the plan, asked for Jesus’ body to see Him properly buried before the Sabbath.
  • Women prepared the spices and ointments for his body.

In Luke 22:22,Jesus says, “The Son of Man is going as it has been determined.”  

And I wonder, have all of these people been predestined for their roles all along?  Was there any other option for Judas other than to be “Judas the Betrayer?”  Did the man who offered the room to the disciples have the opportunity to say no?  Are our lives predestined and we just are who we are?

I have to believe we make choices every day.  The choices we make are based on our predisposition, our personality, and our experiences.  How do we make sure we are like the man who leads the disciples to the house and like the owner who welcomes them and offers a room?  Can we decide to be like Peter who after repeating bad behavior recovers and leads others to Christ?  Can we be like Simon who assists Jesus with his heavy burden?  Can we decide not to be like the many people in the story who were deliberately or maybe even accidentally malicious?

I believe we can.  We have the gift of the Scriptures.  When we open our hearts and minds to the truths revealed in God’s word not only do we begin to understand the truths offered to us there, but also, the love of God becomes part of our personal experiences.  I don’t think the people in this story got to the place they were by accident.  They arrived there by choice.  They chose to believe in and follow the truth, the truth of flawed humanity, and a perfect plan for redemption.  They chose Love.

A moment of retreat

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Have you ever had the opportunity to meet someone who, even though they are going through a difficult struggle in life, seems not only be joyful but also shares their joy with others?  These people who carry the weight of the world with grace and courage inspire us and make us feel as if the world is a kind and loving place.  On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who take their struggles and seem to leak them out on others.  The weight they carry is massive, and so they are continually unloading it and often at inappropriate times.  We recognize them by their anger, bitterness, and pessimism.

In the previous post, I shared with you the poem How Can I?  I share these dark moments not to be morose, but to recognize the authenticity and importance of those moments. I Feel we are at our best when we can acknowledge and accept them as a gift.  Life will throw us curve balls, and sometimes really hard and fast!  However, at that moment when we are afraid, empty and have no answers, we have a great deal of space in our heart, mind, and spirit.  We can choose to be active while waiting, filling our time with distractions like television, internet, and projects.  Or we can choose to actively wait.

This month a fantastic team is working together to put the finishing touches on The Joy Retreat.  There is a great deal of actively waiting involved in the preparation.  Actively waiting means simply being, being in the place and doing the things that can bring us answers and fill our empty spaces in a healthy and fulfilling way.  We need to be actively pushing away the habits of instant gratification and embracing the moment between not knowing and knowing.  What we do in those moments our team is calling Habits of Joy.  

How can we have joy and feel joyful when life is hard and grievous difficulties are close at hand?  How can we feel joy when we cannot see the rainbow at the end of the journey?   The joy in waiting comes when we are actively practicing habits of joy.

I believe we all have habits of joy and we exercise them.  Although, if you are like me, it is not as often as we should and generally it is at the moment when we have just had enough.  But the more we exercise Habits of Joy, the more ingrained the habits become and our ever-present inner joy , will surface, even in moments of deep sorrow.

But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.                        Hebrews 3:13-14  (NIV)

I invite you to take a moment and participate in the Joy Retreat by sharing here…

What do you do when you are actively waiting?  What are the habits that spark or restore your joy?

Peace to you all,

Alana

A moment of faith

I have been deprived of peace;
I have forgotten what prosperity is.
So I say, “My splendor is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him,
to the one who seeks him;
it is good to wait quietly
for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for a man to bear the yoke
while he is young.
Let him sit alone in silence,
for the Lord has laid it on him.
Let him bury his face in the dust—
there may yet be hope.
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him,
and let him be filled with disgrace.
For no one is cast off
by the Lord forever.
Though he brings grief, he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.  
Lamentations 3:17-32 (NIV)

Often faith is the difference between a person who is fearful and miserable, and a person who is hopeful and joyful.

Without faith in ourselves, we struggle to accomplish things.  Without faith in others, we lack trust, and without faith in something bigger and more loving than ourselves, we fail to have hope for the future.

Faith brings confidence that, amid difficulties, we are being challenged, strengthened and upheld.  I love the verse that says it is good to bear the yoke when we are young.  So true!  We will all have difficulties at some point in our lives. But when we are young, we have energy and openness to growth.  If we know where to look, we have support from those who have “been there done that.”  It also gives me hope that our youth struggling, though painful to see, is building their character and strengthening them so that they will be able to carry on into the future.

I, like the author in Lamentations, remember the struggles of my youth and I also remember the reconciliation of those struggles.  In those moments there was growth, and I benefit from the faith and resolve that makes today’s difficulties seem lighter and less painful to move through. With confidence in the God who loves me, the people who sustain me, and the inner strength that guides me I am convinced of the impermanence of life’s difficulties.  I am confident in the goodness of the world.  And, I am most fulfilled in the joy of it all.

With faith, we believe in the positive outcome of all things.  With faith, we believe in the essential goodness of humankind, and with faith, we are confident in our potential for growth.

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 2 Corinthians 4:16-17 (NIV)

HAVE FAITH

 

A moment in the dark

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Last week, I posted a poem I had written in 2015.  When I came across it in a pile of papers and notes I have written over the years, it struck me that moments of winter come and go, over and over, through the course of our lives.  Finding myself once again in a spiritual winter, I decided to publish the poem.  What I call a moment in winter St. John of the Cross calls ” the dark night of the soul.”

In Paul Murray’s book about Mother Theresa, he references St. John of the Cross when he speaks of the difference between depression and suffering from a “dark night of the soul.”  I feel this distinction is crucial and I would like to share a little of my own personal experience with these often intertwined moments.  In my experience, depression leads to paralysis and inaction.  The “dark night” leads to action.  Though similar in appearance, depression stops you in your tracks and the “dark night” turns you toward.

With depression, there is a great deal of focus on the self, mostly self-loathing, low self-worth and lack of desire.  “Dark night” experiences for me have more to do with an emptiness that leads me to an anxious search for God, in spite of my doubts, at that moment that there is a God.   Because I cannot see God inside myself or around me, I begin to pray more intentionally.  My desire to see and feel God is intensified and I am moved to connect with those whose spiritual foundation is sound, or to those who need love affirmed even more than I do.

Sometimes I embrace the darkness, remembering Jesus, his 40 days in the wilderness and his last moments on the cross.  Contemplation and aligning myself with the human and divine Christ is healing and taking the time for self-care is of great import.

By surviving passages of doubt and depression on the vocational journey, I have become clear about at least one thing: self-care is never a selfish act–it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was was put on earth to offer to others.  Parker J. Palmer

Palmer, 2000, p. 30

In the deep sadness of feeling abandoned by God, I sometimes feel called to action.  I have the desire to offer others who are in suffering comfort and love.  In the faces of others, I often once again see God.  Because without him I am ill-equipped to offer love, and the love of others in return is a deep reflection of God’s presence.

“Nevertheless they know how to find God by devoting themselves to Him in self-sacrificing labours in which they are able to remain in his presence all day long.” Thomas Merton

Merton, 2013, p. 31

In 2006 after Hurrican Katrina I wrote, in the margins of What is Contemplation? By Thomas Mertonthese words, “I would rather be in this place of darkness with my God than in a world of lights without Him.”  Not long after that, I was compelled to start a prayer group which continues to bless my life today. All this to say we are not alone in our suffering, and there are some fantastic stories and writers to guide us in the way to heal ourselves and others.

“For a man of prayer is, in the final analysis, the man who is able to recognize in others the face of the Messiah and make visible what was hidden, make touchable what was unreachable.”  Henri J.M. Nowen

Nouwen, 1979, p. 47

Recommended Readings:

Murray, P. (2016). I loved Jesus in the night: Teresa of Calcutta, a secret revealed. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press.

Palmer, P. J. (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice of vocation. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Merton, T. (2013). What is contemplation? Mansfield Centre, CT.: Martino Publishing.

Nouwen, H. J. (1979). The wounded healer: Ministry in contemporary society. New York: An Image Book Doubleday.