Finding Time for Prayer

Just a short thought for today. Something for you to ponder. A couple of good questions to ask yourself.

Did you know that there are 1,440 minutes in a day? It’s true. I did the math. Did you also know that 1 percent of all that time is fourteen minutes and twenty-four seconds? What would happen if you made a conscious decision, every day, to exercise your soul by giving roughly fifteen minutes of your time over to God? Just 1 tiny percent of your life. Would your life change?

The person who wrote this – Gary Jansen in a book called Exercising Your Soul – did exactly that decided he could commit that small piece of his life to God. And, his experience was that it changed everything.

People tell me all of the time that they just can’t find time to pray. That their days are too hectic to be able to take time away from all of the things they have to do to sit quietly with God.

But when you look at the numbers it becomes harder to persuasively argue there is no time for God. Is is really the case that you can’t afford 1 percent of your time? Can you really not take 14 or 15 minutes of the day from your other activities and give it to God?

It could change everything. Why not find out?


A Conscious Embrace of Humility

During a conversation the other day, a friend of mine who is Christian, not Catholic, told me he likes going to Catholic Mass even though he can’t receive Communion. He said he finds it a beneficial exercise of humility to be there and not be able to partake of the Eucharist. (This is NOT a post about whether people who are not Catholic should or should not be able to receive Communion at a Catholic Mass, so put please put your views on that question aside.)

Humility is, of course, a virtue, but is not a very popular one. We have a tendency to act to protect our ego and we live in a culture that encourages that by placing a premium on individual achievement and self-promotion. We don’t tend to like things that fail to soothe our ego, that take the ego down a peg rather than build it up.

And so I was struck by my friend’s conscious decision to put himself in a situation that would make him feel humble. That would remind him, in a sense, that it is not all about him.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines humility as “the virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the author of all good. Humility avoids inordinate ambition or pride, and provides the foundation for turning to God in prayer.”

One can agree or disagree with my friend’s approach to the question of Communion at a Catholic Mass. But his behavior offers a good model for living a reflective life and attempting to grow in faith. And so my conversation with him prompts me to ask myself: am I conscious about developing a sense of humility? Are there ways – perhaps little ones – that I might remind myself that it is God, not I, who is the author of all goods, by which I might avoid inordinate ambition or pride?

You might consider asking yourself the same questions.

Viewing Everything Through the Lens of the Cross

I’m still thinking about some of the lines of a sermon I heard on Friday by my friend and colleague Reggie Whitt, a Dominican priest who says the Friday weekday masses at UST Law School. The Gospel Friday was the parable of the wise and foolish virgins who were waiting for the arrival of the bridegroom. The five wise ones, anticipating that the bridegroom might be delayed, brought extra oil with them. The five foolish ones did not. By the time the bridegroom arrived, the lamps of the five foolish women were dying down. When they asked the wise women to borrow some of theirs, they were told there was not enough to share and so they needed to go buy their own, something that would have been impossible in the middle of the night.

I confess that I always thought the five designated as wise acted a bit selfishly, thinking they could have shared some of their oil with the others. Surely they could have spared a bit so that the five others didn’t have to go running around in the middle of the night on an errand that was doomed to failure. But that, of course, misses the point of the Gospel – that what the five foolish women of the story was lacking was not something that could be borrowed from another.

The line in the homily that brought that home to me was this: “You can’t borrow someone else’s fidelity to the Cross; and you can’t expect the world’s ways to supply it for you, if you run out.”

The parable is really, implied Reggie, about the lens through which we view the world. The power and wisdom of God at work in the Crucified Christ, he suggested, turns every other way of understanding the world upside down. And that set up the other line in the sermon that I have been sitting with. The heart of our reality as Christians, what sets the terms of our destiny, is the Crucified Christ and the Cross “is the lens through which all human experiences must be projected, and seen afresh.”

It seems to me it would make an enormous difference in our lives if we are intentional about viewing everything through the lens of the Cross. And that is a way of being, not something we can borrow.

I Have a Dream

On this day in 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and delivered what I still think is one of the greatest speeches in history – his I Have a Dream speech.

Martin Luther King III, president and chief executive of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, described his father’s vision and view of religion in this way:

[Martin Luther King] said that any religion that is not concerned about the poor and disadvantaged, ‘the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them and the social conditions that cripple them[,] is a spiritually moribund religion awaiting burial.’ In his ‘Dream’ speech, my father paraphrased the prophet Amos, saying, ‘We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’

By the standards of Amos we still can not be satisfied. The dream King envisioned has not yet been realized. And that means there is still work for all of us. And we have no business calling ourselves religious people unless we do our part.

If you have never watched or listened to the speech, take the time to do so today. If you have – do so again. The message is one we still need to hear. A youtube video of the speech is here.

Allowing the Mind to Heal

One of the books I’m currently reading is a wonderful book by W. Alan Wallace, titled Mind in the Balance: Meditation in Science, Buddhism and Christianity. Wallace presents what he terms a multicultural view of meditation, not rooted in faith, that seeks to help one develop insight into the nature of mind and consciousness.

Among other benefits of mindfulness meditation is its aid in combating habitual tendencies that interfere with the mind’s ability to heal itself. Just as the body has an “astonishing ability to mend its wounds and cleanse itself of injurious agents from the environment, so long as we allow it to do so by “keeping a wound clean and bandaged, setting a broken bone, or surgically removing contaminated tissue,” so too the mind has great potential to heal itself, so long as it is settled in its natural state.

However, we don’t create the conditions that allow it to do so. Wallace writes

The problem is that when the mind is wounded – by trauma from a natural disaster, social conflict, or illness, by other people’s abuse, or even by our own harmful behavior – we often let those wounds fester. The mind obsessively churns up memories of the past or speculations about the future and we compulsively fixate and elaborate on them in ways that aggravate our mental afflictions. Psychologists call this tendency rumination, and it’s a way that mental wounds become infected, which obstructs the natural healing capacity of the mind.

There seems to be agreement that the human tendency to ruminate can be harmful to physical as well as mental well-being. Yet it is quite a common tendency.

Wallace likens mindfulness meditation to surgically removing infected tissue. The more we can keep our awareness focused on the present moment, allowing the mind to settle into its natural state in which we can observe without judgment and evaluation, the more we allow the mind to heal.

This is not to suggest that meditation is a cure-all and, certainly in the case of serious mental illness is not a substitute for therapy (although it may very well be a useful adjunct). But mindfulness meditation can go very far for many of us in helping us to better respond to painful and unpleasant experiences.

Fast and Feasting

Last night I attended the Sixth Annual Dialogue Iftar Dinner, hosted by the Niagara Foundation and the Bosphorus Dialogue Association, the latter of which is a student run group of the University of Minnesota. The evening included prayer – both an invocation by the University of Minnesota Lutheran pastor and an Adhan – an Islamic call to prayer, a slideshow of activities of the Niagara Foundation, three keynote speeches on the theme of Spiritual Reflections on Fasting – one each by a Jewish, a Christian and an Islamic speaker, and a delightful meal of Turkish food.

I suppose one could say that the new information I gained from the evening was fairly minor. I had not before been aware, for example, that it is traditional to break the Ramadan fast with a date, based on the belief that that is how the Prophet Mohammad used to break his fast. Thus, the first plate to be passed around the table at which I was sitting after sunset was a plate of dates. Additionally, despite growing up in New York with many Jewish friends, I had not before heard of the Jewish feast of Tisha B’Av, a day of mourning for various disasters that have befallen the Jewish people. Neither of these pieces of information are likely to shake my world.

Nonetheless, it was a wonderful evening. After reading so much in the last couple of weeks about the uproar about the proposed mosque near ground zero, and after seeing a report earlier in the day yesterday of a Muslim cabdriver who was attacked by a passenger simply because he was a Muslim, there was something good and peaceful about being in a room of Christians, Jews and Muslims celebrating together and sharing stories about their respective traditions.

The woman from the University of St. Thomas history department, who delivered the keynote talking about fasting from a Christian perspective, ended her talk with a poem I have heard in various forms, Fast From – Feast On. The poem, for example, speaks of fasting from words that pollute and feasting on phrases that purify, fasting from anger and feasting on patience, fasting from pessimism and feasting on optimism and fasting from complaining and feasting from appreciation.

What I most appreciated last night was the line that speaks of fasting from emphasis on differences and feasting on the unity of life. There are differences and I don’t minimize them. But there is also unity of life, and it is good to remember and celebrate that.

Understanding the Bible

A lot of people misuse the Bible, viewing it as a large jumble of material out of which they can pull little bits that suit them for various purposes, ignoring those parts that are inconvenient. However, if we are going to read the Scripture in a meaningful way, we need to understand the unity and content of the entirety of the Bible.

That need to see the Bible as a unity, as a cohesive whole, is what animates Walking with God: A Journey Through the Bible, by Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins, which I read as part of the Catholic Company reviewer program. The book is an effort to offer a narrative that presents a “big picture” that “weaves together all the individual events and details of the Bible.” It does so by focusing on fourteen “narrative” books of the Bible, finding in them the “basic storyline of God’s revelation.” (This follows the approach of Cavins’ The Great Adventure Bible Timeline learning system.)

I applaud the aim of the book. I am also enthusiastic about any effort to encourage greater familiarity with the major stories of the Bible. The book is well-written and very accessible, drawing the reader into the events it discusses. I found many of the observations and links thought-provoking. I also found many of the side notes interspersed through the story informative and interesting.

On the other hand, I’m not convinced that the 14 book focus is sufficient to tell a cohesive story and question the relegating of the remaining fifty-nine books of the Bible to “supplemental” status. Although it is true that in using Luke, for example, as the primary Gospel story, the authors do make reference to the other Gospels, there is still material I would consider more than supplemental that is of necessity left out in such an approach.

More bothersome to me is that I found some of the links the authors drew between episodes to be forced and some of the assertions about why things occurred to be…well..mere assertions. (I particularly had that reaction during the story of Abraham.)

Having said that, the authors explicitly say that they make no claim that their interpretation represents the consensus of scripture scholars or is an interpretation that must be accepted by faithful Catholics. Rather, because the Bible is the living Word of God, they offer what they believe is a fresh interpretation would considering. With that, I have no disagreement.

Despite my quibbles, I think the book is a good aid for those seeking to get a broader context for the major movements of the Bible.

Fraternal vs. Agapic Love

I mentioned the other day that I was reading an essay titled The Open Circle: The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, written by Pope Benedict XVI while he was still Fr. Ratzinger. The essay, as its title suggests, seeks to elucidate the concept of Christian brotherhood.

As the essay discusses, Jesus uses the term “brother” in the Gospels in two different ways. First, he uses it to refer to those “who are united with him in the will of the common acceptance of the will of God.” In Matthew, for example, when Jesus is told his mother and brothers are outside, he responds, “Whoever does the will of God is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

Second, however, Jesus uses the term brother in a broader sense in the judgment parable in Matthew 25. There Jesus refers to all of the needy of the world as being “my brothers,” expressing a universality not found in passages like the earlier Matthew one. Similarly in Luke the term neighbor refers to anyone in need.

Fr. Ratzinger suggests that one finds in the Gospels and in Paul’s writings the idea of two zones. “The attitude of agape (love) is appropriate toward every man, but philadelphia (brotherly love) only toward one’s fellow Christian. The use of this idea for those other than blood relations seems to be specifically Christian. But it shows very clearly that the Christians together form an inner ring in their ethos, that they are (or should be) held together by a spirit of brotherly love which is even greater than that of the general agape.”

I think it is important to keep both senses of the term brother in mind. While I am uncomfortable with some of the possible implications Fr. Ratzinger draws from the distinction, particularly his citing sources that suggests that Christians “must strive for the greatest possible independence from non-Christians and not choose them for their habitual companions” (which he admittedly says presents difficult questions when such statements are transferred from their original setting into the present), there is something to being part of a community of fellow believers that is strengthening to one’s faith.

On the other hand, we need constant reminder that our call to agapic love is a call to love all, regardless of who they are and what they believe. No one is outside the ken of our universal brotherhood of caring and agapic love. As Fr. Ratzinger puts it, while it is true that the Chruch “must unify itself to form a strong inner brotherhood in order to be truly one brother,” it does so not “finally to shut itself off from the other; rather it seeks to be one brother because only in this way can it fulfill its task toward the other, living for whom is the deepest meaning of its existence, which itself is grounded wholly in the vicarious existence of Jesus Christ.”

Wait Long Enough and People Will Surprise and Impress You

This past weekend was our semi-annual weekend vocation retreat for UST law students. A group of us were at Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Janesville and, as always, it was a grace-filled weekend.

On the first evening of the retreat, we watched a video of The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. The lecture was delivered by Randy Pausch, Professor of Computer Science and Human-Computer Interface Design at Carnegie Mellon. In August of 2007, Pausch, who suffered from pancreatic cancer, was given a terminal diagnosis and told he would have 3-6 months of good health before he would start to fail. He delivered this lecture on September 19, 2007 and died the following July.

There were a number of things Pausch said in the video that struck me as good advice, good reminders to keep in mind. One, something that he learned from one of his mentors, was: wait long enough and people will surprise and impress you. Phrased differently: find the best in everybody, no matter how long you have to wait for them to show it.

This is something that is not always easy for us. We are so quick to want to label people. He or she said something bad or did something bad, so they must be bad. He or she disappointed me in some way, so they should be dismissed.

What would it be like to suspend judgement? To be able to say, “Well, it is true that this person did this bad [disappointing…insensitive] thing, but that bad [disappointing…insensitive] thing doesn’t define him or her. I’ll just wait and see what the rest of the evidence shows before get angry or develop bad feelings toward them.” It might be a long wait; as Rausch noted, sometimes it may take years before people will show you their good side. But if we could wait, if we could keep our heart open and not write off the person in anger or disappointment, we just might find out something extraordinary about the person.

It’s worth a try, isn’t it?

There is a lot of other good advice in the lecture. You can watch it in full here.

Come, Just as You Are

One of the songs our teen choir sings at 6:00p.m. Sunday Mass is titled, Come Now is the Time to Worship. The refrain goes

Come, now is the time to worship.
Come, now is the time to give your heart.
Come, just as you are to worship.
Come, just as you are before your God. Come.

“Come just as you are” is the line that always strikes me when we sing this song. It is such a welcoming line.

It is a line I’ve used when someone who is coming to my home asks how they should dress for the occasion or whether they should bring something. No, I say, come, just as you are.

It is a line I’ve used when someone says, maybe we shouldn’t get together, I’m not feeling so social or I’m not really at the top of my game. No, come anyway, I say, come, just as you are.

When I say those words, what I’m trying to convey to the other person is: your being here is enough for me. I’m just happy to see you, to spend time with you. It is you I care about. The rest of it doesn’t really matter.

And so it is with God, except even more so. God invites us to come to spend time together. We don’t need to worry about what we wear and we don’t need to be at the top of our game. God says: I just want to be with you. Come, spend some time with me. Come, just as you are.

Come, just as you are. That’s God’s invitation, not just on Sundays, but an open invitation for any day and any time. What we do with the invitation is up to us.