“Lord I will follow You wherever You go,” says someone to Jesus in today’s Gospel from Luke.
Did her really mean it? Would he follow Jesus anywhere?
Will you? Will I?
Today’s Gospel from St. Luke invites us to explore our answer to Jesus’ invitation.
Will you follow Jesus all the way to Jerusalem? For that was where Jesus had “steadfastly set his face,” moments before the promise made by the man to follow him anywhere.
Will you follow him even if it means having never being settled and always ready to go where called? For Jesus tells the man who promises to follow him, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
I want to think my yes to Jesus’ invitation to follow him is unqualified. That I will always drop everything and follow him immediately. But I also know that at times I can be like those who Jesus asks to follow him in today’s Gospel.
“Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
“Lord let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.”
I will follow you, Lord, but…. I know those hesitations are sometimes there. And I pray to be able to let them go.
What are you “but”s? And what do you need from Jesus to be able to let them go?
Many people recognize the phrase “thin places”, an early Celtic Christian metaphor for those times or places when the boundary between the sacred and the everyday feels “thin,” when the distance between heaven and earth collapses and God’s presence is more strongly felt. We catch in such places a glimpse of the divine and those glimpses transform us.
There are some particular locations that are widely recognized as thin places, such as the Kealkil stone circle in Ireland, or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, or LaVerna in Umbria, where St. Francis received the stigmata. And many people go in search of places that have developed a reputation for being thin. I frequently come across posts or articles talking about one or more of such thin place (and just read one yesterday, prompting this post).
It is important to remember, however, that thin places can be anywhere for us. The danger in identifying certain “special” places is thinking that one can’t penetrate the boundary between the everyday and the sacred unless one is in a spot someone else has already labeled as a deeply spiritual place.
“Thin” places can be anywhere. I think of what I label Thomas Merton’s four foundational religious experiences: one occurred in his bedroom, one in a Church in Havana, on on a street corner in Louisville and one at a sacred site in Thailand. If Merton could find God on a street corner Louisville, a thin place for you could be a street corner in your own town, or your bedroom, or a church, as well as at one or another well-known sacred site. Yes, there are certain places that are special for a lot of people, but others can be uniquely special to you.
We need to allow ourselves to be completely open about where and how God might appear to us. To recognize that the distance between heaven and earth can collapse completely for us any time and in any place.
In his foreword to Search for Silence, by Elizabeth O’Connor, N. Gordon Cosby writes:
The one journey that ultimately matters is the journey into the place of stillness deep within one’s self. To reach that place is to be at home; to fail to reach it is to be forever restless. At the place of ‘central silence’ one’s own life and spirit are united with the life and Spirit of God. There the fire of God’s presence is experienced. The soul is immersed in love. The divine birth happens. We hear at last the living Word.
In Psalm 46 we read, “Be still and know I am God.”
In the stillness we know God. In the stillness we know ourselves. In the stillness we know who we are with God.
This is one journey we all can take. The journey into the place of stillness. And it is a journey that doesn’t require going very far.
In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus says to his disciples that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who doest he will of my Father in heaven.” The wise person, says Jesus, is the one “who listens to these words of mine and acts on them.”
Listening to the Word is not enough. We must not only listen to the Word, but act on it.
What does it mean to “listen to these words of mine and act on them”?
Jesus demands more than mere external actions. (Remember his criticism of the Phrarisees later in Matthew’s Gospel for washing the outside of the cup and dish when “inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence.”) Instead, Jesus demands nothing less than a true conversion of heart, a metanoia, an inner transformation. That is a lot bigger commitment than merely changing a few of our actions in the world. It is a commitment that entails giving over one’s life to God.
In praying with this passage in Matthew’s Gospel, we might ask ourselves: Am I willing to let Jesus change everything? Am I willing to allow my being to be completely filled with Jesus so that I am alive with his presence?
I bought a smart phone this past weekend. An iPhone 5. And I have mixed feelings about having done so.
For years I resisted the purchase of a cell phone. I gave in and bought one when Elena was born and I started teaching at St. John’s in NY, which had evening classes. Both driving around with an infant in the car and driving home late at night from class made me feel like it would be good to be able to contact someone in an emergency. For years after I bought the phone, I only turned it on when I needed to make a call. (It drove my sister Diane crazy; “Your cell phone is never on.”)
The cell phone I’ve been using is practically a museum piece, but it served my purposes well – it made and received phone calls and that was good enough for me. But I started to think that it might be good to get a smart phone before I leave for my Camino walk in the fall. Weight being a big consideration, I thought having one item that could serve as phone, camera, video/audio recorder and internet access was a good idea. And it happened that I was eligible for a Verizon promotion that gave me the iPhone at a quite reasonable price.
Still, I have misgivings. It is not just the increased monthly cost (although that is a factor). My bigger concern is whether it is really a good thing that I have access to my e-mail wherever I am. It is one thing to carry a cell phone all the time so family can always reach me in an emergency. It is another to 24-hour e-mail accessibility.
Of course it is in my control not to check the e-mails. But whenever I turn on the phone, I see the little indication of how many e-mail messages I have. I know that it will take an affirmative act of discipline to be sure I am using the iPhone in a beneficial manner, and not let myself get sucked into excessive use of it.
I thought I’d start the day with a poem I like by Ann Sexton, titled Welcome Morning. It is a good reminder of all we have to be grateful for.
There is joy
in the hair I brush each morning,
in the Cannon towel, newly washed,
that I rub my body with each morning,
in the chapel of eggs I cook
in the outcry from the kettle
that heats my coffee
in the spoon and the chair
that cry “hello there, Anne”
in the godhead of the table
that I set my silver, plate, cup upon
All this is God,
right here in my pea-green house
and I mean,
though often forget,
to give thanks,
to faint down by the kitchen table
in a prayer of rejoicing
as the holy birds at the kitchen window
peck into their marriage of seeds.
So while I think of it,
let me paint a thank-you on my palm
for this God, this laughter of the morning,
lest it go unspoken.
The Joy that isn’t shared, I’ve heard,
As regular readers of the blog know, I gave a number of book talks/signings of Growing in Love and Wisdom: Tibetan Buddhist Sources for Christian Meditation over the last seven months. One of the first was a set of talks sponsored by the Jay Philips Center for Interfaith Studies. The Jay Philips Center is a joint project of the University of St. Thomas and St. John’s University. I did talks on consecutive evenings at each of the two universities this past November.
As I typically do in these talks, I spent some time talking about my own journey through Buddhism back to Catholicism and then talked about some commonalities between the two religious traditions and why I think meditations adapted from Buddhism can be useful for Christians.
Although it was a while coming, the Jay Philips Center has now posted a video of the talk I gave at St. John’s University in Collegeville. It was a particularly special evening for me, as many of the sisters from College of St. Benedict were in attendance. (I wrote a good part of the book at St. Benedica’s Studium.) Here it is.
The other day, I read a blog post by a young Jesuit with the above title: How long is too long?
In the post, the author describes his reluctance to contact old friends he had not been in contact with for sometime. He is quite aware of the source of his reluctance, saying with respect to his hesitation about contacting friend in a town he would be passing through: “In truth, I did not call up my friends because I was more or less paralyzed by the fear-inspiring question I so often have when I contemplate reaching out to others: how long is too long to have any hope of reconnecting? Is six months too long? Is a year?”
I guess hypothetically there may be a time that is too long, but if so, I have not yet encountered it. In the last couple of years, I reconnected with two people, both of which I had not seen in almost 35 years. In both cases I’ve been in electronic communication and had the ability to get together for a meal when I visited the town in which each lived. My re connection with both fills me with joy.
Some years ago, I got back in touch with some grade school friends. Before the reunion that reconnected us, I had not talked to some of that group for almost 30 years. Yet, now, we have occasional dinners when I’m in town and communicate electronically in between those visits.
What the author of the blog post I read realized is true. Worry about whether it has been “too long” is something that “robs me of meaningful interactions with others.” In his blog, he describes a wonderful visit with some old friends, having overcome his fear that it had been “too long.” I have a sense from my own experience what that was like for him.
Not having any interest in getting in touch with people of one’s past is understandable. There are plenty of people from earlier parts of my life I have no desire to reengage with. But to fear getting in touch with people you would like to be able to see is a different matter.
Get over the fear. It is not too long.
Update: As my friend Floyd reminds us in a Facebook comment to this post: “Not too long for God, either. The welcome is always there, no matter the length of time you’ve been away.”
This morning I picked up Psalm 8 for my morning prayer. The central part of the Psalm asks a question that I think is held deep in all of our hearts:
What are humans that you are mindful of them, mere mortals that you care for them?
Yet you have made them little less than a god, crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them rule over the works of your hands, put all things at their feet:
All sheep and oxen, even the beasts of the field,
The birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and whatever swims the paths of the seas.
What are humans that you are mindful of them. Or, as I formulated the question in my prayer this morning: Who am I that you are mindful of me?
I asked the question several times, until the question faded and all I felt was the near presence of God. Not God up and out somewhere, but God right in my face and surrounding me completely. I simply sat in that presence and every time I started to ask the question again, I could get no further than a word or two before the question disappeared. Near the end of my time sitting, the image that came to mind was of being knit together with God, with the deepened realization that I am so intimately connected to God that God can’t not be mindful of me.
Who are you that God is mindful of you? It is a good question to sit with.
In his homily yesterday morning, Pope Francis focused on the Lord’s Prayer. He reminded his audience that we don’t pray “my Father,” but “our Father,” because “we are not an only child, none of us are”.
In my prayer this morning, I sat with the “Our Father.” I don’t mean the entirety of the prayer, but just those two words. As I repeated them over and over in my mind, I saw a parade of people. The first three that appeared to my mind were a close friend who is a priest, a newer friend who strives to find God, and someone I know who has no room in his life for God. After those three, I saw a stream of people: first, those I know – ranging from those with whom I have a close relationship to those I have more personal difficulty with, then public figures, again some of whom I admire and others of whom I find distasteful; and finally with figures further abroad, both geographically and temporally.
All of them my brothers and sisters. The ones for whom faith matters and the ones with no faith. The ones I like being with and the ones I’d be happy never to be in the same room with. The ones we would all label “good” people and the ones who have lost their way.
Our Father. It means something.
One of the first headlines I saw this morning was in an e-mail (I didn’t even look to see where it came from) and it read “Don’t Work with Jerks.” It may be that the piece accompanying the title had some good information about dealing with co-workers. But I reacted to the title because often “He’s a jerk,” of “She’s a jerk,” is a way of writing of people. I don’t need to bother with him/her because he/she is a jerk.
He/she is our brother or sister. And you wouldn’t so easily write one of your “blood” brothers and sisters off so easily.
Our Father. It means something.