“God Is An Artist”

I’m in my “happy place” – the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, where I am part of a team directing a retreat for faculty and administrators of Jesuit colleges and universities (members of the Ignatian Colleagues Program).

Today, and at other times over the past couple of days there have been massive storms.  This first pictures is Lake Winnebago just after the storm ended.  It doesn’t fully capture the effect of the sunlight on the moving water, but you can use your imagination.


As we exited from our evening prayer, one of the other directors observed, looking out the window at the sunset, “God is an artist.”  No disagreement from me.  Here are two glimpses.


Please keep the directing team and the retreatants in your prayers.

Strength, Courage and Hope

Yesterday morning we attended Lawrence University’s commencement ceremony; although Elena graduated last year, we were there to celebrate her boyfriend David’s graduation.

I have been to many college and law school graduations and am almost always disappointed by the graduation speaker.  That is not the case at Lawrence, which seems less concerned with making a splash by inviting a big-name celebrity than with finding individuals who exemplify the fundamental educational values of the university.

Last year I thought the talk given by author Lan Samantha Chang at Elena’s graduation was one of the best graduation talks I had heard.  This year’s speaker was even better.

I’m guessing Gil Loescher, an expert on international refugee policy, was not a name known to many of the graduating seniors (or most of those in the audience for that matter), despite his many years of work in this area consulting with governments, international organizations, and research institutes as well as authoring many articles and books.

Loescher spoke eloquently about the refugee crisis and the importance of immigrants – including refugees – to this country and he received much applause during his remarks.  But what touched me most was his sharing of his experience in August 2003.  He was in the office of the then-UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Baghdad in a meeting with eight other people.  A suicide bomber detonated a truck bomb outside the building.  Everyone in the room was killed except for Loescher.  He spend hours trapped in the debris of the collapsed building as American soldiers tried to rescue him and the others.  His legs were crushed and had to be amputated by the soldiers.

What allowed him to go on with his work?  Certainly no one would have criticized him if he folded up his tent after such an incident.  What allowed him to adjust to the new normal of life without legs, the only survivor of the horror he suffered?

One of the things he pointed to was his experience with refugees over the years.  Their strength, their courage, their determination, their hope.  Hope in the face of overwhelming odds.  He learned from those on whose behalf we are working. (I thought of our work at City House, where we always stress the mutuality of benefit between spiritual listeners and those to whom we provide services.)

Not all, or even most of the graduates Loescher addressed will make refugees their life work, but his words were an encouragement to them to commit their lives to making a difference (and we know there is no shortage of ways to do that).   His talk was an inspiring one, not only for the newly graduated, but for all of us.

Update: You can watch Loescher’s talk here. (It beings at about 1:32:00.)



Untimely Endings

Gilda Radner, who herself died an early death from ovarian cancer, once observed:  “I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end.”

I had occasion to remember that line twice in the last two weeks: last week when I attended the heartbreaking wake and funeral of a young man my daughter’s age who died in an automobile accident, and more recently yesterday, when a woman described the death of a young person in her family.

This was not, of course, my first experience with untimely deaths.  Indeed, my count of those is quite high, and includes, among others, friends and a relative who died on 9/11 and a younger cousin who died fighting a fire.

But the reality is that we all want perfect endings.  We want stories to have clear beginnings, middles, and ends – with the ends coming at the appropriate times.

And, for the most part, we live our lives – notwithstanding all evidence to the contrary – expecting that we will get that.  I can intellectually appreciate that my end may come at any moment, but I still expect that I will be hiking in Canada next month, celebrating Thanksgiving in Appleton in November, teaching a particular course next spring and summer, and so on.

Obviously we can’t live our lives without making plans.  But we also need to remember that no future moment is a guarantee, and that we should cherish each moment that we have, letting each be an opportunity to spread love and compassion.

The Power of the Spirit

Today we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, the day on which we recall the descent of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ followers, and the day that marks the end of the Easter Season.

As with all of the great feasts we mark in the liturgical calendar, we do not celebrate Pentecost merely to remember a cool event that happened a very long time ago.  Rather, Pentecost is a reminder that we are always blessed by the Spirit, every day of our lives. It is a day to help us to be more open to receipt of the gifts of the Spirit.

So many of the readings we have listened to in the post-Easter season help us understand the power of the spirit.  For example, compare the Peter of the Gospels – who seemed to blow it over and over again.  That same Peter, filled with the Spirit, preaches powerfully and heals the sick.  He was able to do those things because of his confidence of the power of the Spirit of God working through him.

Pentecost reminds us that we have all been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. Do we walk with the confidence Peter did?

There is a short beautiful line at the end of the third chapter of Ephesians that speaks of God’s ability “to accomplish far more than all we ask or imagine, by the power at work within us.”

Do I believe that? Does my way of being in the world reflect my belief in the power of the Spirit?


The Joy of the Visitation

Today the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of the Visitation – the episode in Luke’s Gospel where Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth, having been told by Gabriel both that Mary would bear the son of God and that Elizabeth was pregnant.

There are many images and poems that capture this episode.  Here is an image that I love because it captures the joy of the two women.

Doubtless the one was scared of the message that she had just been given by the angel, wondering what her parents or her betrothed would say about her giving birth.  And I suspect the other had a few concerns about giving birth at such an advanced age after believing herself barren.  Yet, they were women of faith, and they found joy in their relationship with each other, with the children they would bear, and with God.


Why Are You Standing There?

My favorite line spoken by someone other than Jesus in the Bible is that spoken by “two men dressed in white garments” in today’s first Mass reading from Acts.

After Jesus spoke his final words to his disciples, “as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him from their sight.”  After Jesus’ ascension, they all (understandably, if you ask me) continue to stand there “looking intently at the sky.”  I’m guessing they stood there with their mouths handing open, looking a bit shell-shocked.  And then comes the line I love: the two men dressed in white who appeared suddenly say to them, “why are you standing there looking at the sky?”

“Why are you standing there?”  If asked what they meant, I expect they would have said to the disciples: “Didn’t you hear him?  He just instructed you to be his witnesses, to proclaim the Gospel, throughout the whole world.  Go on.  You have work to do! Stop standing here!!”

The same can be said to us.  We are the hands and feet of Christ in the world today.  We are meant to proclaim the Good News – to be the Good News.

Don’t just stand there!  Do it!

Our (True) Name is Mercy

My Mother’s Day gift from my husband was a copy of Anne Lamott’s newest book, Hallelujah Anyway.  Lamott is a terrific writer and her books are both accessible and deep at the same time.

At one point in the book, Lamott references the title of Pope Francis’ book, The Name of God is Mercy.  Mercy is a subject close to this pope’s heart and he believes mercy is the “first attribute of God.”

But mercy is not only God’s name.  Rather, Lamott writes

Our name was mercy, too, until we put it away to become more productive, more admired and less vulnerable.  We tend to forget it’s still there.  It’s our unclaimed selves, in the Lost and Found drawer, access to another frequency, like a tuning fork….It’s part of human nature.

What an important truth to realize!  We mouth our belief that we are made in the image and likeness of God, without thinking about what the really means.  But: if (a) we are made in God’s image and likeness; and (b) God’s name is mercy; then it follows (c) that our name – our true name – not the false name created by our woundedness – is mercy.  (Lamott talks earlier in the book about how we learn early to stifle our merciful nature because mercy can make us look vulnerable and foolish and less productive.)

What would it be, I wonder, if when we wake up every morning we look at ourselves in the mirror and say “My name is mercy”?  What difference might it make if we could remember our true name all day long?