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I thought these were lovely, although I am sure the pictures do not do justice.

   

The weather here is almost unbearably hot. But we have been finding some amazing spots that make us pause and smile and sing God’s glory.

Sorry for the relative silence. I am traveling with very limited (read: almost nonexistent) Internet. 

Apart from the difficulty of extremely high temperatures (and the already noted lack of Internet) all is well,

Sending prayers to all. I will post again as and when I am able.

PS: As my posting if this indicates, I can walk to a place with occasionally functional Internet. It is just hit or miss.

I’ve mentioned that I’ve been reading Gerhard Lohfink’s book Jesus of Nazareth: What He Wanted, Who He Was.  In the first of his chapters addressing the “Who He Was” part of the title, Lohfink addresses Jesus’ statement in Luke’s Gospel that “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it.”

Lohfink makes the important point that this is not just, or even primarily, about the surrender of life in death.  Human beings, he writes

are also desperately engaged in “saving” their own desire and dreams, their own guiding images and plans for their lives.  But these very rescue actions cause them to lose their lives – namely, the true lives that existence under the rule of God would give them.  “To lose one’s life” therefore refers not only to martyrdom but in given circumstances to the surrender of one’s secure bourgeoise existence for the reign of God.

This is important because if we put the focus on martyrdom, it is easy to let ourselves off the hook – Oh, I’m not being called to lay down my (physical) life for God.  Even when we understand Jesus’ words more broadly, we want to resist them.  Lohfink continues

Such radicality for the sake of God’s project is not everyone’s thing.  Normally we want not “either-or” but”both-and.”  In particular, people familiar with the Gospel and desiring to serve God can be deeply conflicted here.  They want to be there for God, but they also want space for themselves.  They want to make a place for God in their lives, but they also want to have free segments in which they decide for themselves about their lives.  They want to do the will of God, but at the same time, they want to live out their dreams and longings.

That description pretty much sounds like many, if not most, of us.  And Jesus is clear in his reaction to that way of thinking: “No one can serve two masters.”  That is, Lohfink paraphrases, “when it is a question of God an the reign of God, there can be nothing  but undivided self-surrender.”  And that, suggests Lohfink, is a central part of Jesus’ message.

I can see the tagline of the commercial: Discipleship in Christ – It’s Not for the Faint of Heart!

God Calls Moses

One of the early meditations in Week Two of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is the termed the Call of the King.  The meditation is presented in the form of a parable designed us to get in touch with Christ’s invitation that we labor with him to bring about God’s plan of the world.

God’s call is not a distinctively Christian phenomenon. God has been calling on humans to aid him in his plan for the world from the very beginning.  We hear one of those calls in today’s first Mass reading: God’s call to Moses.

God has heard the cry of his people languishing in slavery in Egypt. At the time Moses is off tending the flock of his father-in-law and as he comes to mount Horeb, he sees fire flaming out of a bush. And God says to Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people….The cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have truly noted that the Egyptians are oppressing them. Come, now! I will send you to Pharoah to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

As I read the passage, I was struck with the ordinariness with which God makes this request, as though he were asking something on the order of, “run down to the corner store and pick me up a quart of milk.”  No big deal, Moses, just go and lead my people out of Egypt.

Moses’ first reaction is about what you’d expect: Are you serious? How in the world am I supposed to do this? Who am I to go to Pharoah and lead the people to freedom? And what is God’s response: I will be with you.

The conversation goes on after this, as God tells Moses how things will proceed, but Moses still says, “If you please, Lord, send someone else.”

But God will not be thwarted. God doesn’t say, OK, I’ll go ask someone else. Rather God persists, and throughout their conversation, in response to each of Moses’ objections, God promises the gift Moses needs to carry out this task.

And God persists with each of us.  Calling us over and over again for us to take part in God’s plan for the world.

Will you answer the call?

My dear friend Larry is spending time this summer in Israel studying Hebrew, as part of his journey into deeper practice of his Judaism.  To the great benefit of many of us, he has been blogging regularly while he is there.  (He talks about the path that led him to be in Jerusalem this summer here.)

Yesterday, Larry wrote a post about prayer.  He began by acknowledging that, like many of us, he sometimes loses his concentration during prayer.  His method for dealing with the distraction is to concentrate “on three little words” – the three words that begin every Jewish blessing: Baruch Atah Adonai.  Christians would say,  “Blessed are you Lord God”; Larry, as others of our Jewish bothers and sisters says, “Blessed are you, Ha’Shem.”

Whether Jewish of Christian, and by whatever name we refer to God, what Larry writes in his post can be helpful advice:

Baruch Atah Adonai. One doesn’t need to know another word of prayer. One doesn’t need another word of Hebrew. All one needs to attain true kavanah, true spirituality, true gratitude and appreciation of all that we have (“for he has made to me all that I need”) are these three little words. Blessed are you, Ha’Shem.

Repeat these words. Just these words. Repeat them when you want to pray but don’t know how. Repeat them when you see beauty. Repeat them when you are happy. Repeat them when you see misery and when you are sad — especially when you see misery and when you are sad, for you do not know and cannot know when misery becomes glory and sadness becomes joy. But you do know that without misery and sadness happiness and joy do not exist. And you do know – or I hope you do – that even in misery and sadness is the pure act of living, the pure appreciation of life that you would not know were it not for – Baruch Atah Adonai….

Baruch Atah Adonai.   Nowhere are these words more meaningful than when facing existential questions. Questions of reward and punishment, happiness and misery, joy and sorrow, life and death.  Why is one serene and one troubled, one healthy and one ill, one prosperous and one suffering? Why is there sorrow? Why is there evil?…

The answers are unimportant.  For what we do know is that we are alive. And to be alive is to experience the world, however we experience it. That, in itself, is a blessing. The greatest of all possible blessings.  And so, Baruch Atah Adonai. Three little words that are the essence of gratitude. Three little words that are the essence of prayer.

Prayer is not really all that complicated.  I was reminded by Larry’s post of Mary Oliver’s poem Praying, which includes the lines, “just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate, this isn’t a contest but the doorway into thanks, and a silence in which another voice may speak.”

Thank you, Larry, for this and all of your wonderful posts this summer.

 

When I walked the Camino the fall before last, the clothes I took for an almost six-week trip fit into a relatively small plastic bag.

I thought of that as I listened to today’s Gospel in Mass this morning.  St. Mark describes Jesus sending out the Apostles two by two, with the instruction “to take nothing for the journey but a walking stick—no food, no sack, no money in their belts.”

I loved the freedom I enjoyed both on the Camino and during the time I lived in Nepal and India, largely living out of what I could carry on my back.   It is a freedom we don’t often enjoy, as we can easily let ourselves be weighed down by more belongings than we really need.

As a practical matter, it would be very difficult for us to follow Jesus’ instructions to the T; we don’t live in a world that easily accommodates our playing our role in God’s plan carrying absolutely nothing for the journey.

But that doesn’t mean there is not an invitation for us in this Gospel, as I’ve suggested on other occasions.

First, how much am I willing to rely on God rather than on myself?  Do I have faith that God will provide us with what we need as we go about proclaiming the Gospel. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to make any preparation, but it does mean that we remind ourselves that, ultimately, it is God who steers our ship, not us.  (The deepening of this realization was one of the graces of the retreat I did last month.)

Second, what distracting baggage can we leave behind?  What is the baggage that distracts us from fully offering Jesus’ peace and love to those with whom we come in contact?  (Again, this was something I spent some time reflecting on during my retreat, and it was quite revealing.)

 

Happy feast of St. Benedict, the person who had perhaps the greatest influence on the development of Western monasticism.

We know Benedict as the founder of an order that still thrives today and as the author of a Holy Rule that he established for his followers. What we sometimes forget about Benedict and his Rule is that Benedict was a layman; he was never a priest. And his Rule was written for the laity.

Benedict considered his rule to be  “a little rule…for beginners.” It offers what could be called a moderate path to holiness, a path any ordinary person could take. He aimed that “the strong would have something to strive after and the weak would not be driven away.” One author suggested it contained “the moderation and compassion of the Gospel itself and it also has the urgency and the fire and passion of the Gospel.” Moderation is not a bad rule for us to keep in mind.

One of the things Benedict was concerned with is our tendency to be distracted from God, because distraction often leads to sins of omission or indifference.  Hence Benedict proposed reminders for prayer at prescribed times of day. It was with the development and spread of Benedictine monasteries that the Liturgy of the Hours became an established practice in the atholic Church.

There is value in these reminders, and we might ask ourselves, what daily reminders or interrupters might we incorporate in our daily schedule to bring God to mind at various times during the day, to just take a momentary time out. Some people use the ringing of the telephone as their interrupter, taking a moment to be consciously in God’s presence before answering the call. It doesn’t matter what it is, the idea is to find something, anything the serves the same purpose as the bells signalling one of the “Hours” a call to mindfulness, a call to consciously mark a moment as sacred. I’m sure you can come up with a meaningful one for yourself.

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