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Radical Amazement

Sunday afternoon I began a week of training for our student peer ministers.  After a summer of much administrative work getting the Office of Spirituality up and running for the new academic year, it is wonderful to be with out students.

The session I presented this morning (after the Office of Spirituality’s Program Director, Sarah Farnes, spoke about the value of sharing our stories as a way of deepening religious experience) had to do with contemplative listening and responding.  Near the end of our time, we did an exercise that would allow the students to listen and respond to each other.

I gave them a short quote from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and asked them to reflect on three questions.  Although you won’t get the benefit of our sharing and responding on these, I thought I’d share the quote and the questions I asked the students to consider.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said,

Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement…get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is incredible; never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.

What are you finding most incredible and phenomenal in your life at this time?

What, if anything, do you take for granted? 

What single change could you make in your life to live with a greater sense of amazement?

The students found their answers to these questions quite revealing.  You may also.

Note: This exercise comes from Diane Millis’ book, Conversation, The Sacred Art: Practicing Presence in an Age of Distraction.

This afternoon I will leave for Holy Spirit Retreat Center for our semi-annual vocation retreat for law students and alumni of the University of St. Thomas School of Law.  Getting law students to take a weekend away from school and work is difficult once the semester starts – hence our timing of the retreats just before the beginning of the fall and spring semesters.  Still, we do try to instill in them the need to take some time away from the craziness of their lives to be still.

It thus seemed fitting that the morning reflection from Inward/Outward (whose daily reflections I have quoted before) was a Hafiz poem titled A Cushion for Your Head.  Here it is:

Just sit there right now
Don’t do a thing
Just rest.

For your separation from God,
From love,

Is the hardest work
In this
World.

Let me bring you trays of food
And something
That you like to
Drink.

You can use my soft words
As a cushion
For your
Head.

Just sit.  Don’t do a thing.  Just rest.

We can’t do that all of the time.  But we need to invitation to “Come away and rest awhile” now and then.

Earlier today I had the privilege of leading a day of reflection for the faculty and staff of Cristo Rey High School in Minneapolis.  I have known about and admired the mission and approach of the Cristo Rey high schools for a long time.  This past June I had the fortune of attending a celebration of the school’s alum and was enormously impressed by the students I met.  As a consequence I was grateful for the opportunity to spend a number of hours with those committed to the school and its mission.

Since the theme the school has adopted for the year is Contemplation in Action, a central Ignatian theme, I divided our time together into two parts.  In our first session, I focused on God’s invitation to use to be part of his plan for the salvation of the world.  The second was devoted to considering the challenges of sticking close to our commitment to God in the face of the temptations of the world in which we live.

I ended my second talk by sharing Louis Savary’s phrasing of Christ’s invitation to stand with him  I read it slowly, pausing after each question or statement, to give the faculty and staff the ability to note where they felt discomforted or challenged as well as where they felt comfortable.  I thought I’d share it here as well, since whenever I have read it to a group, people have asked me for a copy.

Here it is:

If you wish to follow me, to live and work under my standard, her is what I will look for from you.

As you willing to be poor in spirit, that is, to realize how much more you need to grow in realizing who you are called to become?

Are you willing to learn to mourn and deal with loss and failure in your own life, as well as how to comfort people who are grieving?

Are you willing to be gentle, docile, and unassuming, for you will be required often to show compassion to the lost and forgotten, the poor and the sick, the anxious and the discouraged?

Are you willing to be continually merciful and forgiving toward others – even toward your enemies and toward yourself?

Are you willing to be open and pure in heart, for only then will you be able to recognize my presence in the least likely places?

Are you willing to be a peacemaker, willing to keep searching to find ways to mutual understanding with others and defending the innocent without resorting to violence?

I am looking for men and woman who hunger and thirst for honesty and truth and are willing to take a stand against injustice.

I am looking for men and women who expect to be persecuted for being good, honest, and compassionate, and who will not be surprised to be scorned falsely and hear all kinds of evil spoken against them on my account.

In addition, I am looking for you to be proactive and creative, to be the sale of the earth, never losing your taste for the kingdom.

I am looking for you to be a lamp for the world, letting God’s light shine through you, so that others may see the good works around them and give glory to the Creator.

Can you be these things for me?

Can you believe that I am always with you, even in the direst poverty or the deepest grief?

Can you believe that even when you are persecuted or rejected by others, you will have all the grace you need to grow and do your task?

Savary’s rendition of Christ’s  all offers us a good opportunity to see where we are on the path to disacipleship.  I encourage you to spend some time with it.

It is a Big Country

I’ve been out of town for the last six days.  Saturday morning, Elena and I got into the car for the long drive from St. Paul to Knoxville, Tennessee, arriving around noon on Sunday.  We spent the next couple of days buying furniture and other essential items (the Asian grocery store was a high priority), putting together furniture and otherwise getting Elena’s part of the apartment she is sharing with two other young women organized before the three began their orientation for University of Tennessee School of Music graduate program yesterday.  (Elena and both of her apartment-mates are pursuing a Masters in Music in vocal studies.)

There is nothing like a long drive to another part of the country to remind oneself that this is a big country with a tremendous amount of diversity.  I don’t mean geographically – although that is surely also the case.  (Having lived in relatively flat Minnesota and Wisconsin for the last nine years, Elena was joyous as we started driving into the area of the Smokies.  “There is topography here,” was her humorous outcry.)  But there is an enormous difference in culture (which I experience every day having moved to Minnesota from New York), behavior, and even values.

It is an important thing to remember.  We have a tendency to think that there is only one way – our way.  And, if we are honest, we will admit that we think other ways of being/thinking are (depending on the circumstances) quaint or cute on the one hand, or ignorant, unsophisticated, or just plain wrong on the other. Spending time off our “home court” now and then is a good thing.

 

 

Today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord.  At today’s Mass, we hear St. Luke’s account of this event, one that is recorded in all three of the Synoptic Gospels.

Luke is not only a talented writer, but he is also a skillful artist and his richly detailed scenes engage the human imagination.  I love his description here; Luke tells us that Jesus led Peter, John and James up a mountain and that, while he was praying, “his face changed in appearance and his clothing became dazzling white.”   The disciples see Jesus in all of his divine glory, getting a glimpse of the resurrected Jesus.  They then see him with two men standing and conversing with him: Elijah and Moses.  Some time later, After a cloud came over them, and from the cloud they heard God’s voice saying, “This is my chosen Son.  Listen to him.”

Now that sort of thing doesn’t just happen every day. Even for Jesus’ friends, who were used to seeing him do some amazing things, this must have been an extraordinary thing to behold. You might even expect it to be life-changing.  You might expect it to be the sort of thing that would cause them to run and tell all of their friends about what they saw.

But, no.  First, Peter, not really understanding what is going on, says “it is good that we are here; let us make three tents,” as though they were going to just hang out up there.  Then, Peter, James and John simply fall silent and, when they get home, tell no one what they experienced.  And we know that even after this,  James and John will be worrying about whether they are going to get to sit at Jesus’ right hand, Peter will still denies him, and they all will run away when Jesus is crucified.

I want to criticize them for their slowness, and perhaps you have the same reaction.  But the truth is that we are not all that different from them.  In my own case,  I’ve had some incredible experiences of God on retreat, in prayer and at other times. I’ve had experiences that have caused me to marvel at what God has revealed of Godself, feeling like nothing will ever be the same. And, while at some level it is not the same, suffice it to say that occasions arise where I’ll think or do or say something that seems completely inconsistent with the revelations I have experienced.

So on the Feast of the Transfiguration, I pray, continue to reveal yourself to me, Lord. And let me thoughts, words and deeds more and more mirror that revelation.

I’ve seen a number of memes in recent times that talk about “first world problems,” that poke fun at the frustrations and complaints that are only experienced by privileged individuals in more wealthy problems.

I thought of those today as I was cleaning out my files and came across something written by Joyce Rupp some time ago.  It is titled Apology to My Brothers and Sisters in Developing Countries.  Instead of the joking memes, perhaps we might spend some time reflecting on Rupp’s apology, and what it says about our priorites and our privilege.  Here it is:

To my brothers and sisters in developing countries:

While I was deciding which oat bran cereal to eat this morning, you were searching the ground for leftover grains from the passing wheat truck.

While I was jogging at the health center, you were working in the wealthy landowner’s field under the scorching sun.

While I complained about the poor service in the gourmet restaurant, you were gratefully eating a bowl of rice.

While I poured my “fresh and better” detergent into the washing machine, you stood in the river with your bundle of clothes.

While I watched the evening news on my wide-screen television set, you were being terrorized and taunted by a dictatorial government.

While I read the newspaper and drank my cup of steaming coffee, you walked the long, dusty miles to a crowded schoolroom to learn how to read.

While I scanned the ads for a bargain on an extra piece of clothing, you woke up and put on the same shirt and pants that you have worn for many months.

While I built the fourteen-room house for the three of us, your family of ten found shelter in a one-room hut.

While I went to church last Sunday and felt more than slightly bored, you stood on the land with those around you and felt gratitude to God for being alive for one more day.

My brothers and sisters, forgive me for my arrogance and my indifference. Forgive me for my greed of always wanting newer, bigger, and better things. Forgive me for not going my part to change the unjust systems that keep you suffering and impoverished. I offer you my promise to become more aware of your situation and to change my lifestyle as I work for the transformation of the world.

Yesterday we heard a wonderful homily on love by a visiting priest at Church of St. Thomas More in St. Paul.  He spoke beautifully about the relationship between God’s love for us and our love for each other – and about the presence of God in our love of each other.

I thought the e-mail from Inward/Outward (a project of the Church of the Saviour in DC; theirs is one of the daily reflections I receive) was a perfect follow-up to what we heard yesterday.  It was a quote by Gabriel Garcia Marquez:

Always say what you feel, and do what you think is good and right. If I knew that today would be the last time I’d see you, I would hug you tight and pray the Lord be the keeper of your soul. If I knew that this would be the last time you pass through this door, I’d embrace you, kiss you and call you back for one more. If I knew that this would be the last time I would hear your voice, I’d take hold of each word to be able to hear it over and over again. If I knew this is the last time I’d see you, I’d tell you I love you, and would not just assume foolishly you know it already.

My simple question for reflection today is this:  What if we treated every encounter we have with another as though it were the last one we’d ever have?  What difference might that make?

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