Advent Retreat in Daily Living: Promise in the Old Testament

Yesterday was the second session of the three-session Advent Retreat in Daily Living I am offering at the University of St. Thomas School of Law this year. As always, we began by giving the participants time to share some of the fruits of their prayer this week with the material I distributed after our first session (Creation and Fall).

The subject of this second session was Promise in the Old Testament. In my reflection, I talked about the writings of three of the prophets – Isaiah, Micah and Malachi, although I spent the most time talking about Isaiah, one of the great prophets of Advent.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 20:06.) You can find a copy of the prayer materials I distributed to participants here.

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Promise in the Old Testament

This morning was the second of a four-session Fall scripture study/prayer I am offering at Our Lady or Lourdes in Minneapolis. The series, titled from Creation to Annunciation is designed to help us prepare for our Christmas celebration of the coming of Christ. In our first session last week, we focused on Creation and Fall. My talk addressed the Genesis account of creation (and what it reveals about God’s plan), the entry of sin into the world, and God’s response to sin – the decision to incarnate.

This week’s session focused on The Promise of the Old Testament. That is, I spoke about the messages of three of the Old Testament prophets: Isaiah, Micah and Malachi, with an emphasis on Isaiah. Each of the three illustrates God’s promise: Though the people have wandered far from what God envisioned for them, God constantly invites them back. The repeated structure of the prophets is judgment and promise, judgment and hope. This is illustrated so well in the early part of the Book of Isaiah, which opens with the Book of Judgment. Yet, even as God is harshly castigating the people for their sins, God invites (as God does continually) “Come now, let us set things right.”

My talk also focused on our need to be active participants in “preparing the way of the Lord,” and on our call to be prophets.

Following my talk, we had a period of silent reflection, followed by some sharing. (That is not part of the recording.) I ended by encouraging the participants to spend time praying with the prophets this week. (Part of what we are trying to emphasize in this series is the value of praying with scripture and not just reading it as an intellectual exercise.)

You can access a recording of the my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 39:03.)

Spirituality of Action

Last night was the final gathering of the Buddhist-Christian Interspirituality Group I have been faciliatating. Our discussion centered on one of the chapters of Wayne Teasdale’s The Mystic Heart. (It may have been Teasdale who first used the term “interspirituality.”)

The chapter I had asked participants to read was titled Out in the World: The Spirituality of Action. In it, Teasdale discusses what he identifies as the three important elements of the social dimension that is found in all traditions of spirituality: simplicity of life, selfless service, and the prophetic or moral value.

Simplicity of life concerns our relationship with everything and everyone in this world – other human beings, other species, the natural world, the planet. Teasdale calls simplicity of life “an inner focus on what is necessary. As we grow in mystical consciousness and become inwardly integrated, our life naturally becomes simplified, uncluttered by property and money…Simplicity has a way of focusing our attention on what is absolutely essential; it goest to the core of our being and strips away all the distractions that compete for our attention.”

One of the questions we discussed last night was what does simplicity of life look like in a culture like the United States for non-monastics. It is worth reflecting on. I sometimes feel that, despite my best efforts at giving away possessions and refraining from purchases, I still have way more than I need. Experiences like the Camino, where I lived easily out of a backpack, help remind me of how little we actually need.

The second important element – selfless service and compassionate action – are clearly central to all faith traditions. Yet, as Teasdale observes, one can find examples in all faith traditions of the “problem of inaction,” of the failure to respond to the needs of others in a loving compassionate way. I suspect this “total availability” is something most of us have to work on.

The same is true for the third. “A further vital component in a universal spirituality, and so in an interspirituality, is the awakened and utterly necessary function of leadership in the area of justice.” Teasdale calls this the operation of the prophetic voice – the voice that “vigorously acknowledges the unjust events and policies that cause enormous tension, misery, and dislocation in the lives or countless numbers of people.” We have a responsibility to witness and to respond.

There is too much to say on this subject than I can say in this single post. So let me here say simply this. It is easy to be overwhelmed by the injustice that exists in so many areas, to say what can I possibly do in the face of so many large problems. But it is not overwhelming to pick one thing to be your focus. We can’t each respond to every need in the world. But we can each do something. What is the issue that most tugs at your soul? Is it homelessness? Trafficking? Treatment of those with mental illness? Pick one and investigate what you can do in that area.

The Courage to Be Prophets

A number of Catholic and Protestant churches in the Twin Cities area cooperate in facilitating Celebrating Summer Sundays!, ecumenical worship services every Sunday morning in the summer. The services are held at the Lake Harriet bandshell and each of the participating churches takes responsibility for one week during the summer.

Yesterday, Christ the King and St. Thomas Apostle parishes (which work in cooperation on many things, including grade school) had charge of the celebration. Bill Nolan, pastoral associate at St. Thomas Apostle (with whom I co-presented the reflection series on Jesus’ Post-Resurrection appearances earlier this year) presided at the service and I gave the homily.

The focus of my remarks was a subject I’ve talked about before: our universal call to be prophets. While my post yesterday morning addressed the question of our recognizing the prophets among us, in my homily I focused on why being a prophet is challenging and what help our readings give us in understanding what gives us the strength to met those challenges.

You can access a recording of my homily here or stream it from the icon below. (The homily was a little over eight minutes in length.) The readings for yesterday’s service to which I refer in my homily were: Ezekiel 2:2-5, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, and Mark 6:1-6.

Do We Recognize the Prophets Among Us?

In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, Jesus has a tough time in “his native place.” Despite the apparent wisdom of his teachings, recognizing him as simply the son of Mary and brother and sister to those among them, “they took offense at him.” Jesus’ response is one we are familiar with: “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place.”

I suspect we tend to have an image of what prophets look like. When we hear the word we think of people like the prophets of the Old Testament – Ezekiel (who we hear about in our first Mass reading today), Isaiah and Micah – people who were special and set apart from others. In that sense, we are not dissimilar from the people in Jesus’ “native place,” making the same mistake they did.

The question (or questions) I encourage us all to reflect on is this: Do we recognize the prophets among us? In each other? Or are we like those who could not hear the Word from Jesus because he wasn’t’ what they expected a prophet to look like. (He as just one of them.)

Do we recognize the prophets who walk among us or do we dismiss them?

Preparing the Way of Our God: An Advent Retreat in Daily Living

Yesterday was the first gathering of the Advent Retreat in Daily Living I’m offering at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. Given how close we are to the end of the fall semester, I am delighted at the number of students who, along with faculty, staff and other participants, are making this retreat a part of their Advent experience.

The theme this year’s retreat is Preparing the Way of our God. During my talk today, I spoke a little bit about the meaning of Advent and gave some general instructions for a retreat of this type. Then I spoke about the focus of this coming week’s prayer – prophets. After talking about what is a prophet, I focused on Isaiah, one of the major prophets of Advent.

One of the wonderfully things about the Book of Isaiah is how effectively it conveys God’s fidelity. Although the people of Israel had turned far away from God, there is promise of reconciliation – reminding us that God is relentless in his desire to be reconciled with us.

You can access a recording of my talk here or stream it from the icon below. (The podcast runs for 26:57.) You can find a copy of this week’s prayer material here.

Minor Prophets and Genuine Revelations

I read a poem by Michael Lind today, called Minor Prophets. The first verse of the poem makes the point that none of those we call “minor” prophets actually knew he was minor and suggests that the Habakkuks and Obadiahs of the world probably thought they were the equal of the likes of Elijah or Moses. None of them really had any idea how they would be remembered. The lesson is in the second half of the poem:

Maybe it doesn’t matter.
If you’re on a mission from God, sent to rebuke a city
or to redeem a nation,
where by canon-makers you’re ranked may be inconsequential.
Nor is the voice within you
any less authentic for not having a distant echo.
Seers of the world, be heartened.
Even minor prophets can have genuine revelations.

If we discern, if we listen, if we hear God’s voice and do what God asks us to do, that’s enough. It doesn’t matter how the world rates the importance of the task. The authenticity of our experience of God does not depend on how the “canon-makers” rank us. God speaks to all of us and our task is to act in accord with that task, whatever it is.