Sunday, May 27, 2018
Sunday, May 20, 2018
During the last two weeks of April, the local public radio station conducted the semi-annual pledge drive to raise funds for programming.
One day during this period, Terry Gross' show, "Fresh Air," was re-broadcast of a November 17, 2017, interview with Father Greg Boyle. Father Boyle founded Homeboy Industries in downtown Los Angeles, the largest gang intervention program in the world. He has also written two books, Tattoo on the Heart - The Power of Boundless Compassion (2011) and Barking to the Choir - The Power of Radical Kinship (2017). Each provide interesting and inspiring reading.
Mike and I heard Father Boyle speak in July, 2016, at the Chautauqua Institute in western New York. Last year, we took four gang members for ice cream, two men and two women, who were visiting Chautauqua for a week. We learned so much from them about developing positive life skills and gaining employment after being part of Father Boyle's ministry.
What Is Prayer?
Toward the end of Terry's interview, she asked Father Boyle about prayer.
"What is the role of prayer in your life?" she asked.
He replied when he was a child, his prayers were rote and petitionary, such as "Please help me pass my math test since I didn't have time to study."
As he grew older, his prayer life changed and became more meditative using mantras such as "resting in You, resting in me." He says, "Prayer helps me find God at the center of my life."
Now that statement is a far cry from a petitionary prayer asking God for something to happen. Father Boyle has moved beyond asking to searching and seeking God in his life through prayer.
I deeply connected with his words as I do not make petitionary prayer. I bring people for whom I pray each day to God, but I don't ask for specifics. I believe God is aware of their circumstances, so I pray, "God I bring you _____," and let God work.
Father Boyle also acknowledged another one of my beliefs: God cannot protect us from adversity, but as we step into the wideness of God's presence, God will sustain us through any hardship that comes our way.
Hearing Father Boyle speak again was affirming as I connected with the message he proclaimed at Chautauqua and then on "Fresh Air." I treasure the mile I walked with him on the grounds of Chautauqua as we were both returning from a meeting and heading to dinner.
1. How is prayer for you?
2. What does prayer mean for you?
3. Are you involved in petitionary prayer or in a style that seeks to find God at the center of your life?
Prayer: God, you give us direction on prayer in the Bible, but sometimes we come to you begging for results when we really need to be reminded and reassured of your presence to sustain and to guide. Give us encouragement to seek a new perspective on prayer and strength to try new ways of being with you. Amen.
Sunday, May 13, 2018
Every March, I send a birthday card to my friend, Katie, an energetic 87-year-old, I met in a water aerobics class at the YMCA. Each year, along with a birthday greeting, I write on her card, "I want to be just like you!" - meaning if I live to my eighties I hope to have the energy and zest for life I see in Katie.
This year, she sent a thank you card. Along with her gratitude she added, "I think you are wonderful just the way you are!"
I chuckled when I read her words that led me to pause for a minute and consider the beauty in my life..
Another Unexpected Thank You
A few months ago, I received a thank you note from the CEO of Indiana University North Hospital expressing gratitude for the time I volunteer each week. I was surprised and never expected to receive a note for my service.
Next time I saw Randy, I thanked him for this gesture of kindness. He told me he tries to write a thank you note each day to a volunteer or hospital employee. I was impressed with the faithfulness of this wonderful habit.
My Own Experience with Thank You Notes
Although I didn't like writing thank you notes when I was a child for gifts I received at Christmas, I was glad my mother made me write them. I carried that habit from my past into adulthood. I taught my children to write thank you notes from the time they were little, beginning with scribblings interpreted as 'thank you'. I continue to write and send them myself all these years later as a habit and a joy - in fact, I cannot begin to enjoy a gift until I write a thank you note.
Thank you notes express appreciation, but not always for gifts. I have received notes expressing gratitude for leading a program, for vocational and professional support, for being a mentor, for remembering a birthday or special occasion, and for support following the loss of a spouse.
I have written thank you notes for a meal provided, for gratitude of a friendship, and most recently I wrote a note to an old friend who gave me reassurance that a mutual friend's final days were pain free and peaceful.
Jesus Says Thank You
Jesus realized the value of offering thanks on three occasions: following the raising of Lazarus, before he fed 4,000 people, and at the last supper.
Jesus learned that Lazarus was sick. A few days went by before he went to Bethany. When he arrived, Lazarus was already dead. Mary and Martha were grief-stricken.
Martha said, "Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died."
Jesus replied, "Your brother will rise again."
Jesus, Mary and Martha went to the tomb. When the stone was rolled away, Jesus commanded Lazarus to come out. Lazarus walked out of the tomb with strips of linen wrapped around his hands and feet.
Jesus looked up and prayed, "Father, I thank you that you heard me" (John 11:41-42).
Then, when Jesus was preparing to feed four thousand people, he "took the seven loaves of
bread and when he had given thanks, he broke them" (Matthew 15:35-36).
Finally, when Jesus and the disciples gathered for the last supper, "He took bread, gave thanks and broke it" (Luke 22:19).
Jesus knew the value of giving thanks to God.
More Thanks From Reader's Digest
The April, 2018 issue of Reader's Digest contains an interesting story, "Showing Your Appreciation - The Power of a Thank You Note Can Last A Lifetime" (pages 110-117).
Fifteen people share their experiences of receiving or writing a thank you note. One was from a woman who'd been a mail carrier for 30 years. When she retired, she wrote a note to each of her 436 customers thanking them for allowing her to serve them. On her last day, she was surprised when many hung balloons on the boxes and wrote her a thank you note. She concluded, "I hope I delivered all the mail properly that day, as there were tears of gratitude filling my eyes."
Last week at a funeral visitation, I saw a woman who was a member of Mike's first church. I met her in June, 1976. I remember writing her a thank you not for bringing us a meal after we moved.
Next time I saw her, she thanked me for the note and said, "You are just beginning to write a lifetime of thank you notes as Mike's career starts."
At the time, I didn't realize the scope of her words, but I surely have written a lot of thank you notes over Mikes 37 years with churches because affirming people by expressing gratitude is a way I show God's love.
Questions for Reflection
1. Are there people from the past to whom you would like to express gratitude by writing a note?
2. Make a list of these individuals and write one note a day.
3. Is there someone who has recently completed a kindness you want to acknowledge? Take a moment to write a note of appreciation.
Prayer: God, you give us everything we need, beginning with the gift of life. You provide for us physically, spiritually, and emotionally. How can we ever thank you for your goodness and love? Guide us to live our lives so we show gratitude in how we respond and interact with others. Help us daily to always give you thanks and praise. Amen.
Sunday, May 6, 2018
Matthew 5: 1-20 - Now when he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying,
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
One day, Jesus decided to go up a mountain along with the disciples and teach them by offering a series of lessons, later known as the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon described the whole spectrum of life in the kingdom mentioning the poor and the meek, those who are mourning or hungry, those who are pure in heart or merciful, the peacemakers and the persecuted.
Why Are Those Who Suffer Blessed?
I've always wondered why the word "blessed" was paired with each of these conditions. Why are those who are hungry and persecuted blessed? Why are those who mourn blessed? Why would mourning or being hungry or persecuted be gifts from God? These passages seem to be a contradiction in terms.
I spent some time studying the word, "blessed," and reading about the interpretation and meaning of these passages. "Blessed" means divinely favored and receiving from God.
Those who are grieving, hungry and persecuted are blessed because they are not alone. God is with them. Being blessed means that when suffering happens, we can be open to receive God's presence, love, hope, strength and encouragement to help get through difficult days.
In my reflection with this passage I focused on verse four, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Loss was heavy on my mind and familiar to my heart. I carry loss from my past. I was also mindful of the fourteen people I have known who died since August, some of whom were close friends, others parents of friends, while others acquaintances.
I recently received a thank you note from the mother of one of Anna's friends whose son died after an eight month battle with cancer. Anna and I made a donation to his place of employment. At the end of the note she said, "Life is hard, God is good."
She was stating a beatitude about mourning in reverse. Jesus said, "Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted." Her comment could be re-ordered to say, "God is good, but life is hard," to reflect the language of the beatitude.
By saying, "God is good," she is opening herself to the vast expanse of God's presence, mercy, love, compassion and comfort in the midst of heartbreak and tremendous grief, that indeed, makes life hard.
God Is With Us
When difficult times come our way, being blessed may not be our first thought. However, knowing "blessed" means that God is with us, we do not have to go through our days alone, for all that God offers is available. God welcomes us into his presence.
Questions For Reflection
1. What does blessed mean to you?
2. When you have experienced grief, hunger or persecution, do you feel blessed?
3. How has God helped you through rough times with the assurance you are not alone, but blessed?
Prayer: God, sometimes you speak in ways that seem confusing. When we explore your language we have new ways of understanding your nature and what life in you can offer. Keep us always anchored in you for all life brings our way. Amen.