First Sunday of Lent: Comfort in the Desert

One phrase from Sunday’s gospel is often overlooked: “and angels waited on him.” After a dreadful ordeal, when Jesus is hungry and probably exhausted, the presence of the divine is somehow still with him. It is possible that angels attend all our lonely desert places. Where we sense the least comfort, there it abounds. Perhaps it’s a relationship, health or job issue, looming decision. How might God be present in difficult circumstances?

Ash Wednesday Reflection

As ashes are signed on our foreheads, we hear the words, “Turn from sin; trust the good news.” What does that mean? Sin in the Hebrew context was anything less than the fullness of what God wants us to become.

“Turn from all that drags you down,” Jesus says. Are we haunted by worries about the future or shame about the past? Are we still angry about something that happened years ago? Lent means springtime: it presents us with the opportunity to slough off like a snakeskin all that deadens. Instead, we turn to the God who made us, who redeemed us and who lives in us. Just as Jesus would say that the Prince of this world has no hold on me, so we belong to God, not to all that threatens. If we over-identify with our emotions, achievements, children, work or ideas, we risk being in bondage to one sector of our lives, out of balance as a whole person. Instead, Jesus invites us to belong completely to him, with all we are. The only door into the future is trust. God who has been faithful before can be trusted again. Can we step towards that life source this Lent?

 

The Sisters of St. Ann: Perennial Pioneers

There are many kinds of pioneers, and the Sisters of St. Ann demonstrate this superb diversity. Since their founding in Quebec, Canada, by Blessed Marie Anne Blondin in 1850, their original spirit continues vigorously today.

-Editor’s note: Kathy Coffey’s latest article, “Perennial Pioneers: The Sister of St. Ann” was published on the Global Sister’s Report in January.  To read the full article, click here.

 

Book Review: IN DUE SEASON

Sometimes an occasion demands a prayer. Rather than stuff that vague feeling of “I want to honor this time/season/mood, but don’t have time to concoct a formal observance,” turn to IN DUE SEASON, by Ken Phillips (Twenty-third Publications, 2014.)

Full disclosure: Ken has been liturgical director and exuberant musician at Regis University, Denver for many years. When I first heard his stunning Advent celebrations, or prose poems created for other events, I bugged him to seek a wider audience. Now that he has finally published his accumulated work, I’m delighted for him—and mightily impressed.

Volume 1 covers autumn, Advent, Christmas and feasts up to Mardi Gras. Volume 2 will offer prayers for spring, Lent, Easter and summer. While some of us may have grown overly familiar or numbly habituated to the prayers we hear in church, Ken nudges us out of anesthesia with lyrical cadences, subtle wit, and bold re-imaginings. For instance, on the Feast of the Holy Family, he names that sense of inferiority we all feel in the face of such impossible goodness:

Their famous meekness

and piety and love

of one another

make my situation look really

lame and a lot less than Holy.

Decorating the Christmas tree, which he finds a symbol for transformation, he compares the task to God’s creativity:

as we,

with fragile glass

and shining tinsel

do what You can do

with finer stuff

in the human heart.

Enough of excerpts, designed to enchant and intrigue. The book can be used for groups or individuals and is especially suited for ecumenical services. It includes music suggestions, set up directions and reflection questions. Designed for lay leadership, it makes ritual graceful and easy—no more stilted, awkward attempts. Relax into the guidance of a seasoned pro.

Inaugurations and Realizations, Part 2

In our time and place, miracles still abound. The sun rises and sets, often in spectacular beauty. Spring gradually colors an earth that appeared barren. Penicillin, heart transplants and other medical advances save people who fifty years ago, would have died young. People reach beyond their selfish needs to help others, even when it’s costly.

When power and back-up generators failed during hurricane Sandy in Oct., 2012, nurses at New York University hospital carefully carried patients, including a 27-week old premature baby, down nine flights of steps, evacuating them to other hospitals in the middle of the night. Less dramatic but just as kindly, those who had power after the storm ran long extension cords to their porches so those without could charge their cell phones and computers.

Sometimes we pray long and hard for a miracle, then when it finally arrives, we get used to it. Aching to be healthy again—then taking it for granted after the cure. Hoping to get pregnant, praying for a healthy baby, then wanting to strangle that surly teenager fourteen years later. Or wanting so badly to get the house… the job… the promotion… whatever it was, and now just wanting to get away from it? We spend so much time thinking about what we don’t have, we forget to be grateful for all we have.

And these blessings are mostly on a natural plane. Could we ever fully appreciate God’s gifts of life, forgiveness, salvation, family, education, friendship, and more? Perhaps the real challenge is to live out of gratitude for the abundant miracles that surround us.

Inaugurations and Realizations, Part 1

It’s exciting to be there when an attractive, bright, young leader launches a career—in politics, the church, education, whatever the arena. The audience sits up straight and says, “That is one to watch!”

So it must have been for those lucky enough to be around for the “calling” stories we hear in the gospels of this season, when Jesus begins his public ministry. In them, Jesus announces not the wrath of God, nor the triumph of God, nor the punishment of God, but the healing, freeing, feeding, tender touch of God.

And what of those who may not have heard Jesus initially, but would soon be dramatically affected by his healing power? The first was Peter’s mother-in-law. Rumors of that synagogue announcement might have penetrated her fever with a gleam of hope. Blind Bartimaeus, the woman bent double for eighteen years, the paralytic, the leper, the widow of Nain, those who would hear the Beatitudes and perhaps for the first time know blessing in what had seemed like unrelieved misery: all probably carried on their usual routines that day oblivious to huge change on the horizon.

What of us, today, who also seem distanced by time and space from the direct proclamation of gracious words? We may be just as unaware of what hovers seemingly out of reach.

To be continued…

Invitation to Mystery

The trouble with some Bible passages is overfamiliarity. We’ve heard them so often, they sound worn. We tune out, think about what’s for dinner, or yawn: “heard this before!”

So let’s reimagine Jesus’ words to the disciples today. Instead of “come and see,” he says, “Come fill out an application form with 734 questions in triplicate. Then sign the contracts. Ask your attorney to look over the paperwork. And get it all notarized.”

That whoosh you would’ve heard was the disciples running in the other direction. Bear in mind, these were uneducated fisherfolk. They wouldn’t have been impressed by military power or university degrees. They’d reject compulsion but respond to invitation. They were deeply compelled by the person of Jesus.

Try to remember the last time you were so excited about someone you ran to tell your friends, then praised this person so extravagantly, your friends couldn’t resist. They dropped what they were doing, abandoned their busy schedules, and checked out the reality. Did that happen  to the disciples?