Father Mark, Reflections

Asking the Right Question II

Incense represents an offering to God and an image of the Divine Mystery that we cannot grasp.

Years ago, I taught a two weekend 38 hour listening skills course for church members around our diocese “called “The Calling and Caring Ministry. I recall a statement taught in the class that I had never thought of before: “The answer you get is the question you sent.”

The crux of the matter is that if I am asking a question, I am the one responsible for “languaging” the question so that the listener can understand it to the point that they may give a clear response. If the person doesn’t understand the question it’s mostly my fault in communicating the question clearly to them.

Our questions often reveal the level of our own understanding of the depth of complexity that we address. Jesus’ disciples were notorious for asking questions that were unrelated to where Jesus was attempting to lead them. Matthew 20 tells the story of a mother who asks Jesus if her two sons can sit on the right and left of him in his kingdom. Poor insight. The need to feel important, more important than others reveals one’s spiritual poverty. Then there’s the story of the disciples arguing in Luke 9, “Who is the greatest? Until one is immersed within by the acceptance and love of God, one will hunger for worth and importance. Being one with God dissolves the need for rank. In john 9, the disciples ask Jesus, whether the fault was the man’s or his parents’ for the reason he was born blind. Instead of looking at whose at fault, why not look at what it might take to heal the man? In Mark 13 the disciples ask when Jesus would return again during the end of the age, wanting to know, “When?” Jesus tells them that it’s not for them to know. Human beings have a canny habit of wanting to know when everything is going to happen as it gives us the illusion that we’re in control of our lives, safety, others and other things.

Our questions also reveal our level of understanding. After dialoguing with Pilate, Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” Pilate was looking for a definition or facts. Jesus was Living Truth in Pilate’s midst that Pilate could not realize.

There is sometimes a reason for our questions as they can reveal our agenda behind wanting to know the details of what’s coming. When we know the details, we think we feel secure, thus losing our true security in being one with the Spirit. Knowing God is our security, not the details.

Now I’m not saying any of this is easy. We so often seek security instead of God, desiring security more than God. It’s really difficult to let go of this and it’s never a one time event. “Letting go” and relying on God alone is a daily event into which we are invited in the moments of each day.

What are our questions really asking? Listen beyond the words to the spirit and intention behind them. And then ask God to help us release those questions into the most important question of all: “Lord, will you help me to want you and desire you above all other things? Will you heal my conflicted heart and become One with me? Will you manifest your presence within me to the extent that I too can say with Jesus, “The Father and I are One.”

Amen.

Father Mark, News, Reflections

Asking the Right Question

I was 29 when my first daughter, Erin, was born.  In my third year of ordained ministry I was beginning to slowly emerge from the condition of being “wet behind the ears.”   When we brought her home from the hospital, my wife put her into my arms, this beautiful mystery of being, and I looked at her with a sense of awe and wonder and said to myself: “Now, what do I do?” 

Sure, I learned to mix the formula, change the diapers and all the tasks that could be what I call, “measured” by following the directions.  But these matters were not what my question was addressing. 

There was a human being inside that little body and even more so, a soul.  How was I supposed to interact, connect, guide, support, love, allow the correct amount of autonomy, maintain boundaries and somehow father the child of God in my arms and who would be soon running around me revealing how little I knew the mystery of life that was living within her.  It wasn’t always about having the right answers, because people aren’t objects that respond to a general pattern of how things should be.  They respond uniquely out of their own sense of mystery contained within.   How could I help her find the God who created her, who lived within her while at the same time I was still learning (and am still learning now) how to remain connected to the One whose Peace passes all understanding?

There’s a danger in being a human being when we think we know the “answers” when we haven’t even known how to ask the right questions.   Our past becomes the conditioning of our present and future if we aren’t careful enough to gaze deeper and listen to the still small Voice that touches our soul more than our mind influences our thinking.  If we lose presence of mind and reduce God to a thought or set of rules, missing out on the omnipotence of Being who desires to immerse his Spirit within our own, who is already living within us and is waiting to emerge, then our lives can become a hollow shell without our even knowing it as we become lost in the details of the day. 

This is why worship, particularly the Eucharist, and a personal prayer life, specifically for me, contemplative prayer, is so necessary.  Anthony de Mello S.J. said that the most difficult part of the spiritual life is waking up and remaining awake to the presence of God in us, in our midst and in others.   Without this way of marking time, of maintaining contact, we go from awake to what is known now as a form of “woke” which can take many forms, none of which are worth living because woke isn’t life at all.

St. Benedict, nourished in Eucharist, the Daily Offices and in silence in the midst of a community of believers realized this and wrote the sacred truth: “Every day, we begin again.”   It brings me back to Erin as a babe in my arms, which was truly a new day begun again and leaves me asking still, “What do I do now?” 

May we all ask this question day after day because the idea of today being like the “same old, same old” of yesterday is simply a delusion.  It’s not the same at all. If we think so, we’re asleep again. 

By asking the question, “What do I do now?” means that I won’t see you today as I did yesterday, going by the past history of stereotypes that my conditioned mind acquires over time.  After all, God could have acted in you your life and if I don’t ask the question, I’ll never see it and we both will be the poorer for it.  Every time we observe God acting in another person’s life, God gets bigger.  It’s not that God gets bigger, but that our cataracts fall off. 

One of the saddest experiences I go through as a priest is to hear people talk of others, of their idiosyncrasies, weaknesses and faults without looking for the God and good who lives within them—for the beauty that does live within them if we just wake up long enough to look.   The result?  We screen out people. Then conflict emerges in the congregation between neighbors, in town, county, state and country. 

God knows I have my faults.  I struggle with organization sometimes, can forget things, be self-preoccupied with other “to do’s” so that I don’t hear what others are telling me and there are times when I need more time to make decisions because I’m in a spot where there are about a half dozen choices and the clarity just hasn’t reached the space between my ears yet.   These are the parts of life that defy an easy answer that Dear Abby could give you. Discernment is a lifelong practice of patience, listening and waiting.  It’s called being Spirit led and praying that the decisions we make on a day to day basis don’t come from our own perception but God’s Wisdom. 

Erin is now 40.  When I look at her, sometimes the question still comes from within:  “Now, what do I do?”  If I don’t ask the question, I am projecting who I think she is on her rather that look for the person that God created her to be within her—as she is this day.  Forgive me for the times that I forgot to ask.  

Peace,

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Sermons

The Changelessness of God

Proper 25A Pentecost 21; Matt 22:32 ff; 10/25/20

At clergy conference we often share ecclesiastical humor.  Last week, one priest joked that we were in the 32nd Sunday of Covidtide.  Welcome to the 33rd Sunday of Covidtide.  In this season of Covidtide, how many changes can you recall experiencing?  

There’s an old saying that the only constant is change.  But there is an exception.  

I am reminded of my favorite prayer in Compline.  I’d like to pray it with you right now, even though the prayer is written for evening: 

Be present, O merciful God, and protect us through the hours of this night, so that we who are wearied by the changes and chances of this life may rest in your eternal changelessness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Eternal Changelessness of God.  The love of God doesn’t change even when we up to our necks in alligators trying to find the plug to pull to drain the swamp. 

The Eternal Changelessness of God.  There is the eternal still, small voice of God that has circled the universe before its creation, now encircling us. 

The Eternal Changelessness of God.  The eternal still small voice of God, hums the love of God to us like a mother hums to her child in her arms. 

When is the last time we felt like we were being held in the arms of God—hearing the hum of the Divine still small Voice—the same voice of Jesus that calmed the storm?  

The Eternal Changelessness of God.  As storms of various kinds rage around us—are we not in need of the Divine still small voice stilling the hurricane force winds that storm within us?  

Jesus sought the solitude of the wilderness so that he could meet his temptations—the storms within to discover the Eternal Changelessness of God.  

When the storms around us calm while we still experience hurricane force winds on the inside, we are still chained within. 

This is why the Great Commandment begins with loving God.  In truth we are responding to the love of God—to the presence of the hum of the still small Voice God has implanted in us.  The still small voice calls out to us from within beckoning us to release our hearts to him. 

Receiving the love of God and loving God in return is the core of loving our neighbor.  The attempt to love others without being grounded in the love of God is dehumanizing. 

The Eternal Changelessness of God.  God has placed his heart within us merging with the heart of God is our greatest longing, whether we are aware of this or not.

The Eternal Changelessness of God.  Go to your heart right now—listen for the still small voice who longs for you. 

Discover your greatest longing of all. 

Entwine with the Eternal Changelessness of God. 

The Father and you are one.

News

Humility is only born in silence

We are anxious to respond to so many difficulties, sufferings, and disasters that afflict mankind.  We forget that the source of our troubles comes from the illusion that we are something other than mere dust.  The man who makes himself God no longer wants to know that he is mortal. +Robert Cardinal Sarah, Nicolas Diat

When is the last time you spent twenty or more minutes in the stillness of silence?

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Sermons

Choose Life by Practicing Stewardship

Proper 24A; Pentecost 20, Matt. 23 October 18, 2020

For all of you out there who own cattle, how would you like to pay an added $100 tax per head on each of your cows?  For those who don’t, how many would like to pay the tax on your dog or cat?  I’ll get to this in a minute. 

Meanwhile, the Pharisees were desperate to get a political argument going with Jesus, trying to find a way to trap and get rid of him.  So they tried trapping him with one of our favorite subjects: taxes. 

Judah was a part of the Roman New World Order when it was conquered in 63 BC.  Rome allowed the Jews a puppet government subservient to the oversight of a Roman governor.  Roman citizens paid property taxes.  Others, like Judah that were called protectionaries were taxed by what is known as a head tax. 

Jews were resistant to a head tax to Caesar called a tribute.  

Not only did Judah resent being invaded by Rome and having to pay a tax for a government they didn’t want, but that the Roman tribute coin minted in Rome, bore the head of Caesar.  Since Caesar was worshipped as a god, the Jews believed that this was idolatry against God—violating the Ten Commandments by making an offering to a graven image.  Head taxes were also paid on sheep and cattle.  How would all of you who have animals like to pay additional taxes on each of your animals?  

It’s time to trap Jesus.  Is it lawful according to the Torah to pay the head tax?   If Jesus answers:  Yes means idolatry against the Ten Commandments and is unpatriotic.  By answering no means Jesus is guilty of sedition to the Roman authorities. 

Jesus transcends the polarization in his statement:  “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”   In the latter half of the statement of giving the things to God that are God’s, Jesus teaches about stewardship. 

What are the things that are God’s?  

Let’s reverse the question—what doesn’t belong to God?  Living like everything belongs to God aligns us with the Father’s will.  Jesus is reiterating the Word given to Moses in Deuteronomy 30 when he says, “choose life, that both you and your seed may live: That you may love the LORD your God, and obey his voice…for he [is] your life…”    Choose life, says Moses.

Choosing life is stewardship. 

I’ve read that the average person makes 35,000 choices per day.  We’re rarely aware of how many choices we really make.  Most are based on our past history of conditioning and are done on automatic pilot. 

The Hebrew word for life is both singular and plural, meaning the temporal life we live on earth is coupled with the eternal life we can begin living now.  By choosing life we choose both life in the now and life forever as they are intertwined, not separated.

I wonder, what would it be like to be able to reflect on each choice we make prayerfully, asking God to help us choose life in each instant?   Would our lives change for the better?  Choosing life means our daily choices are in alignment with the Spirt of God’s order of creation, creating harmony in ourselves, others and in creation. 

By choosing life, our choices also have a cumulative affect increasing life exponentially within and in our environment.  Choosing life is stewardship—a spiritual practice in all that we do with all that we are and all that we have received. 

Choosing life—the practice of stewardship—is the place where joy is to be found.