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, Reflections

Resentment

Proper 19A Pentecost 15; Matthew 18:21-35; 9/13/20

Trivia question:  Do you know the bitterest substance on the face of the earth? Denatonium benzoate better known as Dentrol or Bitrex.    Denatonium benzoate in a solution of ten parts per million is unbearable to human taste buds.

The heart of people with long carried resentment becomes dark and the bitterness that spews from them is like tasting denatonium benzoate. 

Ten parts per million isn’t much of a ratio. 

It’s like .001 of a percent.  That’s all it takes for resentment to darken our life.  

Resentment is like putting a backpack on and carrying around 100 pounds of lead. 

Not only is the weight intolerably heavy, but the chemical contamination from lead poisons weakens the body and soul. Charles Dickens’ character, Scrooge, would be an example of one who is poisoned by resentment.  

Those whose hearts are unforgiving bring on their own agony and spreads that agony to others.  I am reminded of memories of working in a crisis mental health center of clients brought up by police who hadn’t bathed or changed clothes in over a month.  The stench would permeate the whole floor.   Resentment can carry the similar stench.

The king, after discovering his servant’s failure to show mercy to others after he himself received mercy from the king, reveals the perils of not forgiving.   It’s not that God is going to hold sentence over us for not forgiving.  No.

Spiritual law reveals that when we hold on to resentment and fail to forgive another, we are creating a state of hell for ourselves.  I don’t know if you’ve ever known anyone who has held resentments over an extended period of time.  They’re not much fun to be around. 

One of my favorite quotes that returns to my memory comes from St. Benedict:  Every day we begin again.   God has already forgotten our transgressions and so Benedict is urging us not to keep hanging on to them.   Resentment blocks us from living in the present moment. Learning from our faults is one thing.  Dragging them around is another. 

God does not withhold forgiveness like the hypocritical servant who showed no mercy or compassion to others.   Seventy time seven:   An infinite number. 

Seven and multiples of 7 for the Hebrew represent wholeness and a sense of being complete. 

Forgiving completes our soul, reuniting the lost pieces of ourselves that resentment scatters.  God is always available to relieve human suffering by entering our suffering with us—the way Jesus did it.   Jesus went to hell and back for us.  All we have to do is open the door when he knocks and the agony we carry will be removed from us, restoring us to our blessed Union with God.

Father Mark, Reflections

What HAM Radio Teaches Me About God

One of the joys I experience in life is discovering new things and their relatedness with God’s creation and how God works through creation.  Creation is a metaphor for God’s dynamic action in our lives.  

After passing my HAM exam I began seeing images of how the electromagnetic frequencies and wavelengths of radio waves are interrelated in all forms of sound communication.   The psalmist knew that when God “opened his mouth” and spoke, the frequency and wavelength emitted created life in some form. 

In the New Testament, Jesus would speak and that frequency or wavelength emitted from him would heal a sick person.  Depending on the context and spirit of our hearts, the words emitted from our mouths carry a certain wavelength and frequency to build up or to tear down.  

I was speaking with Pastor Bill Nobles of First UMC this week and we spoke of the message of Jesus that we preach.  Jesus, similar to a transmitter, sent out the Word in the Creator’s frequency and wavelength which was universally (and still is) available to the masses.  The message was received by some whose spiritual antennas were open to receive the message.  In a sense, our whole being is an antenna and receiver for the Spirit but we have to turn it on. 

As you cannot visually see electromagnetic radio waves, we cannot in the same way “see” Spirit.  But we can see what the Spirit does and feel what the Spirit does within us.

Then Pastor Bill and I took the conversation a step further, wondering if the message that we’re preaching is at the same frequency and on the same wavelength as Jesus?  We were silent for a while.  How can we offer the Word Christ preached and healed with at the same frequency and wavelength as he did (does)?  We spoke of the incredible responsibility of how important it is to get out of the way and make sure that it is Jesus speaking through us instead of ourselves.

But is not this the message for all the baptized?  Are not all of our mouths created for allowing the Word in all its vibration and wavelength to emanate from our soul center?  

The HAM radio reminds me of how important being “tuned” to the frequency and wavelength of God’s vibrating Word.  

Let us support each other in this most Holy task.  May the Spirit sound through each of us so that we may radiate the harmony of God.

May each of us experience God’s Peace vibrating through us,

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Reflections

Another Mystery of Life

When in Big Bend last year, Kathy and I stopped at a wonderful rock shop in Terlingua. As we all are “taken aback” when we see things, the above stone caught my attention and my eyes were riveted upon it for some time. Initially, it was the layers of coloring that blended together as I pondered how the minerals were layered so mysteriously instead of conglomerated together in a colorless blob.

The second insight that came to me is can be summed up in the word, “time.” The stone was created layer upon layer over time. Each period of time was layered, colored, and uniquely blended together. There are three different layers of color between the two darker brown layers, one being much thinner than the previous one while there are six layers separating the two pinker layers. How did the differentiation in color and layer thickness happen? How long did it take to happen. I only had one geology course in college so the questions will remain a mystery.

Are not our lives like this beautiful stone. Our lives are layered as we grow from different life experiences. Some of those experiences are darker than others but the darker layers remain as a foundation for other layers of various colors and thicknesses. The stone reaffirms to me that there truly is a “Divine Order in the Universe.”

Each phase of our lives, God is building on the previous layers something entirely new, differing from the other layers, calling us into wholeness and the complete nature of who we are. God is always about the task of shaping us. There are no two stones exactly alike just like there are no two people exactly alike.

Take a few moments before your head hits the pillow this evening to recall all the layers of your life and how each part was used by God to form you into the person you are today. Each part or layer is important and fits in as a part of the whole. Each of us is multifaceted and rich in blessing adding color to and benefiting the world God gave us.

Let your colors show or in the words of Jesus: “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Make no mistake about it. Jesus’ directive tell us that all of our lives matter.

De Colores (All the colors),

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Reflections

Labor Day

I want you to take a moment to look at your hands. I want you to recall a few moments of what your hands have already done today. Most of what your hands have done was most likely done without your awareness. Our hands have become so skilled that they just “do it” without much thought at all.

What your hands have done has been generally a two way effort towards taking care of yourself and your neighbor. The hands have washed and dressed yourself, helped your children, hugged members of your family and prepared and assisted you in eating your breakfast. On other days we we work, our hands in conjunction with our minds create something to bless the world.

Hopefully you remembered to allow your hands to either come to rest or together to pray for a few moments. It is the heart that guides the mind to direct what the hands will do and will not do. The content within the heart is the driving force which moves the hands in the direction, intent and the quality of the work we do.

Notice your hands. Be still for a moment while looking at them and wondering where God will have you use them today. Gratitude will fill your being.

God has no hands but ours.

Remember. Give thanks. Be.

Fr. Mark