Father Mark, Reflections

Please and Thank You

Please and Thank You.

“What’s the magic word?” I was reminded by my mother and father as a young one.   They did well teaching me manners.  Of course it’s up to me to follow through with this. 

Asking for something, whether it’s help, assistance or to be “rescued” out of a situation involves a sense of vulnerability.   We, as human beings, have different levels of comfort with being vulnerable.   Asking another at a meal to “please pass the salt,” is a low risk experience whereas, “I’m in a financial bind, can I borrow $100, raises our anxiety level because of a dual whammy on our pride.  First, we feel “weak” or “less than” for being in the situation in the first place and our sense of worth is shaken.  Secondly, if the person denies our request, we often feel a sense of embarrassment or rejection and even worse, isolation, because we’re not sure how we’ll get out of the bind we’re in.   

In a more serious example, I can only imagine the sense of isolation of those who suffered in concentration camps in Germany or Russia during World War II and under Lenin and Stalin before and after.   Imagine praying every day to be delivered and if you made it through alive some four years later, you would be delivered as the Allies came through Europe.  It’s easy to understand why faithful people under great hardship came to the point of wondering if God existed, or worse, rejected them.

Unfortunately, we project this vulnerability of the fear of rejection or abandonment on God.  If so, we can become hesitant to ask for divine help because we fear that it may not come. 

Let’s take a look at the word, “please.”  Taken from a Hebrew Study by Chaim Bentorah, looking at Psalm 40:14, we find David in a lurch, praying, “Be pleased, O Lord to save me….”   The word, “please,” in Hebrew means to “take pleasure in, delight in or to be satisfied.”  

David approaches God, not by begging or groveling, but realizing that the nature of God is not apathetic but rather, deeply caring.   When we were young, and really wanted something we would beg for it by asking “Pretty please with sugar on top.”  David knows that God does not need to be enticed or convinced to lend a divine hand.  God’s nature is to act in our lives and that God takes pleasure (i.e. is pleased) in this.    God is not a curmudgeon.  God’s pleasure has saved my bacon more times than I can count or remember.   But it is important to remember that God is not a celestial bell hop who is to jump hither and yon to meet our demands.  

God intervenes or helps when God takes pleasure in it which means when it is in the context of God’s will.  The Hebrew word, ratsah, reveals a sense of submission to the divine will. 

Our asking God to act in a certain way may or may not give God pleasure.  There are times when God’s pleasure is to be present to us while we grow through a great difficulty that would give God greater pleasure.   I remember our seminary chaplain preaching that “God is not a God of pain relief.”   Our being formed into the image of God in which we were created to be gives God the greatest pleasure of all.   In our age of the infantile ego of wanting immediate gratification, this lesson waits to be received.   We all want God to “give me a break” so as to make things easier for us.   God loves us enough not to submit to that role or to our whims.  

Imagine what the world would be like if the population acted like God should submit to their wishes.   This is equivalent to about a two year old mentality, known in mental health fields as narcissism.   Come to think of it, look around at the state of things today and the results of this infantilism are evident.   Just watch the news—but not too much of it because it’s toxic as it’s often created by narcissists.  Focus on God instead.   

God is with us all the time.  It behooves us to check the gray matter between our ears to clear out all the misconceptions that God and life is to revolve around me which actually blocks us from experiencing the Divine Presence in the here and now.   The ultimate purpose of life is to be One with God, not to get our way.  The part of me that wants my way is the part of me Jesus is talking about when he says, “Deny the self” and “follow me.”   Following Jesus means to become One with him.   Being One with God, pleases God the most.   Come to think of it, being One with God pleases us the most as well. 

Have a “pleasing” day.

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Reflections

Diversity

I am wondering what reaction each of you had to the title of this journal article above—and what your first thought that came to your mind was.  The word, “diversity,” has probably been used more than just about any other word in the English language over the last decade.  Defined according to Merriam-Webster, diversity is the condition of having or being composed of differing elements or variety.  I find this interesting because it leaves up to the reader to determine the criteria of what these differing elements of variety are.  I could easily choose “left-handed” as a criteria for I am a southpaw for the most part.  Growing up it was difficult sitting at school desks that were created for those “right handers” who didn’t give it a thought because they weren’t left handed.  But there are all sorts of categories people use to delineate and focus on their differences. 

Another unexpected use of the word, “diversity” is in how I will use it to describe the town I live in and love.   I’ve lived in a lot of small towns in my life and anyone will tell you that it takes twenty years or more to feel like you’re a part of the community.  In Luling, it’s taken less than the four years I’ve lived here.  People are friendly here and in this way they are not diverse.  I can’t stop to talk with almost anyone here if I am I expected somewhere else because if I do, I’ll be in a twenty minute conversation.   Now the COVID experience has cut down on much of this to our chagrin (not diverse here either) and all of us are non-diversely asking the question, “When is this thing going to be over?”  

The first place that I experienced diversity when I came to Luling, was in the church I serve.  Looking out over the congregation I saw men and women (notice how I said, “men”—as there are more men in the congregation than most churches field and in this way we are diverse).  There are young and “mature” of age, high school educated and post graduate degree educated; rancher/country and teacher (town); some who will sing and some who dare not sing; those who can’t stand the hymns and those who like them (about 50-50 on any given Sunday); those who are good with their hands and those whose talents lead better with their minds.   Notice how I haven’t yet said “Republicans and Democrats” as we don’t speak of this much as there is a God who loves us all on whom we’re trying to focus . 

In the community the same diversity exists but we can add different denominations and those who do not attend church at all.  There are those who have their own businesses and those who work for others or for themselves alone.   The personalities that exist in the community are quite unique and varied, each having their own sense of humor, interests and ways of speaking and communicating—and ways of whipping up some barbeque, while others have a knack for “smoking” meats.   One item I have noticed after living in the country and city-suburbs is that there is a great diversity there.   I have noticed that country people appear to be less self-conscious about being themselves than city folk do.  City folk by in large tend to be a bit (or a lot) more reserved that country people who rarely file off what I call their “rough edges.”  I generally know what country people are thinking because they aren’t afraid to tell me straight out without being rude about it.   City folk, might think that country people are rude in this respect, but they’re really not.  They’re just being open and honest even if their direct way might sting a little.   Country people, especially Texans, value independence, which can be diverse from some city people who might desire conformity more.  

I have purposely avoided using the term, “race,” as I believe the nation and the church have been politically harangued and manipulated by it over the last five or more years.  Race is one of the ways we are diverse, but only one.  Unfortunately racism exists due to a myriad of reasons as stereotypes are easily formed.  Whether we check or act on those stereotypes that might have us forget to address the dignity of every human being is another matter.  Stereotypes, as behavior, can be unlearned.  But the core of any stereotype is one of trust.  A human being looks at another thinking, “Can I trust you?”  Of course, we sometimes forget the other side of the question, “Can you trust me?”  If not, why not?  Trust is a not a given.  Trust has to be earned and exhibited through character and action.   These questions transcend race and places us face to face with another human being who is diverse from us, not only in race but in a plethora of ways. 

Prejudice spans more than race.  Prejudice spans the masculine and feminine, young and mature and other dichotomies.   When Kathy and I get into a tiff, it can be because I am prejudging what she’s going to say from past experiences instead of hearing her in the here and now.   Anxiety, the fear of the loss of something, is generally at the core of this projecting our thoughts on the other.   When parties can drop their anxiety and begin to listen to each other one on one then hearing, seeing and understanding might begin.  No human being can speak for another, even if we’re from the same race.

Speaking of the here and now, there’s another factor about diversity that is transcended by personal responsibility.   That is, I am responsible for my choices and the consequences of those choices as others are responsible for their choices and consequences.   There’s no changing this.  It’s a law of physics—or Natural Law, if you chose to use the philosophical name for it.   

I have strengths and weaknesses.  Others have theirs.   Perhaps by listening to honest dialogue free of manipulation, we can support each other from time to time.  This doesn’t mean to be responsible for others but being responsible to them to treat them with dignity.  Not treating others with dignity reveals that I have lost my own.  All of this revolves around an underused word today called, “humility.”   Humility means to be “of the earth,” which means I’m not above or below the next person.   Jesus’ Golden Rule goes a long way here.

The ultimate form of diversity is the Holy Trinity.  The ultimate form of unity is the Holy Trinity.  In the Trinity, the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier (the One that makes us Holy, in the likeness of the Trinity) are united as One with varying spiritual functions that makes us one with God, ourselves and one another—in this order.  There’s no way I can be at one with myself without God.  There’s no way I can be one with you without being at one with myself. 

I heard an Army Lieutenant say from experience how his platoons was made up of very diverse people but they all “bleed red.”  And this is the most important similarity that overcomes any diversity. 

Come to speak of it.  Jesus bled red for us.  I guess that Lieutenant knew what he was talking about.

Jesus:  “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  This is the hardest work in the universe to learn and practice.  We have to love ourselves first by allowing God to love us or we’ll never get to the “neighbor” part of the commandment.

Yes, we are all diverse.  So what.  God made us this way.  It’s not a big deal unless we make it so.  When we learn to love ourselves as God loves us we’ll learn to respect our neighbor.  If we want a relationship with our neighbor, both parties will need to prove their trustworthiness.  Of course, forgiveness has a part to play in all of this too. But that’s a story for another time.

God help us.  Amen.

Father Mark, Reflections

Preston, Church Architect

Preston, One of God’s Architects

I was amazed a few weeks back when one of our younger members, Preston, brought me two models of a paddle boat steamer and a cathedral which he assembled himself. Preston, as so many of our children are blessed with so many gifts and talents. I am convinced that it is our collective responsibility to intentionally do all we can to assist our children in discovering, developing and creating with their various gifts and talents. We are all “architects” of the church no matter what our age following the blueprints of our Master Designer which he has placed within us.

Spiritual architecture is a two way process. The Spirit is always about the business of shaping us into the fullness of who we truly are in his Likeness and Image. There’s a story of a stone cutter who tells a story that it takes him on the average, 100 cuts with a hammer and chisel to shape each stone to fit within the cathedral structure. The stone cutter asks the bystander, “Which of the 100 strikes with the hammer and chisel is the most important?” The bystander, puzzled, in the form of a question, says, “The first?” The stone cutter responds, “No. Every cut is equally important. If I hit the hammer too hard, the stone could split. If I don’t hit it hard enough, the appropriate cut is not made. Every cut is equally important.”

Such is the way it is with God and ourselves. Science has taught us that by the age of seven, we are “hardwired.” That is, we are conditioned by our environment and our genetics to turn into the personality that we tend to become. Each year following it can become more difficult to “change” the direction of our “wiring” which includes habits, attitudes, beliefs, and other traits that makes us what we are.

Enter Jesus, Master Electrician. Jesus moves within our “hard wiring” to continue to add extensions to our life and readjust wiring where it needs to be redirected. He does this throughout the entirety of our lives. He’s good enough to entered the tangled wiring of our souls and minds, including emotions, even after we are “hardwired.”

The quality of life we choose to build is dependent on the quality of the wiring we have received within ourselves. Perhaps this is where the word, Savior comes to play. I need the Master Electrician to refit, adjust and extend my wiring else what I attempt to construct in life will be for naught. The Hebrew understood this experience of salvation to be delivered into a wide and open space. To be confined by one’s limitations and separation (the definition of “sin”) restricts our lives, metaphorically becoming a slave to our conditioning, wounds and brokenness.

When I was younger, I went through a period where I thought that the Ten Commandments and the other “oughts” were restrictive, pinching in and restricting my life and freedom. After getting my wiring adjusted so my spiritual circuits were working properly, I realized that these Commandments and other norms were actually the way to freedom because living outside of them created so much “overload,” translated as suffering, I realized that boundaries actually serve us instead of enslave us. The caveat was that I still need the Master Electrician to do maintenance on my hard wiring to keep me from short circuiting. All this is a part of being healed and maintained by our Holy Architect so that I may function in the type of architect I’ve been created to be.

So, Preston, keep on being the Architect that you are. Those of you who know Preston, help him out once and awhile. Give him guidance and support and celebrate his creativity as you do your own. Make sure you stop by the Master Electrician for a Spiritual meter check to make sure our internal volts, amps and resistors are humming along properly. Life is so much more full and fun when all circuits are balanced.

The Life of God is yours today.

Fr. Mark

Father Mark, Reflections

An Invitation

The following what I consider to be a profound reflection of Spiritual Truth comes from Fr. Richard Rohr’s text, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. Pp. 65-68.       Fr. Rohr offers daily meditations from his website: Center for Action and Contemplation at cac.org. 

Fr. Rohr explains that we often meet God in a pattern of “Order, Disorder, Reorder,” and that this “must happen to us.”  It points to the Way of the Cross which Jesus says awaits us all when we follow him.  I believe that in some way, we could consider the COVID pandemic as a way of putting us face to face with our cross.  By facing our suffering, instead of attempting to escape or blame someone else for it, we are raised through it in the power of Jesus’ resurrection.

Blessings,

Fr. Mark

“Sooner or later, if we are on any classic “spiritual schedule,” some event, person, death, idea, or relationship will enter our lives that we simply cannot deal with using our present skill set, our acquired knowledge, or our strong willpower. It will probably have to do with one of what I call the Big Six: love, death, suffering, sexuality, infinity, and God.  Spiritually speaking, we will be led to the edge of our own private resources. At that point we will stumble over a necessary stumbling stone, as Isaiah calls it (8:14). We will and must “lose” at something. This is the only way that Life–Fate–God–Grace–Mystery can get us to change, let go of our egocentric preoccupations, and go on the further and larger journey.

There is no practical or compelling reason to leave one’s present comfort zone in life. If it’s working for us, why would we? Nor can we force ourselves into the second stage of disorder (though we must certainly be open to it). Any conscious attempt to engineer or plan our own enlightenment is doomed to failure because it will be ego driven. We will try to “succeed” in the midst of our failure and “order” our time in disorder! But unexpected weaknesses, failure, and humiliation force us to go where we never would otherwise. We must stumble and be brought to our knees by reality. “God comes to you disguised as your life,” as my friend Paula D’Arcy wisely says. We must actually be out of the driver’s seat for a while, or we will never learn how to give up control to the Real Guide. It is the necessary pattern.

There must be, and if we are honest, there always will be at least one situation in our lives that we cannot fix, control, explain, change, or even understand. Normally a job, a fortune, or a reputation has to be lost, a house has to be flooded, an illness has to be endured. Some kind of falling, what I call “necessary suffering,” is programmed into the journey. By denying our pain or avoiding our necessary falling, many of us have kept ourselves from our own spiritual depths. We still want some kind of order and reason, instead of suffering life’s inherent disorder and tragedy.” 

Father Mark, Reflections

The Blessings Mothers Give Us

Markus

I took a few days’ vacation to venture to Arlington to play “Mr. Mom” to help out, see my new grandson, Markus and help oversee/play with Bradley (7) and Buddy (4 ½).  Cooking 7 meals in three days, washing up, etc. etc. renewed my awareness of the challenges of motherhood that had slipped my mind since the 80’s when my daughters were young.  

Mr. Mom (me) had his “list” that he attempted to maintain while regular “interruptions” from the boys, the baby, etc. would regularly place themselves before me and the tasks I was attempting to complete such as meals, oversight of dressing, bathroom duty and so on.   

The time together renewed my appreciation for mothers and what they do on the home front and the spirit in which they attempt to do it.  The days were so full that I wondered when mothers actually found time to pray.   I’m sure mothers pray “on the run” via thoughts and brief sentences but I wonder if they are able or aren’t too busy to remember to carve out 10 minutes of their day to be able to be still so that following their prayers of thoughts and words, they might actually to find their still point to be able to hear and feel the Spirit moving within them without being interrupted or with their “list” intruding into their minds. 

I would call attention to husbands, parents, brothers and sisters of mothers to be intentional about intervening to be able to break the state of the “rat race” within which mother’s find themselves, even if it’s just for an hour for mom to vacate the premises, change the routine, find a quiet place, nap, call a friends, pray, read a few pages and come back to center.  Moms are generally too encumbered to think of this for themselves so it behooves those of us who are closest to them to initiate these gifts of time and space that can breathe new life into them which is returned to the family in the form of a more peaceful demeanor.  And moms, it’s OK to ask for this from time to time if no one is aware of it. 

I am grateful for my mom and all she did for my brother and myself.   I am grateful for the mothering given to my daughters.  I am grateful for the mothering my daughters provide to my grandsons. 

I am grateful for the mothering you provide for your children.  Jesus thought children were very important as he spent time with them, blessing them (Mark 10).  When I worked as a therapist, I could tell when children received faithful mothering (and fathering) and when they did not. 

When we bless children, we bless the world.

Thanks moms for fulfilling your Divine Mission of motherhood. 

Fr. Mark