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

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

News

Rest

Or: Reflections from my End of Summer Vacation

I bid you to read I Kings 19, the story of an exhausted Elijah to whom God sent his angels to provide sustenance for a 40 day journey to Mt. Horeb (Sinai) whereupon Elijah finds a cave where he sleeps.  It is only after rest that Elijah can hear the Spirit of God’s voice, not in the sensationalism of an earthquake or fire, but in God’s still small voice. 

Rest.  Jesus teaches about rest and actually follows his own teaching by evening periods of solitude in the hills.  Instead of going to bed tired, Jesus goes to the mountains, rests and enters the stillness of God’s voice, thus allowing him to sleep restfully.  Do you ever have trouble sleeping?  When I do it’s because I go to sleep when my mind and body are far too “noisy.” 

Matthew 11: 28-29—“Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls.” 

Soul rest.  Usually we think of just resting our bodies or minds.  Soul rest is a different kind of rest.  Hear an extrapolation by Neil Douglas-Klotz, Aramaic scholar:  “Come to me, all of you, all of yourselves [bring every part of you] in your frenzied weariness, your movement without end, your action without purpose….  Come enmeshed by what you carry, the cargo taken on by your soul, the burdens you thought you desired, which have constantly swollen and are now exhausting you….  I will give you peace and renewal after constant stress; your pendulum can pause between here and there, between being and not-being.” 

We are so accustomed to “doing” that rest can be difficult.  Rest is another kind of doing or undoing—it is a “letting go.”  It’s like being a dump truck that carries a load until it comes to the place where it can dump it.  Sometimes we have difficulty finding the place and way to let go. 

As Elijah went to Horeb and Jesus went to the Wilderness and hills, we too need to find places away from our usual places of movement (without the internet) and doing to “break the state” and allow God to “do his thing” with us. 

I am reminded of this every time I remember to “vacate” to a place where I can be renewed.   Since the summer camps were cancelled this summer, we decided to rent a cabin at Duncan Park.  There’s no cable or towers for phone/internet service there.  Didn’t miss that a bit.   As technology has offered us some helpful ways to make our life easier, there is often a cost to it in that our souls are covered over by what the Psalmist discovers in Psalm 12: that which is worthless is highly prized by everyone. 

After Duncan Park, we went to Kathy’s childhood home and revisited the Colorado National Monument south of Grand Junction.  We traversed the high desert multicolored rock formations until we found the right spot, took our shoes off, and sat upon a rock—for hours.  Even Shiloh was absorbed by the stillness and the energy we felt come into us from the rock finding rest.  The words of Jesus, reverberated in my head—“Come to me and you will find rest for your souls.”  When we are in a place where we can be still enough for long enough, for the mind to empty and the body to relax, we can feel the presence of God moving in and about, swirling through our bodies and finally reaching the depths of our souls where there are no words. Only the Word, which needs not make a sound—only needing to move within us as we are the temple of God.  Soul rest brings us into a state of effortless equilibrium. 

The necessity for soul rest is akin to having lights in the various rooms of our homes.  How silly it would be to pull the plugs out of the receptacles in our homes where no light could be received.  Since we cannot go to the mountains or coast every day, we need to find ways to create restful soul spaces.   Some create a part of their yards, some walk in the countryside or go to a park.  Some make a run to the coast or find a corner of Enchanted Rock.  I knew a woman years ago in Victoria who literally set up a small altar space in her bathroom because it was the only place in her home where she could get the solitude she needed.   At its deepest, solitude is prayer, the commingling of God’s Spirit and our own.

This soul-rest requires intentionality.  The world will not allow you to be quiet because the world cannot tolerate the Silence of God.  The world needs to make noise to distract us so that they can continue to pretend to “be in charge” of everything—themselves and even others.  No wonder the world is “out of tune.” 

Find some places where you can find rest of your souls—not just your bodies.  If you have trouble, call me and we’ll find a place for you together.

Rest.  Allow the Great Lover to find a space in your heart where He can begin to release that which is not of you, so that you may be renewed and become one with the One Being. 

The soul is the place of true rest.

Fr. Mark

News

When a Blessing Comes Across Your Path, How Will Others Know Unless You Tell Them?

This morning as I was driving to the office I saw Leland.  Many of you know Leland.  I was delighted to see him for the first time since he has been recovering well from COVID and has been able to begin to work again. 

As I pulled the truck over to the side of the road, Leland came over and a twenty minute conversation began.  I obviously cannot tell you what Leland said as that would be inappropriate.  But what I can tell you is that he told his story of COVID in the context of his faith and how his faith helped him to work through the illness—how God brought him through it.   Both of us began to share more stories of faith when the presence of God manifested in our lives.  I observed that one faith story would open a faith story of the other and the exchange continued to expand the circle of Life that encompasses all of us. 

What impresses me about Leland, is that he is anything but timid when he tells his faith story.  But in not being timid, he is anything but arrogant.  Leland is one of the most humble people I know.  One thing I do know is that God has a hold of that man.  When one is held by God we are confident and humble at the same time, something the human ego cannot accomplish.

The other thing I realized how the Spirit’s presence manifested and expanded within me in the hearing and the telling of the faith stories.   I felt strengthened and an inner quiet at the same time.  Sometimes the faith stories would end in silence because the closer we get to God the more we discover that there are no words to describe the experience.   The words, “peace”, “joy” and others seem to fall away empty in comparison to the experience.   

I wonder in the scope of the each day, what percentage of our time or conversations involve telling our faith stories?   Many of us are timid, and anxious about telling our stories, perhaps feeling a lack of competence in the area.   This is an unfortunate mistake as St. Paul discovered when he said in I Corinthians 2:  When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

It doesn’t matter when we’re telling our story if we fumble looking around for words, or hesitate, or aren’t as polished in our presentation as a PhD theologian.  We have a choice whether to challenge ourselves to get over our fear of inadequacy of telling our stories, or even if they reveal that there might be a weakness in our faith somewhere.  We all have our weaknesses and there’s no reason to be ashamed.  Shame died on the cross and it’s quite absurd to give shame any power over our lives because it just keeps us enslaved and burdened instead of free.   I remember the quote from the comic Pogo many years ago:  We have met the enemy and he is us.  My greatest challenges in life are the ones that exist between my ears. 

It is especially appropriate now to hear and tell faith stories as they will cut through the isolation that the COVID event has created and refresh us.  God stands between two individuals directing and enhancing the spiritual connection between them breathing life into each as they hear and tell.  The Spirit works like a Trinitarian mystery as the bonds grow deeper and stronger and we feel the Divine Life flowing through us. 

Here’s my challenge to you—actually it’s God’s:  Choose someone daily to contact and hear their faith story and tell one of yours for five minutes.  Do this for a week and note what is happening in your spirit.  Tell others of the benefits of this practice. 

Enjoy (“In joy”),

Fr. Mark

News

Belief Systems

There’s got to be a better way…

I recently read a blog on emotional mastery.   With all the emotions running rampant across the nation, there seems to be a real need for emotional mastery.  The blog revealed that emotions can drive behavior.  What the article didn’t address is that emotions are created out of our belief systems that have been created throughout the history of our lives.   If I have an emotion, 99% of the time the reaction has been based in a belief system that I have that has been conditioned through time.   It took me many years to realize that it is imperative that I discern what my emotion is based on—the beliefs my mind has been conditioned to believe over time else my life becomes a feedback loop of reactivity reacting approvingly or disapprovingly according to the value system of my beliefs.   Instead of choosing, I react.  Reactivity is primarily based in fear—sometimes with good reason.  Even then, I have to choose to drop deeper into God to lose the fear (and the anger that comes with it) to discern the Spirit’s Presence, Wisdom and direction.  

Adversity is a subject with which most of us have conditioned to view as a “negative” and something to be “avoided” if at all possible.  Human beings have a built in instinct to avoid pain when pain has been built into a purposeful place in the pattern of creation.   To avoid pain without discernment can be said then to be avoiding “reality.”   If we continue to resist adversity and pain when it comes, then our minds become subject to the fabricating alternative realities that have no basis in creation or reality and are thus delusional.   This is a spiritual understanding of much of the unrest we see going on today. 

If we look at the Judeo-Christian understanding of adversity, we realize that Isaiah (30:20) uses the term “bread of adversity” and the “water of affliction” as being ways that they become our “teachers.”   It’s worth it to look up a fine word study on “Bread of Adversity” on Chaim Ben Torah’s website.   Without an understanding of this history of creation, we become vulnerable to false realities that complicate and exacerbate suffering. 

The Hebrew understanding of adversity comes from a dual root word meaning “bread” and “adversity.”  Adversity then can be a means of bread or feeding to us.  Adversity, a word for the much used word today of “oppression,” means to crush or squeeze the life out of someone.  Isaiah most likely understood the Exodus event and the resulting time in the Wilderness to be a means of deliverance which included adversity that was a means of “crushing or squeezing the Israelites’ unbelief out of them.”

As far as the “water of affliction,” according to Ben Torah, “in Hebrew.  Water has many symbolic meanings in Hebrew.

One meaning is that water can be so powerful it can drill through rocks. Hence we would draw the idea of waters of affliction. I have read in Jewish literature that God will give you an affliction that will drill through the rocky covering of your heart to penetrate your heart with the love of God. Just as God gave Israel their afflictions to reach their heart. God does not allow us to go through affliction randomly, He is seeking to penetrate your heart so your heart will be open to Him.

Bread also has many symbolic meanings. One aspect is how bread is made. The taking of wheat, pounding it into a flower, rolling it and then baking it at a high temperature. The Jewish community recently celebrated Rosh Hashanah. It is a custom in baking bread for Rosh Hashanah to invite people who have hurt you during the year to assist you in the preparation. As you roll your bread you forgive them. Hence the bread of adversity. Jewish literature teaches that the adversity brought on by your sinful acts is pounded, rolled, and baked to bring you to repentance and the forgiveness of God. I would also like to add my thought to this. That grain which is pounded, rolled, and baked comes out as something new (bread) to bring nourishment to others. Many people have to go through the waters of affliction for God to penetrate their hearts and then go through the pounding, rolling and baking trials by God to bring them to repentance and His forgiveness in Jesus Christ so that Jesus can make them into something new, something of value to others, to bring nourishment to others.

Adversity becomes our teacher.  Rather something that we react to and avoid like an allergy, we can learn to embrace adversity.  It’s not fun and there are times in which I say “not now, Lord” because I just don’t feel like dealing with it.  But to not look at this is to imperil the soul’s merging into God.  

In order to embrace adversity, we have to allow the stillness of the Spirit, not our emotions, to dictate our behavior.  Emotional reactivity can point to beliefs that are based in our conditioned responses of fear.   A friend of mine is studying Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German clergyman and theologian who was imprisoned and executed by the Nazis in 1945 because he didn’t follow the way of least resistance that most of the church in Germany did by aligning itself with Hitler’s totalitarian government.   Today I am wondering if many of the mainline churches are following the same path in aligning themselves with Marxist Conflict Theory and its offshoot of Critical Race Theory and its polarizing properties.   Polarization is often a symptom of a loss of the spiritual center because it demonizes others and uses force (physical, psychological etc.) against others.  

Embracing our own adversity in most cases leads us into spiritual freedom because we can then hear God’s voice instead of evading him.    When we evade God, we subconsciously take the unforgiven inner darkness of our lives and delusionally place it on others, setting us up as judge, jury and executioner.   Jesus died to dissolve this sin in us so that we might be truly free not to see others as our enemies but as our brothers and sisters—or as our Baptismal Covenant says, “To respect the dignity of every human being,” not just those who agree with us.   It’s not our beliefs that can make us one, but only God himself. 

Beliefs are a guide, not an end in themselves.  God is the true Beginning and the End.  The Alpha and the Omega. 

May the Real Peace of the Alpha and the Omega dwell in you,

Fr. Mark