“Catching Sight of God”

“Immediately, upon catching sight of Jesus, the whole crowd was overcome by awe.”
Mark, 9, 15 (NAB)

Photo: consecratetheday.com

Photo: consecratetheday.com

This verse from Mark caught my attention this morning. It occurs at the beginning of an account in which Jesus heals a boy possessed by a deaf and mute spirit that threw him into what we would describe as epilepsy. The disciples lacked faith to heal him themselves and Jesus got on their case for that before asking the lad’s father to believe. The entire story is full of lessons and points to ponder–but it’s that verse I quoted above that commanded my attention today.

Two points: the preceding account is that of the Transfiguration in which Jesus gave Peter, James and John a glimpse of his divine beauty–or perhaps it was the Father’s doing. I have to imagine that after that, Jesus still had a radiance about him that struck the crowd.

I’ve seen that among his followers, haven’t you? The knowledge of God, an experience of his presence in our lives, really does transform us and there is a certain joy, a radiance that shines through our physical person. In my work with death and dying, I’ve even seen it in the midst of pain and impending loss when there is an undercurrent of faith that supports both the patient and their loved ones.

Second point: we, too, can catch sight of Jesus in the unfolding of every single day…perhaps in another person, perhaps in moments of prayer, in those moments that we can cultivate when doing the most menial of tasks like laundry or dishes, during a commute, working in the garden where we can appreciate the wonder of creation and the need of the constant attention needed to pull out those darn weeds (guess what I did this morning).

Jesus shows up, sometimes when we least expect it…if we look for him. Would you share (in comments) how he took you by surprise today. Or is there an event from the past you would like to share. Maybe this will help a fellow follower to zoom in on the Presence.

Thank you.

Prayer and the “Me-Factor”

Photo: achurchoflivinghope.com

Photo: achurchoflivinghope.com

I’ve been noticing something lately when praying or even reading scripture. It’s really hard to take self out of it. Even in psalms of praise and thanksgiving, it seems that there’s a little hitch--“Oh God, you are great and wonderful…and in the meantime, would you bash my enemies’ heads on the rocks.” (my paraphrase, which is a bit exaggerated.)

I like to start my daily quiet time with the prayer to the Holy Spirit that was the first post on this blog, I believe. But lately I’ve noticed it’s definitely a Gimme-Prayer: Give me stillness…give me calm…give me the joy of your forgiveness…give me faith and hope and love and on and on. Now, don’t get me wrong…these are not bad things, but still, it seems to be all about me and my Me-Motives.

But then I stopped to think. I drive my husband, David, a bit crazy because it is so darn hard for me to ask him to help me with something or to ask him do something for me. I want to be self-sufficient, independent. It’s pride. isn’t it?! Especially since if he doesn’t happen to notice or guess that I would like his help, I get so easily miffed.

And isn’t that how it is with love, with Love that is God? I have to believe that God is happy for us to come to him in need. Sure, he wants us to express our love, our praise, our thanksgiving–those more unselfish aspects of worship. But also waits for us to come to him for forgiveness, for help. (more on that in another post)

It’s a matter of balance, as are so many things in life. The psalmist had it right, after all–though I’m not so sure about bashing those heads on rocks.

Image: Howard Carter

Image: Howard Carter

Prayer Pilgrims

Rejoice always;

pray without ceasing;

in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.…

I Thessalonians, 5, 15

 

Photo: davefrohnmayer.com Oregon Coast

Photo: davefrohnmayer.com
Oregon Coast

Many, many years ago, I was enticed by the story of a Russian mystic who wandered by foot through his country on a quest for contact with God. It was said that, without ceasing,  he repeated the “Jesus Prayer”–Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

That reminds me of the admonitions Jesus and Paul give us to pray constantly.

Last week I received an e-mail telling me of a new follower who blogs under the moniker “Prayer Pilgrim.” I linked to his blog and Facebook page to learn that, as of yesterday, this young man is beginning a walking pilgrimage along the coast of Oregon. I felt a twinge of envy, wishing I could do something like this–but considering age and health issues, as well as my responsibilities to others, I understood that that dream is out of the question. I am following his blog posts in order to join in, in some vicarious sort of way.

The reality is, however, there is nothing stopping me from becoming a prayer pilgrim in my own way–striving to bring prayer into the simplicity of my daily routine–walking the dogs, doing dishes, laundry, errands–whatever. The challenges I face are not the biting cold of the sea spray, nor the rocky cliffs, nor the aloneness of traveling without companions. No. My challenge is to REMEMBER. To not allow mindless internal chatter or the variability of mood swings distract me so that by the time I reach the end of the day I have blocked out all awareness of God With/In me.

Like Prayer Pilgrim, we each try to begin our walk throughout the day in a prayer place. The question is, how to keep putting one foot in front of the other, progressing in The Practice of the Presence of God.

Is there anything that helps you to REMEMBER?

Bless you on your journey, Prayer Pilgrim.

Two Scrawny, Dried-Up Sardines.

Jesus then took the loaves of bread, gave thanks, and passed them around to those reclining there; he did much the same with the dried fish, as much as they (the five thousand wanted. When they had had enough, he told his disciples, “Gather up the crusts that are leftover, so that nothing goes to waste…” John 6: 11-12

Image: Louise Carroll

Image: Louise Carroll

A reminder for us: never doubt the gifts that God has given us for the well-being of his people. Look what Jesus did with five barley loaves and a couple of dried up sardines!

“The New Deal”–Jesus’s, That Is

 

Image: outoftheoverflow.com

Image: outoftheoverflow.com

The readings I’ve been doing on my own, and some of those I’ve heard in church during this Lenten season, have given me cause to compare and contrast the new and the old covenants.

The Old Covenant between God and Abraham, then codified with Moses and the whole people Of Israel, was based on the law–the Ten Commandments and all 613 legislative details that followed. It was a sort of tit-for-tat deal–“You observe these and I will be with you. You are my people and I am your God.” It’s not news to us that this didn’t work out well for either side. As much as God, through the prophets, admonished and promised, threatened and taught, the people just couldn’t pull off their side of the bargain. Human weakness and temptation were just too much for them and try as they might, they fell flat on their faces, over and over again.

So Jesus came to earth. I believe it was to check things out and find out where the flaw lay in the Father’s creation. To this end, he allowed himself to experience everything we experience–but Jesus never let temptation get the best of him. He never sinned.

I can imagine in those amazing dialogues with the Father–on mountaintops or in the wilderness–he shared what it was like to be human, how strong the urge to disobey those commandments could be. Talking it over with the Father, merciful and loving, they must have come to the understanding that the old law was beyond humankind’s ability and maybe it was time to try something else. And so they started all over again. Perhaps Jesus told the Father that, if they were not going to give up on creation,  something was needed to provide a mechanism for forgiveness.

Did he then offer himself as the solution? Did he explain to the Father what it was like down here in the valley of tears to be confronted with loss, rejection, fear, persecution, physical and mental illness, temptation and failure? Did he then say, “I’ll take it all on myself. I’ll show them how much we love them by going through the worst kind of suffering and death we can think of so they won’t feel so alone and helpless. We can give them a way out–the gift of loving forgiveness. And let’s summarize all those rules into two simple ones: love of God and love of neighbor.”

Is that what brought us to the first Holy Week, the beginning of which we observe today? May our subdued celebration of the Passion and Death of Jesus lead us to experience God’s forgiveness of our weakness, our willingness to forgive others and our gratitude for the immense love our Savior gives to us each moment of each day. And may that celebration burst out in Joy a week from today as we commemorate his glorious resurrection.

Are you doing anything special to observe Holy Week?

donkpreston

How We Need to Belong!

Image: Pace Community Church

Image: Pace Community Church

I’m looking out at a water hazard on a golf course. We use to have a pair of swans–the female was killed by a car years ago and the male just a few years back, by an errant golf ball. After that, mallards and wood ducks took over, along with a few egrets that come and go. This last week, a Canadian goose joined the other residents.

Image: britannica.com

Image: britannica.com

Geese mate for life, if I understand it correctly, and travel in flocks. So why is this fellow left behind? (I write fiction, so I’m always coming up with stories underlying things I observe). My guess is, his female fell prey to a coyote and he stayed behind looking for her and missed the boat heading wherever the rest of the flock was heading. May not be true, but it makes for a nice little romantic tragedy for this week when we celebrate Valentine’s day.

So why do I bring this up here, on a Christian blog?

My inquiring mind has always tinkered with the “why’s” behind the surge of neighborhood gangs in many larger cities. I grew up in the Los Angeles area. For years, L.A. has been known as a hotbed of gangs. When I was growing up in the 1950’s, it wasn’t like that. So what’s the difference? There are many but I want to focus on just one–the need to belong, to be accepted and care for in a social community. In my youth that need was fulfilled in two major arenas–the family and the church.

It’s easy to see where this is going, isn’t it? How has our society changed? Most of you are too young to see the stark contrast between the social structures of the 50’s (strong family ties, shared evening meals, large and active church communities) and those of subsequent decades. The dissolution of the family and faith community is no doubt a huge contributing factor in analyzing the rise of gangs. What are we doing, what can we do to provide our children with somewhere to go, someone to love them?

Image: Project No Gangs

Image: Project No Gangs

My observations may be way off base. I’m not a sociologist–only an observer of life. What are your thoughts?

In the meantime, my poor goose is alone now. I don’t know where the ducks took off to. He’s in the middle of the fairway eating seed, and…well, you know what geese do. Hope next time I play golf my ball doesn’t land in it!

 

Homeless

 

Photo: Tom Stone

Photo: Tom Stone

Homeless

Walking down the road I saw a man in tattered clothes.
I couldn’t help but wonder what had led to his defeat.
Tell me, if you would, about this life that you have chosen,
or did you have no choice except this life, upon the street?

I handed him a buck or two and said, “Here, take a seat.”
Upon a rusted old park bench we hunkered in to meet.
You’re curious, my boy, he said, why do you want to know?
I want to understand you, sir, to see what makes you so.

That money that I gave to you, I know you’ll give to others.
I wonder, how do you survive while giving to your brothers?
A smile broke across the wrinkled landscape of his face,
the pain I’d seen inside his eyes seemed suddenly erased.

You may not really want to hear the story I will tell,
it happened many years ago—a place not far from hell.
The name, you’ve heard—‘twas Auschwitz, a camp they took us Jews
the horrors that surrounded me tempted me to choose

to take my life before they could subject me to a death
without the grace of dignity. I wanted to be free.
But then some words came tumbling from the darkness of my mind
Words spoken by a holy man I heard in years behind.

The teacher’s voice was strong, it traveled straight into my core
of all I understand of God, of what we’re living for.
Such good there that can be done in Auschwitz late at night—
your hope can be a gift to those who tremble in their fright.

And what I learned back then—the truths that saved me from despair—
I carry them within my soul, there’s so much need to care.
So I refuse to see my life a symbol of defeat.
Much good there is, my son, that now awaits me in that street?

The old man stood and shook my hand and left me with his smile
I sat, transfixed, upon that bench, alone, for quite a while.
Now I withhold my judgment when I see another homeless guy
and wonder still at wealth, within, that money cannot buy.

I often find myself thinking about the subject of homelessness, wondering at the stories behind those who face such a lifestyle. Eons ago, when I was a student nurse, before the decentralization of Mental Health facilities, I trained for psychiatry in a State hospital in California that cared for 5000 patients. It was a city in its own right, with farmland, manufacturing facilities and its own economic system. Many of the “patients” we housed were diagnosed as “simple schizophrenic,” meaning simply that they were not able to function in society. After the government released these people from institutional care, the streets were flooded with the homeless–and so it is today.

Photo: theholocaustexplained.com

Photo: theholocaustexplained.com

I wrote this poem a few years ago based on a true story of an elderly man who had been held in Auschwitz during WWII. It’s a tale reminiscent of the story of Viktor Frankl, the author of Man’s Search for Meaning–the account of a man who survived the atrocities of a concentration camp by focusing on helping others.

I’m currently reading a book about a Christian couple who dedicated themselves to helping their Jewish neighbors in Poland during the occupation of the Nazi’s. I can’t help but reflect on their willingness to put themselves and their family at risk and to realize that that is exactly what Jesus would have done. What would I do? And what am I doing to help the homeless?

 

 

The Family That Prays Together

When I was young, the radio and TV commanded an equal amount of attention. I recall that we used to watch a weekly TV show that featured Bishop Fulton J. Sheen. Even though I don’t remember most of what he said, a few tidbits–important ones–have stuck with me. One has even entered popular culture though with significant, if important, alterations. “The family that prays together, stays together.”

Time Magazine

Time Magazine

And we did. Grace, of course, at meals but also the rosary. If my memory serves me correctly, it was Sheen himself who led it on a radio station–broadcasted even in Los Angeles County. Not every night and not compulsively, my sister and I would be stretched out in our side-by-side twin beds and Mom and Dad would squeeze in between us for this bedtime ritual.

Family prayer is most likely rare in today’s busy culture. So many families can’t even gather for communal meals. Too bad. The family that prays together has been supplanted by the family that plays together in our increasing secularized society. Not that play is a bad thing. But think how different life could be if we could etch out a few moments for prayer and/or for a gathering and sharing of the day at the dinner table.

Last Advent, David and I re-initiated the practice of the Advent wreath and that has led into a new nighttime ritual–a short reflection from a meditation book by Max Lucado and a few moments of quiet reflection…it’s our dogs, this time, who snuggle up in between us.

Photo: V. Slotto

Photo: V. Slotto

I had to share this photo of Sparky taken last year. Both of our dogs join me each morning when I say to them–come on, let’s pray. This is what happened once, post-prayer.

Beginnings and Endings

 

BbeginningsBeginnings and Endings

The day before Christmas, the lifeless body of a robin
lay, supine, among clods of frozen dirt
in the bare, raised bed of our vegetable garden.

His breast, striated with not-quite crimson plumage—
plump, yet breathless, lay still, where only weeks ago
plump crimson tomatoes prospered, awaited harvesting.

I cradled his body in my hand, resting in the folds
of a plastic bag that, just yesterday, held apples,
tied it tight before consigning it to a barrel caching autumn leaves.

That night we sipped champagne, feted birth,
celebrated promises fulfilled again each day,
awaited the coming of light that would dispel the darkness.

Originally blogged on Victoria C. Slotto, Author