Leaving the Safety of the Boat
If You Want To Walk on Water, You’ve Got To Get Out of the Boat! That’s the title of a popular book written about 15 years ago. That’s what Peter was invited to do. Remember the scene and the conversation. After an exhausting day, Jesus takes some time on the mountain to pray by himself. He sends his disciples ahead to cross to the other side of the sea. After some time passes, in the midst of a storm on the sea, Jesus comes walking on the water towards the disciples. They thought he was a ghost.
Jesus calms them with, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter is emboldened: “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” And Jesus says, “Come.”
We know that Peter succeeds in walking on water, and when he becomes frightened, he begins to sink. When he cries out to Jesus, “Save me,” Jesus extends a hand and catches Peter.
At least Peter tried! He did get out of the boat. He took a “leap of faith,” faltered, and had to ask for help. And he got it!
What are our invitations or “calls” to get out of the boat? Do we get out of the boat when we pray? When we act on some conviction? When we aren’t sure what value or principle is guiding or leading us?
How persistent are we in asking for help? In praying? In acting courageously? What causes us to falter, to lose sight of our goal—that relationship with Jesus that invites us to get out of our comfort zones, the safety of the boat (or whatever structure, belief, value keeps us afloat) to some untested, unpracticed “walking on water” for the first time.
Do I want to walk on water? Do I even want to try?
Impactful Mountain Experiences
When Jesus took Peter, James, and John up the mountain to witness his Transfiguration, he planted seeds of transformation in them. This invitation from Jesus to his companions on earth is not unlike what we sometimes do in order to “see things in a different light” or get a “heightened perspective” or remove ourselves from everyday experience for a retreat.
A popular summer destination for families is the mountains. Why do people go to the mountains? What are they in search of? What is it like to climb a mountain? What do they discover there? What is it like to come down the mountain? How are people changed by “mountain” experiences?
I remember a backpacking trip I made with some of my family members and in-laws to Yosemite National Park. I am reflecting today about how the experience transformed me. I am also thinking about what it was like being in the Church of the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor with other parishioners on our Pilgrimage of Art and Faith in March.
The climb in Yosemite was by foot; the climb to Mount Tabor by cab. Both involve tortuous switchbacks. The cab ride is by far the scarier because the rider has no control. Both are experiences of hope and a different perspective. Let me explain. The trek by foot up the mountain involves carrying all of your supplies with you and means a constant focus on where you are stepping, especially when the path means taking one step in one direction and the next in another. That’s the nature of switchbacks. Just when I thought I could not take another step on the steep climb, my attention went to some simple, beautiful flower growing between the rocks. Or I heard the scurrying of a mountain creature. The air was different and I had a great desire to breathe deeply. The smells were so refreshing.
What I was paying attention to was very different from my everyday life. I was invited to focus on God’s bounty in nature and the promise that at the end of each difficult period of climbing, there was a sign of hope—vegetation and life in forms that were not so routine for me anymore.
To get to Mount Tabor in Israel, the last segment of our journey was in cabs whose engines were grinding on the steep climb. Most frightening, however, was seeing the drop-offs on the narrow roads and anticipating the traffic of those coming down. I had to keep telling myself to trust the driver. He knew what he was doing. The reward of walking on that holy ground where Jesus made himself known in a new and lasting way to his followers was worth the trek. Sitting in the church, imagining the way Jesus was revealed to us by his Father, and the directive to LISTEN to him touched me and stayed with me.
Our mountaintop journeys do change us. Whenever we seek the Lord and pay attention to how God is working in our lives, we also realize that “listening” is so very important. Take some time this week to notice the sights, sounds, and smells around you. Give thanks for all of them! Take some time to reflect on what “transfiguration” experiences you’ve had. Perhaps it was an ACTS retreat or the RCIA journey. Perhaps it was the birth of a child or some other discovery of “new life” and second chances. Give thanks for those as well.
A Servant Heart of Understanding
Our world today needs the wisdom of Solomon! When Solomon realized that he had inherited tremendous responsibility in succeeding King David, in leading a chosen people—numerous and vast—he first prayed. “Give your servant, therefore, an understanding heart to judge your people and to distinguish right from wrong.”
The Scripture tells us that the Lord was pleased that Solomon asked for this servant heart of understanding. So God said to him:
Because you have asked for this—not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right—I do as you requested. I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you.
There are so many things that surfaced in me as I read this. What would it be like if every time we were faced with enormous responsibility for leading—as a parent, teacher, boss, political leader, pastor, or other religious leader—we prayed first for wisdom and understanding. Understanding requires that we listen first and that we pay attention to what is happening. The discipline of listening develops our heart muscle—a capacity for understanding that is both wise and heartfelt.
Jesus’ parables about finding the pearl of great price and selling all in order to find the treasure likewise remind us that wisdom and understanding lead us to recognize the true pearls in our lives: truth, mercy, and joy. At the heart of it all is Jesus, the one who continues to teach us all to lead with a servant heart.
Are we listening and asking for just that?
What Are You Growing?
When I was a child, I loved to work in the garden with my grandmother. Living in Texas gave us the opportunity to grow a fall garden and a spring garden. My favorite question when I saw young plants was “Grandma, what are you growing?”
For those who are enjoying the summer fruits and vegetables of your spring labor, the answer is obvious. You are harvesting cucumbers, tomatoes, beans, squash peppers, cantaloupes, and watermelons.
But it wasn’t always that way. At times, we can’t tell the weeds from the plants that will produce the harvest. Sometimes we don’t even trust that what looks like it isn’t growing, will indeed produce a bounteous harvest.
So it is with us and our spiritual well-being. What are we growing? What are we growing in our families? At St. Francis? And how are we nurturing the growth? Our readings for this weekend speak of kindness, compassion, mercy, non-judgement, and justice. How are we doing?
What are the “weeds” that stunt growth? Where are the “suckers” and parasites that take away from the natural growth God desires for us? What helps us to know the difference between weeds and fruit-bearers?
One of the songs we will sing is “Many and Great,” written by Ricky Manalo. Look for it on YouTube and listen carefully to the words. We feed on the voices we hear, the bread and wine that becomes the Body and Blood of Jesus, the call that we hear to grow in our recognition of what God asks of us in our lives, in our families, in our communities, in our world, and in our universe.
Tilling the Soil of My Heart
My first 18 years of life were spent on a farm. I learned at an early age what it means to plow and prepare the land, to plant the seed and then to wait for God to provide the rain to help the seed to grow. Sometimes we had to get rid of the weeds that choked the plants. Sometimes the rain didn’t come. And sometimes, insects took over. And sometimes we had the most abundant harvest imaginable.
I loved the smell of newly plowed soil. That rich black soil had some of the finest, juiciest worms that we used for fishing. And the fishing we did sometimes yielded enough fish to feed our large family. When I was in 4-H, I remember giving talks about soil conservation—we had to be good to the earth and to the soil if we wanted it to produce a rich harvest. Our care had to be coupled with God’s gifts of rain and good weather. These were the lessons learned from the earth, from nature!
Our Scripture readings this weekend are filled with the images of the sower, seed, and soil. And the music chosen to accompany our celebration of Eucharist at Mass reinforces the messages. The Gospel reminds us that the fruitfulness of the earth and our own lives should not be taken for granted. We have to be engaged in the process. We have “work” to do if we want to be the “good” soil. Our hearts are the soil. And here are some suggested reflections for some serious “heart work.”
Preparing our hearts for reception of God’s word invites us to examine the condition of our hearts. What might have hardened them? What could soften them? What are the thorns of anxiety that might occupy our hearts? What experiences in church life would help us with “weeding”? What is the source of rain for our hearts? What will continue to make our hearts rich and pliable so that the seed of God’s will can sow mercy, biblical justice, and reconciliation in us and in our world?
Take time to reflect on the kind of soil that you are. What will it take for God’s word to take root in you so that you remain as faithful in difficult times as in easy ones? What thorns of anxiety choke you and keep you from trusting God’s promise to be with you at all times? What will it take to make the soil of your life rich and pliable rather than hard and unyielding? Open your eyes and ears to the world around and within you. Invite God’s grace to build on nature by raining into the soil that you are and letting God’s presence bear fruit beyond imagining.
Yoked to Jesus
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves.” Most people don’t know what a yoke is. In agriculture, the yoke is used to have animals work together, to pull together, to distribute the load and thus to have a discipline that makes for more productive work. The image gives us something to think about. What in our world would function as a “yoke” for us? And what would we learn from taking on a “yoke”?
In my mind and heart, to take on the yoke of Jesus would mean to take on the mind and heart of Jesus. It would mean pulling together, helping each other out, not letting anyone be left behind because we are all connected, all related to each other. It would be the yoke of love of all!
To take on the yoke of Jesus would be to act to relieve suffering, whether it’s from a natural disaster, from the ravages of disease and addictions, from the effects of poverty and the results of war, or from human actions that disregard the human dignity of others.
The yoke of Jesus is about heart and mind. How do we imitate Jesus in meekness and gentleness?
Putting on a yoke is probably something we wouldn’t choose to do. But what yoke do we use to develop a discipline of becoming more like Jesus? For me, it is about becoming less of an expert and more of a learner. Jesus never liked the “know it all’s.” He preferred those who were “the least.”
The yoke of Jesus aligns us to God’s perspective on what is important and on what is insignificant. It helps us to see more clearly the needs of others (whose burdens we can make lighter). It gives us hearts to embrace those who are different from us; it inspires us to pull together for the common good of all. And it helps us to know what we need to do to build the kingdom of God on earth as we believe it to be in heaven.
Give us yokes, oh God! We need them so we can learn from you!
Our Personal Reception Rooms and Hospitality
“All guests…are to be welcomed as Christ.” When I lived in community with my Benedictine aunts while studying in Illinois, I saw this sign everywhere! It was in the entrance to the monastery in plain view of everyone who walked through the door. It was in the dining room, hanging above the food service line. It was on a plaque in the elevator. Who could forget?
Hospitality is one of the core values of the Benedictine rule of life. And this week we read several Scriptures that teach us about being a guest and about hospitality. In the first reading, the woman of influence (but without a name) pays attention and notices a passer-by who begins to dine at her place often. She is attracted by his holiness and decides to ask her husband to build a room for him to stay in—a guest room. Elisha, in turn, asks if she needs anything—“Can something be done for her?” Her servant reveals that she is older now and that she has no children. Elisha foretells that within a year, she will have a son.
A passer-by becomes a frequent diner and a recipient of generous hospitality. The giver of hospitality receives a surprise and answer to a human longing. Have we experienced anything of this sort? When does a stranger become a guest in our homes or our hearts or our churches? When have we been surprised by what we receive from a guest? Have we experienced anything like this at St. Francis?
Focusing on the last part of the Gospel, reflect on and pray about all that it entails to “receive” someone or something. How do we grow not only in giving but also in receiving? And as we recognize that receiving is not a one-time action, how do we stay alert to and patient with the parts of us that cannot yet open as we wish they could?
What does my personal reception room look like? Who are the people that I can welcome into my life? I don’t know them yet, but in offering welcome and hospitality, I may just discover that I receive so much more than what I gave. That is discipleship! Initiating the welcome and extending the hospitality—this is the cost of that discipleship.
Have No Fear!
Certainly the hairs on my head matter so much to me right now. My vanity is high! Even as the volume of my hair matters to me, I matter so much more to God. That is the message of the Gospel this weekend. God knows and loves me so much, so much more than the number of hairs or the value of sparrows.
Jesus tells us that we should fear nothing. Jesus knows that the last instructions he is giving to the Twelve Apostles before they are sent on a mission will leave them vulnerable to the scorn of civil authorities. He assures them that the Holy Spirit will give them words to speak. Even when the situation is dire, they should be full of hope because God knows even the number of hairs on their head.
This Sunday we have the opportunity to reflect on what it is that we fear. The loss of hair may be one. But seriously, whom or what do we fear? And then we recall that we are always in God’s presence. We can take a deep breath and give those fears to God as we release each breath. And when we take in a deep breath, we take in the immense presence and love of God.
Have no fear! Let no fear have power over you! Trust God’s promise to be with us to find a way to face whatever comes.
Being the Body of Christ for Others
In every celebration of the Eucharist, bread and wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Christ. How does reception of the Body and Blood of Christ transform us? How do we become the Body and Blood of Christ given to others? What is it that we give to others when we leave the Mass each Sunday?
Perhaps the answers to those questions require other questions? What is it that we hunger and thirst for each time we gather for Mass? What are the hungers of the world today? Who is available to feed those hungers if not us? St. Teresa of Avila reminds us:
Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
The Trinitarian Dynamic of Love
God as Trinity! God as mystery! God as love! This weekend we have the opportunity to explore the relationship of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our Easter season ended with the sweeping in of the Holy Spirit, and this week we reflect on the meaning of Trinity—three persons, one God!
Pope Francis in his Angelus address on May 26, 2013 said, “The Most Holy Trinity is not the product of human reasoning but the face with which God actually revealed himself,…walking with humanity…with his people in the history of the people of Israel and Jesus has always walked with us and promised us the Holy Spirit who is fire, who teaches us everything we do not know and from within us guides us, gives us good ideas and good inspirations.”
The Father so loved the world—what did he do to tell us that? And how did Jesus, the Son, do that loving? And how do we, in response to God’s and Jesus’ love, because we are inflamed, infused with Holy Spirit, tell the world of God’s immense love?
It is in relationships, in communion with each other, in making room for others at the table, in reflecting God’s goodness in every conversation, in every action and in every thought. God is love—shown through each of us because we know that we act in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Let our next sign of the cross be a sign of how we live God’s LOVE! And may the Holy Spirit give us lots of good ideas and good inspirations!