No Magic Tricks

I honestly don’t know what happens to my time. I’m retired. I don’t volunteer (except with my grandkids). I belong to virtually no clubs or organizations that take up my time. And yet, the days go by and I find I haven’t done a single one of the things that I have committed to myself that I would do. For example, two weeks ago, I ran into a friend whom I haven’t seen for a while, and promised her with great confidence that I would call her in a few days to arrange for us to have lunch or coffee. Haven’t done it. Nope.  Sure haven’t.

Unfortunately, the same is true of my prayer life. Or perhaps I should say my so-called prayer life, as it is one of the things that gets pushed aside way more than it should. I know you’re all thinking right now, for heaven’s sake, the woman is constantly talking about her prayer life and how it should be better. Poop, or get off the pot. (That is what my dad would have said, although he wouldn’t have used the word poop in the sentence. In fact, he probably never used the word poop in his life.)

Praying kind of confuses me, I will admit that freely. I will ask God for something, and then I am unsure if I should ask again. I remind myself about the gospel reading in which Jesus says that we should nag God (my words, not his) like the woman who nagged the judge for the favor. I wonder why God should listen to me when others might be praying for the exact opposite. I used to wonder about this when I was in high school and we would pray for a victory in the football game. Was God a Scotus Shamrock fan?

The fact is I’m probably overthinking the whole thing. While miracles do happen, most of the time when we ask for something specific – winning the lottery or curing an illness – there isn’t a flash of light and subsequent wealth or health. I guess that’s because prayer isn’t a magic trick. It’s a conversation with God. And good conversations take time and develop slowly. They also require both talking and listening.

Yesterday, our Mass celebrant told us something that resonated with me. So much so, in fact, that I dug around to find a pencil and write what he said in the margin of my prayer book. He said when you find yourself distracted from listening to, say, his sermon, perhaps that distraction is God talking to you. Pay attention to your distractions, he told us.

I gave that a lot of thought after he said that, during which time I was distracted from his homily, I’m afraid. Maybe that was God’s wish, however. Maybe thinking about a conversation with God was more important that listening to the sermon.

I tend to obsess about things, especially when they are things that relate to my family. While I don’t think God wants me to obsess about things over which I have no control, maybe my distractions and worries are just God’s way of reminding me that he is not only listening, but actually is handling things, thank you very much.

Just like when Peter was comfortably walking on the water, following Jesus’ example in St. Matthew’s gospel, but started overthinking it all (like I tend to do) and began to sink. Save me Lord, he said, and Jesus reached out his hand.

Perhaps that should be the prayer I say, not once, but over and over every day: Save me Lord. Maybe that’s the way to start my conversation with God.

And this week, I PROMISE I’m going to give my friend a call.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

Pulling Weeds

Yesterday morning as we were waiting for the start of Mass, I overheard a woman behind us stage whisper to her husband, “The parable in today’s gospel is the one about the bad seed and the good seed and Jesus saying to let them grow together until harvest.” Her husband responded that he liked that parable. One of their two sons – a boy of about 6 or 7 – said, “Does that mean we don’t have to mow our grass anymore?”

If only. But God doesn’t tell us what to take from the gospels, so that’s as good an idea as any, I guess. I’m certainly using that philosophy in my vegetable garden this year…..

My green beans and my Swiss chard struggle to survive amidst the weeds.

Unlike the woman sitting behind me, I find myself squirming a bit when I listen to Matthew’s gospel, and not just because of the weeds in my vegetable bed that make me feel like a bad gardener. But the whole notion that the good plants and the bad plants grow right next to each other is not something I like to think about, mostly because I’m not sure which one I am. In the parable, the farmer tells his workers to let them grow together and then at harvest time they will separate the two plants – the good plants will go into the barn, and the weeds will be bundled up and sent to be burned. Yikes. Could you get more vivid than that, Lord?

Our Mass celebrant was a visiting priest – a man who had emigrated Nigeria with his family to live in the United States when he just a small boy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics but was kind of lost and uncertain about what he wanted to do with his life after college. His father told him to get into the IT field because that’s where the money was. His uncle told him to get his MBA because then he could earn the big bucks. His buddies told him to play soccer because it was fun and he could see the world. But he still couldn’t make up his mind. So, he resorted to Plan B, which was to ask God what he was supposed to do with his life. God’s answer was to become a priest.

“Well, that certainly wasn’t the answer I was looking for,” the priest told us. “How about another suggestion, God?” But apparently God was firm on that particular idea. And so he became a priest.

The point of his story was that turning your life over to God can be risky.  Sometimes the things God wants you to do aren’t necessarily easy or what you were hoping for. Often it is easier to listen to all of the other voices that are crowding out God’s voice, sort of like the noise you used to hear when you were trying to find a good radio station by actually moving a dial. Remember those days? Lots of crackling with an occasional clear song. But the song might be a polka when you are hoping for Carrie Underwood.

But amidst the noise of everyday life, we have to be careful to make sure we are listening to the voice of God. Because unfortunately, the other voices might be a lot easier to understand and considerably more fun. Just like the weeds seem to grow easier than the tomatoes and the green beans that they are trying to overtake.

I struggle every Sunday to figure out how the readings relate to one another. Mostly, I’m unsuccessful. And trying to understand St. Paul’s letters is – at least for me – nearly impossible. Still, his letter to the Romans that was read yesterday surprisingly gave me some comfort as I considered how difficult it can be to hear God’s voice.  The Spirit comes to the aide of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressionable groanings.

Now I don’t know what St. Paul meant by inexpressionable groanings. I don’t know if inexpressionable  is even a real word. You know Paul. He would say anything to get the attention of his listeners and readers. But it sounds like sort of the noise I was making when I gave birth to Court, when I gave birth to a new life. And it gives me hope and confidence if the Holy Spirit is interceding with strength and vigor in an effort to help me hear the word of God, and so, be given a new life. It’s nice to think I have the Spirit on my side.

However, I wish the Holy Spirit pulled weeds with or without inexpressionable groanings.

This post linked to the GRAND Social

40 Days

I have barely put away the Christmas wrapping paper. I mean that. Just the other day I put the last roll of wrapping paper bearing the images of reindeer and Santa into my bedroom closet (which is the Place Where Everything That Doesn’t Belong in the Garage Goes to Live).

And here it is – Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent. The first of 40 days and 40 nights (or so) of sacrifice and prayer in preparation for Christ’s death and resurrection. Put away my Christmas stuff, give a brief shout-out to Valentine’s Day, and start crocheting bunnies, all within about a two week period.

Every year (as you know if you’ve been reading my blog since the beginning) I give great thought to how I’m going to live my Lent. From the time I was a little girl of 7 (the so-called Age of Reason in the Catholic Church), I have “given up” something to show God how deeply appreciative I am of Christ’s sacrifice. Because not eating chocolate and dying a painful death on the cross are so much alike.

As a little girl, I always gave up desserts. That actually wasn’t that much of a sacrifice since Mom rarely made us dessert and we always gave ourselves Sundays off. As Charlie Sheen would say, “Wow. Winning.” But that wasn’t as bad as the year that Court, probably about 10 at the time, announced he was giving up chicken for Lent. He didn’t like chicken then and isn’t a big fan now. I put the nix on that idea very quickly. That was probably the beginning of Court’s spiritual plunge.

I love the gospel of St. Matthew read at Ash Wednesday Mass.

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. When you pray, go to your inner room, close the door. And pray to your Father in secret. When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance so that they may appear to others to be fasting. When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that you may not appear to be fasting.

imagesIt gives me pause, and the reason is that I always wonder if I’m being a hypocrite when I start talking about what Big Thing I’m going to do for Lent. Perhaps I should just keep it to myself.

But I write a blog, and I’m certain you are all interested.

I recently read something on Facebook which said something like could you live in a cabin in the woods for 30 days with no access to your phone, your computer, your television, your iPad, or any other type of technology.

Pfff, I thought. Of course I could. As long as I can read a book, er, on my iPad. And as long as I can check Facebook every day (well, a few times a day). And as long as I don’t have to miss Downton Abbey or American Idol.

Ok, so maybe I couldn’t do it for 30 days, but maybe I could do it for one day. One day a week. One day a week for five weeks.

So, that’s my challenge. I am giving up all technology one day a week for Lent. I will post my blog on the Day of No Technology, but will then shut off my computer until the next morning. And my phone. And my iPad (except to read since all my books are ebooks).

And no sweets, every day, even on Sundays. For old times’ sake.

Yikes.

Gift of the Magi

imagesProbably my least favorite Christmas carol is We Three Kings. It’s such a dreary tune. If it shows up when I’m listening to Christmas music on my iPod, I hit the next button. But I can’t entirely avoid listening to the carol because we sing it every single year on the second Sunday after Christmas, somewhere in the neighborhood of January 6 – Epiphany Sunday. And inevitably, the choir and congregation sing it like a funeral dirge (sort of how we all sing Happy Birthday). But I sing along. For one thing, it’s the only carol for which I can sing harmony (a feat that is undoubtedly deeply appreciated by the person standing next to me).

Whenever I think about the three kings (who likely weren’t kings at all, but were more likely to have been scientists), I am always stopped dead in my tracks by the whole gold, frankincense and myrrh thing. The homilist always patiently explains the symbolism of the three gifts. I just always think that Mary, who was undoubtedly a gracious recipient on Baby Jesus’ behalf, probably inwardly rolled her eyes and thought, “Really, couldn’t they have just brought us some diapers?”

The significance of the so-called three kings is that they were foreigners. Perhaps Babylonians. But probably not Jewish.  The point St. Matthew (the only Gospel-writer who talks about the Magi) was making, or at least I think so, is that Jesus was born not just for the Jews, but for everyone. It was an important enough event to be recognized by Jews and non-Jews alike.

I always find that interesting. Imagine you are Jewish and you and your ancestors have been treated like dirt for literally hundreds of years. The only thing that got you through it was that the Torah told you that someday a savior would come and take care of things. Make everything right. In fact, Isaiah said, “Rise up in splendor, JERUSALEM.” He didn’t say “Rise up in splendor, Every Tom, Dick, and Harry.”

So it’s no surprise that in St. Matthew’s account, he said that when King Herod heard about this baby being born, “he was greatly troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.”

But it seems significant to me that these three wise men came bearing gifts. We are all familiar with gift giving. In fact, we have thought about little else in the past few months, what with Christmas and all. We all spent astounding amounts of money on buying each other this and that. I would assume most of the gift exchanging was done with love and a generosity of spirit. We give gifts to show how much we care about others. The Magi brought gifts to show how much they cared that Christ the Savior is born.

I think it’s important to remind myself that gifts don’t necessarily have to be something on which I spend money. I can give the gift of time – visiting someone in the hospital or who lives alone, give a mom and dad a date night by babysitting their children, invite a lonely friend to dinner.

Or if all else fails, there’s always gold, frankincense and myrrh. Myrrh?

The Importance of Being Important

O when the saints go marching in
When the saints go marching in
O Lord I want to be in that number
When the saints go marching in. – Author unknown, but song made famous by Louis Armstrong

There comes a point in everyone’s life – at least everyone over the age of 55 or 60 – when you start asking yourself, how did I get to be this age and just what have I accomplished in my life. For me, it hit quite early – somewhere in the neighborhood of 30. There were probably a lot of reasons for this, not the least of which was that I was going through profound marriage difficulties that ultimately resulted in divorce. Nothing makes you feel like a great success more than a divorce. I’m being sarcastic.

For others, it may be when you turn 40, or maybe 50. Here I am, you might say, 50 years old and I’m still not a millionaire. Or I still haven’t gotten my MBA. Or there is no Corvette in my garage. Or I don’t have a garage.

When you think about it, however, it’s all about how you measure success.

350px-All-Saints

The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs, a painting by Fra Angelico, 15th century.

Yesterday was November 1, and Catholics (and probably some other religions) celebrated All Saints Day. For Catholics, it’s a holy day of obligation, meaning we are supposed to attend Mass, no matter on what day of the week it falls. In a most unsaintly way, I am always glad when it falls on a Sunday, thereby killing two birds with one stone. Shame on me.  It’s probably likely there will never be the word “saint” before my name.

I don’t know if it was because it was All Saints Day or if it was in the regular church reading cycle, but yesterday’s gospel was from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as told by St. Matthew.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus went on to say, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven.

Jesus’ testimony to the crowd, and therefore to us, isn’t anything new. A few weeks ago he told his disciples that in order to get to heaven, we have to have the faith of children. This time he reminds us that people with simple faith and simple needs will be first in line to greet St. Peter.

Gospel readings such as this one remind me how complicated Christian people sometimes make our faith. We get caught up in political righteousness when it seems to me really all God expects of us is to have a simple and pure faith in him and kindness to others. Love God and love one another. I found our priest’s homily meaningful. He said that while we all measure success by how much money we have or how successful we are in our professional lives, or even how successful our children are, in reality the Beatitudes are Jesus’ blueprint for success. Boom.

It’s not complicated. And it wasn’t complicated for most of the saints. They modeled their lives after Jesus, and now we should model our lives after them.

I’ll try, as long as I don’t have to live off locusts and honey like St. John the Baptist.

ReinieBy the way, When the Saints Come Marching In was played at my father’s funeral, partially because he was a fan of Louis Armstrong, but mostly because he was one of those saints that marched right in!