LENT REFLECTIONS



STAY AWAKE

After the last supper, Jesus and his disciples found a moonlit garden to spend the night. Knowing that it was their last time together before his death, Jesus made a final request of his devoted students: "Stay awake with me!"

They tried, but sometime in the night, they fell asleep. And a company of Roman soldiers entered the garden and captured Jesus.

Staying awake and aware is vital in both the outer world and the inner life. Keep listening, looking, feeling, questioning.

This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.   

- Mary Oliver


LISTENING

 A man prayed and, at first, he thought that prayer was talking. But he became more and more quiet until, in the end, he realized that prayer is listening. 

- Siren Kierkegaard

On Saturday I take my son for a walk in his stroller. In the early morning we pass through the quiet streets before the rest of the neighborhood is awake. The sounds of cars, the buzz of electricity, the chatter of my students, my own voice, even the noisy commentary of my thoughts fade away, revealing a profound and exquisite silence.   

And I remember that this peaceful powerful silence is always there, patiently waiting for us to stop, and notice, and begin to listen.


VOICES

Voices. Voices. Listen, my heart, as only saints have listened,
until the gigantic call lifted them off the ground,
yet they kept on, impossibly, kneeling and didn't notice at all:
so complete was their listening.
Not that we can bear God's voice – not by far.
But listen to the voice of the wind and the endless message,
that forms itself out of silence.

- Rainer Maria Rilke


SILENCE

Contemplatives of every age and every religion have always sought the silence of the wilderness. Jesus himself lived for forty days in complete solitude.  And we too are called to withdraw into a deep silence from time to time. Not with our books, our thoughts, and our memories, but completely naked in God’s presence – silent, empty, motionless, waiting.

Look at nature: the trees, flowers, grasses all grow in silence; the stars, the moon, the sun all move in silence.  In the silence of the world, God is listening. And in the silence of the heart, God will speak.”

- Mother Teresa


RELENT

Relent emerged from Latin roots to mean soften and melt. The "lent" part comes from lentus, meaning tough and hard. To "re-" a thing, essentially, is to experience it again and again.  So to relent is to revisit our hardness, until it softens.


The Lent we observe comes by its name from a different route: the German Lenz and the Dutch lente, which mean the season of the long day - spring. So, it is a stretch to say the words Lent and relent are related.


Yet in observing Lent each year, experiencing again and again the fasting, prayer, and contemplation, seeking to echo in our lives Jesus' great retreat from the world, do we not re-Lent? And does this practice not soften the toughness of our hearts?

The pace of our modern world is relentless. It doesn't make time for the heart. But as individuals we need not be so relentless. If we take the time, we can slowly melt the hardness within, as the warmth of the sun lingers in the lengthening days.


APPLE JUICE

The Buddhist Monk, Thich Naht Hanh, tells the story of an afternoon he spent babysitting three children.  After playing outside he offered them some homemade apple juice.  The first two boys happily drank their full glasses of juice.  But the third little girl received the last portion, which was cloudy with apple pulp.  She took one look at it and refused to drink.

So Thich Naht Hanh set aside her unfinished glass of juice.  And as the children went back outside, he retired to his room to meditate. Half an hour later the girl came back to the kitchen and saw her glass.  The pulp had settled and the juice looked clear and delicious. She took the glass in both hands to show Thich Naht Hanh:

"Is this different juice?" she asked.
"It is the same drink, but it has been sitting still and so it has become clear."
"Did it learn to meditate like you, Uncle?" she asked.
"Let us say that I imitate the apple juice when I meditate. That is closer to the truth."


THE STORM

In the Gospels, Jesus and his disciples cross the Sea of Galilee in a small boat.  While Jesus sleeps below deck, his disciples are caught in a violent storm.  As the wind and waves grow, the disciples frantically try to save the boat. But fear and panic enter their hearts and they lose themselves in the storm. In final desperation they retreat below deck to wake Jesus.  

To their surprise he emerges calmly. He does not let the storm disturb him. Instead, his own sense of inner harmony emanates out and calms the sea and sky.

When we find ourselves in a storm we often worsen the situation by becoming stormy within ourselves.   But if we maintaining an inner peace, it will preserves us and calm the storm outside.


THE SAINT

There was a saint who lived peacefully and quietly in the mountains.   He was known as a very wise man.  So people would travel from far away to ask him  questions that were troubling them:  What is the purpose of my life? How do I make my work more meaningful?  When will I find true love?
When the visitors met the saint they felt the peace and harmony of his presence and they forgot what they had come to ask. 

Being peaceful does not always answer our questions or solve our problems.  But it loosens their grip on us.


THE PRAYER RUG

I sometimes feel sad during this season.  I know the feeling is temporary.  The gloom of winter will lead to the enjoyment of spring, as the renunciations of Lent will lead to the resurrection of Easter.  Although I would like to skip a few steps, I know that each feeling must be experienced.
There is a spiritual saying, “If you are feeling joy or if you are feeling sadness, you should to do the same thing: stay on your prayer rug.”  Don’t move.  Don’t try to change your mood.  Let the feeling slowly work through you and complete its mission.


CAN YOU RECOGNIZE IT?

Yes! The springtime needs you. 
Often a star is waiting for you to notice it. 
A wave rolls toward you from the distant past. 
Or as you walk under an open window,
the sound of a violin calls out to you. 
All this is a mission.  But can you recognize it?
Or are you constantly distracted by your expectations?

- Rainer Maria Rilke


BE STILL

We do not need to go out and find love; rather, we need to be still and let love discover us.

- John O’Donohue


REALITY

The theologian and humanitarian, Jean Vanier began as a scholar of Aristotle.  In a interview he says:
“The main theme with Aristotle is the primacy of experience over ideas.  So the worst thing that can happen for Aristotelians is to become Aristotelians. Because then they start reading and thinking about Aristotle, but they are no longer linked with reality - to touch reality, to listen to people, to see the world evolving, and so on… 

For me, the most important thing is to love reality. Not to live in the imagination: what could have been or what should have been.  But to love reality.  And then to discover, in reality, that God is present.”


THE TRUTH

In the world of Aristotle, truth is a goddess.  The Greek Aletheia (and her Roman counterpart Veritas) does not just represent simple correctness.  She is a living being who carries her torch into dark caves and wells, revealing the inner realities.  Her name itself means “the act of unconcealing.” Truth is therefore an ongoing experience, an ongoing exploration.


LENT

Lent is not an event. It is not something that happens to us. It is a microcosm of what turns out to be a lifelong journey to the center of the self.

The purpose of Lent is to confront us with ourselves in a way that's conscious and purposeful, that enables us to deal with the rest of life well. It is not a "penitential season." It is a growing season. It requires us to determine what is worth dying for in our own lives and what it may be necessary for us to become if we really want to live.

- Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B.


LIFE

Your problem is how you are going to spend this one and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.


- Anne Lamott

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

With your one wild and precious life?

- Mary Oliver


TRANSFORMATION

O Earth, what, if not transformation,
Is your urgent command?
O Earth, I will. Believe me,
You don’t need your springtimes,
To win me over.  One of them,
Just one, is already enough.

- Rilke


OUR ONE LIFE

We have descended from the stars.   We have risen through the forms of thousands of animals. We have passed through the lives of our ancestors, our grandparents, and our parents.  And now we have been born into the moment of our supreme existence. We have a life. What will we do with it?


BEING HERE

Because truly being here is so much; and because everything
in this fleeting world seems to need us, and in some strange way
keeps calling to us. Us, the most fleeting of all.
Once for each thing. Just once; no more.
And we too, just once. And never again.
But to have been this once, completely, even if only once:
To have been at one with the earth, seems beyond undoing.

-Rainer Maria Rilke


SILENCE

My soul in silence waits.

- Psalm 62: 1


LISTENING

There is something so receptive about Jesus.  He encountered people suffering from disease and poverty, people who were caught up in prostitution and debt.  And he would sit with them and share some food.  And he would listen to them.

Open our hearts that we may hear God, from every voice.


ETHICAL LISTENING

“We follow the Rule of St. Benedict and the first word of that Rule is Listen. That’s the great ethical element of silence: to check my words and listen to another point of view. When I can learn the patience of receiving, in an unthreatened way, what I’d rather not hear, then I can have a real measure of peace in any situation …”

- Correspondence with a Trappist Monk about the Vow of Silence


MAN IS NOT YOUR ENEMY

Promise me, promise me this day,
promise me now, while the sun is overhead
exactly at the zenith, promise me:
Even if they strike you down
with a mountain of hatred and violence;
even as they step on you and crush you,
remember, brother, remember:
man is not your enemy. 

-Thich Naht Hanh


THE CRUCIFIXION

Jesus is alone in his death.   In the garden the night before, he pleads, “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me.  Stay awake with me.”  But his disciples fall asleep, and the soldiers come and arrest him. 

His friends don’t even have the courage to admit they knew him.  They betray him, deny him, and hide as their beloved teacher is sentenced to death.  The people of Jerusalem, who cheered as he arrived in the holy city, now mock him as he is led through the same streets. 

He is hung from a cross with unknown thieves.  It is a dark afternoon.  And in his lonely desolation and pain he cries out, “Father, why have you forsaken me?”

... I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

- T.S. Elliot “Four Quartets”


PRAYER

When we pray to God we must be seeking nothing – nothing.


- Saint Francis of Assisi


SILENCE

I've become very attuned to the sound of bird-song, the wind, water running through the pipes, identifying unseen monks by the sound of their footsteps—just paying attention to my surroundings.
People sometimes say that they are looking for silence, as if it had gone away or been misplaced somehow. But silence is not something that can be lost or misplaced. Silence is the infinite horizon against which every thought and word is placed.

- Correspondence with a Trappist Monk about the Vow of Silence


SILENCE

St. Bernard advises: "If you are preparing the ear of the spirit for the voice of God, a voice sweeter than honey and the honeycomb, then flee external cares; so that when your inner sense is disentangled and free, you may say with the prophet Samuel, 'speak Lord, for your servant is listening' (I Kings 3:10). For the voice of God does not speak amid the din and bustle of the world, nor is it heard in any public gathering. Rather secret counsel seeks to be heard also in secret. And so because of this, happiness will be given to us if we listen to God in solitude." St. Francis de Sales adds that we should "retire occasionally in the solitude of our heart, even while we are outwardly engaged in business or conversation."


FIVE MINUTES

A list of daily opportunities to enjoy 5 minutes of silence: after waking and before you get out of bed; while making coffee; after taking a shower; before you start your car; when you first sit down at your desk;  on a park bench eating lunch; at the end of the day before you leave your office; while making dinner; after eating dinner; while you brush your teeth; the last thing you do as you drift off to sleep.


THE SPARROW

When I was a child my parents took me on a trip to Greece. We were on the island of Patmos where St. John was sent into exile and wrote his Book of Revelations – a tiny island, one hill topped by a village of white stucco houses nestled beneath the stone walls of an old monastery.

In the evening we walked to a tourist café for dinner. As we made our way through the crooked streets I happened to find a tiny bird, dying. I don’t know how it got there. Perhaps it had flown into a window or been hit by a car. But there it lay, wings broken, gasping for breath.

Unable to leave it, I carefully picked it up and brought it to the restaurant. We sat outside on the patio.  Our dinner took some time to arrive. And all the while I held the little bird and watched the final moments of its life. It was so tiny and fragile. A bundle of delicate feathers and broken bones, with miniature talons and a small sharp beak, which opened and closed in painful exaggerated breaths. There was no way it could survive and nothing that I could do to repair it. But I would not leave it and felt that I could at least witness its tiny lonely death.

In the Gospels, Jesus teaches his disciples, “Not one sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing.” The universe witnesses every moment of suffering, every tragedy, no matter how small or how large. What a great capacity it must have, that with thousands of years of suffering it has still not overflowed with feeling.


GOD WOULD KNEEL DOWN

Once God asked me to join Him on a walk through this world. We gazed into every heart. And I noticed He lingered a bit longer before any face that was weeping, and before any eyes that were laughing. And sometimes when we passed a soul kneeling in worship, God too would kneel down.

- St. Francis of Assisi 


THE BODHISATTVA

In the Buddhist tradition, the celestial worlds are inhabited with Bodhisattvas – spirits of compassion.  One Bodhisattva has placed himself in the lowest hell and will not leave until everyone else makes it out.  No matter how dreadful the situation, this Bodhisattva will stay to offer compassion and hope.
Suffering continually pours through our lives.  We suffer pain, illness, loss, guilt, sadness.   But no matter how dark  the ordeal, there is always that spirit of compassion dwelling within.   And when we have sympathy for others and for ourselves, when we bring kindness and compassion to the suffering of the world, then we too become that Bodhisattva.


PEACE

No image of peace has ever been more powerful or more encouraging than that of Christ as he faced his death.  He knew that in a short time he would be betrayed by a close friend and that his death would be a terrible one.  We are told that Jesus was in an agony of grief and fear, yet he was also in a state of profound peace.  Peace may not expel terrible emotions, but it underlies them and makes them – as with Christ – redemptive.

- Sister Wendy Beckett


HOLY SPIRIT

Holy Spirit,
Giving life to all life,
Moving all creatures,
Root of all things,
You are our true life,
Luminous, wonderful,
Awakening the heart
from its ancient sleep.

- Hildegard of Bingen 12th century


THE TRIAL

My seventh grade students are writing their Stations of the Cross presentation. One group noticed how silent Jesus remains in the face of accusations. They write:

Jesus was handed over to the Pontius Pilate the Roman governor. 
Pilate questioned him, "Are you a king?"

Jesus replied,” So you say."

Again Pilate questioned him. "Have you no answer? Do you see how many things you're accused of?" But Jesus gave him no further answer. 

Sometimes silence speaks the truth more powerfully than words. In his final hours Jesus had the wisdom to be silent. Pilate was amazed and ordered Jesus to be crucified. 

Jesus accepted his punishment in silence.


FLU

You flowers and trees, you hills and streams, you fields, flocks, and wild birds, you books, you poems, and you people, I am utterly alone in the midst of you. I am solitary and helpless, surrounded by a beauty that can never belong to me. And God, Who is the only one who can be loved for His own sake alone, remains invisible and unimaginable and untouchable, beyond everything else that exists. He is mirrored in all things like sunlight in clean water; but if I try to drink the light that is in the water I only shatter the reflection.

-Thomas Merton, journal entry from Lent 1949,
(sick with influenza in his Trappist Monetary)


MORTALITY

To live in this world, you must be able to do three things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.

- Mary Oliver


WILDERNESS

Before he began his work, Jesus spent forty days alone in the wilderness, in silence and solitude, praying and fasting.  There on a mountain top, he was shown all the kingdoms of the earth in all their splendor.  He was tempted with luxury and power, and he renounced each one.  

In order to find our true purpose in life, we must first renounce what is not real.  We must let go of every illusion and every false desire, until all that remains is the truth.


THE MONK

“In the beginning”,  says Genesis, “the earth was void and empty and darkness was  upon the face of the deep.

The monk is one who, through solitude, silence, and renunciation, preserves the face of the emptiness upon his own soul. The monk is a man of sorrow, a man without illusions, aware of his own poverty, who seeks the naked realities that only the desert can reveal.  But the monk is also a man of joy, a man at peace with the emptiness of the wilderness, glad of his limitations, loving reality as he finds it. 

-Thomas Merton


STILLNESS

Be still and know that I am God.

-Psalm 56


DUINO ELEGIES

Someday,  emerging at last from this fierce vision,
Let me sing out joy and praise to assenting angels.
Let not even one of the clearly struck hammers of my heart
Fail to sound because of doubt, slack, or a broken string.
Let my joyfully streaming face make me more radiant.
Let my hidden weeping arise and blossom.
How dear you’ll be to me then, you nights of anguish.
Why didn’t I kneel more deeply to accept you, inconsolable sisters,
And surrendering, lose myself in your loosened hair.
How we squander our nights of pain,
How we gaze beyond them to see if they have an end,
Though they are really our winter dark evergreen,
One season in our inner time, and not only a season,
But a place, a shelter, a soil, and, and a home.

-Rainer Maria Rilke



EMPATHY

We can’t begin being empathetic when another person arrives. We have to already have made a space in our lives where empathy can thrive. And that means being open - truly open - to feeling emotions we may not want to feel. It means allowing another’s experiences to gut us. It means ceding control.
Empathy begins with vulnerability. And being vulnerable, especially in our work, is terrifying.

-Sara Wachter-Boettcher


FORGIVENESS

“Forgive them Father, they know not what they do.”

When you forgive you discover more about yourself. You learn to accept someone else's mistakes, as well as your own. When you forgive you see what kind of person you really are. Are you a person who holds onto the past forever or are you a person who allows for a new future? Forgiveness is letting go of the pain of the past and allowing a future of healing and peace.

-Seventh Grade Student Writing (Stations of the Cross)


RESURRECTION

The promise of resurrection is written in all of life. Each month the moon fades away until it disappears completely for three days (like the three days Jesus spends in the tomb) and each month the moon returns: first as a sliver, and then to full life and light. Everything is born and everything dies; yet beyond this cycle of life and death there is an eternality.

This spring the plants and animals who have been dead or dormant also return to life. In every leaf and in every birdsong we see and hear the resurrection. And we see it at school today in our new generation of young people. They are lively new iterations of ourselves, reborn to the world, discovering this enchanted and wonderful reality anew.


LIFE

The important thing is that we are part of life. We are born of other lives; we possess the capacities to bring still other lives into existence. In the same way, if we look in a microscope we see cell producing cell. So nature compels us to recognize the fact of mutual dependence, each life necessarily helping the other lives, which are linked to it. In the very fibers of our being, we bear within ourselves the fact of the solidarity of life.

The deeper we look into nature, the more that we recognize that it is full of life, and the more profoundly we know we are united with all life in nature. Man can no longer live for himself alone. We must realize that all life is valuable and that we are united to all this life. From this knowledge comes our spiritual relationship to the universe.

- Albert Schweitzer


LOVE

Jesus and his disciples gathered for a final Passover meal and he told them, “I am the vine. You are the branches. If you remain in me I will remain in you. And you will bear fruit. I have one final commandment to give to you: Love one another. Love each other as I have loved you.”


SILENCE

Nothing is so like God as silence.


- Meister Eckhart


MORNING

In the early morning, when the machines are still asleep, before our daily lives have begun, one can witness that great existential silence bathing the world like pale moonlight. Whether we turn outward or inward we are immersed in this profound and exquisite silence, this gentle presence ask nothing of us, and allows us to be our true self.  Not the self we were yesterday or last year.  But our self at this moment - naked, empty, and reborn.

And then we are joined by our friends: the morning stars, the call of bird songs, our children stirring as the light of the sun reawakens the earth.

Life will continue. It will grow and change and so will we. Whether we choose to or not we will be transformed a thousand times. How will we participate in our own unfoldment today?




LENT 2011


STAY AWAKE

After his last supper, Jesus and his disciples retired to a garden to spend the night. Knowing that it would be their last time together before his death, Jesus made a final request of his devoted students, "Stay awake with me."

They tried their best, but sometime during the night, they fell asleep. While they slept, a group of Roman soldiers entered the garden and captured Jesus.

"Stay awake with me," is one of Jesus' final teachings to his disciples and to us. He is asking us to always stay watchful. And he is teaching us to always be aware.

If we can become more aware of ourselves and those around us, then we will be able to create deeper friendships, more harmonious families, and more peaceful communities. If we can become politically, socially, and environmentally aware, we can participate consciously and purposefully in creating the future of our shared world.

The more that we become aware of the world, the more that we discover it is filled with wonder, enchantment, and hidden meaning. In a recent radio interview the Catholic philosopher and social worker Jean Vanier said, “For me, the most important thing is to love reality. Not to live in what could have been or what should have been. But to love reality. And then to discover, in reality, that God is present.”

TSUNAMI

In the devastation of natural disasters, it is difficult to find hope and meaning. Ancient people often experienced the awesome, and at times destructive, power of nature and asked, “Why is God punishing us?” This confusion continues today. In the wake of the terrible earthquake in Haiti some people even suggested that God had punished the people of Haiti.

Jesus’ own teachings are of a higher realization. In the gospel of Saint Matthew, he teaches: “The rain falls equally on the righteous and on the sinner. The sun shines equally on the good and the bad person.” We all share the same struggles and the same blessings. And God loves us all unconditionally. God loves regardless of our nationality. God loves regardless of our race and religion. God loves us when we are good and when we are bad.

And so Christ asks us to be like God. Christ asks us to open our hearts to all of humanity. When we see suffering and tragedy occur in far off lands, let us remember all people as our brothers and sisters. Let this love raise us above the distinctions and differences that divide us. And unite us all in the Divine Being.

Today we pray for the victims of the Tsunami in Japan and across the Pacific. And we remember all those who suffer throughout the world.


COMMUNITY

The Catholic philosopher Jean Vanier founded a community for people with mental disabilities to share their vulnerability and their love. Through his work he has discovered profound insights into the nature of human suffering, frailty, and our need for community. In his book Community and Growth he writes:

"Growth begins when we start to accept our own weakness.”

“A community is created when the members accept that they are not going to achieve great things, that they are not going to be heroes, but simply live each day with new hope, like children, in wonderment as the sun rises and in thanksgiving as it sets. Community is created when they have recognized that the greatness of man is to accept his insignificance, his human condition and his earth, and to thank God for having put in a finite body the seeds of eternity which are visible in small and daily gestures of love and forgiveness. The beauty of man is in this fidelity to the wonder of each day."

“ We are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love.”


FAMILY

One of the most touching parts of the Stations of the Cross is the moment when Jesus looks down from the cross to see his family:

As the sky darkened, Jesus lowered his eyes and saw his followers who had come to be with him. Among them were John, his beloved disciple, and Mary, his mother.

“Mother, this is your son,” he said to Mary and nodded to John. To John, he said, “Son, this is your mother.” For Jesus wanted John to take care of Mary.

Our seventh graders are writing their own reflections on the Stations of the Cross. Here is a selection of their writing on this profound moment:

“Family are the ones who will always love you no matter what. They will be there to guide you through the hardest times. Family are the ones who will always give you a second chance.

Your family doesn't have to be related. A family could be a group of caring friends. They are those who allow you to be yourself, the people who bring out the good in you. A family are those who would sacrifice themselves for you. It is a bond that will last your entire life.

Love is the basis for a family and love allows a family to survive. It takes compassion to care for another. And it takes courage to allow yourself to be cared for.”



THE SPARROW

When I was a child my parents took me on a trip to Greece. We were on the island of Patmos where St. John was sent into exile and wrote his Book of Revelations – a tiny island, one hill topped by a village of white stucco houses nestled beneath the stone walls of an old monastery.

In the evening we walked to a tourist café for dinner. As we made our way through the crooked cobbled streets I happened to look down to find a tiny bird, dying. I don’t know how it got there. Perhaps it had flown into a window or been hit by a car. There it lay, wings broken, gasping for breath.

Unable to leave it, I carefully picked it up and brought it to the restaurant. We sat outside in the Mediterranean air and our dinner took some time to arrive. All that time I held the little bird and watched the final moments of its life. It was so tiny and fragile. A bundle of delicate feathers and broken bones, with miniature talons and a small sharp beak, which opened and closed in painful exaggerated breaths. There was no way it could survive and nothing that I could do to repair it. But I would not leave it and felt that I could at least witness it in its tiny lonely death.

In the Gospel of Saint Matthew, Jesus teaches his disciples, “Not one sparrow falls to the ground without God knowing.” The Universe witnesses every moment of suffering, every tragedy, no matter how small or how horrific. What a great capacity the Universe must have, that with thousands of years of suffering it has still not overflowed with feelings.



SUFFERING

In his autobiography, Thomas Merton touchingly describes the death of his father:

“We were completely helpless. There was nothing anyone could do. What could I make of so much suffering? There was no way for me, or for anyone else in the family, to get anything out of it. Try to avoid it, if you could. But you must eventually reach the point where you can’t avoid it anymore. Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late. The more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers most."

“The Christian must not only accept suffering: he must make it holy.”

-Thomas Merton “The Seven Storey Mountain”



CONSCIOUS SUFFERING

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (d. 1955) was a visionary French Jesuit Priest, philosopher, biologist, paleontologist, and geologist. In his writings he describes suffering as the evolutionary principle in the spiritual unfoldment of the individual and of all life:

“The progress [of the world] is made at the price of much failure and many wounds. The sufferers, no matter what species they belong, are expressions of this austere but noble condition. They pay for the forward progress and victory of all…

In suffering, the ascending force of the world is concealed in a very intense form. The whole question is how to liberate it and give it a consciousness of its significance and potentialities. If all the sufferers of the earth joined their sufferings, the world's pain might become a great and unique act of consciousness, elevation, and union…

We are in danger of seeing on the cross only an individual suffering. The creative power of that death escapes us. Let us take a broader glance...”


BODY AND SPIRIT

In a story from the Book of Genesis, Adam (whose name means clay), is sculpted out of the soil of the earth and awoken with the breath of life. This story speaks to our commonality with the entire material world. We are made of the earth. The molecules that make up our bodies originate in the earth. Plants draw them up from the soil. We make bread with those plants. And in the course of a meal we take in these same molecules to form our own bodies. As my mother would say, “You are what you eat.”

But, like all of us Adam has two parts. His clay body is sculpted from the earth. But he also has an invisible self: thoughts, emotions, spirit, and soul – the breath of God.

Five years ago my father died. We buried his body in an earthy grave. The molecules that were once him have returned to the soil. “Dust you are and to dust you will return.”

I stood by my father’s bed while he was dying. His breaths grew further and further apart, until he exhaled for the last time. I waited for the next breath but it never came. Did his spirit disappear with that last breath? As his body decomposed into the earth did his consciousness also dissolve back into some universal consciousness? Or does his soul live on in some further state of being?


HYMN OF THE UNIVERSE

Since once again, Lord, I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself; I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labors and sufferings of the world...
Over every living thing which is to spring up, to grow, to flower, to ripen during this day say again the words: This is my Body. And over every death-force which waits in readiness to corrode, to wither, to cut down, speak again your commanding words which express the supreme mystery of faith: This is my Blood…
‘Lord, make us one.’

- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin





LENT

Lent is not an event. It is not something that happens to us. It is a microcosm of what turns out to be a lifelong journey to the center of the self.
The purpose of Lent is to confront us with ourselves in a way that's conscious and purposeful, that enables us to deal with the rest of life well. It is not a "penitential season." It is a growing season. It requires us to determine what is worth dying for in our own lives and what it may be necessary for us to become if we really want to live.
- Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B.


WALDEN

Morning is when I am awake and there is a dawn in me. Moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep. . . . I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details, worthy of the contemplation of his most elevated and critical hour… I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

- Henry David Thoreau


CONTEMPLATION

“Contemplation is the highest expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual life. It is that life itself, fully awake, fully active, fully aware that it is alive. It is spiritual wonder. It is spontaneous awe at the sacredness of life, of being. It is gratitude for life, for awareness, and for being. It is a vivid realization of the fact that life and being in us proceed from an invisible, transcendent and infinitely abundant Source. ….

Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from Him Who has no voice, and yet Who speaks in everything that is, and Who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being: for we ourselves are words of His. But we are words that are meant to respond to Him, to answer to Him, to echo Him, and even in some way to contain Him and signify Him. Contemplation is this echo. 

We ourselves become His echo and His answer. It is as if in creating us God asked a question and in awakening us to contemplation He answered the question, so that the contemplative is at the same time, question and answer.”

-Thomas Merton “New Seeds of Contemplation”


WHEN I RETURNED FROM ROME

A bird took flight. And a flower in a field whistled at me as I passed. I drank from a stream of clear water. And at night the sky untied her hair and I fell asleep clutching a tress of God’s.

When I returned from Rome, all said “Tell us the great news,” and with great excitement I did: “A flower in a field whistled and at night the sky untied her hair and I fell asleep clutching a sacred tress…”

- St. Francis of Assisi

He would also speak to cornfield and vineyards, stones, woods, and every beauty of the land in this way. He called all creatures by the name brother or sister. He saw hidden things of creation with the eye of compassion. For, in his own way, he had escaped back into the wondrous freedom of childhood.

- Thomas of Celano
The First Life of St. Francis (pub. 1229)


NO BORDERS

When one astronaut looked down upon the Earth from space, he observed:

“That beautiful, warm, living marble looked so fragile, so delicate. As I looked down, I saw a large river meandering slowly along for miles, passing from one country to another. I saw huge forests and deserts crossing borders. I saw an ocean that touched the shores of separate continents. Two words came to mind: commonality and interdependence.”

We learned this lesson again as we watched the recent Tsunami unfold. This tragic event occurred in distant Japan and yet the ripples of the great wave touched us all the way on the shores of California. And over the last week, as we anxiously watched the nuclear crisis unfold, we were forced to again recognize that there are no borders. Anything that occurs on our planet affects our whole planet. We are all part of one great living reality.


PRAYER

I find you, Lord, in all things and in all
my fellow creatures, pulsing with your life;
as a tiny seed you sleep in what is small
and in the vast you vastly yield yourself.

- Rainer Maria Rilke


A SINGLE PERSON

In the Talmud (Sanhedrin 37), it reads:

“Humanity was created to realize this: Whoever kills a single person is considered to have destroyed the entire world. And whoever saves a single person is considered to have saved the entire world.”

I would add: Whoever creates love, harmony and peace within themselves, recreates the world in love, harmony and peace.


THE INNER HISTORY OF A DAY

No one knew the name of this day;
Born quietly from deepest night,
It hid its face in light,
Demanded nothing for itself,
Opened out to offer each of us
A field of brightness that traveled ahead,
Providing in time, ground to hold our footsteps
And the light of thought to show the way.

The mind of the day draws no attention;
It dwells within the silence with elegance
To create a space for all our words,
Drawing us to listen inward and outward.

We seldom notice how each day is a holy place
Where the eucharist of the ordinary happens,
Transforming our broken fragments
Into an eternal continuity that keeps us.”

- John O’Donohue (Irish Poet and Catholic Scholar)


THE ART OF PEACE

In 1925, martial artist Morihei Ueshiba was attacked by a man with a sword. After defending himself barehanded he retired to his garden where he had a life changing vision.

“All at once I understood the nature of creation: it is a manifestation of divine love, a spirit which embraces and nurtures all things. Tears of gratitude and joy streamed down my cheeks. I saw the entire earth as my home, and the sun, moon, and stars as my intimate friends."

Ueshiba went on to found Aikido the “Art of Peace.” He instructs his disciples:

“One does not need buildings, money, power, or status to practice the “Art of Peace.” Heaven is right where you are standing, and that is the place to train."


IT GETS BETTER

Each rainy day this season, I think, “Tomorrow the sun will come out and it will be spring.” Yet the rains return. And every day there is some new problem in my life or in the world. And I think, “Tomorrow things will get better.” But the problems continue.

Last night I heard a Bronx poet, Gabrielle Rivera, on the radio:

“…as a gay woman of color, I just want to let the youth know that it kinda doesn’t get better. I’m gonna be real. It doesn’t get better… but what does happen is that you get stronger.”

After we give up the expectation of the sun, we can begin to value the rain for giving us strength. We can begin to value each challenge that comes our way as an opportunity to be brave and loving. As Morihei Ueshiba says, “Be grateful for hardship, setbacks, and bad people. Dealing with such obstacles is an essential part of training.”


LIBERTE

My aunt was a gentle children's author until the Nazis invaded Paris. She and her family fled in a caravan of refugees and reemerged in Britain. She was a supporter of Gandhi and believed deeply in non-violence. Yet she also felt called to return to defend her home. She volunteered as a wireless radio operator and was trained and dropped back into occupied France to make contact with the Resistance. She worked undercover in Paris for six weeks until she was captured by the Gestapo and sent to the Dachau Concentration Camp. Shackled and bound, trapped in solitary confinement, she risked further punishment to scratch out small messages of encouragement on the food bowls that were passed around to other prisoners. Her captors were surprised that with all the darkness and torture she suffered, they could not break her spirit. She would not talk. Eventually they gave up their interrogations and executed her. In her final moment of life she cried out: “Liberte!”

Throughout the darkness of human history there have always been people, known and unknown to the world, who have held aloft the light of spiritual ideals. Confronted with the suffering of the world, those with an awakened conscience are called to act against injustice in the pursuit of light and liberty, no matter what the personal cost may be.


FORGIVENESS

They crucified Jesus along with two thieves, one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus called out, "Forgive them Father, they know not what they do."

In preparing for their presentation of the Stations of the Cross a group of seventh graders wrote this about forgiveness:

“Even though Jesus is about to die, he is able to forgive the soldiers… Everybody does things in their life that they later regret. Jesus knows that sometimes people need somebody to help them realize that what they are doing is wrong. The message that Jesus left us was that everybody deserves to be forgiven. When everybody is forgiving the world will finally be at peace.”


CHRIST HAS NO BODY

Christ has no body
But yours


No hands but yours
No feet but yours

Yours are the eyes with which he looks

Compassion on this world

Yours are the feet with which he walks
In order to do good

Yours are the hands with which he
Blesses all the world


Christ has no body left on earth
But yours

- St. Teresa of Avila


MORTALITY

To live in this world, you must be able to do three
things: to love what is mortal; to hold it against your 
bones knowing your own life depends on it; and, when the time comes to let it go, to let it go.

- Mary Oliver


A MIDRASH

For years Biblical scholars have puzzled over God’s pain and disappointment in watching Adam go astray. Shouldn’t God in His omniscience have known that Adam would stray?

A certain skeptic asked R. Yehoshua ben Kortia, “Do you not believe that God foresees the future?” He answered, “Yes.” “But it says, ‘His heart was saddened’?” “Did you ever have a son born to you?” “Yes.” “And what did you do?” “I rejoiced and made everyone else happy.” “But didn’t you know that your son would eventually die?” “In time of joy, there is joy; and in time of mourning, there is mourning.” R. Yehoshua said, “That is the way of God.”

God may see the future, yet still chooses to let reality unfold moment by moment and season by season.



CHASING A BUTTERFLY

When Adam and Eve are exiled from the garden, Eve’s curse is pain in childbearing (which in traditional commentary is symbolic of the entire process of raising children). The contemplative nun and art critic Sister Wendy Beckett touches on this pain when she writes about Thomas Gainsborough’s painting, “Chasing a Butterfly”:

“Parental love is potentially the purist form of love, and may be the most painful. Gainsborough, whose marriage was unhappy, adored his two daughters, whom he called Molly and Captain. Their mother’s flawed psyche was inherited by both girls, and their father agonized over them all his life. Neither was to know happiness, and many of his pictures of them show a sad foreknowledge of this. To give those we love their independence, to accept that we cannot make their choices for them, that they cannot live by our hard-earned experience: this is part of love. We have to allow those dear to us chase the butterfly, however convinced we are that it is uncatchable. We can never give the butterfly of happiness to another: each must catch it alone. For some, it will be ever elusive, and love must work within that painful understanding.”

Perhaps our pain and love as parents is a reflection of God’s experience - watching Adam and Eve make their own way out into the world.


GOD WOULD KNEEL DOWN

Once God asked me to join Him on a walk through this world. We gazed into every heart. And I noticed He lingered a bit longer before any face that was weeping, and before any eyes that were laughing. And sometimes when we passed a soul kneeling in worship, God too would kneel down.

- St. Francis of Assisi


THE CENTER OF SELF

All those who are unhappy in the world are so as a result of their desire for their own happiness. All those who are happy in the world
 are so as a result of their desire for the happiness of others.

- Shantideva (8th Century Buddhist Philosopher)

When we live in union we are a prayer, and everything we do becomes conscious, willing, and free. To pray creates a different kind of human being whose center is outside of himself or herself. These are the only people who are really free because they are free from themselves.

- Richard Rohr (21rst century Franciscan Priest)


POUR YOURSELF OUT

Want transformation. Be inspired by the flame

In which a thing disappears and bursts into something else;

The spirit of re-creation which masters the earth

Loves most the pivoting point
Where you are no longer
Yourself.

He who pours himself out like a stream
Is acknowledged at last by Knowledge;
And she leads him enchanted
Through the harmonious country
That finishes often with starting,
And with ending begins.

- Rainer Maria Rilke “Sonnets to Orpheus”


RELENT

A reader of these daily messages sent me this wonderful meditation on the meaning and etymology of Lent:

“The pace of our world is said to be relentless.

Relent emerged from Latin roots to mean soften, melt or dissolve. Lent(us) meant tough, viscous, slow. To "re-" a thing, essentially, is to experience it again and again. Through a cycle of revisitation the core is stirred and toughness softens. Now when we relent the dissolution isn't physical. It is a melting of viscous emotions in the heart. To relent is not only to ease up on someone, but to forgive and
have compassion.

Lent comes by its name from a different route, the German Lenz and the Dutch lente, which mean the season of the long day, spring. In Latin this observance is called quadragesima. So, it is a stretch to say the words Lent and relent are related.

Yet, in observing Lent each year, experiencing again and again fasting, prayer and contemplation, seeking to echo in our lives Jesus' great retreat from the world, do we not re-Lent? And does this practice not soften the heart?

Our modern world expects acquisition, not simplicity; consumption, not fasting; just doing it, not retreating. It doesn't make time for excursions into the melting heart.

But as individuals we need not be relentless. If we take the time, we can melt the sluggish thickness within and find the capacity to forgive the abrasive world without. Hope for a future that relents rises in our own compassion, for the world's heart is the human heart.”


JUST THIS

We bloomed in Spring.
Our bodies are the leaves of God.

The apparent seasons of life and death
our eyes can suffer;

but our souls, dear, I will just say this forthright:
they are God Himself,

we will never perish
unless He does.

- St. Teresa of Avila


PART OF LIFE

The important thing is that we are part of life. We are born of other lives; we possess the capacities to bring still other lives into existence. In the same way, if we look in a microscope we see cell producing cell. So nature compels us to recognize the fact of mutual dependence, each life necessarily helping the other lives, which are linked to it. In the very fibers of our being, we bear within ourselves the fact of the solidarity of life.

The deeper we look into nature, the more that we recognize that it is full of life, and the more profoundly we know we are united with all life in nature. Man can no longer live for himself alone. We must realize that all life is valuable and that we are united to all this life. From this knowledge comes our spiritual relationship to the universe.

- Albert Schweitzer “Reverence for Life”


THE SACRED COMMUNITY

The universe itself is the primary sacred community. All human religion should be considered as participation in the religious aspect of the universe itself.

- Father Thomas Berry “The Dream of the Earth”


THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING

We began Lent with a terrible Tsunami. This tragic event occurred in distant Japan and yet the ripples of the great wave touched us all the way on the shores of California. Anything that occurs on our planet affects our whole planet. We are all part of one great living reality.

The anonymous 14th century Christian monastic text, The Cloud of Unknowing, instructs monks to spend their days praying for the world and for all of humankind. Even if one cannot see the immediate effects of those prayers they still ripple out into the world:

“The whole of humankind is wonderfully helped by what you are doing, in ways you do not understand.”


THE STORM

In one story from the Gospels Jesus and his disciples are in a small boat on the Sea of Galilee. While Jesus sleeps below deck the disciples get caught in a wild storm. In the wind and waves the frantic disciples try to save the boat. But the storm enters their hearts and they lose themselves in the panic. In their final desperation they retreat below and wake Jesus. To their surprise he emerges calmly and peacefully into the storm. He does not let the chaos of the storm disturb him. Instead his own inner peace and harmony radiates out into the storm and the sea and sky become calm.

When we find ourselves in a storm we often worsen the situation by becoming stormy within ourselves. But if we focus our attention on maintaining peace within ourselves this inner harmony preserves us and calms the storm outside.


PEACE

No image of peace has ever been more powerful or more encouraging than that of Christ as he faced his passion. He knew that in a short time he would be betrayed by a close friend and that his death would be a terrible one – Crucifixion. We are told that Jesus was in an agony of grief and fear, yet he was equally in a state of the most profound peace. He did not understand, but he trusted, and would go to death trusting. Peace may not expel terrible emotions, but it underlies them and makes them – as with Christ – redemptive.

- Sister Wendy Beckett


RESURRECTION

The promise of the Resurrection is written not only in Jesus’ life and death – it is written in all of nature. Each month the moon fades away until it disappears completely for three days (like the three days Jesus spends in the tomb) but each month the moon returns: first as a sliver, and then to full life and light. Everything is born and everything dies; yet beyond this cycle of life and death there is an eternality.

This spring the plants and animals who have been dead or dormant also return to life. In every leaf and in every birdsong we see and hear the Resurrection. And we see it at school today in our new generation of young people. They are lively new iterations of ourselves, reborn to the world, discovering this enchanted and wonderful reality anew.


CAN YOU RECOGNIZE IT?

Yes! The springtime needs you.
Often a star is waiting for you to notice it.
A wave rolls toward you from the distant past.
Or as you walk under an open window,
the sound of a violin calls out to you.
All this is a mission. But can you recognize it?
Or are you constantly distracted by your expectations?

- Rainer Maria Rilke “Duino Elegies”


PALM SUNDAY

“Palm Sunday teaches us that the cross is the authentic tree of life. We do not attain to life by seizing it, but by giving it. Love is the giving of ourselves and, for this reason, is the way of authentic life symbolized by the cross.”

Palm Sunday Papal Address


THE TREE OF LIFE

The great archetypal Tree of Life stands at the center of all mythologies. The tree is bound to the earth by an immense pattern of roots and reaches to the sky with the same pattern of leaves. On Earth as it is in Heaven. The sacred tree connects the Earth and the Heavens, and the human with the Divine. This tree is the mythic center and axis upon which the world turns. All life is united through its interconnected branches.

This tree stands at the center of the Genesis narrative, as the Tree of Knowledge and the Tree of Life. And it also stands as the Cross of the Crucifixion, which reunites the human with the Divine. According to one story the cross was cut from the wood of the Eden tree and resprouted leaves when Jesus resurrected. Perhaps Christ himself is the Tree of Life:
"Make ready, O Bethlehem; for Eden hath been opened for all... for the Tree of Life hath blossomed forth in the cave from the Virgin. For her womb was a sacred paradise, in which is planted the Divine Plant. –Nativity Hymn


GENESIS

In the Book of Genesis the first human being is brought forth from the dirt of the earth. This story speaks to our commonality with the entire world. The atoms that make up our body originate in the dirt of the earth itself. Plants have drawn them up from the soil to form their own bodies. By eating those plants, animals reshape these same atoms.

Each of the countless atoms that make up our body has its own history. They once made up the bodies of Socrates and Jesus, as well as millions of Stone Age hunters, prehistoric birds, fish and ferns. When we die they all return to the soil to await a new life - dust you are and to dust you will return.

Atoms are bound into molecules, which are organized into cells, which are layered into living creatures. Life is a sequence of structures, each nested upon a previous one. Cells arise from a previous cells. Creatures emerge from previous creatures, which themselves emerged from previous creatures. Every living cell, every being is embedded in the previous form.

Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents live on in us as a living transmission. Every being is part of this transmission, which leads back to the very origins of life. Yet every human being still begins as a single cell, a seed which contains the entire tree of life.


LOVE

Jesus and his disciples gathered for a final Passover meal and he told them, “I am the vine. You are the branches. If you remain in me I will remain in you. And you will bear fruit. I have one final commandment to give to you: Love one another. Love each other as I have loved you.”


THE EUCHARIST

Then Jesus took the bread and gave it to them, saying, “This is my Body.” And he took the wine and gave it to them, saying, “This is my Blood.”


The mystical body of Christ takes the form of the earth, the plant, the bread, and finally our bodies. Joined together in this transformation we share in the life and blessing of the entire world.* Over every living thing, which is to grow, to flower, to blossom on this day, say again these words, “This is my Body.”

In drinking the blood of Christ we also join in his suffering. Christ’s suffering is a passionate outpouring of love for all beings. Over every living thing which is to suffer, to whither, to die on this day, say again these words, “This is my Blood.”

“If you eat my flesh and drink my blood I am one with you and you are one with me.” – Gospel of St. John 6:56

* "The role of the priesthood is to consecrate the world so that it may become a living host, a liturgy: so that the liturgy may not be something alongside the reality of the world, but that the world itself shall become a living host, a liturgy. This is also the great vision of Teilhard de Chardin." Pope Benedict XVI Homily at Vespers in Aosta, July 31, 2009


THE CRUCIFIXION

Jesus is alone in his death. The night before in the garden he prays, “The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me.” He pleads with his disciples, “Stay awake with me.” But they fall asleep and the Roman solders enter the garden and arrest him.

His disciples don’t even have the courage to admit they knew him. They betray him, deny him, and hide as their beloved teacher is mocked and tortured. The people of Jerusalem, who exalted him as he entered the holy city, now jeer him as he is led bloodied through the streets.

He is hung from the cross with unknown thieves. It is a darkling afternoon. And in his lonely desolation and pain he cries out, “Father, why have you forsaken me?”


... I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.

- T.S. Elliot “Four Quartets”


HOLY SPIRIT

Holy Spirit,
Giving life to all life,
Moving all creatures,
Root of all things,
You are our true life,
Luminous, wonderful,
Awakening the heart
from its ancient sleep.

- Hildegarde of Bingen 12th century


THE FUTURE

I remember my father, a twinkle in his eye as he looked down at his young son and quoted Teilhard de Chardin, “The pull of the future is stronger than the push of the past.”

God is found within this life - in the sustaining light of the sun and the cycle of the moon, in the lives of plants and animals, and in our own living experience. God’s loving and unifying presence permeates the world. The promise of the Resurrection is that life will continue.

The world will continue. It will grow and change and so will we. Whether we chose to or not we will be transformed a thousand times. Will we participate consciously and purposefully in our own unfoldment? Will we accept the changes destined to renew our being? Will we acknowledge our own role in the future of the planet?

Whether we turn inward or outward we are immersed in Divine guidance, a great tidal current pulling us forever onward. What is this great future which is calling us?