Stop it!

Over the past few years I have wavered between being a news junkie and abstaining from the news almost entirely. These years have been so eventful, literally filled with momentous events that are changing the world and changing the way we live. I want to keep up and not bury my head in the sand, but I do not want to be so wrapped up in it that I lose perspective or become despondent.

It really is quite possible to become so overwhelmed by the weight of the events of the world that we lose hope. Take our current situation where the top of the news revolves between the rise in pandemic infections overall and especially among children and those who have refused to be vaccinated, the end of the twenty year war in Afghanistan and the airlift of refugees, Hurricane Ida and the destruction it wrought in Louisiana and in the mid-Atlantic states and New England, the huge and uncontrolled fires in the west and northwest destroying forests and homes, and Haiti suffering in the aftermath of hurricans, earthquakes and a coup d’etat. If we get into the details of these stories or the less spectacular issues we could spend all day on the news. Sadly, the cable news channels in particular would like you to do that. So in addition to the hard news they add in talking heads, pundits and commentators whose job it is to make you feel even worse and more afraid about the state of the world. If we get sucked down that hole we are no longer news junkies we have become addicted not to the news but to fear. That addiction bolsters their ratings and gets them more advertisers.

What are we to do if we get caught up in this frenzy of fear mongering on which cable news lives and breathes? The first thing that came to my mind is a Bob Newhart skit from some years ago. It is perhaps the funniest six minutes of television I have ever seen. I commend it to you not as the answer to this addiction, but as a way of defusing it (Newhart skit).

Certainly stopping the activity is easier said than done. I know many people who first thing in the morning turn on the radio to the news channel, NPR, or one of the cable news stations. That device stays on all day filling their lives with the latest headlines, traffic reports (even though they are not on the roads), news of disasters far and wide, sports (even though they do not follow sports), and celebrity scandals. While they may not being pay full attention to it their ears and minds are being filled with things that make them anxious, disgusted, worried, and fearful. Think if instead the radio or TV were tuned in to Mozart, some pleasant music, or someone reading poems, or telling heartwarming stories, or simply nature sounds. Or perhaps even better, they were not turned on at all so that the sounds of nature or blessed silence were the only sounds they heard.

We have choices. For years I have kept my iPhone next to my bed at night. Initially it was so I would not miss an emergency call. In all that time I have received one call in the middle of the night that was a real emergency. But the problem is that the first thing in the morning I pick up the phone and check it. I have barely wiped the sleep from my eyes and I am seeing spam, sales pitches, news headlines, and many other things that could wait for me to at least gain full consciousness. Recently, I have been leaving the phone somewhere else. As I fully awaken, I say a prayer from Forward Movement called “For Today.”(morning prayers) I used to do this before I got an iPhone. It seems like a good habit to return to. For you there may be another answer to the news addiction. It may be looking out a window, hugging your beloved, walking the dog, looking at a painting, reading a poem, and any of a myriad of other possibilities. The news will wait. When you allow it to wait you may find that your fear and worries start to abate. The old saying is “we are what we eat.” That is true not only of food but of the other things we consume through our eyes, ears and other senses.

In the Gospel According to Matthew Jesus says, “And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?” (6:37 NRSV) Worry and fear add nothing to our life, they only subtract. They preoccupy us with things that we have no control over. If we could control them we would do something more than worry. Instead of feeding our worries, let us strive for peace in ourselves and peace for others. As Jesus said later in Matthew “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (6:33 KJV) Do not seek out trouble and worry there is enough of that to go around without looking for it. Instead seek the Kingdom of God. In doing so we add to our lives the joy and goodness that only God offers.

Behold

On my last visit to the monastery of The Society of St. John the Evangelist in Cambridge Massachusetts I was talking with Brother Curtis Almquist about my prayer life. He told me that nearly every priest he speaks with is concerned that their prayer life is inadequate. Likewise many people I speak with are concerned that their prayer life is lacking. It seems with a few notable exceptions, mostly saints; we judge our personal prayer life as wanting. I suspect that is because we have a clichéd way of thinking about what is proper prayer. It involves getting on our knees with hands together and pointed toward heaven. Our head is bowed our eyes are closed and all is silent, and all around us is still. Then we repeat a memorized prayer or, if we are particularly godly, we make up, on the spot, a prayer that is both eloquent and terribly pious. We believe this type of prayer, and this type only, is what will please God, and earn us stars in our heavenly crown. However, I think we can be fairly certain that this is not the case.

Indeed, prayer is not about earning anything or doing your duty or being pious. Rather prayer is about communing with the heart of God. There are so many ways to do this. One that I was reminded of this week is beholding. What reminded me is this quotation from American poet Diane Ackerman, “There is a way of beholding which is a form of prayer.” The Oxford Dictionary defines “behold” as a verb “to see or observe (a thing or person, especially a remarkable or impressive one).” It also categorizes this word as archaic-literary. That is that no one beholds something except in a poem or novel. However, in ancient times it would seem that to behold was fairly common. According to one source the word behold shows up 1,298 in the Bible. That is quite a lot of beholding! Jokes and dictionaries aside, a return to beholding may be an answer to our prayer of how to pray.

Sitting in a garden and simply looking at a flower. Going to a museum and gazing on a painting without counting the minutes. Watching a child sleep. Regarding your beloved as she or he performs an ordinary task. Peering up at the sky at night as the stars twinkle or the clouds in daytime. A prayer tradition in the Orthodox Church is looking upon icons. Those outside this tradition think that the devout are praying to the icon. Actually, they are praying through the icon, by using the eyes of the image to see into heaven.

In recent weeks I have been looking at the Little-Joe-Pye-Weed in my garden as the bees and butterflies swarm over it for nectar. I have never seen bees so frantically searching a flower. It is fascinating. I behold the flower and the bees in silence. I do not think scientific thoughts or even religious ones. I simply gaze in wonder.  As an afterthought is how the parts of God’s creation work together for the benefit of all.

Behold the world around you. Behold those you love. Behold God in all of God’s various manifestations. As the angel said, “Behold I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all people.” Behold the wonder, glory, and love of God. To behold brings us unwittingly into the very heartbeat of God. There we can feel the pulse of our souls joining up with the center of all things, the ground of all things, the very essence of all that is and ever shall be. Amen.

Compassion

Many people struggle with issues of self-worth. The reasons are varied, but it often seems to derive from a childhood experience of being ridiculed or disparaged by a parent or other adult in authority. It can also come from experiences in adulthood once again from being denigrated by an authority figure, or through a devastating personal failure that leads to shame or hypercritical self-judgment. Regardless of the source of our feelings of lack of self-worth, it is our response that can be most telling.

A few have the kind of disposition which allows critique to roll off them like water off of a duck. I heard the story of a child who had, in typical child fashion, spread toys all over a room. A passing adult said, “You are a mess.” The self-possessed child responded, “I have made a mess but I am not a mess.” Oh, that we could all be so confident when confronted by criticism.

For some people the response to hurtful criticism is to go through life on tiptoe as if the next step could set off a landmine. Every moment is fraught with the possibility of more criticism, more negative judgment, and more destruction of what little perception of personal value is left. This person might be meek and deferential. This person might also fight back by denigrating others overtly or covertly. This person finds some respite from critique by criticizing others, even if it is under their breath. They think, “Well who do they think they are they can’t even [insert jab here].” Tearing down another helps them to feel like the playing field is a little bit more level.

Another strategy is to fight back aggressively. This person responds to critique by inflating his/her own sense of self. They put on armor to deflect criticism. They are also always ready to shoot back with even more critique than they receive. They are always on combat footing ready to repulse and return fire.

Yet another strategy is the bully. This person does not wait for criticism, but is always criticizing. This one figures that if he/she fires a devastating blow first the other will not be able to criticize. He fires before being fired upon. She doesn’t give the other a chance to criticize by getting in the first blow.

None of these stances really addresses the issue at hand. As Br. David Vryhoff writes, “It is not usually helpful to point out another person’s sins and shortcomings.” It may help us feel better for a moment, but it does not cure our feelings of worthlessness. At the end of the day whether we mumble criticism, take it on the chin, fight back, or make a destructive first strike, we are still left feeling worthless.

What can heal us and others is compassion. It starts with compassion for our wounded selves and continues as compassion for others. The best response is neither offense nor defense. Rather it is the radical acceptance of ourselves as wounded but worthy. That extends to seeing others in the same light. As Br. David wrote, “What people need far more [than criticism] is a loving acceptance and affirmation of their worth, a kindly forbearance towards their weaknesses. This compassionate acceptance we must exercise not only towards others, but also towards ourselves.”

When we can show compassion for our self and for others the healing can begin. Compassion literally means “to suffer with.” When we are compassionate we are able to feel another’s suffering and respond kindly and lovingly to that suffering. A compassionate response is one that seeks to relieve hurt and begin healing. Often the ability to be compassionate comes from having suffered our own hurts. Those wounds remind us of what it feels like to suffer. Our response is to want to relieve the suffering of another.

That is what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” That is what the Samaritan did that the priest and scribe could not. The Samaritan could feel the suffering of the man beaten and robbed and treat him like he would want to be treated. For the Samaritan nothing mattered once he had compassion for the victim. That is what Jesus calls us to this day and every day.

Foodie

I have a confession to make. I am a foodie. I am one of those people who lives to eat rather than eats to live. It is difficult for me to look at food as simply fuel for my body. The tastes, the aromas, the colors, the textures, even the sounds of food are wonderful. And this time of year is almost heaven on earth, in the food sense. Everything is fresh. Tomatoes, basil, squash, peppers, zucchini, beans, melons, peaches, herbs of all kinds…. Indeed at this time of year it is easy to be a vegetarian because we are surrounded with so much fresh produce and every bit of it tastes as if it came right out of the Garden of Eden— succulent, luxurious, sensual.

Food this time of year is to be savored not gobbled up on the go. This is food we not only eat but wear on our faces and the fronts of our shirts and blouses, with juices running everywhere. No napkins are necessary, just the back of the hand wiped across the mouth, and a tongue to lick up the sweet nectar that is running down an arm.

I cannot imagine life without this food. The raw delicacies we find at farmers markets and roadside stands are worth every rainy spring day and every hot, humid summer day we endure. This food is overwhelming in its flavors and it captures the essence of the season.

One of my very favorite poems is “Love” (III) by George Herbert (see below) the 17th century English metaphysical poet and Anglican priest. He is part of that group of poets that includes John Donne, Andrew Marvell and Thomas Traherne. I first encountered Herbert’s poetry when singing Ralph Vaughn Williams–Five Mystical Songs, a musical setting of five of Herbert’s poems. The music transported me and led me to search out the poems. I was enthralled by the poetry, the images, and the beauty of the language.

What do summer vegetables have to do with this poem? Eating! Here Love welcomes us to a banquet; the most sacred of banquets—Holy Communion. A small wafer of unleavened bread and a sip of wine may not seem like a banquet, but it is the foreshadowing of the heavenly feast to come. It is a meal that feeds my heart and my spirit. It soothes the parts of me that identify with the poet who feels guilty, dusty, sinful, unkind, ungrateful, and marred. When I eat this simple food it fills me up in ways I cannot completely explain.

A young girl expressed it best. One morning she received the wafer and took it back to her seat. Her father saw her sitting and slowly nibbling little bits off of it. He was appalled. He said, “What are you doing? You are supposed to eat the wafer up there,” pointing to the altar. While still transfixed on that little wafer she calmly responded, “I am eating it slowly because I want to savor the taste of Jesus.”

Communion is always special. It is never routine, it is never just a ritual. It is a meal to be savored—a bit of the holy on my lips, in my mouth, on my tongue, a bit of the holy coursing through my veins.

Love (III) by George Herbert

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back
                              Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack
                             From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,
                             If I lacked any thing.

A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:
                             Love said, You shall be he.
I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                             Who made the eyes but I?

Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame
                             Go where it doth deserve.
And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?
                             My dear, then I will serve.
You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

Who does Jesus hate?

The reasoning goes something like this. I am a Christian. I read the Bible. I go to church. I believe in God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I love Jesus. Therefore, if I am opposed to something God must also be opposed to it. If I believe or have ascertained through my understanding of God that something is “wrong” then God also believes it is wrong. If I hate or fear something, then Jesus does also. The deep flaw in this way of thinking is, simply put, the speaker has made himself or herself into God. Just because I feel a certain way does not mean that God does also, no matter how faithful a believer I am.

This is certainly not new to our time and place. Throughout the two millennia of Christianity different factions within the faith have claimed Jesus for themselves. They have set themselves up as arbiters of the truth, and not just any truth, but God’s truth. They believe that they know the mind of God. They will force others to either accept their version of the “truth” and even kill others for not accepting it. They make themselves God. There is nothing worse that a person of faith can do.

It is accepted that the four canonical Gospels are accounts of the life, teaching, preaching, miracles, and resurrection of Jesus. The Book of Acts and the Epistles are accounts of the early church. It seems to me that the overarching theme within these books and letters is the love of God, God’s desire for a deep relationship with all people, and God’s drawing people to the Divine self. The only people who are put to death in these accounts are the people who espouse these beliefs, that is Jesus and his followers. Neither Jesus nor any of his followers puts to death death anyone. Rather those who do not believe are to be courted and persuaded, if possible, to accept the Good News. Those who persist in their rejection of the Good News of Jesus are to be left alone. Those who desire to come to Jesus are welcomed no matter where they come from, what are their past misdeeds, or their past beliefs. Despite the condemnation of religious authorities, Jesus ate with and consorted with run of the mill sinners as well as notorious sinners. He did not reject them and some he welcomed as his closest companions (e.g. Matthew the tax collector).

Recently we have heard of the desire of some Roman Catholic bishops to deny Holy Communion to particular politicians over one political stance. Sadly, an Episcopal bishop came out in support of the Catholic bishops’ desire to restrict Holy Communion. This bishop stated that it is the prerogative of the Church to limit who can receive the sacrament. This bishop’s reasoning stated that it was the Church’s responsibility to safe guard Communion. He even went on to state that the table belongs to the Church and that even God is a guest at the table. The table initially set by Jesus with his own body and blood no longer belongs to him. The absurdity of this theological claim by a bishop of my church breaks my heart.

For centuries the Church has put borders around something that Jesus invited everyone to partake of. Those borders are there to restrict this holy food to only a select group. These borders are to keep out those we do not believe are deserving of the sacrament. Yet Jesus said time and again that he wanted to draw all people to himself. He never once caveated that by saying all people who believe a certain dogma, vote a certain way, have a certain skin color, speak a certain language, live in a certain neighborhood, or any of the other myriad ways in which we sinful humans try to divide ourselves. Instead of seeing the light of God in each other we attempt, even in the Church, to snuff out that light or see it through a prism that divides the “true” light from that which we do not like.

If our theology is based on the Bible, then we must accept that when God said we are made in the likeness of God that means all of us are. There are no exceptions. When John write that “God is love” then God is love for all: no exceptions. God is love not hate. Jesus hates no one, even those with whom he disagrees. Even at his death he asked the Father to forgive those who crucified him.

As long as we prescribe borders around God and show disdain and hatred toward others we are not of God. We are not following Jesus. Our claim to know the mind of God is the dead giveaway that we know only our own prejudices and seek to validate them by claiming know the mind of God. As long as we do we play into the hands of the evil one. It is the greatest desire of Satan to keep people from the uncompromising love of the one whose name is above all names and whose unconditional love never ends.

Let us not, no matter how righteous we may be or may feel, to fall into that fatal trap. Rather like Jesus on the cross let us open our arms to the entire world. Prohibit no one and welcoming everyone. We have all fallen short of perfection and it is the heavenly food of the Holy Eucharist that can heal and strengthen us to do God’s work in the world. God blesses everyone, let us learn to do the same.

Sibongile means thanks

In 2009 I traveled to South Africa on pilgrimage. While there we visited several of what South Africans call “locations”. Locations are not to be confused with townships. Locations are simply vacant spots on the map where the apartheid government dumped black people to get them out of the way.

We visited one such location called Ezibeleni. We went there to visit a place where children orphaned by AIDS are tutored, learn life skills, and get a snack. It is called a “Safe Park” where kids can be safe for a while, before returning to parentless homes. The afternoon we were in Ezibeleni, the children and the adults that care for them taught us to play the xylophone and drums and to dance.

Among the dances is one that is usually done by girls. It is a sort of face-off between the two dancers who stare into each other’s eyes and hop on one leg while extending the other leg and wagging the lower part below the knee. If you think the description sounds awkward, try doing it. Needless to say, this is something that loose-limbed little girls excel at, but that is hard for adults to manage regardless of gender or athleticism.

Being guests we were each asked to take part in this dance. Fortunately I was not paired up with a little girl. Instead one of the female workers was my adversary/partner. We both did our middle-aged best, and in the midst of the dance someone snapped a photo.

I was not aware of the photo, until one day after we returned to Richmond much to my surprise I saw a huge version hanging in the parish house hallway. The photo captures the joy and abandon I felt in the moment. You see my partner/adversary from behind, but you can tell that she too is smiling and enjoying the absurdity of the moment.

When the missionaries with whom we traveled in South Africa came to visit Richmond one of them, Heidi, beckoned me to look at this photo. She told me that my dance partner had recently died of AIDS. As I looked at the photo I felt a curious mix of sadness and joy. I realized that I could not recall my dancer partner’s name. Heidi told me her first name was Sibongile, which means “thanks” and her last name was Breakfast. Sibongile Breakfast. What a wonderful name.

Since that day I have pondered our slim connection, my joy, and the sense of loss I feel. How is it that I can be so connected to someone whose name I did not know and with whom I interacted for only a minute over twelve years ago?

We meet so many people in our lives. So many of them we hardly recognize as individuals. They are cashiers, waiters, pedestrians, drivers, and shoppers. They are people certainly, but they are more part of the landscape than they are individuals. It feels demanding on my limited emotional resources to have to treat them all as persons just as beloved by God as I am. It feels easier to look through them and not let them all in.

What Sibongile reminds me is that letting people in does not diminish me, it enlarges me. My heart, my ability to love, does not get drained by letting others in, it gets filled. The more people I let in the door of my heart the larger my heart becomes. My heart does not become overcrowded and tight it becomes expansive. It is impossible to have too much love. I think that is what the psalmist meant when he wrote, “my cup runneth over.” More love in, more love going out and my heart remains full.

So even as I mourn Sibongile Breakfast, I also feel joy. I feel joy that she has gone on to larger life in Christ’s love. I feel joy that we had that moment of abandon together. I feel joy that she is in my heart forever.

What a friend we have

One of the many ways that people view Jesus is as friend. We sing hymns such as “What a friend we have in Jesus,” “In the garden,” and “Just a closer walk with Thee” where we express our desire to have an intimate relationship with Jesus. The songs express the yearning for time to walk with Jesus, to talk with Jesus, and to share our thoughts and hopes with Jesus. This desire for a deep personal relationship is essential for many Christians. 

It is also scriptural. For there are a number of times that Jesus expresses that his disciples, and by extension us, are his friends. Just last Sunday we read a passage from the Gospel of John where Jesus says:“You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.”—John 15:14-15

A dear friend of mine, Br. Curtis Almquist of the Anglican monastic order The society of St. John the Evangelist, recently wrote, “Jesus calls us ‘friend.’ One of the wonderful things about speaking to a trusted friend is the freedom not to be guarded, to let whatever you need to say just tumble off your lips. A trusted friend will understand you; a trusted friend will not necessarily take everything you say literally, but rather, they will take it truly. They know you. We can take Jesus at his word, that he listens to you as a beloved friend. When you pray, don’t worry that you get it right; get it real. Jesus will get it right.”

Like some of you I sometimes worry about getting it right when talking with Jesus. I worry about speaking beautifully with psalm-like metaphors and in Elizabethan English. But as with any good friend Jesus is more interested in hearing from us than in how well we speak. Trying to get it right becomes a barrier to communication. Talk with Jesus like you used to talk with a sibling or friend at night. Remember how you would turn out the lights and then start talking. You could not see each other, but you could hear each other. Somehow the darkness made it safer or easier to talk frankly. Those conversations were always so good. Imagine Jesus in the other bunk and just talk. Allow for silence that you might hear what he has to say to you. His response may not be clear in the moment, but it will be in time.

Jesus calls you friend. Accept the invitation and live into it. We can have no better friend than him.

Surrender

Surrender. Now there is a scary word. To Americans surrender is anathema. Surrendering is for the weak of will and heart. Think about football the most American of pastimes and allegiances. You have certainly seen games where one side is getting blown out. There is no hope for a comeback or even making it a respectable loss. Yet the losing team continues to try while the announcers try to keep the viewer entertained with trivia. I think it would be better for everyone (except maybe the advertisers) if the losing team just conceded. But no, we never give up. They always have to give it that “good old college try.”

Mary and Joseph surrender to God’s will

But surrendering can mean something other than giving in to an opponent or an enemy. One definition of surrender is to “abandon oneself entirely to a powerful emotion or influence.” Love is one of those powerful emotions that we submit to. In the best o instances we abandon our ego and give up our self-interest to love. That can mean that we give up our personal plans for the benefit of a relationship. Many people, especially women, have given up careers for the benefit of a spouse. Many parents surrender hopes for their personal future in order to increase the possibilities for their children. Many people have given their lives in attempts to save others. I am reminded of the man who kept going back into the icy waters of the Potomac after the crash of the Air Florida flight 90 in January of 1982. And there are the people we see running towards disasters instead of away from them as on September 11, 2001 or the Boston Marathon bombing of 2013. These are choices made out of love not out of weakness. It takes a strong person to put self aside for the benefit of another.

Then there is surrender to God. Once again that nasty word gets in the way. We refuse to surrender to anyone. Our ego faced with its submission, if not annihilation, resists. Yet, our Lord and Savior surrendered himself. Some of our greatest saints did likewise. No one would call Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, Theresa of Avila, or Martin Luther King, Jr. weak. These women and men were far from meek and mild. Read about them or better yet read what they wrote. These were strong willed, passionate, self-assured people. There is not a weak one in the bunch, and each one submitted their selfhood, their individuality, and their ego to God’s will.

I suspect that it actually takes someone of true strength to submit fully to God. A weak person cannot do so. It is unfathomable to them to give over their self to someone or something else. True strength of character, spirit, and self is not afraid of being subsumed by something greater than itself. It is true not only of saints, but also of the ones that are called the Greatest Generation. These were people who struggled through the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. These were people who gave themselves over to a cause greater than their individuality. It might have been love of family, love of freedom, or love of country. Whatever the motivation the love of something other than themself is what made them strong. It is what made it possible for them to make personal sacrifices for the good of something larger. 

This selflessness is possible for you and me as long as we do not give in to fear. As Shakespeare wrote we “screw our courage to the sticking place” committing ourselves to lives of submission to one greater than ourselves. It is one of the paradoxes of Christianity that there is strength in submission and there is victory in surrender; the surrender of Christ on the cross and of saints to the will of God. The minute the words surrender and submission start to get in the way, remind yourself that your strength is in your surrender to the Prince of Peace and submission to the God of love. Dying to self is the key to abundant life in this world and the world which is to come. 

The Peace of Joy

Every once in a while we run across a pithy saying that is more than an aphorism. That is what happened when I ran across this quotation from Anne Lamott.

“Peace is joy at rest. Joy is peace on its feet.”

We might be tempted to acknowledge that it sounds nice and move on. However, it the quote seems to beg the question how we define joy and peace. Joy and peace are words that get casually tossed about and sloganized. This obscures the deeper meaning of these words. We have Joy dishwashing liquid. No matter how great the dishwashing liquid is there is no way that it can make cleaning dirty dishes a joyful experience. An Almond Joy candy bar might give us a few minutes of pleasure and even happiness, but is that what joy is all about?

Peace Brand Rain Boots may keep our feet dry in a very colorful and stylish manner, but I doubt few people find the peace of God through them. Peace Frog is a hip line of beach gear, but does it provide a sense of unity with all humanity?

Joy and peace as Lamott expresses them have very profound meanings beyond what the consumer brands offer. Joy is a profound sense of connectedness with the Divine. It is also a sense of concord between our self and the world about us. Not necessarily that we are oblivious to the chaos and discord of the world, but we are not overwhelmed by it. We do not allow the world to upend our inner sense of solidarity with God. We can be uncomfortable, unhappy, in pain, or worried, and still be filled with joy. Joy is a state that we attain by communion with God. It is not transient unlike happiness and pleasure which are fleeting.

Joy takes work. It is not effortless and it does not just happen to us. Contemplative prayer and periods of solitude and silence are needed to obtain and maintain this inner state. The saints of the Church are those paragons whom we can study to see how they attained joy. Francis of Assisi, Theresa of Avila, and John of the Cross are prime examples. Each in his or her way found joy that would override their illnesses, pains, doubts, and hardships. We are called to study them and learn from them as we seek joy.

Peace is the flipside of joy. Peace is not just the absence of conflict or a state of quietude. Indeed, true peace, God’s peace, can exist within turmoil, conflict and the noise of the world. To me peace is a by-product of joy. When we have joy in God we find the peace of heart and spirit that allows us to move through the melee that is modern life without being overturned by it or feeling the need to engage in it. It does not mean we ignore it, but anxiety and chaos do not have power over our spirit or interfere with our relationship to God.

So peace is joy in a state of restfulness. The joy I feel sitting in the woods listening to birds or on a busy street corner watching the frenzied world pass by without feeling the need to become part of it.

Joy is peace at work. It is as we like to say, being in the world but not of the world. It is being present and engaging life while carrying peace of heart and mind that keeps me centered in myself and in God. When we can attain this combination of joy and peace, peace and joy it is like when athletes say they are “in the zone.” Everything seems effortless, problems roll off, barriers are lowered, and life is no longer a struggle even when all around us are struggling.

Seek joy and peace and living in the God zone. They really is a game changer.

With a Gun

Last week I ended my reflection with a poem by e. e. cummings, “I thank you God for most this amazing.” That poem celebrated the natural wonder of the world as created by God. It is a most joyful poem using the kind of language that falls over itself in delight and ecstatic praise. The last two lines of the poem are

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

Being awake and opened can be a blessing. It can also be frightening. For the ears of my ears and the eyes of my eyes are not only awake and opened to the beauty of the world, but also to the horrors of the world.

Among those horrors is gun violence. Nearly every day our ears and eyes are informed of yet another mass shooting. They have become so prevalent that the shooting and murder or injury of one individual is hardly news. Wikipedia lists twenty-one mass shootings in the US since Easter Day, including four on Easter Day itself.[1] These mass shooting have left thirty-seven people dead and seventy-four more injured. The locations are varied including Texas, Washington state, Michigan, Illinois, Tennessee, Indiana, and Connecticut. Many of the sites are urban, but there are suburban and rural sites as well.

In this Eastertide when we Christians are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, we are putting our fellow citizens in the tomb at an alarming rate. The rate is so profound that we are becoming numb to it. Mass shootings are still stories above the fold and at the top of the hour. I cringe to think that there will be a time soon when that will not be the case: a day when they have become so commonplace and routine that celebrity gossip, and articles such as “Glowing skin for your wedding day” will replace these tragedies as headlines.

We, as Christians who believe that life is a sacred gift from God and that every single human being is blessed with the indwelling of God, must stop acting as though our thoughts and prayers are adequate. We should be outraged that an industry focused on profits over public safety and the sanctity of human life has such a powerful hold on our lives.

When will our love of God and God’s commandments finally overcome the hollow marketing ploys of the gun runners? When will we actually live into the Good News of Jesus who said, “love your neighbor as yourself”? When will the Prince of Peace become nearer and dearer than profit at any cost? When will the sanctity and sacredness of life, including the lives of children, mothers, fathers, grandparents, coworkers, bystanders, and police officers finally matter more than corporate profits?

God is waiting for us to answer those questions. Until we as a society are willing to take firm action to deal with the epidemic of gun violence, we are just as complicit in the violation of God’s commandment not to commit murder as the one who pulls the trigger.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mass_shootings_in_the_United_States_in_2021