Month: March 2014

Life Emerging

By: Bob Barko

Life Emerging

“So whoever is in Christ is a new creation:

the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come.”

-2 Corinthians 5:17

 

While walking on this very brisk morning, I saw this extraordinary plant pushing its way toward the light. It was so palpably hard to imagine that from the cold, cold earth this new life could emerge. Yet, there it was . . . a Lenten observation about renewal and the goodness of things yet to come.

Haikus from Honduras

By Ali Kenny

Three weeks after the wedding, my husband and I flew to Honduras. This was not our honeymoon destination, but rather, the start to our first 13 months of marriage. Since July 2013, Pat and I have been living in an intentional community of six (all women save Pat), speaking broken Spanish, raising 106 orphans in our jobs as godparents, and eating an obscene amount of beans. Needing a creatively quick outlet, I began writing haikus about certain experiences, both humorous and less so. Please enjoy on behalf of all associated with Amigos de Jesus and myself.

School Walk

7/26/13

The three-legged dog

nipped at your ankle. Did he

want it for himself?

A Healing

8/7/13

Grandma was an old

mermaid, beached in blue, bought

by a loud prayer.

Blanca

8/14/13

She saw a coral

snake by the children and took

a rock to its head.

Operation Smile

8/28/13

I have never seen

a palette such as this; eye

in cheek, face value.

Dorm Activities

9/9/13

You pierced your ears

on a black, metal bunk bed;

infected flowers.

Expectations

9/26/13

My fulfillment is

sharp and hard like rocks in the

bag of my belly.

Reality

10/2/13

Why do the children

smell like cheesy toe-jam? The

water is filtered.

A Girl’s Story

12/9/13

The police killed my

mother. She was walking on

birds with a vengeance.

Madrina Dream

12/17/13

I saved you all from

aliens and prostitute

showers. It’s my job.

Another Saturday

1/17/14

The boys were playing

marbles by a dead vermin;

rigor mortis rat.

My Husband

1/21/14

I am a sixty-

cent laborer, flea-bitten

man with a Masters.

Acumen of a Well Worn Traveler

By: Clifford Hennings

To whom do your feet belong,

on whose ground does your journey lay?

Whose seal does your forehead bear

and whose light guides your travel’s way?

In whom does your heart find rest,

and swoon at the sovereign’s voice?

To whom does your hand stretch out

and at whose triumph does your soul rejoice?

I see two ways which we might go,

the first is dark and its scene austere,

The lane is narrow with twist and turn

Peril lurks if you should from it veer

The second cuts through open range,

Verdant and smelling of sweet perfume

Its grass softens your easy gait,

While eyes feast on countless bloom.

To answer which might you choose,

should seem a simple task I’m sure,

But what of where these passages end,

and in whose company important all the more!

You take the first for an empty tomb to find

And pilgrim along with a godly friend

Take the second for an barren heart to get

Alone with no one to help it mend

Give back to Caesar that which is his,

and to God in Heaven what is His by right.

Yet if you should covet the bullion of men,

I fear its shimmer will haze your sight

The richest path holds neither gold nor fame

But boasts a cross, a most blessed tree

Strength is found in stooping low,

Wealth is gained in generosity.

Glory earned in shouldering the beam,

Honor in putting the weak ahead.

Virtue found in searching wisdom,

Power borne from being led.

Drop your bags of earthly charms

and give to God what belongs to Him,

What is His I tell you is your very self,

Craft your life a gracious hymn.

Do this child of mercy’s home,

And you shall know Heaven’s gate,

Follow the way kings scarcely trod,

And at the entry will Beauty for you wait

Make your home the place unseen

And teacher be the prince of peace

Forget the baubles which envy holds

And cling to Him that shall never cease.

The Joy of Turning: Lent Reconsidered

AshWednesdayclip

By Robert Droel 

Sometimes faith is funny. For me, Ash Wednesday is a prime example of this truth. I don’t think this day is supposed to be. Actually, I get the impression that it’s intended to be quite the opposite. It’s a dour occasion for thinking about sin, repentance, and ultimately death. But just look at the Gospel reading! I can’t help but crack a smile every year. It’s taken from the sixth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, verses 1-6 and 16-18. Never mind the fact that I seem to recall something of great import being found in between those two selections (I think it’s the Lord’s Prayer). In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells his disciples, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

Well call me a hypocrite, because every year, only a few minutes after hearing Jesus’ words proclaimed, I approach the altar and have ashes rubbed onto my forehead with the instruction, “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel” (or if it’s a particularly spooky year, I luck out with, “Remember, you are dust to dust you will return”). Then, I go about my day as usual (minus the eating) and try to ignore the fact that I have what is hopefully still a cross-shaped smudge on my forehead, though as the day progresses, it tends to lose any resemblance to that symbol which is so central to Christian faith and to this season of Lent. Surely I’m not the only one who recognizes the irony. Jesus tells us to wash our faces when we fast and instead we dirty ourselves. It would be almost as bad if we were to read Isaiah’s critique of penance practices: “Is this the manner of fasting I wish, of keeping a day of penance: that a man bow his head like a reed, and lie in sackcloth and ashes? Do you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord?” (Is 58:5). I find the choice of Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday to be ironic and humorous, which inevitably leads me to beginning my Lenten journey with a bit of joy. From a sociological perspective, I also find a bit of humor in the fact that so many people show up to get their ashes on this day, despite the fact that it’s not a so-called holy day of obligation. I won’t see many of them again until Easter, if even then. Part of me wants to tell them that they don’t really have to be there on that Wednesday, but that it would be great if they could come on the next five Sundays of Lent. What is it about this day which attracts so many? And why not me?

I’ll admit, I’m not a big fan of Lent. I don’t like giving things up and I really don’t enjoy listening to others brag about what they have given up. Fish is not even one of my top ten favorite foods and purple is a color which does not suit me in the least. Forty days (or is it forty-four?) is an incredibly long time for me to sustain an increase in prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, while the endless attempts to find loopholes and exemptions from abstinence and fasting requirements makes me think that maybe we’ve missed the point of it all. And then there’s repentance. I loathe the word.

In common usage, repentance is a word associated with sin and guilt. It’s about feeling really bad for the things we’ve done (or not done), said (or not said), and even thought (or not thought) which are wrong and begging God for mercy and forgiveness. God won’t forgive if we don’t repent. And sometimes it seems that everything is a sin—especially the fun stuff. This is how I used to think about repentance and it’s what turned me off to the whole idea. It’s just didn’t seem to make sense to me in what it was saying about God and to be honest, Catholic guilt just never worked on me.

I was surprised to learn that the biblical meaning of repentance is not only different from this grim characterization, but it is much richer. So much so, that it makes even me want to repent. It’s all about turning and returning! Marcus J. Borg explains that shuv is one of the two Hebrew words which make up that word in the Old Testament which is translated as repentance or repent. It is a word which literally means to turn or to return and it stems from the experience of the Babylonian exile. To repent is to return from exile back to the homeland, that is, to return to God on a journey which is also with God.[1]

In the New Testament too, we are instructed by Jesus to “repent and believe in the good news” (Mk 1:15). The Greek word used here for repentance is metanoia and from its parts meta (after/with) and noeo (to perceive/think), we come up with a meaning of repentance as being, “to go beyond the mind that we have.”[2] It’s about a change of mind and of heart, ultimately a change of consciousness. It’s about turning and returning, not sin and guilt.

Borg writes:

To go beyond the mind that we have means seeing in a new way—a way shaped by God as known decisively in Jesus. This is repentance. The Bible does speak of repenting for our sins. But the emphasis is not so much on contrition and sorrow and guilt, but about turning from them and returning to God. Repentance is about change, not primarily a prerequisite for forgiveness. To repent means to turn, return to God and to go beyond the mind that we have and see things in a new way. That’s pretty exciting. Forgiveness is not dependent upon repentance. We are forgiven already, loved and accepted by God. We don’t need to do anything to warrant God’s love. But repentance—turning and returning to God, going beyond the mind that we have—is the path that leads to transformation.[3]

I don’t know why I had never seen this meaning of repentance and ultimately of Lent before. It is right in front of me every year when I receive the ashes: “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.” For too long, I focused on the word sin and completely ignored that first word: turn. Turn around! Change your perspective! Go beyond the mind that you have! Repent! And this Lent, I might try to do just that. And to what am I turning? “Be faithful to the gospel” is the instruction I am given as that ashy thumb presses on my forehead (and hopefully not my hair). The gospel is what I am turning to and recently we have all been reminded by Pope Francis’ exhortation, Evangelli Gaudium, that the gospel is one of joy. We are not to be “Christians whose lives seem like Lent without Easter”[4] or more colloquially, “sourpusses,”[5] but rather, are to accept “the joy of the gospel [which] fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”[6] So I will not feel any guilt as I smile as the ironic Gospel reading is proclaimed on Ash Wednesday. Rather, I will see it as the beginning of my repentance, that is, my turning towards the joy of the gospel and the gospel of joy.

May my journey of Lent begin with the final stanza of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Ash-Wednesday,”

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.[7]


[1] Marcus J. Borg, Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power – And How They Can Be Restored. New York: HarperOne, 2011. 158.

[2] Ibid., 159.

[3] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., 85.

[6] Ibid., 1.

[7] T. S. Eliot, “Ash-Wednesday,” Faber & Faber Limited, 1963. http://www.msgr.ca/msgr-7/ash_wednesday_t_s_eliot.htm.