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My pal Alice told me about a way to meditate anew on familiar biblical passages and favorite spiritual sayings. I call it “Quotation Subtraction.” It works like this: Choose a beloved, brief quote from a book, poem or other work of literature — the Bible, of course, is a great place to start — and meditate on what it means as you lose, one by one, the last word in the saying. Let’s use Psalm 46:10 as an example.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
Take a quiet moment to reflect on the words. What do they mean to you? Now remove the last word.
“Be still and know that I am.”
How does this change what you feel? What emotions and ideas do these words conjure up?
“Be still and know that I.”
And now? Who or what is the “I” in this quotation? Which “I” does God want you to know?
“Be still and know.”
Know what? Again, reflect on what these words mean to you.
“Be still and.”
And what? What is required of you in this moment?
What value is there in stillness? What can you learn from it?
If God said this single word to you, what would you think or feel?
I have found this meditation surprisingly rich and unexpectedly revealing. It is a quick and easy spiritual practice that can open to you whole new avenues of thought. Imagine what you might do with John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world He gave his only begotten son”) or 1 John 4:7 (“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God”)!
Give it a whirl, and see how old words take on new meanings in your life!
Yesterday (Friday 4/22) was Earth Day. I have to admit that Earth Day is not a huge day for me. We’re a pretty environmentally conscious family. We recycle. We reuse. I remake some clothing. We don’t use paper plates or paper napkins. Nope. Not even when we have 8 extra kids in the house. And when one of them asks we explain that we are being stewards of God’s earth. To us that means minimizing our impact and using things wisely. I try to challenge them.
Every now and again one of those pesky teens challenges me.
Tonight, my son stood looking out at the back yard from the kitchen window. “Can I plant something in that corner? The weedy one?”
“Which weedy corner?” When it comes to our back yard, you have to be a bit more specific. The weedy corner with the telephone pole? Or the weedy corner on top of the hill?
“That one by the telephone pole. Potatoes are really easy. I want to plant potatoes. That’s what we did in biology today.”
Way back before my son was born, I loved to garden. Okay, garden is probably an exaggeration. At our old house, you could throw compost down, minimally turn the soil and stick in some tomato plants. They grew shoulder-high (I’m 5’8”) with stems thicker than my thumb. They had to be staked and propped and grew more tomatoes than we could use. I thought I was something else.
Then we moved. We’ve planted tomatoes. We’ve even tried different places in both the front and back yards. I have managed to get maybe 5 tomatoes total and we’ve been here 14 years. I finally quit trying.
I tend to think that’s why God sent me this boy. To encourage me to try again and to try something a little different. All I know is that I’m eying that corner of the yard and I’m planning to turn that boy loose with a shovel and a pick. For some reason I’ve never felt comfortable abandoning the compost pile so we’ve continued to add to it and turn it. God only knows why because I sure don’t.
But what I do know is this. God has blessed us with this Earth and the things that grow. I’m just here to take care of it to the best of my ability. Maybe just maybe I’ll get a few tomatoes out of the deal.
I look at the form. It is the 2016-2017 stewardship questionnaire from my local parish —my commitment to volunteerism and financial support for the coming year. How much will I pledge weekly? What can I do to help out: bake cookies? Mow the law? Clean the chapel?
It is not the “giving” part of the equation that bothers me, that causes the hairs on the back of my neck to rise; it is the actual form itself. “Family name” it requests. Easy enough. But then, this: “Mother’s name.” “Father’s name.” Each with a blank. My heart drops.
I am not a mother. I have no children, for reasons too personal to discuss. And yet, if I am not a mother, how can I put my name in this space? The Catholic Church simply assumes that if I call myself part of a family, I must be the mother. Who else could I be?
Much has been made of Amoris Laetitia (Joy of Love), the latest in Pope Francis’ responses to Catholic family life. In it, he asks that each parish be open to family in all its forms, welcoming and supportive. As usual, the document has been blasted by both sides — by traditionalists for being too liberal and by liberals because the Pope does nothing to change the church’s response to LGBT persons or divorced Catholics. I will admit to hoping for more, but understand that the Pope must tread gently in these divided times. Still, the document does much to open the doors to families in all of their nontraditional, messy splendor. Yet my parish still asks: “Mother’s name”?
I sometimes get the distinct feeling from my Church that if I am not a mother, I am nothing. I have no role. I am unfruitful, an anomaly. I have missed the proverbial boat. When I tell my pastor that I am childless, he says, “That’s okay,” as if to soothe me. What have I done that was so terrible? Do I need to be told — over and over again — that a woman without children is a failure?
My husband isn’t nearly as unnerved as I am. “You should write your mother’s name in the space,” he suggests. But the onus on him isn’t the same as it is on me. Catholics are notoriously fruitful. I knew a girl in high school who had 13 siblings. I have more cousins than I can count — 11 in just one family. My mom is the youngest of seven. In the Catholic Church, I do stand out like a sore thumb.
And yet there have always been childless Catholics. My great-aunt Lydia and her husband did not have kids. How must she have felt, back when “family planning” was an anathema akin to mortal sin? (Not that the proscribed methods of the Catholic Church are much better nowadays…as my high school religion teacher once deadpanned, “I used the rhythm method. I have 11 children.”) A childless Catholic woman is either a “poor thing” (she wanted kids but couldn’t have them) or a harlot (she didn’t want them). There is no room for anything in between.
I consider my spouse to be my family. It is the two of us against the world, and we’ve done okay. After all, he once considered himself an agnostic; now he is a full-fledged Catholic. We attend Mass every week. We give, financially, and of our time and talents. And yet, there it is: “Mother’s name.”
In the end, I will put my name in the blank, mostly out of resignation. But is it too much to ask: Can’t I be a married Catholic woman in good standing, a real woman of faith…but not a mother?
First things first, let’s get this out of the way. I am not an expert on naikan. Not even close. I listened to a pod cast, a short eleven minutes that spoke to my heart. It was about cultivating an attitude of gratitude.
Perhaps it caught my attention because this is a non-Christian approach to something that Christians have been discussing an awful lot lately. Every week, I see blog posts on learning to be grateful for the many blessings God sends our way. When I saw the listing for this, I was curious because I want to know how other people approach problems that we all have in common.
In naikan, you learn to be grateful for the many small things that make your life good. Among the examples cited were your car that started, the lines on the street that keep everyone in the correct lane, and a hug from your daughter.
Truthfully, we experience many reasons to be grateful on a daily basis. Today alone I’ve been able to make contact with friends through Facebook, been able to cook breakfast super quick in the microwave, had a wonderful cup of coffee, and, because a doctor’s appointment was cancelled, had time to touch up my toe nails. Life is good!
Why then we are so often unhappy? Why do we focus on the things that went wrong in our day?
Expectations. We expect things to go our way. We want that light to be green, the new dress we ordered to arrive today and that clerk had better wait on me next. We expect these things and when they don’t happen — disappointment!
Entitlement. We deserve these things, don’t we? Pinterest tells us our homes should always be beautiful. Yelp makes it clear that each and every meal we eat out should be inexpensive, delicious, fast and beautifully served. And there better not be anyone in our vicinity that we don’t like the looks of…
Self-focus. It is easy to believe that we deserve the best when the only person that we focus on is ourselves. To break this mind set, we need to focus outward. When I do, I notice that in addition to myself there are a lot of people out there and, you know something nutty? They’re His too. His Blessings aren’t reserved just for me.
I should be grateful and thank Him for those that are.
Driving from Kansas to southern Indiana (and back) is an interesting experience. As you wend your way through the heart of the Midwest, you see things. You learn things. Like what’s important to the people of the heartland. How? By simply looking around at the signs and billboards we post.
Politics, for instance, energizes us. Is “right to work” right for Missouri? I imagine the people of the Show Me state will have to work that out for themselves. Whom should earn your vote for judge in Terre Haute, Indiana? Perhaps a native could decipher an answer from the signs — I could not. (Though I liked the ones shaped like donkeys.)
We are a commercial society. Just about every town off the interstate attempted to draw me in with their antique shops, fireworks outlets and restaurants. Mile-high pie! Clean restrooms! All of these little towns proudly tout their heritages, as well. Come see the magical caverns! Walk the historic district! We are proud of where we live and what it has to offer.
We are proud of our faith, too. We like to advertise our churches and post random admonitions — scriptural and otherwise — in fields and on roadsides. The Midwest is keen to know whether or not I am saved. Anonymous sources exhort me on my sinfulness. Several cities advise me that I cannot possibly love babies enough. (Once the little rascals grow out of infanthood, I can only surmise that they are on their own.)
I love the Midwest. The weird juxtaposition of “Jesus saves” signs next to billboards for fast and discreet gun sales. The Burma Shave-like buildup for a café that may or may not exist anymore. The constant road construction and revamping.
I wonder what God sees when God looks at America and Americans — at our hearts, our good hearts, mostly in the right places. Does God laugh at our foibles, our quibbles, our vanity? No doubt. But God loves these things about us, too. God loves the giant cross in Effingham, Illinois, just as God loves the burgers and sundaes at the local Culver’s.
We are a big, loud, bombastic bunch, we Americans. We’ve got things to say! And that’s what makes the trip worth it: Taking in the come-ons, exhortations, admonitions, lures and wheedles and using our own moral filters to discern our paths.
I-70 runs through the heart of America, good, bad, ugly and righteous. It is up to each of us to decide what to buy…and what to speed on past.
Opinions are like elbows – everybody’s got one, and sometimes they’re out of joint.
With so many troubling things going on in the world today, everybody has a theory about why these things happen, and what to do about them.
I think that there are some good, solid values that endure, despite the fact that times are constantly changing.
If positive attributes had Christian names, we might be more inclined to take them to heart.
Grace: your friend who calls before you even know you’re down in the dumps. She shows up at the door with fresh-baked muffins while you’re still on the phone and takes your mind off of your troubles.
Moxie: a sweet little girl in pig-tails who never gives up. You see her at the end of the block, playing hopscotch like an Olympian, even when it starts to rain. Winning the game is her goal and she will not be deterred!
Joy: that shelter dog you’ve seen on the internet who has worked her way into your heart. A two-minute video of that pup wagging her tail and tilting her head tells you she’s already chosen you. It’s just a matter of time before you come around and head to the shelter to pick her up.
We’ve all got troubles to deal with, but there’s a way to meet them head on.
Being gracious in a hectic world, being tenacious when trials come your way, and being vivacious when your heart’s almost bursting from blessings.
Oh, and lest we forget: there’s your cousin. The one who keeps sending you encouraging emails and checks on you when you’re sick. Her name? Faith, of course.
Last night’s newscast included coverage of the political landscape. It started with Democratic nominee, Bernie Sanders’, supporters, most of whom were young and enthusiastic.
“I don’t trust Hilary Clinton – she uses a lot of diversionary tactics,” said the teen with a nose ring, a spike through her lip, and an interesting, if asymmetrical, haircut.
Next, we were treated to the gospel according to the Republican front-runner, Donald Trump.
“I’ve got all the best words,” said Trump, showing himself to be somewhat (big word alert! ) mendacious. 🙂
This political season seems to have brought out the worst in people. It’s like a polarized Polaroid – everyone takes a snapshot of life as they see it, boils it down to its simplest terms and presents it as the truth.
It would be easy to get caught up in this negativity, but we know the real story.
There’s a gospel passage that puts it all into perspective.
Lamentations is a chapter of sorrowful songs that really is the bummer of the Bible. In fact, it’s filled with depictions of doom that would do modern politicians proud!
But buried deep in these doldrums, there is a sliver of light. “It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness.”
There will always be people stirring up drama, trying to gain a position of power with their own version of the truth. But we know who’s really in charge. At the end of the day, we aren’t taken in by these false prophets of doom.
There are still babies being born. Flowers still bloom. We still find kindred spirits. The sun still rises in the east. We still love our families. We still dream and sing and play.
There’s still very much in life to look forward to.
And God is as good as his word.
“This I recall to mind, and therefore, I have hope.”