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Clue: “Kid with X-Box changes left for right and makes an appeal.” Answer: Prayer, of course! As anyone who loves cryptic (or British) crosswords knows, the solution is right there in front of you. In cryptics, part of the clue provides the answer; the rest consists of the mechanics to get there. In this case, a kid with an X-Box is a “player”; you then exchange the “l” (“left”) for “r” (“right”) to get “an appeal,” which is “prayer.”

But why am I bothering to explain this? Either you already love cryptics (and found the answer annoyingly easy) or you have developed an antipathy merely from reading the opening paragraph of this post. I am obsessed with them, often creating my own clues (see above) just for the fun of playing with language. But I wonder, why do I so adore these puzzles? They are frustrating, hilarious, stupid, wickedly difficult, unfair and deeply satisfying. They are like my mind.

They are also a link to my family. When I was very young, I’d hear, from my bedroom at night, my mother and my Aunt Beverly working cryptics in the living room. They’d shriek with laughter. I wanted in. So I taught myself how to do them (there are a finite number of ways to solve the clues, such as hidden words, anagrams, charades, double meanings, etc.). I have spent many a happy hour since then unraveling these puzzles with my mom (with my father often playing straight man and voice of reason) or alone.

Maybe that’s why I’m so comfortable with the many mysteries of faith. Jesus is both God and man? Sure, why not? The Eucharist contains the real presence of Jesus? Stranger things have happened. Cryptic crosswords have opened my mind to the possibilities and seeming impossibilities of creation. I get why God made aardvarks and platypuses. I’ve never struggled with the lack of reason sometimes involved in spirituality. Because I believe the reason is there; it’s just hidden — cryptic, but present.

When I run into a problem with my faith, it does me good to remember my puzzles. I’ve often stared at a clue for hours before the answer clicks into place (“murder victim sounds qualified” had me stumped until I remembered our biblical friend Abel). Maybe faith is like that. Maybe our frustrations come not from a God who is inconsistent, but from our own inability to decipher his clues.

Because you gotta know that God is far more complicated than a crossword puzzle. But the joy of understanding God? A million times more rewarding than any puzzle could be.

 

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Photo by Adam Cao on Unsplash

So this morning, I started to go downstairs and got as far as the first step. Forgot the laundry! Turned around, got the bag and went to the basement to get the wash started.

Have you ever started a diet, got fed up (!) with melba toast, and cheated by having some chips? At that point, you said to yourself, Well, I already cheated on my diet. Might as well go all in!, and ordered a pizza?

Mercy. I’ve been there! You figure that the day is already shot since you took that first bite of a Ruffle, so you give up on the diet.

But life isn’t all or nothing. You can turn around and get the laundry. You can stop over-doing it at any point in the day.

The same thing is true of faith. You don’t have to give up on God because religion has let you down. Or you thought it would change everything and you’d lead a charmed life once you found faith.

Deciding hope is better than fear is the first step. Believing in something rather than thinking life has no purpose is another. And the good news is that even if you don’t believe in God, he believes in you.

There’s no set of steps you need to take to make God a part of your life. Some religions require a laundry list of requirements, but I believe He meets you where you are. There are many ways that believers choose to honor their beliefs, including baptism and rituals, but those traditions are symbolic. Just another way to say to the world, I’m going to believe life is good, God is love, and this journey is worth it. All you’ve got to do to make that leap of faith is take that first step.

Every so often, a painful memory will pop up, and your brain will go over the experience again. In a way, you’re saying, here’s another reason why that wrong thing was wrong for me.

It’s like watching a re-run of a drama that you hated the first time. Don’t resurrect it and wallow in the pain of it. It didn’t serve you. It ended. Thank God! No, really. Thank God.

For the experience, which you learned from.
For its being over, which relieved you of that particular pain.
For the opportunity of having a better experience going forward.

Now you know what to look for. Knowing what you don’t want helps you to update your checklist for next time.

One way to transition from a thought that brings you down is to look up. Think about the things you’re grateful for.

Try this: break down a blessing to its most minute component. This is the makeshift meditation I use to shift gears:

Thank you water, thank you coffee, thank you kettle, thank you stove, thank you gas, thank you flame, thank you kitchen, thank you home, thank you Lord.

Gratitude. All the way to the top.

So you leave no space for whatever you were sad about to seep back in. You’ll feel silly doing it the first time, but it’s a powerful negativity blocker.

These grace-gifts will gently elbow out the fraught-thoughts bringing you down.

Morning coffee and an attitude of gratitude. A great way to start the day!

Has this ever happened to you? Something’s thrown you for a loop. You’ve done everything you can, prayed about it and proceeded to let go and let God… then promptly took it back. Worrying about it. Talking about it to anybody who’d listen. Refusing to let it go. 

I’ve done this so often, I can’t believe there isn’t a name for it.

Maybe we’ll call it a prayback.

You pray, give it to God, then take it back.

Listen: there are no takebacks in prayer. You don’t need to take back a problem once it’s entrusted into God’s hands. You can’t take it back anyway. It was never yours to resolve. All you can do is… all you can do.

When my son was just an infant, every so often his pacifier would fall on the floor. I’d grab it, sprint to the kitchen and run it under scalding water until I was sure it was clean. Over time, I loosened up about it, eventually just wiping it on my sleeve and saying this phrase: “Kiss it to God.” Germs build immunity!

Lately, I’ve had this phrase running through my head: “Bless it to yes.”

There are some things you can’t solve right away, but there is always something you can do to take it from an absolute no to something closer to a yes.

What part of this situation can I improve? How can I get everybody on the team (or in the family) working together on a solution? Is there anyone I can call for advice who might have something constructive to add?

If all of these boxes have been checked, keep the faith and keep on moving.

I regard science with the same awe – and even reverence – that I do faith. I know that to some, they are diametrically opposed, but to me, both are suffused with magic and mystery. Most of it is over my head, but both of them fill me with a childlike wonder.

The first time I realized science and faith could co-exist was in high school. My favorite teacher was a former Jesuit priest, and he taught my English class, then later, I took his Latin class. He said that he believed that God created us through evolution, and that really made my head spin.

Ever since then, I’ve been trying to learn as much as I can on my own about space – both inside (the soul), and outside (the universe.)

Astronaut Scott Kelly tweeted a link to a survey that showed almost 40% of people think life wouldn’t be much different if science didn’t exist. He could have said, without science, there would be no treatment for HIV. No strides in cancer research. But he knew what would resonate with people these days. He said, “No science means no social media!”

I was fascinated to read about a newly-discovered galaxy that has almost no dark matter. If only we could say the same thing about life on Earth! No dark matter. A positive place with nothing to bring you down. “Based on the ratio in other galaxies, an isolated galaxy like NGC1052-DF2 should have about a hundred times more dark matter than ordinary matter. But this one appears to have almost none.”

Sounds like a pretty decent neighborhood! Maybe we’ll find a way to get there and build a colony filled with light and where everyone’s good to one another. Till then, I’ll keep looking toward the stars and following my heart.

There are always going to be problems in this world.  Like Miss Ruth pointed out, they will always be there and we might as well view them as projects.

But there are things that need to change – issues of inequality and justice and poverty.  There are the problems that accompany tragedies like fire and hurricane.

None of these things will be solved immediately.  But, step-by-step, progress can be made as we move toward the horizon.  Faith and hope, people.  Faith and hope.

–SueBE

 

This week our church is launching a new program.  We are serving a community dinner on Thursday night.  It is for anyone who wants to come – members of the community who need a meal or anyone who simply wants to dine with other people.

But we have to be ready for walk ins and we have no clue how many people will come.  Not surprisingly, this is inducing anxiety in a lot of people.

How do we know we aren’t just going to prepare food no one wants?  Food waste is a huge problem.

How do we know that we will have enough?  How embarrassing it would be to run out.

Faith and hope.  It may take us some time to have an impact on our community.  It may take a few months until we have some idea how much to prepare.  Hope and faith.

And spaghetti.

–SueBE

 

So here’s a hypothetical question: What if, the minute you had an inspired idea, it was susceptible to thought-hackers? You’d get to the drawing board right away. Wouldn’t you?

In a moment of divine inspiration, you came up with an idea that would change the world. At the same time, you’re aware that thought-hackers may be listening in on a secret brain-wave wire tap. You’d make sure you got over to your lab and created that world-changing thing right away.

Now, I have no such delusions of grandeur, but I just had an interesting thought that made me re-think the way I see all of the things I pray that God will make right in my life. What if that’s what life is supposed to look like, really? All of the problems that keep persisting. Are they really just projects?

If pain is a clue to let you know that there’s something in your body that is hurting and needs attention, maybe problems are breadcrumbs. Got this one fixed, but here comes another one just like it.

Not a problem. A project.

Not a difficult person. A story to unravel.

Not a lack. A lesson.

Maybe the hard road is not too much for us to bear. Maybe it’s God, right on time, believing in us enough to know that we’ll use our ingenuity, our inspiration, our innovation to find a way to make things work. And when need be, we can always fall back on our secret weapon: prayer.

Photo by Hannah Olinger on Unsplash

I came across an article about what it means to be a Christian and there was a literal, no-kidding, honest-to-God (pardon the pun) checklist. If you repented and received Christ, ☑ check this box. If you are open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, ☑ check this box. If you belong to a Bible-based church that believes it is the inspired, inerrant word of God, ☑ check this box. At the end, you are to tally up your scores and, basically, get graded.

I’m not sure why some have decided to codify faith in this way, but I have to believe it wasn’t God’s idea.

Many faiths have their own interpretation of how to talk to God in prayer. Some have added chapters to the Bible, or believe that only their religion will lead to salvation.

Today, on Easter – and every day, for that matter – if you pray, God hears you. If you want to put the past behind you and find peace, you’re in. Talking to God is the same as talking to a friend. Say what’s on your heart.  No background checks. No credit scores. No character references. Just you and God, and the path of life ahead.

Spoiler alert: If you’re looking for declarative answers, this is not your lucky day. Because no one has them. Yes, all Christians believe in a “triune” God — one God composed of three persons: The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit. But to try to make a triune God fit in a square box would be nothing but an exercise in futility. God is not so easily defined.

But let’s try. The three persons of God are God fully present in each of God’s roles: As God our Father in Heaven; as Jesus, God’s son; and as The Holy Spirit, who operates as a sort of bridge between Father and Son and between God and us. Think of it like water, which can assume three forms: ice, liquid and steam, yet remains one chemical compound, H2O. Three unique embodiments, one unified composition.

If you’re not satisfied with that explanation, I understand. It’s tricky. But therein lies the beauty of the Holy Trinity, and of Catholicism. See, us Catholics perceive the Holy Trinity (and other difficult concepts) as a mystery of the church. In other words, it’s okay to be confused. The church, in a beautifully zen move, admits that not everything can be neatly defined. Some things are not explicable. And that’s okay.

We live our lives in tension with mystery: How exactly does gravity work? How can something exist if I can’t see or touch it? How does an egg and a sperm become a human being? Nobody has all the answers, even if they very much want to. The Holy Trinity is like that.

I think one of the greatest chores of our lives is to give in to mystery, to admit that we don’t know and that not knowing is acceptable. I pray to God in all three persons, as a father who creates, loves and cares for me; as Jesus, my brother and friend, who lived a human life like mine; and as the Holy Spirit, who enlightens and empowers and transmits the grace that allows me to grapple with the great mysteries of life. Yet there is only one God. This isn’t the Pep Brothers or Donald Duck’s nephews — three guys who are always seen together. This is one indivisible God in three unique persons.

And, of course, God isn’t a guy at all. Or a gal. But that’s an entirely different mystery. Let’s save that one for another day.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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