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What does it mean to be the body of Christ? Maybe it means that the goal of our spiritual journey is to become part of Christ, to do His work and will as one body. A body requires all of its parts to function harmoniously. It is not enough for the “stars of the show,” like the eyes, hands and feet, to operate. They cannot do so independently. Every part is needed — the toenails protect the toes, which enable the feet to balance the body, etc., etc.

There is no appendix in the body of Christ, no unnecessary wisdom teeth. We are all indispensable and important. Never sell yourself short. Never diminish your role in the salvation of the universe. It takes us all. It takes a body.

No part more precious than another,
a democracy of bones and sinew,
hallowed by purpose, divine by design.
The body of Christ stands, walks,
wields the world, shaping, smoothing
with an artist’s hands. The fate of us
resounds, ringing from the stapes
of the ear to the fifth metatarsal of toe,
reminding us: no hand, no heart
can stand alone. We breathe into being,
make possible in real blood, by prayer
and deed, God on this earth.

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I often read about folks on Facebook being “lifted up” in prayer. It’s an arresting image, though somewhat foreign to this cradle Catholic. I like the idea of hoisting someone heaven-ward, raising them physically and spiritually in prayer. But it also sounds strenuous, the work of “prayer warriors.” Me, I’m more of a prayer peacenik.

Prayer doesn’t have to be hard, or serious, or even formal. All times and all ways are open to prayer. A friend just commented to me yesterday that although God can always find her, wherever she is and whatever she is doing, she needs to be in a place that feels “ripe” and “right” to connect with God. The line of communication goes both ways, but we are the ones who tie up the line constantly, being too busy and too distracted to answer God’s call.

Sure, we can “storm the gates” with our requests. But does might equal right — or in this case, do more prayers mean more action? I doubt it. I think God hears the tiniest sigh of the most overlooked and miniscule creature just as loudly as God hears a roar from the populace. Which is not to say God ignores anybody. But neither is God a democracy. The “ayes” don’t necessarily have it.

However you pray, whether in shouts or whispers, in crowds or alone (too anguished to share your burden), God does the “heavy lifting” of prayer. God sorts out our incoherent wails and moans, sifts through the dross to get to the heart of our needs, mourns with us, aches with us, longs to console us, does not turn away when we forget to say, “Thank you.” God does the work. We tend to forget that. All the prayer warriors in the world can’t do what God does, effortlessly and always.

So lift people up if you like. But remember: It’s a lot like that game we girls used to play at slumber parties, “stiff as a board, light as a feather” — you needn’t stress and strain. It’s in God’s hands. And in God’s hands, we rise.

eugene_ferdinand_victor_delacroix_061-jacob-wrestling-with-the-angelPastor Sean’s sermons always give the congregation something to contemplate and last week’s offering which covered prayer was no different. First he discussed how we most often seem to think of prayer – the Holy Vending Machine. You put in a prayer and out comes healing.  You insert another prayer about that promotion and out comes not only the new and improved position but also more money.  Prayers go in and blessings come out.

Not surprisingly, this isn’t how Sean thinks of prayer.  Instead, he envisions wrestling with God as did Jacob in Genesis 32.

24 And Jacob was left alone, and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day.

25 And when the man saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob’s thigh was out of joint as he wrestled with him.

26 And the man said, ‘Let me go, for the day breaketh.’ And he said, ‘I will not let thee go, unless thou bless me.’

27 And he said unto him, ‘What is thy name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’

28 And he said, ‘Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel; for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed.’

29 And Jacob asked him, and said, ‘Tell me, I pray thee, thy name.’ And he said, ‘Why is it that thou dost ask after my name?’ And he blessed him there.”

The problem isn’t that we are must wrestle God to receive his blessing.  He loves us and Blesses us daily. The problem is how we view prayer – prayer in, blessing out. We want to tell God what to give us and then hold out our hands to catch the blessings as God gives us what we’ve requested.

The struggle that we face is to become aware of God’s will for us. This means struggling against our own desires and egos. And this can make for a very long struggle indeed.  Like the wrestling match Jacob had with God, it may seem to go on all night. But if we keep at it, praying without ceasing, we will eventually become aware of His will for us.

That is when we will receive His Blessing.

–SueBE

Regular readers will remember my obsession with the spiders that inhabit the windowsill of my bathroom during the summer months. Every year, three Charlottes set up shop: One in each corner and one under the window handle. And every year, I wonder about interfering in their lives.

I’m a neat freak. It makes me uncomfortable to allow spiders to just hang out and do their thing, littering the sill with the corpses of their prey. On the other hand, I’m not fond of any creepy-crawlies, and the spiders keep those to a minimum by ensnaring them upon entrance to the house. I generally live and let live. And then came the conundrum known as Big Boris.

Boris, another spider, but perhaps 20 times the size of the petite Charlottes, made his entrance several weeks ago, positioning himself above the web of the spider in the left-hand corner. I felt that a takeover was imminent. Always one to root for the “little guy” (or girl), I thought about eliminating Boris before he could do any harm.

But I’d completely misread the situation. Boris disappeared one morning, leaving several limbs behind. How had the threat been neutralized? I’ll never know. Apparently, left-corner spider was tougher than I thought.

And then I realized, “If I don’t know enough to stay out of the business of spiders, what right do I have to question God on how Godself handles the affairs of this world?” Yes, it can be easy to look around and think that God somehow misunderstands what we need…or is too busy to care. That is a fundamental misunderstanding of the situation. Just as those spiders don’t need me to interfere, God does not need my opinion on how the world ought to work. All I’m seeing are the Big Borises. God sees the much, much bigger picture. God is on top of things, no matter how it might look to us, busily building our own little webs.

Since the Boris incident, the spiders have abandoned their webs. Perhaps it got too hot on the ledge. Today I gently wiped down the window frame. But I left a few strands of webbing, just in case. Life will go on, as God in God’s wisdom sees that it should. It’s God’s plan, not mine, and I’m okay with that.

 

 

walking in the shoes of anotherI try not to make assumptions when I pray.  This means that when I pray for someone else, I try to leave the way open for God’s Will, not mine.  I try not to assume how to best solve the problem.

That said, every now and again it still happens.

Last weekend, we walked in the Crop Hunger Walk.  The point is three fold: to raise money to solve the problem, to raise awareness and to share the experience.  As the organizer explained, we walk because they have no choice. If someone is suffering from dangerous hunger, they are walking wherever it is they have to go.

But, said my silly brain, isn’t the hunger a lot more important than the walking?  (Cue ominous music.)

The problem started with my shoes. They may be good walking shoes but they are good for walking on a treadmill or a concrete floor.  With elastic bands instead of laces, they don’t tie tightly and your feet slip, especially when you walk downhill.  About half way through the three-miles, I knew I was in trouble but half way through three miles means that you have to walk just as far to get back.  I’ve never had blisters of any consequence before but this time I had one the size of a half-dollar on the ball of each foot.

At this point, I understood.  The people who experience dangerous hunger are also going to have badly fitting shoes, possibly bad foot health and more.  They may be in misery, but they are going to have to walk regardless.

Which matters more – the hunger or the walking?  At this point, I know better than to assume.

–SueBE

One week after my father died*, the world lost another great guy. Though I didn’t know him very well, I can honestly call him a friend. He was always kind, thoughtful and deeply considerate. He’d suffered for well over a month before his death. The final diagnosis was — get ready for it — West Nile Virus. He was not infected while gallivanting about the pyramids, mind you. He lived in Southern Indiana. Please, think about this. I want you to understand the enormity of it: A super-nice guy was bitten by a mosquito in Indiana…and died a horrible death. Now, I get stung by mosquitoes all the time. They love me. But I never once considered it more than an annoying itch. Death never once entered my mind. Why should it?

Do I seem bitter? I guess I am. The randomness of the whole thing has gotten under my skin. (Like a mosquito’s proboscis, am I right?**) It just seems so very wrong. Unplanned. Stupid. Where is the movement of Providence in a death like that?

Which brings us to the four toughest words in our, or any other, language: Thy will be done. We say it all the time in The Lord’s Prayer. But how much do we mean it? Aren’t we always hedging our bets — thy will be done, except—? Thy will be done, only don’t forget about—? Thy will be done, but could you just do this one thing first? Or this, my favorite, thy will be done — but not that. That should not be done. Not only do we have no right to say these things — God doesn’t, after all, owe us anything — what good does it do us? Human beings have amply demonstrated their inability to run their own lives with anything resembling focused intention. We should be glad to give our will over to God. But we aren’t.

The pastor at our church recently said that we should not pray for things we want. We should pray instead that our wills be molded to God’s. We should want what God gives us, however hard that is. It shouldn’t be so difficult. God wants us to be happy, after all. God loves us. And God is a big-picture person, in a way that we cannot be. God’s got the bird’s-eye view.

A person in mourning can’t see the greater purpose of a death like my friend’s. But I have to believe that there is one. Because even if there isn’t, I’d rather live like there is. That’s where faith lives and breathes. I’d rather live believing that Someone Out There sees the whole puzzle than think for one minute that solving this thing is up to me. Life is too short, and eternity too long, to believe otherwise.

So here it is: God’s will be done. Go ahead. Bring it on. I won’t even brace myself for it. (Okay, maybe a little.)

*I refuse to use euphemisms like “passed.” Or worse, as one woman put it, “She lost her father.” I didn’t lose him. He died. He’s not pining for the fjords, for crying out loud. (That’s a shout-out to Monty Python fans, by the way.)

**Sorry. I can’t seem to stop using humor as a shield.

God puts beauty into the world.  Its up to us to help it thrive.

God puts beauty into the world. Its up to us to help it thrive.

Last week, I made this comment on Lori’s post. “I think a lot of people fail to make the connection that a good, benevolent God doesn’t mean that you will always have peace, joy and ever blessed thing you want. You are, after all, living among flawed humans.”

Lori responded, “You need to write more about what you just said. People really don’t get it!”

The fact of the matter is that this is a really tricky topic because it comes back to free will. Free will, the ability to make our own decisions, is both a blessing and a curse.

It’s easy enough to see why it’s a blessing, because it means we get to make our own decisions. We have choices. We aren’t just puppets in a cosmic play. We are free.

But with freedom comes responsibility and it is the responsibility we would often happily do without. We want the freedom (fries or onion rings) but we don’t want the responsibility (high cholesterol, obesity, and heart disease). As if that wasn’t enough, we don’t just make decisions that harm us. We make decisions that harm other people. We go astray.

Recently, I lead the lesson for our women’s circle at Florissant Presbyterian Church. This year we are studying from Dispatches to God’s Household: The General Epistles by Nancy Benson-Nicol. In the lesson that I taught on elders, she refers to people as God’s sheep, his flock.

Most of us, myself included, resent being compared to sheep. After all, sheep are not exactly known for their intelligence or their ability to keep themselves out of trouble.

Hmm. Maybe when you put it like that it isn’t such a bad comparison. We constantly put ourselves in harms way. Time and time again, we put others in harms way. We know what God wants; he has told us to love each other time and time again.

God tells us what He wants but he also gave us free will. The choices that we make are ours. Its about time we learned to accept the responsibility, and the blame, that comes with the freedom.

–SueBE

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —his good, pleasing and perfect will.

The word “yearn” has cropped up quite a bit in conversation lately. My friend Rosemary admits that she doesn’t yearn very much anymore, yet yearns to yearn more. I yearn too much, wanting and wishing for what I can’t (and maybe shouldn’t) have. It’s a good word, though, yearn. It reaches beyond desire to an almost physical sensation of hunger and thirst. It is the greatest “want” there is. It makes “hanker” sound quaint and “long” seem wishy-washy. “Covet” is mean and small in “yearn’s” wake. Yearning is pure.

But as much as I yearn for God, I’ve never much yearned to follow His will. After all, what if his will isn’t what I want? What if it’s tough — too tough for the likes of a yearner like me? And then I read something that changed everything. Ron DelBene, a highly regarded spiritual author, writes that the word “will,” in the Biblical sense, is translated from Hebrew and Greek words meaning “‘yearning,’ the kind of yearning that lovers have for one another.”*

Let that sink in for a moment. God yearns for us. His will isn’t just some random dictate from above; it’s a loving longing for us, toward us. The heavy-handed autocrat of the Old Testament is really just a squishy ol’ teddy bear, our biggest fan and devotee. When you put it that way, how can we possibly refuse Him?

So now I yearn to do God’s will. I yearn to fulfill His yearnings for me. Because He loves me that much. And I never could resist a fellow yearner.

* Source: “The Practice of Discernment” from Love, Mercy, Justice: A Book of Practices of the Sisters of Providence

I’ve become resigned to it: We’re never gonna figure it out. Not while we’re here on earth, anyway. How does anyone make sense of tragedies, senseless deaths, injustice? There are those who would say it’s a matter of perspective; squint your eyes and look sideways and you’ll see God’s hand in everything.

Balderdash.

No one is enlightened enough to look at 9/11 (for instance) and see God’s hand, unless the God you worship is the sometimes-bully of the Old Testament, obsessed with smiting, drowning rain, and turning people into pillars of salt for looking over their shoulders. No all-loving and all-merciful God wants people to hurt.

I prefer to believe that when bad things happen, God grieves with us and sends us strength to keep going. Maybe someday, if I’m lucky enough to join Him in Paradise, I’ll see a bigger picture.

But for now, I do believe in tragedy. I do, I do, I do.

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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