Feeds:
Posts

## First Sunday of Lent – Reflections on a Childhood Memory

Yesterday’s Gospel had me remembering the children’s missal I had back in about 2nd grade (perhaps even earlier). Of course, as any book written for that age group, it had illustrations. The one picture I remember from it was the one from the First Sunday of Lent. It showed Jesus with “the Devil”. My recollection of the devil in this illustration is that he was a strange extraterrestrial-looking creature, bright green with horns and bright red eyes and red cape, holding a pitchfork. (I’d love it if I actually still had the missal and could check to see if I’m recalling accurately…)

I also recall thinking it would be really scary to be around this creature and that I had better make sure I didn’t end up in Hell.

As an adult, it’s clear to me that the evil spirit doesn’t tend to take the form of a hideous creature, but often comes masquerading as peace and light. It wouldn’t be hard to resist evil if it looked like that prayer book. The problem is that it is all too easy to convince myself that something I want is of God, or even that something difficult is of God, when in reality, it may be the evil spirit working to make me either complacent or full of self-doubt. Neither of these two extremes seem to be the optimal place for growth in the spiritual life.

When dealing with people with whom I may disagree, it is all too tempting to come to the conclusion that there is one right way to look at an issue, and that anyone who sees it differently from me is just plain wrong. I don’t often take this stance myself, and when in conversation with another, I often say, “I see it differently,” rather than saying that I’m right and they are wrong.

So this leads me to how to deal with people who do see things in terms of black-and-white. Is it really “dialogue” to continue a conversation with another who is not willing to budge from a position, who cannot even for the sake of better understanding try to see the issue from the differing perspective of another? Yet, if we retreat into our separate corners, it then becomes even easier to demonize each other, and the cycle deepens. What will it take to break that cycle?

## Busted Halo

Natty was reflecting on the beginning of Lent this week, and mentioned BustedHalo.com as one of her favorite websites. The tagline for this site is, “An online magazine for spiritual seekers in their 20s and 30s.” It seems to me that this site should be recommended (if not required) reading for vocation ministers in religious orders.

## Rend your hearts, not your garments

There are all kinds of images floating aroung in my mind as I reflect on the beginning of this liturgical season. So I ask myself what the are kernels of deeper truth that God is offering to me? Better yet, instead of asking myself, I find myself asking Sophia-Wisdom to be my spirit-guide these days.

It seems to me that Lent is not so much about the outside manifestations of a “stepped-up” program of almsgiving, fasting and prayer, but what happens on the inside. To really journey with Jesus these 40 days in “the desert” means taking enough alone time to really take a look at the stories about my life that I dare not speak. How can I “come back to God” if I cannot bear to look at how I have strayed?

Another image that comes to mind is that of Jacob in the mighty struggle with the angel, and coming out of the struggle with a limp, but grateful to have seen God face to face and still survive. It’s good to remember that Jacob stayed in the struggle long enough to receive a blessing from the angel.

It’s hard for me to know at this point how much of a struggle this Lent will be for me. Given the pressures of prepping the three new courses, I fear that I will have a tendency to grit my teeth and just keep pushing through the days, pushing aside opportunities to allow myself the moments of vulnerability that open me to deeper relationship with God.

Hmmm…could it be that trust is a theme for me to look at these days?

## Paczki Day

For those of you who are not from the Detroit area, does this mean anything to you?

The reason I ask is that when I moved back to Detroit 10 years ago, I had never heard of this “Fat Tuesday” tradition. It must have gotten started in a big way after I left Detroit in 1982 and before I returned in 1996.

A paczki (pronounced “Poonch-key”) is a Polish donut. The easiest way to describe it is as a jelly or creme or custard filled donut, but much heavier than your garden variety jelly donut. Legend has it that in the ethnic Polish community, the last days before the start of Lent were the time to use up any remaining lard and sugar and then abstain until Easter. The lard and sugar went into these “gut-bombs” (my term for them).

I just learned that in Poland, Paczki Day is actually celebrated on Fat Thursday (the Thursday before Lent begins). In Detroit, it was the French influence and celebration of Mardi Gras that shifted it to Tuesday.

Here in Detroit, people line up at Polish bakeries in Hamtramck to get their annual paczki fix. As for me, I think I’ll pass.

## Preparing for Lent

Today’s Gospel is, IMHO, such a key summary of Jesus’ teaching, and also includes some of the most challenging exhortations for me to follow. “Love your enemies, give to everyone, stop judging, forgive…” Part of what makes these challenges so compelling, I think, is the clear evidence that Jesus really practiced what he preached.

It seems to me that a good way to move into Lent this year is to ask myself how I am doing with each of the challenges from that Gospel reading.

I’ve learned that if I can focus more on God’s desire for me and less on beating myself up for the ways I fall short, I won’t feel as much need to hate, hoard, judge, resent, etc. Somehow, really tuning in to the immensity of God’s love for me, makes all that petty stuff seem, well… petty.

So while Lent isn’t necessarily my favorite time of the liturgical year, it really is a gift and an invitation to follow Jesus more closely and to shed the accumulation of all the petty stuff that builds up while I’m busy going through life, just trying to keep my head above water.

## A truly “techie” post…

I got really excited reading this news item from the WordPress developers. (I know, I need to get a life…)

Why so excited? Well, I had to use in the preparation of my doctoral dissertation over 10 years ago, but then left a Unix world for a Windows campus. Recently, I’ve been working to get our students and my colleagues on to using for technical documents, since it does run on Windows. Been discovering a lot of synchronicity with a lot of engineering analysis packages supporting , and now WordPress.

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite T-shirt designs:

And God said…

$\nabla \cdot E =\rho/\epsilon_0$
$\nabla \times B=\mu_0 J+\mu_0\epsilon_0 \partial E/\partial t$

Translation…”Let there be light.” (Maxwell’s equations)

Go geeks! Nerds unite!

## Meeting Jesus…

To be honest, I’m blanking a bit tonight on what to write about, so I found myself reminiscing about one of the many graced experiences I had while making a 30-day retreat the summer before my first profession.

I believe I was in the 2nd week of the Spiritual Exercises, praying with the scripture passage about Jesus walking on the water. I was sitting near the back of our Motherhouse chapel, in blue jeans and bare feet, and with a cup of coffee – all three things seemed to be “no-nos” at that time. Up near the front was the only other person in chapel – Sr. Emily (who has since passed away) – who had a bit of a reputation for being mean when she didn’t approve of the behavior or appearance of the younger sisters. But she was on the other side of chapel, so I thought I was safe.

However, as she was leaving chapel, I spotted her out of the corner of my eye crossing over to my side and approaching me to stand directly behind me. I’m thinking, “Three strikes – the jeans, the coffee, and the bare feet – look out!” So I just braced myself and prepared for whatever was next. Sr. Emily placed her hands on my shoulders, and asked me, “Are you one of the sisters making her profession next month?” This was astonishing in itself, as talking in chapel was another of Emily’s pet peeves. I replied, whispering, of course, “Yes, Sister, I am.” And she simply said, “God Bless You,” and continued on her way.

Now if that wasn’t Jesus coming to me walking on water, I don’t know what a clearer sign would look like!

## Was Jesus a “racist”?

I’m picking up on Kari’s reply to my February 7 post, She mentions the Gospel story of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman, or Syro-Phoenician, depending on which Gospel you are reading. I’ve been thinking about it, that even though it ends well with Jesus praising her great faith and healing her daughter, it bothers me that during the conversation, he said to her, “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”

So, I’m trying to imagine what Jesus may have been experiencing at the time. I’m guessing he was pretty tired, in need of a break in the action. Matthew speaks of him withdrawing to the region of Tyre and Sidon. I probably would be a little cranky if a student tracked me down on my vacation to have me explain something, so I can imagine Jesus, exhausted from preaching and healing, being a little testy.

What else was happening? Well, Jesus had just finished teaching that it is not what enters one’s mouth that defiles a person, but rather what comes out of one’s mouth. He even had a follow-up conversation with his disciples about this confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes. I’m wondering if he might have been using the encounter with the Canaanite woman as a test for his disciples.

Let me explain… first, the disciples ask Jesus to send her away. Is it possible that he made the remark about throwing food to dogs hoping that the disciples would challenge him on these harsh words coming out of his mouth? Kind of a quiz to follow the lesson he had just taught? If so, it would appear that the disciples didn’t see the connection.

Of course, there’s no way to really know for sure what Jesus was thinking. Perhaps the good news is that it does make us uncomfortable to read that Jesus spoke such words. If it didn’t make us squirm a bit, that would be a much scarier proposition.

## Head and Heart and Letting Go

Ok, so now I’m sharing something I noticed about myself as I began focusing the content of the blog on the anti-racism work I’m engaged in. It seems to me that when I started feeling some responsibility for having this blog be a resource for folks from our dialogue sessions, I went into my head instead of staying mainly in my heart for the blog posts. I’m really good at the intellectual stuff, and it can be a hide-out for me. The good news is that I have learned to recognize when that is happening to me.

I’ll leave you with a little story about something that happened to me over the weekend. Friday night and most of the day Saturday, I was working really hard at preparing one of my classes for this week, and kept hitting a wall. The harder I tried to solve the problem I was working on, the more frustrated I got. It was really upsetting. I was all but convinced that I was suffering from clinical depression. I had an e-mail to my colleagues drafted that said I didn’t think our curriculum changes were going to work out. I decided to wait until Sunday to send it.

On Sunday, I went to Mass, did the grocery shopping, and then worked the Sunday crossword puzzles (Boston Globe and New York Times). Didn’t even look at those engineering textbooks! It was late afternoon by then, and would you believe I sat down and solved the problem within about a half hour?!

You might be wondering what that might have to do with the spiritual life. Well, for me, it was an instance of the 3rd step of AA, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God.” By my own efforts alone, I was totally unable to figure out what I had done wrong in solving that problem I worked on all day Saturday. I knew that there was a reasonable chance that I was going to be walking into class on Monday with nothing to teach that wouldn’t be too confusing. I was up against a wall, and I had no choice but to “let it go.” So when I started again on Sunday, I had let go of the expectation that I was going to be able to teach what I had written on the syllabus, but I decided to give it one last shot. I don’t know WHY letting go works for me, but I do know that it DOES work. I really do trust that God is not going to disppoint and that I’ll be ok, even when I feel desperate.

Do you have an experience of this or something similar that you’d be willing to share with us?