Archive for December, 2006

Holy Family

Today’s feast caused me to pause and ponder that God would want to live in a human family. Plenty of perils in that choice… I’m just trying to imagine what Mary must have felt after giving birth in a stable, and then having to flee quickly to Egypt to avoid those who wanted to murder her son.

I imagine the Holy Family living for some time in a refugee camp, and it makes me think of the many refugees who today struggle to survive in strange lands all over the world.

There are other kinds of refugees that come to mind also. I know of many people who could be called spiritual refugees who, in some way, have been alienated from organized religion. Or those who have been estranged from their families – a tough time of the year for such folks…

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I was heading to bed last night when the news that Saddam had been executed came out. Of course, that was right at the top of today’s paper this morning. I feel ill thinking about it. Don’t get me wrong…this man did a lot of evil things, and it was a good thing to have him off the streets, unable to cause others harm. But once captured and incarcerated, what purpose does executing him serve? Research has shown that the death penalty does not provide an effective deterrent against other offenses.

What is it about us that needs to have revenge in order to move on? And will the death of this man truly help the Iraqi people to move on?

It occurred to me to reflect on some of the arguments by “Christians” in defense of things like the death penalty and violence against LGBT people. The Bible quotes proffered usually come from the Hebrew scripture, ignoring that in the Gospels, Jesus often says nothing or even says the opposite.  (See Matthew 5:38-39 for the most obvious example.)

Anyway, that’s all that comes to mind today…just a sadness that so many seem to be rejoicing over the killing of this man.

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I’ve been pondering the difference between wisdom and knowledge lately. I was reflecting on recent recruiting visits to a couple of area high schools, and was noticing the difference between the juniors and the seniors. It seemed to me that in at least one of the schools, the juniors seemed to be more receptive and attentive. I noticed a similar difference years ago between 8th graders and the 5th-6th-7th graders in my valiant attempt (I lasted until Thanksgiving – that’s a whole other story) to teach middle school science.

It seemed to me that the students “at the top of the heap” – seniors in high school or 8th graders in middle school – had a bit of an attitude that said something like, “tell me something I don’t already know.”

Oh, how that reminds me of myself sometimes… I have certainly acquired more knowledge on my life journey. For example, today I learned a few things while figuring out how to fix my housemate’s computer and work out some problems with my wireless router.

However, I’ve come to define wisdom for myself as, “knowing what it is that I DON’T know.” Probably not quite as simple as that, but the gist is that I find that the older I get, the more I realize I don’t know, and you know what? I’m actually ok with that! It occurs to me that wisdom and humility are likely two sides of the same coin.

Rather than getting discouraged about the realization that I know less than I previously thought I did, I thank God that I am more open to surprises and more able to give the people in my life room to be who they are instead of telling them how they “ought” to be or act.

I’d be curious to know what you think about the relationship between knowledge and wisdom, or the relationship between wisdom and humility…

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Happy Christmas!

Yesterday I was telling my housemate that Advent was my favorite time of the liturgical year, and she asked me why. You know, no one ever asked me that before…for me, I think that Advent is so special because I’m attracted to the notion of it being a time of invitation to prepare myself to give birth to divinity – God’s life – for a world in need of healing.

In reflecting on the event that gave us this feast to celebrate, I couldn’t help but think that we tend to romanticize the whole stable scene. I imagine that before Joseph could settle Mary in the stable, he first had to muck it out, leaving him dirty and exhausted.

It seems to me that Jesus comes to a world in need of mucking out. No four-star hotel for him! So what is our response to this great gift? I share with you an excerpt of a prayer by Ann Lewin, found in a volume called Celebrating Women.

Could we be midwives for the love of God,
Cradling that strength born in fragility,
Delivering healing to a crying world?

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I thought I’d share the above needlepoint with you. It’s kind of an expression of how I try to live. And the story of how it came to me is pretty cool also. One of our sisters made it and gave it to another sister, Carleen Lynch, who was my spiritual director and good friend. Carleen died suddenly 9 years ago, and I (along with many others) was devastated. I still miss her very much.

Anyway, fast-forward to 2001…I was in Washington, DC doing some committee work, and my birthday happened to fall on that weekend. I had come early and spent some time with Sr. Janet Mock, one of Carleen’s best friends. Janet had dropped me off at the house of studies where the committee was staying. The next day I came back to my room and found a rose, this framed needlepoint, and a birthday card from Janet saying that she and Carleen had had a talk that morning, and they both agreed that I should have this.

So, anyway, this is what I see on my way out of my bedroom every morning. It reminds me of both of these good women.

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Leaping for joy yet?

I’ll keep this short, considering that this is the shortest day of the year (or is that tomorrow?)

Anyway, both of today’s readings contain the image of leaping. In the Song of Songs, Solomon refers to his Lover as a gazelle or young stag, leaping across the hills. In the Gospel, Elizabeth feels the infant in her womb leaping for joy at the sound of Mary’s greeting.

So as I prepare to let go of the busyness of the day, I ask myself where did I seek joy today, and where did I find it? To be honest about my day, my work had me scrambling, feverishly trying to pound out a draft of a conference paper before the university closes for the holiday, needing to use library databases that are only available on campus, working in my office where the heat had already been lowered for the Christmas break, wondering at 3:00 why I was so cold and hungry and then realizing that I had forgotten to eat the lunch I had packed…

So, I missed the mark a little today. Not the end of the world by a long shot, especially when I look at the alternate first reading from Zephaniah and imagine God dancing for joy because of me!

Where is the joy in your life?

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No, it’s not a rhetorical question…I invite you to share what it is you might be reading (or have read) that makes your heart glad and/or your soul sing. Perhaps I’ll make a sidebar item listing your suggestions…

The sun was shining today, and I decided to spend a little time outside. I also wanted to get to the Royal Oak Library to pick up a book, so I decided to walk…about a 5-mile round trip. Gave me some exercise AND some time to reflect.

The book I was going to borrow is one that has been around a while, but I had never read it. It’s called “The Spirituality of Imperfection.” I haven’t read past the introduction yet, but it promises to be a great read with which to end the year and start a new one. The authors give credit to the founders and members of Alcoholics Anonymous for bringing this age-old approach to living a spiritual life an articulation for modern times. Perhaps one of the greatest afflictions many of us suffer is the inexorable striving for perfection, the shame that comes when we discover we fall short, the inability to admit to a mistake, etc.

Yesterday I was reading a journal article that mentioned a study of professors at the University of Nebraska. When asked about the quality of their teaching, 96% considered themselves to be “above average.” I can certainly understand why this distorted perception exists. It’s a little disconcerting to think I might be “only” an average teacher when I put so much passion, effort, so much of myself into the preparation and the actual encounter with my students. It’s a little easier to consider when I recognize that many professors are trying as hard as I am to be great teachers, and being average in a crowd of superachievers isn’t so bad after all. The other thing I need to consider is that if I see myself as better than the majority of teachers, there’s not as much motivation to improve, and God knows, there’s always room for improvement.

The problem is that it seems to me that we live in a society that is constantly telling us: “put your best foot forward,” “keep a stiff upper lip,” “don’t let anyone see your weaknesses,” etc. To even admit that there might be something about my teaching that could stand some improvement can be pretty scary if everyone else around me is trying to make their case for being named “professor of the year.” The good news is that I have some colleagues who care deeply about teaching and who aren’t afraid to admit that they could be better. So no need to go it alone…

No wonder that the first word of the first step of AA is “WE”.

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