Archive for February, 2007

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?

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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.

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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?

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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.

paczki.jpgA 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.

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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.

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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 latex.png 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 latex.png for technical documents, since it does run on Windows. Been discovering a lot of synchronicity with a lot of engineering analysis packages supporting latex.png, 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!

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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!

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