Why Advent

December 3rd, 2018 Posted in writing | No Comments »

Advent is the season when we prepare to celebrate the great feast of Christmas, and it does so in at least three ways.

First of all, it reminds us to slow down. Advent is not a season for frantic running around, though our consumer culture seems to say the opposite. Advent is a more contemplative season, when we can make use of things like darkness and candle light and when we can (if we live in the right place) walk in the snow and look up at the stars.

Secondly, a major purpose of Advent is to remind us of our need and desire for God. We probably like to be self-sufficient and in control of our lives and the people and things around us. But Advent invites us to realize that we will never be at peace until we can embrace the truth that, though we may have many strengths, one of the greatest strengths is knowing our need and longing for God, whose coming we celebrate at Christmas.

Lastly, Advent is a season to realize that God does hear the desires of our hearts for him and is more than ready to respond to them. St. Augustine remarked that the whole of the Christian life can be seen as one great act of desire, and Advent reminds us that our desires are holy and will be fulfilled, since they prepare us to let God come in when he knocks at the door of our lives.

So, as we begin Advent, let’s take time to slow down and to get in touch with our desire and need for God. Then Christmas can truly be an answer to our Advent prayers and longings.

Shame in the Garden

November 16th, 2018 Posted in Uncategorized | No Comments »

It started so well, the relationship between our first parents and God. Each day, the Book of Genesis suggests, God, Adam, and Eve would meet in the afternoon breeze to spend time with each other talking, listening and walking through Eden.

One day, God came as usual, but Adam and Eve weren’t there. So God called out, “Adam/Eve where are you?” And they came out of hiding, wearing loincloths they had made out of fig leaves because they were afraid that God would see them in their nakedness. So God asked them, “Who told you were naked?that is, “Who told you that you should be ashamed of who you are and be afraid to stand in my presence?

What had happened, of course, is that Adam and Eve had disobeyed God’s commandment not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, thus breaking the bond of trust and intimacy they had with God. They must have thought the shame they felt towards themselves would be just a pale reflection of the disappointment and anger God would surely feel towards them.

So when God told them they would have to leave the Garden, they might have not been surprised; it’s even possible they had on their own decided they could no longer remain. After all, how could they stay with a God who had been so loving and generous toward them and whom they had disobeyed so callously?

But if that was what they thought (and we think), that only shows how wrong human beings are when it comes to understanding God’s love. We may think God’s response to sin is anger and punishment. But by contemplating Jesus on the cross we might begin to glimpse the amazing truth that God’s response to our sin is not disgust with us or a desire to punish, but, instead, a selfless act of love which God will never go back on, even if we don’t deserve such love or fully comprehend it.

Jesus’ life, death and resurrection show us that we may turn away from God, but God never turns away from us. And if we turn back to God, we will find welcome into a new and everlasting Eden of love and friendship with God, and there will be no more sin or shame.

 

Looking for God in All the Right Places

November 4th, 2018 Posted in writing | No Comments »

Jesus promised his disciples and us that he would be with us “always, until the end of time” (Mt 28:20). Fifteen hundred years later Ignatius Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, said we should seek to “find God in all things.” So, can we find God, or at least look for him, anywhere and everywhere?

It is probably easiest to seek and find God in things like the beauty of the natural world as well as the wonderful people and events in our lives. There we can find God’s beauty, goodness and generosity, and at such times we can definitely feel truly blessed.

But are these the only places we can seek and find God? Is it possible to find him in sad and difficult situations like sickness, death of a loved one, the experience of being misunderstood or misjudged, the loss of a job, or a relationship that doesn’t work out?

Some people find God through their belief that difficult things have a place in the mysterious plan of God and that even if that plan may be hidden from us now, we will come to understand it more fully when we get to heaven.

I also believe that it is most helpful to seek God as being present and active during the time when difficult things are happening, remembering his assurance that we will never have to face sorrow or suffering alone. We may feel ourselves to be vulnerable and weak, but God will be at our side and in our hearts (often through the love and support of others) to help us go through sad and painful times, giving us moments of comfort and peace as he gently begins to heal our wounds and dry our tears.

So, yes, both joy and sorrow can be places to seek and find God and his love, for God is with us and will stay with us — any time we need him and everywhere we are moved to look for him.

The Name of the Game

October 21st, 2018 Posted in Uncategorized, writing | No Comments »

If those who say life is a game are correct, then what kind of game is it, what is the reward for winning and what is the strategy?

If life is all about achieving the greatest amount of power, material success, influence and fame, and every one else is regarded as an obstacle, that might be called the game of Beating All Others, in which the strategy is to be competitive, aggressive and willing, if necessary, to push all other players out of the way.

But one can choose another game, in which the objective is to seek and receive from God his gifts of peace, love and forgiveness. We might call it the game of Gifts and Generosity, with the strategy being to accept God’s gifts while reaching out in love and kindness to others, excluding no one. And in that game no one has to lose.

This is clearly the game at which Jesus excelled. He lived his life by receiving everything from his Father (Matthew 4: 1-11) and by reaching out not only to the poor and marginalized but even to his enemies. And if that is so, then shouldn’t those of us who claim to follow him be playing the game of Gifts and Generosity as well?

Stories We Carry

October 10th, 2018 Posted in writing | No Comments »

Once a year I visit my cousins in Washington state, and some of our conversations involve retelling stories of the family. Last year, for instance, I again heard the story of how my grandfather and his brother left Poland to come to the United States in the late 1800s.

They had been recruited in Europe to pick pineapples in Hawaii, decided to take the offer and went through many experiences before eventually becoming American citizens and settling on the West Coast. It must have taken a great deal of courage to leave the people they knew and loved and settle in a new country far away.

When I experience significant changes in my life, I remember my grandfather and his brother. I draw strength from their willingness to (literally) move into a whole new world with a new history, language and way of doing things. The story of their courage inspires and supports me.

Similarly, I appreciate the stories carried by my faith family (the Church) telling about God’s creating the world, saving the Hebrew people from slavery in Egypt and speaking to his people through the prophets. I am especially grateful for the stories about Jesus’ teachings, miracles, dying and rising, and stories about the saints. All these stories strengthen my faith, hope and love.

Maybe you’ll find some time in the next week or two to thank God for the stories that encourage and support you. Each of them is a gift from a loving, generous God.