Saturday, September 20, 2008

Why I Often Think of Jesus' Passion



I WAS asked, by a good friend, why I had mentioned that I often think of Jesus' Passion, and why I didn't make an effort to think of happier things. It is because I find it a joyful thing to be a part of the redemption of the world. There is so much suffering in it, we middle class people in North America can't even imagine. It makes my suffering look like nothing. I have a house and a bed with nice clean sheets, and a housekeeper to change and wash them, and a pantry full of food that can be refilled any time, and medical insurance that gives me access to literally the best medical treatment in the world, and a husband who loves me, and children who also love me and respect me, and I have the resources to build a huge labyrinth in my backyard, with a stream and many flowering plants, and cactus wrens nesting in the front window, and 3 cats that love me and take care of me when I am alone, and many friends, and two paid for cars and all the fleece for spinning I could use in a year, and the same for sock yarn and knitting, and a million books... and a custom red wheelchair that is very comfortable, and a brand new iron to iron my closet full of nice clothes, and a new vacuum cleaner, too, not to mention a washer and dryer with hood ornaments that are in a laundry room, not a garage or down at the local "Sudsy Tub"....More than 90 percent of the world doesn't have half these things. They are being torn out of their homes to run into the desert without anything, hoping they might find some of their family, and if they are lucky they might find an international aid food station, where, if they are lucky they might get a bowl of cereal before it runs out, and if they're lucky they won't get any of the diseases of people who are suffering from malnutrition and stress, and are living too close together with inadequate hygiene...Or they are living a mile away, and mom and dad have lost their jobs to outsourcing, and the car has broken down again, and there is no money for groceries, and they've already been to the local church for the once a month food allotment, and because the family is intact they aren't eligible for AFDC, and the water and electricity are being turned off tomorrow for non-payment, and the youngest needs new glasses, and the teacher sent a note home requesting $25 worth of school supplies, and they have no idea how they are going to pay the rent in two weeks...You catch my drift. I think about this all the time. And all the other ways that people suffer through injustice, personal or societal. 

IF, as we are taught, and I choose to believe, my suffering, that I can't prevent and didn't ask for, is redemptive if I unite it with Christ's, how can I help but be happy about it? If my suffering makes a difference in this sorry world, then I will suffer, and be glad for the opportunity. I've been asked why I think about Christ's Passion and not something happier, for instance, the Resurrection. Thinking of Christ's resurrection is a very happy thought, and an important one, and I do think of it often. Every day that I feel a bit better is a resurrection day.Every day that I can get out of bed and do something useful around the house is a resurrection day. It makes me very happy, because it is what follows the suffering. If I hadn't had the pain, I wouldn't appreciate the absence of it nearly as much. The ability to be useful is the outcome of having had the surgery, or put up with the leg binding, or had the chemotherapy. Jesus could not have overcome sin and death if he hadn't suffered on the cross, giving himself for us out of unimaginable love. United with Christ in suffering, I am also, through my baptism, united with his resurrection. “For if we have grown into union with him, through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection.” (Romans 6:5)

WE all should be able to unite our suffering to Christ's on the Cross. That's the whole reason he did it! He became human like us, experienced joy and sorrow, illness and wellness just like us, adulation and humiliation, love and hate, gentleness and torture, and finally died, just like we do, even though he was God. He did it so that we would not only know how much he loves us, but so that we would know that he understands, and is with us when we suffer. Only a God who became small and vulnerable like us could bring us to believe, no, to know that he understands how we feel. We never suffer alone. He did it to conquer sin, which is the absence of love, and death. Death of the soul happens long before the death of the body. 

WHEN bad things happen it is so easy to despair, to wonder why it has happened to us, especially if we've tried to do all the right things. We've gotten good grades in school, we've worked hard, we've been faithful to our vows to our spouse and to God. We've gone to church, we've donated to good causes and volunteered our time. Why, when we've done what everyone said would keep us safe in every way, is this terrible thing happening to us? We become angry. Sometimes we blame God, and our anger is directed at Him. So many people have lost faith, or worse, begun to hate God, because they have had sickness, death, tragedies in their lives, through no fault of their own. I have heard from many doctors and nurses that they see this all the time. This is the real sickness. But if we really have faith, and have listened to what Jesus said about those who suffer, we will know that it is not because God is punishing us, or is gratuitously cruel. The poor and victims of social injustice are often thought to have done something to deserve their misery. This false belief has been around forever. Today it is found in people who believe that good people, those that have the blessing of God, will be prosperous and healthy. There is a similar New Age belief that our thoughts are real, and that as children of god, divine beings, we can create the life that we want if we are spiritual enough..It makes it easy on the conscience, because these ways of thinking blame the victim. Why should we help someone who either deserves what he got, or won't help himself? That homeless guy on the corner must be there because he's irresponsible. or an addict, or unspiritual.. But Jesus made it very clear that this isn't how it is. Before Jesus cured the blindness of the man at Siloam, he was asked by the Pharisees what sin the man or his parents had committed, and “Jesus answered, neither he,nor his parents sinned, it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” John 9:3. We know that God isn't punishing us, or hurting us, or intentionally inflicting pain. These things happen because they have to, for reasons far beyond our ability to understand. As God said to Job, “Where were you when I founded the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding... who laid the cornerstone, while the morning stars sang in chorus...” We can't understand the ultimate truths of why and how the universe works the way it does. But when we persevere in faith and hope, when all around us is ruin, we “make the works of God visible” to those around us. We become hope and inspiration for others.

DO you know the doctrine of the Body of Christ? He is the head, and we are the body. Since the head can't live without the body, and the body can't live or act without the head, what happens to me happens to Christ, and what happens to Christ happens to me. So my illness happens to Christ, and his suffering on the cross happens to me. The same goes for you if you are aware of it. St. Paul, in his first letter to the Corinthians, said that “As a body is one, though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body...” Again, since we are one body I (and you) share in His divinity, as He shares in our humanity. Since I share in His divinity, and am part of His body, my suffering and his suffering are one. My suffering can then become part of what Christ suffered for the salvation of the world. To show the whole world what love is, and what it is willing to endure. “It (love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (Cor. 13:7) I am a pretty happy person. It is in large part because I know all this, and am confident that it is true. My suffering isn't a waste. 

THERE was a day when I felt particularly bad. I was also alone. I thought, with the author of Ecclesiastes, that it seemed that all our effort, even our short lives, are to no purpose. I was lying in my bed, almost unable to move, wondering what days like that are for. I thought of how short our lives are compared to the rest of creation. If you think about the age of the Earth, and then the age of the stars, by comparison, the age of a person is like nothing. We are” like grass, soon to wither.” Who are we, these short lived creatures on a small planet on the outer edge of a minor galaxy? And then I remembered. It is because I am a member of the Body of Christ that my days have meaning. All of them. Even the bad ones. We tend to think that the bad ones are, at best, to be gotten through as quickly as possible. Later in the afternoon, I got a call from a friend. There was trouble. Another friend had been badly hurt by false rumors. In the same day, first suffering, then the opportunity to help someone in trouble, providing emotional support for that person, first in listening, then in prayer, and lastly in enjoying simple time together. The upset person that arrived left comforted. That day did have purpose. Every day has purpose, whether we see it or not. That day, I was able, at the end, to see.

IN his letter to the Ephesians, Paul said that “living the truth in love, we should grow in every way into him who is the Head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, with the proper functioning of each part, brings about the body's growth and builds itself up in love.” And also, “As a body is one, though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ.” ” If I am some essential part of the Body of Christ, and all the parts are essential, what happens to my suffering brother or sister, also essential parts of the Body, happens to me, and to you, and to Christ. I think about Jesus' passion because we are all called to grow into Christ by living the truth in love. And the greatest act of love ever, was Jesus' suffering and death on the cross. We are to be Christ for others, and realize that they are Christ, too. All of us, parts of one body. Me, Christ, all of us. I am never alone. And I have the honor of making up whatever is lacking in His suffering. (“Now I rejoice in my suffering for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church.” Col. 1:26.) And in this way, I also share in His resurrection. It is something that I can look forward to. 

SO, I often think of the passion of Christ. I think about how much he wanted to live. Of his agony in the garden. But his love for his people was so great, and his faith in God was so perfect, that in obedience, he went willingly to his death. Remember, he was fully human, and he had fear and an instinct to live just like us. He would have had to rely on faith, not the knowledge of the Omnipotent, if he were truly sharing the human condition. I think about that. On the cross, he cried out, “Why have you forsaken me?” The cry of the human being who has lost the consolation of the presence of God. And he lost it when he was at his greatest need. Just like us. But still, he never lost his sure knowledge that somewhere God was there. He commended his spirit to God. He ultimately trusted in Divine Providence. It is hard being this sick. It is hard watching my family suffer as they worry about me, and try to deal with each crisis, big or small. No one ever said life was easy. But Jesus did say to take up our crosses and follow him. And that his yoke was easy and his burden, light. It is only easy if we do as he did, let go of our fear and trust in God. If we do this, accepting that which we can't change, we are free to live gratefully with what we have. We are free to be happy. Despite the pain, both the physical kind, and the emotional kind, sharing in the cross, the opportunity to participate in destroying the absence of love, and then loving greatly, I find is a very great grace, and an honor and a blessing, all unasked for and undeserved. So there it is.

 

 

 

 

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Scrap Quilt

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Here I am, in the middle of the night, after spending an entire day crawling around the floor trying to make a pile of small random colored squares of cotton into something resembling a pattern. At this point, around midnight, I am picking them up after deciding I had done what I could with what I had. I assigned each square a number and a letter, picked up each square piece by piece in the same manner so that I could reproduce it as I sewed. Justin, who lives with us here, felt so sorry for me, that he made spaghetti and then helped pick up pieces. I was so tired.

The design is called Irish Trail, and it appears that I must like blue, because I had so many scraps of blue fabric. Enough to tie everything else together into a design that works. It looks nothing like the picture of the heirloom quilt that I had looked at before trying this, but I think maybe I like it better. The blue and green forms the trail, and the warm colors are like destinations, like the waterfall at the end of park trail, or the place you wanted to be in your heart, and have arrived. They are all linked to each other, the places and the mountaintop experiences.

There is a place in British Columbia that is so beautiful that it is where I learned to pray as a child. Going there, in memory or reality, always takes me right back to that moment. Since that first prayer of the heart, I have walked a wandering path, learning bits here and there, arriving at various destinations, building a set of beliefs and a personal theology that eventually led me to Catholicism, has kept me there for many years, and then led to rich interfaith dialog with a Hindu pandit.

Each stop on the path, winding though it is, has led deeper into the mystery of who I am, and, if I walk with awareness, of God. And then, after many small destinations...AHA! there is a pattern, a whole-where there had been random bits of experience, now there is understanding where there had been confusion, order where there was chaos. My life has begun to make sense, and I find I am at the edge of knowing who I was meant to be. Maybe in some time I will know what God meant to do when Anne was created. My prayer is that as I stay on the path, I will become fully the Anne that was meant to be. I think that is what it is to be holy-to fully be what God meant us to be. Entirely ourselves, doing what we were meant to do to make the Whole strong and beautiful and complete. The Body of Christ, intact, with every ligament functioning as it should.

Today I sewed three squares of the patches. Somehow they had become mixed up, and I am having to carefully reconstruct what I had done before. But now I know the pattern, so it will be much easier. Each bit has its proper place in the Whole.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Archangel Raphael, Healer

 
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I think St Raphael must be my Guardian. Healer of hearts and souls and bodies, St. Raphael must have been with me through those bad days. St. Raphael, pray for us.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Anne- February 2008

  Here I am, right before my birthday in 2008. I will be 53 in a few days. It seems so odd to be old enough to join my parent's senior group. I don't feel like a senior. But I suppose that's what I am, and that is not such a bad thing. I can now say that I am old and wise, and that my life experience has given me some little bit of insight. At least I've made a lot of mistakes that I won't repeat. I try to warn younger people who are about to do the same thing. Sometimes they even listen, but usually they have to learn the hard way. Maybe that's a good thing-it seems to build character.

Hardship can, if we let it, make us more forgiving and less judgmental. It can give us patience and endurance. It can also make us more imaginative in our attempts to alleviate the situation. We obviously can't continue doing the same thing we have been. We'll just dig ourselves deeper into the hole we've dug. We have to learn to change our behavior. If we also listen to the stirrings of the Holy Spirit, it can help us learn to abandon our frustration, fear, and worry to God. With all those bad feelings about things we can't change given to the One who loves us, we can, in freedom, carry on with hope and in peace. This is true of most every rotten thing that can happen to us, not just the stupid mistakes we make, but the things that just happen- illness, job loss, financial trouble, the barking dog next door...Big or small, all the things that make us miserable can be made at least emotionally neutral if we change our thoughts about them. We always have a choice in a bad situation. We can make all the positive changes we can, and even if we can't make a change, we can decide to live in peace. And in doing so, provide inspiration to others who are wrestling with their own demons.
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