Jesus lives at Starbucks

When I read the words, Ubi tres, ibi Ecclesia, Where three are, there is a churchI imagined us. It’s based on Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Jesus’s non-traditional notions of “church” were in direct contradiction to the requirements of the Jewish law to have ten men present to make a congregation.

Did he say it just to contradict the teaching of the religious or because there was something far deeper? Christians use this verse many times when praying, but this also contradicts the idea that Jesus is always with us, even when we are alone. 

There is a bigger and brighter idea here. A concept that breaks through all religious notions and rules. There is no number of times a day to pray, no specific place, no time of day. There are no correct words. The concept of two or three is to remind us that even in the midst of the smaller number of two or three, we form a church, a body, a moving being. We don’t need a building, or a denomination or seventy-two ministries to call ourselves Christians. We just need a good friend, an open hand and our loving God.

There is a great treasure to be found in the power of two. It is more than just ourselves. It is another person holding us saying it’s going to be ok. It’s another image of God staring at us. It’s God picking us up when we are unable to pray. It’s creating a congregation in a house, in the midst of a work-space or out here in the abyss of cyberspace.

I have had church in closed-door meetings, the floor of a friend’s house, in front of the Blessed Sacrament on the kneeler. Some of my most profound prayers have been prayed in the most unlikely of places. You don’t have to be in church to lead someone to Jesus, and for me, Starbucks seems to be the place where He appears the most. Maybe there is something about a cup of hot coffee and God. Or maybe it is the place where longer conversations can take place, philosophy still exists and people go to gather and meet and not just sit behind computer screens pretending other people are not there.

Don’t get me wrong, the mass is holy and reverent and the place you’ll find me on Sunday mornings. Not because God makes me, but because my heart implores me. And sometimes the mass contains moments that are prayers without words. Like feeding the eucharist on the tongue to a woman whose eyes are filled with tears, or hands that are wrinkled and clammy and needing His body or blessing a small child who longs for the wafer they are drawn to but know nothing about. For me being Catholic isn’t about the kneeler, it’s about the others on the kneeler with me, looking up at the same crucifix. 

If you are alone today, not religious, not part of a church, there is no need to worry. You are not alone. Grab my hand and let’s pray. Let’s have coffee

Be Happy, God will understand

I recently listened to an interview I found by happenstance of an old acquaintance.  I had always admired her brilliance and tenacity, her quiet way and her commitment to her religion. I don’t think it is important for purposes of this story to tell you what religion she is, it is enough to know that she was devout and humble all at the same time. 

I don’t know what made me think of her, but I was curious to see what she was up to. Last I had seen, she had the perfect career and perfect life, still devout and lovely. But this interview was different. It was many years later and life was not so perfect. Her religion had not changed , but her life had. So she was quick to meld her words to fit her life’s circumstances. My God would understand this, and He would understand that. I have to make myself happy and I cannot worry about what other people think. I was perplexed. Her God had remained the same, her devotion the same, but her life had not. So she fit her God into her life’s circumstances to ascribe to a “Be Happy God will understand” theory which completely blew my mind.

These thoughts were not unlike so many I have heard and areas which Paul has recently explored on Just Me Being Curious where he discusses openly the hypocritical Christian and their unconscious quest to use the bible as a weapon. Paul goes into an in-depth discussion of whether the bible is fiction and other deep-rooted and tough questions, but the message is deeper than that. While my old acquaintance sings a song of “Be Happy God will understand” the song that Paul’s talking about is more along the lines of “The only way to believe is the way I do.” Both schools of thought though steeped in religion are cloaked in secularism. Twisting our way into what “we” believe is right or wrong based on our own selfish notions. What bothered me about the interview was not the fact that she was still devout to her God. What bothered me was that she had made God devout to her.

This is a continued thought in our culture, in our world, where we make God just ours. The bible or Quran or Torah can have only that person’s interpretations, and there is no other room. It is this way or that, no room for exploration or understanding. It is the reason that modern-day religion is more secular than it is anything else.

I look to those who have criticized Mother Teresa’s care for the dying. She a Catholic, speaking to them and praying with them in their own religion, their familiar God. Restoring their dignity in the last breath with a comfort each individual will understand. She has played a great role for me in understanding the human person and Jesus, and the dynamic that exists between the two.

You see if we were really Christians, people would know. We wouldn’t make God live in a bible, or on an altar, or in a Sunday sermon, we would let Him live in us. It’s not a matter of conversion, it is a matter of being. I don’t seek to convert anyone other than myself to be the love that Jesus is or was. I don’t subscribe to the “Be happy God will understand theory” because taken in context that is a selfish way to be. The only way for me to live is ensuring that I am doing my best to invest my happiness in you. More like, “Be happy, invest that happiness, because I acknowledge Lord that it comes from you.”

When we get outside of ourselves and realize that God is much bigger than a t-shirt or a slogan, the real work begins. Because if we’ve discovered that life is not about our own self-satisfaction but rather attending to the needs of someone who will never be able to repay us, following Jesus gets real.

If you ask me if I’m a hypocrite I’ll tell you yes, that I am working on it. If you ask me if I’ll convert you, I’ll tell you I’m too busy working on myself. If you want me to show you God, I’ll try my best. But it will probably involve a cup of coffee, admitting who and what I am and asking for your forgiveness.

Unsure where to go? To the last place where God met you

“I had hoped my call as a Christian writer might lead me to “bigger and better” things. I saw my secular career as something I wanted to let go of, someplace God could never use. I thought that this placement was not intentional by God, that there was something “bigger” out there for me. So he let me leave my life behind and try a different life, the one I had envisioned in my dreams. He didn’t leave me, He just stayed quietly by me.”

If you know Melissa you will know she is beautifully vulnerable.  She writes stuff so many only think. So many fearful of what others might think (and even say back).

And they have “said back” to Melissa – as she acknowledges.  And yet …

You really should read the whole post.

 

(as usual, comments are disabled here – please comment over at Melissa’s place, thank you)

Paul

Making a Spiritual Retreat at home

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It never occurred to me that I could find Jesus at home. Not the flesh and blood but the spirit. My physical sense of longing has been active for years, searching in churches and temples, sacred spaces, parks, oceans and rivers for the God I loved and the God I let go of. There have been days I have found Him deeper in the waves of the ocean than on my knees in a church. In the rough terrain of spiritual travel, the inner divine sometimes gets caught up with the worldview of spirituality. With so many different ways to celebrate God, I have often become mired in the rules and opinions of others. The beauty of humans is their willingness to go to any length to find comfort in the seat of God’s lap, but the darkness creeps up in the judgment of where that lap is. God will always be God regardless of our thoughts or opinions. But the way we relate to God is similar to the way we relate to the world; a blade of grass that speaks to me may mean nothing to you while the sound of the highway may mean everything.

I have been bed bound for several days now and the kids and husband are away. Though the pain has been great, the clarity has been far-reaching. The depths of my heart have been crying out for a spiritual retreat, a time of silence, a time away. And although I have silently prayed for these things, almost an unconscious prayer if you will, I always thought it a bit selfish to ask God for a spiritual getaway. In any event, it would never happen. I have a job and three children, a husband and a full plate; that is until I was forced into bed by something I could not control. So when the family left for the weekend I was in pain and alone. It’s been ten years or so since the last time I ever remember being alone like this. Smack dab in the middle to end of Lent I found myself here, in a desert I prayed for but never saw coming. My first thought was to reluctantly give my pain up for someone who didn’t deserve it, my least favorite person, someone who had persecuted myself and many around me. I asked God to accept my pain as a sacrifice for this man’s salvation, his reconciliation with God and a second chance at mercy.

Heading into day two, the silence seemed uncomfortable. But I noticed the sunlight coming off the kitchen window, the beautiful color of the dark wood stairs and the sound of the highway that reminded me I was not far from the chaos of the world. I wanted to create a sacred space, get on my knees on a kneeler to Mary, look at an iconic picture and find myself surrounded by darkness and candlelight. But from a bed this was impossible, so I started to research retreats at home and found nothing. So I turned back to Jesus and his methodology and the idea of spiritual retreat.

Withdraw to deserted places to pray

I realized that it didn’t take a special set of prayers, or an icon or candles. I didn’t have to fall to my knees. The ocean didn’t have to be close and I didn’t have to sit amongst flowers in a perfectly manicured garden. The house was deserted, my heart was open and I simply had to be…

Many of us find ourselves in these situations. Hectic schedules, health problems, the inability to travel due to time or money constraints. We want bigger houses, bigger jobs and bigger lives.

But bathed in silence, the places that we are planted come to life. The light shines from the darkness

I am not saying that God may not move you, He may. But chances are the thing that you are searching for is right in front of you. We are missing the wood grain, the ray of sunlight, the sacred shrines in our hearts. What we are missing is silence…

I encourage you today to drop the thoughts in your head at the threshold, invite the Holy Spirit in, sit and do absolutely nothing. Like the magic of Beauty and the Beast, the things around you will suddenly start to come to life…

Let go

This is what is meant by following Christ. In this way, disregarding earthly gains, Matthew attached himself to the band of followers of One who had no riches. For the Lord himself, who outwardly called Matthew by a word, inwardly bestowed upon him the gift of an invisible impulse so that he was able to follow-

excerpt from a quote by Bede the Venerable (673-735 AD), Anglo-Saxon monk

This was my Lenten meditation for today:

In a given situation, act as if everything will work out. Allow this to influence what you say to others and what you say to yourself.

This was both terrifying to me and freeing at the same time. This idea of freedom is what we strive for, but in the context of the contemplative life is a much different idea. This freedom exists from materialism and worry, from earthly wants for heavenly gains. This freedom exists in believing in the notion that God works all things for the good of those who love him. It exists in the freedom the trees experience, swaying to and fro, in the birds of the air who do not worry and in the hearts of men who long to be there.

Our words influence our steps. God moves our hearts but we are afraid. We then tell people that we are afraid. Then they are afraid. This is not freedom.

This type of spiritual freedom is jumping off a cliff type stuff, diving into a deep body of water, embarking on a mission to a place you’ve never been, selling every possession you’ve ever owned for something more…

It’s dropping the net when He tells you, following when He tells you, not looking back when He tells you. It’s a forward movement, an awareness of adventure, a trust, a not being afraid.

It’s living not on the surface but below it, it’s individualized, it calls you to be different, it tugs at you and will not let go…

God does not give us time to plan, He’s had eternity to do that for us.

When it’s time it’s time.

This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.

Exodus 12:11

Our lives are not our own, but we hold onto them with an undying and unrelenting grasp. Instead of holding onto Jesus for dear life, we are holding onto our own thoughts and ideals. We hold onto friends and houses, churches… we hold onto where we are and fight the forward movement. We don’t want to leave but we’re afraid to go. We’re not necessarily wrestling with God, we’re just telling Him not to move us…

But the spiritual life is forward movement, it’s a letting go of self, it’s a giving away and a taking on of a new life, it’s losing our tight grasp on things and grasping onto the cloak of the one who saves us from ourselves…

So ask yourself, what is it that you are holding onto, what is that you just can’t let go of? Release it, take your clenched hands and open them. Then turn around and clench onto Him.

Act as if everything will work out, because it will…

Psalm 139, What do I have to offer God?

I have lived my life in a great struggle against something I cannot see. It has been a burden to me since I was a little girl, a dark monster, an unforeseen force that haunted my days. I could never readily identify it, associated it mostly with some tragic experiences I had in my life. But even after I finished recovery for my sexual abuse, there were some things that simply lingered…

Becoming a Catholic became the single greatest event of my life. It was a true conversion of mind, body and soul, a true understanding of obedience and sacrifice, and a coming home party as big and as wide and as deep as heaven could offer. It was immediately apparent to me that it was the right decision, as “Christian” friends left my life and disappeared…

I’ve never been one to hold myself out as a theologian, that’s never been my purpose. God has plans and purposes for everything, and our calls and individual walks are as personal as the maker has made us. When I became a Catholic, I thought my days of darkness may be far behind me, but I did not recognize them for what they were…

As I often do, I began to scroll through my new favorite app “Flipboard” which I have found to be a great mix of so many of the topics I enjoy. If you haven’t used it, it’s like the tabernacle opening for information junkies, news aggregated in one place, and the ability to receive information based upon your specified areas of interest.

So I happen upon a story of a man whose greatest fear was death, so as he explains it, makes himself busy to distract himself from the thought of it, although this was not a conscious fear. He began to understand this fear after meeting with a “life” coach as he recounted the busyness of his lifestyle, his hyper competitiveness and his drive to “squeeze” in as much as possible in one day. After coming to the realization of this fear, he began reading numerous books related to people who lived life to its fullest on finding out they were terminally ill. This in turn led him to face his fear and realize that he needed to do something about it. Once he identified the monster, he was set free…

The story intrigued me in a unique way, I didn’t understand at the time why. He had related to Buddhist theories, hired a life coach and fear of death was not my problem. But as the story stirred in my soul, it was making its mark. What was I afraid of? What was my monster?

It was a verse in Sirach this morning that drew my attention, although I had no idea why.

Do not appear before the Lord empty handed, for all that you offer is in fulfillment of the precepts. Sirach 35:6

The question that came to mind after reading that passage was,

What do I have to offer God?

I meditated on it, researched it and could not get away from it. But it had a familiar darkness, a familiar fear. The question and the passage scared me. 

And in the midst of my ruminations and emptiness before the Lord, I asked Him that same question. And then the story of the man who was scared of death entered my mind. And that’s when I realized who and what my monster was.

I was deathly afraid I had no purpose…I had met my monster.

The thing that had haunted me, even chased me, the thing I just could not shake. The reason behind my faltering and depression. I wasn’t afraid to die, I was afraid to die without having a purpose. 

There was no human force who could have told me that, no sermon, no book. It was a cry from so deep inside my soul that I could not contain it. The hurt, the anguish of knowing that I had or maybe never would make a deep and lasting impression on this earth.

I didn’t consider the thousands of cases I handled on behalf of foster kids or indigent defendants or even my work as a police attorney. I didn’t consider the love I had for the homeless or the prostitute. It just wasn’t enough of a mark for me. And I paused to consider that although I know my purpose in Jesus, I still felt an overwhelming sense that I had not come into what God had for me, or maybe He had nothing at all…

I am sure that many of you will comment about how our purpose is in Jesus and that my wanting “more” and fearing there may be none is a sign that I don’t understand my purpose. I have read and considered all of the scriptures and have lived and continued to live a Christian life. I don’t believe this is a lack of trust in Jesus, it is a fear I have to face that I believe many of you have but have not yet identified.

I am not talking about being a missionary or call to the priesthood or some other very distinctive call. I am talking about a knowing that God has a specific place and purpose for your life that you know you have just not come into yet. I have been on the search all my life, I continue to be a pilgrim waiting for my Master…

Identifying the fear made my heart feel in a way that I never had before. Like slaughtering the beast, I understood David’s victory against Goliath. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. PRESENT darkness…

I pray that in identifying the fear, God will reassure me that He has a purpose for me. That at some stage in my life I am blessed to enter it and know that the struggle was not some figment of my imagination, but a very real one in the unseen spiritual realm. And I hope for the sake of this truth that has been exposed, that my experience and honesty can help someone overcome their fear too. That God made us for a purpose, that we are loved and that He will not let us leave this world without allowing us to leave our mark on it, for Him.

Psalm 139

Live forward

If today you hear His voice, live forward

If you have been living backward, move forward

If you are expecting things to change while doing the same, force forward

If you are on that wheel and can’t get off, jump forward

If you are praying with no result, think forward

If you are stuck right where you’re at, lean forward

If things are not going as you planned, breathe forward

If you have nobody to console you, be forward

If you are on the borderline of decision, leap forward

If you are standing in a wide open space, build forward

If you are comfortable right where you are, leave forward

If you subscribe to the theory that life sucks and then you die, break in forward

If you are living in the land of indecision, creep forward

If you are all alone, embrace forward

If you have nowhere to go, make forward

If you have not chosen Him, step forward

If your heart is ranting and pacing, walk forward

If you have nowhere else to go, find forward

Whatever you do, don’t go back…. go forward