If you keep my commandments

If you ever felt alone in the way you worship, if you think your theology is the only one, if you follow rules, if you don’t follow rules, you must read Paul’s post today. All are welcome. (Comments have been disabled, please comment on the original post).

Just me being curious

In just over four weeks’ time we have a glorious spiritual retreat.  A place of recharging our souls and each other.   A place much hotter than here.  A place to relax.  To slow down.  A place to have fun.  A place with new people. A place we have never been before.  A place without church or bible.

And without those two bits we name that “holiday”.  The unspoken teaching is that a holiday is of the flesh and indulgence (and a retreat is of the spirit and restoration).

I see no difference.

I wonder why the unspoken knowing is that God cannot (really) be found in a bar or a restaurant.  Nor (really) found on a beach by the sea.  Nor (really) in the laughter and bawdy banter around a table.  Not really in the quiet contemplation of a distant horizon … a small working boat … a passing beach…

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God’s Most Perfect Creation

Adam BirthLast week my son, Adam, passed away, just a month and a half before his 34th birthday.
Adam’s entry into God’s world started off as a struggle, my wife suffered with placenta previa, a tendency for the placenta to prematurely separate fr
om the uterine wall, it was the cause of two prior miscarriages. My wife was determined not to allow that to happen to our third child, so from the first sign of it happening to Adam she was immediately admitted to the hospital, where she spent the next 3 months confined to the bed to keep pressure on the placenta.
Adam was born 90 days early, a miracle for over 30 years ago, when an infection forced an early delivery. Adam wasn’t given much of a chance to live, immature lungs at a time when hospitals simply weren’t set up to handle babies that young, but he survived despite the odds. No one told him he couldn’t, butGod had plans for him, plans that continued until his passing. I won’t go into those here, as it is not the point of this narrative.

Through Adam I was introduced to, literally, hundreds of handicapped children. I met them at the school he went to, the organizations he belonged to, and the activities he participated in. Team PhotoThese children / adults are amazing, if you’ve never encountered them in your life experiences you’ve missed one of God’s great treasures. These are people who have no hatred for anyone, they are simply filled with God’s love, and share that love with everyone they encounter, no matter how they are treated. If you doubt me, become involved with a group that works with the disabled, like the Miracle League.

13Over the last 30 years I have worked with them in many areas – schools, Scouting, sports programs, even in special employment situations. I have seen them mistreated by parents, employees, customers, care givers, even other (so-called normal) children. I have never seen them strike back, physically or verbally. I have seen them return this mistreatment with love, a beautiful agape type of love. A love that does not demand its return; a love that is given unconditionally, regardless of how they have been treated by the recipient.Adam w Gargoyle

Because of my son, Adam, I have been given the gift to see God’s most perfect creation – the soul of the handicapped child. I will always feel blessed for this gift, and thank God for giving me this opportunity.

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…

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

Sometimes theology isn’t complex

candy-caneThe Legend of the Candy Cane

A humble man wished to use his candy making art
to make a Christmas gift for Christ
that came straight from his heart.

First he shaped the candy into a shepherd’s staff, a “J”
to stand for the name of Jesus,
who was born on Christmas Day.

He used white stripes to symbolize Jesus’ virgin birth,
and His sinlessness and purity
during His time on earth.

Finally, he colored the candy with stripes made out of red,
to represent the scourging
and the blood that Jesus shed.

He had created the Candy Cane, to remind us during this season
that Christmas is a sweet gift of love
and Jesus is the reason.

Author unknown.

What is Sin… Really?

accountability pageYou see this article on “Accountability”, and read this Inventory List for Conscience. It helps you know how and when you’ve “sinned” so you can get forgiveness for it. And your heart responds that there’s value to this, it isn’t “bad”… but somehow you feel it hasn’t quite hit the mark.

USCCB You do more research, you find a Catholic treatment for the Examination of Conscience, and you look it over. Again, not that it’s “bad”, but it just doesn’t seem to scratch the itch in your spirit as you ponder the questions of living in righteousness, versus committing sin. Somehow, virtue and sin don’t seem so cumbersome, so convoluted.

You decide to teach on this topic, and so you begin…

Sin… righteousness… love… peace… one day you are sitting and pondering, studying, working on a lesson or a sermon, and you find yourself grieving, praying, seeking how effectively to communicate something you see in your heart as so simple… You lean back, your brow furrows, your eyes close for a moment…

And suddenly, you no longer seem to be at your desk… You realize that God has heard your heart and your prayers, and He is going to teach you something, show you something, to help you understand and teach…

You find yourself standing out in a large empty space, dim but not utterly dark, neutral neither warm nor cold, with just a sense of vastness, not fearful or threatening. There in the distance you see light on the horizon and you choose to walk towards it. Startled with surprise, you find that each step moves you very far, as if your will moves you forward by thought, not physics.

As you approach closer to the light that a moment before was on the horizon, you realize that you are about to look upon the Father… God… the Almighty over All. Somehow, you know you are at the very Beginning, the Before the Beginning. This, is the Void, the Formless Void, and God (in whatever form and manner you perceive Him/Her) is smiling in welcome at your arrival. Amazingly, when He smiles, He smiles all over… His eyes, His hands, His heart… all welcomes you, and you stand just steps away from Him, unsure of whether to look up or down, to bow or to stand.

He takes your hand, raises your chin, smiles, and simply says, “Behold…”

He turns towards the Void around Him, extends His arms, and the radiance from His heart moves outwards reaching to touch all around Him. You realize, you are watching Creation. As you stand there, awestruck, you know that matter and energy have come into Being.

With another sweeping gesture, His arms raise again, and with a pulsing motion forms take shape all around you, near and far. You see planets, stars, sand, rocks, the forms of grass, trees, even animals. But all seems still.

“Now watch…” He says with a smile, as He turns to you, then back to His work.

You see a richer glow begin at His heart, as it flows upwards and outwards through His arms and fingers. You know, without knowing how you know, that He has just brought forth Life… and you see all these living things now begin to move.

Then, in a way you cannot describe, you see Him touching all of this… Everything… all at the same moment, and you realize that He is loving, He is feeding, He is upholding… All that is. All that He has created. That all of this is from Him, part of Him, has come from Him and is yet Him and His.

He turns to you again, and says… “Here is the best part…”

Again He faces His creation and the glow from His heart moves out through both His hands and His lips as He sings forth music unspeakable. Now there appear… “children”… is the word that goes through your mind. You hear Him sing, “My Children”. And you see that He is singing forth everyone, everywhere, everywhen. The beauty of it all leaves you breathless.

He turns to you again, reaches forth, and puts His hand on your chest.

You are filled with warmth, as a glow lights you up and flows outwards from your heart through every part of your being. You can feel and see that this warmth, this glow, are extending themselves from your heart outwards to your hands, and upwards to your tongue and lips.

You feel moved, without knowing why, and you embrace Him… God… the Father… the Lord of All. Fear doesn’t even enter your mind, though you’d never have imagined doing such a thing before. And He returns the embrace, kisses you on the top of the head, and you are filled with a fullness of love, safety, and nurturance such as you have never known before. You realize, for the first time all the way through you, that He is truly, utterly, and only Good… and you never need doubt, never need ever but to trust Him completely forevermore.

He directs your gaze to the world we know. And He bids you observe His children, their hearts, hands, and lips.

As you look at the world, you see people. Myriads of people… good, bad, young… old… confident, frightened, hurting, healing… You see all kinds of people, doing all the kinds of things people do.

You see some people with dim hearts, laying hands on other people who glow a bit, and where they touch their hands glow as the object of their touch grows dimmer. The heart of the takers has a reddish dim glow, while children start with brilliant white and gold.

Here and there you see clusters of brilliance, often among whom are hearts that reach out with pulsing connection with this heart of God alongside you. You see that God continues to touch, to nurture, to maintain all His children, all these people. But there are vast differences among individuals how they respond to His touch.

Some people welcome, embrace, and reach towards it. Others simply receive it without response or seeming to notice Him. While still others, those with the dimmest glow, seek to avoid His touch and His love and life (for you realize these all are one in Him).

But as you watch longer, you see that everyone, even the most golden or brilliant, have moments when their hearts flash red, and they touch others with a dimming effect. And much touching seems not to have impact. And some touching, brings light to others and eases their way.

“What am I seeing, Father? (or Lord?)” you ask.

“You are seeing the answer to your questions, My child. Righteousness, sin, virtue, love, life… all of it. It is as simple as ‘relationship’… with Me, with others, with yourself. I, and Only I, give life through love. That is all I do, always. And life only comes through love. But children of free will as you are, you may choose at any given moment to GIVE life through loving another and giving from Me through your heart, your hands, your words… to love another and so give them life. Or, you may choose to TAKE life from another, deprive, neglect, injure, or wound another… diminishing their life, feeding upon them, to love yourself.

“It is quite simple, but very difficult to put in words. Nothing living stands still. Life requires consumption. I Alone am the source of life. I alone can feed you with love, life, and being. When you feed from Me, (I once expressed this as ‘eat My body’), I can fill you utterly and beyond. Water that you never thirst again, bread that you never die. To let Me fill you, and then to pass along such love, such life, such abundance to those around you through your heart… this is love, this is righteousness, this is virtue.

“But to choose instead to feed on others, to love the self at the expense of others, is to deprive them of life. This is to consume others for the sake of the self. Whether materially, or emotionally… to feed the ego by belittling others and making them smaller, is no less a taking of their life as to wound them physically. This is predation. This is vampirism. This… is sin.

“Not only is it wrong, for it takes life from another. It is also ineffective. You cannot truly live on ‘second hand life’. Only I Alone can give full life through love. To steal the life of another will never fill or sustain a person. It can barely maintain them. Eventually, such predation leaves only the empty shell of a life.

“Sin leaves you empty and hungry, no matter how much you grasp or take. Like ’empty calories’, there is no real life to it. The hunger gnaws, and will continue to do so until real life, real love, real Light is found.

“So there you are, Blessed child. To give life to others through love of them and Me, is righteousness. To take life from others for love of yourself, without Me, is sin. Any questions?”

You shake your head, a bit bewildered. This really is quite simple. He hugs you again, kisses you atop the head, and your eyes open…

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

You are again seated at your desk wondering how in the world you can ever find the words to explain this.

Then you remember, Jesus said,Do you not understand that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach, and is eliminated? But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.” [Matthew 15:17-20]

And you get it… everything is sacred. It is ALL held together in His hands, His heart, His love. To treat anything, especially ANYONE… as less than sacred… to fail to love anything or anyone that He died to redeem in the greatness of His love… Yeah, that’s just not OK. You get it now. Righteousness is treating sacred things that He loves as precious. Not to do so… well, yeah, that’s sin. And we do it, because sometimes we choose to… but still He breathes us, He touches us, He loves us… and thus, He lives us.

“Ain’t that somethin’?”  you ponder, silently…

Free Christmas Gifts for You

branch-and-bird

I am the Vine, you are the branches. When you’re joined with me and I with you, the relation intimate and organic, the harvest is sure to be abundant. Separated, you can’t produce a thing. (John 15:5, The Message)

In the U.S., the Thanksgiving holiday is over. Yet my thankfulness exceeds a five-day weekend feast.

I am incredibly thankful for the peace-filled place I am in, joined with Christ who led me into my Father’s embrace. God’s arms are full of unconditional love, extravagant compassion and outrageous grace and mercy.

My mission as a follower of Jesus is

to bring others back to Him. It is central to our good news that God was in Christ making things right between Himself and the world. This means He does not hold their sins against them. But it also means He charges us to proclaim the message that heals and restores our broken relationships with God and each other. (2 Corinthians 5:19:20)

I subscribe to this mission and to Christ’s directive, from our Father, to love each other, love our neighbors, and yes, love our enemies. I believe this is the only effective and provable way to lead people to our faithful and loving God.

It is one way as a branch of Christ I live out my faith. It is one way I can reach out and offer my gifts, received through God’s Spirit, to you.

After an 8-year journey of writing, editing and re-writing, today I offer to you free, my Branches Devotional Workbooks.

All five. All free. All year.

As a favor, would you please reblog so this gift reaches as many brothers and sisters as possible?

Thank you.

To receive one or all, and read more detail about these devotionals, visit Branches Devotionals.