Saturday, May 11, 2019

Jumbled

My mind feels kind of jumbled with lots of thoughts. This is a longer message than I usually send, and longer to read than most of us are used to doing any more. There are many things we do that take longer than the 4-½ minutes this is estimated to take so I hope you will fit it in. Regardless, I remind you again as always, that God loves you exactly as and who you are. I am grateful we hold each up in prayer.

(I have links at the end to more information on the people I write about below.)

First, all week I’ve been thinking about Rachel Held Evans. When she died I felt shock and more grief than I would have imagined I would feel about someone I haven’t met. It seemed weird to cry and feel sad all day, and for days after, about someone I only knew through reading books, following on social media. hearing on podcasts and at festivals. Maybe it did seem a little closer because I had just been to a conference in San Francisco where she was a main speaker, along with Nadia Bolz-Weber. I saw her close up there, and heard her speak several times.

As I’ve been reading and thinking about Rachel, it’s become clearer than ever that one of the reasons Rachel has made such a difference to people is that she accepts -- and not just accepts, loves -- people as they are. She did not say that you had to stop being or doing whatever sinful thing you were or did before God loves you. That may be what we hear all the time -- God loves everyone -- but somehow it’s not what we see.

I think of a sermon our pastor gave recently where he talked about Jesus having dinner with people who were “current sinners.” They were “sinners and tax collectors,” people who were cheating the Jewish people of their money. They weren’t repentant sinners and tax collectors, or ex-sinners and tax collectors. They were current sinners and tax collectors.

This can be hard. It comes up in many ways. In some churches in the past, when a young woman got pregnant before marriage, she was required to ask forgiveness in public at the church. I heard not long ago of a church council struggling with what to do when a young unmarried couple wanted their baby to be baptized. Should they baptize a child of a couple they felt was not obeying God’s commands? Once a fellow church member mused, “What if a prostitute walked into our church? Do we just ignore what she’s doing?” In the past, our church tried to welcome a gay couple, but the men in that couple were not allowed to lead, there were some members who made sure never to talk to or sit near them, and some people were unhappy with them even serving coffee during the fellowship time after church. And I’m not innocent in all this. The church did seem like a place of repentant sinners to me, too. I am confused, too. What does it mean to accept and love current sinners into the church? How does that work? What does that look like?

Rachel Held Evans was known for loving people the church did not welcome. She encouraged many people who were questioning their faith, who felt like the church was telling them God did not love them, who made them feel shame rather than love. Even though I don’t know exactly how to make church a loving place for all, including current sinners, I pray that I can show God’s love to all -- current or repentant or ex-sinners. May God help me. May he do the work for me, because I cannot do it myself.

Another thing that happened this week is the death of Jean Vanier. I have not read as much of Jean Vanier’s writings, but I have admired him for many years. He saw lonely, despairing people in a psychiatric hospital and decided to be their friend. He bought a house and invited two of them to live with him. From that small beginning, grew a huge network of group homes for intellectually disabled people called L’Arche. What an amazing person. He did not have a plan to start a big, worldwide ministry. He felt like he had to be a friend to two disabled, lonely people.

Jean Vanier’s life and sayings made me think of Mother Teresa, who I have also been thinking about a lot lately. I went to a retreat called “The Three Teresas” last weekend, and one of the three was Mother Teresa. Jean Vanier said about the first two people he lived with, “Essentially, they wanted a friend  They were not very interested in my knowledge or my ability to do things, but rather they needed my heart and my being.” Mother Teresa said, “You see, I always feel like this, many years back when I picked up the first person, if I didn’t do it that time, I would have never picked up the 42,000 in Calcutta -- 42,000 from the streets. So, I think, one at a time.” One at a time. One at a time. What are we called to do, one at a time?

In one review of a biography of Jean Vanier, Anne Sophie-Constant writes, “Where we see only failure, disgrace, impossibility, limit, weakness, ugliness, and suffering, Jean Vanier sees beauty.” Mother Teresa, too, saw beauty where we see ugliness. She looked at an emaciated, spastic, bony little boy, unable to speak or control his body and said, “Lovely child. Lovely child.”

God’s love is incredible.

Rachel Held Evans
  • Her blog. https://rachelheldevans.com.
  • Includes links to her books and  the health updates with the final one from her husband on May 4th.
“Rachel was slowly weaned from the coma medication. Her seizures returned but at a reduced rate. There were periods of time where she didn’t have seizures at all. Rachel did not return to an alert state during this process. The hospital team worked to diagnose the primary cause of her seizures and proactively treated for some known possible causes for which diagnostics were not immediately available due to physical limitations.
Early Thursday morning, May 2, Rachel experienced sudden and extreme changes in her vitals. The team at the hospital discovered extensive swelling of her brain and took emergency action to stabilize her. The team worked until Friday afternoon to the best of their ability to save her. This swelling event caused severe damage and ultimately was not survivable.
Rachel died early Saturday morning, May 4, 2019.
This entire experience is surreal. I keep hoping it’s a nightmare from which I’ll awake. I feel like I’m telling someone else’s story. I cannot express how much the support means to me and our kids. To everyone who has prayed, called, texted, driven, flown, given of themselves physically and financially to help ease this burden: Thank you. We are privileged. Rachel’s presence in this world was a gift to us all and her work will long survive her.”  -Dan
  • If you want to see something showing the way technology can be used as a way to show God’s love, search on Twitter for #PrayforRHE and #BecauseofRHE.
  • Many obituaries and articles available with a Google search.

Rev. Trent Elders’ sermon about current sinners in the church
The sermon titled “Meal Church” on this page. http://www.sjcrc.org/sermons-2019

Mother Teresa


x

Jean Vanier

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Retreat Thoughts - "Three Teresas" - Teresa of Calcutta - Mother Teresa, presented by Leelamma Sebastian (3 of 4)



For the first presentation about Mother Teresa, we watched this documentary of Mother Teresa. It is almost 1-1/2 hours long. Well worth it. What an amazing woman. Some quotes I wrote down.
  • A carrier of God's love
  • God speaks to us in the silence of our hearts.
  • Poverty is not caused by God. We humans cause it because we do not share.
  • God will not force us to do good; we must choose.
  • A Beirut military leader: "A saint was not what I needed most."
  • Small things with great love. It is not how much we do, it is how much love.
  • To God there is nothing small. The moment we give it to God it is infinite.
  • Jesus' last words from the cross, "I thirst." Not so much for water but for my love and your love.
  • Accept whatever he gives. This is surrender. Give whatever he takes.
In the discussion after the movie, Leelamma told us that she actually met Mother Teresa. Leelamma was born in India and at age 15 she went to Calcutta to join the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa told her she needed to go back home and come back later, but Leelamma stayed for about 2 years, working with the sisters. She left at 17 but her brother is a priest with Missionaries of Charity and she has many cousins and relatives who work in it.

I said that the quote about "I thirst" being about Jesus thirsting for my love rather than the other way around was a new perspective for me. Leelamma said "I Thirst" has become a movement. Jesus thirsts for our love.

Dr. Pat Campbell said Therese of Lisieux also talked of Jesus' thirst. Therese saw a picture of Jesus on the cross with his blood dripping into the sand. She felt it was Jesus thirsting for souls.

Watching the documentary, I was moved many times. Mother Teresa said she was a pencil in God's hands, writing love songs to Jesus. I thought of that when the movie played the song "Make me a channel of your peace." How can I be an instrument in God's hands?

One of our handouts was a prayer written by Cardinal John Henry Newman named "Radiating Christ." The sisters say this prayer every day. They say "us" and "we" and "ours." The retreat leaders suggested substituting "me" and "I" and "my"
Dear Jesus, help me to spread your fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with your spirit and life.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly
    that my life may only be a radiance of yours.
Shine through me and be so in me
    that every soul I come in contact with may feel your presence in my soul.
Let them look up, and see no longer me, but only Jesus!
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine,
    so to shine as to be a light to others.
The light, O Jesus, will be all from you; none of it will be mine.
It will be you, shining on others through me.
Let me thus praise you in the way you love best,
    by shining on those around me.
Let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by example,
    by the catching force, the sympathetic influence of what I do,
    the evident fullness of the love my heart bears for you. Amen.

Retreat Thoughts - "Three Teresas" - Therese of Lisieux, presented by Dr. Pat Campbell (2 of 4)

Therese of Lisieux was born and raised in Lisieux, Normandy, France. She lived with her family always, and had a loving, very devout family, unlike Teresa of Avila who had a hard life in Spain. Therese wrote that she "found flowers under each of her steps," which is probably why she is often called "Little Flower."

Therese's childhood, though, had a dark underside. She was plagued by anxiety and fear. She lost her mother to breast cancer and other family caretakers in other ways, making her separation anxiety worse and worse. She also worried obsessively that she was doing wrong, even committing mortal sin. They called that "scruples." And she had a quick temper, often having large temper tantrums.

The speaker at the retreat reminded us that sanctity does not take away fears and anxieties, but Therese persisted.

Therese had what is called a "Christmas conversion." One Christmas, Therese overheard her father saying he thought Therese (the youngest child, now 14) was getting too old for the little ceremony of gifts for the youngest child, and that he was glad it was the last year they would do it. Therese's sister, knowing Therese heard this, and knowing how upset Therese would get, went upstairs to tell Therese not to ruin things by showing her hurt and anger. She found Therese sitting on her bed with tears in her eyes, but Therese was able to control herself and show calm and quiet. She felt God granted her relief from her extreme touchiness. Like the other Teresa, she still had the feelings but God gave her the strength to deal with herself.

After that, Therese was able to see all she did, including mundane tasks like laundry and sweeping, as a conversation with God. She corresponded with St. John of the Cross and quoted him when she said her self was put into "the flame of God's love."

The thing about mundane tasks reminded me of a talk given by Kathleen Norris on the quotidian mystery, also about how God is present in our mundane parts of life. When I read that, I thought of how I used to count the shirts I washed on laundry day -- I remember there being more than 60 sometimes! -- and how that quotidian task was a service to my family and thereby a service to God. (But now I happily do only my own laundry, so what does that mean?!)

Therese had a scene she imagined where she saw God at the top of a stairway encouraging her to come up, the way her father would encourage her, saying, "You can do it." But when she tried to get up the first step, her leg was too small and she became frustrated with trying. Then God came and carried her up. She had to try, but God did the work, not her.

Therese felt that "[her] vocation was love." She wanted to bring God's love to people, not hers -- she even confessed she herself did not like or love some of the people -- but God's. All three of these Teresa's talk about that, about God's love coming to others through them. It makes me think about how showing God's love is something I can do all the time, no matter what I'm doing or who I'm with. May God's love shine through me more and more and always.




Retreat Thoughts - "Three Teresas" - Teresa of Avila, presented by Cris Goodman (1 of 4)

I am at a retreat at the Jesuit Retreat Center, Los Altos, CA, May 3-5, 2019.The retreat is about 3 saints named Teresa: Teresa of Avila, Therese of Lisieux, St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa). Last night the 3 leaders, Dr. Pat Campbell, Cris Goodman, and Leelamma Sebastian, gave an overview of the 3 Teresas, and today there will be a short session on each, with time afterward to reflect and pray. We have heard about Teresa of Avila and Therese of Lisieux, next will be Mother Teresa.

Teresa of Avila

I took notes on the overview of Teresa of Avila's life and I won't put all those here into my blog. Briefly, Teresa of Avila lived in the 16th century, a contemporary of Christopher Columbus and Martin Luther. She is called "Big Teresa," as opposed to "Little Teresa," Therese of Lisieux. Teresa of Avila joined a convent because she did not want to marry and that was the only other choice. Convents back then were full of women who did not want to marry and were not the fervent religious places that convents are now. There was a lot of socializing and Teresa loved that. She had a conversion experience, though, where she pictured Jesus alone and in need, as in Gethsemane, and she was able then to approach him and stay with him. After that, she did a lot of writing (including The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle) and started 14 convents -- that were not for socializing, but for dedicating your life to God.

Teresa of Avila said, "My life changed when I said yes to Christ." I feel like my life changed when I said yes to my imagination as my connection to God, most especially Ignatian contemplative meditation, where I use my imagination to be with, talk to, and listen to Jesus.

Teresa of Avila described growing in your prayer life using the metaphor of watering the garden.

The first stage is when you are watering with bucketfuls from the well. You must make many trips and you start to develop new spiritual muscles.

Stage 2 is when you are getting water from a water wheel. The water is higher, there is less work, and God's grace is more clearly evident.

Stage 3 is when a stream waters the garden. You need to dig ditches to speed the flowing water to the garden, but God does almost all the work.

Finally, stage 4 is when the garden is watered by rain. It is the union of our soul with God. God's rain does all the work. Prayer is not experienced as work, but joy. All our senses are occupied with this joy.

Wouldn't it be cool to have a fountain based on those 4 stages -- a bucket on a well, a water wheel, a stream, and rain?

I asked myself what stage do I think I am at. I think it is stage 2. Praying is not super hard work, but there is still some temptation to skip it. I see God's grace everywhere, though.

A handout had this "bookmark poem," found in a book of Teresa's after she died:
Let nothing disturb you.
Let nothing distress you.
God does not change.
Patience wins all it seeks.
God alone is enough.
~ St. Teresa of Avila
I rewrote it using my own words.
When things I don't like or think are wrong happen at work, church, or home,
it disturbs me.
When my beloved family members seem in trouble,
it distresses me.
May I remember, God does not change. He loves and loves and loves.
God grant me patience, even if I wait all the way to death.
May I be filled with God. May I empty myself and may God rush in,
like water filling and overflowing,
like light filling and radiating.








He holds the future

Because he lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because he lives, all fear is gone;
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living,
Just because he lives!
(“Because He Lives,” by Bill Gaither)

I sang this chorus this past weekend at a women’s get-together. It’s from a song I did not grow up with. The chorus came to me the night my dad died, and has recurred as a song “stuck in my head” many times since.

When my dad died I wondered how I would live. To those of you who are younger, it may sound crazy that at age 60 I would still feel that kind of dependence on my father. My mother was in a nursing home with Parkinson’s and died about 4 months after Dad. The words of this chorus were a constant refrain during that time and still are now. Life is worth living because God lives and holds the future.

When I see what is going on in my own life and the lives of those I love, the natural disasters affecting so many people and so much of nature, the wars we fight, the way we treat each other, the decisions and plans we humans make. I sometimes think, “Well, we’ve bumbled through it and made it this far, I guess we will again.” Other times I remember the promise that God holds the future.

We could talk for hours, maybe days, even years, about what it means to say “God holds the future.” Does he control the future? Does he just know the future? Does he intervene and determine the future? I don’t know all the answers and I don’t think anyone does. I like the word “hold.” It sparks the image of another song, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.”

When I think of God holding me, and holding the future, I see the image of Treebeard the Ent in “Lord of the Rings” scooping up and holding the hobbits Merry and Pippin. God scoops me up and sets me on his shoulder

picture by Paul Dohle, https://magazine.b2zone.com/poul-dohle-illustrates-treebeard-with-merry-and-pippin/
God holds the world. He holds the universe. He holds the future, the past, and the present. He holds me. He holds you.

What can I pray about for you?

love and blessings,

Mavis

PS - Since writing this yesterday, this song has been stuck in my head and just a little bit ago I realized I was singing, "Because he loves, I can face tomorrow....", substituting "loves" for "lives." It works that way, too. :)
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If you would like to send me specific prayer requests I will gladly pray with you. Email me at mavis at moonfamily.cc. I'll keep all communication confidential.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

100%

God loves you 100%.


A friend of mine told me this story about her daughter Jessica*, at about 5 years of age: Jessica had a wonderful time playing with her cousin on a visit to their home. Her cousin Matthew,* a bit younger, had a great time, too. So great that when Jessica was leaving, Matthew could not handle the sadness he felt at her going. He hid. Jessica wanted to say good bye and looked all over for Matthew, but could not find him. Finally, at the door as they left, Jessica turned around and shouted into the house, "Matthew! Wherever you are, I love you 100%!"


(*names changed)


“I love you 100%!” Isn’t that great? Lately, I’ve used the term “100%” several times, telling someone I am behind him 100%, and another time that I support something 100%. It brought this story to mind. God loves us 100%.


When I mess up, when I say or do hurtful things, I talk to God about it, I know he forgives me, and like Jessica, he tells me, “Mavis, I love you 100%!” When I doubt and question my faith, I might not feel my doubt is resolved, but I know God is saying, “I love you 100%.” When things are happening that seem evil or not in line with what I think should be God’s plan, I hardly ever figure out why these things are happening, but God says, “I love you 100%.” On that I can rely.


And so can you.