Self Denial

 

“To reach the supernatural bounds a person must depart from his natural bounds and leave self far off in respect to his interior and exterior limits in order to mount from a low state to the highest.”

 

—-John of the Cross

 

Cross John of the CrossThe medieval mystic John of the Cross gives us advice to move towards “supernatural bounds.” Self-denial is a big step in that journey with Christ. This concept (self-denial) is at odds with our culture of more. As with all disciplines, true self-denial is developed slowly and with care. Begin with living more simply, caring for the small things of life, living a life of thanks and seeking to touch someone in need.

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The Ugliest Word

A journalist once asked Carl Sandburg, “What is the ugliest word in the English language?” After a few minutes Sandburg replied, “Exclusive.” The ugliness of exclusive depends upon whether we are among the included or the excluded. old-man5We pride ourselves on being members of exclusive clubs, living in exclusive neighborhoods, dining at exclusive restaurants, vacationing at exclusive resorts, belonging to exclusive churches. Being an insider carries with it a sense of pride and security. Most of us, however, have been excluded often enough to agree that exclusive is an ugly word. When we are among the marginalized, the rejected, the pushed-aside, or the left-out it hurts!

Our question is simple. Who is excluded from the love of God? The answer is simple – no one. That demands the next question. Who is excluded from the church? Of course, the right answer is no one, but we know better. Unfortunately, no one is not the right answer. People are excluded from the church because of tradition, sexuality, financial status, race, “not fitting” and a whole host of other reasons. Let us pray and do all that is in our power to make sure our church is not exclusive.

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A Calling

“Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny….To work out our identity in God.”

― Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

 Some would think a bit old fashioned to think of our lives as a vocational calling, but Merton hits this issue head on. We are all called to go far beyond mere existence, or simply to plod along in our weakness. Our God, and creator wants us to find our identity in Him. When that is accomplished our lives are transformed, and we soar to heights that only he can take us. You are a creation of a loving God, and He want you to claim that identity.

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The Art of Pleasing God

“Someone asked Abba Anthony, ‘What must one do in order to please God?’ The old man replied, ‘Pay attention to what  I  tell  you:  whoever  you  may  be,  always  have  God before your eyes; whatever you do, do it according to the testimony of the holy Scriptures; in whatever place you live, do not easily leave it.  Keep these three precepts and you will be saved.”

—sayings of the Desert Fathers

Abba Anthony gives us three simple, and yet difficult principles, that we must do to please God. Monk in prayer 1

  • Always have God before your eyes
  • Live in harmony with scripture
  • Have stability of place in your life

The challenge is to keep God before our eyes when our sight is so cluttered with the saga of life. Additionally, we are called to live with the scripture as the ever present guide for our lives. As if that were not enough, we are then instructed to “stay put” even when things are tough. Our world tells us quite clearly to keep focused on the earthly, while perhaps giving some attention to God, and to move on whenever life gets uncomfortable. Perhaps if we all developed a vision of God and followed that vision where we are planted, we would find that peace that eludes us.

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If You Give a Monk a Fishing Net

Irvin J. Boudreaux:

A great desert story.

Originally posted on The Golden Echo:

Monastic Monday Br. Monday is now wondering why the abbot made him a fishing net…

Three old men, of whom one had a bad reputation, came one day to Abba Achilles.

The first asked him, “Father, make me a fishing-net.”

“I will not make you one,” he replied.

Then the second said, “Of your charity make one, so that we may have a souvenir of you in the monastery.”

But he said, “I do not have time.”

Then the third one, who had a bad reputation, said, “Make me a fishing-net, so that I may have something from your hands, Father.”

Abba Achilles answered him at once, “For you, I will make one.”

Then the two other old men asked him privately, “Why did you not want to do what we asked you, but you promised to do what he asked?”

The old man gave them this answer, “I told you I would not make one, and you…

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Voice Recognition

The British writer Arthur C. Clarke proposed three “laws” of prediction that are known as “Clarke’s Three Laws.” Here they are: 

Law 1) When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

Law 2) The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

Law 3) Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. 

Taking Clarke even further, some historians of science have argued that the roots of science in the mists of time lie in magic, that science began as magic. According to these scholars the astrologers and magicians parted company: those who sided with the astrologers accepted fate and the destiny of the stars; those who cast lots with the magicians looked for ways to change our future and manipulate the world. 

For people of my generation, we are living in a magic renaissance. Science and technology are awash in magic with things like 3-D printers, which are now printing human organs and 3500 square foot homes in 24 hours. Have you seen how they work? That’s magic. Then there are Google glasses and Amazon drones. That’s magic. 

But some of the biggest magic around is voice recognition. As a young Samuel was instructed to speak by his mentor Eli, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” Our technology now is saying to us, “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears and obeys.” We “speak,” and our toys turn on and do our bidding. Your voice is enough to get the GPS systems in your car to be your digital concierge and report back to you with a voice of our choosing. X-Box One recognizes who is speaking to it and obeys the voice of its “master” instantly. It’s all magic. But to our kids, it’s not magic, it’s normality. 

But Voice Recognition didn’t begin as magic, or as science. It began with Jesus….

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The Dance

Many are familiar with the beautiful poem, “Footprints.” In this story, a man dreams that he has a talk with Jesus about his life. Like all of us, this man had a life full of triumphs and tragedies, love and loneliness, happiness and sadness. And like all of us, he had a lifelong relationship with God that was at times close and committed and at times distant and unclear.

The man and Jesus were walking along a sandy seashore and having a conversation that reviewed that man’s life. The man noticed that many times there were four footprints in the sand as the walk of life progressed. Jesus explained, “These are the times when we walked together. The times you shared your life with me, and I stood beside you every step.” But the man became troubled when he noticed that in his most painful, dark times of life there was only one set of footprints. He questioned the Lord as to why he had been abandoned and left to walk those times alone. Jesus explained these times, also. “My child, the reason that you see only one set of footprints is because those were the times I lifted you into my arms and carried you because you could not walk alone.” All was explained to the man except the occasional places along life’s walk where there seemed to be many footprints going in all directions in a hectic pattern in the sand. Jesus smiled and replied, “My son, these are the times when we danced!”

This Easter, remember those marvelous occasions when you have rejoiced in life. Those overwhelmingly happy moments of life when your Lord “danced” with you! Take every opportunity to put on your dancing shoes!

PRAYER: Father – Help me to remember with joy marvelous moments in life, and help me now to “dance” with wonder at the blessing you give me.

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Wash One Another’s Feet

Sociologist Robert Wuthnow of Princeton University has explored how it is that people make everyday ethical decisions. Many people, he found, perform deeds of compassion, service, and mercy because at some point in their past someone acted with compassion toward them. He wrote, “The caring we receive may touch us so deeply that we feel especially gratified when we are able to pass it on to someone else.”

He tells the story of Jack Casey, who was employed as an emergency worker on an ambulance rescue squad. When Jack was a child, he had oral surgery. Five teeth were to be pulled under general anesthetic, and Jack was fearful. What he remembers most, though, was the operating room nurse who, sensing the boy’s terror, said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be right here beside you no matter what happens.” When Jack woke up after the surgery, she was true to her word, standing right there with him.

Nearly 20 years later, Jack’s ambulance team is called to the scene of a highway accident. A truck has overturned, the driver is pinned in the cab and power tools are necessary to get him out. However, gasoline is dripping onto the driver’s clothes, and one spark from the tools could have spelled disaster. The driver is terrified, crying out that he is scared of dying. So, Jack crawls into the cab next to him and says, “Look, don’t worry, I’m right here with you; I’m not going anywhere.” And Jack was true to his word; he stayed with the man until he was safely removed from the wreckage.

Later the truck driver told Jack, “You were an idiot; you know that the whole thing could have exploded, and we’d have both been burned up!” Jack told him that he felt that he just couldn’t leave him.

Many years before, Jack had been treated compassionately by the nurse, and because of that experience, he could now show that same compassion to another. Receiving grace enabled him to give grace. Jesus said, “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher have washed your feet, you should wash one another’s feet.

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Day 37–April 1

Mark in Forty Days

This year I am reading through the Gospel of Mark during the forty days of Lent. My suggested plan is that you do these readings in Lectio Divina  format.

Today’s reading

Mark 15:1-20

Prayer Thought

Lord  you were mocked and beaten unjustly for me. Please give me the courage to stand for you in my relatively easy station in life. Give me , I pray, ways to stand for you. Amen

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Questions for Jesus

1. When you said, “The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head,” did you remember that there was no room in the Bethlehem inn?

2. When you helped Joseph in the carpenter’s shop, did you think of the wood of the manger? Did you think of the cross?

3. When you referred to yourself as the Good Shepherd, did you think of the shepherds that worshipped you at night?

4. Did the same angel that heralded your birth in the field outside Bethlehem encourage you in the Garden of Gethsemane?

5. When you were visited by the kings as a child, did you think of your throne in heaven?

6. When you debated the law with the scholars in the temple when you were twelve years old, did you remember giving the Ten Commandments to Moses of Mt. Sinai?

7. When you were baptized in the Jordan River, did you think about the time you parted the Red Sea?

8. Did you ever sit at the shore of the Sea of Galilee and remember the day ofjesus_christ_image_212 creation when you separated the water and the land?

9. When you viewed the city of Jerusalem from the hill, did you think of your second coming?

10. Did you ever eat an apple and think of the Garden of Eden?

11. Did you ever think of the ark when you rode in a boat on the Sea of Galilee?

12. Did a bowl of beans make you think of Esau’s mistake?

13. When you looked at the night sky, did you remember hanging the stars in space?

14. When you ate sweet bread, did you think about the forty years you sent the angels to spread manna on the ground in the wilderness?

15. When you saw a gold coin, did you remember the main street at home and get homesick?

16. Did you think it was funny when big-mouthed Peter sank trying to walk on water?

17. How did it feel to be Mary’s child and creator?

18. When you blessed the children of the first century did you see the children of the twenty-first century?

19. Why did you make mosquitoes?

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