Sunday, September 11, 2011

Acts of Peace

     Today marks the 10th anniversary of the fateful events of America's experience on Sept 11, 2001.  Recently the press and television have been filled with stories to remember these events and recount their impact on the lives of individuals and our national history.  All of us have deep emotions related to events of that day and the changes which since have occurred.  But I'd like to direct our attention to another aspect of that event - an opportunity. 
                        With all actions of violence, there are RE-actions.
Will our reactions be characterized by hatred, revenge, fear and withdrawal or will we be able to RE-act in a PEACEFUL manner. 
      For Christians the example of Jesus Christ is clear; he did not raise his fist in a return of violence to those who struck, spit and nailed him to the cross...and why not?   He followed God's plan.  God has a plan to perfect and transform this creation and bring it into ultimate and eternal presence with the Divine.  And the pathway of this divine plan is "paved with PEACE"...not violence and hatred.  So you see, every act of violence carries within itself the OPPORTUNITY for PEACE.
     I want to challenge each of you to become more of a PEACE-MAKER today and in the near future.  The United Nations has established an International Day of Peace on September 22.  This effort is a positive REACTION whereby individuals and organizations can create practical ACTS of PEACE on this shared date.  This year's Day of Peace has been expanded in reflection of the events on Sept 11.  The United Nations calls all humanity to participate in a special period of 11 days to mark greater emphasis toward GLOBAL UNITY and PEACE which can be expressed by our prayers and practical actions in 11 vital areas of human life.
                      Improved social unity
                      Global social and cultural interdependence
                      Humane economics
                      Health issues
                      Human rights
                      Women's rights
                      Children and youth
We are called to be more active as PEACE-MAKERS during these 11 days between Sept 11 and Sept 22.  Will our responses to the events of Sept 11, 2001 be reactions of anger, distrust and withdrawal  or will we react by words and acts of love and peace?
                  P...pray for peace.
                  E...everyone's responsibility.
                  A...all creation desires to be in harmony.
                  C...create an opportunity each day to express
                          your peaceful presence toward others.
                  E...eternity is filled with will
                          you help create more of it for everyone?

St Francis always greeted those whom he met by announcing to them..."the peace of God be with you".  May this also ring true in all our thoughts and actions.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

To Be A Floating Leaf, or Not To Be....

     From time to time, most of us experience days in which we feel our life activity has no real meaning or direction.  We just "keep-on-going" and doing what has to be done.  We feel like a leaf that has fallen into a lake and is stirred "here and there" by the waves and ever changing breezes.  And into most lives there come extended periods of time in which a person has to endure such meaningless  lack of obvious direction and purpose.  For me today, maybe it's just the "dog days" of summer, but such days do seem to be part of the human experience.
     For the Christian there is a great temptation to sense this experience as "aloneness".  The writer of the Psalms cries out to God, "Do not abandon me"  (e.g., Psalm 51:11).  The thought of just living out the day in such a reactionary and directionless manner emphasizes the magnitude of this common problem.   Like weeds, it grows in importance and may rob our lives of the vibrancy which can be LIFE-itself.  Many people "throw  in the towel" to such dark experiences and use alcohol, substances or forced excitement and activity to numb such feelings.  But these are only temporary band-aids in an attempt to cover over the real solution.
     As a Christian, I have a choice.  I can apply such band-aids to my feelings of purposelessness...maybe say a little prayer and then go right back to my "leaf-float" posture and let the ordinariness and problems of the day push and shove my life (and spirit) around willy-nilly like.  For those who profess the Christian faith, such behavior is comparable to being a "functional atheist".  (Meaning that I believe in God, but in this matter, well, I just have to get along by myself and somehow get through this depressing day of adversity, suffering or just plain "shit".)
     But as a Christian, I have another option when faced with a day of meaningless life problems.  As soon as the pattern for the new day is recognized, a person can be honest with oneself and call the situation as it really appears.
          Maybe it will be a day filled-to-exhaustion with activity, reaction to problems and people, ups and downs, seeming endless and unchanging or full of "go-no-where" activities...OR
          Maybe it will be a long day with lots of holes to fill, not much action which seems to have purpose and direction, or just plain boring and maybe even another wasted day of life!
     The advantage of looking at the day-ahead and recognizing what it REALLY contains for us is the fact we are being real about the day's possible experience.  Doing that allows us to be "in touch" with the TRUTH of this day and allows us to acknowledge and live in the that very moment of time.  This allows us to honestly face the day with realistic perception unaltered by any of the band-aid tricks previously mentioned.
             So now that we have faced-up to the reality of the NOW in our life, can we find some purpose in our day-ahead??  And even more important, WHERE do we find this purpose??
     As Christians, we have the assurance that we are alive today because of the creative and supportive love of God.  I did not create my "being alive for this new day" by some magical thing that I did while asleep!  I do not have the power to grant myself a new day of life.  Only God can awaken me to a new day of life each morning..and yet God does!  Well, does God do that to wear me down mentally and frustrate me with endless pain me with constant suffering...or to simply bore me into a numbed state of hopelessness?
     As believers, we KNOW WHY God created this new day for us.  Our experience and the Scriptures clearly tell us that God wants...
                MORE relationship with us,
                BETTER relationship with us,
                and our increasing DEPENDENCE upon this divine relationship.
This is a relationship in which we TOGETHER WITH THE SPIRIT OF GOD join in fulfilling the purpose of God for this day!
     GOD HAS A PLAN FOR YOUR TODAY and your meaningful behavior in it.  There are things for you to do and matters about which you are to speak, people with whom you may positively interact, opportunities for spiritual growth and the chance for you to discover the reality of the Christ Spirit in you as TOGETHER you express God's purpose in the world.  God wants to grow our individual relationship more and more completely into the PURPOSE, PRESENCE and PLAN of the Divine One!  This is acomplished day-by-day as we realistically face our daily activities in a full recognition of WHY we are doing them, and with WHOM we are living-out the day's experiences, and the PURPOSE for which God awoke us this morning!
     This is not "functional atheism", but rather it is the decision to live each day with PURPOSE and to embed my daily activities into the divine plan to bring all of creation into a more perfected relationship with the Creator God.  So regardless, if my day-ahead appears to be boring or filled with difficult opportunities or uncertainity, I can enter this new day with the Christ Spirit and watch how God can change a "lemon-type-of-day" into sweet lemonade!  But I must keep my attention focused upon the One with whom I walk and not be pushed and shoved-about like a leaf floating on the pond of life's difficulties.


Thursday, June 23, 2011


“All the earth cries out with joy to you, O God, serving you with gladness; coming before you, singing for joy, You, Creator of all, are God. You made us, WE BELONG TO YOU. We are your people, the sheep of your flock…” (Psalm 100:1-3)

      As I read this portion of the psalm in my morning prayers, I was struck by those 4 little words…
“we belong to you”. This is a favorite psalm of many Christians and often read. But I wonder how frequently those 4 words are “really read”…read not just with the eye but also by the HEART !
     This psalm indicates that humanity and all of creation are joyfully alive praising the Creatorc God in both words and actions. They give a clear statement that we are the creative work of God. The Divine Being made us; we did not make ourselves independent of God's "hand" or PURPOSE. That is a comfort and reassurance to many believers. Verse 3 continues this assurance with 3 proofs:
                        "You (God) made us
                          we belong to you,
                          we are your people."
All of these short phrases can be read from our personal human perspective OR from the realistic perspective of God and the divine purpose!
      It's good that we can say to God..."we belong to you"...but do our lifestyle, actions and thoughts fully support that statement! If we really "belong" to God, then we must also be POSSESSED by the PRESENCE of God. I like to think about God's ultimate purpose for the creation as the "Dream of God" for the creation, and that is the eternal relationship of God with a transformed (sanctified) creation. If this is God's "dream" (desire) for all that God possesses, then we (the possession) should SHARE GOD'S DREAM as if it were our only desire! Our lifestyle and words should reflect this mutual dream for our transformed relationship with God. Since ALL of humanity and creation are possessions of God, we should strive for a transformed and respectful relationship with ALL of God's creation.
     Therefore, each time that I read this psalm, I pause after those 4 little words..."we belong to you"...and in my heart, I add these words of self-commitment...
                 "We belong to you"...Yes, God, I belong to you and to YOUR desire for the creation, and NOT to any personal desires or imagination for myself. This is true because I wish to share YOUR dream. So fill me with your divine Presence and transform me into union with your divine DREAM. Be it ever so, Amen

Friday, May 6, 2011

A Day for Prayer

     On this National Day of Prayer (1), we ask God for guidance,strength and wisdom for its leaders and their involvement in the general well-being of the world.  In our country, most of the politico-social and religious leaders affirm some degree of allegiance to the God of the Judeo-Christian tradition; and as we pray for them, we might ask WHAT IS IT THAT THEY  and  OUR WORLD need most?  Should we pray that they be:
                Wise as a Joseph or Daniel,
                 Strong in battle as a David,
                 Determined and steadfast in principle as a Paul?
This question may be brought into better focus by a quotation from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.   "The thrust of the Christian message is not for us to become like one of those biblical figures, but to be like Christ himself."  (2)
      If we, Christians, are supposed to live-out the lifestyle and values of Jesus, what were his practices and principles which might be of value to current national leaders?  Jesus' LOVE was known for its humility, inclusive acceptance of everyone, compassion, care for the sick and hungry and a determination for the reconcilliation of people with each other and God.
     The basis for Jesus' revelation of these particular aspects of divine love is the matter of JUSTICE.  Usually the word "JUSTICE" is attached to a "retributive type" of justice.  People say that when a leader stops a terrorist that "justice had been done" and that the "evil" person got their just reward or punishment.  But I want to emphasize the fact that the love of Christ was generated by God's DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE.  How is this type of justice different from the "just desserts" type of justice a convicted criminal might receive?
     God wanted to ensure that EVERYONE is offered divine love and forgiveness ("grace") and that it be "distributed" EQUALLY.  No one is left outside of this divine offer.  That is the characteristic of Jesus' love, acceptance and compassion.  So, if Bonhoeffer is correct and we (incuding our  leaders) are "to be like Christ himself", our lifestyle should be one of DISTRIBUTIVE JUSTICE in which we care about the well-being of all humanity - both those near us and far away.  It is this type of "just" love which will ensure the universal availability of the earth's bounty to all people.  Our prayers for the nation and its leaders should ask that we all "live-into" that Christ lifestyle of God's distributive justice.
     God spoke through the prophetic words of Amos saying, "let  JUSTICE roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."     (Amos 5:24  NRSV)

(1) Congresionally appointed day of special prayers for the well-being of our nation and its people.
(2) Ethik, ed Todt,Reil and Green, 1992, p141.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Messages from Royal Processions

     Holy Week and Easter have now passed.  We have relived those final earthly days in the life of Jesus as told to us in the Gospels.  Many of us have heard these stories so many times that they may have become "hum-drum" and dull.  They may have lost the incredible cutting edge suprise that they actually possess.  An example is Jesus' final entrance into Jerusalem (1) which we celebrated on Palm Sunday.  What happened was not an "usual royal entrance".   Jesus rode into the city on a animal commonly used to carry sacks of grain and bundles of wood...not a king!
     Just a few days ago, we observed another royal procession as England's Prince William was married in a huge ceremony cheered-on by millions of people.  Although in a nod to the 21st century the participants rode to the church in limousines, they returned to the palace in royal coaches.  Her Majesty, the Queen, traveled back in one of the royal coaches with lots of mounted calvary units in attendance.  That's how a queen (or king) travels in ceremonial style!  It's always been that way...even back in Bible times when the Roman political leaders entered Jerusalem at Passover time.  They really "put-on-the-dog" to impress local people with their power and wealth:  and those attending soldiers who marched with the ruler, well, let's simply say...they made it very clear to the people WHO was in charge of things.  They protected and supported the one who had dominant control of the citizen's lives, means of income and the courts of justice.  Kings don't remove sacks of grain from the lowly beasts of burden and ride donkeys into the city!  But here the King of the Universe...the Creator God Incarnate in the human Jesus did just that.  Wow, what a suprise!  But...WHY was it done that way?  Was Jesus telling the people something different that what the Roman leader, Pilate, demonstrated as his magnificent procession entered Jerusalem by a different gate?  Is the message which Jesus "acted-out" that day still relevant to us in our current world?
     The Roman imperial procession into a city celebrated the peace and economic stability produced under its VIOLENT DOMINATION system.  In contrast, the God Incarnate/man Jesus, processed into Jerusalem in support of an inclusive and equalitarian social system made "JUST" (right) by love and compassion for all humankind.  This is the social system initiated by the creator God where in all humans could live in harmony with each other and the earth...bounty enough for all needs with no necessity for any person to hoard-up goods for himself and thereby dominate and reduce the value of another person.
     Jesus demonstrated God's equable way for life in contrast to the social pattern imposed by a violently greedy Roman system.  His entire life gave strong witness to the JUST and RIGHTFUL DISTRIBUTION of God's full bounty to earth.    From the moment of Jesus' birth, the good news of the Messiah's arrival was shared with ALL social classes from the lowly shepherds...inn-keepers and townsmen...visiting royal Magi...faithful Jews and foreigners.  He taught the Jews in their synagogue, preached to the common people on hillsides and ate meals with disenfranchised lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors and Samaritans.  Jesus' life and message revealed God's purpose for humanity and the NON-VIOLENT nature of a compassionate God in love with all humankind.
      But, is the message of Jesus still relevant for us today?  If Jesus were to process into our city today, would there exist a social system in conflict of his vision of a just human society?  Would Jesus have to demonstrate against a society supported by a violent military-industrial which allows children to go hungry...where people are separated into groups by radical and dominating forms of religious fundamentalism...hedonism...political and judicial corruption...sexism and gender-phobia????  Does our world operate under a social system IN CONFLICT with the system God ordained for the creation?
     Although there are various politico-social systems among modern nations, almost always there is a similar underlying acceptance of that Roman pattern which was the object of Jesus' protest...DOMINATION (and therefore subjugation of people) because of INDIVIDUAL GREED.  In such societies, the "few" want "most of the good things of life" at the expense of others not even having the necessities of life.  Modern society has permitted this violence done against others and the earth as "acceptable co-lateral damage" caused by our almost "drug-like" need to satisify individual greed.  Corporate, national and individual greed dominates modern life!  Yes, there are exceptions...individuals and small groups, scattered about, which try to operate a sub-culture more in nature with the harmony desired by Jesus' message.  But, I believe that we all realize that the "big picture" of modern life is "violently greed oriented".
     So, if Jesus were to process into our city today, would we be able to follow the witness of his life and support God's intended plan which JUSTLY (rightly) distributes the world's bounty to supply the needs of every human?  How can one, lonely individual do this?  How can we break-out of a greed dominated system?
     It is reported that Gandhi asked people "to live simply, so that all people could simply live".  He recognized that violent greed finds its origin in the INDIVIDUAL'S HEART.  Therefore, even societal greed can only be changed by the TRANSFORMATION of an individual's spirit and heart's desires.  Such greed can not be legislated-out-of-existence nor stopped by a superior's order.  The individual's heart must change...must become something new...must be redeemed and made right by the "just" love of God.  This was the message of Jesus to the people even as he rode into Jerusalem on that lowly donkey; and it remains the same message to each of us today!
     The Temple and Roman systems violently opposed this non-violent and just message of Jesus which they hoped could be silenced by killing Jesus on that cross.  Yet, God's purpose and message to the creation was not to be silenced by death.  God took death - that one aspect of human experience which seems all-powerful - and demonstrated by the resurrection of Jesus that God's plan for humanity will NOT be stopped by human violence or physical death.  The message of Christianity is that God wants ALL persons to experience a similar transformation of have a "heart-change" in response to Jesus' message of compassionate and inclusive love... to have a "heart resurrection" even now, today, as we live this life.  Such change of the individual's desires will alow that person's lifestyle to rightly reflect the good news and message of Christ.  That person, so transformed, can honor God's plan for humanity by "living simply, so ALL others can simply live".
     Be it ever so in our lives!

(1)  Matthew 21: 1-9,   Mark 11: 1-10,     Luke  19: 29-38.

Monday, April 4, 2011

On the Mountain of God, the Lord will Provide

Greetings and Blessings of Peace,


     While I was a member of the Society of St Francis, Br Leo Anthony frequently would be heard to say this phrase at moments of uncertainty or need.  As a community we had few resources for our daily needs and there were times of scarcity when we brothers felt particularly vulnerable or even in fear.  It was always then that Leo would remind us of that fundamental phrase which lies at the very core of Franciscan spirituality.  The "mountain of God" is where the Lord is found and  there one finds manifested the purpose, plan or will of God.  For our peace, all we have to do is to stay within the will and purpose of God ... and then watch as God LOVINGLY provides our daily needs.  That is DEPENDENCE on God !
     In a similar manner, we hear a story about St Francis and the early brotherhood as told by Br. Thomas Celano.  This passage comes from his second history of St Francis (Remembrance of the Desire of the Soul) which was written in 1245 almost 20 years after Francis' death.  By then the brotherhood had grown  into thousands of men scattered throughout all of Europe.  A large portion of these men did not want to maintain the standard of "holy poverty" which had been a core value of Francis.  As Celano tells this story, you can hear him remind these later brothers that Francis considered a life of "holy poverty" as a life lived within the VULNERABILITY OF DEPENDENCE UPON GOD'S LOVING PROVISION of our needs.  The task for the brothers was to "stay at the table of the Lord" ( continue dependently serving God's purpose) and not to stray into attempts at economic security INDEPENDENT from God's will.
         " While Francis and the brothers were staying in a hermitage near Rieti, a doctor used to visit Francis every day to treat his eyes.  One day Francis said to his brothers, "Invite the doctor to stay and give him the best to eat."    One brother answered him, "Father Francis, we're embarrassed to say this, but we are ashamed to invite him because right now we are so poor."  But Francis answered, "Do you want me to tell you again to do it?"  And the doctor who was nearby said: "Dear brothers, I would consider it a treat to share in your poverty."
         "The brothers hurried to place the WHOLE contents of their storehouse on the table: a little bread, and not much wine, and to make the meal more lavish, the kitchen provided a few beans.         (Meanwhile the "table of the Lord" took pity on the table of his servants.)          A person came knocking at the door and the brother answered it immediately.  It was a woman offering to them a basket filled with beautiful bread, loaded with fish and crab cakes, and with honey and grapes heaped on top.  The table of the poor brothers rejoiced at this sight, the cheap food was put away and the delicacies were eaten immediately." 
          "The doctor heaved a sigh and spoke to them saying:  Neither you brothers nor we lay people realize the holiness of Francis" and his wise DEPENDENCE upon God for all of your needs."  They were all sufficiently filled because " the miracle filled them with EVEN MORE than the food."   (1)         They realized the spiritual message provided along with the bountiful food. 
      The core Franciscan value of "holy poverty" is not about having nothing!     Rather it is all about our lifestyle being COMPLETELY accessible and vulnerable to God's love, will and providing hand.  That is dependency upon God!  The one, who follows Christ Jesus in their actions and prayers, has the assurance that God will provide the needs of their daily life either by their own labor or the loving gifts of others.  There is peace without the disturbance of anxiety and fear.  But Br Leo's phrase ("on the mountain of God, the Lord will provide")  has two parts to it.  OUR part is to stay on that mountain of God..stay and live within God's purpose for our life.  The second part of Leo's phrase...well,  that's the Lord's part of the equation.  God will provide what you need today.  (Keep in mind that our "wants" are always larger than our daily needs and may actually be inferior or counter-productive to the "health-full" needs supplied to us by God.) 
       Franciscan "holy poverty" is really a life style of DEPENDENCE upon God to LEAD and to PROVIDE as we give our lives to Christ!   Read the pericope of Jesus' teaching found in Matthew 6:25-33.      Meditate on verse 33 and its meaning for your life today!     "But strive first for the Kingdom of God and its righteousness" (the sphere of your life where God's will is recognized and done) "and all of these things" (that you need) "will be given to you as well."   

        God's blessings and Peace to each of you               Donald Luke

(1) Francis of Assisi, the Founder.  Early Document series Vol. II    Eds. Armstrong, Hellmann and Short, New City Press (NYC)  2000   p. 276.

The Spiritual Potato Sack Race

  Greetings to each of you,

     Several years ago while I was a first order brother in the Society of St Francis, I had a "street experience" which not only changed my life but also taught me a lesson about "mindfulness".  It happened as I walked up San Francisco's Market Street while wearing my Franciscan habit.  I was on my way to find a store in which I could buy a little gift for a newly-arrived grandchild.  Throughout my adult life I had a pattern of "fast paced" walking through crowded city streets.  Barreling along at break-neck speed, with my mind focused on possible gift suggestions, I plunged across an intersection.  In the midst of its confusion, I thought that I had heard someone, from behind me, call out to catch my attention.  What my mind perceived, above the "mind-noise" of gift buying, had been very faint - yet it had sounded real. By now the traffic flow had changed and I had to quickly finish crossing the intersection.  In the safety of the opposite curb-side, I turned-around to see if that faint voice was attached to any of those passers-by.  Cross traffic had resumed and there was a scurry of bobbing faces on that opposite side.  No one in that mob seemed to want anything except to move on their way.  Had the faint voice only been an electrical "misfire" in my brain or had someone monentarily wanted my presence in their life?  I didn't know.  I moved over to the relative safety of a building at that corner and had to ask myself the question.  Had some one reached-out for my help, only to realize disappointment by my busied state of "attention deafness" lack of mindfulness?
     You see, this was not one of those easy questions we some times ask ourselves.  I was in my Franciscan habit - a witness to my Christian mission in life.  I was supposed to be the one whom others could approach and ask for help...for prayer connection to God...for my compassion...for my attentive presence.  And I had failed to hear and respond to a possible request, the nature of which I will never know.  Maybe that person had been brought to that particular traffic crossing for the purpose of a helpful encounter with me?  I felt at a loss.  I had failed in this possible witness to God's love and care of someone in need.  This actually brought tears to my eyes.  Hunkered up against that building, I had to take a minute and tell my loving God that I was ashamed and sorry for my lack of attention to those around me.  It was necessary that I ask for God's forgiveness...and there, near that busy intersection of life, I made a promise to God...a promise to increase my attention to the call of humanity around me... a promise for a stronger "mindfulness" in my life. 
     A few weeks later this episode came back into my consciousness and, on that occassion, I had time to be "quiet with God" and let the Spirit speak more completely about it.  Strange enough, God's words to me were framed in a childhood memory.  I remembered some of the games which we children had played at parties and picnics...hide and seek and races of all sorts.  In particular, one race stood out in those memories.  Maybe you've also played it as a child?....a potato sack race.
     If its not part of your experience, let me explain it.  Its a race which involves several paired teams and the goal is achieved by the first team to reach the finish line.  The paired individuals each put one of their legs into a potato sack (or some type of bag).  Hanging on to each other and holding up the loose bag with the leg in it, the team walks, hops, runs...or whatever...toward the finish line.  Not so easy!  If the kids are savvy, they soon realize that it is best to TAKE SOME TIME and not to rush the race.  Also they realize that only ONE OF THE TEAM MEMBERS should command the speed and direction of movement.  There must be coordination of the "bagged legs" or confusion and a probable fall will result.  It's also necessary that each member of the team "hang-on" to each other for dear life.  You see, the successful technique requires TOTAL ATTENTION to the "dominant" racer's movement and plan.  You can not be "attention deaf" and thinking about the first place prize.  You must be fully mindful to your partner and their every movement during the race.
     In my meditation upon this memory, I heard God's Spirit clearly say to me,..."Donald, when you walk through life each day with Christ Jesus, imagine that the two of you are in a potato sack race toward a divine purpose.  Christ has placed one of his legs in that bag and now offers to you the opportunity to place one of your legs in there too.  Hanging tightly onto Christ and pulling the bag up, the two of you can go forth to do God's work in the world.  But remember, you are not the dominant leg in that bag!  Your task is to be constantly ATTENTIVE to every movement of Christ and to imitate it by following in an exact manner.  Let Christ establish the speed and direction of your path and when ever Christ wishes to stop and relate to someone along this path, you must also stop and participate in God's work with that person."
     A vibrant Christian life, similar to the needs of that potato sack race, requires our constant attention (mindfulness) to each movement of the Spirit in our life.
     My prayer for you is..."Lord, each day as I walk with you, keep me always mindful that I must walk at YOUR PACE...not my own.  And let me rejoice with you every time you stop to love and care for some one along today's life-path."  Amen

God's blessings to each of you and peace            Donald Luke

Monday, March 21, 2011

Jesus' Golden Rule

Greetings to each of you
                                                      The Golden Rule of Jesus
     We're now in the early days of another Lenten season which causes us to reflect on the quality and nature of our relationship with God and all humanity.  In the church's liturgy and prayers, we are reminded of our failings and need for forgiveness.  Often the Psalms for Lent speak of our need to live within the framework of God's commandments...the Law.  But many people say, "that's too hard...there are too many can I ever do that?"
     In Jesus' great "Sermon on the Mount" (Matthew 5-7), he taught the principles which should guide our relationships.  In verse-after-verse, he developed a framework for our interactions with others.  Then in Matthew 7:12, he laid down the KEY with which we can obey God's law in our relationships with fellow humans..   "In everything do to others as you would have them do to you, for this is (God's) Law and the prophet's" (teaching).   In this verse Jesus distilled all of God's law and guidance for human relationships.
     But was this guidance "something new" from God?   Doesn't it sound like the "golden rule" of behavior which was taught by other faith leaders?
                   Confucius (551-479 BCE)..."Do not unto others what you would not have them do unto you."
                   Buddha (470-390 BCE)..."Hurt not others with that which pains yourself or in ways that you yourself would find hurtful."
                   Lao Tzu, founder of Taoism (604 BCE)..."Rejoice at the success of others, and sympathize with their reverses, even as though you were in their place."
                   Rabbi Hillel, a contemporary of Jesus summed the Jewish thought as..."What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow humans."
     So, a person might say that Jesus was simply asking his followers to obey an older rule of behavior for all human relationships.  Is there anything new in Jesus' teaching?  If I follow the ancient "golden rule" to do good to others, I am the judge of what I believe is "good".  Is my love for others always of the same quality?  Maybe, my "good" is more empoverished toward one person and richer to another?  Can I judge my love toward one person to be "adequate" even if it is inferior to the level of love I show others?  In that situation my personal desire can control and throttle my level of love to various people.
     However, when Jesus told his followers "to do to others as you would have them do to you", he made HIS LIFE and MINISTRY the EXAMPLE of how he defined the little verb, "do".  He taught those who follow him that we should "do to others" as Jesus did to Jesus accepted Jesus loved others.
     Toward the last days of Jesus' life, he taught his followers a more PROFOUND meaning of his earlier phrase, "do unto others", when he told them that the verb "do" is a manifestation of LOVE.     "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another.  Just as I have loved you, you should love one another.  By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you HAVE LOVE FOR ONE ANOTHER."  (John 13:34-35 NSRV).  In the middle of this verse, there is a short sentence which settles the problem about my ability to judge how much love to much care to give others.  Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment that you love one another,  JUST AS I HAVE LOVED YOU, you should love one another".  It is no longer MY judgment about the "goodness of what to do" or the amount of love to be shown to others.  My love and care for others should follow the pattern of Christ's love which I HAVE EXPERIENCED.
     Here Christ raised the ethical level of this "revised golden rule".  The example of Jesus' love to others was always...
                                                  appropriately intense,
                                                  rightly directed
                                                  and available to all others (inclusive).
As a follower of Christ, this must be the pattern for my loving and caring relationships with all others!  No longer do I have the judgmental role which gauges the degree of appropriate "loving or doing".  I am to love others as Christ has loved me!  Now if that doesn't force me to my knees before God, praying for added love and strength, I don't know what it might take!  The Lenten season provides the opportunity for introspection to recognize that, in my love for God, I want to live more perfectly within the divine standards for all my human relationships.  Yet, as a human I realize that I can not do this alone.  It is essential that the Christ Spirit within each of us empower us to live according to the example of Jesus.  During Lent we make ourselves more vulnerable and open to God's work to create in us this divine love and to re-define our soul walk reflecting Jesus' amplification of the old "golden rule". 
     It is my prayer that each of us will use this season to honestly expose our hearts and minds to the Christ Spirit which will cleanse us...instruct us...stregthen and bless us in our spiritual journey.
God's peace and blessing to each of you,                           Donald Luke

Monday, March 7, 2011

Undeviating Constancy

January 11, 2011

     Many years ago while attending the University of Iowa, I took a course to study the Hebrew Bible which was taught by a visiting Jewish theologian, Leo Schwarz.  It was an interesting experience and from it I continue to reflect on his thought about the single most powerful word in the Old Testament writings.  In
Dr. Schwarz's view, it was the Hebrew word which is translated in English as  STEADFAST.  On almost every page of the Scriptures, we can find evidence of God's steadfast love, care and covenant with humanity.
     Now, steadfast is not a word which usually falls off of the tongue and to many modern listeners, it is an unusual word with a cloudy meaning.  My dictionary claims that this word means "fixed or steady in direction but chiefly is used to indicate an UNDEVIATING CONSTANCY or RESOLUTION".  (1)   At the beginning of a new year, it's a good time to think about this word and its implication to our spiritual lives and our ministry to other people.
     "I am resolved to follow Jesus" is a song phrase that speaks of our heart's desire to enter this new year in a state of deeper and more committed relationship to Christ and his service.  But we all recognize that it is easier to sing the words of a song than it is to live-them-out moment by moment.  God may bring  into our lives a special opportunity for loving service and the Holy Spirit may call upon us, as Christ's disciples, to act upon this situation.  In our desire to be responsive to God, we may enter this service opportunity in whatever manner which meets the need.  But sometimes the need is not fulfilled in a moment's time nor even in several of our interactions over a few days.  This is particularly true when God asks us to become loving support to another person in emotional, spiritual or physical need.  Often this type of Christian service to others is prolonged and complicated by factors that we can not fully control.  It is easy to become frustrated, tired or just-plain fearful as we continue our God-directed support to such an individual.  As our frustrations increase, it becomes more and more difficult to maintain constancy in our loving Christian support.  And it may require personal time, strength and resources which we fear may become depleted or simply inadequate for the task.  Yet, we are called to be "steady in our resolution" for service.   But, HOW??....
     First, I believe that it is important that we CLEARLY HEAR the divine wish which the Holy Spirit makes apparent to us.  A soldier responds to his commander's orders, but only those  orders directed to that particular soldier.  Sometimes we assume a task which was not directed to us.  It doesn't hurt your relationship with God if you ask God to affirm or clarify in your spirit the nature of what you are to do.  And in the same prayer, you can ask for the right opportunity, adequate resources and sufficient courage and love to complete the service. 
     The next matter for you to realize is that God will not send you out alone to do the divine work, but rather, God will always be with you in the task.  It is God's love, compassion and wisdom IN and WITH YOU which will be manifested in the service as you and God BOTH do the work.  If God is the primary "mover" of this work which engages both of you, never fear that there will be insufficient love, opportunity and resources for the task.  God adequately provides!  As you engage with the person-in-need, try to be a "vessel" or "channel" for the Holy Spirit in you to flow forth in words, care and wisdom.  Now, that may sound a little "too religious" and like jargon.  But it is a fact that the Holy Spirit is present in a Christian and is adequate for any given task.  Relax and let God's presence be expressed!
     We all wish that the other person's needs could be "fixed" with a simple word, smile or deed.  But unfortunately, often that is not the case.  Here is the place where the consistent and steadfast nature of Christian service is important.    The problems related to the other one's needs may be complex and multidimensional.  Oh, and did I forget to mention that often people don't respond well to help or become fearful and withdraw from your interaction.  Yet, does that mean that God "gives up on them and walks away" allowing them to struggle alone?  No, that is not the nature of God.  God wants to struggle onward to help them and God NEEDS YOU  to be the physical agent for such steadfast, continued service to the individual. 
     The degree of "success" which BOTH you and God have in this service interaction depends upon the other person's free will to accept this help or change behavior.  Neither God nor you can force their decision.  And when this type of relational interaction becomes stalemated by unresolved blocks, it is easy for us to want to walk away from the task to which God called us.  But, I remind you that God's Spirit can be " quietly persistent" in ministry to us humans.  Often it persists by the means of our STEADFAST out-reach to that person.  In such a situation, it may be necessary for God to "whisper" to the individual and, therefore, we must "tone-down"  or reduce some of our effort;  but it is important that we not give-up in our effort to reach the other one in need.  There is a variable degree of urgency expressed in the nature of the Holy Spirit's communication with us.  Sometimes, God seems to shout at us to serve the needs of someone, while at other times the Spirit quietly whispers the message to us.   And certainly in those times, we must persist in steadfast, even if quiet, effort to help.
     Our task is only to follow the Divine Commander's orders.  WHEN, HOW and IF the ministry succeeds is not fully in or control.  Many stories in the life and ministry of Jesus illustrate these principles and should remind us that "success" is not always an immediate or recognized matter. I hope that this reflection will be helpful to you as you initiate (or continue previous)  ministries with God's children-in-need.
         "Glory to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine." (2)

(1) Random House College Dictionary, revised 1975
(2) a closing statement from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer

Praying in those 'Odds & Ends' Moments of Life

Feb 3, 2011

Greetings to you all,
                                         Meditative Prayers
     In your busy life, do you sometimes find yourself wishing for some extra time for quiet meditation about the mystery and wonders of God?  Maybe you've bought a book of daily devotions and soon discovered that successful use of it demands that you develop a SPECIFIC time period to read it.  After such disciplined study, you feel better about your spiritual walk.  However, there are other times during your work-a-day world when you'd like to "re-charge" your spiritual batteries but don't have the devotional material with you or the "window of opportunity" may be rather brief.  Other times may be times of tedious activity like the commute home from work or short periods of waiting for someone or something to occur.  Instead of just letting your mind wander into day dreams, this is a great "little opportunity" for meditative prayer.
     So, what is this type of prayer?  One way to describe it would be the use of a short, memorized prayer which you EXPAND as you say it...phrase by phrase.  An easy place to begin is with the Lord's Prayer (the Our Father).  If you haven't memorized it, this is a good time to start.  (You may plead that it is hard for you to memorize things but I'd just remind you of how many passwords, phone numbers, etc. you  can produce in an instant's notice!)  The Lord's Prayer has several versions, so it is best to choose one version to memorize.  Write it on a piece of paper or card which can be placed in your pocket, wallet or on the dash board of your car.  Carefullly read it for the purpose of memory several times each day and in a short time you'll have all of it (or at least parts of it) committed to memory.  It's really not that difficult.
     In the early years of the Franciscan brotherhood, many of the men who joined Francis were not educated and could not read from the Gospel Book or the daily office of prayers.  Francis often had them pray the Lord's Prayer in place of the standard monastic prayers for morning prayer, vespers,etc.  And it happens that Francis sometimes taught them some "expanded phrases" added to the prayer's lines.  I've placed his "expansions" in parentheses.
              "O Our Father"   ( our Creator..Redeemer..Consoler)
              "Who are in heaven"   (with the angels and departed saints)
              "Holy be Your Name"  (may knowledge of You and your Name become clearer in us, teaching us about your characteristics ..your promises, blessings and your majesty).          (1)

     Do you see what he did?  Francis took a short phrase or even a word from the prayer and let his mind meditate about it.  As his mind expanded on the phrase (or word), additional spiritual insight or thoughts of the Divine worship and praise entered his consciousness and his speech.  This is not a corruption of some "holy" prayer, but rather, it allows the memorized prayer to become the "backbone" support for your spontaneous, associated thoughts and praises toward God.  During these brief interludes of time, you may meditate on only one word or a few of the lines of the prayer.  That's OK!  The words which were used from the memorized prayer have well served your spiritual growth by lifting into consciousness other words or praises which heighten your attention and relationship to God.
     A personal example often  used by me originates from the final doxology line of the Lord's Prayer which is..."For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory forever. Amen"    I often meditate on this prayer line in the following manner.       "For You, O God, reign (are, continue to be) in the glory which is the power (of your love, your steadfast and merciful love, your loving all-goodness). Amen (be it ever so, Amen)."
     As I meditate even on these few words from that prayer line, I often get "hung-up" in thought about the ecstasy of that GLORY which is characteristic of God...or how God's love is so steadfast in comparison to my love...or God being "all-goodness" with no shadow of less-than-perfect, whole goodness.  ((The phrase that God is "all-Goodness"  is very much a part of Franciscan spirituality and is a phrase often spoken by Francis.))
     By now I hope that you have  a fair idea of this spiritual experience of "meditative prayer".  I have suggested use of the Lord's Prayer as a good starting point for your introduction to this devotional practice for those "little moments" throughout the day.  But I append here two more prayers which can be richly used in this same way.

         Our love prayer of Adoration to Christ Jesus....
     "Both here in my heart and in the hearts of believers throughout the world, O Christ Jesus, I bless and adore you.  Because of your Incarnation,  your Life and Ministry,  and your Death and Resurrection, you have revealed God to me,  you have redeemed me for God   and you draw me unto God.  Blessed be your Holy Name, Christ Jesus, my Redeemer and my Lord."

        An adaptation of a prayer composed by Cardinal Newman
     " Dear Jesus, help me to spread your sweet fragrance everywhere I go.  Flood my soul with your spirit and life.  Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that my life may be only a radiance of your life.     Shine through me and be so in me, that every soul with whom I come into contact may feel your presence in my soul.    Let them look up and see not me but only you, Jesus, and give you glory.  Stay with me and then I will begin to shine as you shine;  so to share as to be a light to others through me.  Let me preach you without preaching, not by words but by my example, by the catching force, the symphathetic influence of what I am, the evident fullness of the love my heart bears for you."

     It is my hope that you will fill your moments of tedium and waiting with this spiritual exercise rather than simply "putting your mind into neutral" and drifting into day dreams.
(1) "Prayer inspired by the Our Father" in Francis of Assisi-Early Documents, vol I, eds. Armstrong, Hellmann and Short, New City Press, NYC, 1999, p.158.

Peace to all! Donald Luke

Francis Embraces A Stranger

Feb 23, 2011

Greetings to all,
      "EVERY GOOD FRIEND WAS ONCE A STRANGER" -Steve Barry, The Paris Vendetta, 2009

     Try to disprove that statement!  It's always true...but unfortunately, most of the time we are not consciously aware of the INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY which it opens up to our lives.  In our life experience we quickly learn to identify individuals as either "like-us" or "not-like-us"  and we are taught to be suspicious of those who are out-side of our charcteristics and values.  Humans have always been fear-filled and cautious toward those who were different in skin color, language, culture, religion,etc.  However, when adults reflect back over their lives, most of us find that we have enjoyed good friendship and loving support from individuals who, strange enough, would have fit into our earlier perception of someone "unlike-us".  But through some event in our lives, we successfully related with each other in a meaningful way which disregarded our differences.  Yes, these differences continued to exist in each of us, but they were ACCEPTED; and any earlier fears related to them were neutralized by the good qualities of our relationship.  Thus a friendship was created even though both individuals came into it with many personal differences.
     The life of St. Francis was filled with many friendly relationships which developed with people whose characteristics were very different from those of the Saint.  Yet, he could always call them "brother or sister" and friend because Francis EMBRACED them as individuals who were lovingly created by the same God who had created him.  In Francis' mind, these differences were suppressed by their commonalty as part of the Divine creation.  In modern times, the blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta would frequently say that when she looked upon a sick or dying person - whether Hundu, Muslim or Christian - she could always see the same face...the face of the suffering Christ. 
     Fear related to our differences can be neutralized if we recognoze that we and the "other-one" are all part of the great Web of Life.    
                    All created by the same loving God....
                    All woven together to relate in harmony within a "cosmic tapestry" which glorifies the Creator.
     But in that cosmic tapestry of life, our "life thread" must connect to other threads...must interact with and rest peacefully with other that the great universal plan for which God created us can be realized and "held-together" as a beautiful and colorful work.
     In the 21st century, we live in a world which has experienced enormous change within just a few decades.  Our world has become a small, blue ball within a huge universe; and from that perspective no national boundries are seen.  Global transportaion and communication bring people of "any and all" cultures into "neighbor-like" existence and potential relationship.  Yet, this global shrinking does not remove from each of us those cultural,ethnic and religious differences.  The great question for this century is whether or not we, who have collided together in this globalization, will continue to behave as if we are strangers to each other...locked in a pattern of separation, fearful distrust, and ignorance of each other's values.  Our only option to such a dismal end will be found as we embrace opportunities to learn about each other, discover "common ground", and interact with each other in a meaningful manner.
     As followers of Christ Jesus, it should be easy for us to appreciate the necessity of universal brother(sister)hood because we, like Francis, understand that the one God created all of us.  But unfortunately the ego-protective behaviors, which are fear and separation based, are strongly placed into our awareness during childhood.  Therefore, we must ACTIVELY seek ways to over-come these fears which produce separation and make strangers of others. 
     Ironically this same globalization process has made more readily attainable ONE portion of the solution.  Communication and relaiable information about the various human cultures, religions and beliefs are available via media, books, cultural performances, etc.  But these opportunities for better understanding still require another element for problem solution.  And that, my friends, is  OUR INDIVIDUAL WILLINGNESS to enter into dialogue with the stranger and embrace them.  As we begin to appreciate our commonalty with each other, it is then that we can embrace each other - not as strangers - but as potential friends and fellow creations of God.
     As Christians we acknowledge that God created EACH OF US ...each of us in ALL of our variations, cultures, beliefs, and characteristic backgrounds.
              Part of that Divine Love, which is is essence of God, was given to ALL OF HUMANITY in all of its variations.
                        The FACE of the suffering Christ is visible in EVERY HUMAN FACE - even those distorted by pain and sin...and even those which at first look strange to us.
     The loving acceptance which we have already experienced from God should become OUR EXAMPLE to embrace others.  That compassionate and Grace-filled love, which Christ first expressed toward us, is like a GREAT RIVER whose "loving waters" must not be dammed-up and restricted only to us.  As St. Francis threw open his heart to embrace the whole of creation, may we also strive to become more accepting and loving of those around us who are different in culture and value...Maybe some of those strangers will become our friends!

God's Peace and Love to each of you!          Donald Luke

Working With The Best

March 3, 2011

                           "It is not the religious act that makes a Christian,  but it is participation in the suffering of Christ in the life of the world."   (Bonhoeffer)

     I'm frequently amazed by the results of opinion polls which seem to litter the news and talk shows on the media.  In some of these surveys, the respondent categories are divided by religious affiliation.  Have you ever wondered what is required to check the category box marked "Christian" for these polls?  I'm sure that many of these respondents believe that occasional church attendance is adequate to be named as a Christian by our cultural standards.  But it would be more productive for our spiritual lives (and the society in which we live) if GOD's standards were used to determine the label "Christian".
     The adjective "Christian" implies that the individual has chosen to live in a manner which reflects the life example of Christ Jesus who called people to leave their "culturally normal" lifestyle and to follow his example.  And what was the living example of Jesus?  Sure, he attended synagogue services, and participated in the Jewish feasts and rituals...but he also spent his life in COMPASSIONATE service to those who were poor, sick, lost and socially out-cast.  It's true that not every person to whom Jesus ministered was poor or an out-cast.  However, they all had deep personal and spiritual needs from which they suffered greatly.  In fact, when followers of John the Baptist came to Jesus and asked "Who he was?", Jesus defined himself by the nature of his compassionate care for the poor and sick.
                   ..."John the Baptist summoned two of his disciples and sent them to ask"...(if Jesus was the promised Messiah for Israel) and when they came to Jesus..."he had just then cured many people of diseases...and Jesus answered them, Go and tell John what you have seen and heard:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them."            (Luke 7:18-22    NSRV)
     Jesus did not define himself as as a "religious superhero" sent by God to Israel.  Rather, his spiritual role was understood by his ministry to those suffering and in great need.  Christ, the Messiah from God, stooped and bent down to get into the midst of the suffering poor... to be WITH THEM  and to bless them with healing and comfort..  His action toward them was a loving expression of his "com-passion"...with them in their suffering.
     The quotation from Bonhoeffer which started this reflection was written in the early 1940s in a Germany marching deeply into war.  The Nazi war machine was creating unbelievable levels of suffering and destruction while German protestants and catholics were quietly ignoring the chaos around them.  It was a time when men like Dietrich Bonhoeffer cried out to their fellow German Christians that church attendance or a nominal "label  of Christian" was inadequate to be a follower of the compassionate Christ.
     It's very easy for us to look back on that dark time in Christian Europe's history, when the witness of Christ was severely dimmed by human fear and the effort focused on self-interest and self-preservation.  However, even today I believe that it would be valid for we American Christians to hear and respond to Bonhoeffer's cry to awaken to the FULL MINISTRY of Christ in this current world.  Our worship of Christ Jesus is INADEQUATE if we do not CO-PARTICIPATE WITH CHRIST in ministry to fellow suffering humans in our nation and in the world.    How can we Christians quietly ignore the political and social forces which fail to alleviate the causes of so much poverty, pain and human suffering?  In future years our generation of Christians may be judged to be as "spiritually weak" as that earlier generation of German Christians.
                         How will our Christian life be described?   Will we be able to respond to those who ask about our faith by letting them witness our "co-ministry" with Christ to the poor, suffering and lost around us?...or will they see our witness to be a "shadow ministry" without involvement (com-passion) in the relief of human suffering? 
                         There's no doubt where Christ can be found in our may be in our churches but you can stake your eternal life  on the fact that Christ is still found in ministry to the poor, sick, homeless and out-casts!   Where will you be found?
    "It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but it is PARTICIPATION in the suffering of Christ in the life of this world."    (from Bonhoeffer's chapter (p.656) in Ethik, ed Heinz Todt, 1940.)