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