Monday, December 31, 2012

When Verbs Matter

     New Year's Eve Day   2012.......
Within a few more hours many people will be donning their party hats, hoot and holler and welcome in the new year 2013!  Here's one the the early questions to which they will be asked to respond.
"What's your new year's resolution?"
"ugh...I guess that ...I will resolve to....."????   
Here's an occasion when a good form of the verb is a very valuable lesson.  Even if you select a great area of life improvement, you would be in better standing to select the best verb form.  Rather than..."I resolve to..."    I'd suggest that you phrase it this way....."I am resolving to...".
     Why????  My verb solution for you is in the present progressive form of the verb and that form offers meaning to the idea which may help you accomplish your goal in 2013 and in ALL following years.  This verb form implies an action which you are now doing and will continue to do into the future.  It indicates progression of action, not just a short "trial ballon" for the action; but rather a commitment to continue the action into the unknown and distant future of living.  This implies that you're willing to start the action NOW (before you forget that you made it or its significance) and that you're not going to let go of your desire to continue acting in this new manner. 
     Anyone who desires a deeper spiritual life must begin that path with a verb formated in this special tense.  God calls all humanity to a closer and more intimate walk within the desires of the Divine One.  But the task is not accomplished as a "knee-jerk" type of immediate action and then it's done.  No, it takes a life time to walk properly with God!   That's what the latin verb "conversio" implies.  It indicates that one resolves to live NOW and into the distant future a different (or converted) lifestyle.  This is the life change which Jesus and John the Baptist demanded of those who wanted to listen to their message and follow its principles. 
     Now then, I'd ask you..."What are you resolving to do in 2013?"
     If you desire a deeper walk with God, the starting point must be to pay more attention to the Divine One's presence in your life.  It's just like living with someone whom you love.   If you don't give them adequate attention each day, the relationship will fail.  Make more space...more time for your relationship with God each day.  That's hard in our ever busy world so filled with distractions and demands, but it's essential.  And that's where "conversio" comes into the picture.  Your resolution to give more quiet attention to the presence of God in your life is a "continuing  and progessive" expression of your resolution to change.  We all have 24 hours each day (2013 will not change that);  surely we can give 15 - 30 minutes each day in quiet attention to the voice and presence of God in our lives!  We don't have to fill that time with Scripture reading or prayerful talk; rather just sit quietly and sense that God is sitting right next to you.  I bet that very soon you'll be talking and listening to each other; attending to the hopes and needs of each other and communicating your love.  And if you phrased that resolution in the present progressive tense, you'll understand that this change will continue long into the future and be progressive, growing, maturing, and expanding into the spiritual lifestyle which God desires for you. That's what "conversio" is all about.  It's a life changing resolution.   So why waste a good new year's resolution on some junky choice that is quickly forgotten and of little importance when you can respond to that question by saying..."I am resolving to spend 15 - 30 minutes of quiet attention with my beloved Lord each day".

Monday, September 24, 2012

"Let There Be Harmony" - It's more than a fortune cookie message

     You don't hear the word HARMONY used very often.  If someone is asked to add some harmony and peace to their busy life, it's very possible that he might first seek a Chinese restaurant or cheap spa!  But...Harmony - that peaceful, accepting, caring co-existence among living ones - is the basis of a life "well-lived"...a human life in obedience to the will of God.  For God's plan for the creation is not one of domination, greed and discord, but rather one of peaceful and loving interactions.
     Harmony can't exist without a RELATIONSHIP which is more than the superficial acknowledgment of co-existence.
     The SOURCE of harmony can not be an external code of "good behavior" - careful language and smile.
     The true ROOT of harmony lies within the inner-self... the intention of our soul.
     It is our DESIRE to live the full human experience in a manner which honors the Creator.  Whenever we live without harmony, we are disobedient to God.
      One of the vows (promises) made by Cathedral of Hope Franciscans is:   "Recognizing that God created everyone a part of the "web of life", we vow to live in HARMONY and to be PEACE-MAKERS with all of creation."
     When St Francis lovingly spoke of Brother Sun and Sister Water, he acknowledged a spirit of harmony with these elements of creation.  And with his fellow villagers and the Muslem Sultan, Francis always related in a manner of peace, harmony and good-will.  In each of our relationships, we have the opportunity to find harmony...deep "alive harmony" rather than "fortune cookie superficial" harmony.  But to accomplish this goal. we have to keep our soul's intention directed to that "place of peace" in every relationship and trust that God's Spirit will guide and help us.
     Before I wrote these thoughts, I sat on my balcony, quiet and ready to say evening prayers;  looking at a clear blue sky and several near-by pots of herbs...rosemary and basil.  My vision fell on the top of a juicy stem of young basil where a fat little grasshopper sat - very quiet - probably trying to avoid my notice.  But I too sat quietly...watching.  And then my little - new - friend's head started bobbing among those tender leaves.  I guess that any fear it might have first experienced in our encounter had vanished because its mouth parts chewed away on that tender leaf...front legs holding and pulling more leaf its way.  From time-to-time, I enjoyed the sweet aromatic smell of a broken leaf...smell to me but great food to it.
     "Go ahead, Brother Grasshopper, eat all you want.  There's plenty of leaves on this plant - enough to satisfy both you and me.  That little plant has provided plenty for both of us.  We can live in harmony and enjoy this basil plant which is "your world" but still part of my world too."
      I finished my evening prayers while those tiny jaws continued chomping down on more leaves. 
This is living together in PEACE.          This lets both of us live together in JOY.          This is living in HARMONY with the world around us.    This is LIFE in harmony with the Creator's plan.

     ( I wonder if my little Brother Grasshopper would like a slice of juicy red tomato too...I think that basil and tomato were created by God to be eaten together............)
               Peace and Shalom in your life

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

"to witness..."

A Christian's most powerful witness to Christ is not written in ink nor clever argument, but rather in humble sweat and love.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

"Come, Let's be Intimate..."

     I must admit that I have a greater "understanding" of the nature of God than how the internet works, the power of computer code or how massive amounts of data can be stored on a tiny chip.
     I suggest that this phenomenon relates to my personal EXPERIENCE  with these "events".  I've used the internet and have saved photo albums on tiny plug-in chips, but I don't have any actual experience writing code, building mother boards or seaching the innards of a mainframe server.  Of such matter - I don't have a clue!   But I have had a long and deeply involved experience in relationship with God.  In fact, I can say that God has allowed me to experience significant levels of INTIMACY with the Divine Being:  times when God has revealed much of the Divine purpose and character.  All of this is existential; it's all through my life experience with the Divine.  This is how God chooses to reveal God-self.  It is a process of living-experience, reflection and communication.  And this wonderful, intimate relationship is absolutely initiated by God. I can't demand that God self-reveal and become intimate with me, but God wishes to do that very thing!  In fact, that is key to God's purpose in creating me...creating you and all of this universe.  From the first step of creation, God has always chosen to be in relationship - in intimate, caring closeness - with all of humanity.  My only possible choice in this matter is to take  time to become aware of this "God choice", to hear God's invitation, and enter into this intimate realtionship.
     For such an intimate relationship to exist,  both must walk-life-together in bare honesty and revelation of self.  God can be counted-on to "do" God's part in this revelation; I must struggle each day to bare my full humanity, emotions, needs, desires, strengths and weaknesses into that self revelation with the Divine.  And as I continue this journey into ever-greater intimacy with God, I wish to respond to this awesome Divine disclosure by making my life choices, desires and action SIMILAR to those which characterize the God with whom I intimately live.  Maybe you now recognize why humanity often chooses to perceive that the Absolute Divine Being exists "out there somewhere", "the ole man up there" while "I'm down here".  This is nothing but a human attempt to create DISTANCE between itself and God.  It's an attempt to ignore the God-desire for intimacy with each of us.  Such "distancy talk" flies in the face of God's plan for the creation.
     This experience of "getting to know God", this intimate realtionship of the Divine Creator with each person was made POSSIBLE when God breathed the spark of divine communion into the lives of those early homo sapiens creating the "spiritual bridge" between us and the Creator:  later it was made TANGIBLE when Jesus spoke the words..."Come, follow me".  (1)      When God's Spirit whispers those words into my ear...into your ear, it is God's INVITATION for each of us to enter this relationship of intimacy with our Creator  and to walk day-by-day with God...growing, loving and giving thanks for those blessed words of invitation.  But we can choose to distance or limit the intimacy of this relationship by sticking our fingers into our ears and becoming deaf to God's call, or by filtering downward the sound by the drone of our "busy life".  However, we can choose to live with our ears  and eyes widely open to that Divine call to .."Come, walk with your life fully in my intimate embrace".   The choice is personal and unavoidable.  God invites each of us to "Come and let's live in an intimate realtionship!"
(1) Matthew 4:19   (A tiny, yet powerful Gospel verse upon which to meditate... reflecting on what it would say to all of your life, time, hopes and desires.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Once Upon A Transfusion...

    Last evening I had a very novel and powerful experience which I want to share with you....
Some of you may know that in the past few months I have had periods of increasing fatigue.  An anemia was diagnosed for which a monthly vitamin B12 shot was prescribed; however, there was a slow progression of the anemia accompanied by an even greater level of fatigue.  But then last Friday night "it" really hit me...shortness of breath, dizzyness and exhaustion upon doing anything other than quiet sitting.  This physical "wipe-out" precipitated a visit to the Baylor Hospital emergency room where I was told that my level of blood hemogloblin concentration was about one half of that which it had been most of my life.  Let me tell you that when your "tank" is half empty of oxygen-carrying blood cells, you don't move around very much!  Monday, I was blessed to be able to get to a hematologist.  The "why" for the significant anemia is still unknown and more studies will probably be necessary but intervention was possible.  I was "waddled' across the street to another hospital building, plopped into a great big chair, and (after an appropriate waiting period to type and cross-match) was infused with a unit of blood.  Whereas I had weakly walked into the Infusion Unit, several hours later, I walked out with strength and a normal breathing pattern.  I felt like a "new" who now had a "blood tank" which could be calibrated on the "near-to-full" side than my previous low readings.
     As I drove home from the hospital, I thanked God for the little transformative miracle which had given back to me my usual vigor.  It was then that I started to sense something very new - yet also very profound and complex.  In my newly found strength, breath and joy, I sensed the living presence of someone else in my own body...a living presence cruising along the complex pattern of blood me the support and oxygen nourishment that was needed by my muscles and brain.
     Now this may seem a little spooky or crazy - and I immediately realized that.  But it is true that now, in the blood volume which nourishes and cares for me, there exists someone else's life-giving force and blood.  Someone whom I will never know...never meet...never get to thank.  This other person may or may not be like me.  We may have many differences relative to gender, race, age, education, language, religion and cultural background; but we do share the greatest of all common gifts.  This person and I were both created into the universal brother/sisterhood of humanity by a loving God!  This other person, whom I'll never get to thank, had shared her (his?) love and respect for our common God-given humanity by donating some of their own living blood as a compassionate support to an "unknown other" - who turned-out to be me.  For the next couple of months while their red blood cells circulate in my body, we will be "brother-humans" who are connected by the deep mystery of the Divine's loving gift of life to all humanity.
     St Francis recognized this universal brother/sisterhood of all humanity (although without the transfusion experience), because  he clearly saw that in the divine creation of each person there exists the love and purpose of God.  The Psalms tell us that "we are all the sheep of God's flock"...we are all the created children of God.  Our differences are very superficial; we all share in our common humanity this basic truth that we EQUALLY belong to God. 
     It pains me that I have to write of this other person in such a non-specific manner as "other".  They have demonstrated their love for humanity in such a significant manner that I should be able to reach-out and thank them face to speak of their proper human identity and name.  But I guess that I'll have to simply say a special prayer of thanks to God for them and their God-given love for humanity.  I will also pray for renewed and strengthened love for ALL of God's created humanity to be reflected in all areas of my own life.  And like St Francis' example, I'll simply call that life-giving red blood presence now within Sister.
     Thanks be to God!                    Peace and love to all.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

"Similar but Different" Franciscan Formation #2

     In Donald Spoto"s book, The Reluctant Saint, he speaks of the historical context in which            St Francis lived.  "Ordinary or extraordinary, every life is simultaneously enriched and limited by historical circumstances; it is, therefore, impossible to comprehend the achievement and struggles...of any life without reference to the context of its immediate past...if St Francis had been completely dissociated from the world of his time (13th century Italy), he could never have had so profound an influence upon it." (1)   European history of the 12th and 13th centuries is filled with swirling and dynamic social change.  The continent had begun to arouse from the ignorant and impoverished years of feudal social structure of the preceding Dark Ages.  Both Francis and Clare were favored by living in the city of Assisi which was actively involved in this progressive stream of consciousness and both were born to families of economic and social privilege.  With such opportunities available to them, they could have enjoyed an expanding lifestyle of independence and wealth.
     We, 21st century secular Franciscans, inhabit a world swirling with conflict and change very similar to that which Francis experienced.  Our society wrestles with progress which challenges the status quo of governmental and religious authority, social value and morals, economic systems and a cascade of expanding information and scientific findings in the midst of a shrinking planet of human globalization.  But in all such periods of human history, the revelation of God's love and purpose toward the whole creation has sought to be heard and be acknowledged in the lifestyle of each person.  Francis and Clare discovered that "voice of God" for their lives and, in their response, we may discover ways to respond to the Divine Presence in each of our lives.
     Francis would not have wished that those who follow his Christian lifestyle be known by the designation of "Franciscan".  Yet we call ourselves "secular Franciscans" because we utilize examples from his life to help "flesh-out" a manner of living which reflects the teachings of Jesus Christ.  We seek to follow the Gospel pattern of love and ministry which can be expressed in our 21st century social context.  Francis' ultimate desire was to fully experience Jesus in his life and ministry.  As followers of Jesus, this also should be our greatest desire and the foundation upon which our lives are built.
     Upon reading the stories about Francis, it becomes obvious that the saint was a little man with a large and open heart; one filled with love and compassion for all creation around him.  Yet, we also discover that he was a man of great "extremes" in behavior who could be very strict about the virtue of his actions and those of the brothers who followed him.  Some of these examples of "extreme" behavior by Francis were triggered by his 13th century understanding of the world and its people, while some were conditioned by the accepted teachings and structure of his Roman Catholic Church.  When we read about the lives of Francis and Clare, we need to remember that social and informational context in which they lived.  It is very different from that which we currently experience. 
     And this leads me to the final thought which should always be kept in mind by modern secular Franciscans.  Toward the end of Francis' life, he indicated to his followers that he had a very important "last teaching" for them.  At that time Francis could tell them that he had lived and struggled with every fiber of his being to experience and express to others "that fullness of the presence of Jesus Christ" in his life.  Now, as death was soon to close his earthly ministry, he wanted his followers to realize that it was "their time" to run a similar life course...their time and opportunity to fully experience and express the Gospel lifestyle to "their world".  And such is true for those of us modern secular Franciscans.  Our challenge and struggle is NOT to replicate that early Franciscan lifestyle but rather to take Francis' example and weld it with our understanding of Jesus' teaching ministry so that this can be manifested in our 21st century social environment.  This is how Francis and Clare may continue to speak to our modern world by the manner in which we, modern secular Franciscans, live and love.
(1)Spoto,Donald; The Reluctant Saint, Penguin Compass Press 2001, p.13.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Formation of a Secular Franciscan #1

     One of the earlier accounts (1) about St Francis tells  of his receipt of men who came to him and asked to join the little band of itinerant brothers.  It seems that he accepted each of them as if each person was a "gift from God".  In fact, steps for their education and formation as Franciscans were simple...observe the community's worship and prayer schedule and do the neccessary manual work in a spirit of joy and love.  Oh, and nobody would have called themselves "Franciscan".  No, they all were simply brothers..."lesser brothers". 
     Francis was their guide and mentor on this spiritual journey and he had one life goal which was to live-out the full experience of Jesus.  He wanted to be poor, like Jesus;  to be simply dressed, like Jesus;  to walk the roads in a preaching ministry, like Jesus;  to become ever-more intimate with the Heavenly Father, like Jesus;  and to suffer the hardships which were the life story of our Savior.  Therefore, if this band of men could have given themselves a name, it probably would have been something like:  "simple people striving to live more completely the Gospel lifestyle of which Jesus Christ is the example".  There in a nutshell is a working definition of a modern secular Franciscan!
     However such a simple entrance into the brotherhood didn't last long nor was it well tolerated by higher church authorities who wanted a formal process to educate, regulate and form these brothers into a community.  Francis never gave indication that he was attracted to the idea of "organization" with process and rules.  But that was the accepted pattern for all other religious communities.  So in time, the Pope urged a formal period of noviate training for all newly arrived brothers and, if they followed the accepted procedure and practice, they were allowed to make a formal profession of desire to leave their old lifestyle and become a "lesser brother".  This involved promises or vows to the brotherhood and church whereby they agreed to live in community in a status of poverty, celibacy and obedience to the brotherhood's leaders and church.
     In those first few years of the brotherhood, Francis was also approached by many village people who wanted to participate in this religious community but were hindered by being married, having families, job responsibility, etc.  He recognized the sincerity of their desire to "humbly live-out this Gospel pattern of life" and also the actual limitations imposed by their status in life which prevented their joining the early Franciscan brotherhood.  These secular persons were called "lay penitents".  Some time in the period 1210 - 1215, Francis dictated a letter to them which gave direction to their special lifestyle.  (2)  This is the origin of the religious movement which has become known as the "Secular Franciscans". 
     Although we sisters and brothers at the Cathedral of Hope UCC, Dallas, are not part of the Roman Catholic Secular Franciscan Order, like them we also vow to create a lifestyle which is more intensely and faithfully dedicated to our baptismal committment to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.  And to glorify God in all aspects of our life activity...humbly doing all things in love and respect for all of humanity and creation.  In order to succeed in this spiritual path, it requires not just the original committment but also "practiced steps" to inform and develop this style of living.  This process of education and growth is called Franciscan formation.
     The first step in this formation program must begin with our relationship with God which is represented by our baptismal committment as Christians to love and obey our Lord Jesus Christ.  This decision by each secular Franciscan is foundational because all that we aspire  to  be and do  is related to this relationship with Jesus and obedience to his command..."Come and follow me"  (To do and be like Jesus).   (3)   This can not be over-emphasized!
     Those of us at the Cathedral of Hope UCC, Dallas, have created a basis for this spiritual process.  It consists of two elements.  The first is an understanding of that which we plan to promise to do as secular Franciscans.  This is defined in a series of vows to which we ascribe.  Second, There is a program of study in Christian spiritual practices and Franciscan history-experience which give example to help "flesh-out" the meaning of these vows.
     These vows were created by the local Franciscan community to best represent all that is "good and valuable" in Franciscan history/life and yet stated in words which have meaning for secular Franciscans in the 21st century.  At this web site they will be studied and elaborated upon in  the context of historical Franciscan life. 
     Here are the vows committed by each Cathedral of Hope secular Franciscan.  "Each of us wishes to express a desire to live a life which draws us ever-closer to Jesus Christ and to better express God's purpose for the creation in acts of love and ministry.
     We vow to live a life of SIMPLICITY, always conscious of our level of consumption, in balance and moderation to our actual needs, and will do this in continual THANKSGIVING to God.
     We vow to commit ourselves to a disciplined life of SPIRITUAL GROWTH which includes quiet times of PRAYER, SOLITUDE and STUDY in order to listen to God's voice.
     Since the very essence of God is LOVE, we vow to open our hearts to that divine river of compassion with the hope that it will spread to everyone in our lives.
     In recognition that God has created each of us as an important part of the web of life, we vow to live in HARMONY and be PEACE-MAKERS with all creation.
     In all of these activities we vow to work with our fellow secular Franciscans in a GENTLE manner which will release all of our God-given talents to MINISTER to the physical and spiritual needs of others;  following in the way of the HUMBLE servant, Jesus Christ."
      May God's guidance and blessings be yours as we together journey on this spiritual path.
                                   Donald Luke

(1)  "The Life of St Francis" Chapter X by Thomas Celano,   Francis of Assisi, The Early Documents vol.1,  eds. Armstrong, Hellmann and Short,  New City Press, NYC  1999, p.202
(2)  "Letter to the Faithful" by St Francis
(3)  Mark 1;17.