January 17 — Anthony of Egypt

Today’s Bible reading an an excerpt

Read James 4:1-12

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

Hieronymous Bosch, Triptych of Temptation of St Anthony (right wing), 1505-06, Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga, Lisbon

Meditating with Anthony of Egypt

Today is St. Anthony of Egypt’s feast day.

The Catholic Church developed an elaborate system of celebrating the lives of “saints.” Early on, these great people were often the martyrs who gave all believers courage to keep their faith in difficult times. Later, these people were thought to play an intermediary role between Jesus and humanity. Their shrines were thought to be healing, powerful places, and they were thought to be praying for us and taking advantage of their special relationship with God on our behalf. We are not into the excesses of these practices. But we still recognize how they got to be “saints” even though the Bible calls everyone who has been set apart for God in Jesus a saint.

The word “saint” means “holy one.” When Paul writes to the church in Rome, he starts his letter: “To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” If you follow Jesus, you are a saint, right along with Anthony.

Anthony was one of the first Christian monks.  A “monk” (from Greek: μοναχός, monachos, “single, solitary” and Latin monachus) is a person who practices strict spiritual discipline to be close to God and serve the Lord’s purpose, living either alone or with any number of other monks. They voluntarily choose to leave mainstream society and live an alternative life, usually according to a rule.

Anthony lived from 251-356 AD (105 years!)  At the age of 20, he was inspired by a passage in Mark: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor” (10:21). So he made sure his sister was well provided for and then he gave away a large inheritance and all his possessions. He then pursued a life of solitude in the desert, away from a Church that was quickly becoming dominated by the world. In many ways, he was the “anti-Constantine.”

Anthony was illiterate but he became very wise.  He went further into the desert than his ascetic contemporaries in search of an undistracted life with God.  He spent time in an old tomb and eventually he shut himself up in an old Roman fort for twenty years.  In his solitude, he had frequent run-ins with the devil, but triumphed.  His life was written down by the famous bishop of Alexandria, Athanasius [bio], so we know a lot about his struggle and his influential successes. [link to Life of Anthony…]

The Emperor Constantine and his two sons, Constantius and Constans, once sent Anthony a joint letter, recommending themselves to his prayers. Noting the astonishment of some of the monks present, Anthony said, “Do not wonder that the Emperor writes to us, even to a man such as I am; rather be astounded that God has communicated with us, and has spoken to us by His Son.” Replying to the letter, he exhorted the Emperor and his sons to show contempt for the world and to constantly remember the final judgment.

The holiness Anthony achieved in his solitude ended up being very influential. People came to see him and formed a community around his example. Plus, the leaders of the church called him out of his separation to add his wisdom to the development of the church.

Perhaps the best movements are those begun by people not trying to start them. The monastic movement that Anthony inspired is still inspiring further descendants in the faith today. Circle of Hope honors the spirit of separation from the world and practices that separation invasively.

More?

You might appreciate a bio of Anthony from the Coptic Church [link].

Suggestions for action

Spend half a day in silence some time in the near future (or more if you can). Make a deal with your spouse or roommates that you are going to be silent (maybe get them to do it with you). Unplug completely. See if this small separation from mainstream noise allows you to connect with God in any way.

January 6 — Epiphany

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Matthew 2:1-12, Matthew 3:11-4:4 .

When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him….

epiphany at the baptismAt that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

More thoughts for meditation about this day

Epiphany is a Greek word that means “manifestation.” The holiday celebrates two manifestations of God: 1) When the magi worship Jesus and present him gifts, they do it because God is made known, born in the baby. 2) When Jesus is baptized and John reports the voice of God denoting Jesus as his own Son, that is another significant epiphany.

In the history of the church, the holy day called Epiphany went two routes, as the church became  separated during the turbulent time after the fall of the western Roman Empire in the late 400’s. The churches in the eastern and western parts of the Mediterranean developed separate identities. You can trace them through the Eastern “Orthodox” churches and the Roman “Catholic” church. In the Roman Catholic Church, Epiphany is usually celebrated on the Sunday between January 2-8. If you want to follow the traditional twelve days of Christmas, you celebrate it on January 6. The orthodox Churches have the same idea but on different days.

The different days came about like this. In the late 1500s Pope Gregory declared a new calendar to correct the inaccuracies in the old Julian calendar (which dated to Julius Caesar in 45BC). The Gregorian calendar added 12 days to the year and reset the functional spring equinox to March 21 so Easter could be properly observed. Most civil authorities eventually adopted the calendar, although Greece took over 300 years to do it.

Some Orthodox Churches still date events according to a revised Julian calendar. It is part of their identity. So many, but not all, Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Day on or near what is January 7 in the Gregorian calendar. As of 2012, there is a difference of 13 days between the modern Gregorian calendar and the older Julian calendar. Those who continue to use the Julian calendar or the equivalents mark December 25 and January 6 on what, for the majority of the world, is January 7 and January 19. For this reason, many people in Ethiopia, Russia, Ukraine, the Republic of Macedonia, and the Republic of Moldova celebrate Christmas on what, in the Gregorian calendar, is January 7.

All this goes to show that getting manifested is not that easy for God! Being born among humankind is subject to our politics and science. We might consider the date to celebrate of Epiphany to be more important than the reason for the celebration! We might divide up the church over an obvious change that needs to be made in the calendar just because we do not respect the person who suggested the change. It might take us a long time to get to the place we should have started: worshiping at the manger and hearing the voice of God at the baptism.

More

An article with a lot more: http://www.crivoice.org/cyepiph.html

Young man tells us to look for the “hidden” Jesus on Epiphany. [link]

A priest describes the manifestations, or “epiphanies” of the Lord we celebrate during the Epiphany season.

Suggestions for action

Appreciate the epiphanies the wise men and John the Baptist had. They happened a long time ago, but that history is yours, too—for the whole human race! We are invited into what God did in Jesus when we remember and allow ourselves to be part of the story.

Appreciate your own personal epiphanies, the many ways God has been manifested to you! The Spirit of God is revealed in creation, in the stories, teachings and practical applications of the Bible, in the people of the church, and directly spirit to Spirit. Maybe you could write an account of how you came and worshiped or heard the voice of God.

December 25 — Christmas Day

File:Pierre-Louis Cretey - The Nativity - 89.15 - Detroit Institute of Arts.jpg
The nativity. Pierre-Louis Cretey (1640-91)

Today’s Bible reading

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. – Luke 2:8-16

More thoughts for meditation about Christmas Day

Christmas is celebrated on December 25 and is both a sacred religious holiday and a worldwide cultural and commercial phenomenon. For two millennia, people around the world have been observing it with traditions and practices that are both religious and secular in nature. We celebrate Christmas Day as the anniversary of the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, who is the incarnation of God. As a result it is also a profound celebration of our own incarnation as the body of Christ composed of the children of God.

The ancient history of the day

The middle of winter has long been a time of celebration around the world. Centuries before the birth of Jesus, early Europeans celebrated light and birth in the darkest days of winter. Many cultures rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the longest dark days were behind them and they could look forward to growing sunlight. In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from December 21, the winter solstice, through January. In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs, which they would set on fire. The people would feast until the log burned out, which could take as many as 12 days.

The end of December was a perfect time for celebration in most areas of Europe. At that time of year, most cattle were slaughtered so they would not have to be fed during the winter. For many, it was the only time of year when they had a supply of fresh meat. In addition, most wine and beer made during the year was finally fermented and ready for drinking. In Germany, people honored the pagan god Oden during the mid-winter holiday. Germans were terrified of Oden, as they believed he made nocturnal flights through the sky to observe his people, and then decide who would prosper or perish. Because of his presence, many people chose to stay inside.

In Italy, where winters were not as harsh as those in the far north, Roman-influenced people celebrated the Saturnalia, a holiday in honor of Saturn, the god of agriculture. Beginning the week leading up to the winter solstice and continuing for a full month, Saturnalia was a hedonistic time, when food and drink were plentiful and the normal Roman social order was turned upside down. In some places, slaves could become masters and peasants could command the city. Businesses and schools closed so everyone could join in the fun.

In multicultural Rome, also around the time of the winter solstice, some Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring children. In addition, members of the upper classes often celebrated the birthday of Mithra, the god of the unconquerable sun, on December 25. It was believed that Mithra, an infant god, was born of a rock. For some Romans (like Emperor Constantine before he switched sides), Mithra’s birthday was the most sacred day of the year.

In the early years of Christianity, Easter was the main holiday; the birth of Jesus was not celebrated. In the fourth century, church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday. Unfortunately, the Bible does not mention date for his birth (a fact Puritans later pointed out in order to deny the legitimacy of the celebration). Although some evidence suggests that his birth may have occurred in the spring (why would shepherds be out herding in the middle of winter?), Pope Julius I (d. 352) chose December 25. It is commonly believed that the church chose this date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival. First called the Feast of the Nativity, the custom spread to Egypt by 432 and to England by the end of the 500’s. By the end of the 700’s, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia.

By holding Christmas at the same time as traditional winter solstice festivals, church leaders increased the chances that Christmas would be popularly embraced, but gave up the ability to dictate how it was celebrated. By the Middle Ages, Christianity had, for the most part, replaced pagan religion. On Christmas, believers attended church then, in many places, celebrated raucously in a drunken, carnival-like atmosphere similar to today’s Mardi Gras. In some places,  a beggar or student would be crowned the “lord of misrule” and eager celebrants played the part of his subjects. The poor would go to the houses of the rich and demand their best food and drink. If owners failed to comply, their visitors would most likely terrorize them with mischief. Christmas became the time of year when the upper classes could repay their real or imagined “debt” to society by entertaining less fortunate citizens.

In the early 1600’s, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe. When Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces took over England in 1645, they vowed to rid England of decadence and, as part of their effort, cancelled Christmas. By popular demand, Charles II was restored to the throne and, with him, came the return of the popular holiday.

Christmas reinvented by Americans

The pilgrims, English separatists that came to America in 1620, were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell. As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America. From 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was actually outlawed in Boston. Anyone exhibiting the Christmas spirit was fined five shillings. By contrast, in the Jamestown settlement, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all and passed without incident.

After the American Revolution, English customs fell out of favor, including Christmas. In fact, Christmas wasn’t declared a federal holiday until Ulysses S. Grant signed the bill on June 26, 1870. This was the culmination of about 50 years of reinventing the celebration in the United States.

In 1819, Washington Irving wrote The Sketchbook of Geoffrey Crayon, gent., a series of stories about the celebration of Christmas in an English manor house. The sketches feature a squire who invited the peasants into his home for the holiday. In contrast to the problems faced in American society, the two groups mingled effortlessly. In Irving’s mind, Christmas should be a peaceful, warm-hearted holiday bringing groups together across lines of wealth or social status. Irving’s fictitious celebrants enjoyed “ancient customs,” including the crowning of a Lord of Misrule. He invented others.

In 1843, Charles Dickens created the classic holiday tale, A Christmas Carol. The story’s message-the importance of charity and good will towards all humankind-struck a powerful chord in the United States. The family was also becoming more sensitive to the emotional needs of children and Christmas provided families with a day when they could lavish attention-and gifts-on their children without appearing to “spoil” them.

As Americans began to embrace Christmas as a perfect family holiday, old customs were unearthed. People looked toward recent immigrants and Catholic and Episcopalian churches to see how the day should be celebrated. In the next 100 years, Americans built a Christmas tradition all their own that included pieces of many other customs, including decorating trees, sending holiday cards and gift-giving. Although most families quickly bought into the idea that they were celebrating Christmas how it had been done for centuries, Americans had really re-invented a holiday to fill the cultural needs of a growing nation.

Finally, what about Santa Claus? The basis of Santa Claus can be traced back to the Bishop of Myra, a seaport in what is now Turkey. St. Nicholas (270-342) gave away all of his inherited wealth and traveled the countryside helping the poor and sick, becoming known as the protector of children and sailors. Along with many miracles attributed to him, Nicholas was well-known for secretly giving his wealth away.

St. Nicholas first entered American popular culture in the late 1700’s in New York, when Dutch families gathered to honor the anniversary of the death of “Sint Nikolaas” (Dutch for Saint Nicholas), or “Sinter Klaas” for short. “Santa Claus” draws his name from this abbreviation.

In 1822, Episcopal minister Clement Clarke Moore wrote a Christmas poem called “An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas,” more popularly known today by its first line: “’Twas The Night Before Christmas.” The poem depicted Santa Claus as a jolly man who flies from home to home on a sled driven by reindeer to deliver toys. The iconic version of Santa Claus as a jolly man in red with a white beard and a sack of toys was immortalized in 1881, when political cartoonist Thomas Nast drew on Moore’s poem to create the image of Old Saint Nick we know today. Coca Cola ads from the 1920’s sealed the public’s imagination.

More

A rather English depiction:

The Peanuts pageant

Saint Nicholas history in a read-along video from National Geographic [link]

Suggestions for action

The holiday season in the United States is a well-known consumeristic extravaganza which vainly attempts to re-orient itself to be a family/friends holiday full of the “human spirit” of love and peace. It makes sense to avoid all that.

But it also makes sense not to throw out the baby with the dirty bathwater of corrupt religion. Paul was helping the Galatians sort of such things in his short letter. Try meditating on the profound meaning he reinforces:

My point is this: heirs, as long as they are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property; but they remain under guardians and trustees until the date set by the father.  So with us; while we were minors, we were enslaved to the elemental spirits of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.  And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God. — Galatians 4:1-7

Be a former slave who has been adopted as a child and heir. Be free of the elemental spirits and the burden of the law. We are living in the fullness of time.

December 18 — Clara Hale

Today’s Bible reading

You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. Galatians 5:13-15

More thoughts for meditation about Clara McBride Hale (1905-1992)

Clara Hale had a mission of motherhood. Her life experiences helped make her extraordinarily empathetic to the pain and suffering of other mothers and children. Her compassion gave her an unusual capacity to love and to find solutions.

“Mother Hale” was born in North Carolina in 1905. After her father was killed, her mom moved the family to Philadelphia, Pa. After she married , she had two children, and adopted a third. Her husband moved the family to New York City, but he lost his battle with cancer when Clara was 27.

Through the Great Depression, Hale raised and supported her children, working as a domestic by day and a janitor by night. In 1943, Hale opened a daycare in her home in order to spend time with her children as well as care for others. It grew from a short–term to a long–term care facility. She also took care of foster children.

When Clara Hale retired in 1968 she could not have foreseen that her most notable endeavor, the founding of Hale House, was yet to begin. Hale House started in 1969 when Clara Hale’s biological daughter, Lorraine, brought a mother and child who were addicted to drugs to Hale’s home. She could not refuse the desperate pair. Indeed, she had no choice when the mother disappeared while Hale made a phone call in another room and left the baby behind. Hale took the tiny baby girl and nursed her through drug withdrawals. The young mother had other children, and when she returned to Hale’s residence, she brought the others and left them, too. Eventually she returned to take the children back. Hale sent the family off with her blessing and never charged a penny for her help. Within a few short weeks Mother Hale’s apartment was packed from wall to wall with 22 drug-addicted babies. Some of them were abandoned; some were orphaned. As Mother Hale told the tale to Irene Verag of Newsday, “Before I knew it every pregnant addict in Harlem knew about the crazy lady who would give her baby a home.”

Slowly the Hales (Clara, daughter Lorraine, and sons Nathan and Kenneth) allowed their lives to become virtually consumed by the effort to instill hope and to inject healing into the lives of addicted parents in Harlem. The dedicated family worked day and night to support their cause. Mother Hale kept the frailest of the infants in her own bedroom, cradling them and walking the floors all night when necessary to comfort each one through the painful experience of detoxification. The younger Hales took as many jobs as was necessary to bring in the funds to support the many, many children who came into their home. “It wasn’t their fault they were born addicted. Love them. Help one another,”Hale explained to others, as quoted in the Chicago Tribune.

She later got a home license as a “child care facility” in 1970, called the Hale House. A few years later Hale purchased a larger building. In 1975 she was able to attain a license for child-care. She raised the children as if they were her own and once they were healthy she would help to find families interested in adoption. She took it upon herself to make sure the families were a correct fit and even in some cases turned families down if she thought they could not provide a good enough home for the child. Hale said, “My daughter says she was almost sixteen before she realized all these other kids weren’t her real sisters and brothers. Everyone called me ‘Mommy.’” She eventually helped over 2,000 drug addicted babies and young children who were born addicted to drugs, children born with HIV, and children whose parents had died of AIDS. It was simple, she said; “Hold them, rock them, love them and tell them how great they are.”

It may have been harder than she let on. By 1983, 28,000 women had succumbed to drug–addiction in New York City alone. More than 50,000 children were born chemically dependent. These children were also at high risk of acquiring AIDS from their mothers during pregnancy. In New York State, there were about 250,000 addicts. At least 450,000 were users of cocaine, with one out of every 20 people over the age of 12 involved in drugs.

Today, such people are officially known to suffer from “Substance Use Disorder.” But in the 1980s, rather than declare their situation a national health crisis, society deemed it a crime wave that was sweeping the nation. Mass incarceration and benign neglect of poor minorities became the response, rather than the implementation of well–funded addiction treatment and mental health programs.

After the grant that helped her buy Hale House expired her work became a victim of severe cutbacks of state and city funds. Public agencies with competing services repeatedly harassed the center.

Image result for mother hale house

Successfully supported by individuals, churches, and community groups, Hale House nonetheless became unique in its format and demonstrated a sharp contrast to public agencies for the care of children. In the the program’s early days when funds for food and supplies were few and meeting payroll was a constant challenge, Clara Hale’s personal faith in Christ and the love and active concern of ordinary people were her only reliable sources of strength and support. They brought her disposable diapers, formula, and other items that were in constant demand.

One notable admirer spent more than two years, off and on, trying to track down Clara Hale because no one among his circle of friends knew her name. Finally, John Lennon found her and sent a check for $10,000. “He came with his wife and son and spent time with the children,” Hale had said. After Lennon’s tragic death the following year, Yoko Ono, his wife, sent more gifts, including a check for $20,000, which arrived every year thereafter.

One morning, another fan made her way to Hale’s doorstep. As she emerged from a black limousine, the usual paparazzi who typically pressed for pictures were elsewhere. This was a private visit, for sure. Nonetheless, the presence of Princess Diana made it a royal and memorable one. As the princess stood at the top of the brownstone stairs, she lovingly held a baby in her arms. “Thank you for the work you’re doing here for these children,” she said to Mother Hale.

On February 6, 1985, at the close of the State of the Union message to Congress, President Ronald Reagan turned to Mrs. Clara Hale, seated at the side of the first lady, Mrs. Reagan, and recognized “Mother Hale” for helping babies of drug–addicted mothers in Harlem, N.Y. The president said to members of Congress and to all America, “go to her house some night and maybe you’ll see her silhouette against the window as she walks the floor, talking softly, soothing a child in her arms. Mother Hale of Harlem, she too is an American hero.”

Suggestions for action

Love can accomplish a lot, even if you are needy yourself! Spend a minute a let God love you, needy child who you are.

Our compassion teams often start with a small inspiration or opportunity and grow up to accomplish a lot! Spend another minute and see what love is doing through us, and maybe through you! Give praise for how the love of Jesus flourishes even when the powers-that-be are against it. Maybe it is a good day to imagine how Jesus would like to work through your, or us. Tell someone about the seed of thought you may have and see where it goes.

December 10 — Thomas Merton

Today’s Bible reading

You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain. — Psalm 139:1-6

More thoughts for meditation about Thomas Merton

Thomas Merton, known to the other monks as Father Louis, was born in 1915 in the south of France to a American mom (a Quaker) and Kiwi dad (a painter).  He was baptized as an Anglican. When Thomas was six years old his mother died of stomach cancer. He was sent to live in the U.S. with his grandparents while his father, an artist, often travelled. As an early teen, he was reunited with his dad and educated in Europe until his father died when he was 16. After finishing school, Thomas was agnostic. In 1933, while in Italy, Thomas experienced a sense of spiritual emptiness, anxiety, and a hope that would lead to a dramatic conversion.

In 1938, while finishing up a M.A. in English (focused on William Blake), Thomas joined the Catholic church after experimenting with other forms of Christianity. He was rejected by the Fransiscans and did not feel drawn to become a priest. In 1942, he was accepted as a novice monk at the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky.

His abbot directed Merton to write his autobiography, which became The Seven Storey Mountain. The book became an unlikely best-seller and is considered today to be one of the spiritual classics of the modern age.

Merton would go on to write poems, articles, essays, and more than 60 books, among them New Seeds of Contemplation, The Sign of Jonas, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, and No Man Is An Island.

In the latter decades of his life he became increasingly interested in Asian religions, particularly Buddhism.  His leadership helped spark Christian-Buddhist dialogue that continues to this day. Merton is an example of a devoted Christian who had dialogue with others respectfully and as a learner. He was particularly interested in Eastern ways of thinking and understanding of self. His conversations about these issues were largely with other monks, Christian and Buddhist, as well as his superiors.

His abbey still receives revenues from his work. His work telling the stories of the Desert Fathers and Mothers has been inspirational and influential to many of us. His writings have been translated into over 30 languages.

Merton died on this day in 1968 of an accidental electrocution while attending an interfaith conference of contemplative monks in Thailand at age 53.

Quotes:

“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.” — Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them”
― Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

More: 

The Thomas Merton Center [link]

Director’s page for “Soul Searching,” a documentary about his life [link]

Suggestions for action

Merton teaches with great inclusion and acceptance. He offering you a path to the deep places of God, starting where you are right now. Feel the freedom of that, and also a bit of the terror of that trust. Enjoy your solitude.

December 5 — Nelson Mandela

Today’s Bible reading

Therefore My people shall know My Name and what it means. Therefore in that day I am the One who is speaking, ‘Here I am.’”

How beautiful and delightful on the mountains
Are the feet of him who brings good news,
Who announces peace,
Who brings good news of good [things],
Who announces salvation,
Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices,
Together they shout for joy;
For they will see face to face
The return of the Lord to Zion. Isaiah 52:6-8

More thoughts for meditation about Nelson Mandela

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (July 18, 1918 – December 5, 2013) was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, and philanthropist who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the country’s first black chief executive, and the first elected in a fully representative democratic election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalized racism and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as President of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991 to 1997. Internationally, Mandela was Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999.

Mandela was not outspoken about his Christian faith. However, in his autobiography, he noted that he has always been and will be a Christian and that his actions and conviction stem from his Christian faith. He kept his Christian beliefs discreet in favor of his great life work of reconciliation. “He was a deeply religious man; he believed sincerely in the existence of the Almighty,” said Bishop Don Dabula, who first met Mandela in 1962 and met to pray with him whenever he was at his home in Qunu

The former president had the last rites administered by a Methodist minister in his Houghton home as he was nearing death. Nearby, in a private room, long-time friend Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said Mandela’s favorite blessing as he died. “I asked not to be in the room when he died,” said Mpumlwana, who had prayed at the family home regularly towards the end of Mandela’s life. He looked at the time midway during what he knew was Mandela’s favorite blessing and saw it was 8.49pm. He chanted the words that always made the elderly statesman’s face light up when he heard them: May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. “May the Lord look upon you with kindness, and give you peace. “I later realized that was when he died,” Mpumlwana said.

It is testament to Mandela’s universal appeal that he has been claimed to be everything from a communist to a true liberal by his many admirers. And the image of the father of South Africa’s secular democracy as being deeply religious may well sit uncomfortably with some. But Mandela’s relationship with religion was always significant, if muted.

He was raised and schooled as a Methodist, an experience he recalled fondly in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela was married to his third wife, Graça Machel, by the then head of the South African Methodist church, Bishop Mvume Dandala. At a religious conference in 1999, he said: “Without the church, without religious institutions, I would never have been here today…Religion was one of the motivating factors in everything we did.”

But Mandela held an aversion to speaking publicly about his own faith for fear of dividing or—even worse—using religion as a political tool, as the apartheid regime did.

“The [apartheid] policy was supported by the Dutch Reformed Church, which furnished apartheid with its religious underpinnings by suggesting that Afrikaners were God’s chosen people and that blacks were a subservient species,” he wrote in his autobiography. “In the Afrikaner’s world view, apartheid and the church went hand in hand.”

The head of the Methodist Church in South Africa, Bishop Zipho Siwa, agreed: “He is a leader whose role was to unite everybody.” Ultimately, his faith, like everything else about Mandela, played to the great theme of his life: reconciliation. This was illustrated in a 1994 speech to the Zion Christian Church Easter conference, in which he said: “The good news was borne by our risen Messiah, who chose not one race, who chose not one country, who chose not one language,  who chose not one tribe, who chose all of humankind.”

Want more?

More biography.

Mandela and the church

Suggestions for action

Mandela spent years in prison waiting his opportunity to serve. He had no choice, and maybe you do not either. Will you be bitter when you receive your chance, or ready?

Who can you help reconcile today? Be sincere as you provide a way for people to love. They need your help.

December 1 — Advent

Today’s Bible reading

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. — Titus 2:11-14

More thoughts for meditation concerning Advent

Protestants have issues with empty rituals. By the 1500’s a lot of Jesus followers were fed up with Catholic and Orthodox folks bickering about the right way to fold an altar cloth or some such nonsense. Actually, they objected to the “altar” itself, since it had become a replica of the Old Testament temple and Jesus fulfilled and transcended the Temple. The Lord’s presence makes the church, the people, the temple of the Holy Spirit, Paul says. So empty rituals are a problem.

Nevertheless, a ritual season, like Advent has a lot of great things going for it. If those things become empty, coercive, or corrupted, then it is not so good. But during Advent, let’s not throw the baby Jesus out with the dirty bathwater of church history.

Rituals are not inherently wrong. Empty ritual is wrong, as is any ritual that replaces, obscures, or detracts from a vibrant relationship with Jesus. Are rituals commanded in the church? No, not really. Baptism and communion, certainly come close. But God is not looking to see if we have completed the right rituals; God sees the heart. She seeks those who worship Him “in the Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Rituals can be beneficial, but external rites should never replace inner devotion.

All that being said, Advent has hundreds of years of history, prayer and practice that makes it a special time of the Christian year. It is one of those “sacred spaces” that are created by ritual.

Rituals (like spiritual disciplines, worship events, and seasons of fasting or prayer) are acts done with emotion and intention which help an individual or group connect with the Spirit in the context of faith, hope and love for the purposes of healing and transformation. Ritual is a means for our personal and collective voices to express our longing and creativity into the unseen dimensions of life, beyond our conscious minds and into the realms of spiritual awareness and connection with the image of God in us and creation. Rituals create “thin places” where heaven and earth kiss.

In our Advent meetings (Sundays, cells and other times) and on Christmas Eve, we create sacred places where we are enabled to release our unspoken hope and unacknowledged sorrow. The whole season of waiting for the blessed hope with the prophets, with John the Baptist, with Mary and Joseph, and with everyone in the story is a sacred place where our deeper selves are welcomed to rise up and feel our sorrows and hope.

Francis Weller writes: “We are creatures of ritual. We have been using rituals for tens of thousands of years. Ancient burial sites include careful placement of artifacts with the dead, such as bones carved and covered with ochre, pieces of flint for the hunt in the next world, food, and ornamented beads. In fact, grief for the loss of a loved one may have elicited our first ritual actions. There is something about ritual that resonates deep in the bone. It is a ‘language older than word,’ relying not so much on speech as on gestures, rhythms, movements and emotion. In this sense, ritual addresses something far more primal than language.”

Like our proverb says, “Without worship we shrink.” Participating in an alive Advent might be one of the most alternative things we can do.

More?

Resources from the Ignatians

Another Video about the origins and history of Advent.

Suggestions for action

Today, in the absence of communal rituals that hold and sustain our psychic lives, we often unconsciously fall into ritualized behaviors (nightly TV, Friday night at the bar, Eagles/Phillies games, videogame obsessions, etc.). These patterns, however, do not carry what is required to make them soul-nourishing practices. In the end we will either participate in ritual deliberately, which binds us to soul, community, nature and the sacred, or we will be reduced to repetitive patterns of addiction, compulsion, or routines lacking in artistry and the renewal of genuine ritual. 

Check to see if you have an Advent replacement going. The resistance you feel to the discipline season may be more about how locked up you are than about how stupid the season is.

Here are some suggestions from Rod: The Advent pilgrimage: Five things to try

Day by day, journey with the rest of us. One way to do that is by praying together with Circle of Hope Daily Prayer. WIND and WATER are the same for Advent.

November 30 – Mother Jones

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Jeremiah 22

“Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,
    his upper rooms by injustice,
making his own people work for nothing,
    not paying them for their labor.
He says, ‘I will build myself a great palace
    with spacious upper rooms.’
So he makes large windows in it,
    panels it with cedar
    and decorates it in red.

“Does it make you a king
    to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
    He did what was right and just,
    so all went well with him.
He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
    and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?”
    declares the Lord.
“But your eyes and your heart
    are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
    and on oppression and extortion.”

More thoughts for meditation

As a social reformer, Mary “Mother” Jones exposed disturbing truths about child and adult factory workers and miners and perpetual poverty in the United States through numerous marches, demonstrations, strikes, and speeches. The influence of Christianity was evident throughout her life. She received a Catholic education as a girl and became a teacher in a convent as a young adult. Letters and speeches by her, and those about her, were filled with the imagery of Christian beliefs.

Jones worked as a teacher and dressmaker, but after her husband and four children all died of yellow fever in 1867, and her dress shop was destroyed in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, she began working as an organizer for the Knights of Labor and the United Mine Workers union. In 1903, upset about the lax enforcement of the child labor laws in the Pennsylvania mines and silk mills, she organized a Children’s March from Kensington, in Philadelphia, to the home of then president Theodore Roosevelt in New York.

She wailed about the unjust experiences of the poor like an Old Testament prophet, often dressed in old‐fashioned black dresses that seemed similar to the black habits worn by the Catholic sisters that taught and mentored her during her early years. She was described by others as the “walking wrath of God,” the “incarnation of labor’s struggles” decrying injustice and calling to account its perpetrators. She was even introduced by the author Upton Sinclair one day as “Mother Mary” — an allusion to the New Testament Mary who gave birth to the Christ child and was considered one who interceded on behalf of poor and exploited adults and children.

Her use of the word “hell” is notable. Once she was introduced as a humanitarian and quickly bellowed “I’m not a humanitarian, I’m a hell‐raiser.”  Two noteworthy quotes that peppered her speeches on behalf of factory workers and miners were “fight like hell until you go to heaven” and “pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” When a West Virginia district attorney, Reese Blizzard, in 1902, Called her “the most dangerous woman in America” at her trial for ignoring an injunction banning meetings by striking miners, the title stuck.

As a passionate public speaker, some people thought she was “unchristian‐like,” mainly because she used of name‐calling, profanity, and dramatic stunts for effect, such as parading children who lost body limbs as a result of accidents in factories and mines. She was compared to John Brown, the abolitionist who believed armed rebellion was the only way to defeat the institution of slavery in the United States. Whether she actually believed such things is doubtful, but the association made her seem “unchristian‐like.” When confronted with the issue of violence in the labor movement she encouraged it at times as a necessary evil. She believed that martyrs died to overcome injustices and the causes that she led were no exception.

Just a few months after her death, the singing cowboy Gene Autry recorded the song “The Death of Mother Jones.” The writer of the lyrics is unknown.

The world today’s in mourning
For death of Mother Jones
Gloom and sorrow hover
Around the miners’ homes

This grand old champion of labor
Was known in every land
She fought for right and justice
She took a noble stand

Through the hills and over the valleys
In every mining town
Mother Jones was ready to help them
She never turned them down

On front with the striking miners
She always could be found
And received a hearty welcome
In every mining town

She was fearless of every danger
She hated that which was wrong
And she never gave up fighting
Until her breath was gone

This noble leader of labor
Has gone to a better land
While the hard working miners
They miss a guiding hand

May the miners all work together
And carry out her plan
And bring back better conditions
For every laboring man.

Want more?

AFL-CIO bio [link]

Suggestions for Action

Jesus was probably considered the most dangerous man in Palestine by the leaders who eventually killed him. Jeremiah was decidedly unpopular with the kings he exposed for their greed and oppression. If we, as Jesus followers, are not at odds with the powers-that-be, or even a threat to the corrupt ones, we might not be too serious about being planted in the soil of a fallen world. Consider who God wants you to stand with and stand up for.

November 29 – Dorothy Day

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read Psalm 42:1-4

As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

More thoughts for meditation about Dorothy Day

Dorothy DayDorothy Day was born in Brooklyn Heights in 1897 to stable, middle class, and marginally Christian parents. After her family experienced several major relocations, Day was raised mostly in San Francisco and Chicago. After two years of college, she dropped out of school in Illinois and moved back to New York City. During these younger years, Day’s interest in adventure grew to include alternative social organizations, particularly socialist anarchism. She began working with several socialist publications around 1916.

Although she had been baptized in the Episcopal Church as a child, at this point she identified as agnostic. The next few years were full of adventure and rocky relationships including heartbreak, abortion, a short marriage, and then an unexpected pregnancy and birth of her daughter, Tamar in 1926. She wished to baptize her child, which caused more tension in her relationship with Tamar’s father. A year later, Tamar was baptized and so was Dorothy, now part of the Catholic church.

In 1932 she met French immigrant Peter Maurin with whom a year later she would found the Catholic Worker movement. The publication of The Catholic Worker (almost named the Catholic Radical) began in 1933 and continues to be published. It’s goals were to promote Catholic social teaching in the depths of the Great Depression and to stake out a neutral, pacifist position in the war-torn 1930s.  The vision grew to include “establishing houses of hospitality to care for the destitute, establishing rural farming communities to teach city dwellers agrarianism and encourage a movement back to the land, and setting up roundtable discussions in community centers in order to clarify thought and initiate action.”

She became famous for saying “I have long since come to believe that people never mean half of what they say, and that it is best to disregard their talk and judge only their actions.” By 1941 over 30 independent yet affiliated Catholic Worker communities had formed in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. While the Catholic leaders told her to change the name of the publication because it did not represent the Church, they refused. By the 1960’s, Day became popular with Catholics, organizers, and counterculture leaders. While maintaining radical social ideas and practice, she opposed the sexual revolution of the decade, describing the ill effects she had suffered years before. She continued to be critical of transnational companies like United Fruit and violent governmental policies and praised aspects of Communist movements in Russia, China, and Cuba.

Day was a prolific writer and joined movements for justice. At 75, she spent a week in jail helping Cesar Chavez working for justice for farm workers in California. Dorothy Day died on this day in 1980, three weeks after her 83rd birthday.

More:

The Catholic Worker Movement homepage [link]

The Dorothy Day Collection [link]

Day teaching on TV [link]

Suggestions for action

Dorothy Day’s radical views and uncompromising caused her grief and trouble. But her long loneliness, as she called it, made her faith deep and her influence wide. What is it that you must do?

November 28 – Thanksgiving Day

Today’s Bible reading 

Know that the Lord is God.
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
his faithfulness continues through all generations. —Psalm 100:3-5

More thoughts for meditation about Thanksgiving Day

Without gratitude, we would not get very far along our spiritual journey, would we? It is one of the nicest things the U.S. government does for its citizens when it offers a federal holiday on the fourth Thursday of November to pause, give thanks, and celebrate what we have been given. George Washington made the first proclamation of Thanksgiving Day in 1789. It was celebrated on various dates from state to state until Abraham Lincoln synced them in 1863. Canada, as well as several other nations, have a holiday to give thanks around the traditional time of the harvest on different days.

The United States’ version of the holiday includes a unique mythology providing the central imagery for the festivities which include parades and feasts of traditional foods, usually shared among relatives. The central narrative is a re-telling of a poorly-documented account from 1621 of a treaty between the Wampanoag tribe and the Pilgrims of Plymouth colony that included a feast of thanksgiving, friendship, and some food the Pilgrims needed.

The development of Black Friday (invented in Philadelphia!) and expansion of it to the whole weekend has also moved backward to encompass Thanksgiving. So now we are subjected to a four-day extravaganza of consumerism (and don’t forget football, its violent twin) rather than a day of thanks. Circle of Hope has a heavy streak of buy-nothing day among us as a protest to the overshadowing.

So on Thanksgiving, we look back to a sordid history of relations between Europeans and the natives of New England and we can look forward to an onslaught of consumerism. Because of this, the day becomes even more important. We must rest. We must be grateful. We must celebrate the many “feastworthy” things we have experienced this year. God is good. Let’s be grateful for the good that is given.

More?

An article from Indian Country Today Media Network “What Really Happened at the First Thanksgiving? The Wampanoag Side of the Tale” [link]

US Congress’ Legislative Process [link]

A history of the movements surrounding the Puritans and Separatists [link]

Conservative talk show host Michael Medved tries to do some reconstruction of the myth:

Suggestions for action

You can do it. See beyond the traditions, good and bad, and give thanks. Let whatever distresses you go for a few minutes and list the things for which you are grateful. Dwell on them as slowly as possible. Smile.