Mighty. Mysterious. Magnificent.
The Jews respected God's mightiness and Otherness so much that their sacred Name for Him, a word we spell and pronounce as "Yahweh," was considered literally unspeakable. When they spoke or wrote about God, they used "Elohim" or "Adonai."
Today we know that the Mystery of God's Name and Who God is goes even deeper. In Hebrew, God's sacred Name is the Sacred Tetragrammaton, YHVH: yod, he, vav, and he. Scholars have discovered that long ago, the word was not spoken, but breathed. Its correct pronunciation may well be a way to imitate and replicate the very sounds of breathing in and breathing out.
For this reason, some teachers of prayer and contemplation tell their students "Stay with the breath. Attend to your breath." The more we are conscious of our breathing, the more we are conscious of our God whose Name our entire body experiences in the act of drawing oxygen in and sending carbon dioxide out.
What this means for us spiritually is that now God is not only mighty and mysterious but also merciful and approachable: God is as close to us as our breath. Every time we breathe, from the time we enter this world until the moment we leave it, we say the Name of God.
Fr. Richard Rohr observes (in "The Naked Now") " There is no Islamic, Christian, or Jewish way of breathing. There is no American, Asian, or African way of breathing. There is no rich way or poor way of breathing. The playing field is utterly leveled. The air of the earth is one and the same air, and this divine wind "blows where it will." (John 3:8) - which appears to be everywhere."
When we breathe consciously we know we are connected to the whole world, including plants and animals and trees. Rohr continues "And we are now told that the atoms we breathe are physically the same as the stardust from the original Big Bang. Oneness is no longer a vague mystical notion but a scientific fact."
How beautiful to know that God Himself has drawn human breath - in the beloved Person of His Son Jesus Christ. He took His first breath as He came forth from Mary's Body, and handed His last breath over to His Father on the cross - "Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit."(Luke 23:46.)
How wonderful our life can be - to feel God as naturally close to us and approachable as our own breathing, and to trust Him with our last breath.
There are some sad words that I've heard parents say about their children:
"This child is my favorite and that child is her father's favorite."
Or else, I hear from adult parents and their estranged children "We're currently not speaking to each other."
How does the oneness between parents and children splinter? What causes these splits to happen? The cracks often start when children are little. The problems can begin if parents don't know how to be generative. Generative parents know their mission is to generate new, vibrant life in their children. Generative parents know how to nurture children as individuals separate from themselves, and how to encourage them to be their own persons. These parents know their children exist in their own right, not as mirrors of their parents and not to boost their parents' egos.
Fr. Richard Rohr says "Healthy parents love their children so much that they want them to keep growing, producing, and performing to their highest potential. Good parents are even excited when their children surpass them, as my uneducated farmer parents were when I went off to higher studies. Mature parents are generative about their children and say...'Don't get too excited about the things that we did. You're going to do even greater things!'
"Immature parents only see their children as images and extensions of themselves. True love empowers and delights in the even larger and independent successes of those they love. (It is often would-be successful sons who are most resented and abused by jealous and weak fathers.)"
Even if parents are terminally immature, and/or disabled, and/or addictive, the truth is that often one or more of their children will outgrow them. Only the process of maturing themselves will help these children start to heal from their parents' rejection of them.
Even if we're mostly mature parents, we need to watch ourselves for the ways in which we're not being generative. Do we encourage our children daily, or are we hyper-critical? Do we listen to our children's dreams, or do we shoot them down, claiming that we're being "realistic?" Do we want our children to succeed in different areas to make up for the fact that we were unable or unwilling to do so?
Do we want our children's faith to be exactly like our faith, without considering that we have an adult faith and our children need to search and find their own paths to God? Our own constant vigilant prayer and spiritual self-awareness helps us as parents to grow as our children grow.
We and our children will never be in exactly the "same place," mentally, emotionally, or spiritually. We the parents will always be older! But we can always be one and in the "same space" in mutual respect and mutual appreciation of each other as lovable, beautiful people.
Jesus' Prayer at the Last Supper is a beautiful one for parents to re-work and then pray daily for unity for their families: "May we all be one, Father, as You, Father, Your Son Jesus, and Your Holy Spirit are one."
A oneness in love and purpose between parents and children is one of the greatest gifts that God gives to the world. Families that are one in love and in faith are a great sign of the Power of God and the Power of Faith to those who know them. Even if these families go through great tragedies, their love and unity grow deeper. They have the strength to allow suffering to make them stronger and compassionate instead of bitter and isolated.
If anyone ever asks you about your children "Do you have a favorite?" may you honestly answer "They are ALL my favorites."
You are enough. You may not think so. You may pull back in fear and self-distrust. But - you are enough. God created you to do everything you have to do. God knows you. After all, God created the stars and calls them each by name. You are one of God's stars. And God calls you by name each moment of each day and tells you "You are enough."
Enough to clean up the mess at the office.
Enough to comfort a crying child.
Enough to get through surgery.
Enough to uplift a stressed-out spouse.
Enough to care for an animal.
Whatever you think of your talents, God has been honing you for the present moment all your life. Every situation that you have walked through and overcome has prepared you for this one. Every previous strength has strengthened your resolve to hold fast. Every illness has taught you to be patient with the process of healing. Listen to God. You are enough.
Enough to listen with patience.
Enough to make a wise compromise.
Enough to exercise aching limbs.
Enough to weep half the night and get up in the morning.
Enough to love when your heart is empty.
You have only the slightest idea of how beautiful your soul is. Beautiful enough for God to live there permanently. Beautiful enough for God to call you "Beloved." Beautiful enough for God to love you into eternity. Have faith in the goodness of your immortal soul and know that you are enough.
Enough to believe through the darkness.
Enough to trust through the pain.
Enough to sing and whistle in a silent house.
Enough to smile and have lunch with your friends.
Enough to feed an ailing parent.
Listen to no other except one who loves you and echoes the voice of God. Find joy in God's words that soothe you, even in dreams. Don't be afraid to dream. You are enough that you can dream.
Enough to dream of building a stronger marriage.
Enough to dream of becoming a better parent or grandparent.
Enough to dream of new joy in relationships.
Enough to dream of making a real difference.
Enough to dream of becoming a better you -
A YOU WHO WILL BE ENOUGH FOR TOMORROW!
Jesus - and any other good psychologist, because Jesus is a master psychologist - know that you can't really begin the task and joy of loving God and loving others unless you love yourself first. You can hardly believe that God loves you or anyone else loves you unless you love yourself.
Jesus gave us the great Commandment: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first Commandment. The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22: 37 -39.) The three loves are intertwined, since the second is like the first, and the Big Phrase is - "as yourself." We have to love others as we love ourselves. And some of us hardly know how to love ourselves.
All of us have been traumatized in some way through the deliberate or careless unkindness and cruelty of others, a cruelty that can linger in our psyches, affecting our self-perception and self-confidence. It takes a lifetime to overcome such hurt; it takes courage to face the hurt and tell it that it is a lie. It also takes courage to believe that we are lovable and we are capable of loving God and others, and to act on that belief. For some, the hurt is much more difficult to face and overcome.
I know for a fact that this is true: in the beginning of our lives, our parents can make us or break us. My husband and I have held and consoled so many, many heart-wounded adults who were abused by their parents in their childhood and teens - physical abuse, sexual abuse, verbal abuse, usually because of their parents' drug and alcohol abuse. We have held and consoled so many, many wounded adults who were traumatized by their parents' divorces. And how many are still traumatized as adults and dislike any Church because members of the clergy mistakenly, sometimes cruelly, told their mothers to stay with men who were abusive husbands and fathers?
How can we love God, a Parent, when our own parents have abused us severely? How can we call God specifically "Father" if our own father has sexually abused or raped us? How can we trust another in an intimate relationship when our parent or parents failed us and abandoned us over and over? How can we trust anyone to love us when we cannot love ourselves because we've been told and shown, over and over, how worthless we are? We can spend our whole lives bitter and angry while still yearning and hoping for the love of abusive family members.
Yet over and over my husband and I have seen the miracle of love grow quietly, subtly in people's lives, finally opening into beautiful blooms. People who have grown up in dysfunctional families find new families that truly love them and/or church families that truly love them. People terrified of intimacy find unconditional love in another who patiently, quietly, skillfully wins his or her trust. God is Love, and God is hidden but at work in all these relationships, healing, rebuilding, renewing broken hearts and battered souls.
Often enough, we discover God through the love of other human beings. The friendship of an adult male can rebuild a woman's trust in a God Who is Father. The friendship of an adult woman can rebuild trust in a God Who is also our Mother. The intimate love of whole and holy friends and families can prepare someone for the deeper intimacy of a love relationship that leads to marriage.
When you have been abused, any type of step forward into relationship is a huge psychic risk. Yet once you are courageous enough to take that step, God is ready to support you, whether you have discovered God yet or not. Because every time you step forward into love, you are stepping forward into God, Who is Love. The more steps you take, the more you discover there is a solid ground of love beneath your feet, the more your heart is able to open a crack, be carefully ajar, to accept the Presence of God. The more God is able to enter, the more you are able to be healed and transformed.
Openness to the Scriptures, often first offered to us by people whom we are beginning to trust, can help us discover a God Who will always be faithful to us, who will always be there, day and night, when we need God's presence, Who loves us unconditionally. And this God is so powerful in reaching out to us! God can and will act even through our act of opening a Bible in a motel room!
If you have been abused, and you grow depressed, when the memory of past relationships still has the power to blight your happiness, throw you back into self-hatred and self-doubt, please remember that you have been created specifically, that God created you out of love, and God has a purpose for your life. Our God is called "I Am" because God is with you Now and has been with you during every moment of your life. God brought you through the tough years of abuse, through every traumatic experience you've had. God will continue to heal you through prayer - your time spent in God's presence. God will continue to heal you through God's words of love in Scripture. God will continue to heal you through every loving relationship you allow into your life.
The three loves are completely intertwined, because the more deeply we love in any of these relationships we have - with ourselves, with God, with others, - the deeper our capacity for love grows in the other areas. Our prayer daily can be opening ourselves up to allow God ever more deeply into ourselves, into those dark hidden areas that we despise - so God can heal us for the joy of loving ourselves more deeply - and the joy of a deeper love for God and others.
One of the darkest times I have experienced in our country's history was the era of the Vietnam War and the draft. Because of technological advances in media, for the first time people could see the reality of war on their t.v. sets. People became polarized over the morality of the war itself, were horrified by the atrocities that occurred, and many categorized either soldiers or conscientious objectors as the pinnacle of evil.
Conscientious objectors who fled to Canada to escape the draft were vilified in the press and in neighborhoods as "cowards" and "draft dodgers."
Returning soldiers were spat upon, ostracized, and vilified as "Baby Killers."
I myself was heart-broken and confused because I could see the goodness of both the sincere soldiers and the sincere conscientious objectors. I kept asking myself "Who's right?" Gradually I came to realize that both soldiers and conscientious objectors can be right.
I read healing words: "The Christian tradition possesses two ways to address conflict: non-violence and just war. They both share the common goal: to diminish violence in this world." (U.S. Bishops, "A Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace." ) And I thought deeply about the words of a moral theologian, who suggested that God needs both committed soldiers and committed pacifists to keep a moral balance in this world. Life is complex. Truth and Reality call for both soldiers to preserve peace and protect the innocent through fighting in wars, and pacifists to break the chain of injustice by "not being afraid to confront evil with the weapons of truth and love alone." (Pope Benedict XVI)
In describing the criteria that must be met in order for a war to be just, the U.S. Bishops say "The theory of the just war, or limited war, begins with a presumption that binds all Christians, we must love our neighbors and our enemies. The possibility of taking even one human life must be a prospect we should consider with fear and trembling." (from "The Challenge of Peace." )
Their criteria for a just war include: 1) a Just Cause - the necessity to confront a real and certain danger, i.e. to protect innocent life, to preserve conditions necessary for decent human life and basic human rights. 2) War must be declared by those with responsibility for public order, not by private groups or individuals. 3) All peaceful alternatives must have been exhausted.
4) No state should act on the basis that it has 'absolute justice' on its side. Every party to a conflict must acknowledge the limits of its just cause and use only limited means in pursuit of its objectives. 5) Actions within a war must never be "total war," nuclear war, and must never target civilian populations or non-military targets.
One can see that, especially in regards to number five, it is very difficult if not impossible to call any war completely just today.
Conscientious objectors are those who claim the right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, and/or religion. In some countries, they are assigned to an alternative civilian service as a substitute for conscription or military service. Some conscientious objectors oppose all war. Some oppose only a particular war. Some oppose only certain parts of warfare. In 2003, in Israel, twenty-seven reserve pilots and former pilots refused to serve on any missions that involved bombing civilian population centers in the occupied territories.
Christian conscientious objectors (including Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, etc.) believe that Christian life is incompatible with military action because Jesus enjoins his followers to love their enemies and refuse violence. For Buddhists, one of the five precepts is "I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures." Both Sikhs and Hindus believe war should be a last resort and should be fought to sustain life and morality in society.
The Catholic Church supports legal protection for those who conscientiously refuse to participate in any war (conscientious objectors) and for those who cannot, in good conscience, serve in specific conflicts or perform specific actions they consider unjust (selective conscientious objectors). (from "The Harvest of Justice is Sown in Peace.")
Conscience is the key word here. The way for all human beings to make a correct moral choice is through prayer or meditation, finding the facts, and consulting their individual consciences, the law inscribed by God in the human heart, the most secret sanctuary where we are alone with God and listen to God's Wisdom. In fact, one's conscience must be obeyed before all else! Vatican 11's "Decree on Religious Freedom" calls on all of us, including governments, to uphold the primacy of the individual conscience: "In all his activity, a man is bound to follow his conscience faithfully in order that he may come to God for whom he was created. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious."
And so, I can support the conscience of Chris Kyle, "American Sniper," when he says "It was my duty to shoot the enemy, and I don't regret it. Savage, despicable evil. That's what we were fighting in Iraq....when I do go face God, there is going to be lots of things I will have to account for, but killing any of those people is not one of them."
And I can support Ben Salmon, a Catholic conscientious objector during World War One, who wrote in a letter to President Wilson " Regardless of nationality, all men are brothers. God is 'Our Father Who Art in Heaven.' ....The lowly Nazarene taught us the doctrine of non-resistance, and so convinced was he of the soundness of that doctrine that he sealed his belief with death on the cross....Conscience, my infallible guide, impels me to tell you that prison, death, or both are infinitely preferable to joining any branch of the army."
Through trusting in God with all their hearts to help them make the right decisions and courageously following their consciences, both these men - and all sincere warriors and pacifists - are justified in God's eyes and carry out His mysterious Will for their lives - and the world's life.
"How can you pray without asking?" a woman exclaimed when she read this quote. I can understand her confusion.
My mind and heart are filled to overflowing with people and situations I'm praying about daily. And if I or someone I love have serious problems, I can't seem to pray anything, day or night, except "Dear God, can't You please -" and then I find myself telling God what I think God should do: "save this marriage"; or " heal this child"; or "reunite this family."
After all, didn't Jesus Himself, when talking about prayer, say
"Ask, and you will receive; seek, and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What father among you would hand his son a snake when he asks for a fish? Or hand him a scorpion when he asks for an egg? If you, then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more then will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?" (Luke 11:9-13.)
But if my relationship with God depended on Him answering my prayers according to my specifics, our relationship would have been over long ago. Because He certainly doesn't always answer my prayers in the way and in the time frame I request.
I think Mother Teresa has a much simpler, more realistic, more trusting way of praying: placing ourselves and those we pray for into God our Father's Hands. I've learned that if I'm humble, I admit to myself that I don't necessarily know what's best for the people I love, the people whose concerns haunt me. God knows their lives, their hearts, their souls. Even when He appears to give them, or me, scorpions and snakes!
God knows that the scorpion of suffering can lead a loved one or us to deep emotional and spiritual growth. God knows that the poisonous snake of a path filled with obstacles may strengthen and deepen a loved one's - or our - independence and resolve. Our loving heavenly Father knows exactly what good gifts to give to all of His children, and at the point in their lives when these gifts are needed the most! And the gifts are to bring us and those we love to salvation, nothing more and nothing less.
And this is the most beautiful and sublime prayer we can give others: prayer to aid them to eternal life. Not prayers telling God how and when to give them that. Prayers that stand in unity with them, prayers for them to grow in their relationships with God. Prayers for us, that we may better hear God's Voice of Wisdom and Love in our hearts and souls.
Daily I place these loved ones, - my family, my friends, all those who need prayer the most - into God's Hands and pray for them to be open to God's Holy Spirit, Who will fill them with spiritual gifts as they face the problems in their lives, and I pray that the Holy Spirit will give them the kind of healing that God knows they need, whether it be physical, spiritual, or emotional. Because St. Luke is very clear: God ALWAYS gives us the gift of His Spirit. Praying to be filled with the Holy Spirit is the prayer that will always be answered in the way we desire.
This can be a very difficult way to pray when our broken hearts are pleading with God to change someone or something; it's a tremendous test of how much we love and trust God. Jesus whispers to us, asking us if we can truly surrender and say "Thy Will be done," as He did in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus knew and believed that with God all things are possible. He also knew and trusted that to be one with His Father was to be one with His Father's Will. Broken, bloody, weeping, He descended into the darkest of shadows, the shadow of Death, and rose radiant and transformed.
Every time we surrender our lives and our loved ones' lives into God's Hands, and pray for God's Spirit to strengthen and enlighten us, we can more clearly see the subtle, delicate, almost hidden ways that God is at work in those lives. And the pattern of God's work in us and among us is always the same: Darkness into Light, Brokenness into Healing, Death into Life. God is Love; there is no other Way that He can work, no other Will that He can have. When we pray, when we surrender everyone and everything to Him, all we have to ask for is for Him to be with our loved ones, filling them with His life, for Him to be with us, filling us with His grace. And then we trust Him to shower us with good gifts, to bring everyone and everything eventually into transformed eternal Life.
Do we think that only human beings praise and bless God? Look at these words:
" Mountains and hills, bless the Lord.
"Everything growing from the earth, bless the Lord.
"Seas and rivers, bless the Lord.
"You dolphins and all water creatures, bless the Lord.
"All you beasts, wild and tame, bless the Lord." (Daniel 3:74-81)
The prophet Daniel is saying that all of Nature is doing God's Will and giving God glory, and why not? The Universe has been in existence for millions and billions of years before we human beings even appeared. God, Who is Love, created our Universe as an act of love - and Nature, God's Footprint, glorifies and blesses God in return.
We humans can learn much about God's Wisdom, Beauty, Power, and Love, by contemplating Nature. God tells Job to learn about God from observing the Nature that surrounds Job:
"If you would learn more, ask the cattle,
Seek information from the birds of the air.
The creeping things of earth will give you lessons,
And the fishes of the sea will tell you all.
There is not a single creature that does not know
That everything is of God's making.
God holds in power the soul of every living thing,
And the breath of every human body." (Book of Job 12:7-10)
"God holds in power the soul of every living thing!" Fr. Richard Rohr says "Others think that to grant any conception of 'soul' to creation itself, to animals, or anything beyond human beings, is to lessen our own eternal soul. Yet our very words 'animate object' might reveal a deeper intuition: animate comes from the Latin 'anima,' breath, or soul." If the Holy Spirit was the Wind sweeping over the original waters of creation, we can envision the Breath of the Spirit animating and ensouling all.
God is Transcendent - Above All, and Immanent - Within All. Yet somehow we Christians have concentrated so much on God's love and salvation offered to human beings, that we forgot God's love for the rest of His creation, and the tremendous promise to "Make all Things New in Christ." Mystics like St. Francis spoke of Brother Sun and Sister Moon, but often enough the Native religions in our own country, for example, have understood our connection and interdependency with nature more than we Christians have, and have given Nature a deeper, instinctive respect.
The Plains Indians, when hunting, thank both the Creator and the spirit of the animal they kill for food and hides because they believe they are related to it in as much as the Creator created all living things for a purpose.
The Iroquois Indians' Prayer for Thanksgiving gives thanks to the Great Spirit "in whom is embodied all goodness, and who directs all things for the good of His children." But first, thanksgiving is offered to Nature: "We return thanks to our mother, the earth, which sustains us. We return thanks to the rivers and streams, which supply us with water. We return thanks for all herbs, which furnish medicines for the cure of our diseases. We return thanks to the corn, and her sisters, the bean and squash, which give us life....etc."
God, all Love, is in love with ALL His creation, not just us. His Spirit animates all. In this time of all times, when humanity lies at a crossroads, when we have to make informed choices about how to save and conserve the earth's environment and species, we would do well to remember that ALL creation was created by a loving God to give God praise. Then our choices can give proper care, respect, and thanks to Mother Earth who sustains us.
I am partially deaf. So the doorbells at our front and back doors are loud enough to knock a hearing person's socks off. But, in spite of their loudness, if I am down in the cellar and my washing machine is running, the noise keeps me from hearing either door bell.
Whether we are deaf or have perfect hearing, we can all have selective hearing when it comes to Christ's knocks on the doors of our souls - and on the doors of our Churches. He dwells within us - but we can erect doors of self-protection and keep ourselves so busy that the noise of our busyness shuts Him out and away from having any influence on our lives - or on the life of our Churches.
We'd rather live in a state of lukewarm, half-hearted commitment. It's easier, especially when we think we don't need Him. Because we are more economically secure than a lot of the rest of the world, we can be so woefully blind to our spiritual poverty and anemia.
Christ says to us "For you say 'I am rich and affluent and have no need of anything', and yet do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.... Behold, I stand at the door and I knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, then I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me... Whoever has ears ought to hear what the Spirit says to the Churches."
(Revelation 3: 17-22).
I have heard of Pastors and Finance Councils in all Christian denominations whose main objective in Church Administration is to keep a hefty balance in the bank account so their Church is absolutely secure. I have heard of other Churches that tithe a certain amount of income each month or year to charitable causes or poorer churches.
The Book of Acts gives us a breath-taking picture of how deeply the early Christians understood the reality of belonging to the Body of Christ: "All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one's need." (Acts 2: 44-45.) Every Church, no matter its economic condition, has a wealth of individual and communal spiritual gifts and riches to share with others in various forms of Outreach.
As individuals and families we are also confronted by Christ about the right way to share our property, money, spiritual gifts, and possessions with other members of Christ's Body. Because paradoxically, the more we share of our gifts, property and financial resources, the more we are rich in spiritual blessings and inner peace. Peace does not come from our external financial or economic security. Peace comes from the inside - living in union with Christ and Christ's Mystical Body.
If we open our doors to Christ and happily ask Him to enter, if we acknowledge our spiritual poverty, our spiritual hunger and thirst, he brings a meal for us to share - the fruits of the Spirit: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Generosity, Faithfulness, Gentleness, Self-Control.
If Christ is our Peace, we have discovered true security. Our "inner crystal mansion" where Christ dwells (for such is the beauty of our souls) can never be destroyed by any adversity. And we have the inner strength to dwell at peace, as much as possible, with everyone.
If Christ is our Church's Peace, and we have discovered the wonderful diversity of the Body of Christ through our sharing and Outreach, then, if that Church building should be sold, and the community scattered to the four winds - as is happening in communities across our country - each member can still live in Peace in the midst of grief. They already know from experience that if they pray and seek, another Church home awaits them where once again they will be united in peace and Joy with the Body of Christ.
Whoever has ears ought to hear - and that's all of us!
The smallest weapon we human beings have is also the deadliest, and we use it against ourselves and others: our tongues.
St. James says "Consider how small a fire can set a huge forest ablaze. The tongue is also a fire. It exists among our members as a world of malice, defiling the whole body and setting the whole course of our lives on fire, itself set on fire by Gehenna.... No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it, we bless the Lord and Father, and with it, we curse human beings who are made in the likeness of God." (James 3:5-9)
We human beings can do immense damage to our own selves by verbally (even if it's mentally) putting ourselves down. We can so easily manage to destroy our own self-esteem and poison our self-confidence. Yet we are made in God's Image - and God does not make junk. Inwardly be gentle with yourself; God is. God overflows with patience for us. Because we are made in God's Image, we can, in prayer, be in union with Him and experience His love even if morally we are not yet perfect, not yet totally reflecting His Likeness. Ask for forgiveness; be kind to yourself; come closer to Him.
It seems we human beings, to a large extent, also feed on rumors, suspicions, scandal, character assassination, violent verbal outrage, without considering the repercussions, to our own souls and to the reputations of others. Some even "get even" with others by deliberately spreading lies about them. James points out our hypocrisy: one moment we can use our tongue to praise God, and the next "verbally slay" someone made in God's Image.
A Sufi mystic (holy man) had the same insight as St. James and pointed out the three gates our words should be able to pass through before we speak them: (see below)
Interesting that a Sufi - a Muslim mystic - should say these words, but these words are true and God is the Truth and we reverence the Truth where we find it.
Interesting, because right now the tongues of Muslims and Christians and non-believers are on fire, spreading violence across the world - in that same compartmentalization and hypocrisy that St. James and the Muslim mystics spoke out against.
Muslim extremists, in rebellion against their own holy men and the Koran, cry out "Death to all unbelievers!" And French cartoonists retaliate in kind.
Yes, I believe in free speech and freedom of the press. These are inalienable rights in free countries. But with freedom comes responsibility. And, so often people confuse the Law with Morality. Because it is legally all right for members of the press to say something, that does not make their words morally right.
If only the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo, professed non-believers, had used the Three Gates that the Muslim mystics speak of to form their consciences before they produced cartoons deriding, making fun of, and insulting the Prophet. They did not satirize Sharia Law, which would be understandable, but insulted the Prophet himself. Poisonous, malicious cartoons.
Was what was implied about the Prophet true? Was it necessary ? Was it kind? As St. James says unequivocally " With it (the tongue) we curse human beings made in God's Image and Likeness."
No one can justify the extreme violence, both verbal and physical, that Muslim extremists have used and are using against Christians, in a fire that is spreading across the world. Likewise, no one can justify the verbal violence I have heard and seen here in the United States, calling all Muslims "sub-human", calling out for us to torture these "animals" and bomb their country. More fire, sweeping the world, pushing verbal threats towards physical retaliation and wider war.
In these violent and frightening times, we are called to work for peace by watching our own tongues, being mindful of the words we want to speak and letting our consciences and the Three Gates be our guide before they leave our mouths: Are our words true? Are they necessary? Are they kind? Are these words of justice and healing, or are they full of poison and malice?
World peace or war begin with words. Peace begins with the Word of God. War begins with words forged in the fires of Gehenna.
What is your greatest fear? Or do you have more than one?
According to an article in "Parade" magazine, what scares people the most is walking alone in the dark. However this fear is also linked to another strong fear - fear of the unknown. When we don't know what we're facing, we can't mentally prepare either mental or physical defenses, we can't control the situation. Fear of the unknown has helped the human species to survive. It has also given us fear of anything or anyone different, which has caused breakdowns in communication and unity among human beings.
Do you fear anything on this additional list?
Fear of flying
Fear of public speaking
Fear of heights
Fear of the dark
Fear of intimacy (which includes fear of rejection, fear of commitment, and fear of failure)
Fear of death
Fear of spiders
I can honestly say that in addition to fear of the dark, fear of the unknown, and fear of not being in control, I fear a number of things on that list. We're all probably bundles of an assortment of fears, which we have to battle on a daily basis.
Yet we can ask our selves - are we born fearful? Marianne Williamson says that we are not.
"Love is what we are born with. Fear is what we learn. Children are happy because they do not have a file in their minds called 'All the Things That Could Go Wrong.' The spiritual journey is the unlearning of fear and prejudices and the acceptance of love back into our hearts. Love is the essential reality and our purpose on earth."
Unlearning fear and re-accepting love is the most difficult part of our spiritual journey. Unfortunately, the older we grow and the more experiences that we have, the easier it is to believe that things will go wrong, because they have so often already. Our dreams desert us. People get sick. We get sick. People abandon us. People die. People go into the dark and never return. And some of it is our fault. And so we can even fear ourselves, fear our own inadequacy. How easy, then, for our fears to become chronic, and control us! How can we return to love and trust?
Elizabeth Scalia leads us unerringly back to God, because, in the end, our lives are in God's hands. And we have to ask ourselves, do we fear God, or trust God? Do we fear the unfathomable things that God allows to happen in our lives, or trust God to uphold us and bring all to the good?
"God's complex ideas, when they are introduced to our personal lives, often seem like actions 'working against all sense' because that's what they are: they are meant to move us out of the idolatry of our own ideas, our own reasonings, our own minds, and enter us into his ideas, his reasoning, his mind. If we consent to it, then we are admitted into the staggering sweetness of his enraptured love for us, where the only real price is trust. The world will never understand it or appreciate it because it has not consented to that same all-loving capture; it is too afraid of the ransom."
Fear controls us when we fear God because we can't control God. The only answer is Love, Intimacy with God. When I am overcome by fear, I fight this intimacy. I'd rather be angry with God, wander around lost for awhile, rather than give up control of my ideas, my mind, and enter into his ideas, his mind. Yet, when we pray, we enter into God's ideas and God's mind, and we can let go of our fears, prejudices, and inadequacies because God is perfect Love and Perfect Love casts out all fear.
We are, after all, children of God. When we pray intimately, God wraps us in Love, penetrates us to our deepest, darkest depths, illuminates all our fears so we can start to let go of them, one by one. Wrapped in God' love, purified by God's love, we are made new and courageous, powerful in faith and assurance.
Marianne Williamson has a vision of who we can be when we live in intimate loving union with God: we can finally become our true selves.
"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our darkness, that most frightens us....You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world.....As we let our Light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence actually liberates others."
We - you and I - can pray every day to trust God more deeply, be wrapped in His liberating Love. We can pray that we won't let fear push us to play small!
Mary C. Weisenburger