Love One Another

Jesus tells us to love one another, to love our neighbor as ourselves, even to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  And he makes clear that our “neighbor” includes people who think and worship differently from us.  It is a lot easier to love people who are like us.  This is hard teaching.  Maybe Jesus was just crazy.

During the presidency of Barack Obama, there were many people who were very angry at him and his policies, who feared that he was bringing Socialism.  Today, at the beginning of the presidency of Donald Trump, there are other people who are very angry at him and the policies he has advocated, who fear that he may be an American version of Adolph Hitler.  Love?  You’ve got to be kidding.

On Inauguration Day I was reading The Grace in Aging (2014) by Kathleen Dowling Singh, whose perspective is primarily Buddhist.  I read:

The mind of anger often appears as judgment….Judging others, we shore up our own beliefs and assumptions.  Judging others allows us to feel superior.  That wish to feel superior is harmful.  It feeds our fictional self, keeping us in ignorance.  Judging others rips us out of interbeing and connection.  It arises from ignorance and obstructs compassion….Judging puts out a directed negativity and adds to the toxicity of the world.

Singh ends that chapter encouraging us as we age to “hold the space for peace in the world.”  Whether we are following her advice or following Jesus’ commandment to love one another, I don’t think it’s very comfortable.  It requires being open and vulnerable, being aware of our limitations, respecting everyone as a beloved child of God who may well carry a piece of truth that needs to be heard.  That’s challenging.  Slogans and put-downs are a lot easier.

Queries:

How do you discern Truth?

What does it mean to love those with whom you disagree?

Prayer:

Richard Rohr, in his Daily Meditation for Saturday, January 21, 2017, describes a prayer of the heart.  “Next time a resentment, negativity, or irritation comes into your mind, and you want to play it out or attach to it, move that thought or person literally into your heart space…,” which is a place where “it is almost impossible to comment, judge, create story lines, or remain antagonistic.”  Then open your heart into the heart of God.

For further reference:

“How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (See Psalm 133.)

“Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.” (See John 16: 1-4.)

To Weed or Not to Weed

As I write this I could instead be profitably weeding my front yard—which has no grass, lots of English ivy, pretty trees, flowers in their season, and an infinite amount of weeds.

In chapter 13 of the gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells two parables about weeds.  In the first, there is a sower whose seed lands on different kinds of soil.  One kind has thorns, which choke the new plants when they begin to grow, so they never produce.  The other parable tells about a wheat field sowed with good seeds but when everyone is asleep the enemy comes and sows weeds among the wheat.  The surprising injunction is to let both of them grow together until harvest time.

Sometimes weeding is helpful and sometimes it is not.  To ignore injustice is to let conditions fester that choke out the life or Life in the individuals or groups to whom injustice is done, and also in those in whose name the wrongs are done.  People’s lives may be cut short because of the unjust conditions they face—hunger and malnutrition, exposure to high levels of pollution in order to produce the products wanted by those whose clean air is protected, being subject to gang violence because they can’t see better alternatives, enduring sex trafficking for others’ greed and lust.  With such conditions where is the compassion to which Jesus witnessed?  How can one be loving one’s neighbor as oneself?

We all have faults, but to become solely focused on removing the weeds, in ourselves or others, can result in perfectionism and losing sight of God.  We may forget who indeed is God, and also forget God’s love for us just as we are.  We judge, we ruminate on negative things, we lose sight of life and the abundance of gifts that we have been given.  A lack of humility and too much self-righteousness might prosper, because we don’t always know what are truly the weeds.  Nor do we always know how to pull them up without damage to the wheat.  To weed or not to weed is a question that needs prayerful discernment.

Queries:

What are the weeds in your life?

How do you listen to and care about others who have different values from yours?

Prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

For further reflection:

“What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8).

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Philippians 4:8).

Mercy

Pope Francis has declared 2016 to be the Year of Mercy. To grant mercy for people who make mistakes and are repentant or “worthy” of mercy is fine. But what about those people or groups who are doing terrible things, or who might include some who would oppress or do great harm—or even have values different from mine? Don’t we need to judge them, or wouldn’t we rather pass judgment? James 2: 13 says that “mercy triumphs over judgment,” a statement that seems backwards.

J was arrested for selling cocaine. Mary knew too many young men whose lives had been ruined by cocaine. She could easily judge J. She was clear that what he had been doing was wrong. Yet, he was in fact a young man she had known from the time he was a baby. She had been his youth group leader at church. She knew his father abused his mother and had beaten her so badly that she had been blinded, and she knew that his mother had only recently died. She felt compelled to offer mercy.

She lined up his pastor and got letters of reference to take to his hearing, and together she and the pastor went to court and waited all the time it took for J’s case to come before the judge. Convinced by the support that had been presented, the judge, pointedly holding the young man accountable for what he did with this new chance, released him into their care.

Mercy is not the same as passivity or accepting anything and everything. It is a standing with, recognizing one’s own need for mercy, rather than feeling or acting superior and standing on top of. Mercy has costs. It isn’t about safety and security. Mercy recognized for what it is and received has the effect of yeast added to a measure of flour and liquid. Mercy transforms hearts. It comes from Love.

Queries:

What about your life would make you want to receive mercy rather than judgment?

What do you need to leave behind in order for your life to be more mercy-full?

Prayer:

Breathe in mercy. With the outward breath, let go.   An alternative prayer is the one routinely used in the liturgy of the Roman Catholic Church–“Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy.”

For further reference:

See James 2: 1-13, a passage that warns against showing partiality for one group over another and ends with the call for mercy.

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions” (Psalm 51:1).

Judge Not that You Be Not Judged

I awoke one morning obsessing about a situation that had gone wrong. Certainly I had made mistakes I could learn from. But lying in bed I didn’t focus on the good that had come from the problem. Instead I was judging myself. I scolded me for being inadequate and incompetent, and I wondered if there was anything I could do well. My self-judgment was harsh.

Fortunately I spoke with my spiritual director, who gave me perspective. What I experienced from her was God’s love. We agreed that it is wise to evaluate problematic situations and to learn the lessons they contain—to make those kinds of judgments. But, when I judge myself in a condemning way, I am acting as the ultimate judge—as God. That blocks God’s love and keeps me from facing reality and, if appropriate, making changes.

Being overly self-critical, which makes it hard to receive love, makes it easy to judge others. The less love one is able to receive, the less one has to give. The more I pick at everything wrong with me, the more I do the same to you, and the more likely you will do that back to me. The wounds multiply. Compassion–God’s love and mercy that heals—is missing.

Queries:

When have you judged yourself or others or been judged by others?

What helps you be in the flow of God’s love?

What is your experience of compassion or forgiveness that is helpful to you?

Prayer:                                

Repeat the Lord’s Prayer—“Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name . . . Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us . . . .” You may want to rewrite it in your own words.

For further reflection:

“Judge not that you be not judged. . .” (See Matthew 7: 1-5).

“Should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?” (See Matthew 18: 23-35).

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (See Psalm 51). You may want to read this psalm in different translations. Consider Nan Merrill’s Psalms for Praying.