Lost Baggage

On a trip to Rome for the wedding of a relative who grew up there and whose parents still live in Rome, my husband and I arrived but our suitcases didn’t.  Trying to sleep the second night we were there, lying in bed wearing my friend’s nightgown, I fretted.  Not only was I missing my clothes for coping with the heat of Rome and the special dress I had picked for the wedding, I was missing jewelry I had packed, including several pieces of some value and much sentimental significance.

I felt foolish for having packed the necklaces, helpless in the face of cultural and language barriers and airline run-arounds, and pained by the mistakes and losses.  I lay there hurting.  Eventually I turned to prayer—not so much the kind with words addressed to God requesting a fix or a rescue, but more putting my heart in the goodness of God.  At a certain point I felt myself let go.  I valued the clothes and jewelry; but as far as I knew they were gone, and they were only things, possessions.  I had a choice—to be miserable or to make the best of things and be open and present to the adventure.

I had a wonderful time.  Letting go of fretting about my losses also let go much of my usual need to be in control and even my perfectionism.  In the week we were in Rome I found joy all over the place.  And that joy has followed me home, allowing even more spiritual and psychological changes and freedom.

In reflecting on the experience I find myself back in the Lord ’s PrayerGive us this day our daily bread.  As I understand these words, all we need is what God knows we need for this one day.  All the extra is unnecessary, maybe even baggage that gets in the way of life.  I still have too much stuff, and I’m not interested in losing anything.  But I do have a taste of another way.

(P.S.: We did retrieve our luggage, with no items missing, one month after it should have arrived in Rome.)

Queries:

What baggage would you benefit from letting go?

Where can you go for comfort and direction when things go wrong?

Prayer:

Creator and Sustainer, help me to know what really matters and to be able to let go of the rest.

For further reflection:

“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” (See Luke 12: 13-21.)

“. . . do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. . . (See Matthew 6: 25-34).

Thy Kingdom Come

The world of American politics is very divisive.  People have strong feelings that this party and its supporters are good and the other party is wrong, bad, even frightening.  Politics seems fundamentally about power and being able to have power over others.  In the midst of the Republican and Democratic National Conventions I find myself turning again to the Lord’s Prayer (the Our Father), this time to Thy kingdom come.

When I was younger I was upset by the appeal Thy kingdom come.  It seemed like a plea for a male-dominated, hierarchical governing system, which didn’t interest me then, nor does it now.  Admittedly if God is a white male with a long, flowing beard, seated in heaven far away, pulling strings and sending down lightning bolts to punish, God’s kingdom won’t have much appeal for many of us.

I now yearn for God’s kingdom because I believe it is a time when there is shalom, a Hebrew word meaning peace and wellbeing for all.  I think of it as Eden renewed, when God’s word is written on our hearts and God is God of us all and we are all God’s people.  It is like a hidden treasure in a field or a pearl of great value that is worth selling all that I have in order to buy.

The prayer asks for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done, and for that to happen on earth, I think right here and right now.  So how do we open to that possibility, because it does happen already in moments and in part?

I think we can choose to try to know all of us as God’s beloved children.  There is so much social change happening now and international insecurity of terrible proportions.  How can we comfort and be comforted?  Can we ask what are the fears, needs, dreams, and hurts of those with whom we disagree?  What am I blind to in those whose views I find unacceptable that keeps me from recognizing our common humanity?  I think everyone yearns to be listened to, heard, and respected.  Everyone wants a sense of having a valued place at the table.

Queries:

What do I understand as the kingdom of God?

What do I have to let go in order not to slam and box up those with whom I disagree?  How do I disagree strongly with someone and yet be open to hear that person’s soul?

Prayer:  “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

For further reference: 

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people” (See Jeremiah 31:31-34).

Do what you can to be peace and to do justice, but never expect or demand perfection on this earth. It usually leads to a false moral outrage, a negative identity, intolerance, paranoia, and self-serving crusades against “the contaminating element,” instead of “becoming a new creation” ourselves (Galatians 6:15)—Richard Rohr, Daily Meditations, July 27, 2016.

“Sin”–A Four-Letter Word?

“I don’t drink and I don’t chew, and I don’t go out with girls that do.” A ditty that my father repeated jokingly, it presents sin as bad things an individual does and implies there is a catalogue of such sins. Furthermore, if you do them you are bad, and if you don’t do them, you are good. Such a view quickly escalates into the assumption that certain people are bad, especially certain kinds of people. And it sets the stage for debilitating shame and guilt, or unjust self-righteousness.

The true meaning of sin is missing the mark, being turned away from God’s ways rather than cooperating with God’s order and justice—a stance of a community or corporate body as much as of an individual. To sin is not to be a bad person; to sin is not about being unlovable or unloved by God. To sin is to be out of the flow of what is life-giving. Sin is a force within us and beyond us. Turning to God in repentance and surrender saps its power.

I heard an auto mechanic talk about the expense of medical insurance for his family under the Affordable Care Act. He said he had to have the insurance because of his wife’s many health issues. In order to solve his problem, he joked, “I could divorce her.” Then he added more seriously, “but that wouldn’t be a God-thing.” I wonder if the notion of sin is more of a deterrent to hurtful choices than thinking of some behavior as simply wrong or bad.

What if we regarded sin not as a code of wrong behaviors but as those ways that create in us a lack of compassion, that let us take care of me to the neglect and harm of others; those ways that put us individually and collectively out of the Garden of Eden, that push away the kingdom of God where there is peace and wellbeing for all? Might using the word sin to name such ways make an even more powerful statement of the damage they do and encourage us to repent?

Queries:

What have you been taught about sin, and how has that been helpful or hurtful? If hurtful, is there a way that word could be reclaimed and serve a positive function?

How does sin operate to divide us and to diminish our compassion?

Prayer:

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil.” Pray the Lord’s Prayer; perhaps you will want to put it in your own words.

For further reflection:

“I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate . . .” (See Romans 7: 14-25a).

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

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.