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Today we face a number of political crises from global warming, to economic inequality, to wars around the globe—not to mention the recent political developments in our own country where the values of our democracy are radically threatened. It is all too easy to get stuck in fear, anger, and despair, or swamped in apathy and indifference. Do not let these debilitating emotions come between you and God. Rather, we can view these perilous times as an opportunity to develop more powerful spiritual practices and engage in positive actions to make our world a better place. United with Christ, we must embody God’s love and compassion for all people and for the entire creation here and now.
One group that tries to bring the mystical traditions of the world religions together with social activism for the establishment of God’s reign of justice and peace is an international organization called the Shift Network. They call themselves the Shift Network because as they say “it will take millions of connected, activated, inspired citizens to enact the changes that are possible” (theshiftnetwork.com). As they further state, soul force “demands discipline, accountability and a profound surrender to Divine Will. It’s ultimately about becoming a vessel for grace and a vehicle for healing—and a willingness to be the hands, feet, and heart of the Divine, doing what we can to bring more wholeness and wisdom to the world” (sacredpracticescourse.com).
Are you willing turn your upset into creativity, your despair into hope, and your apathy into inspired actions that serve God’s justice, mercy, and evolution?
God dwells within us and is present and active in our lives through our everyday experiences. It is important that we exercise a self-presence that pays close attention to our bodily, emotional and intellectual lives. Only by being present to ourselves can we be truly present to God, to other people and to all of creation.
Today, I focus on making friends with our feelings through self-compassion. Because some of our feelings are so painful, we avoid them, suppress them, sedate them or do whatever we can to distract our attention from them. The problem is, that when we close our hearts to our feelings, we constrict our relationship with ourselves, with others and with God. If we can get better at feeling our feelings, we can learn to love and accept ourselves unconditionally as God does.
Medieval Sufi mystic and poet, Rumi, expresses this point in his poem, “Guest House”:
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each quest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Share your feelings with God’s gentle Spirit and allow yourself to be wrapped in love. By befriending your feelings you will experience greater joy and freedom in your life of discipleship.
By Sister Marilyn Barnett, OP
I have a friend who for many years worked as a pastoral minister and teacher in the church. Every time she met with a group in the parish she began with this question: “What God sightings did you encounter this past week?”
Here is a sample of some of the God sightings shared:
I saw God in the face of the elderly gentleman to whom I brought communion in the nursing home this week.
I saw God in the beauty of the falling snow that gave me a sense of awe and gratitude for life.
I saw God in the smile that was returned to me by a person of color while shopping in the Mall.
I saw God in a news report of the medical personnel who are risking their lives to save the children in the bombed out cities of Aleppo and Mosul.
An amazing thing happened as she asked this question of each group she encountered. Over time “God sightings” were an important entry into the beginning of parish council meetings, the food pantry opening, and even the monthly finance meeting. She and the people found that God sightings have a way of changing the perspective of doing “business as usual.” People became more aware of God, not just at prayer times, but in every dimension of daily life.
What God sightings did you have today?
By Sister Kathy Nolan, OP
Recently the Oxford Dictionaries announced that their 2016 word of the year is “Post-Truth”. Oxford defines post-truth as “an adjective relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” As one writer suggests, the key here is “post” as it refers to a “time in which the specified concept has become unimportant and irrelevant.” Perhaps another way of saying this is that post-truth describes a condition in which truth is no longer really important at all.
I find this quite alarming and frightening. The recent presidential election campaign was, in fact, a vivid example of how truth has lost and ‘fake news’ and distortion of truth has won the day. George Orwell described such a time as we live in in the following way: “In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is revolutionary.”
As a Christian and a Dominican, seeking truth is a life-long pursuit. It is impossible to think that as an individual or as a society we would abandon truth telling and embrace deceit and obfuscation as the norm. For Christians, Gospel values provide us with the norms for living and the Gospel is revolutionary. Jesus says of himself, “I am the way, the truth and the life” (Jn 14:6). Following Jesus requires a wholehearted pursuit of truth in our personal and public lives.
Take some time and reflect on the place of truth in your life: Does personal or group bias cloud your vision causing you to see only your own advantage in a situation while blinding you to the needs of others who are different from you? Do you avoid truth through denial, suppression of painful emotions, busyness, and overconsumption? Or are you emotionally honest and willing to acknowledge the truth of a situation, even when it is painful? Are you willing to act on the truth and live with integrity? As Jesus states, “the truth will set you free” (Jn 8:32).
"Act of Faith Hope Love Collage" by Art4TheGlryOfGod is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0
When we look at the horrific sufferings in the world caused by war, poverty, various forms of oppression and ecological devastation we may ask, “What will it take to bring world suffering to an end?”
The Sufi tell a story:
Past the seeker, as he prayed, came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them the holy one went down into deep prayer and cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”
And out of the long silence, God said, “I did do something about them. I made you.”*
As we begin the New Year, this is exactly what we need to hear. We are the ones to bring God’s love to this world here and now. This is what the Incarnation is all about. God becoming flesh refers not only to the full humanity of Jesus but to the whole of humanity embraced by God. As the great patristic theologians declared, God became human so that humanity could become like God. Saint Paul loved to refer to the first Christian community as the “Body of Christ,” called to continue the mission of Christ in the world. As “other Christs” we are to use our gifts and talents to bring God’s love, justice, and peace to the human community and the entire earth. How are you being called to make a small contribution on a daily basis to bring the world’s suffering to an end?
*Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection: Storytelling and the Search for Meaning (New York: Bantam Books, 1993, Kindle edition), Kindle location 1549.
A close friend of mine was out with her beloved Grandmother. They were waiting for the light to change before crossing a busy street. Grandmother says to her granddaughter, “See the blind man across the street: Go and tell him your name, and offer to walk him across the street.” Of course, the little girl did exactly what her grandmother said. “My name is Marianne, may I walk across the street with you?” This was a life-changing event in the young girl’s life. In this simple act, she discovered the joy of service. She has been a Franciscan Sister of Peace for many years now.
We may receive such gifts during this time of Christmas, small gifts that shape our lives into the future. And then there are gifts that ask us for the big response: the “Big Give,” such as a vocation to religious life that asks for your life to be the hand of Christ for others.
Being the hand of Christ for others can take many forms. The invitation and the grace to say “yes” come from God who lives among the people, especially those who are on the margins. Women have many options. You will do it in your own way. It’s an unknown future. How is God asking you to be the hand of Christ for others?
Sister Judith Benkert, OP
The unexpected voice of Advent has the power to set people on a wondrous path of new life. Advent tells the story of Elizabeth and Zechariah, who are childless in their old age but give birth to a son, John, because God fulfills impossible dreams. Mary hears the angel’s voice, “Do not be afraid, O highly favored daughter, you will give birth to the Savior.” She responds wholeheartedly, “Be it done unto me according to your word.” And in a dream the unexpected voice of an angel consoles the brokenhearted Joseph, encouraging him to change his plans and take Mary as his wife. They give birth to a son and they name him “Emmanuel,” meaning God is with us. All of these Advent figures listened and trusted the unexpected voice of God. As a result, their lives, and ours, have been transformed in miraculous ways.
This unexpected voice of God still speaks today in the story of Ted Shawn, a young divinity student who was suddenly stricken with polio. From somewhere deep within him came a most unlikely voice calling him to, of all things, dance. So, with great difficulty, he quit divinity school and began to dance, and slowly and miraculously, he not only regained the use of his legs, but went on to become one of the fathers of modern dance.
This Advent recall a time in your own life when the unexpected voice of God came to you, perhaps in a time of great vulnerability, and showed you the way to new life and happiness. Give thanks to God and ask yourself: Am I still listening?
Without a healthy self-love, there can be no love of God and neighbor. According to the Desert Fathers and Mothers of early Christian times, we cannot begin to learn how to love God and others without first learning how to claim for ourselves a self to do that loving. To many contemporary Christians, loving means that as Jesus sacrificed himself for others, so Christians must also in their everyday lives sacrifice their very selves for the sake of others.
While it is true that love requires self-giving and discipline to respond to the needs of family, friends, community and those we serve, it is misguided to think that love is of such a self-sacrificing nature that Christians ought not have a self at all. One sign that we lack a self is the feeling that our worth is determined by others’ approval or liking of us. If we are captive to the need for approval, we may well refuse to make the right decision we know is true to our convictions out of anxiety over what others may think of us. As Christians, we need to realize our intrinsic value as created in the image of God. Our true identity rests in God and our primary relationship is with God.
For this reason, the Desert Fathers and Mothers told their disciples to be like the dead when it comes to other people’s opinion:
A brother came to see Abba Macarius the Egyptian, and said to him, “Abba, give me a word, that I may be saved.” So the old man said, “Go to the cemetery and abuse the dead.” The brother went there, abused them and threw stones at them; then he returned and told the old man about it. The latter said to him, “Didn’t they say anything to you?” He replied, “No.” The old man said, “Go back tomorrow and praise them.” So the brother went away and praised them, calling them, “Apostles, saints, and righteous men.” He returned to the old man and said to him, “I have complimented them.” And the old man said to him, “Did they not answer you?” The brother said no. The old man said to him, “You know how you insulted them and they did not reply, and how you praised them and they did not speak; so you too if you wish to be saved must do the same and become a dead man. Like the dead, take no account of either the scorn of human beings or their praises, and you will be saved.”
The clear message in Macarius’ teaching is that if we are able to understand that our authentic identity is not linked to others’ evaluations of us, we are free to be our true self. Only then will we be able to respond to the call of Christ to love God and neighbor as self.
By Sister Maureen Barzantni, OP
I went to Standing Rock, North Dakota, with a delegation of Dominican Sisters, to be in solidarity with the Native American Sioux Tribe, which has taken on the role of protecting the water and their sacred places from the Energy Transfer Partners’ Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The Sioux fear that the pipeline will leak crude oil into the Missouri River and poison the water supply of downstream communities such as Fort Yates, the tribal center of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation.
What makes this even more troubling is that the pipeline was originally set to run north of the mostly white town of Bismarck, but the route was changed when the Army Corp of Engineers decided that was a “high consequence area.” The Sioux Tribe spoke out against the obvious implications that their community is an area of low consequence for an oil spill. The non-violent actions taken by the activists, who call themselves “water protectors,” have at times met with police in riot gear who have fired water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and concussion grenades to disperse the activists.
To stand with the Sioux Nation was not a difficult decision to make. I wanted to go because I value the traditions of the Native American communities and hope to learn to live in a way that reveres Mother Earth. The people at Standing Rock have a great sense of leaving Earth in conditions that will benefit the future generations. I heard repeatedly, “We have no choice. It is for our children.” Their choice, however, comes with pain. They are living in teepees, yurts, tents, and campers among thousands of strangers who have come to support them. The Dakota winter is severe. Some have suffered injury from police action against them. Could I do that?
I do not know how this will play out. My guess is that the pipeline will win, but the decision each “protector” made to engage in the struggle to value life over profit is not in vain. The Standing Rock Community is a beacon of hope, hope that we can get our priorities in order even while faced with the power of greed. As I finish this reflection, the lyrics of Trevor Hall’s song, “If You Are a Rock, Stand up Like a Mountain” are running through my mind.
When we are stuck in a state of restless dissatisfaction—“I want this, I want that”—we can fail to see the value of life and focus only on what is wrong with the situation, ourselves and other people. We may relentlessly push ourselves to achieve success and independence because we want what do not have. And once we have it, we want something else. When we are caught in this dynamic, we do not value the good things we have in life or take joy in God.
The remedy for this unhappy state is simple: gratitude. It should not surprise us that people who feel thankful acknowledge inner richness and deeply appreciate small things that many of us take for granted—good health, the beauty of nature, a kind word. Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, often speaks about the joy of breathing!
Are we supposed to be thankful even in times of suffering? How are we to respond to the tragedies and evils that cause us such great pain and turmoil? Gratitude does not mean ignoring hardships in life. True gratitude exists only where compassion and awareness of evil are present. It is strange but true: when we have struggled with illness, we appreciate health; when we experience a broken relationship, we rediscover the importance of friendship, when we have experienced the agony of defeat, we appreciate the sweetness of success.
In good times and bad, may we allow gratitude to open us to the presence of God. May we learn to savor God’s loving relationship, who gives us this day our daily bread. As Dominican mystic Meister Eckhart states, “If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.”
As you celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, take time to reflect on your practice of gratitude. Do you easily give thanks for the many gifts in your life in a spirit of inner contentment for what you have, or are you easily caught up in the sense of dissatisfaction with life, forgetful of your blessings through lack of time or attention? How might you cultivate gratitude in your life?
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Sister Tarianne DeYonker, OP
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Adrian Dominican Sisters
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Adrian, Michigan 49221-1793
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