Loyalty and memory in response to the signs

He said to them … “In the evening you say, ‘Tomorrow will be fair, for the sky is red’;and, in the morning, ‘Today will be stormy, for the sky is red and threatening.’  You know how to judge the appearance of the sky, but you cannot judge the signs of the times.” – Matthew 16:2-4

Much of the world we once knew is flipping onto its side. People in power are causing us to have questions about what we thought were foundational values, about where their loyalties lie. When our leaders disturb the order that we once relied on — that once made us comfortable — it’s only natural for us to feel lost, confused and uncertain about how to interpret the chipping and shifting road signs.

If we haven’t learned the codes and the languages, the meaning of the signs, we may feel as if we’re traveling through the fog. We grip our steering wheels a little tighter. We pull to the side and put on our flashers, trying to gain some sort of sense about whether we are going in the right direction, trying to determine which routes — and on and off ramps — are part of the Way of Christ.

Photo Credit: FreeImages.com

As we travel, as we follow Jesus, folks reach out to us from every direction, in need of our compassion, care, and prayer. Their worlds are crumbling. In the rubble, they feel unsteady. They are challenged by change, by death, by the demand to transform and adjust — the call to conversion for which they were unprepared.

Our call is to listen to their cries, to hold them close in the way of our example, Jesus Christ. We hear their heartaches and their longings for solid ground. We encourage faithfulness to God’s love, to the demands of relating beyond break downs and upsets to the status quo. And we try to find our own solid footing, as we love over the divides and disturbances.

One way to stay grounded when the signs seem to point toward the land of letting go, to transformation and conversion, is checking our own memories and loyalties.

For myself recently, I’ve been invited to this through the sudden departure of a colleague, mentor and a holy man, Mr. Steven Murray, who I was honored to minister with at Aquinas High School in La Crosse, Wisconsin, a few years ago. Earlier this month he died while mowing his lawn, leaving a giant gap in the hearts of many, as he served hundreds of people over the years as a compassionate educator. When I worked with Mr. Murray at the high school, he was the dean of students and we often would get into deep, faith-filled conversations about how to care for the teenager who doesn’t seem to care about school or others; we would grapple with the messy Jesus business of Gospel living together and always arrived at the same conclusion: we must imitate our brother Jesus, whose love was costly and full of second chances.

In my memories of Steve the signposts become clear. It is apparent where his loyalty was. It was clear what he wanted to most remember: the love of Christ. He would share this love of Christ in meaningful yet subtle ways, gently teaching how one’s dedication and devotion can inform one’s character and tone.

Loyalty is rootedness, devotion, connection. It is relational and grounded. It is based in memory of identity, in memory of fondness and hope, of memory of what values are foundational.

Influenced by loyalty and memory and built up by love, like Steve Murray, we can pay better attention to the signs surrounding us, we can gain direction and experience reflection. We can be grounded in love and truth.

Steve Murray published a song and a reflection online about his childhood friendship on the Mississippi River less than two weeks before he died. It seems, in this section, that he was paying attention to the sign of his mortality:

We had the utmost respect for the river and its power and even though we thought we were Tom and Huck, it did not take us away from our homes. We attended funerals but never our own. In those days it was not unusual to have the visitation in the front room of your house and the funeral procession would go from the church passed your house and then to the cemetery.

As we journey on this road of life with Christ, let us look around at all the people in our lives who are signs for us on how to love and live, to share and help others gain a sense of solid footing, even if their world is crumbling around them.

Like Steve Murray, let us be fed by the words of Jesus, as food for our journey to help us be awake and nourished enough to notice the signs.

For your prayer and nourishment, I offer this song “Words of Jesus” written and sung by Mr. Steven Murray. May it help you know the way. Amen!

Beautiful chaos and Lenten conversion

Recently, I asked my students what comes to mind when they hear the phrase “Kingdom of God.” This (low-quality) photo summarizes the lively classroom discussion that occurred that day.

"Kingdom of God Period 6 Classroom Discussion" photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA
“Kingdom of God Period 6 Classroom Discussion” photo by Julia Walsh, FSPA

As I told my students, I intentionally recorded all their comments on the board in a very messy fashion because I want them to see that the Kingdom of God is not orderly and predictable. In fact, living in the Kingdom of God that Jesus established means that we are living in the midst of beautiful chaos.

Through the incarnation Christ empowered us build the Kingdom of God. And, if we’re doing the work of building the Kingdom of God, we’re people who are moving into the chaos, out of our comfort zones, and toward the margins of society.

As we serve others we are invited into more chaos, into encounters and relationships that may disturb us. We love and serve those who Christ loves, we go against our natural inclinations and logic. We love our enemies and those who may not deserve it. We give and love without judgement or attachment. We remember that “we are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs. We are prophets of a future not our own.

The chaos, the messiness of building the Kingdom of God is the stuff of beautiful chaos. It is also the stuff of personal and social conversion. During this Lenten season, our actions of prayer, fasting and almsgiving challenge us to confront the uncomfortable corners in ourselves that are in need of God’s loving attention. As we let go of attachments and rearrange a bit of our living, an ugly seeming image of ourselves can emerge. We look at ourselves and see an inner chaos; we feel disturbed by truth. We need to grow, to be different, to convert more fully into who God made us to be.

I recently heard another Sister speak about how the chaos of a crisis gives us a chance to make a choice, frequently providing just the impetus we need to change. She connected these vital moments that invite our personal growth to the designs in God’s creation. When we study nature, she mentioned, we can recognize that the next evolutionary stage erupts when there is crisis and a need for change to occur.

I feel as if I am on this edge. The chaos of my weakness swirls about me, challenging me to make choices. I started Lent two weeks ago with a bit of my typical overambitious and idealistic intentions. And then I quickly started failing. Days would get busy and I would forget that about the extra tasks I wanted to do, like writing a card to someone I love each day. Now I am challenged to ask myself difficult questions, like why am unrealistic with myself? And, am I making enough time for others? I am challenged to move to more self-awareness and allowed to make another choice.

Each of us dance with questions and disturbances in the chaos of God’s Kingdom. We are allowed to make choices that allow for greater personal growth. We are invited to encounter the chaos that is the lives of others.

Then together–as a community–we change the structures, systems and inner oppression that don’t allow God’s Kingdom to fully come into the here and now. We forgive. We heal. We teach. We love our neighbors as we love ourselves. We love God with all that we are. Then, the peace, justice and love that is the Kingdom of God can be known in this time now.

Amen!

 

 

alive in the studio

Trying to be a faithful Christian sometimes feels like living in God’s limitless art studio.

God is the Great Artist who is always at work creating us anew.  We get to co-create and this communion brings us closer to God.

Since ending my ministry at the high school my creativity has been slightly out of control. I have felt like I can’t keep up with the energy that has been trying to express itself.  My room has become more of an art studio than a bedroom. It is littered with paper scraps and my fingernails continue to be caked with glue, clay and paint.  God is at work and I am working to cooperate.

Apparently, being released from a stressful and demanding ministry has had an interesting impact on me.  Although little of the creativity has manifested on this blog, a lot of the holy integrations of my the past few years have been breaking loose and causing some good contemplation.

As I’ve been constructing, I’ve been thinking: Art can flower and force new consciousness.  And, creativity is a spiritual path: co-creating with God implies union with God. Truly, I can testify that when I create new things with God I experience God’s presence and energy in ways that truly astound me.  How does one describe feeling God’s energy?

For the union to exist with God while I create, I have to be open and trust. When I am writing, sculpting and painting I have to let go and let God, as cliche as it may be.  The final product is not up to me.  If I want the creations to truly glorify God, I must be empty and allow God’s creative power to be in control.  Really, I’ve found that at times a meditative trance can take over and the blessed buzz of blending words, images and textures can manifest meanings that are beyond me.  It’s really awesome.

Plus, good creativity is very messy.  Like in a healthy ecosystem, new life breaks forth out of rotting death.  The holy paschal mystery is alive and well in the chaos.  Seemingly bizarre artifacts can be combined to create something completely unusual, yet totally beautiful.  When I stand up and look at the big picture, the creative space can appear as if a storm has swept through.  Really though, there’s an order and a clarity in the mixtures. I am often surprised.  I learn a lot about God’s ways when I see the chaos of creating.

The main art project that has consumed my time and energy was building mini-grottos to pray for issues of peace and justice.  These diorama-type shrines will be prayed with by my community during our Education Week gathering this week.  The justice and peace committee that I am a part of hopes to increase consciousness, conversation and prayer around the issues of immigration, food, economics, education, church and health care.   Here’s a preview of the art for all the sisters and affiliates who read this blog:

“mighty money: a grotto to pray for economic justice”    by Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

In the building of the God’s reign, God is the Great Artist.  God is in control and we get to cooperate, often times completely clueless about the finished product.  Let’s trust God in our personal development and in the complicated messes of systemic injustices.  Let’s also do our part to help create new works of art.  When it’s up to God, new life can create new consciousness.  We never really know how other creatures shall absorb a new meaning from something we had a part in.

Alive in each of us, God is constantly clipping and creating art anew.  Wow, I love living in this art studio.