trusting fire’s power

The fire of God is burning and we gather to praise and rejoice.  No barriers divide us, no division separates us.  God’s mystery connects us through the diversity of language, origin, world-view, culture and class. We are together, glowing with the heat that can only be experienced by the fullness of humanity.

Fire is beautiful, enlightening, strong.  We can become mesmerized and tempted to play in it and with it, teasing the limits.  With deep wonder, we can get too close to the power, only to be burned and scarred.  If we dance with God’s designs, we can’t stay the same.

In fact, the elements of God’s designs instill in us great lessons about the mystery of God’s nature.  Fire is fierce, dangerous, destructive.  Without our attention or understanding, the sparks of elements and energy ignite flames in fields and forests.  Dry air and strong wind force rages for miles, destroying life, homes, security and control.

We lament at loss and grieve our lack of understanding.  It feels like an injustice, it’s definitely a mystery. How can we love and have faith anymore?  How can we believe and trust?  How are we supposed to accept that this is Love’s Way when we feel so hurt?

Nature tells us, though, that with time life comes back brighter and stronger after a fire sweeps through.  In my childhood, I remember being confused about how my parents would start brush fires in our pastures to renew the grasses for something better. It made no sense to me, just as I now don’t understand my Divine Parent’s fire-y ways.

I try to trust, despite the struggle.  I’ve been hurt by the sudden death of a colleague and I am trying to live through painful good-byes; I’m ending my ministry in Chicago and moving to Wisconsin to be near the motherhouse. On Tuesday, another student told me that someone he knew well (his cousin) was shot and killed.  A foot taller than me at fifteen, I suddenly fell onto his chest, sobbing at the injustice.  He stood there like a pillar of stone, trying to comfort me through his own stunned grief. “It’s OK, Sister.” he muttered.  “No, it’s not!” I said.

Somehow, I must be faithful to my call to be an itinerant Franciscan and say good-bye to my students who are in so much pain.  Somehow, I must trust God that things will really be OK.  I must trust the mystery of God’s glorious fire, because I have no other choice. And, I believe that Love is truly stronger than any other energy, even the energy of non-understanding.

Deep in the dark, I shall snuggle up to the coals of God’s comfort with my community, family and friends.  The force of the Spirit shall heal and transform all of us, together, to be united as one body: the fire of God’s love. May it be so, Amen, indeed, Amen.

The Golden Sequence

Come, Holy Spirit,

send forth the heavenly

radiance of your light.

Come, father of the poor,

come, giver of gifts,

come, light of the heart.

Greatest comforter,

sweet guest of the soul,

sweet consolation.

In labor, rest,

in heat, temperance,

in tears, solace.

O most blessed light,

fill the inmost heart

of your faithful.

Without your grace,

there is nothing in us,

nothing that is not harmful.

Cleanse that which is unclean,

water that which is dry,

heal that which is wounded.

Bend that which is inflexible,

fire that which is chilled,

correct what goes astray.

Give to your faithful,

those who trust in you,

the sevenfold gifts.

Grant the reward of virtue,

grant the deliverance of salvation,

grant eternal joy.

Amen, Alleluia!

encounters allowed

It’s really hard that living the Gospel and

following Jesus means that we are willing

to encounter the injustices in

society and experience poverty.

It’s not easy that being Easter people-

living up to the resurrection-

means that we allow ourselves

to encounter the uncomfortable

places in our lives and our world.

Loving Jesus makes a mess.

We get into the ugly, awful

places of our lives and societies.

Layered into tombs and crosses,

beautiful newness and Easter

glory glow.

As we allow ourselves

to encounter the stories

of the Truth,

we open ourselves

to encounters with the mysteries

of God’s goodness.

We are united in the mess.

Together we celebrate

the awesomeness of God’s love.

Amen! Alleluia! Amen!

adventures in the Spirit, part 3

A wise priest once helped me understand what Spirit means.  Spirit, he said, is all that relates beyond boundaries.  Our Spirits can transcend time, place and bodily nature to relate to our God, the Great Source.  Jesus said His Spirit would be with us always.  At times, it seems as if the spirits of those who have died are close to us.

And, here and now, in our daily Gospel living, our Spirits can relate across the borders of culture, race, social class and place.  It is the work of service, ministry, and real, messy, Gospel-living to move across borders and interact with those who are different from us.

As our Spirits relate in new environments, we learn the Truth. We gain awareness and compassion.  We become more interconnected and united.  We build the reign of God and become more holistically the body of Christ.

This is the continuation of the story of 11 people moving their spirits across borders and relating to difference.  It’s a great adventure to live in the Spirit.

Day 3: Loving God’s Creation

Wednesday.

We’re beginning to get sleepy from all the fun and activity and it’s a little harder to be ready on time this morning, but we still get up and enjoy another wonderful homemade breakfast served by our hosts.  Afterward, we gather around our painted candles for morning prayer and reflection. We are reminded that we can rejoice, as God loves the poor:

I will praise the name of God in song,
and I will glorify him with thanksgiving:
“See, you lowly ones, and be glad;
you who seek God, may your hearts revive!
For the LORD hears the poor,
and his own who are in bonds he spurns not.”   Psalm 69: 31, 33-34

The first place we visit is the Postville office of Northeast Iowa Helping Services.  We are overwhelmed to hear how domestic violence and poverty harms people in rural areas.  We learn how hard it is for victims to leave abusive situations when there are so many dual-roles in small communities.  We have to think about how hard it is to run-away from violence in the country where there is no public transportation and everything is spread far apart.  In the country, there may not be fears of gang-violence, but violence is still damaging lives.

The sad stories of sin sink our spirits and we struggle with learning the Truth.

After an intense start of the day, we venture out to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation.  We head to Effigy Mounds National Monument in the river-bluffs by the Mississippi River near Marquette, Iowa.  In the woods we get to contemplate how to respond to injustice in loving ways and have fun learning about Native Americans and nature.

We enjoy a picnic and explore the museum and woods.

The views of the Mississippi River from the bluff tops are remarkable.

We still need to do something to make a difference.  We go to Osborne Nature Center near Elkader.  Before working we get to see some wild animals up close.

Then we help to clear an invasive species, garlic mustard, from the woods to help the natural wildlife thrive.

The next thing we do is attend Bible Study.  We’re nervous and excited about joining the youth group from First Baptist Church in Elgin for their weekly meeting.  After eating pizza and playing get-to-know-you games, we become comfortable with each other even though we seem different.  We pray and contemplate scripture. Then we have a lot of fun playing in the dark on a trampoline with the local Iowa teens.

Back in Gunder, at evening prayer and reflection, I asked the students what the most important things were that they learned that day.  One student said that he learned how important it is to stand up against violence and abuse.  Another said that he learned that the woods can be a lot of fun.  A third said that he learned that there are good people everywhere, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or the color of your skin.

Day 4:  Broken Systems, Breaking Bread

Thursday. Our last full day in Iowa.

We’re getting weary but yet we wake up excited for another day of adventure.  After breakfast, our morning reflection reminds us that it is Holy Thursday.  This night, Jesus gathered with his friends and broke bread and taught about communion.  We pray that we can unite through the brokenness of humanity.

Our first site today is Decorah.  Decorah is interesting because it is the closest major town to Gunder.  It’s 40 minutes away and where you can find the nearest McDonald’s and Wal-Mart.  We are warmly welcomed to the Luther College campus with a presentation, gifts and a tour. We learn that Northeast Iowa was settled by immigrants from Norway and Germany in the 1800’s and that’s why there’s a Norwegian ELCA Lutheran college in this town.

Our excellent host at Luther, Pastor David Vasquez, has arranged for us to enjoy the college’s climbing wall and enjoy lunch in the college cafeteria.

We all feel pretty successful after the experience.

Well fed, we go to help feed the hungry. At the First Lutheran Church food pantry we help unload the truck from the Northeast Iowa Food Bank and learn how the church helps provide food and free health care to people from all over Winneshiek County.

After a break for shopping in downtown Decorah, Pastor Dave helps us reflect about everything we have experienced on our trip.

And, Pastor David grounds us in the stories of God’s people.  We are reminded of Joseph in the Old Testament and how he and his brothers immigrated to Egypt.  We learn about the push and pulls that have caused people to move for centuries.  We hear about horrors of the Postville Immigration raid of 2008 and watch this trailer:

And, we hear how God’s law of Love tells us to work for justice:

You shall not oppress a resident alien; you well know how it feels to be an alien, since you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.-Exodus 23:9

The Spirit has moved people across many borders.  After the presentation, we learn about the Norwegian Immigrant Experience to the United States in the 1800’s at the Vesterheim Museum.

We are learning about human struggle, but we still enjoy a break at The Whippy Dip before we go to Postville.

In Postville we hear about the horrors of the 2008 Immigration Raid right where it happened. We visit the tiny St. Bridget Catholic Church where hundreds sought refuge during the aftermath of the raid.

We see the meat-packing plant that was once called Agri-processors. In both places, Pastor Dave tells us the true stories about what his friends lived through.

Our Holy Thursday dinner happens around a giant table at the Mexican restaurant in Postville with the stories of brokenness stirring in our spirits.

Afterward, we go to St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Elkader for mass and hear how Jesus washed the feet of his friends, pray, break bread, sing songs and feel a little uncomfortable because we really stick out for being different.

Back in Gunder, we try to reflect on all that we learned throughout the day.  One of my student says “What happened in Postville was a really big deal. Why doesn’t everyone know about it?”  

We give thanks for the ways that the others in our group have blessed us throughout the week. Around a fire we are commissioned.  We will return to where we came from, but we’ll keep living by the Spirit.  We shall continue to relate beyond bounds.

Stay tuned for the conclusion of adventures in the Spirit.

Visit here for Part 1 and Part 2.

a princess, a pope and Jesus Christ

The world is buzzing with excitement.

I have heard gripes and seen grins about the wedding of Kate Middleton and Prince William, which will happen tomorrow with much pomp. To be honest, I wish I didn’t have other things going on and could sit down in front of the TV and watch it. I am sure that I’d cry a bit as I watched two beautiful people commit to each other in the presence of God, the world-famous and influential, as billions of people look on.  As you probably know, a lot of people are ecstatic and are gearing up to celebrate with the royal family.  Yet others are critical because it is such an expensive event and the money could be used for better purposes.

Another exciting, yet somewhat controversial, event is happening this weekend.  On Sunday Pope John Paul II will be beautified.  The opinions about his beatification are varied. Personally I am very excited (as I am every time a holy person is honored for her or his wisdom and influence).

I am not unlike other Catholics of my generation; I love JPII. I have been touched by his leadership and teachings.  As I grew into the Catholic faith, many of my questions were answered when I studied the letters from my far-away “Grandpa.”   For example, JPII’s theology of the body writings helped me gain much clarity about sexuality.  I wish I could have met JP II in his lifetime, but am comforted to know that I can pray to him for some advocacy in heaven while I try to do the work that he encouraged: convincing people of their dignity.

I understand the concerns of people who are opposed to JPII’s quick move toward sainthood, too. I know people who have publicly protested his canonization.  They are upset because his personal positions and opinions seemed to impact his leadership (as he discouraged socialism and rejected women’s ordination, for example).  Is he worthy of being named “Blessed” if he practiced discrimination?  On Sunday, though, I will celebrate Pope JPII’s influence in my own life and thank God for the contributions of the holy man to great peacemaking around the globe.

In a discussion about world excitement I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the important, but non-joyful events that have happened recently and probably challenge the faith and hope of many people.  There’s been a sweep of disasters across the nation. Specifically, the news about the tornadoes in Alabama brought tears to my eyes this morning. My heart still aches for the people of Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Japan, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Haiti, and for inner-city youth.  As we celebrate joyful events we must be attentive to suffering and disturbed by injustice.

During all of these occasions people unite.  In disasters, divided people suddenly have no choice but to survive and rebuild as community.  On both sides of divisive violence, the tears look the same.  During the royal wedding, when everyone is hearing the same music and prayers, politics and opinions probably won’t matter much.   Undoubtedly, on Sunday Catholics- and other Christians of all types shall unite in their prayers and parties.  Our human, global lives bring us together and help us remember that we’re in this together.

It’s Easter time.  Jesus is back and he’s helping us make sense of everything he taught.  He’s re-explaining that it is communion around open, inclusive tables that unite us.  As we break the bread and share it with other – no matter our differences- we become more the same.  We become his body.  In us, Christ lives. Together we celebrate as one body, the Body of Christ. Thanks be to God!

oh, God

The solid statues seem to suggest that the horror of the cross is only historical.  We gather in dark churches to remember, and mix the meaning into our mind right along side wars, genocide, crusades and the holocaust.  Black and white photos in the history books tell us to keep telling the story and memorialize the dead.

This cross, though, is different from those other events.  Although it’s historical, it’s also eternal.  Every day we are wounded, nailed, bled, broken, bruised. We’re doing it to ourselves and each other. It happened before, and it’s happening today.  The pain we acknowledge today is as real now as it was then.

Maybe our praying with the cross today matters to our brothers and sisters of history after all.   Maybe this cross is broad and bigger than our mixed up human minds can fathom.  Maybe it can heal the wounds of history and change all humanity.

when eating bites

Bad news: people are starving to death; 16,000 children die every day from hunger-related causes.

Good news: God has mercy and God is helping us!  We are being preserved in spite of famine, scripture says.

Upright is the word of the LORD,
and all his works are trustworthy.
He loves justice and right;
of the kindness of the LORD the earth is full.
See, the eyes of the LORD are upon those who fear him,
upon those who hope for his kindness,
To deliver them from death
and preserve them in spite of famine.
Our soul waits for the LORD,
who is our help and our shield.
May your kindness, O LORD, be upon us
who have put our hope in you.
(Ps 33:4-5, 18-19, 20, 22)

I am a great lover of food.  Much of my life has been centered around it.  I grew up in a farming community and family.   I knew how to pull weeds before I knew how to read.  I knew how to bake and cook before I knew how to drive.  I understood how to milk animals before I knew how to type.

Today my younger sister and her husband are organic farmers.   My parents and my brother now own and run a world famous restaurant, in the middle of nowhere. But I live in the city, away from the family food business.  I tend to go grocery shopping, read cookbooks and then invent and share new culinary creations for fun.  Plus, I love gardening; when work is really difficult at the high school I fantasize about giving it all up and becoming a gardener or a baker.

Food is such a big deal to me that I entered a Eucharistic-centered community, the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, before I was 25.  We’ve been adoring Jesus as Eucharist for over 133 years and it is very rad.

Obviously I am not unique because my life is centered around food. It is for all of us.  God designed it that way on purpose. It’s sacramental. It’s unifying. It’s life-giving. It’s essential.  I’m grateful.

Food is also oppressive.  The systems that control our consumption cause people to starve while others throw food away.  In the United States, we keep getting fatter while the rest of the world riots and dies because of food costs.  I wrote a bit about this for a Mexican food blog last week. The reasons why our food problems are so severe are complicated, economical and political.

As we gain awareness of the truth, we tend to be converted.  The freedom paradoxically requires us to be mindful and responsible.  It’s an act of solidarity and community.  Since food unites us, when any person in the body of Christ- in humanity- is suffering, we all are suffering.  For Lent this year I am working hard to simplify my diet, trying to fast, praying for those that are hungry and advocating for systemic justice.

This week at the high school I am leading two big events. Please pray for me and my students!  On Wednesday my seniors are hosting a Peace and Justice Fair. They’ve analyzed complex social problems and will now try to inform the community and inspire others to meaningful social action.   On Friday, we are hosting a Food Fast. The students will not eat for 24 hours, but still be very busy, as an act of solidarity and prayer for people who frequently go 24 hours without eating but keep working hard. I have games and activities planned to teach about global hunger and the students will engage in acts of service.

It’s really not that hard to make a difference.  Like my students, you can play games at FreeRice.com and donate rice to the UN WFP. You can click (and shop for Fair Trade goods) at The Hunger Site and donate 1.1 cups of food.  You can learn about the challenges of farming and survival in the developing countries by playing a game here. And, you can learn about living in poverty in the United States by playing a game here.

There are several other meaningful social actions that really make a difference.  You can literally buy an animal for a community in poverty through the Heifer Project. And, of course, you can pray, fast, give, advocate, and try out simple recipes through the Catholic Relief Services rice bowl campaign.

Together, we fast with hope and trust that our merciful God is leading us through the messy famines and injustices.  As I eat, I believe that the nourishment shall wake us all up to the heavy truth that we already have enough, we just need to learn how to share.  This sharing is the simple way that Jesus taught us, it is the way of freedom.

 

Photo courtesy of Catholic Relief Services.

Sorry, I Didn’t Recognize You (part two)

Guest blogger, Amy Nee, part two of two (here’s part one)

I caught that train and took it to Cermak-Chinatown. The Congress on Urban Ministry had converged on the Hyatt at McCormick Place (a hotel and convention center the size of a neighborhood) and was hosting free “Words and Worship” services in the evenings. That night Shane Claiborne was scheduled to speak. He is an author and activist and part of “The Simple Way,” a community that calls for a way that is both simple and profound. The residents recognize people around them as neighbors—whether those people are gang members, prostitutes, school children, investment bankers or Iraqi citizens on the other side of the world. Shane is a representative of people who take seriously Jesus’ advocacy of neighbor-love, and enemy-love. He talked that night about grace as the backdrop for peace.  Grace, he said, is seeing the same things, the same people, with new eyes; it is seeing beyond surface and assumptions.

Closing his talk, Shane shared a video clip filmed during his time in India working with Mother Teresa and the Sisters of Charity. The camera holds closely the image of a child shaking with terror from an accident he has just survived. Malnourished, the boy’s skin is stretched tightly over his bones. His head appears too large for his birdlike body which convulses in the arms of a Catholic sister who is leaning over his railed bed. She firmly but gently rubs his fragile frame, over and over. Her hands transfer compassion and healing and gradually his tremors still. The boy’s body becomes loose and limp, his angular head tips toward the sister. His eyes, deep, dark pools, meet hers. The hospital is crowded with children no doubt in equal need, but she holds him.  Infinity in their gaze. A look of recognition.

My heart stirs, a desire rising. I want to go to India, to be her, to hold him. But there is something beyond this want. I desire that type of engagement—with the afflicted, with my Mom, with the woman behind the cash register, with the man asking me for change and the prisoner I can’t see—awareness, presence, compassion. I want to recognize people and to give people the opportunity to recognize each other. If not to see Christ in the poor, the oppressed, the stranger, the loved and the unlovely; to see ourselves.

How can we “satisfy the desire of the afflicted,” when we move through life like casually skipped stones, skimming the surface, making occasional, brief contact—splish, what they seem to want—splash, what we think they need—plunk, deep, drinking desire.  We are awestruck out of our element there.  It is a scary thing to sink into the unknown.  I can say that I am called to this as a Christian, and I am.  But I want to clarify that I think Jesus’ mission was not to make a Church but to teach us to be whole humans, to restore the earth and its residents to life.  Thus, whatever my religion, I am called to this as a living being.  Waking life requires it.