Being Bread for Life: A Sacrifice Pleasing to the Lord

Messy Jesus Business Rabble Rouser, Amy Nee-Walker, recently wrote the following Scripture reflection “Being Bread for Life: A Sacrifice Pleasing to the Lord” for the Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time and posted it on the Catholics On Call blog. 

Catholics on Call worksofmercywar
Artist: Rita Corbin

In today’s readings, John the Baptist is prodded past the point of despair through miraculous nourishment in the desert, St. Paul exhorts the church in Ephesus to be “imitators of Christ,” who, as Jesus iterates in the Gospel of John, is “the bread of life.”  Meditating on these readings on August 9th 2015, I am moved by how poignantly they contrast to the events that happened on this same date, 70 years ago.

On August 9, 1945, the U.S. detonated their second nuclear bomb, “Fat Man,” on the heavily populated city of Nagasaki.  An estimated 73,884 people were killed, another 74,909 continuing to labor under the misery of loss of health, land, resources and beloved friends, family and community.  Dorothy Day, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, brought home this seemingly distant tragedy, writing, “vaporized, our Japanese brothers [and sisters] – scattered, men, women and babies to the four winds, over the seven seas.  Perhaps we will breathe their dust into our nostrils, feel them in the fog of New York, on our faces, feel them in the rain.”

In a new book, Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear War, Susan Southard further personalizes the story of those who suffered through and survived the massacre at Nagasaki by focusing on the lives of five Hibakusha (the name given to survivors of the bombings).  She tells of Taniguchi Sumiteru who, at the time of detonation, was a 16-year old boy, riding his bicycle to deliver mail throughout the city.  The bomb destroyed over three square miles of the city in which Taniguchi lived and worked.  It was 17 months before he could sit up, having had the skin melted off his back and arms.  Because of lying face-forward in bed so long, his chest too began to rot away.  After four years Taniguchi was finally discharged from the hospital.  As doctors and nurses did the excruciating work of repairing his body, he is reported to have cried out, “Kill me, kill me!” preferring to die than to endure the pain any longer.

As I read the lament of Elijah in the wilderness, “This is enough … take my life!” I hear the wails of young Taniguchi and those who thought it better to have died than survive the pain of their injuries or the turmoil of radiation sickness and cancer.  Yet, just as Elijah was ordered to eat and endure for the sake of those who remain, so the Hibakusha, like Taniguchi, endured their bodily and emotional trauma and engaged with life that they might be representatives for those from whom life was irrevocably stolen.

Nuclear weapons, and the radiation they emit, wreak havoc on bodies, poison waterways, and seep into the soil, sowing seeds of destruction for generations.  It is a death that strikes heavily and spreads deeply, infecting the sources of life for the present and the future.  The U.S. is the only nation that has used nuclear weapons as an act of war and continues to be a leader in nuclear munitions and in further development of nuclear armament and technologies.

What then are we are called to as we approach the Presence who is revealed in the Word, in prayer, in the Eucharist?  What are we called to if not to be bearers and sharers of that presence; to be bread for the hungry, to proffer nourishing life in resistance to a culture that cultivates death?  St. Paul, notorious for his tendency toward convoluted prose, manages to write quite plainly and eloquently in his letter to the Ephesians:

“All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.  And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

“And so be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love.”

This Christ, very much a man with all the fears and pains that accompany life within the flesh, willingly proclaimed himself as “the living bread that came down from heaven.” “The bread that I will give,” he said, “is my flesh for the life of the world.”  In this, Jesus fully acknowledges that to give bread for the nourishment of life in the world would come at a personal cost and he was willing to give it, sacrificing even his own life.

What does it mean to be followers of one who rejects self-preservation, one who would choose that his own body be broken, his own flesh be consumed for the sake of giving life to others, rather than ever being an instrument of harm?

On August 6, 1985, in a radio message to the people of Japan, Pope John Paul II said of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,

“Such a tragic destiny is not inevitable.  It can and must be avoided.  Our world needs to regain confidence in its capacity to choose moral good over evil … One must affirm and reaffirm, again and again, that the waging of war is not inevitable or unchangeable.”

Elijah, after being roused from despair, continued to be a prophetic voice in the name of God.  The Hibakusha bore the trauma of horrific wounds and unhealable memories and went on to be a voice for those who lost their lives as well as a healing presence for those who survived.  Jesus overcame death by willingly accepting it so that we all might discover the way to peace and to life abundant.

How do we walk on amidst these truths? For today, I sit in prayer with the presence of the Spirit; I hold the generations who suffer from reckless, destructive war-making—as well as those who suffer from my own careless interactions and complicity in social evils—in my heart. I ask that I might be transformed and become a true image-bearer of the compassionate, forgiving, nourishing, healing Christ.

trusting the sequoia seeds

Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan
to be baptized by him.
John tried to prevent him, saying,
“I need to be baptized by you,
and yet you are coming to me?”
Jesus said to him in reply,
“Allow it now, for thus it is fitting for us
to fulfill all righteousness.”
Then he allowed him.
After Jesus was baptized,
he came up from the water and behold,
the heavens were opened for him,
and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove
and coming upon him.
And a voice came from the heavens, saying,
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” – Mt 3:13-17

In order for redemption to happen, John had to trust Jesus and let go of his own ideas. It seems to me that we all do.

When we’re Jesus people we have to trust in God. God keeps putting this in my face when I’d rather just keep doing my own thing.  In today’s Gospel story, John’s protest to Jesus’ Way reminded me of the challenge to let go all over again.

God keeps giving me lessons about this principle as I move through this messy world and wonder if any of the things I try to do are making a difference.  I once heard a peacemaker remind an activist group about the importance of taking sabbath frequently. If we don’t, it was said, our actions say that we don’t trust in God and think that the peace of the world is dependent on us.  I felt like someone had punched me in the gut and my pride was knocked out of me; I always try to do too much.

I am challenged over and over to turn away from my seemingly urgent to-do list and let God take care of things. Sometimes I am forced into it.  Sickness sneaks in and my body insists that I let myself rest and just be.  I squirm through fevers and aches because I am uncomfortable – not with being sick but with lack of productivity.  I feel better about myself if I feel like I am accomplishing stuff.  Why can’t I just allow God to take care of me and trust that everything is right on track?

Other times, God’s hints that I need to trust are a little more subtle. I need to clue in and really contemplate little things that I am introduced to.  My mantra at mass today was “plant sequoias, I hope I am.”  Random, I know.  It’s because I recently learned a poem by Wendel Berry, Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, that includes this lesson:
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

It’s so hard, when the pain and division of humanity is also in our face and we want to respond. The sorrow in the news can be so discouraging. The news about the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona that left others dead is awful.  This story is another horrific example about the need for peaceful resistance to hate and violence.

At times the needs for reform can feel so urgent that we want to rush into action.  We know people are starving, cold, homeless and sick today.  We worry about global warming. We aren’t blind to the fact that children are dying on the streets right now.  It seems that our world is desperate to know the different Way of Jesus, and we need get going.

Yet, we have to “trust in the slow work of God” (Teilhard de Chardin, S.J)  as we each play our small part  in the Master’s plan.  Thank God we’re in this together and united as a Body of Christ.  As hard as it is, I think I am grateful that God’s design allow us to be small. Prophets and creation call us to let go and trust. When we try, then we taste freedom.

Did John the Baptist know what he was allowing when he followed Jesus’ plan?  Was it hard for John to accept that there wouldn’t be immediate results?

Was John okay with the fact that his choice to trust in Jesus would slowly unfold through all eternity?

And, what about us? As we work, hope, serve and pray, are we okay with the fact that we’re only participants in a greater plan?

Do we believe that our actions- and our stillness- could be sequoia seeds, blessing God’s Kingdom centuries from now? Do we trust in God?

love and the toxic dumps

This gospel life is all about love. Lately, as I’ve journeyed with suffering, I have been convinced that love is the most powerful force in the universe.  I am not a scientist, but I am certain that it is a fact.

Evidently it’s my nature to be empathetic.  It may sound nice, but I assure you that feeling the pain of others is not peaches and pies.  It’s very hard.  When I try to let myself be available and be a loving presence to those who are impacted by great suffering, I sometimes feel damaged too.  I get overwhelmed and crushed, then I feel confused about what to do with myself.  I suspect that this may be the experience of all of us who have felt totally messed up by the love of God.

As hard as this is, I continue to think it’s the whole point.  We are made for relationship and companionship.  We are made to pour out and be emptied by grace and then used by the great Love, who is God, to make changes and bring forth the kingdom here now.

Lately, my spirit has been stirred by a very profound experience of suffering. I was honored to accompany a neighbor and friend through an intense ER and hospital experience.  I had to inform her family about what was going on and struggle through my own desire to serve as a great loving presence as much as possible.  She is doing okay, praise God! Nonetheless, the experience of loving through it has profoundly changed me.

As I found myself stating to my students last week, the cross of Christ teaches us that suffering is redemptive. (I can’t help but to wonder if Mary thought that even through her labor pains.) It also seems, however, that grief can be damaging if we’re not careful.

There is so much in the world that can give us great grief and cause us to feel very overwhelmed.  In addition to accompanying my friend through her suffering, yesterday I gained a new awareness about how the consumption of our culture destroys the poor in other places.  Again, sorrow consumed me.

I happened to catch yesterday’s episode of Fresh Air from NPR.  As I listened, my stomach was sour with sadness.  I learned of how our addiction to technology is creating large amounts of toxic waste that then are dumped in developing countries and dangerously disposed of by poor women and children.

Meanwhile, we feel good  about “recycling” our old laptops and Ipods and excited about our new technological toys.  Clearly, this is not the way that Jesus taught us.

What is one to do?  I often am not really sure, but I do know that I must keep feeding my faith.  We can’t turn away from the suffering. Instead, Jesus teaches us to turn toward pain and sorrow, as He does.  We must serve as loving presence and act for a new day.  We must pray and journey together.

I believe in the promise of the new day and the power of the love of Jesus.  As I ache and have hope in the promises of love, I am fed by the word of God.   This advent I have been nourished by Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, as he proclaims the promises of peace given by this great force of Love.

Then his father Zechariah,  filled with the holy Spirit, prophesied, saying:
“Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
for he has visited and brought redemption to his people.
He has raised up a horn for our salvation
within the house of David his servant,
even as he promised through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old:
salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us,
to show mercy to our fathers and to be mindful of his holy covenant
and of the oath he swore to Abraham our father,
and to grant us that, rescued from the hand of enemies,
without fear we might worship him
in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called prophet of the Most High,
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give his people knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God
by which the daybreak from on high will visit us
to shine on those who sit in darkness and death’s shadow,
to guide our feet into the path of peace.” -Luke 1:61-79
May our feet truly be guided on that path of peace and may we love like Jesus.
As we move, we know that we are transformed by the fierce force of Love. For this, we say thank you God, for being the source, the salvation and the hope.
Amen.

Landfill photo courtesy of the Photographic Information eXchange,  http://www.nrel.gov/data/pix/