With less daylight and more darkness nowadays, I am finding I’m starting to get in the mood for deep prayer. I tend to want to rest, savor quiet and pray more. For some reason, darkness invites me to stillness and contemplation. How is this true when Christ is the Light of the World?
I am guessing that one of the reasons is that when the darkness covers the cheery light like a heavy blanket, I am pushed to face a tough truth: The God of my mountain peaks must also be the God of my valleys. (I remember one of my good friends saying this a lot when we were younger. I don’t know if there’s another source for the statement though, so if you do, please let me know.)
While I am living, God keeps teaching me great lessons. And, the lessons I’m learning all seem to fall within the same category: stay close to God. No matter what happens or what situation I am in, I desire to experience intimacy with God. Certainly if I do, then deep joy and peace can quietly comfort me, no matter if I am surrounded by darkness or in a valley of confusion and despair. God is so good!
Plus, if we’re really standing up for the poor, vulnerable, and advocating for Jesus’ non-violence message of love, we’re likely to put our popularity on the line. Perhaps, like scripture says, we’ll even end up persecuted:
They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name. It will lead to your giving testimony. Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand, for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute. You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives. – Luke 21: 12b-19
Sometimes our persecutions may not be so extreme but come out of the suffering in our lives. But with the right attitudes, faith, and supportive relationships, God can help navigate through those persecutions too.
I love this story, and how it expresses that Truth.
We need loving relationships to help us be our best selves, And, we totally got to stay close to God to get through the tough times! The perseverance, the faith, the dedication and the unconditional love shall keep us safe and living.
May God bless us and help us know God’s closeness no matter our situations! Amen!
I became hooked on the show and realized its profundity when I was part of a canonical novitiate community five years ago. We watched the entire series from start to finish together. I remember how we would frequently be impressed with how the themes and lessons of the shows would reinforce what we were learning about God’s loving, relational ways in the classroom, ministry and communal living.
Now I continue to learn over-and-over again how the point of all this Gospel living is not piety, nor service, nor any great accomplishment. Rather, relationship is the core of this messy Jesus business. Yup, building God’s kingdom requires a lot while we increase and deepen our relational connections.
We are made to be together, grow closer to God and unite in love. In fact, the Holy Trinity models for us how to be in a constant, selfless, flowing, creative communion. In our community, we give and receive, we share, we listen, we help, heal, teach- just like God does.
The thing is, it takes a lot of work to build up relationships that are good and strong. We must be vulnerable, open, honest, trusting and compassionate. If I don’t take the risk of being genuine and admitting my inadequacies with my students, could I ever expect them to be real with me? If I don’t reveal my weakness to my superiors, can I really count on them to support me when I fall and fail? Can I expect others to listen lovingly to me if I don’t take the time to lovingly listen to them? There’s a lot of give and take; it’s rocky and unstable. Yet the hard work creates a rock solid foundation that can survive any tumultuous crisis, misunderstanding or mistake. I count on my relationships with people being rocky.
Ah yes, the great God relationship! Back when I was a novice, my life was focused on the hard work of building a more solid foundation of prayer and contemplation in my relationship with God. Amazingly, I began to realize that my conversations with God were beginning to be influenced by how Joan related to God in the Joan of Arcadia series that my community was watching together. I became more genuine and real. I went through all my moods with God’s steadiness serving as my rock. I’d get ecstatic; I’d argue; I’d pout; I’d complain; I’d say no and then yes. I never held back what I was thinking and feeling in my getting to know God better. And, I kept on listening and loving without fear of how it might change me. I realized my realness was a gift that only I could give God and I became more happy to give it, because well, God rocks, right?!
Lately though, my relationships have magnified the meaning of rocks. In fact, I am in awe of how rocks, when thrown into water, create ripples.
This contemplation is also influenced by the Joan of Arcadia series! I keep thinking about this segment from when Joan’s boyfriend, Adam, hears the suicide note his mother read aloud:
Helen Girardi: [reading Adam’s mom’s suicide note] “Dearest boy, my Adam. I dreamed a dream, you and I facing each other in a tiny yellow boat on green water under a blue sky. Me and my son and a yellow boat. And we laugh, and the boat rocks and the ripples spread from the boat to pond to sea to sky and nothing can stop them, and nothing ever will. When you think of me, Adam, know that in a world of pain, you were, and always will be my joy. Love, Mom.”-From “Joan of Arcadia: Jump (#1.12)” (2004)
As I love, minister, and relate to many, I continue to be astounded with how God’s graces send ripples of love and joy throughout all the webs of my relationships. It’s like networks, I suppose, but that just seems like too much of an institutional or corporate word for the messy, rocky, wavy way of the Gospel.
It’s true, though, one little loving touch on the web of relationships can send ripples of goodness all over.
Jesus said to his disciples: “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they? Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.” –Mt 6:24-34
One of my greatest sins is to be full of worry. At times my mind can obsess about all that I am concerned about: people, tasks and upcoming events. My body stresses and thoughts keep me away from relaxing into the arms of Jesus.
Jesus’ words humble me. It’s not all up to me. I am not in charge. God’s got this. I can trust, and I need to. I can let go and let God handle everything. Sometimes all I really need to do is show up with a heart full of love and then amazing graces flow. I’ve experienced this, and it is incredibly awesome.
Yet I have been trained to be responsible. I need to work hard, be prepared and organized. I need to set goals and plan for the future. I need to practical and careful. I train my students in the same ideals now while I wonder if they are developing faith in God’s power.
Certainly there is a certain amount of balance that is healthy and important. While we work to build the reign of God, we remember over and over that it is not about us; we are very small and God is huge. When things don’t run smoothly the temptations to worry flow around us. It can be confusing and overwhelming. At times the challenges can be so extreme and painful that our doubts can stall us on the path of faithfulness. Still, we know that it is important to be faithful in the great times and the ordinary times, so we are in the habit of trusting in the hard times.
Many people I know who have lived through violence and poverty have the strongest faith.
A few years ago I had the profound privilege of working with young adults who were transitioning from the chaos of homelessness to the stability and security of having their own place, savings, a solid job and a good education. One of the youth was bright and bold, but life had spun her in circles. While she was a resident in the community she taught me how to work hard and make the world a better place while pausing and trusting in the beauty of life.
“All I wanted since I was a little girl was to stand still and grow like flowers do. At Tubman, they are passionate about the growth of each individual entering these doors. I can finally say I have a place to stand still and grow.” –Sharniece, Tubman Resident
As we all turn away from worry toward faith in God’s beauty, I hope and pray we can all find a place to stand still and grow like flowers do. Amen.