Tending to our wells

I spent part of last night cleaning and peeling a recently harvested pile of wormy rutabagas with another sister. We probably ended up having to compost at least half of what had been pulled up from the soil, because some sort of creatures had created little homes in the vegetables. The waste was certainly disappointing and unfortunate but mostly it all felt very natural — like a healthy part of giving seeds to the earth, tending the soil and then pulling forth food many months later.

Afterwards I noticed that my hands smelled earthy, much like the crispy leaves and the chilly autumn dampness that has arrived in the air.

With such sights and smells in my consciousness, I began to think about all the death and decay surrounding us in the midst of this autumn season. And, the natural ebb and flow of life, of struggle.

It is inevitable, isn’t it? Being human means we have downs, we suffer, we feel anguish. We deal with the weight of despair. No matter how much we try to avoid the cross, reality teaches us that the muck of change is inevitable. Under the weight, our moods and attitudes can falter; we can get stuck in lament. How, then, are we to remain available to lovingly, joyfully serve others? How can we continue to act with kindness when wallowing in despair seems like all we are capable of?

A few months ago, I read this blog post by Sarah Bessey about finding time, energy and inspiration to write. Since then I have been thinking about tip #5 on the list: “Fill the Well.” As she wrote it: What brings you alive? What clears your mind? What fills your soul? Do those things instead of the other things. Take time to figure it out – your list will be different than mine. Write down a few things that you can turn towards to fill the well. You can’t write from an empty well and so whenever you can, fill your well.

Credit: www.freeimages.com

Here’s what I am learning: we must not only fill our wells to serve and witness, we must tend to our wells. Each of us has a God-given, wide-open space; the vessel that contains the life-giving water, the container that holds the elements for our strength. We must know this part of ourselves and know what is really needed so that our wells maintain their shape and abilities. How is your well constructed? Is it chipping and weak in a certain space? How deep is it? What elements of Spirit flow through this space inside of you? How does your well nourish you and provide hope?

What sort of songs must you sing to tend to this sacred space in you? Which Scripture passages will fill you with the strength you need to persevere, to continue serving?

No matter how death and decay may threaten to endanger us, let us remember that God is with us, eager to tend to our wells and fill us with great grace and strength. After all, God has conquered death and is ready every minute to make all things new! Amen.

God is our refuge and our strength,
an ever-present help in distress.
Thus we do not fear, though earth be shaken
and mountains quake to the depths of the sea,
Though its waters rage and foam
and mountains totter at its surging.
Psalm 46:2-4

Thanksgiving for Messy Jesus Business’ 5th Birthday!

Photo credit: http://www.firstefc.com/event-items/worship-and-praise-service/

It is amazing to me that it is nearly Messy Jesus Business‘ 5th Birthday! Thanks be to God that I listened to the encouragement of my community and friends to start a blog about living the Gospel and we’re still going strong.

I am in awe, really, upon reflection on all the waves that MJB has had in the world, as there are many indications that this blog is having a positive impact. Since November 29, 2010, over 70,000 visitors have visited MJB. We have been mentioned in several publications, including on The Good Word at America, on Patheos, on Top Catholic Blogs,  and in Our Sunday Visitor and in other blogs, such as There Will be Bread by Fran Rossi Szpylczyn.

I have been humbled by praise I’ve heard over these five years for the goodness found on this site. I’ll never forget the strangeness of first meeting someone who was a devoted reader of MJB (but a stranger to me) and how encouraged I felt about the importance of maintaining this presence (Thanks Melissa!). Plus, MJB has helped me gain the practice I’ve needed to come into other opportunities such as serving as a Horizons columnist for Global Sisters Report and being a regular contributor to Living Faith(By the way, October 7, 2014—the day my first Living Faith reflection appeared—MJB had its biggest day with 1,031 views!)

Thanks be to God for the blessed community of Rabble Rousers who have indeed helped keep this blog going. I was very reluctant to begin blogging since I know I live a very busy life and usually have a bit too much on my plate, so to speak. But, with the collaboration of my awesome messy, Gospel-centered friends, we have been able to explore together some deeply important aspects of being the Church we hope for.

Some of the Rabble Rousers have contributed gratitude reflections to help us celebrate MJB‘s 5th birthday:

Being a part of the Messy Jesus Business community has helped me to not miss the trees for the forest, so to speak. In the midst of what sometimes feels like a large, confusing, abstract struggle for peace and justice, Sister Julia and the other bloggers remind me to slow down and focus on small moments and little victories—to celebrate where we are and where we’ve been even though a long journey still lies before us.

~ Steven Cottam

I love that this is a safe place for us to get messy. I think my thoughts are freakishly weird, and my spirituality is even more so. Sometimes I hesitate to share, but maybe someone else gets it, too. And that’s the beauty of this experience for which I am grateful.

~ Emily Crook

Because having Jesus at the center of my love and commitment has always been messy, I treasure the freedom in MJB to connect my faith to real life.  Where else can I talk about fears about celibacy, accepting my brokenness, exhaustion, Pope Francis, TV crime dramas, child slavery, final vows, violence against women, The Bachelorette and yard maintenance? Because it is always in these details of life that I find my Jesus.

Sister Sarah Hennessy FSPA

As a parent to small children, my daily discipleship is truly messy –both literally and spiritually!  I am deeply grateful to this blog for giving me a community with whom I can share, ponder, and grow in our collective messiness as followers of Christ.

~ Nicole Steele Wooldridge

I am very thankful for how this ministry of writing and witness has transformed my life. I am extremely appreciative for all the voices that have contributed to our communal contemplation about how messy discipleship truly is. Thank you writers, thanks to Jen and Jane for their help with editing and format, thank you to everyone who has commented and shared the posts, and thanks to all of you for subscribing.

I rejoice over how this messy little corner on the internet has helped contribute to the building of God’s reign of peace and justice; I am so grateful that the Spirit is at work here!

Thank your for your participation! Thank you for reading! Happy Thanksgiving! And, Happy 5th Birthday to Messy Jesus Business!!!

Sister Julia Walsh, FSPA

photo credit: http://cabinfevercraft.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/il_fullxfull.552264116_erau-300×300.jpg

The sower and the dirt

Sitting on the porch, I watch a robin alight on our lawn, a hopeful sign of spring.  She pecks in the newly turned dirt and nibbles a seed. My mind rages. “Hey! That’s my grass seed we just planted! What do you think you’re doing?”

Big muddy bare spots dot our lawn now that the snow pack is gone. Yesterday, my housemates and I got out in the yard with rakes and seeds to try to bring grass back to these wounded parts. As the robin eats the seed I realize the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:3-20) is not abstract. I don’t usually sow seeds over a large patch of earth. The hard rocky path, the birds that sweep down, the brambles that grow up and choke out the good harvest seem like sweet and distant metaphors. But that bird just ate my seed! And there’s nothing I can do about it. Tonight’s rain could flood the fledgling seeds and wash them into the sidewalk. The neighboring high school students could trample over the yard on the way to class, hardening the soil and making it impossible to grow. More snow could fall. In Wisconsin, in fact, that’s quite likely. A whole flock of robins could find our fragile patch of ground and all the seeds would be gone. There’s nothing I could do.

The helplessness of God and the faithful disciple is highlighted in Jesus’ crucial parable. The seed is the Word of God. In our faithful evangelizing we spread the word of God everywhere we go over the ground of our circumstances. Faith in our life meets the often unfriendly and difficult realities of our daily lives. The birds eat it. The seed falls on rocky ground and the shoot sprouts up only to be withered by the sun and die. The weeds strangle out the good seeds and nothing comes of it. My life is busy and full of distractions. I can’t forgive the evils done against me. No one seems to understand. It’s so much easier to avoid helping out and just watch TV. Sickness, grief, loss and depression paralyze me, making it difficult to function. My heart is hard and rocky and full of lots of weeds.

Some scholars say this should be called The Parable of the Different Soils. The point of the story is not really about the sower or even about the seed. God’s good word pours down endlessly abundant with grace. We, however, do not always receive it. Our heart is the soil. Life’s daily grind and sorrows are the obstacles. The point is there are different types of soil—not just in the human family but also over the course of my own lifetime. Sometimes I am obstinate. Sometimes I am distracted by wealth and good times and easy fixes. Sometimes if feels like every day I am starting from scratch.

Actually, every day I am starting over and maybe that’s the point. Each morning I am given the choice to just live today. To give my day to God. To try my best. To not be anxious about tomorrow or depressed about yesterday. I am not being glib here. This is not easy. Sometimes it takes my entire willpower to get out of bed and brush my teeth and not be paralyzed by fear and sadness. I get stuck so often. Every moment is an opportunity to try again, again, and again.

Often, all I see is the seed that doesn’t grow and all the barriers in my ways. But this story is good news! For starters, God is sowing the good word in our hearts. This is the gift of all gifts. Plus, the good soil produces an overwhelming harvest: 30, 60 and 100-fold. Faith sustains us. Love transforms us. There is hope even for my muddy patches of lawn. The good harvest comes even to our rocky hearts.

Photo credit: http://www.scotts.com/smg/article/info-how_to/image/new_grass_T.jpg

Darkness, valleys, and quiet intimacy with God

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?

"sunset through bare trees" photo by Julia Walsh FSPA
“sunset through bare trees” photo by Julia Walsh FSPA

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!