This is a beautiful and compelling reflection on the word “unless”. Where we put conditions and blocks to faith and to personally bending our will to try to do the will of the One who created us.
Fifth Sunday in Lent, Year B – John 12:20-33
“Unless a grain of wheat ….”
Last week I spoke with you about the contradictions in our lives, the many ways in which we contradict ourselves through our thoughts, words, and actions. Today I want to talk with you about the conditionals in our lives, the “unlesses” with which we live. I don’t know if “unlesses” is a real word but I am using it as one today. It’s a noun and the plural of unless.
We all have our “unlesses.” They are lenses through which we see. They are the restrictions, limitations, and conditions that shape and inform our relationships and understanding of each other, Jesus, and ourselves.
Let me give you some examples of the “unlesses” that I’ve either heard from others or lived with in…
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wonderful poem for coming out from under the pandemic, into Spring!
When we get through this, I want us to set a table with all of the loaves of bread
we’d practiced in our quiet houses. I want us clutching fistfuls of the cilantro we coaxed
from our city windowsills, and I want the nascent musicians, the ones who learned
old songs on their new ukuleles, or warbled choruses on isolated balconies, to take
the stage together. I want all the knitted, crocheted, stitched, and mended things pooled
at our feet, warming our ankles. I want us to greet each other in unfamiliar languages,
to tell the stories of those who have been lost. I want us to look, in unison,
toward the world millions of miles and light-years away, to take in what is before us,
and beyond us. I want us to wake to the magnitude of our fortune against the smallness
of our time. And then I want…
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(Book 2 in the Chronicles of Narnia, by C.S. Lewis)
The Chronicles of Narnia are some of my favorite books. (I also love the Oz books). I got the Prince Caspian second book, on audio, because of the headache I got from the vaccine, so I was delighted to have someone read to me. It turns out that the wonderful voice reading the story is Lynn Redgrave. I highly recommend all the books, but this is one of my favorites! I love Narnia, and I go back and read the books every few years, when I have forgotten the stories, but sort of remember the general gist. I had forgotten that the woods come to help fight the great battle against the Telmarines, and that the trees wade in the earth, as they come forward. Maybe this is a bit of extension of the metaphor from Shakespeare in Macbeth– “til Burnham woods do come to Dunsinane”. CS Lewis has a wonderful imagination, and I believe there is a deep consciousness of good and evil in the stories. I had not realized until reading the book “Becoming Mrs. Lewis” that he fought in WW1, in the Somme, at age 19. His experience of war and probably also of the despair and PTSD of being a soldier in that disastrous event shaped his whole later life. I think the story where Lucy is the only one who can SEE Aslan, because she happens to be the youngest, is poignant. AND I LOVE Trufflehunter, the badger, who says that the animals don’t change, they stay loyal and true. Where others can betray and switch sides because they seem to see a new advantage, he stays loyal and true all the way through. It is a great book!
During the past year, as the administration of Mr. Trump made more and more threats to the ongoing function of our government, one critically important voice for me was Heather Cox Richardson. This teacher of American History who wrote and spoke daily from her home in Maine, in her “Letters from an American,” helped give us vital information, with footnotes, and with context, throughout the pandemic and through the daily punches in the gut which we had to endure.
Context matters. History matters. We need to understand what is happening, leaning on people who are able to put it in context. Heather Cox Richardson is a history professor, with expertise and depth in understanding what happened in our country after the Civil War. What is out there in the visual media world is not the same as what is being written. We are being swamped with advertising which distracts, by media which calls itself entertainment so they can’t be sued for twisting the news all our of shape, and a lot of crazy-people with big mouths. There are people who know how to distort and change visual images, so you can not know if what you see is real unless people who were there tell you it is true. Reading what someone who is knowledgeable has reflected on, gives us a bit of time, context, precedent, and meaning. It also matters that they CARE about our country. The movie “Social Dilemma” about what FB and other big internet advertising engines do shows us that we can generate a Civil War in 6 months, by turning your beliefs toward conspiracies, fear, anxiety, self-doubt. In order to have a real chance at building a stronger multi-cultural Democracy and world, we have to listen to each other, trust our elected officials, and continue to care about participating in our governmental decisions. If we cannot work together, we are going to destroy each other and the world. Everything we do now has to be aimed at learning to work together for the common good.
An article was recently published in AMERICA magazine, speaking of why women cannot be Jesuits.
(1/21/21) by Fr. Geger. It was fascinating, as it gave the history in some detail, of two prominent women in the life of St. Ignatius; Isabel and Juana, the crown princess. This is my response to the article:
Thanks for this excellent article and food for thought. One of the problems for women from Ignatius’ time to now is that some men considered a wife “property” rather than a loving companion.
In the story of Ignatius, Isabel and Juana, we see women who were trying to be saintly and love God, but they really needed their contacts with the men who were brilliant and engaged in trying to work for the greater glory of God. They needed context and meaning, and male companionship which was not possessive; and marriage in the conventional sense wouldn’t have given it to them. I have been re-reading Brian Doyle’s stories and poems, and one of the great gifts in them is his real love for his wife. And he tells stories about his parents, a true marriage of hearts and minds, and spiritual companionship. The Jesuits may not need women in the order, but women surely need the Jesuits in life. Many women do not want to belong in a community of only women. Our friendships and our faith help us to find the wholeness in human personhood that we long for, and invigorate our love and service to God. As we move deeper into understanding relationships and human sexuality, perhaps all the orders will be reconsidering these issues. It does seem true that the Jesuits, by history, will never have women in the order. But the men who move mountains will always inspire and create new communities, and not surprisingly, many brilliant and talented women will be part of those efforts.
This has been a really weird and hard year. All of us who have spent so many decades trying to become competent and capable of being very productive, were shut into isolation by the pandemic, in order to try to stay alive. Some of my tools of “what I did” to manage to stay alive were walking on the beach every morning as early as I could manage to get up, and participating in a group of Lectio Divina prayer from our local church. About 12 of us read the day’s Psalm, Epistle and Gospel, from the Catholic lectionary; and we take a word or phrase from the Gospel, as we read it 3 times, trying to listen deeply and find the meaning more fully. Belonging to this community has been a big help with living through the Plague.
I got this blog set up, so that I could start to write more, write poems, share them, write reflections and share them. I really loved my blog at Blogspot, because it was easy to log into, and type something, and post it. Then they said they were stopping it, and we had to move. This site has me bewildered, and it does not seem easy to post photos or even give me the tools to make the font smaller or larger. I liked my peach-colored page at Blogspot. I am glad they have not erased it. I did bring some of the posts to this one, but copying and pasting is not fun or easy, and I left off after a short while.
It feels like the culture is erasing everything, in this way– they have taken away our audio cassettes, and our video cameras, and replaced them with newer technology. My CDs are not playable in my computer any more. My songs are stuck in a complicated technological limbo on Garage band, where I can’t untangle them. Luckily I have been able to find most of the poems I have written, by persisting in my attempts to get to them in the computer file. I almost lost them when the last computer crashed. I pay Apple to keep my photos cache, but they messed up my filing system, overriding it and making it much harder for me to efficiently get to groups of photos. It is better since I have started trying to label each photo, but that is tedious. So my experience is that I feel like the tide has come in very high and erased all I have built. People don’t go to Kindle to buy the books. Almost no one calls me. I get more ads than real email, and REAL mail is a thing of the past. I have decided that next Christmas I am going to send out Christmas cards, with a religious image. This year I was pretty upset to get pictures of dogs, cats, trees and jokes, but almost no Christmas cards about Christmas. So of course, it feels like we are in a post-Christian culture in so many ways, but the season and the rhythms of the liturgical year still are my deepest rhythms.
My friend Sue B. has been meditating for many years, and this year she became a meditation teacher. So she has been giving a meditation class to some friends, on Wednesday afternoon. Learning to go deeper into this wordless prayer-space has been so helpful, perhaps the MOST helpful thing, in the increased anxiety of the pandemic year. It is certainly hard to feel that anything I say deserves to compete with all the voices competing so loudly and demanding attention. I am really glad that my poem “To my Son” got published by Evening Street Review, and the book just came, and it is a very nice, bright and shiny new book. I didn’t even send out any poems this year, it was so overwhelming. I barely could write.
And now, we have just suffered this attack on the Capitol, by people who thought that the president needed them to swamp the Congress and let him declare himself some kind of solo emperor. It is a miracle that only 5 people died. It is a miracle that the Senators and Congresspeople got out of the chambers with a minute to spare, and were not murdered by this mob. I pray for the country, for the damage-control and the consequences that need to happen to keep this from happening again. And I see what conspiracy theory and “fake news” and chronic lies have done to undermine our sense of being a nation of people who want to solve problems, help each other to be successful, and believe in laws and equality before the law. I have watched good people who manage businesses shake their heads as they watched the monkey business going on in the Administration, but now we face insurrection; we have to say that we are now not going to look the other way, we are going to stop the train and lay down new tracks, to get our country back on the path of democracy, “to form a more perfect union” and live up to “the common good.” The values of respect, non-violence and willingness to listen generously are going to be severely tested as we see and hear out-of-control anger and vindictive rage. This is partly why writing a blog has been so difficult– the feeling of writing into the whirlwind of everyone screaming at the top of their lungs and no one willing to listen.
I am praying for the nation to get safely to the inauguration and to begin the kinds of legislative actions and administrative actions which will bring stability and healing to our people. I want to see a future for everyone, for humanity. I sure hope we can get there!
So last night I watched the movie “The Social Dilemma” and came to the conclusion which I reached 50 years ago, that we have to “solve one damn problem after another” trying to make the world a better place, rather than trying to make money. If you were wondering about how you can make a difference, in trying to stop Nestle and other big companies from privatizing the water supply of the whole world, leaving millions of people to die of thirst, here is an answer: Charity: Water.
Every penny goes to helping bring clean drinking water to small villages all over the world. They have a separate business for generating the plans, engineering, and support system, so that every donated penny goes to getting the water to the people. You can give $5 a month, or more. It is easy to do. I watched their ad, the night I was watching Midnight mass from the Vatican, and they are a total inspiration. I wrote a poem about it.
“WATER FROM THE SPOUT”
WATER FROM THE SPOUT
Little faces lit with joy,
as they put their whole heads
under the spigot,
and their hands, eagerly
cupped to catch the clean sparkling water
as it pours generously, dancingly,
a ribbon of miracles,
continuously from the pipe.
(the Health Inspector says:)
So the baby will not get dysentery,
so the mother can wash the clothes,
so the children can go to school,
and not be thirsty,
Or nauseated, or anemic,
because of amoebas and worms,
because of this new spigot,
because of the gift of the well,
drilled by someone who wanted to
be of service,
to make a real difference:
A miracle in the desert
They have seen only mud holes, wet by
opaque brown water, glaucous as a cataract,
full of bugs,
where animals have washed, and drunk
after walking through the dust, toward
the pond which seemed a mirage,
there are footprints all around the slimy rim.
Dancing down the road,
these strong children carried on their heads
big oil drums and plastic containers
full of contaminated water,
for miles, their feet dusty and hardened
by walking on the earth with bare feet,
singing and flashing their smiles,
on the daily walk from the mud puddles
back to their homes.
They laugh, they sing,
Watching the clear, clean water splashing
From the pipe.
The well is in the middle of the village,
women come with their baskets
full of clean washed clothes,
children play in the open air
their voices full of excitement and joy,
their hands clapping and touching,
clean hands and clean faces,
bright smiles of happiness