“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled. Matthew 5:6
What does it mean to “hunger and thirst” for righteousness? What Jesus was saying is better understood if we understand how the 1st century audience understood righteousness. A person listening to this scripture in the 1st century would have heard righteousness as justice; so those who “hunger and thirst for justice “will find justice. However, at least if you listen to the news media, it doesn’t seem as though justice is a priority today.
In this land of so much abundance there are too many who are hungry, homeless, and lost in a world of mental disability and addictions. Last Tuesday I volunteered at Common Ground in Everett. About 40 homeless and hungry people and one sweet dog showed up between 8 am and 12 noon, for coffee, tea, sandwiches and snacks. For 4 hours, 4 days a week people who live on the streets find a warm place to talk, play a few board games, drink coffee and eat snacks, or just sleep in a safe place.
Each and every one of the people served by this small shelter was hungry for justice. Some are homeless due to alcohol abuse or chemical addictions. Some have mental illnesses, too many are veterans suffering from PTSD. Some are young people thrown out of their homes by their parents and some are homeless through no real fault of their own. Some have committed crimes that prevent them from getting a job, but that is a smaller percentage than most people think. Many are homeless because they lost their job and are unable to find another one. It is one reason why some 50 something’s are on the street. They were living paycheck to paycheck and when the paycheck was lost so was their housing and everything else.
Every single visitor to Common Ground only wanted enough to survive on, a clean place to live, enough food to eat, and clean clothes to wear. Is that too much to ask? Each person wanted to be recognized for the person they are, with all the wounds and scars that living a life produces. Is that such a hard thing to ask for?
Homelessness, hunger, illness aren’t sins or crimes, even though they are often treated that way. Homelessness is the dirty little secret we want to hide away and tell ourselves it can’t happen to me, or those we love. Well, the truth is losing your home, and/or your family, everything you hold dear can be lost in a moment. When it happens, you very well may end up on the street asking yourself what happened.
The spiritual practice for the week is to recognize the people on the streets as our brothers and sister, our aunts and uncles, our mothers and fathers. You might carry with you an extra sandwich, or candy bar and when you meet someone offer it to them. They may refuse, but most likely they will accept. Shake their hand and let them know you recognize them for who they are, a child of God, a child of humanity. If you are in the position to speak up for those on the street then find a way to do it. If you are able to volunteer at a shelter the life lesson you receive will change how you view your own life of comfort and abundance. Even if you believe you have very little it is still more than what those on the streets have. They believe you are rich, and in meeting them face to face you will recognize how rich you are. You probably are saying that’s not a spiritual practice but it is spirituality in action, practicing what we are taught in the Gospels. It does no good to pray if the prayer is not followed up with meaningful action.
May each of you find the Divine in the face of a hungry man, woman, or child and may you be righteous offering justice for those in need.
I have been trying to think about what to say about the Umpqua shootings but my heart is breaking and my mind won’t process this. So I am asking you for your prayer this week to write letters to your legislators about gun legislation, talk to your neighbors about keeping safe, and get involved in your community and/or church youth programs. Talk kids and get to know your own children and the children they play with. Keep the kids involved with family and community and help them find safe ways to release anger and frustration. If you need a gun for hunting then talk to every member of the family about gun safety and keep your guns in a secure gun safe when you aren’t using them. I know that isn’t much but if all of us become more aware and involved in the efforts to regulate guns in a responsible manner than maybe, just maybe we won’t be speechless anymore.
In the last weeks God’s creation has seemed anything but good. Terrorist attacks, ambushing of police, and police shootings of unarmed young men continue to rent the very fabric of our society. Yet God did not create an evil world, in fact God proclaims this world a good world where everyone, and I mean everyone, has what they need to live and be the person they are meant to be. It is our choice’s, not God’s, that have created a world that is unsafe.
Spending time in silent contemplation with a focus on what we could have been, and still could be, seemed the only way for me to center myself and see the world as good. So today I offer as our prayer of the week another Visio Divina using the above painting of the Garden of Eden by Jan Brueghel.
1. Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, the placement of the plants, animals and, people. Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the artwork? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges? What feelings about the world rise in you? Are there any images that you are particularly drawn too?
Respond to the image with prayer for the world. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer that prayer to God.
Find your quiet center. Breathe deeply. Relax your shoulders, arms and legs. Rest in this quiet. Let God pray in you. God prays beyond words.
Please do not let your belief, or non-belief, in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent fall from grace prevent you from seeing the good things in creation. Our world is in need of prayer right now. All of our people, all of creation is crying and in pain. Let your prayers go out into the world and let them lead you to be the person God has always wanted you to be.
I have been contemplating making a resolution this year. My track record for keeping resolutions is poorer at best as I rarely make it past Jan 2nd but, maybe this year will be different. You see I am actually thinking about a resolution that fits my life style rather than dramatically changing it. Keeping expectations low can’t hurt this process.
My 2015 resolution is to deepen my prayer life.
I am going to accomplish in two steps. First I am going to carry a small blank book with me at all times where I can record names of people I am asked to hold in prayer. That way I won’t forget the name of the person needing prayer even if I don’t know them well or not at all. I already set aside a portion of my meditation time for intercessory prayers but I often forget the names of those who have asked for prayer. When that happens the best I can do is a general prayer that holds up everyone who is ill and suffering, while this is lovely and includes the individual it has lost the personal feeling for my prayer.
The second act is to begin practicing a new spiritual practice called “Dedicated Suffering” presented by Jane Marie Thibault in her book Pilgrimage into the Last Third of Life, co-authored by Richard L. Morgan. The purpose is to take the energy surrounding my suffering and asking Christ to ‘transform it into loving-kindness for the chosen person or group being held in prayer.
In the last few years I have had an increasing amount of physical pain in my life and a lot of my life energy is involved with minimizing that pain. Ms Thibault developed a way to dedicate that energy to Jesus as a gift, then asking Jesus to change that gift into love for a person being held in prayer.
Since I have been doing this only a few days I can’t say I notice major any changes in my life but like all spiritual practices you have to do for a while before you see anything new. That is why it is called ‘practice.’
As we grow older chronic pain and suffering increases and often limits what we can accomplish each day. The practice of Dedicated Suffering offers a way to extend our prayers to others and puts the energy of our pain and suffering to good purpose. I offer the following instructions so you may try it for yourselves. Maybe at the end of 2015 we can compare notes and see how gifting our energy to Christ to provide loving-kindness to those in need has changed our lives.
Dedicating Your Pain and Suffering to Help Others
Find yourself a quiet corner where you may sit silence for a few minutes. Focus on your pain and the energy you are expending to minimize it.
Offer your suffering energy to Jesus as a gift.
Select a person or group in need of your prayers then ask Jesus to accept the energy of you suffering and change it into love for that person or group.
Spend a minute or two imagining Jesus sending love and help to the person or group.
As I am personally preparing for Christmas I have been disturbed by the amount of violence and death around the world. Peace on earth does not seem near. So as part of my morning ritual I have been doing Lectio Divina with the Psalms. They have brought me some comfort but this Psalm struck a chord within me and I wanted to share that with you. So this is a little different from most of my postings, as it is part of my journaling during my meditation. I am letting you in on a small part of my conversations I held with the Psalmist and God. They are my insights of the moment, so if I say something you disagree with please be gentle, it is after all a private conversation you are overhearing. At the end of my journaling you will find the steps for Lectio Divina. For your own Lectio Divina meditation you may use the whole Psalm, as I did, or only a verse or two.
Psalm 10, The Message (MSG)
1-2 God, are you avoiding me? Where are you when I need you?
Full of hot air, the wicked are hot on the trail of the poor.
Trip them up, tangle them up in their fine-tuned plots.
I am in the process of preparing for a Longest Night worship service and in reading this Psalm I was struck by how it matched my gut feelings this Advent. Every day the news is filled with stories from around the world of someone killing someone one else, often many someone’s. Just last night news came of a hostage situation in Sidney, Australia, just one more story to add to the Ferguson, New Town, Cleveland, Seattle, Portland, Houston, Afghanistan, and Iraq stories of the last number of years. The list is too long, too many people have died, and too many children have died. Like the Psalmist I am left wondering “where are you God.”
3-4 The wicked are windbags, the swindlers have foul breath.
The wicked snub God, their noses stuck high in the air.
Their graffiti are scrawled on the walls: “Catch us if you can!” “God is dead.”
This is supposed to be a time of joy and celebration but I do not feel like celebrating. Our elected leader’s mouth words from the Bible I read every day, yet, their actions tell me they do not believe what they speak. Are they wicked? Are they windbags? Well the wicked part can only be determined by God but the windbag part . . .. Yes they are windbags, hoping that we who at least try to live a life of compassion will not notice their plans to take the last ounce of God’s abundance all for themselves. They write bills and say “try and stop me, from denying the basic necessities to those who cannot help being poor, sick, elderly, or a child.
5-6 They care nothing for what you think; if you get in their way, they blow you off.
They live (they think) a charmed life: “We can’t go wrong. This is our lucky year!”
These insufferable, so called leaders lie and twist the truth until even the best of us are confused and dazed by the avalanche of untruths they let loose on the public. Whether they are religious fundamentalist, political leaders, in the United States, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, British Isles or anywhere they claim the spotlight and they believe no one can stop them. They are on a role and the rest of us “be damned.”
7-8 They carry a mouthful of hexes, their tongues spit venom like adders.
They hide behind ordinary people, then pounce on their victims.
9 They mark the luckless, then wait like a hunter in a blind;
When the poor wretch wanders too close, they stab him in the back.
10-11 The hapless fool is kicked to the ground, the unlucky victim is brutally axed.
He thinks God has dumped him, he’s sure that God is indifferent to his plight.
The words they spit from their mouths cause fear in those who have minds that are weak and malleable. Letting these poor souls do the violence they pretend to abhor only to turn on them when they caught in their snares.
12-13 Time to get up, God—get moving.
The luckless think they’re Godforsaken.
They wonder why the wicked scorn God
and get away with it,
Why the wicked are so cocksure
they’ll never come up for audit.
We wait for you O God to respond, to let us know you haven’t forgotten us. We wait and we wait.
14 But you know all about it— the contempt, the abuse.
I dare to believe that the luckless will get lucky someday in you.
You won’t let them down: orphans won’t be orphans forever.
The Psalmist sings of your knowledge of the violence we see every day. But do you really hear the cries of the children who have lost limbs to bombs, to parents who have watched as their children are killed in front of them, as ISIS hangs those with different beliefs, as children shoot children? Have we not sent enough children, parents, loved ones to you to serve as a sacrifice? Do you care?
15-16 Break the wicked right arms, break all the evil left arms.
Search and destroy every sign of crime.
God’s grace and order wins; godlessness loses.
My heart wants to believe as the Psalmist did that you will intervene in the bloodletting of this world, but I know you will not. It is not up to you, O God, to set this world back on the track of compassion, justice and peace. That really is our job. We are the ones who created these people who mock everything you have wanted for all. We are the ones who must “gird up our loins” and speak out against injustice, violence, hatred, and war. Only we who believe in justice, mercy, kindness, peace, compassion will change the lives of those who are oppressed, abused, injured, and starved by those who mock the world as you, O God, planned it. We must stop cowering in our homes and our places of faith and become the prophets, the messengers, the hands, feet and voice that will bring down those who would enslave us to a life of poverty and misery. Then, and only then, will the Psalmist’s dream come true.
17-18 The victim’s faint pulse picks up; the hearts of the hopeless pump red blood as you put your ear to their lips.
Orphans get parents, the homeless get homes.
The reign of terror is over, the rule of the gang lords is ended.
Gracious Spirit I thank you for this time of blessed meditation. May the words and images I have seen transform my actions into walking with you in greater joy. AMEN
Practicing Lectio Divina
Choose the portion of the Scripture you wish to pray.
Place yourself in a comfortable position and allow yourself to become silent, focus for a few moments on your breathing.
Read the chosen text through, slowly and gently. Listen to yourself read, let yourself to savor each word and phrase.
Read the text a second time. What words or phrases stick out for you? Remember God speaks to us in silence and in our listening. The words that pop out do so for a reason, pay attention to them.
Read the text a third time. Are there any other words that speak to you?
Sit now in silence, letting the words you have heard, speak to you and for you in your prayer, your conversation with God. What images, ideas, words spring forward? Or maybe all of them are present in mediation. Sit with those insights as you experience the presence of God. Give your insights to God. Do the insights give you new meaning or transformation of your actions, or prayer life?
Now rest in God’s arms. Let God’s presence give you comfort. Do you feel the pull to return to your meditations? Then begin again. If not close with a prayer of gratitude for the time you have spent in God’s presence and the insights you have received.
I am one of many people who do not look forward to Thanksgiving or Christmas. To me this time of the year represents the loss of way to many people I have cared about. So I usually don’t do much celebration and what I do is forced and tiring. Instead of celebrating the way most people do I have always used this time of year for reflection and giving to those in need.
All year round I practice the Spiritual Practice of giving, donating to those who are in need, but at this time of the year it takes on new meaning and helps with the depression I get every year. I practice this in many different ways; collecting food for the Food Bank, going through my closet and donating clothes I haven’t worn all year to Goodwill or the Salvation army, volunteer at a shelter, gather up grocery bags of food that includes dog food, blankets, caps, gloves and socks and hand them out to the homeless I encounter on the street. All of my giving is anonymous with no concern for what the gift is used for or any expectation of being repaid. And, while I know my small efforts won’t change much doing something for someone else helps me remember how good my life is and that despite feeling depressed I actually have a life worth sharing.
This week’s Spiritual Practice is the Practice of Giving, of sharing from your abundance without strings attached, just giving out of the love you have of God, Christ, Holy Spirit, and all of humanity. I would also like to recommend that this Spiritual Practice of Giving extend through the New Year. Do something each week where you give to those who need it in some way; the food bank, shelters, or someone on the street. Even if all you give is a welcome and a smile that acknowledges the humanity of all people that is more than some people will get all year.
May you find new ways to share your compassion for those in need, giving out of your abundant life to ensure others will have life.