“A voice cries out: In the desert prepare the way of the LORD!
Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God!
Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill shall be
the rugged land shall be made a plain, the rough country, a broad
Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed,
and all people shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD has
Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the
carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care.”
Is 40:1-5, 9-11)
Pondering the Word…
The Lectionary lists several options for today’s readings,
but this one really spoke to me as I have spent the last day or two trying
to clean out my office. Since it is a new year, there have been a lot of
human interest news stories about downsizing and clearing clutter. There’s
even a Netflix series right now about this very thing.
“Make straight in the wasteland a highway for our God.”
While I don’t think my office would have earned the “wasteland” designation,
it was getting awfully close! I know the clutter—in my physical space
and in my mind and heart—gets in the way of my spiritual life. And I know
that Jesus does some of his best work right smack dab in the middle of all
the mess, but I am often too distracted to even notice.
Cleaning up and clearing out is hard work; it takes a
conscious commitment. Fr. Richard Rohr, in a recent blog post, quotes the
great Quaker author, Parker Palmer, as he reflects on getting older and
I no longer ask, “What do I want to let go of,
and what do I want to hang on to?” Instead I ask, “What
do I want to let go of, and what do I want to give myself to?” The
desire to “hang on” comes from a sense of scarcity and fear. The
desire to “give myself” comes from a sense of abundance and generosity.
To what do you want to give yourself in 2019?
I love this approach: What, and to whom or what, do I want to
give of myself? It’s much more positive and life-giving than hanging on.
The New Year always provides a good starting point for changes, but the
awareness to really affect those changes is a day-by-day commitment.
If you haven’t adopted the examen as part of your daily
prayer, I encourage you to give it a try. Looking back nonjudgmentally
on your day helps you identify times you were graced with success in your
commitment to give, but also to consider those people and things that
challenge you. The prayer also suggests you think ahead to the next day and
ask for help for those situations that may test you. A midday 1-minute
check-up each day also provides encouragement and grace. Give yourself to
this affirming and life–giving prayer and see how it can make a difference
for you. (www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen)
"Repent, and believe in the Gospel."
several Scripture translations to see how different scholars interpret what
is considered to be the original text. The word “repent” is translated as
“turn back” or “change your hearts;” the Greek word is “metanoeite.”
I think these interpretations lead us to a different place than does the
idea of repentance. While saying we are sorry for the things we do wrong or
overlook is important, if we don’t allow the grace of mercy to change what
leads us to sin in the first place, our repentance becomes rote prayer. If
our so-called “transactional sin” is gossiping, we will continue to commit
that sin if we don’t recognize the pride, shame, or envy that lies behind
it. If we harbor bigoted thoughts, allowing those thoughts to influence our
actions, and fail to recognize the fear that is the source, our sin remains.
Jesus tells us, turn back to God; change what you hold deeply in your hearts
by having faith in the good tidings his promise of salvation brings. Spend
some time in prayer today reflecting on what causes you to act in sinful
ways. Ask Jesus to help you bring about a true change of heart.
“For it was fitting that he…should make the leader to their
salvation perfect through suffering.”
The author of the letter to the Hebrews extols God’s wisdom
in becoming one of us in order to lead us. He tells us since Jesus was
tested through suffering he is able to help us when we are tested. But that
only works if we accept Jesus as one of us. And if we accept Jesus in his
full humanity, we also have to accept that the life he led is within our
reach as well. It’s easy to keep Jesus at arm’s length when we call him God.
Our greatest comfort and our greatest challenge, however, come when
we are willing to call him Brother.
“Because he was
tested through what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being
reflect on Jesus’ suffering, I tend to focus more on the physical and mental
aspects of his suffering: sweating blood at Gethsemane, the indignity of his
trial, the arduous and painful trek to Calvary, and of course, the searing
pain of crucifixion. I don’t often take the time to consider his spiritual
suffering: his asking God to take away the cup he is to drink, his surrender
to God’s will, the cry of abandonment from the cross. Jesus struggled with
God. His spirit was defeated. While I don’t think he ever doubted God, he
surely felt God had left him to die alone. Remember this when you find
yourself struggling spiritually. Jesus has been there.
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Ps 95)
The way this verse is written, it seems to say that
sometimes, when we hear God’s voice, we turn away. We don’t want to listen
to what God has to say for fear it will have something to do with giving
things up or doing more than we think we can. I’m sure that does happen, but
I wonder…how often do I fail to even hear God’s voice because my heart is
already so hard? These days, the constant stream of disturbing news can
toughen even the most gentle of hearts. It’s particularly important that we
make a conscious effort to sit quietly and listen. Don’t be fearful to hear
God’s voice—what God has to say will always be for our good.
“Therefore, let us strive to enter into (his) rest.”
(Heb 4:1-5, 11)
Do you know that feeling you get when you’ve been working
really hard—maybe you did this over the holidays or studying for exams—and
finally, your work is done. You have the opportunity to get into bed and
just rest. While I am thankful each night for a warm, comfortable place to
sleep, there is something special about the rest I get after an assignment
or event is done. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews seems to
understand this. The reward is so much sweeter when we strive for it.
Keeping God’s commands can be hard work, but we know when we finally earn
our rest, all striving will cease. “’Our hearts are restless, Lord, until
they rest in you.’ We pray you will grant us the grace and the strength
to keep striving, and your mercy when we fall short.”
“Let the words of my mouth and the thought of my heart find favor before
you." (Ps 19)
a good follow-up to Monday’s reflection about changing our hearts. While I
can slip up, the words of my mouth usually don’t reflect the negative
thoughts I sometimes harbor in my heart. These days, it seems like people
feel much freer to express the anger and hatred they feel and that is so
very sad. Our goal is to make sure that when God looks at us, he hears
reflected in our words the real, true love and compassion we hold in our
hearts. Pray that your heart and your words find favor with God.