Thursday, June 29, 2017

Small Delights

Yesterday I sat at a stop sign, waiting for an opening in traffic so I could pull onto a busy road. As I was checking to the left, I saw movement closer to me. It was a sparrow, flying-hopping up to a seed head of crabgrass, raking the seeds off, then settling on the pavement below to eat what it had harvested. I stopped watching the traffic and instead watched the busy bird until a car pulled up behind me. It was a small delight, a breath of joy breathed into my day.

Later, I was walking across a shopping center parking lot when I saw a dragonfly. I stopped, (safely out of traffic) and simply watched its flight--hovering, then moving, then hovering—until it finally flew out of sight. It was another small delight, and I felt the breath of joy I had felt upon seeing the sparrow earlier.

On a recent walk, I found a petunia growing out of a sidewalk crack. There were no other petunias around, so I suppose this one sprouted from a seed that waited through the winter for its chance to germinate and grow. Its determination and patience brought a smile to my face—yet another small delight.

In a world where we seem to crave the constant stimulation of big, splashy and dramatic events, people and things, I relish these small examples of grace and life. Saint Thèresé of Lisieux had such an appreciation of small things. She said this, speaking of the different flowers—roses and lilies, contrasted with the more common daisies and violets: I saw that if all these lesser blooms wanted to be roses instead, nature would lose the gaiety of her springtide dress—there would be no little flowers to make a pattern over the countryside.

I believe that an appreciation for small things helps us to be more aware of the presence of God in all of life. It also invites us to a more permeating discipleship because we know the significance that the smallest act can have for the world as a whole. When we delight in the small, we are more likely to do the small things that, added together, make a big difference—picking up a piece of trash off the sidewalk, feeding the birds, acknowledging a homeless person by looking them in the eyes and speaking to them.

Thèresé described her mission in life as simply “to make Love loved.” To make Love loved opens us up to an appreciation of the small and simple in life. I would argue that it is more significant than a large, showy mission because it is purged of any pride, any desire for recognition or attention and is thus pure and holy.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Belonging to the Truth

Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth. This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and reassure our hearts in God’s presence.      
    1 John 3:18-19

Love well demonstrated happens when we belong to the truth. We belong to the truth when we know how much God loves us. When we know how much God loves us, we can love ourselves. When we love ourselves, we can love others. When we love others, we demonstrate love with both action and truth. The coupling of action and truth is important because our actions demonstrate love to the extent that we belong to the truth.

Belonging to the truth is different than saying you don’t tell lies. Belonging to the truth is a way of being, a permeating presence, the awareness that one is deeply rooted in, and drawing life from, the heart of Christ. When we are confident of God’s love for us, we dwell in the truth and our actions flow from that truth. There is integrity between inner and outer—inner truth and outer action.

Belonging to the truth is not moralistic. It is not incidental, that is, based on telling the truth in particular incidents. You can tell those who belong to the truth because their entire way of living emanates love. Moralists, on the other hand, emanate pride, which is fearful, judgmental and arrogant, highly concerned with controlling the perceptions of others. Moralists are focused on what others think of them and are often vocal about how moral they are. Those who belong to the truth are focused on God, acting out of their love for God, unconcerned about how they are perceived by others.

This story from the sayings of the desert fathers that illustrates the difference between belonging to the truth vs. not telling a lie:

It was said about one brother that when he had woven baskets and put handles on them, he heart a monk next door saying: What shall I do? The trader is coming but I don’t have handles on my baskets! Then he took the handles off his own baskets and brought them to his neighbor saying: Look, I have these left over. Why don’t you put them on your baskets? And he made his brother’s work complete, as there was need, leaving his own unfinished.

In this example, the compassionate brother said the handles were left over, when, in fact, they were not left over, but the ones he needed to make his own baskets complete. A moralist would say he told a lie, and yet he demonstrated compassion and showed he belonged to the truth. To have given the handles to the brother, telling him they were his only handles, would have been prideful and made the despairing brother feel worse than he already felt.

Those who belong to the truth know that they belong to the truth by grace alone, not merit, so they are humble and can extend grace to others. Because they aren’t concerned with what others think of them, they are free to act out of love for God and love for others, actions that come from a heart of love that is confident of God’s love for them. There is congruence between their inner being and outward doing—they belong to the truth because love permeates both their inner being and outward doing. They aren’t perfect; they still fall short, but because they know deeply God’s love for them, they can humbly acknowledge their failure and receive God’s grace with gratitude.

Moralists, who are often quick to tell you that they don’t lie, are actually living a lie because there is not congruence between their inner being and outward doing. While their outward doing may appear “correct,” it comes from a heart of fear, pride and self-righteousness. It is a façade that masks their inner fear.

May we know the truth of God’s love for us, and live lives of congruence that demonstrate our belonging to the truth.  Such a life is a life of compassion, freedom and joy!

Monday, June 12, 2017

Be Careful How You Pray

Be careful what you pray for . . . is the first part of a saying we’ve likely heard. It came to my mind recently when reading a person’s comment to the prayer request of another. I was surprised by the pray-er’s assumption that she knew what the requester needed. While not about prayer, a quote from Wendell Berry offers a valid warning to us when we pray for others:

We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. And this has been based on the even flimsier assumption that we could know with any certainty what was good even for us. We have fulfilled the danger of this by making our personal pride and greed the standard of our behavior toward the world—to the incalculable disadvantage of the world and every living thing in it.

Have you ever shuddered at the way someone’s prayer assumed to know what was best for another? Or was ignorant of all the facts? Is it right to pray for a marriage to be saved if one spouse abuses the other? If an elderly cancer victim is ready to cross the threshold into heaven, do you pray for them not to die?

In early May I attended a Five-Day Academy for Spiritual Formation on the Georgia coast. One of our presenters, Sister Kathleen Flood, was asked how we should pray for others. The question was prompted by the uneasiness of presuming to know the need of another. Sister Kathleen offered a lovely response. She said when others ask her to pray for specific outcomes, she responds, “I will hold you in prayer.” She went on to tell us that she lifts the person’s name to God in her prayer time, but does not attempt to direct God toward a specific response.

Her answer reminded me of a healing story of Jesus. When Jesus was teaching in a crowded house, friends of a paralyzed man took their friend up on the roof, made a hole in it, and lowered their friend in front of Jesus. They didn’t ask Jesus to heal their friend. They simply placed him at Jesus’ feet.

Their example is a good one for us. Rather than giving God directions about how to respond to another’s need (which, when described as I just have, sounds as presumptuous as it really is), can we simply place our friend in God’s presence and trust that God knows what our friend needs?

In addition to not presuming we know better than God the need of another, such a way of praying relieves us of “pray-er’s guilt.” An example of this is when you pray for another to be cured and they die and you wonder if you didn’t pray hard enough or say the right words, as if there is a magic formula you have to utter to get the prayer to “work.”

Because God is God and we are not, and because sometimes our prayer requests can come with our own selfish agendas, simply holding another in prayer to God is prayer enough. Such a prayer prevents a superfluity of words, and teaches us the humility of letting another go to God’s care and keeping. Let us hold one another up to God, trusting that the One who made us knows our needs.

Monday, June 5, 2017


As for you, what you heard from the beginning must remain in you.
                                                                                                                                1 John 2:24a

Long before I was in the womb, long
before I was even an egg—when I was alive
only in the mind of God—
God whispered into me her dream for me.
The word I heard from the beginning
brought me into being.
It remains in me, a spark, which,
ignited by self-knowledge, fills
all of me with light and life.
Listen, my heart.
What stokes my fire?
What makes my soul dance?
What nourishes my joy?
These reveal how God’s dream
resounds in me. May my life
sing its unique song into the void
I was created to fill.