“In many ways, waiting is the missing link in the transformation process. I’m not referring to waiting as we’re accustomed to it, but waiting as the passionate and contemplative crucible in which new life and spiritual wholeness can be birthed.”
Sue Monk Kidd: When the Heart Waits
One reality of life is waiting; waiting for someone to show up, for something to happen, for things to change. Another reality of life is that most of us do not like waiting. We look for the shortest line at the supermarket or we become impatient, even angry, waiting for someone who is slow or inattentive. At some level waiting takes place every day. Each of us could name the things or people for which we wait. Sometimes we live with the overwhelming feeling of waiting but with no clear idea of what we are waiting for. In our waiting, we generally don’t wait in the present. We either move into the past or into the future. The great tragedy is that in doing so we lose the present moment. That’s part of what makes waiting so painful and difficult. Waiting in the past brings sadness, anger, or guilt about things that have happened, or the things done and left undone. Waiting in the future most often brings fear and anxiety about what will happen. We are haunted by the unknown and lack of control.
In today’s gospel Jesus is teaching us how to wait. He’s inviting us to be present to the One who is always already present: “Do not be afraid. It has pleased your Father to give you the kingdom.” The ‘kingdom’ is God’s life within us. (cf Luke 17:21) We are not waiting until we die to enter the kingdom. We don’t die into it. We awaken into it. (Cynthia Bourgeault) If we allow our waiting to be a time of growing awareness of the reality of God within us, within each other, within creation and within the circumstances of our lives, then it will be a time of transformation, a time when we discover the inexhaustible treasure within us, a treasure which no ‘thief’ can take from us.
We might be tempted to ask, “Where is God in all our waiting?” But maybe the better question is “Where are we?”
I was in a plane descending into Portland and I gazed upon a brilliant pink sunrise over blue and purple mountains, and my heart ached. Instinctively, I looked over to Eva to share this breath-taking moment, but she was sleeping. I felt incomplete, not being able to share the moment with her, or with anyone. Its beauty was slipping through my fingers. This was a teachable moment for me: I somehow felt this moment wasn’t enough, without being able to share it. It took me a second to remind myself: this moment is enough. It’s enough, without needing to be shared or photographed or improved or commented upon. It’s enough, awe-inspiring just as it is.
I’m not alone in this feeling, that the moment needs to be captured by photo to be complete, or shared somehow on social media. We feel the moment isn’t enough unless we talk about it, share it, somehow solidify it. The moment is ephemeral, and we want solidity and permanence. This kind of groundlessness can scare us. This feeling of not-enoughness is fairly pervasive in our lives:
We sit down to eat and feel we should be reading something online, checking messages, doing work. As if eating the food weren’t enough.
We get annoyed with people when they don’t act as we want them to — the way they are feels like it’s not enough.
We feel directionless and lost in life, as if the life we have is not already enough.
We procrastinate when we know we should sit down to do important work, going for distractions, as if the work is not enough for us.
We mourn the loss of people, of the past, of traditions … because the present feels like it’s not enough.
We are constantly thinking about what’s to come, as if it’s not enough to focus on what’s right in front of us.
We reject situations, reject people, reject ourselves, because we feel they are not enough.
What if we accepted that this moment will slip away when it’s done, and we saw the fleeting time we had with the moment as enough, without needing to share it or capture it? What if we paused and accepted this present moment, and everyone and everything in it, as exactly enough? What if we needed nothing more?
Unfortunately, today’s gospel story has often suffered from dubious interpretations, with Martha becoming the poster child for all that is imperfect with the life of busyness, the implication being that this life is inferior to a perfect life of contemplation. Most of us want to defend Martha probably because we have been in similar situations and can identify with her. The way in which she spoke to Jesus reveals her feelings of resentment, perhaps her own martyr complex, her need to be appreciated, needed and loved. Martha was everything good and right, but she was not present. This kind of goodness does little good! Distracted by her feelings, she couldn’t possibly have been fully present to herself and to the many tasks involved in the meal preparation. If she was not present to herself, Martha could not be present to her guests in any healing way, and spiritually speaking, she could not even be present to God. How we are present to anything is how we can be present to God, to ourselves, to loved ones, to everyone.
While we might distinguish between Mary and Martha there is a common theme: presence. “Only one thing is necessary,” Jesus says. The real gift is to be happy and content, even when we are doing the ‘nothingness’ of a chore, a repetitive task, or silent prayer. We can experience the ‘one thing’ whether we are sitting at the feet of the sage or engaged in service in the kitchen, or wherever we finds ourselves.
The presence of God is infinite, everywhere and forever. We cannot not be in the presence of God. There’s no other place to be. It is we who are not present to Presence. We’ll make any excuse to be somewhere else than right here. Right here, right now never seems enough. It actually is, but it is we who are not aware of that yet. Presence lies at the heart of life, prayer, and relationships. All spiritual teaching—this is not an oversimplification—is about how to be present to the moment. When we are present, we will experience the Presence.
“Love your neighbour as yourself.” So often we think of our ‘neighbour’ as separate from ourselves, someone whom we try to love with the same amount of love as we love ourselves, when it really means that it is the same Source and the same Love that allows each of us to love ourself, others, and God at the same time! In and with God, we can love everything and everyone—even our enemies. Alone and by ourselves, our willpower and intellect will seldom be able to love in difficult situations over time. Many people try to love by willpower, with themselves as the only source. They try to obey the second commandment without the first. When we grow in our awareness that “in Him we all live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28), we will grow in the realisation that we are all truly in Love and we will then hear Jesus’ words to mean “Love your neighbour as being yourself.”
Our transformed consciousness will enable us to surrender to Love, to allow God to see our woundedness, to see and love us as we really are rather than what we ideally wish to be. We will then want to give others this same experience of divine love, of being looked upon tenderly in their woundedness, be it physical, emotional or psychological. We will want to reach out to our ‘neighbour’ with compassion, notice his/her wounds and touch them with gentleness. For us all to grow in love, “all must come to the light, both the dark parts of oneself that need healing and the light parts that need birthing. “
Often young children are more in touch with the ‘light parts that need birthing’. When asked by their four-year old child what ‘Namaste’ meant, the parents explained that each person is saying, “I bow to God in you.” With an all-knowing look, the child replied, “But Mama. The God in you is the same God that’s in me.” Out of the mouths of babes…
One word that occurs in all
three readings today is “peace”. Isaiah speaks of God sending “flowing peace,
like a river”. Paul speaks of the peace and mercy that come to all who become “an
altogether new creature”, a genuinely transformed person in the image of Jesus.
And, in the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples to bring peace with them to every
house they enter. This peace is not dependent on outside circumstances. It can
exist even when we are surrounded by storms. It is the peace Jesus experienced
after his prayer in the garden. It is the peace that Paul experiences, even
though he has had his share of the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” and bears
in his own body the marks of Jesus’ pain and suffering.
What is this peace? “When we keep our spiritual centre, our spiritual ground; when we know what is essential i.e. to know who we really are at our deepest level, then we experience true peace. Only then can we share what we have to offer.”
We are called today to
become labourers with Jesus in the harvest that is the society in which we
live. It is a society that seems so rich and prosperous and yet is so
impoverished of the security and peace it so frenetically seeks to find. We are
called today to labour so that our society may be gradually transformed into a
place where the values of the Gospel, often so little understood even by
ourselves, will prevail.
Christianity is not an end in itself. It is simply a very effective way of becoming that altogether new kind of human person that Jesus and Paul speak about. This new person has a deep sense of both God’s utter transcendence and utter immanence, the God who constantly calls us beyond where we are and who, at the same time, deeply penetrates our being and our every experience. This new person lives a life of perfect integrity and truth, a life of deep compassion and concern. This new person lives in freedom and peace.
Living Space / Sacred Space
“Let there be an opening into the quiet that lies
beneath the chaos, where you find the peace you did not think possible and see
what shimmers within the storm.”
Today we celebrate and reflect on the significance and importance of Saints Peter and Paul. By removing them from their ‘saintly pedestals’ and seeing them as the men they were: flawed and fallible, we can see why God uses them to offer us a hope for our own response to His presence in our lives. In the Gospels, Peter invariably gets it ‘wrong’. He denies Jesus three times after having promised to die with him; he is impetuous and responds instinctively rather than with thought. Paul, a highly educated Pharisee had a fiery personality and was a persecutor of Christians.
Today’s readings show us how these two men came to experience Jesus the Christ. Peter followed Jesus, thinking Jesus was a good man, a great man, one who invited him to share life, one who was more human than anybody he had ever met. In the story today Peter was given the insight to see that Jesus was more than just a mere human. “You are the Messiah, the son of the Living God.” Paul’s journey was different. He began by persecuting the followers of Jesus, putting them in jail and maybe even punishing with death. Then, through the graciousness of God, he experiences Jesus the Christ. It is then he changes, he realises who Jesus is, and begins his preaching.
Our journeys may not be so dramatic, but “God meets us where we are and makes a healing and expanding presence known to us in the exact way we are most ready to experience it. God fills our hearts in whatever measure we are open to the Spirit. When we fall into God’s mercy, when we fall into God’s great generosity, we find, seemingly from nowhere, this capacity to change. No one is more surprised than we are. We know it is total gift.”
Fr. Richard Rohr
Once we know Jesus, and have experienced him, we are sent. Jesus makes himself known not so we can keep him to ourselves, but so that we can spread the Good News of his love, mercy, justice and peace. To be disciples we gather and we are sent into the world to preach by our lives and words the Good News: Jesus is alive and with us. As Pope Francis says, “The Church is not missionary in order to preserve itself, but to transform the world through love and healing, through walking with those in need and who struggle.”
When we read the words in today’s second reading: “Do this in memorial of me”, we may think of a memorial service, something that commemorates a person or an event of the past. We think well of it and then we go on with our lives. In Jewish religion, to do something ‘in memory of’ is to move into deep memory. That is what happens when we pray. Surface memory is where we mainly live our lives consciously remembering the many significant people and events in our lives. If we create our identity, our meaning, our purpose from that tiny memory, we will almost always be unsatisfied. We are never going to be able to feel deep enough, wonderful enough, big enough, connected enough.
Most of us feel that we are all on our own. In today’s gospel the disciples wanted to send the people out on their own to take care of their own food. Jesus’ response was to create a new understanding of connectedness, of abundance, of ‘enoughness’, of more than ‘enoughness’- as we see in the twelve baskets left over. In taking a little bit of food and feeding everybody with it, Jesus is symbolising his invitation to a universal meal, an invitation into a universal community, friendship and unity. This is an image of the Eucharist: a meal which takes us out of our tiny world where we never feel that there is enough and gives our little lives universal and eternal meaning. The Eucharist seeks to connect our joy and suffering with all the joys and suffering since the beginning of time. That’s what it means to do something in deep memory with God. Our circles of connectedness are ever-widening. Our little tiny lives are connected with something bigger, something that matters, something eternal. Suddenly our ordinary little lives have transcendent and universal meaning. Whether we realise it or not, that is the yearning within each one of us.
To eat of the bread and drink of the cup is to consciously acknowledge our oneness, our connectedness to all that was, is and will be. Every true celebration of Eucharist is a deep memory experience of who we are in Christ, in whom we all live and move and have our being.
In the beginning was relationship. “Let us create in our image” (Genesis 1:26-27). When we start with God as relationship, we begin the spiritual journey with an awareness that there has to be a “DNA connection,” between the One who creates and what is created. The energy in the universe is not in the planets, nor in the atomic particles, but very surprisingly in the relationship between them. The energy in the Trinity is not in any precise definition or in the partly arbitrary names of the three persons of the Trinity as much as in the relationship between the Three. We must reclaim Relationship as the foundation and ground of everything. The Trinitarian revelation starts with the nature of loving—and this is the very nature of being! We are intrinsically like the Trinity, living in an absolute relatedness, standing inside a continuous flow which we call love. Jesus invites us to a Trinitarian way of living, loving, and relating—on earth as it is in the Godhead.
When we describe God, we can only use similes, analogies, and metaphors. All theological language is an approximation, offered tentatively in holy awe. That’s the best human language can achieve. We absolutely must maintain a fundamental humility before the Great Mystery; otherwise, religion worships itself and its formulations instead of God. Yet Mystery isn’t something we cannot understand. Mystery is endlessly understandable. “The Spirit of truth will guide you into all the truth”
God for us, we call you Father. God alongside us, we call you Jesus. God within us, we call you Holy Spirit. You are the eternal mystery that enables, enfolds, and enlivens all things, Even us and even me. Every name falls short of your goodness and greatness. We can only see you in what is. We ask for such perfect seeing— As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.
“That they may be one, as we are one.” These are Jesus’ words of farewell to his disciples and he repeats this prayer several times. When Jesus talks about oneness, what he has in mind is a complete, mutual indwelling: I am in God, God is in you, you are in God, we are in each other. There is no separation between humans and God because of this mutual inter-abiding which expresses the indivisible reality of divine love. As Thomas Merton reflected, “We are already one.” We just need to start becoming what we already are. All that is absent is awareness. To be one with everyone and everything is to have overcome the fundamental optical illusion of our separateness. Awareness opens our eyes to the reality of our oneness, and our openness to the Spirit allows this awareness to transform us.
On Thursday, we celebrated the feast of the Ascension, a celebration of oneness. In the story of Christ’s ascension as told in Acts (1:9-11), angels appear next to the disciples as they gaze after the rising figure. The angels ask, “Why are you standing here staring up into heaven?” Most of Christianity has been doing just that, straining to find the historical Jesus “up there.” Where did he go? We’ve been obsessed with the question because we think the universe is divided into separate levels—heaven and earth. But it is one universe and all within it is saturated with the presence of God. The whole point of the Incarnation and Risen Body is the revelation that the Christ is here—and always was! The Ascension is the revelation of the final reunion of what appeared to be separated for a while: earth and heaven, human and divine, matter and Spirit. Jesus didn’t go anywhere. He revealed himself as the universal omnipresent Body of Christ. That’s why the final book of the Bible promises us a new heaven and a new earth, not an escape from earth. (Revelation 21:1), We focused on “going” to heaven instead of living on earth as Jesus did—which makes heaven and earth one. It is heaven all the way to heaven. What we choose now is exactly what we choose to be forever.
Various sources: David Benner, Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finley, Richard Rohr