Thursday – June 6, 2019
“When we wall ourselves off from uncertainty and fear, we develop an ‘iron heart.’ When we develop a true friendship with ourselves, the iron heart becomes a vulnerable, tender heart, a heart willing to be touched by pain and remain present.” (Trunga Rinpoche, quotation condensed)
A Word of Hope
To the edge of tranquility, night’s dark pool of dream and sleep, you come. You cast your line with feathered lures across the surface over and over until a fish rises to the bait, caught by what it most fears: cancer, total dependence in old age, unremitting pain, loss of a job, abandonment, the death of loved ones, betrayal. I speak holy words into the night, like sacred talismen to ward off your power, but you, audacious intruder, hold the line taut as the psyche futilely thrashes against the hook. No peace till morning.
Learning to live with fear is an important spiritual and psychological issue of our time. Not only do we have our bouts of personal fear in the night, but we wake to a toxic political atmosphere where many seek to stir up our anxieties for their own ends.
One of the best wisdom teachers about fear is American Buddhist nun Pema Chowdron. She advises:
“If we choose to take notice of the actual experience of fear, whether it’s just a queasy feeling in our stomach or actual terror, whether it’s a subtle level of discomfort or mind-numbing dramatic anxiety, we can smile at it….It could be a literal smile or metaphor for coming to know fear, turning toward fear, touching fear. In that case, rather than fear setting off a chain reaction you’re trying to protect yourself from, it becomes a source of tenderness. We experience our vulnerability, but we don’t feel we have to harden ourselves in response. That makes it possible for us to help ourselves and to help others.”
Citing scientific studies, she asserts that what we are most afraid of underneath it all is uncertainty and that the very basis of this is doubting ourselves, not trusting ourselves, not loving ourselves. So the very first step is developing an unconditional friendship with ourselves. Unconditional.
That means taking “the very scary step of getting to know yourself, being willing to look at yourself clearly and to stay with yourself when you want to shut down. It means keeping your heart open when you feel that what you see in yourself is just too embarrassing, too painful, too unpleasant, too hateful.” Meditation and prayer become key practices as we learn to observe whatever floats across the stream of consciousness and not enter into judgement.
Oh Sacred Heart to whom nothing is alien, nothing excluded, may we learn to love ourselves with tender compassion. Amen.
Dr. Pat Saxon
Wednesday – June 5, 2019
Then [Jesus] said to them, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23
A Word of Hope
“Deny” is not a word that most of us like to hear. When we think about denying ourselves, we assume that we are going to be losing something, something that we like, something that we believe is a good thing in our lives. Deny is one of those words that most often carries with it negative connotations.
For most Christians, the idea of self-denial surfaces only during Lent. The belief is that self-denial is something that is done only during this penitential season. After Easter, all bets are off. How many times have you heard someone say, or maybe you have said yourself, “I can give up ____ for forty days?” In this passage from Luke’s Gospel, Jesus is not talking about denying ourselves only during the forty days of Lent. And, He is not talking about denying ourselves of only one worldly thing. He is talking about denying ourselves all day every day. He is talking about denying ourselves anything and everything that comes between us and Him.
In this passage, Jesus does not tell us the “why” for his instruction. Though if we stop and think, it is not difficult to figure out. Simply stated, to be a true disciple, Jesus needs to come first in our lives. What God desires of us and from us needs to be our primary motivator in all things. It is not about what we want for ourselves. Jesus is telling us that we need to let our false selves die, that self that seeks power and control and satisfaction through worldly things.
When we deny ourselves something, the place that something once occupied is now vacant. This creates room for something else. Namely, Jesus. When we are not preoccupied with making money or taking care of the things that we have bought with our money or what we need to do to climb the social or corporate ladder, etc., that time can be spent in prayer and doing the true work of Christ.
The final part of this passage, “…take up their cross daily…,” is Jesus acknowledging that what he is asking of his disciples is not easy; it’s challenging; it’s hard. The weight of the cross is both a burden and our source of strength.
In this life where so many things are competing for my attention, help me to keep my heart and mind foremost on Jesus. Amen.
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
Tuesday – June 4, 2019
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. 1 Peter 4.10
A Word of Hope
I was speaking with a friend the other day about God, hell, and heaven. My friend’s background is Roman Catholic, so it didn’t surprise me that her belief tradition holds on to what I consider to be outdated. I consider my own original beliefs antique, too. I began my faith tradition as a child in the Southern Baptist church. I don’t remember much about it except that it was my first social experience. On the few occasions that I heard the preacher, there was a lot of ranting and screaming.
So, my first introduction to church was not that pleasant. Through all my other church experiences, I realized that my steps of faith leaned gradually to the more loving, grace – filled God, completely removed from the angry Hebrew Scripture version. I’m not surprised, however that a lot of troubled people of today want an angry, justice-demanding God. I’d have to say that it’s more appealing to my personality that there is a God of unconditional Grace and love many of us deeply desire. There seem to be lots of reasons to want instant justice to be given to those who wrong others, but, I’m saddened by some people’s cherry picking of their most despised category of sin; the cafeteria version of Christianity that says I choose to condemn this, not that.
I have come to realize that any love I feel for an ali-inclusive God may very well translate from my Universalist viewpoint that learning to love oneself is an inward reflection of how I feel about the rest of the world. As far as differences of opinion I experience with my Catholic friend as to whether heaven or hell exists, I rely on the golden rule to live and let live. It has changed my attitude many times to embrace the idea that parts of our humanness, our thinking, and our actions create a sort of internal perception of living in heaven or hell, regardless of those variations of afterlife concepts.
After dabbling for the last 30 or so years in various spiritual studies and living out my progressive values, it has never made sense to wish infinite torture on anyone’s afterlife. On the same note, I hold on to my personal ideas of eternal bliss, peace, and a healthy sense of safety and love in the afterlife. I’ve seen the evidence of transforming lives with grace and it is hard to ignore the evidence of the positive vibration field I like to call God; the One who is ultimately in charge, but through grace is not judgmental or controlling. I certainly understand the viewpoint of wanting justice for those who suffer. If I’m to be witness to the presence of something bigger and better, it seems only natural that I would want that for everybody else as well. So I consider every day an opportunity to offer a smile, say a cheerful hello to a stranger and try my best to be God’s grace to them. Judgment is just not part of daily duties.
May I perceive and practice your grace more diligently every day.
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
Monday – June 3, 2019
‘’A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers the giver into the presence of the Great.’’ Proverbs 18:16
A Word of Hope
The Season of Pentecost begins next Sunday, the time of year when the Gifts of the Spirit abound and the gift of prayer is always available to each of us. The Order of St. Francis and St. Clare will be honoring the upcoming Season of the Spirit in our prayers at our reflect Service on Wednesday. Clare of Assisi had a very specific method of praying. Being a very visually oriented individual, she would first gaze intently on an object that somehow inspired her to pray. She would allow some time for gestation, and spend the rest of her prayer time allowing that original image to give birth to an action the prayer inspired. Many things invited her gaze and nurtured her prayer life; an icon, a cross, a child’s smile, or a small gift from a friend.
I often find myself living out Clare’s method when I gaze upon any gift given to me or donated to the Children’s Ministry. I have a good friend who makes a lot of out of town trips. On his return, I can always expect for him to drop by with some sort of inexpensive but meaningful little souvenir of his most recent visit. I keep them lined up on a shelf in my house and every time I glance at them I am moved to send a little prayer for my friend; for his well-being, for his safe travels.
A few years ago, the Children’s Ministry, along with the rest of our church family, started a campaign to collect shoes for children in Iraq. A church member with connections there had informed us of the Iraqi children’s desperate need. The congregation’s generosity was overwhelming to the point that I still notice the shoes of the privileged children in my life. Using St. Clare’s prayer method, I am inspired to remember the continuing urgent shoe needs of our neighbors around the world.
Another time, this generous congregation donated thousands of Beanie Babies or small toys to an orphanage in South Africa where the children were suffering with AIDS complications. Gazing on a Beanie Baby or any other small stuffed toy generates the same sort of prayers in me, reminding me of the gifts of thousands of toys and necessities our ministries have sent and are still sending to our neighbors in need both here and overseas
Who could use a gift from you today? In both the giving and the receiving, the Proverb reminds us, we can experience the presence of God.
Create a generous spirit in me this day, O God.
Minister for Children and Families
Order of St. Francis and St. Clare
Friday – May 31, 2019
Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten people who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, have pity on us!”
When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.
One of them, when they saw they were healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice, knelt at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—this one was a Samaritan.
Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then Jesus said, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17.11-19
A Word of Hope
Something you might not know about me is that I used to be a smoker. Yes, it is true. By the time I was 17 I was smoking nearly 20 a day.
Now, before I go any further, please know that I have no judgement toward anyone who does smoke or vapes. Smoking was introduced to me at a very early age and I had just become so dependent on it and I considered myself an addict. I couldn’t live without my first cigarette in the morning and my last cigarette at night. It was just the way it was. I decided I wanted to stop!
Over my years in ministry I have come to understand how many of us become addicted. Addicted to cigarettes, love, control, power as well as to alcohol and drugs. I have come to a fuller understanding that often, our addictive behaviors can be mechanism through which we mask the pain of something in our past. They can also be linked to our self-esteem and lack of love for self.
Just recently, someone who I have known for nearly 20 years was found in a hotel, unresponsive. He has been addicted to Crystal Meth for many years and, over the years has tried to stop. He has relapsed many times. This is a powerful drug. His story is a very familiar one to many, far too many these days, and it breaks my heart and, as always reminds me the “but by the grace of God, go I”.
Thankfully, while he was unresponsive, the paramedics got to him in time and he survived this last relapse. I was able to visit with him and spoke with him about what he was going on in his life.
My prayer is that he will seek out the help that he needs and, of course I will do everything I possibly can to assist him, to find long-lasting recovery. However, there is some work that only WE can do. I can find the resources, but each person must make a personal decision about what they will do with them.
This was a similar decision that was to be made by all those that Jesus healed in the healing stories of the New Testament.
I have often wondered why only one of the lepers returned to show Jesus the completeness of their healing. Perhaps it was because the other nine went back to their old patterns of living and never put in the work that was required of them to make healing a life journey. Perhaps they relapsed and at another time came to try again.
Wherever we are in life’s journey, it is never too late to do the work necessary to heal the past and to step into a new day fully committed to work at our wholeness, our healing.
As you begin this new day, begin today committed to never allowing the past to determine your future and find the resources necessary to do the hard work of living into a new day – a new life, promised through our faith in the Great Physician, Jesus.
Healing God, hear my cries this day as I commit to this day, whole and complete to the work of healing in my life which will ultimately assist in bringing healing to others and the world.
Rev. Dr. Neil G. Cazares-Thomas
Senior Pastor, Cathedral of Hope UCC, Dallas
5910 Cedar Springs Road
Dallas, TX 75235
Toll Free: 800-501-HOPE (4673)