Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Linsanity....Lentsanity....Life In....Ashes

A new word has entered the vocabulary of all basketball fans, and in the that of the Knicks fans, in particular. It is the word Linsanity. There in nowhere to go that this word does not surface. This stems from the transformation of a team by the emergence of Jeremy Lin. It appears, from what I can gather, his play has saved the Knicks year and the job of the head coach. Just a short time ago Jeremy was riding the bench and he was at the end of the bench as well. His basketball career was in ashes. Then out of the blue he was called on to play. The rest, as we all know, is history. Out of the ashes of his basketball life, a new life has sprung. With this new life the hopes and dreams on many are renewed. The Knicks have now a good chance to go to the play-offs and even do some damage. In that second season, anything can and does happen. Linsanity has become a reality that has to be to be faced. It will only be a matter of time before Linsanity will pass. It will live on, however, only in the memories of those many, many basketball fans who were lucky enough to experience this recent phenomenon. This is the nature of the game. It is the nature of fame. “What is seen is transitory, what is unseen lasts forever", scripture is want to remind us.

This time each year, however, we are caught up in different reality. This reality is not confined to any one group. This reality reaches out to, literally, billions. It is called Lentsanity. Lentsanity, when entered into, results in life changing. The practices that come with Lentsanity have with them, the guarantee of change. This reality leads not to just another season, it leads to a life beyond. We will be lead into a life beyond our present human experience. Our new reality, is a reality beyond human imagination. This new way of living cones at a price. Our Lenten journey leads us into the desert experience of failure, rejection, alienation. In the solitude of the desert we have to face ourselves as we really are. We, like Jesus, will be confronted by the Devil. Another name for the Devil is the divider. The Devil wants us to reject our essential goodness. We will be tempted to concentrate on what is wrong, rather than to celebrate the goodness, The Godliness within. Our sins, our failures, all that exists in our shadow are that which allows us to leave behind guilt, fear and shame, so as to really experience the length and depth of the mercy of God. What happens in our desert experience mirrors that of the chosen people of the Old Testament. In the desert they were formed as God’s own, not through their great successes but through failure after failure. The desert was their school of spiritual formation. As it was with the first chosen people, so it is with us who are the new chosen people.

Success, achievement, power, popularity, pleasure and control for a time will satisfy us. The only sad part is that this feeling does not last. Then what do we do? We go after a greater, more intense feeling than we had previously. It goes on and on. The result is not what we wanted or desired, but the opposite. How often in grasping for everything do we end up with nothing. No inner happiness, no peace of mind and no nourishing love relationships. We in our efforts to avoid the desert experience, which is of its essence life giving, we create a place where only death and destruction rule. This is repeated again and again. There is that hope that this time it is going to be different. Is It? NO, it is not. Doing the same thing expecting different results, is the definition of insanity. WE need a way back to an authentic human life. As we accept what is offered by Lentsanity we return to sane behavior. Is this going to happen easily and without a struggle? No way. Never did, never will. We have to be somehow shocked. We need a basin of cold water right in the face so as to awaken to the loss, to the destruction. We must be confronted that our lives are a real mess. All of our great dreams are just lying there in ashes. All seems and the operative word is seems. All is not lost. Where there is an end there is also a new beginning. As we enter into the depths of our Lentsanity, where we face those actions which triggered the ash making ,we are guided throughout with the gentle, encouraging lens of The Paschal Mystery. We will be lead to see and eventually accept that death is NOT the end, it is the BEGINNING of something new and better. There is then, life in ashes. So that when our life is in ashes, a new life, a new way of living is on its way. There is in hidden deep within the ashes, a warm coal, an eternal light the discovery of both is why we enter the realm of LENTSANITY, again, again and again.

Over these many years I have relayed the following incident more than once. So here I go, one more time. One Ash Wednesday a priest was distributing ashes to the community. Everything was going along as usual. Each parishioner came forward and presented their foreheads to receive the ashes. One person however came forward and changed things up. He presented his tongue, as if he was to receive the Eucharist. This rather well know priest, at that time, promptly made the sing of the cross with the ashes, on his tongue. What a shock that must have been on the part of the recipient? How many of us would go to receive the ashes if we were required to receive them on the tongue? Yet, I would like to suggest that practice would bring home way more clearly and dramatically, the essential message of Ash Wednesday and the season it ushers in.

Ever taste ashes? I have many times. To tell the truth, I have never acquired a taste for them. I have related before how it was my job while back in Ireland, to start the fire in the morning. The night before they went to bed my parents would have banked down the fire. The plan was to have a few hot coals hidden in the ashes. I had to search through the ashes to find those coals. Then I had to go about building a fire from sometimes just one hot coal. I would get some paper and very dry kindling. In order to get a flame you had to blow on the little mound of hot coal, paper and kindling. Well when I blew, many, many times I blew on the ashes, rather than what I intended. Then the ashes would rise up and get on my face, would go up my nose, into my eyes and into my mouth. Not very appetizing, to say the least. The ashes were the result of the burning, the ending of something, that at one time, was alive and flourishing. Yet, hidden away amidst all that appeared to be lifeless, the fire of life and the source of light, was hidden. What a great simile, what a great paradigm for this time we are given to be the source of our transformation and transfiguration. I wonder whether you now agree there would be any great benefit into being shocked with ashes on the tongue.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Our Leper Meets....Encounters The Healer Within....And??

Last week we received a Valentine's Day card from our gracious and passionate God. His great passion for humankind was presented to us in that wonder-full encounter between Jesus and the leper. The leper, the outcast, the alienated one, was touched by Him who came to bring every one, and everything, into a oneness. In that touching there was instant, immediate transformation. Lives were forever changed. One was reunited with the family of humankind, The Other became the alienated One, condemned to a life of isolation. He who created all that is, is now forced to live apart from His greatest creation.

What was the trigger for this wonder-full, incomprehensible, exchange of realities? It was pity. As we read the scriptures we see, in so many of the miracles of Jesus, first of all a human response to a human need, on the part of Jesus. To describe the healthy, and so, holy feeling response the word pity is used. That word pity shows up again and again wherever the power of the divinity is revealed. Jesus, when He is told that Lazarus, His good friend was dead, what did He do first? He cried. (The shortest sentence in the Bible.) He did not say, "No sweat. I will go and work a miracle. Just relax and I will take care of everything." No. First came the human response. He embraced His feelings publically. The sorrow He felt, and felt deeply, was expressed openly. There was no effort to hide it. We have so much to learn about the process of grieving. In another instance, Jesus is moved to pity to see the only son of a widow being borne out from the city of Naim. Again, that human response was followed by a raising from the dead. We see there is a human need, followed by a human response, followed by the manifestation of divine power.

We now have to ask ourselves what is that part of me, the leper within, that needs the empathy, compassion, that was extended to the many in the scriptures? We all have that need. Why? Because, this demands honesty, we all have within us that from which we want to isolate from. It is that part of our inner self, our inner reality, where we experience alienation. That is the part that is dead to life. Because of this we exist, we do not live. What do we need? We need a life saving, a life giving encounter, with a Source, so much greater than we are. How does this happen? We embrace often with great, great difficulty, exhortation of St. Francis, "Kiss the leper within". We have to show love, or just have the desire to show love, to that part we/l am driven to abhor. This, as I have said, is anything but easy. We have to face that which wants to keep un-free, locked away in the dungeon of despair, just waiting, not to live, but to expire. We have to face the deadly, insidious power of toxic shame.

Toxic shame is the source of that that is unhealthy. All that is death dealing, finds its roots in toxic shame. Toxic shame wants to destroy that which we find so difficult to accept and embrace. Because of the manifestation of "the leper within”, we are lead to judge ourselves as, “LESS THAN”. (This is what is called a shame attack.) We have to deal with the feelings of not being "good enough". We are so afraid to own the “leper part”, because we have never been given the right to be anything less than perfect. It has never been ok not to be ok. What a "hell on earth" that is. Healthy shame gives one the permission to be human. Healthy shame enables us to own the fact we are all PERFECTLY IMPERFECT. When we are not claiming that reality, we are as the result, scared of going inside ourselves, of going deep. We are afraid of what else will be revealed. This unnecessary fear, deprives us of the spiritual journey, which is all about going deep. As we are led into the depths where we discover the beauty hidden within the depths of who we really are. When this does not occur, we then settle for an existence based on religiosity. This keeps us isolated from who we really are, limited human beings. There are then unreasonable demands and expectations placed on us. If these demands and expectations are not met, boy do we go into the dumper. (A classic shame attack.) This keeps us locked up in the prison of guilt and fear, which are so often the companions of death dealing previously mentioned - shame. This brings about spiritual paralysis.

The leper brought himself to Jesus. What an act of courage and faith that was. Ever notice that courage and faith somehow compliment each other. Can you have one without the other? The paralytic was brought into the presence. To get him into the presence of Jesus, these buddies of his had to use some real ingenuity. They were not going to let a little obstacle like a roof get in the way. What, then, are our excuses, not reasons, for keeping ourselves in isolation and alienation? What are the feelings of toxic shame we allow, yes, we allow, to deprive ourselves of life and the fullness of life. This "fullness of life” is what our God wishes for us and has placed within us. He has placed His treasure deep, deep within. We must ask for the faith and courage to allow ourselves to believe this great miracle of grace. Yes it is up to each one to allow the shower of endless, pity and compassion to wash over us. The next time you take a shower, here is something to do and then continue to practice. As the water is flowing, think of some aspect of pity you need at that moment or at this stage in your life. Some days it will be compassion, other days empathy, or maybe it is sympathy, a sense of a deep felt sorrow. All these must be first directed to the "leper within”. We will then be led to realize what is offered to others comes from the depths where the leper, the paralytic, the deaf, the lame, the blind, the dumb and The Risen Healer, all dwell as one.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Price of .......Freedom

Being a leper in the time of Jesus was to live an inhuman existence. The leper was forced, by law, to live a life of isolation, alienation, desolation, suffering and sorrow. The leper was forbidden to participate in community activities. She/he was not allowed to take part in religious ceremonies. The worship of the Temple was not the lepers experience. They were treated as a nonperson. The closest they were able to come to The Temple was the village of, wait for it, Bethany. Bethany means “the town” of “the lowly". (Do you recall WHO it was that hung out in Bethany?) There they were able to gaze on that, which they were unable to enter, and participate in it's celebrations. The leper was forced, then, to live in the waste lands. Cut off from family and friends. Their life was a life of quiet desperation.

I wonder whether it was that desperation that drove the leper of the Gospel to approach Jesus. In another Gospel episode Jesus encounters a band of lepers. They had each other, this leper had no one. He was on his own. Being alone would only add to the feelings of isolation and alienation. What was that source of the strength, belief that moved him to not only approach Jesus, but to word his inner belief in the Word in front of him? “If you wish, you can make me clean." It is one thing to express a wish and another thing to have to wait for a response to the request. What were the heartfelt feelings of the leper? Maybe, "He is my only chance for a new life and a new way of living", or "Will He end my hellish existence, so I can rejoin my family and friends?". What a feeling of relief it would be, to be able to see people, approach them freely, and not have to cry out "unclean, unclean?"

Now imagine what went on in that man's heart as he looked on Him of Whom he made his desperate request? What was it like to have to wait for a response? Can we ever come close to grasping the surprise which overwhelmed him, as he saw Jesus raise up His arm and did, the unthinkable. As Jesus stretched out His arm he must have thought,
“He is stretching out His arm and I am going to receive a blessing. That will be just another disappointment. What can I really expect, I am cursed, am I not? Do we not believe this
disease, in fact any disease, is a way God communicates His disapproval of a person. It is true I am, so cursed. What is this is He reaching out to touch me? He must be nuts? does He not know the penalty that goes with touching a leper? This guy is supposed to be a rabbi, a teacher of the law, yet it looks like He is going to break the law? Boy is He going to suffer for this. Wait until the Scribes, and Pharisees hear about this. He is toast." Yet the arm kept on coming, and coming, and finally, Jesus touched Him. Wow!! How must have the crowd be stunned? Jesus’ concern was for the human being in front of Him, and his human needs.

When was the last time this leper experienced the touch of another human being? How often would he have settled, just for that human touch? There came, to him immediately, more than the acceptance of a touch. There came to him, something beyond explanation. He began to feel so completely different. His scabbed skin began to change, it began to glow with new life. Where there were the stumps of toes, and fingers, new growth suddenly appeared. He became a new man. He is again united with his fellow human beings. He is now able to enter The Temple and participate in liturgical worship. This is the beginning of a whole new life of freedom for him. That is the good news. There are however two sides to every story. Because of this freeing action, there were consequences for the Liberator.

When Jesus, The Liberator, freed the leper, He, as it were took his place. Jesus in that touching of the leper Himself became the outcast. In that act of touching, He surrendered His freedom. He became as it unfree, so another could be free. This was a foreshadowing of Him surrendering His life, so we could have the fullness of life. In the field of checks and balances God's way makes no sense. Are we not warned though, "God's ways are not our ways". His way of loving always leaves us speechless. He, becoming an outcast. WOW!!!!, is all one can say. "Wonder of wonders" how mysterious, how incomprehensible, what passionate love our God has for us? As it was, so it is, and ever shall be. Where do I encounter the leper within?

This Gospel, I suggest, is God's Valentine's card. This Gospel episode paints a wonder-full picture of the passionate, unconditioned love of our Father God. Jesus is not constrained by the accepted law of that time. His response to the leper was guided by a new law, the law of compassionate, merciful, love. This was a love that was triggered by the human response of The Man Jesus to a human need. First came the feelings of pity, then the power of The Divinity was manifested. The miracle happened.

This is getting real long. Hopefully it will come to an end next week, as the pity of God, in the mission and ministry of Jesus is reflected on.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Flowering That Comes From....Death/Loss

Without knowing it, I had a great start to this week’s effort. I had the absolute delight to celebrate Mass last week with the kids. I always give them a chance, or in some cases, take the risk, to ask questions.
One boy asked, “Was it alright to get mad? ", and a girl asked whether it "was alright to cry?”. Two great questions why? Because, they lay the foundation for healthy grieving. Healthy grieving is essential if we are to recover from any loss, whatever that loss may be. When we do not grieve in a healthy manner, or we are not allowed to do so because of unhealthy circumstances, we will suffer big time. Did you see in the paper where there is an effort to describe grieving as a mental disorder? I would like to suggest, that it is ONLY when we do not do the healthy grieving, then we have to face some mental challenges.

I have read that we in America do not grieve enough. We hide the reality of death. The first shock, of the many, was when I was sent to a funeral parlor to say the Rosary for a person who had died. That was a serious cultural shock. I was not able to get around that one and still am not able to become reconciled with the practice. When I was growing up, you went to visit the home where the corpse was laid out. No embalming, as the person died, so they were before you. What is done here? The corpse is all done up as if will cover up the finality of her/his death. You went to the room where the waking was taking place. There you were exposed to the active mourning and crying. You expressed your condolences. You got down on your knees and said your prayers. Then, you kissed the dead person goodbye. Yes, you read correctly. You kissed some part of the face.
That was the practice. It was after that when you had some refreshments. All of this was part and parcel of the reality, of the life of “The Little Church of The Home”. How far removed we are from such a healthy practice in dealing with death. You can understand why I am surprised when asked by people "is it alright to bring children to the mortuary? ". Where else are they going to come across the finality of loss? Where are they going to receive the message that it is not just ok to cry, it is both necessary and essential for healthy growth. We will not be mentally healthy until the tears are shed.

I told the young boy that it is more than ok to get angry, not mad. (Dogs go mad, people get angry). Again, getting angry is both necessary and essential action for each person, so as to recover from a loss. A family that has suffered a loss must also grieve as a family. There are no exceptions. We can minimize the loss, but to our own peril. I have seen so very often the destruction brought about because the grieving process did not take place. How many unnecessary divorces have taken place because one, or both parents do not grieve healthily. Rather than process the anger they transfer to one another. Rather than do the necessary feeling work, the feelings are stuffed and the end is inevitable. That is so sad to see. How many divorces take place years after a family death, but the root cause was, one person failed to do the healthy grieving.

How often do we hear those well-meaning, but very toxic, words; “You can try again”, “You are young enough to get married again", "she/he has gone to a better place". Last, but not least, the really spiritually sick one, "it was God's will". You can add to that list those words that were directed at you, or your loved ones at the time of loss. You did not want this pious jargon, you wanted a healing presence. You desired to be reverenced where you were at, in your place of powerlessness, frustration ,and anger.

You did not want to be spoken to, you wanted to be just held. How blessed are you to have such a presence in your life. That person stands with you and by you. There are no pious words, no can’t phrases, to minimize what you are feeling. How often those phrases are used because those who use them, are so uncomfortable dealing with honest feelings. It is not their fault. That is how they are wired because of the sterile environment they were raised in. There was the unwritten rule, you do not express any honest feeling that may challenge “THE FAMILY SECRET". There was the expectation that they be "perfectly nice", resulting in them being very emotionally sick. What a price some of these “good children" pay. It takes tremendous courage to reject the sick family system, so as to live in the freedom of who one is in the unconditioned, unlimited, unrestricted love of our Gracious God. As one comes to discover they are the beloved of the Living God, everything changes. When we reach that point, and most especially after we desire a Mary, Mother Mary, who was promised so much by God's angel, and where did she end up? We are told in John’s Gospel that she stood silently, by the cross of her Savior Son. Yes, she just stood, as helpless, and as powerless, as each one of us is, in the face of death.

"But there is one who has all power, that one is God." The God of the Psalmist Who is close to,....and is able to heal the brokenhearted." We must make the conscious effort to welcome God into the space that loss has created. If Goodness, God, does not fill up that space, then there is the GUARANTEE that evil will. Both the physical and spiritual life do NOT tolerate a vacuum. It is up to us then to do the feeling work, feel, experience, express and then let go. Those not comfortable with feelings, just want to pray about it, without first doing the three steps. Then there is wonder and concern why there is no let up. We are told now it takes three to five years to recover from a loss. Yes, three to five years is necessary. That is why so many second marriages do not work out. The rate of divorce when it comes to such unions is much higher that those who are married for the first time. How many second marriages are entered into without allowing the necessary healing to take place from the previous lost relationship?

“Pain breaks the shell that limits our understanding." (Gibran ) Our faith and hope allows us to break open the “shell" of pain. Our faith in the Death and Resurrection opens up a whole new life. This new life BEGINS with the ending of the old. The loss IS the beginning of a new way of living. A new life, which is actually the old way being transformed as the result of loss, a real death. Death then, is NOT an end, it is THE BEGINNING of a new and, dare I say, a better way of living. Our anger has been transformed into compassion. Our tears have watered the garden of our souls, in which has blossomed the flowers, of empathy and understanding. These flowers are our gifts. They are to offered to those who are now struggling with that, from which these came. “O death where is thy sting?"