Persevere

by Adam Thomas

Read

Jesus said, “When a woman is in labor, she has pain, because her hour has come. But when her child is born, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy of having brought a human being into the world.” (John 16:21)

Reflect

St. Monnica

Today is the feast of St. Monnica, whose name does indeed have a pair of N’s in the middle. Known to Christian history as the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo, Monnica basically invented the virtue known as ‘perseverance.’ Knowing Monnica’s story, I find Jesus’ words during his farewell discourse quoted above to be a bit funny. If he had been a mother, I doubt he would have used childbirth as a metaphor for the renewal of creation.

I’m not a mother either, so I more than likely have no idea what I’m talking about – but judging by Monnica, by my own mother, and by the mother of our nearly two-year-old twins, I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the pain doesn’t end when labor does. The intensity of a mother’s love continues to bring pain and heartache even as it brings the apex of joy. Whenever I left for college, my mother would cry; and then she’d say, “If I weren’t crying, you’d know there was a problem.”

In Monnica’s case, I bet there were tears a plenty as she saw her son Augustine wasting his life. But she persevered. She never stopped loving him toward the goodness of God that she knew in her heart. And God never stopped loving her toward her mission, which was not just the conversion of her son, but the awareness and proclamation that God is everywhere. As Monnica lay dying far from home and was asked if she’d like her body brought there, she replied in the negative, saying, “Nothing is far from God; neither am I afraid God will not find me.”

Each day of her life, Monnica demonstrated the long-suffering but ever hopeful love of God. For her perseverance and the heart-breakingly beautiful love of mothers, may we give abundant thanks and praise to God.

Respond

What person in your life inspires you with his or her perseverance? (This person doesn’t have to be your mother.) How might you seek to emulate his or her resilience and constancy?

 

It’s to Your Advantage…Trust Me

-by David Sibley

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 Jesus said to the disciples, “Now I am going to him who sent me; yet none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your hearts. Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned.    (John 16:5-11)

 Reflect

 Hearing the words “It is to your advantage that I go away” coming from the mouth of the Risen Lord sounds a lot like phrases I had a vague suspicion of from my parents as a kid. “Go mow the lawn, even though it’s hot – it builds character, and you’ll feel better.”

 The promise of Easter is an interesting thing. On the one hand, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead reminds us that nothing, not even death, can stop the love of God from finding us and seeking us out. On the other hand, Jesus’ words to his disciples after his resurrection are squarely focused in preparing the disciples for their mission when he would no longer be in the world. They are to go and make disciples of all nations; they are to go and feed his sheep; they are to go and live fearless, bold lives for his sake. But if they are to go, then Jesus, too, must go – must ascend to the Father.

 As we approach Ascension Day, Jesus reminds us yet again that it is to our advantage that he goes away; he reminds us that we will receive power when the Advocate comes to us; he reminds us that God’s mission is in our hands and we, as his disciples, are called to follow.

 “It is to your advantage that I go away – it builds character!” Jesus, our parent, might say. The work ahead may be uncertain; we may at times be unwilling; we may be afraid of failure. Yet Jesus will go. That leaves but one question: what do we do now?

 Respond

 How do you interpret Jesus saying to his disciples that “it is to your advantage that I go away?” How does the promise of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate change the way you live your life in response to the resurrection? If you haven’t let it change you, how will you?

After the Miracle…

 

-by Tim Schenck

READ

Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves. Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”

REFLECT

The most anticlimactic thing I have ever witnessed in my entire life, happened on live TV in 1986. Some may remember the great hype for a program hosted by Geraldo Rivera called “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults.” This was a live two-hour special at the conclusion of which Geraldo was to open a newly discovered stone vault underneath the Lexington Hotel in Chicago.

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Most of the show, which was also watched by 30 million other suckers, was spent speculating on what might be inside the vault: cash, bodies, liquor, gangster secrets.

Once the audience had been worked up into a frenzy, the moment came for Geraldo to open the vault. There were a series of detonations and then a giant chain yanked open the vault. After two titillating hours spent rehashing the glory days of Al Capone and the Untouchables, once the smoke cleared, Geraldo had unearthed…absolutely nothing. Well that’s not entirely true; he did find two empty gin bottles and a stop sign. But that was it. Perhaps the greatest anticlimax ever.

Sometimes Eastertide can feel anticlimactic. Yes, we’re still beating the drum of the Great 50 Days, but the flowers adorning the Easter altar have long since withered and been removed; what’s left of the Easter candy is getting stale; the “Alleluias” that continue to ring out have lost their novelty.

And yet this is precisely the time to double down on the joy of the resurrection. Jesus is often most present after the initial euphoria has subsided; in the moments when we’re left alone to ponder the miracle of divine relationship.

The abiding joy of the resurrection journey draws us ever deeper into this relationship. It reminds us that true faith doesn’t simply bubble on the surface, but exists in the profound issues of engagement with God that lurk beneath the joy and jelly beans.

Now, I don’t recommend it, but you can watch the full two-hours of “The Mystery of Al Capone’s Vaults” at geraldo.com. That’s the epitome of anticlimax. But for those, like Philip and all of us who seek to be disciples of the risen Christ, the Easter season is one that transcends any potential anticlimax. Because the life-giving, death-conquering empty tomb, has absolutely nothing in common with the disappointment of an empty vault.

RESPOND

Besides continuing to engage with 50 Days of Fabulous, how are you keeping Easter joy alive this season? Have you encountered any moments of anticlimax during Eastertide? What provides you with inspiration when you’re feeling spiritually dry during a season specifically set aside to revel in the resurrection?

Down to the River to Pray

READ

On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. (Acts 16:13)

REFLECT

Recently a ministry on which I serve on the board has been faced with a significant decision that will have a long-reaching impact. So we did the standard responses when faced with such a decision: the board met, we discussed, and we met again and discussed again. We wrote position papers, detailing the ministry and our option. And we met again.

The decision, like all hard decision, does not have a clear good side and bad side. There are strengths and weaknesses on both decisions, and there are many options in between both decisions. To say this is a stressful time is an understatement.

During one particularly anxiety-filled board meeting, I felt the weigh of the impasse, the weight of not knowing, the weight of being lost, in a way, in the woods. Much like the men in the video, running from not knowing, running to something we perceive as good and realizing that simply may be our perception and not reality, and standing in the woods arguing.

Suddenly these strange people in dressed in white begin to come forth from the woods, surrounding the argument, the fear, the distress. And they sing.

They sing of going to the river to pray.

They sing of prayer. And the men follow.

I realized in all our discussions, discernment, positions papers, and tasks, we had forgotten to go to the river to pray. We had forgotten to stand on the muddy banks of a swirling water and listen to the presence of God. We had forgotten to follow God wherever we may be led.

Paul and his companions in today’s lesson from Acts go to the river to pray and are (as we all frequently are) surprised by their holy encounter. The meet some women. And they listen to the women and learn of Lydia.

They then meet Lydia, who becomes the first Christian convert on European soil. And Lydia, at the river to pray, meets Paul, who in his is typical unvarnished way, tells her of his past, both tragedy and triumph. Lydia’s home is open to Paul and Silas, and probably becomes one of the first house churches in Europe. Both of them are changed by their encounter at the river, all because they both went to the river to pray.

Life happens at the river when we pray. Faith dances along the muddy waters into unexpected encounters. God’s Holy Spirit descends on us in particular ways at the river when we pray. We may meet someone unexpected whose own experience of God and prayer will expand us. We may hear a song that changes us with its mystery. We may simply feel the mud rise between our toes and the water pull over our legs as we feel confused and unsettled while we remember God is our foundation, ever under our feet as we walk this life.

I marvel that, in my mind, millions of people were changed because of Lydia and Paul. Christianity entered Europe when two people went down to the river to pray. The Way became rooted in the muddy banks of a river in Macedonia and grew from there, because two people went down to the river to pray.

Life changes when we go down to the river to pray.

RESPOND

What weighs on your life on this day? What concerns, heartaches, thanksgivings, or questions might need to be taken down to the river to pray with you today? And when you go, can you simply stand in the mud and water and listen for God?

Wonder

-by Anna Fitch Courie

Read  “Wonder”

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“It is through wonder that men now begin and originally began to philosophize; wondering in the first place at obvious perplexities, and then by gradual progression raining questions about the great matters too, for example, about the changes of the moon, and of the sun, about the stars and about the origin of the universe.”

Reflect

Our family recently visited the “Wonder” exhibit at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC.  The gallery is a part of the Smithsonian Museum collection and the current exhibit displays works from various artists who were challenged to represent the theme of “Wonder.”

It has been a long time since art has made me smile from my soul.  The last time I reacted with all of my being was when I saw “The Pieta” in Rome.  My whole self sang with Wonder.

My iPhone photos do not do the work justice.  Suffice it to say you should come visit and enjoy the art in person.  Perhaps your soul will sing with Wonder as well.

But as I sit pondering “Wonder” it led me down many paths of thought:

I wonder if my kids will know and love God.

I wonder if I am a good parent.

I wonder if I know what I’ll be when I grow up.

I wonder if there is more than “this” whatever “this” is.

I wonder why theology is so complicated.  I wonder if we make it complicated.

I wonder at the resurrection.  I wonder at the crucifixion.  My heart hurts.

I wonder if the ends of time are coming.

I wonder if people think enough about the after-life, the community of saints and all the company of heaven.

I wonder if my husband thinks I am a little crazy.  All writers are a little crazy.

I wonder if I will get to ask God my many questions.  I wonder if I will care at that point.

I wonder if I am true to my voice in my writing.  I wonder if I write the right things.

I wonder if people wonder too.

I wonder that a blazing blue sky follows natural destruction.

I wonder at politics.

I wonder when we became so easily offended, so quick to respond to anger, so quick to label, and so quick to cast judgment.

I wonder why people get sick.

I wonder if 2 or 3 gathered together is enough.

I wonder if my hazelnut is enough, or if my mustard seed will grow.

I wonder at rainbows.  I wonder at the stars.  I wonder at light.

I wonder at this amazing world that God has created.

I wonder how God delights in us.

I stand and turn and look.  My heart fills with people, places, art.  My eyes are dazzled by color, form, and flow. My skin contracts both hot and cold.  I shiver.  My nose inhales a hint of loam.  It senses the earth around us.  My ears, my broken ears they hear, birds, whispers, voices….my ears hear my children’s voices.  I am overwhelmed.  My soul sings with wonder for God.

I wonder, wonder, wonder.

I wonder about God.

I wonder.

Reflect

I wonder about many things.  On what does your mind wonder?

Ask

by Miriam McKenney

Read

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8

Reflect

Facebook can be a gift and a curse. I had a question I was struggling with, so I crowdsourced it on Facebook. Long story short, I wanted advice on whether or not I should do a 10K. I’ve overcome some physical limitations, but one cropped back up that caused me to question going ahead with the race.

Well, let me tell you – I got what I asked for! I got advice, opinions, and directives. I got love, shade, and frustration. I asked, and boy – was it given to me! Lots of people recommended doing the 5K. Some people said sit this one out, wait until the next race. I know I got what I asked for, but at the same time it wasn’t what I wanted. I began to feel defeated. I felt like a door was opened, but I hadn’t knocked.

Then, I remembered what asking really means. It means you may not get the answer you want. You might get “not now” as an answer. You might get “no” as an answer. And sometimes, you get “yes.” And even when it’s yes, it might not be YOUR idea of yes. God’s idea of yes may be much better than your idea. At least, that’s what happened to me.

A few of my Facebook friends had prior experience running this race, and thankfully, they gave me the information I sought. So, even though I’m going against what many of my friends advised, I’m doing the 10K. Even after I made that choice, though, I questioned it. Offering it up to God again, I asked God to stay with me through my doubts and show me that I had made the right decision. I do feel God close to me now.

But here’s the best part: asking brought me more than I thought or imagined. A good friend texted me and said: I have no advice on whether you should or shouldn’t do the 10K and have no idea how strict they are with that stupid 16 minute mile thing. However, I am happy to walk/run/crawl with you on Saturday. Just let me know.”

What an unexpected blessing! I wouldn’t have asked her, and she wouldn’t have offered except that she saw my ask. Then, another friend offered to walk with us. My husband is walking it. I’m beginning to feel that I made the right decision. Staying focused on God through this process allowed me to honor everyone’s advice and good intentions. In the end, I’ll follow my own heart, knowing that I knocked, and the door has been opened.

Respond

What will you ask today? What door needs to be knocked on? What are you searching for? Trust in God, and go for it.

Editor’s note – I apologize for the very late delay in today’s post. Human error – posting but not hitting the publish button!