Deal with it

Halloween allows us to remember that life, even in these years of human longevity, is actually very short. It reminds us that what we do matters and how we spend our days and years makes a difference. There is subtle beauty in its invitation to stand on that brink between life and death and nestle closer to what is valued, what is most real. In so many ways, Halloween is the reminder that living with costumes and masks is a playful deflection from what is real and what really matters in life: daring to embrace what really is and who we really are and ride through the roller coaster of life. Just a few guidelines on that trip can really help. Today’s Gospel bores down to the heart of all that: Love God; love your neighbor as yourself.

That looks different for everyone, but we are truthfully surrounded by individuals who dare to live that way everyday. They find those quiet moments when the Lord’s Prayer can flow into the silence; they live with a sense of gratitude for the kindness of strangers, and gently astound the next person by paying it forward at a coffee shop. They understand that a forest is as sacred as a church and that the ocean carries an abiding message to the human who dares to walk along its shore. They know the heartbeat of God in the tears of the vulnerable, and they can detect the truth of a situation with an uncany consistency. They keep a sense of self while not being over-bearing to others; they have the courage to walk away when it is necessary and to reach out when it is needed. They trust that they are lovable human beings created to love and to be loved; they are conscious of the need to sacrifice, and they live with the desire to make a difference. They value truth and treasure honesty in themselves and others, and they are remarkably humble and unfailingly modest. Most of all, they have the capacity, the competence and the courage to deal with with what happens, whatever that is and however challenging it might be, they are willing to work it through.

You know who they are: they are the gifts given to guide us through this very complicated experience of life, the angels we can see. They are the ones who keep trying, who don’t give up, who believe that truth is worth living out. They recognize possibilities, nurture hope, and they can see reality with an acuity denied to others. Theirs is the task of articulating it, choosing wisely, and knowing that genuine goodness is what makes all the rest happen. Preserving and growing that goodness is costly to them, but worth the sacrifice. They edify and inspire the rest of us, and they enable us to believe in the sacredness of life. They live out the Gospel in ways we can learn from. They are there, no costumes and no feigning, one hundred percent real and dealing with reality everyday with gentleness, kindness and goodness. Look closely: look at the persons you cross paths with everyday. That can be goodness looking you right in the eye. Deal with it!

Think, Talk, Act

Today, New England is bursting with color against a cloudless sky. There is magic in the reverberating red of the maple and a daring in the crispness of yellows cresting against the simplicity of blue. Gray creeps subtly across the horizon stealing the backdrop but framing the beauty, enabling a different voice and persepctive on what is beautiful, what carries energy and meaning. Wafts of apple cider donuts and cinnamon buns tantalize the senses and so the world is again transformed. Can we see it? Can we linger for a moment with the meaning? Can we wonder at the depth of the moment’s experience? Dare we realize what it is we are able to see?

Attentiveness to the moment, each moment, brings a revealing promise. It is not about what preoccupies or puzzles us, what demons of distraction we feed with speculation and imagined motivations. Instead, it is about being fully present a moment shaved from so many others and given us to live. Living itself is about discovering what it is that we behold and believing that it exists independently of our own making. There, we can find gratitude and wonder and more gratitude to find ourselves on the receiving end of what is so unimaginably beautiful. To see, to live that attentiveness requires the ability to know that there is something far greater than self. It is the humility of accepting self such as we are and daring to engage in something more.

Bartimaeus. He is the blind man in the Gospel, the one marginalized. Blind. Desparate? Or faith-filled? Both? In the Gospel reading from Mark, there is a stark simplicity to the encounter. The blind man calls out, Jesus responds, and Bartimaeus follows on the way. Clearly, Bartimaeus could actually see. He recognized the reality he was meeting. More importantly, he acted in accord with what he saw. There, aching with the abruptness of Mark, is a message. Vision is far more than sight, and interactions carry powerful momentum. There is courage in recognizing the need for help, dignity in asking for it, and delight in receving it. Transformation becomes a process more than a conversation, and it is life-changing with each development.

Each day, we have the capacity to choose what we will really look at, what we will truly see, and how we will interact with one another. That freedom exists within us if we dare to live it. Head down, eyes shaded, wrapped tightly in the frantic demands of a day, it is easy to miss the subtle greys and the brilliant reds. It is easy to live in the bubble of being rather than stand beside the wonder of a tree collapsing with the joy of color. Even a few moments of attentiveness can alter the course of a day or a week, a month….and sometimes, it can bring us into the space that Bartimaeus has now. He lived with an intuitive trust in the vision of another. He thought. He talked. He acted. And then, he could see with his eyes as well as his heart,mind and soul. To believe that there is a possibility to be more than what we are, that the world is bursting with invitation and it is ours to pause, to trust, to choose.

Love

Dancing over the highways in flight orchesrated by rugged winds, leaves dried and wasted tumble in reckless abandon. Severed from a foundation, they tease and impress and entertain on warm autumnn days, playfully reminding us that death and life are intimately intertwined like purpose and vocation and luring us into the sense that what is matters. It is not about where they land, but how they respond to the urgings of the wind. And so it is for the most human among us. Life holds so many mysteries unfolding simulateneously; our humanity and wholeness rest in the response and the becoming, in knowing the fragility of the drying leaf and the life and lift of wind as a companion.

There are few mysteries more compelling than love in all its patterns and forms. Ultimately, there is the sustained commitment of physical presence and the power of actively making decisions and choice to express and enliven the depth of it, the keeness of it. But there is so much more. Love, far from being fragile and dependent on those expressions, finds meaning in the acknowledgment of existence. There is the sense that we may not be physically together but we will never be apart. Love is the music of the wind that lifts the fragile and humbles the whole. It enables a grasp of reality and and of hope. Love is the tenderness that enables one to choose not for self, but for other in a shower of respect and trust. It lingers with the mothers who stood before the king with one baby, only one saying do not hurt the child. It waits with the patience of the virgins with lamps and oil prepared for the bridegroom. It lives in the Magdalene’s discovery of the empty tomb and his stunning conversation with her teacher later. Love is the element that ripples through the stories of Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary, and love is at the heart of the disciples relationship with Jesus. In all its forms, love is the most dynamic and challenging of human emotions and connections. It demands more than seems possible and yet life itself is impossible to manage without it.

Humanity’s successes and failures, though, the roller coaster that love creates in lives, is a gift beyond all measure. The deepest pain of it bares the truths of its depth. The loss of it strips away the illusions and exposes the most fundamental of human needs, enables us to swim through realms of memory and live in an empathy that had not existed. There are niches and nuances to every form of love, crevices each of us explores. The truth is that we are better when we love, when we are willing to sacrifice for other, when we believe in something more than self-gratification and see more clearly what simply is. There is no doubt that the pathways of love carve deeply into souls, and moments of silence itself invite consideration of all that. But even more, there is risk to daring to love. The Gospel encourages taking that risk, daring to live in that moment, that relationship. Not because we need to, but because we can. And ours is a God who knows all the possibilities of what we will encounter in every adventure. We are not after all, only like the dried leaves dancing wildly: like them, in every aspect of their existence from tiny buds to brilliant greens and autumn colors, we are simply part of something far greater than self. Love and loving make it so.

CHoice

This past week, the scandal rocking the Church in France won headlines and horrified responses. Casual conversations wrapped around the decline of religious influence in general and the corresponding rise of secularism. The failures of the church justify the loss and target the stiffness of a hierarchy and the brokenness of its ministers. Wounds for the survivors of the scandal reopen and angry litigation seeks retribution, recovery. And yet, the wider social context and the evolving perceptions of human interaction and communication merit consideration. Maybe more important is the idea that the Church hierarchy is a collection of flawed human beings, struggling with becoming and seeking something, some purpose or meaning or protection or truths. None of that excludes the social responsibility of the hierarchy for its mistakes; all of it points to the idea that perfection cannot belong to humans, that growth and learning about becoming better people is a lifelong journey, and, as a Catholic, having a relationship with God is not necessariy the same thing as having a relationship with the Church itself.

The hierarchy, the Church, is a mediator, maybe best described as a facilitator of the personal relationship between an individual and that sense of the sacred, of God. The quality, depth and breadth of that connection does not belong to the Church but to the individual. True, the Chruch provides a myriad of tools towards that end, but it is up to the person to enter into that mystery and to embark on that journey. Scripture reverberates with the stories of those who accepted the responsibility and those who withdrew and returned, who were confused and committed. Over and over, the Gospels emphasize the idea of choice over conformity or compliance. Over and over, there is encouragement and descriptions of the messy nature of human life. The woman at the well, for instance, or Peter in the Garden, or the Good Samaritan story. Choice is what brought the disciples to the Upper Room to share the Passover. Choice is what sent Mary Magdalene to the empty tomb. Choice is even what lead to the birth of Jesus.

Sometimes, in the light of the choice, it is easy to condemn and judge others. Then there is the sonorous tone of Jesus’ voice encouraging one to remove the plank from his or her own eye before leaping to judgment. Choice means finding the haven to converse with the Divine, to release fears and anxieties and to trust that there is something greater than self, something beyond the tiny worlds we live in. Nature beckons the broken and the whole with its promise of nurturing and quiet peace, the mystery of its past and the music of its present. Service absorbs the lives of others: finding the face of Jesus in the eyes of the suffering. There, too, is the sacred presence, the divine spark. Still others find that in silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Note that there are few rules: there are many, many options and choices.

The truth that a troubled hierarchy fumbled is that each of us is the Hands and Heart of Christ. Each of us has the capacity, competence and the challenge to make the choice that is right for us. Living within Catholicism and outside the hierarchy offers the beauty of a choice beyond compare: to discover the divine in the midst of the world our lives are wrapped in, to practice goodness with unwavering conviction and to trust that there are moments, rituals, celebrations within parish communities that can enrich, nurture and sustain that choice. The hierarchy struggles, but the troops on the ground know the strength and courage of choice.

Angels

Years ago, Alabama recorded a simple song that captured a part of the mysterious synchronicity that alters the paths of ordinary human beings. The refrain celebrates the “angels” who walk here among us, who somhow apper at just the right moment and make a difference that seemed incomprehensible even moments before.

“I believe there are angels among us, sent down to us from somehwere up above. They come ot you and me in our darkest hours to show us how to live, teach us how to give and guide us with the light of love….”

Autumn brings the Catholic celebration of those angels, of the idea that there are angels who enable us to live beyond the jagged edges of loss and pain, trauma and circumstance. But there, in the lyrics of a country song, rests the truth that the light of love bears a flame that illumninates those most challenging times. That light flickers in each of us, for each of us. Even the faintest illumination makes an enormous difference. It is the accidental meeting in a parking lot where one friend sobs on the shoulder of angel who holds the grief and the person with gentleness and hope. It is the motorist who angels the elderly accident victim. It is the child entrusted to the arms of a parent and the tender tones of a doctor explaining an unwelcome diagnosis. It is the lost toddler who claims a friendly bear protected him overnight in the woods.

Those are moments of divine spark, moments that are reminders that the journey we have been given is a sacred one, and none of us are truly alone on the path. Catholic tradition reverberates with the strength of Michael the Archangel and Gabriel’s tenderness, Raphael’s wisdom. There is grandeur and dignity in it, and there is a humility and purpose for the lesser ones, the guardians of each one of us. Today, their essence of their mission may best be captured by characters like JK Rowling’s elves, like Dobby in Harry Potter, willing to be there, to help, to intervene somehow and make things better. There is no fear and no hesitation in commitment and kindness. There is loyalty and generosity, strength and purpose. Humanity and divinity are intermingled in the moments, opening the possibility of something more than the draining stress of ordinary days.

Here, lingering with the pandemic in a world roaring with technological and social changes, stress, anxieties and conflict engulf even the most confident among us. But there are the angels dancing among and between us, stretching a spectre of the divine over what seems most painfully human. And so we grow and become angels for one another, building experiences of the best of what is human and the touch of what is divine into the daily cycle of twenty hours. Increments of time are enriched by the light of that love, the lessons of how to live and how to give. The real gift is to know the touch of angels, to grasp the outreached hand, to rest and trust the guidance and the safety that love and light affords. Yes to the angels among us and yes to choosing the moment to be the angel!