Writing lessons. Creative lessons. Living lessons from St. Paul.

I love St. Paul. And I am a woman. Yes, I am fully aware of the famous passages in which he instructs wives to be “submissive to their husbands” and how they are not to speak in public. I believe these passages need to studied carefully for their true meaning for nothing is ever as it seems, but that’s for another day.

Why St. Paul?

Remember my post on deliberate intent? St. Paul embodied that in everything he did. It began with a zealous persecution of Christians (for he was a Pharisee) and ended with himself being persecuted and killed for the faith he sought originally to destroy. Continue reading “Writing lessons. Creative lessons. Living lessons from St. Paul.”

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Do we go to church to hear what we want to hear? This week’s gospel reflection by Father Steven LaBaire

father steven labaireI am pleased to present this guest post from Father Steven LaBaire, pastor of Holy Family Parish in Worcester, MA.

 

 

This Sunday’s gospel tells us that Jesus began to speak publicly in the synagogue (Luke 4:21-30).

At first, the people seem to like what he has to say. “And all were spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.”

But then, things suddenly change.

Jesus makes a reference to Old Testament story about how God worked great deeds through some non-Jewish folks in the past.

He infers that God’s grace is being extended beyond the Jews to Gentiles.

Theresa J. Marquez Jesus is preaching in the synagogue, Flickr Creative Commons
Theresa J. Marquez Jesus is preaching in the synagogue, Flickr Creative Commons

That’s not what the congregation wants to hear.

And that’s when things start going downhill…literally.

When the people hear this, they drive him out of his own town. They are furious.

They even try to throw him down a hill.

But Jesus escapes and moves on to the next town.

The story raises some good questions about the gospel we hear on Sundays.

The message of Jesus wasn’t meant to please audiences the way political candidates sometimes craft their messages to please their audiences and to get applause.

Jesus was popular as long people liked what he had to say. When they didn’t, popularity wasn’t one of Jesus’ assets.

www.slideshare.net
www.slideshare.net

Do we go to church to hear what we want to hear?
To reinforce what we already think?

The gospel is always “good news” but it isn’t always comfortable because it stretches us beyond our comfort zones.

And, over the course of time we’re bound to hear something at Mass that unsettles our ideas about right and wrong:

  • about justice, mercy and forgiveness;
  • about our responsibility in the face of human misery;
  • about death and our ultimate accountability and judgment;
  • and about the dignity of every human life.

There’s an old saying that the gospel (and the sermon) is meant to “trouble the comfortable and comfort the troubled.”

When we feel challenged or unsettled by the Gospel, what will our response be? Amazement or fury?

Will we “expel” the message and the messenger as did the inhabitants of that unreceptive village?

Or, will we ask for the Grace, to re-think everything in life and ask the Divine Teacher to lead us where we need to go?

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What scares the sh*t out of you? What can you do about it?

What is fear to you?

  • Is it the monster in the closet that looms over you in the middle of the night?
  • Is it those butterflies that won’t stop fluttering in your stomach?
  • Is it that dread you wake up with, morning after morning?

Continue reading “What scares the sh*t out of you? What can you do about it?”

Finding the mystic in me

Today I started reading a book entitled The Naked Now by Richard Rohr. I originally planned on reading it because a group I belong to, the Commission of Women of the Diocese of Worcester, chose this book as the one they wished to study this year. A dear friend of mine, a deacon in the Catholic Church, had also highly recommended it.

Rohr aims to teach the reader to see as the mystics see.

I have long resisted the notion of being a mystic though this same friend insisted that I be open to the idea. The pragmatist in me, the one who is unimpressed with splashy theatrics and celebrity, would have nothing to do with it. I saw no connection between my earthly life and supposed “heavenly visions.” I mistakenly connected mysticism with crying statues; I wanted nothing to do with it.

However, the creative in me, now being regularly exercised with reading and study, began to speak up and say,

“Hold on a minute. Maybe there is more to this than meets the eye.”

And my inner self, also exercised daily with prayer and reflection, objected too.

The Naked Now is now affirming something I’ve been experiencing ever since I started all this exercising: this newfound ability to “read between the lines,” and it is growing exponentially.

Rohr spells out three ways to view the world through a simple example: how three people view a sunset. One simply enjoys the beauty, nothing more. A second enjoys the beauty and understands the science behind a sunset, giving him extra insight.

The third not only appreciates the beauty and perhaps the science, but also “tastes” the experience. His vision enables him to transcend the physical experience to something mystical.

Rohr calls this seeing with the “third eye.” And I knew exactly what he meant.

I experienced that kind of vision all summer long in my lunchtime walks through the woods, past streams and alongside the lake at Wellesley College. Some of these experiences were quite intense, most especially my kayak trip on Lake Waban.

And I had noticed this vision even before the summer.

Reading the Bible had always been a difficult and dry experience. I simply could not understand what it was trying to tell me. However, last year I began to experience a strange sensation while reading: my mind and my heart would be literally flooded with ideas and insights. It was thrilling and a little scary. It was like God was chattering at me!

I don’t remember when I began acquiring this “third eye” but I am guessing it is connected to a few newer habits in my life: challenging reading, journaling and blogging, and set times for prayer. (This blog is a result of those new habits.)

I allowed myself to be carried in the flow of God’s will, just like my kayak floats down river. I went with the flow and without realizing it, accepted an invitation from God to go deeper with my faith.

I didn’t really know what was happening but had a sense that it was better to just “go with it” rather than to question.

And now, I have a book that will explain what’s been happening.

And the best part is, you can experience this too.

Everyone is called to be a mystic. It’s what Jesus intended. It was not just for those saints we see commemorated in statues and prayer cards.

Jesus means for each of us to experience this “third eye,” a direct result of a close, intimate relationship with Him.

The closer we get, the better we see.

And that’s when life really starts to take off. Surrounded by and immersed fully in this Divine love, we can experience what Henri Nouwen wrote in that post I highlighted the other day, “It is in the heart of God that we can come to the full realisation of the unity of all that is, created and uncreated.”

We can Be As One.

You can find The Naked Now on Amazon. Treat yourself, and then tell me what you think!

Click to Tweet & Share: Could you be a mystic? Do you want to be?  I didn’t think I did until I found out I was one … http://wp.me/p2D9hg-iK

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God weaves His tales through the natural world

I believe in God. And I can see evidence of His existence and care for humanity, told through the stories He has left for me to find.

The more I immerse myself in God, the more these stories come to life. I’d like to show you what I saw yesterday during my lunchtime walk.

It’s October. Cool air and gray rainy days are becoming more frequent. Today a soft rain fell, covering the land in a shimmering mist.

The leaves are peaking here in Massachusetts, turning vivid shades of red, orange and yellow. They flash their colors for all to see only to fall to the ground.

Off in the distance I saw a tree, its fallen leaves creating a colorful circle around the trunk.

I started to think: leaves derive their sustenance
from the tree. Once the leaves fall, they will shrivel
up and die.

God was telling me a story.

“I am the tree,” He says, “and each of you are leaves. If you remain connected to the tree, you will flourish. If you decide to fall away, you will die.”

Reflecting on that thought (not unlike John 15:5 when Jesus calls Himself the vine and we the branches), I began examining the leaves on the ground.

Some were still supple and beautifully adorned, just waiting to be admired. Others were brown and dry despite the mist.

And it occurred to me: we, like these leaves, may fall away from our Source of Life and flourish for a time but eventually, the color will fade and life will ebb away until we too are brown and dry.

Even a leaf covered with raindrops cannot survive forever on its own.  The drops will evaporate and the leaf will wither. It needs the tree to live.

Thus the story of the vital relationship between God and humanity, told through His creation.

And there is more to this story.

No healthy tree bears only one leaf. Healthy trees are covered with leaves providing the traveler with relief from the heat under shady branches.

God did not intend for us to be alone. Without each other, we also wither and die.

He means for us to be a community, just like He as a Trinitarian God, forms the perfect community of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

A seamless circle of love, continuous and unbroken for all eternity. Perfect love, perfect harmony and we are invited to join.

And unlike leaves which are temporal, dressed in their best colors for a brief moment before fading and dying, we can become perfected as the image of God we were meant to be.

So long as we stay connected to the tree.

What story is God sharing with you today?

Click to Tweet & Share: God weaves His tales through the natural world. He told me one today, how about you? http://wp.me/p2D9hg-fU

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Connecting to the Living God through stories: Frank Runyeon brings the Gospel of Luke to life

This blog is supposed to be about making connections.. Lately it’s felt more like a hodgepodge, just a collection of unrelated posts. This blog is certainly challenging me to live out what I preach: living life in a single flow.

It ain’t easy!

This weekend however, it suddenly got a lot easier. I was blessed to attend two extraordinary events which practically shouted “Connections! Connections!” to me. The pen couldn’t move fast enough across the page of my notebook to capture all I was hearing so I could share it with you.

I will begin with this past Sunday night.

I teach CCD to high school students and needless to say, it is a challenge. Instead of our normal class last night, the students were treated to a one-man play about the Gospel of St. Luke. It was written and performed by Frank Runyeon.

Frank is a successful actor in television and movies. His bio reads, “He starred for seven years as Steve Andropoulos on As the World Turns opposite Meg Ryan, a storyline that garnered the second highest ratings in the history of daytime television.  He next appeared for four years as Father Michael Donnelly on the Emmy award-winning Santa Barbara, and as tycoon Simon Romero on General Hospital, opposite Emma Samms.  Frank has also guest-starred in recurring roles on L.A. LAW as talk-show host Brooks Tapman, on Falcon Crest as chess genius Jovan Dmytryk, on Melrose Place as Father Tom, and on All My Children as Forrest Williams.”

But Frank would rather be associated with the art closest to his heart: spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ through his vibrant performance of the Gospels.

He debuted his latest one-man play, “Luke, Stories on the Road” at the parish to which I belong, St. Luke the Evangelist in Westborough, MA.

Ah, the first connection!

I came with low expectations. I’m not a big movie-goer nor have I seen a lot of live plays. I had had a fight with my husband, was blown-out from a weekend of endless activity and just wanted to crawl under the covers.

So it took a bit of time to warm up.

About a half hour into the performance I felt a sudden urge to whip out my notebook and write. Frank spoke and I’d write. His performance became riveting.

The camera soon followed. As a former girl scout, I am always prepared!

Dressed in a simple robe, Frank wove stories from the Old and New Testament, focusing first on the story of King David and his disastrous affair with Bathsheba and moving into the stories of Jesus as recorded by Luke the Evangelist.

In each story, he shared a similar and striking insight: the stories, in many cases, had open endings.

The reason? WE are the ending to the story.

How can that be? These stories are thousands of years old. But inspired by the Spirit of the Living God, their truths are as pertinent today as they have ever been.

And Frank made the scriptures come alive with his talented way of weaving a tale.

Past and present – another connection.

Frank made an important association between the story of King David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11; 2 Samuel 12)  and the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus found in Luke 16:19-31.

In the story of King David, Bathsheba found she was pregnant after their affair. To cover up their relationship, David arranged to have her dutiful warrior husband killed in battle (2 Samuel 11). Nathan the prophet was sent by the Lord to point out David’s sin (2 Samuel 12) and he did it through a heart-wrenching tale of a rich man robbing a poor man of his only lamb who had been a member of the family so that he could roast it for his friends.

David was incensed. Who was that man? He should be punished!

It was then that Nathan turned the story around on David, using it to accuse him before God of his sin.

Frank put out the palm of his hand: the story was a mirror clearly showing David’s guilt.

David listened, made the connection and repented of his sin.

The Rich Man and Lazarus Meister des Codex Aureus Epternacensis (source: Wikipedia)

The rich man did the same with poor Lazarus, committing evil against him by not offering him food or comfort as the poor man suffered outside the door of his home.

When both died, Lazarus, in the bosom of Abraham became the mirror to the rich man in agony in Hades. The rich man listened but too late: he must suffer the consequences.

The rich man had Moses and the Prophets, but he didn’t listen.

He failed to make the connection.

Frank shared many such stories from the Gospel of St. Luke, the most powerful being The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) and The Publican and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14).

In both cases we are most definitely the end of the story. And it’s not the character that you would imagine.

Frank beautifully conveyed the deep emotion in the story of Prodigal Son, showing the arrogance, ignorance and finally, redemption of the younger son, the deep, generous love of the father, and the bitter resentment of the older son.

The so-called “good” son.

The Return of the Prodigal Son (1773) by Pompeo Batoni

The father and the younger son reconciled. The older son, faithful in service to his father, complained, feeling entitled to better treatment.

And as Frank pointed out, the ending with the “good” son was open-ended.

The “good” son is us. We have to create our own ending.

The same was true with the Publican and the Tax Collector. Both praying in the temple, the Publican pontificating before God about how much he tithed and how much better a person he was than the wretched Tax Collector.

The Tax Collector, knowing he was an outcast in Jewish society, never raised his eyes to God but begged forgiveness.

He was justified. The “good” Publican was not.

And the mirror shines back on us – are we that Publican?

Do we consider ourselves as the “good guys?”

Frank Runyeon, through his vibrant, deeply emotional performance, demonstrated the deep connection of the Living Word of God to our daily lives. We at St. Luke’s were fortunate to have him tell these stories, opening our ears and eyes, helping us to listen and make those connections.

Bring Frank to your church

Frank is available for bookings throughout the country with “Luke: Stories from the Road” and other biblical one-man plays, all written by him. Visit his website at frankrunyeon.com.

Click to Tweet & Share: Connecting to the Living God through stories: Frank Runyeon brings the Gospel of Luke to life http://wp.me/p2D9hg-em

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