Today I Weep
The other day, I was quite moved upon reading Senator Byrd’s address delivered on the eve of the invasion of Iraq. It begins with: “I believe in this beautiful country, but today, I weep for my country.” He closed his address by stating that America’s true power lies not in its will to intimidate but in its ability to inspire. The late Henri Nouwen, in Seeds of Hope, wrote that we do not love issues. We can only love people and, in loving people, we come to know how to deal with the issues.
Presently, we are left with the question: Now that the war has begun, what is the task of those thousands of people who have been working for peace? Hopefully, love of people will tell us what to do, and how to pray.
I have come to know that God is very near in times of suffering and that the kind of nearness in suffering is different from that of good times. Suffering brings about a certain kind of union within oneself and with others. Useless defenses fade away, and real human love, drawn from God’s love, comes alive and is active with new strength and creativity.
Here in the monastery, we find ourselves praying for the troops on both sides, and for their families. We pray that the hearts of all leaders concerned will be softened in order to pursue the good and the true. Even though we deplore the war, we pray that more surrendering will take place so that there will be fewer casualties and less destruction. We pray that prisoners of war will be treated with dignity and that food and supplies will be given to those who need them. At this moment, there is a fierce tension between Lenten grief and the promise of Easter joy. In fact, joy seems far away.
The image of America, as being a nation that inspires, has been lost. We have extinguished a light that once shone for the encouragement and upbuilding of others. We ourselves need to rebuild. Furthermore, such a conversion will not be taking place through our own strength or power.
Upon reflection, we know that resurrection takes place more readily in the context of weakness and brokenness. Hence, we are never abandoned. In the face of the difficult reality that confronts us, we are to keep believing that a new Easter will come, (gradually perhaps,) all the while realizing that it may come in a way we never expected.
Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.
Hidden in a Small Moment
It was such a strange title for a book. Furthermore, I must admit that I was a bit reluctant to have other people see me reading it. But like so many other things, events, that just seem to happen to us, frequently bring with them a gift and can be a small epiphany. So it was with The Universe is a Green Dragon .* My own thinking is that not everything in a book is meant for us. Sometimes, it seems like we are meant to read only one chapter, or maybe just a sentence or two in the midst of all the gray matter. The same could be said of a web-site reflection. Along this line, this little book, with its colorful cover, contained a chapter on attraction that became an attraction for me.*
A person may ask: “Why am I attracted to this thing and not to something else?” The truth is that we do not really know why we are attracted. We only know that we are, and that something has taken fire within us. Given a chance, gradually, we awaken to our own unique set of attractions. With this, our destiny unfolds. St. John of the Cross writes much on detachment. Following our God-given attractions is the other side of this story.
Thomas Berry feels that by pursuing our attractions, we help bind the universe together. The longed-for unity within ourselves, and in our world, rests on following these attractions. In this following, more of life is evoked, and community comes into being. Something invisible becomes visible. Furthermore, we have the sense that we are bonded to God in a new way with a hidden bonding that has been wanting to show itself all along. And, all of this happens by becoming aware of, and by following, one small, and seemingly insignificant, attraction in the context of “ordinary time.”
Often, we long to see the face of God and to hear God’s voice. In actuality, this may be occurring right in front of us. It seems important, then, to quietly pause several times a day and to ask ourselves: What is my inclination and fascination at this moment?
Finally, it should be noted that the awareness of one’s attraction generally brings with it a certain numinous and unexpected joy. I have often seen this on people’s faces. Maybe life is not so difficult after all.
• Brian Swimme. The Universe is a Green Dragon . Rochester, Vermont: Bear & Company, 2001, pp.43-52.
Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.
A Message in the Sky
Every year, around this time, a “star” appears in the southeastern sky near dawn. It can be seen from the deck near our kitchen window. A friend, who lives a few miles down the road, feels that this star has been placed there just for our monastery. Actually, the “star” is Venus. Often, the beauty of the “star” is enhanced by the presence of a crescent moon, which appears to be looking up. Given a chance, it seems like the star would like to say something to the world.
Pearl Buck, in many of her writings, often weaves into them the theme of a star. In one of the stories, a son overhears his father speaking lovingly and quietly about the son to his mother. A star was in prominence that night. This not only surprised the son, but moved him deeply. Upon hearing this, the son realized for the first time that his father really loved him. Up to this time, he figured that his parents were generally too busy raising a family to give much attention to expressing the love they might have for their children.
As a follow-up to this event, the son initiated a good deed that enabled the father to know that he, too, was loved. The story ends years later. The father is now gone and the son is home alone with his wife, who has gone to bed early, a bit sad realizing that their own children now had homes and families of their own. Entranced by a star outside the window, (possibly the same star of years past,) and recalling the event of being loved in childhood, the son wraps up a small but dainty gift for his wife, who will discover it when she awakes. To the gift, he attaches a note that starts with: “My dearest love,” a letter she will be able to read again and again and keep forever.
It occurs to me that every once in awhile it is good to recall a moment when we felt loved and then, in some creative way, to pass this love on to another. Truly, the act of recalling carries new love and energy with it. Perhaps, this is what the star in the southeastern sky is trying to tell us.
When I was a youngster, my own mother was fond of quoting inspirational sayings at just the right time. One such event had to do with telling us that those who lead others on to goodness will shine like the stars for all eternity. Most likely, she was not even aware that this was a biblical quote. Through the years, this little saying has been a source of inspiration to me. The other day, I found myself wondering who told my mother about goodness of life and stars in the sky. Possibly it first began in some little kitchen in Ireland.
Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.
Magi of the Ordinary
Abgarus, the oldest and the one who loved Artaban best, lingered after the others had gone. "It is better to follow even the shadow of the best," he said, "than to remain content with where you are. Those who would see wonderful things must often be ready to travel alone." "I am too old for this journey," he continued, "but my heart shall be a companion of your pilgrimage day and night, and I shall know the end of your quest. Go in peace."*
Every once in awhile, but quite often at Christmas, we come across a story that engages the heart and makes a fire burn within the soul. Artaban was the "Other Magi." Having studied the stars, he sold his possessions and bought three jewels (a sapphire, a ruby, and a pearl,) to give to the Child announced by the star. The plan was to meet three other astrologers. On the way, however, prompted by charity, Artaban gave away two of the jewels and missed meeting his friends as a result.
Thirty-three years later, his journey ended in Jerusalem at Passover time. The Child Artaban had been seeking was now dying. Artaban was somewhat consoled by the thought that at least he had the pearl left. It was not too late. But before he had a chance to present his gift, a struggling and helpless girl lay at his feet, pleading for help. "Is not love the light of the soul?" Artaban said to himself. With that, he gave his last jewel to the girl.
Just then, there was an earthquake. A heavy tile loosened from the roof and struck the now aged Artaban in the temple. He lay with his head resting on the girl. Looking down, the girl feared he was dying. Both heard words, faintly but clearly, coming through the twilight from above. The young maid saw the old man's lips move in response. "Three and thirty years have I looked for you," she heard him whisper. "But, I have never seen your face or ministered to you." The faint and gentle words from above came again. Artaban listened. The expression on his face changed. He knew his treasures were accepted. He had done well. His journey was over. All along the way, he had seen the One he was seeking.
In reading this, it occurred to me that many of us are that "Other Magi." We search for a God, to whom we can give a gift that seems so small, a gift we have sold other precious things to purchase. Day after day, we do the task before us, always striving to do the best we can, hoping that what we leave this world will be worthwhile. Without thinking deeply about it, we often give away our treasures along the way, sometimes even the last remnant. Still, upon reflection, it would appear that all we need to do is to keep following the faint glow of a star in the distance that has been put there just for us, together with the seemingly small wisdom the glow imparts. Is any wisdom too small? (That star is also inside of us.) At any rate, giving away the last remnant is often the greatest gift.
Like Artaban, if we were honest in looking back, we would hear ourselves saying that we would do the same thing again, were we to re-make that journey. Also, if our own seemingly ordinary life stories were to be recounted by another, very likely, they would turn out to be very beautiful narratives and a source of inspiration for many people.
*Henry Van Dyke, The Story of the Other Wise Man, http://www.classicreader.com/read.php/sid.6/bookid.593/
Sister Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.