Friday, January 12, 2018

The Every Day "Click"

Dear Friends,

Here’s a question to ask at a party when the conversation lags. Ready? “What is one of the most common sounds heard in this century?”

It’s “click.” The light bulb goes on. The radio alarm, the electric razor, the food processor. Click. The MRI machine, copy machine, DVD. Click. On-off. Click. So much of everyday life involves a click.

Yet there are things in life that do not click on and off, like steadfastness, caring and generosity.

Then, too, some things begin when we are unaware of them and move into our consciousness and emotions, for better or worse, there to be harbored or cultivated – like attitudes toward people whose color is different from ours or enhancing our daily living by a series of “must haves.”

Take relationships for example. Surely we can say that he/she and I clicked immediately when we met – but if the relationship is to grow after that, what’s needed? Work, that’s what.

The relationships of our lives – relationships with God or people, require staying power and work, and that work requires openness.

Jesus was open to the people he met along the way – even those who eventually showed themselves to be his opponents. He was open to their questions, their need for healing, their hesitant hearts. Some came and stayed. The American Presbyterian Clergywoman Rachel Strubas says of the leper whom Jesus cured that “he was rehumanized by Jesus’ touch.” Others came and sipped from the cup of life. Others poured out the water of life on the earth and walked away. But Jesus remained open, never withholding Himself from others, even on the cross.

How open we are? Do we really listen to what others are telling us or are we preparing our response instead of listening? Or do we grow weary of hearing the stories of the pain of others and tune them out? Do we take in what others offer by way of gift or suggestion or are we limited by our own tastes and desires? Do our minds and hearts have narrow borders that we prefer not to cross? Do we go out into the world and treasure its adventures or does fear of the unknown hold us back?

It’s a new year. Unexpected things may click in us. How open are we to them?

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, January 5, 2018

Following the Word of God

Dear Friends,

We know the key figures in the Epiphany: the Holy Family, the wise men and Herod. Don’t leave out Herod, for he represents darkness in the story. Herod is the counterpoint to the others and helps us understand the difference between self-serving power and cooperation with God.

This Herod, one of several to bear that name in the Gospels, knew from the wise men and from his own priests and scholars the ancient prophecies about the long-awaited savior who would come to set God’s people free. Instead of seeing this as a moment of grace and redemption for his people, Herod found the Newborn to be a threat, fearing that the Holy One who had come would now unseat him. In his rage, Herod massacred the children under two years of age who lived in the area. Great sorrow was in the land, but Herod didn’t care.

Mary, Joseph and the wise men, on the other hand, had been attentive to the Word of God that came to them through messengers and dreams. They listened and they obeyed. They made a decisive response to the invitation of God. There was no law given for them to obey. Rather, it was what they heard in the depth of their being that moved them to do what was being asked of them. They heard and obeyed.

Obedience is not a popular term today. We Americans don’t like to be told “Do this. Don’t do that.” This is a caricature of obedience. We say we prefer dialogue, thank you, and then prefer to be left alone, each of us to our own opinion. After all, we argue, adult self-direction is best. But in this Epiphany account, we are given a new way to understand how compelling obedience really is. The wise men had their dream. So did Joseph. The messages they were given were unenforceable. No one made them act, but they all knew what they needed to do and they…did…it.

We are invited by the story to be obedient as Mary, Joseph and the wise men were, and Herod was not. Without benefit of a law, we know that, at times, we must do something…to act in some hitherto unexpected, life-giving way. No one else knows it. It’s unenforceable, but we know and we have a choice. Will we do it or not?

Christian history is full of women and men who stood firm and did not capitulate to the Herods of their day – not just martyrs, but ordinary people who in their own way stood up to destructive powers in obedience to a higher call.

This year, 2018, new Herods will arise and maybe some old ones will return – personal Herods who want to destroy individual lives or macro-Herods, whose selves are so huge that nothing else matters in the world.

When these things happen, stand firm. Listen to the dream. Go where it tells you. Do not tarry. Do not be afraid. Be Epiphany people.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, December 28, 2017

A New Year

Dear Friends,

The photo above was taken in the Lamberton Conservatory in Highland Park during this Christmas season. The walkways through the lighted plants were conducive to making the walker quiet and thoughtful. Someplace, deep within us, we are just that – quiet and thoughtful – as another calendar year turns into the blank page of 2018. What will it be like? What joys will we know, what sadness will come our way? Who will we become?

New Year’s resolutions are usually a bust before January is half over…but here are just three resolutions that might just work, if we are daring enough to cultivate them…

Welcome and treasure sleep. People of our day don’t do that. They cut rest short in favor of accomplishing something or enjoying something. Think of Joseph in the Gospel of Matthew. Four out of the five times that messages came from God, they came to Joseph with life-changing implications. They arrived in a dream. Did you ever go to sleep, wrestling with a problem only to find it lessened or resolved by morning? That is the same gift of God that Joseph received…but it requires that we welcome sleep.

Engage in holy repetition. Repetition is a fact of life, from daily wake-up routines, through the roads we travel, to work, cooking, keeping house, recharging cell phones. So what is holy repetition, then? It’s another way of describing the prayer that roots itself deeply with us. It makes us go over events of our daily lives or the surprises of our lives until we get right what those events really meant. Mary, when she and Joseph went up to Jerusalem to present Jesus in the Temple, came face to face with Simeon, a stranger who startled her with his insight into the Babe’s future and hers. “She pondered these things in her heart,” Luke tells us. Like her, we are never through pondering the meaning of our lives and the lives of others. Never done unless we stop. Give up. Don’t care. But if the practice of holy repetition is part of us, then we don’t let go of the gifts of God.

Participation in weekly Eucharist bears holy repetition. Practice valuing the repeated words and gestures of Eucharist. Think of the psalm response. If we sing it at Mass, it can become a mantra for the week. But most especially, being fed on the Bread of Life within the community of believers is non-dispensable for us, although, to our loss, we often choose to make it dispensable. Too busy with other things. Or think about how it feels when we haven’t eaten an ordinary meal for a number of hours, our stomachs begin to growl. Maybe we even become weak. So too, if we let weekly Mass pass by unattended. We hunger – and might not even grasp what the real hunger is. In the quiet and depth of us, we hunger for God.

God offers us a new year in which to live and grow and find our meaning – a new year to meet people whose lives are lessons in faith, hope and love and who help us become better, and we them. The arc of the year is before us.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Treasuring the Son

Dear Friends,

Here’s a story I found somewhere. It reveals how Christ comes to all who are open to Him, but we have to keep our eye on Him and value Him beyond all earthly treasures.

“Once there was a gifted artist whose paintings glowed with life, moved people to thoughts of God, thoughts of peace and new realizations about life. This artist’s paintings received rave notices even during his lifetime. Everyone wanted one. But the artist would not sell them.

“Toward the end of his life, the artist sketched a portrait of his son, who had died some time before. The work was crude, unfinished, with only hints of what the son looked like in all his human beauty.

“The artist died, and as decreed in his will, the paintings all went to auction. The world’s rich and famous gathered there, ready to lay out millions for the work of their choice. Each bidder knew there would be a battle ahead. All had their money ready.

“The auctioneer began.

“’Ladies and Gentleman, according to the will of the artist, the bidding is to begin with this unfinished portrait of the artist’s son.

“’What am I bid for it, please?’


“A second and a third time, the auctioneer pleaded with someone, anyone to begin the bidding.


“Finally, a woman wearing a funny little hat, who had only come to look and had very little money to spend, thought tenderly of the father and son.

“Timidly the woman said, ‘Five dollars.’ (That was all she could afford.)

“'I have five dollars,’ the auctioneer proclaimed, disbelieving. ‘Will anyone make it 10?’


“’Sold to the woman in the funny little hat for five dollars.’

“’Ladies and Gentlemen,’ the auctioneer continued. ‘The auction is over, for the artist decreed that whoever gets the son, gets everything.’”

Joy to you this Christmas for treasuring the Son.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Joy in Life

Dear Friends,

God is in love with our world. That is the luminous thread woven into the prayers, music and biblical figures of Advent. Once this realization becomes real for us, then joy is released to blossom in us.

It’s hard to grasp the meaning of joy with our minds. Joy is elusive. It is not happiness or euphoria. It defies definition but can be described and experienced in a number of ways. Joy grows in us over a lifetime. The person who is learning joy gazes at and walks in the world in such a way as he/she can see God’s imprint in life and nature. Joy is the keen awareness of God’s presence or the coming of God into our life journeys. As it dawns on us that God is very near, we find a deep satisfaction in life that has nothing to do with acquisition, fleeting pleasures or the superficial.

“The present moment is filled with joy. If you are attentive, you will see it.” (Thich Nhat Hanh)

“Joy, it seems to me, is a step beyond happiness. Happiness is a sort of atmosphere you can live in sometimes, when you’re lucky. Joy is a light that fills you with hope and faith and love.” (Adela Rodgers St. Johns)

“You are free to think thoughts of worry or joy, and whatever you choose will attract the same back to you. Worry attracts worry. Joy attracts joy.” (Rhonda Byrne)

“Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow.” (Helen Keller)

“Joy is not expressed the same way at all times in life, especially moments of great difficulty. Joy adapts and changes, but it always endures, even as a flicker of light born of our personal certainty that, when everything is said and done, we are infinitely loved.” (Pope Francis, The Joy of the Gospel)  

So on this Advent Sunday, we come full circle to the Christmas truth that God so loved the world that He sent His only Son. Here and now, as in Bethlehem, God is in love with our world…with each of us and all of us.

Don’t make joy a project. Don’t try to pre-program it. The experience of joy is part of God’s promise and it will happen in your heart. Be lighthearted and spontaneous. Deep joy and fun don’t negate each other.

Look around you and see for certain that God is in love with the world. We have great cause to rejoice.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, December 8, 2017

Finding Our Desert

Dear Friends,

How are you doing with Advent so far this year? One woman told me during this last week that she felt pulled between her desire to use December as a season of anticipating Christmas and the anticipated celebration of Christmas in our culture. Christmas celebrations are in abundance. Too much too soon.

To make space for Advent in our life, we need to develop a desert mentality. That is, a place we go in our minds and hearts, to a space in our homes set aside for our God-times, to meet God and be renewed. At its worst, deserts are dangerous, inhospitable lonely places. But deserts are also places where we can be, grow, assess, wonder, be tested, encounter God. Jesus did it. So did John the Baptist before him.

Mark’s gospel begins with John the Baptist in the desert. He is the voice in the wilderness calling his hearers to prepare the way of the Lord. His words echo the words of Isaiah to prepare the way of the Lord. Later, Jesus would say of John that “history has not known a man born of woman greater than John.” That’s quite a tribute.

John not only spent years of preparing the way of the Lord in the desert, the desert remained for him – an interior wilderness that threatened to overwhelm him. It would have been easy for him to die believing himself a failure, since he saw no satisfying completion of his work. The Messiah who came, his very cousin, was embarrassingly unlike the one he had preached about. Yet Jesus was attractive and John watched many of his followers leave him to follow Jesus. John was left to wonder if Jesus was the one to come or should he look for another. John was killed for the price of a dance, his head cut off at Herod’s command.

We experience our own wilderness or desert in the biblical sense – a place of testing where the integrity of our soul is tried, where the fabric of family life is stretched to near tearing, where communities are tried by tragedy and challenges to human values. It is within our modern wilderness experiences that the salvation promised by our God comes. The voice of God speaks to us out of the wilderness of illness or accidents, wildfires, the wilderness of a destructive relationship with a spouse, children, friends or employer, the wilderness of a moral wrongdoing, depression, loneliness, war or business noise, the wilderness of working for justice and peace in a less than conscious, less than welcoming world. This list is not exhaustive. There are other desert places also that endanger and frighten us.

But it is also here in our own deserts that we find the comfort of God. Think back to Jesus’ own temptations in the desert, they were overcome and then there was joy. Joy happens in our life when the wilderness has not overcome us, when we reach quenching waters and find them not a mirage, but real.

This week, as with John the Baptist, we come to recognize our own personal wildernesses or the deserts of our society and world, we can take heart. God is with us in the desert.

~Sister Joan Sobala

Friday, December 1, 2017

Our Advent Door

Dear Friends,

By the time you read this you will have opened and closed any number of doors today. To open and close a door is an easy, natural, unthinking act – unless we’ve forgotten our key or our arms are too full to manage it.

Doors are an integral part of life. They provide access, offer privacy and protection from violent weather or thieves. Doors are also instruments of power. We can shut people out or let them in.

Advent is a season for opening some doors and closing others. It is a time to open the door to a deeper, stronger relationship with the Holy One, to open our hearts to others in friendship and reconciliation – to open our minds to new attitudes and practices that birth a future full of hope.

There’s a well-known painting by Warner Sallman, which shows Jesus, standing at the door and knocking. If we take a good look at the door in the picture, we see no knob on the outside. That door – and by extension – the door of the human heart can only be opened from within.

The work of Advent is to open the door of our lives to anew. When the knock comes, we react in different ways. We may be cautious, curious to see who is there, irritated to be interrupted, ashamed that our house is not in order. We may be curt at the door, guarded, fearful, elated. Or we may ignore the knock completely. “Go away, God! I don’t want to see you today!”

You may think that this idea of opening some doors and closing others is a mild-mannered, ineffectual approach to Advent. But let’s think about two doors to close which entail personal discipline and hard work.

Close the door to noise, even briefly every day and welcome quiet to let the hidden gifts of the season seep into our consciousness. Be with the silence. Well, OK, you might say, but what will I say to God? Say “Come, Lord Jesus,” or maybe say nothing at all. Let God speak to your heart.

Close the door to violence. Isaiah in today’s first reading offers us the appealing image of beating our swords into ploughshares, i.e. giving up violence and creating peace. Some video games, movies, brawls at sporting events, wars across the world hold up violence for us to feast on vicariously. Say no to violence in word, deed and what we absorb.

Be like Mary who opened the door of her very self to the messenger of God. Be like Joseph who opened himself up to God’s call in dreams. Be like Jesus, who is the key to all life – our very own future.

Without drawing anyone’s notice, we can let the physical doors we open and close throughout the day remind us that our daily comings and goings are opportunities to meet and welcome God in others.

The key is in the lock. The divine visitor is at our Advent door. We need only open it wide with our welcome.

~Sister Joan Sobala