Monday, December 29, 2014

Say "Yes" to the New Year

Dear Friend,
In a matter of a few days, we end 2014.
2015 will be laid out before us, whole and entire, precious for the unfolding of our lives,
Our Church gives us Mary as our companion  as we approach the new year:
Mary, the Mother of God, our mother, sister and friend.

When the time was right, by God’s reckoning,
Mary said yes to God and the timeless Word of God came through her to all of us.
Now the time is right for us also to say yes to God in a fresh new way.

We may have said yes to God in 2014, and for many years before that, but yes is a word that is best repeated, renewed in our conviction as we come to a new point in life.
Some beliefs, values and hopes, desires and relationships we carry with us into the new year.
These are time-honored.
Still other life-ingredients from 2014 and before,
We fling away, walk away from, disavow, reject, hardly remember.
Hey are time-bound.

God knows what the coming year will bring.
At the same time, God is not capricious, not a manipulator of our future,
but in a loving glance, sees yesterday, today and tomorrow as one.
God honors our choices. God knows their outcome.
But we don’t know.

Like Mary, before the power of the Most High  overshadowed her,
all we can do is trust that our willingness to say yes to God
Is the right thing, the generous, life-stirring thing to do.
Our own emptiness is needed, so that God’s Spirit may lead us in new ways.

Here and now, pause and place your hand over your heart, and sit quietly for a moment. Give God all of 2014. Give God all of our unknowing about the new year and all our willingness to be faithful. Let the beating of our heart be a yes to God. As the year continues, pause every now and again, place your hand over your heart, take a moment of quiet and repeat your yes.

Yes is the beginning of the joy of knowing God, loving God and all creation.  Happy New Year.


Monday, December 22, 2014

The Truths of Christmas

Dear Friends,
                The truths of Christmas are like the ornaments on our Christmas trees. We can see them at a glance, in an overview or blur, or we can concentrate on them: separate, memory-laden ornaments or separate Christmas insights that may be new to us this year
 Here are three such Christmas thoughts:
Joseph chose to adjust his life to fit his wife’s new journey. He didn’t say:  ”Look, Mary, I am the man of the house. You are to be part of my life journey.” No, he became. He chose. He went to distant places both geographically and in his heart. Emmanuel unexpectedly became his companion on the journey of life. As with Joseph, God travels with us when we adjust our lives to the journey our loved one walks.

God , the divine guest, comes to live in our homes and in our hearts. Is our house a place of welcome for God? Pregnant Mary was initially unwelcomed by Joseph. God spoke to him in a dream and only then did Joseph say his yes.  They, together, were unwelcomed in the inns of Bethlehem. No room in the inn. Good luck. We won’t even try to shoehorn you in. I repeat, is God welcome in our home? Surely we say God is with us at work, at school, in our deserts and foreign places. But is God wanted in our home? When other guests come, it clear to them that this is a home where faithful believers live? Is God’s presence apparent or are people dubious that God lives here with us?

Finally, God does not create us only to abandon us to make our life journeys alone. Many of the Christmas cards we receive bear silhouettes of Mary and Joseph, traveling alone to Bethlehem, and then Mary Joseph and Jesus fleeing to Egypt, traveling alone. The Magi are likewise pictured. But none of them could travel alone. Caravans or at least small groups, traveling together helped ward of wild beasts and bandits. Along the way, too, there were signs, dreams, stars that told them, one and all, to leave their comfort zones. In each case, as the travelers moved closer to their destination, valuable surprises awaited them. In each case, what met them on the way or as they reached their destination was not what they expected or wanted. They encountered their next step with God.

A prayer published by the Christian Foundation  for Children and Aging, is for all of us, since we are all on the  journey of life, and underscores what Christmas could be for us this year:

                                God of the journey, be our traveling companion.
                                Guide us over terrain both pleasant and perilous.
                                Share our laughter when the sun shines.
                                Lead us to shelter when the storms come.
                                Over hills and through valleys, forests and deserts, bless us with steadfast hope.
                                For with you, the Holy Pilgrim, we are never alone.
                                Never unheld.
                                Never unloved.
May your Christmas joy be boundless.
~Joan Sobala, SSJ

Monday, December 15, 2014

ENJOY the Season!


Dear Friends,
                Joy is not a word in our everyday vocabulary. Sure, we say we enjoy someone or something. But we don’t say “I feel joy in seeing you.” We say  ”I’m happy to see you”.  Are joy and happiness the same? What is joy, anyway? Is it giddy delight? Belly-laughter?  Merry-making on New Year’s Eve?  The mood at tailgate parties? Euphoria over some particular achievement? These are all good for us – but they are not joy.  Joy is not the work of comedians or a spontaneous response to an appealing moment.

                Joy is a God-word . It is the keen awareness of the presence of God or the coming of God in our life-journey. Isaiah 61.10 gives us a way of naming  joy: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul.” Joy is a Christmas word, but not only a Christmas word. It is a learned response that requires time, patience, and a sustained effort.  Ugh! Work! Yes, but surprisingly light-hearted, light-filled work, work in which we become more clearly who we are and we see more clearly who God in Jesus, the Incarnate Word, is for us.

                Joy grows in us over a lifetime. The person who has learned joy gazes at, walks in this splendid and at the same time wrecked-up world and sees God’s imprint on life and nature.

                Our biblical ancestors who people our liturgical readings lived in times like ours –arduous times in which they worked at their right relationships, and made every effort to be faithful to the Lord. Like them, we are culturally enticed to seek outlets in evasion, fantasy, fleeting pleasures, and activities that are superficial or meaningless. We are invited by our times to believe that we are experiencing joy when we experience these things. Possessing the newest car, the newest toy, the world presumes, is equated with joy. But none of these things lead us to the conviction that God is in love with our world, and us.

                Last weekend, in our churches and homes, we lighted the rose-colored candle. It is unique on the Advent wreath, reminding us that God is near, and that in finding God, we find a deep satisfaction in life that is “beyond rubies”, as our British friends would say.

                A few days ago, at a local big box outlet mall, I heard the energetic ringing of the Salvation Army bell. The bell-ringer was a twenty something man who had broken his leg, I know not how. Years ago, he had heard about how another young man had dealt with a similar situation. This young man followed suit.  Rather than sit around and mope, he festooned his crutches with greens, berries and ribbons, and went out to encourage people’s generous giving. You can believe he was collecting a lot of green in his bucket!

                Don’t try to think your way into joy. It’s not a project. Don’t try program it, either. The experience of joy will overtake us if we are open. Be lighthearted and spontaneous at Christmastime. Deep joy and spontaneous fun don’t negate each other. Enjoy the season. Look around you and see for certain that God is in love with the world. We have great cause to rejoice.

~Joan Sobala, SSJ

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