Saturday, January 12, 2019

Life on the Edge or Life in the Center?

 Dear Friends, 

People sometimes describe themselves as either living at the center or living on the edge.
Viewed from one perspective, neither is conducive to human growth or sensitivity to God. Living at the center can mean that a person is self-centered, complacent, very comfortable. The one who lives at the center may have a few lazy thoughts about God and may ‘live by the rules” just enough not to get into trouble with God or other people. But living at the center involves no compelling or driving force. It is safe there, and renders one a veritable couch-potato, who cannot be bothered with others but grasps every bit of the good life for himself or herself.

Living on the edge can be no better. Sometimes living on the edge is synonymous with restlessness, a devil-may-care attitude that thrives on dangerous activities and destructive impulses. Life on the edge can mean addiction. It can mean abusing oneself or others through promiscuous sexual activity. 

Life at the center and life on the edge, understood in these terms, have nothing to do with being a Christian. Yet, in another sense, the Gospel calls us to live both at the center and at the edge.

Jesus, in the Gospel, tells us to take up our cross daily and follow him (MT.10.38). Elsewhere, he tells us that in order to follow him, we may have to choose contrary to the wishes of family and friends (Luke 14.26-27). We may even choose contrary to the accepted wisdom of the day because we believe that God is calling us to do so. The pressure can become so great that we become fragile, weighed down, burned out. Now that’s living on the edge.

At this point, the Wisdom of God, the Spirit of God beckons us to the center – a place of sustenance, the regrouping of strength in the face of family tragedy, economic disaster, the unravelling of a relationship or an illness. Recall the moments when Jesus took his overwhelmed disciples of to pray, and how Jesus sought the solitude of Gethsemane as his passion and death loomed near. Remember how the disciples of Christ went off after the Ascension to pray, their hearts open to the coming of the Holy Spirit.

The courage needed at the edge is gathered at the center, and as we live the Christian life, we need to move between the center and the edge.

Commitment to Christ is not a grim denial of life, as it might seem from the seriousness of these thoughts. Rather, commitment to Christ is life lived in recognition that we are never alone. “In every age, O Lord, You have been our refuge,” we sing in Psalm 90.

Christ is with us when we totter on the edge, when we rejoice and regroup at the center… Christ in whom there is victory, resolution, sadness and misery overcome, and joy to the full experienced.

However stable or changing our lives, whether we find ourselves on the edge or in the center, Jesus, our Brother and Savior, is with us. 

Good thoughts during the relentlessness of winter!

~Sister Joan Sobala

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Listen to your Dream

Dear Friends,

The story of the Magi in Matthew’s Gospel, touches us as we consider the daring of these shadowy figures – how they followed a star and  travelled great distances  to seek the child they knew was born to rule.

Today, let’s look at the darker side of this story, and in particular, let’s look at Herod. We usually skip over him, but studying him can  help us appreciate the courage of so many others in this story. 

Herod knew from consulting his own priests and wise men that the child for whom the Magi searched was long awaited . He was the realization of hope in the very people over whom Herod was king. Now, in Herod’s own lifetime, this longing would be fulfilled. Instead of responding with wonder and joy as the shepherds did, Herod, responded with selfishness and deceit. He was threatened to his core. This infant must be destroyed. In his rage at the thought of being unseated, Herod massacred the children in the area where Jesus  lived, hoping Jesus would be among them. Great sorrow covered the land, but Herod didn’t care.

We don’t like Herod. We don’t like any of the Herods of the Gospel - not  the one who sought the child Jesus, nor the one who killed John the Baptist, or who went after the adult Jesus.

This Herod of Jesus’ infancy, failed, not because Jesus had an army better than Herod’s or because Jesus had greater intelligence. Herod’s plan failed because the Magi, Mary and Joseph listened to the word of God and obeyed it.

In the face of the demonic in today’s world, will we listen to the word of God and obey it? Obedience is not a popular term today. We Americans don’t like to be  told ” Do this. Don’t do that.”  As if that’s what true obedience is. We prefer to dialogue, and then  leave  each other to our own opinions. After all, we argue, it’s the adult and self-directing thing to do.

But to whom or to what can we be properly obedient? Whenever I feel my back against the wall, I try to remember to be to obedient  to the unenforceable. That’s a definition of ethics I came across some time ago. Ethics is obedience to the unenforceable. When I know I must do something and no one else knows I must do it, it is unenforceable. Will I do it or not? 

When no one is watching and I feel compelled to act in a particular life-giving way, what I am moved to do is unenforceable. Will I do it or not? Joseph had his dream.  The Magi had their dream. The messages they were given were unenforceable. No one made them act, but they knew what they needed to do and they did it. They made decisive responses  and that made all the difference.

This year, 2019, new  Herods  will arise and maybe some old ones will return. Personal  Herods  who want to destroy our very lives or macro- Herods whose egos are so huge that they believe  only what they want matters in the world. In these moments of potential conflict, stand firm. Listen to your dream. Go where it tells you to go. Do not tarry. Do not be afraid. Follow the star. Go.

~Sister Joan Sobala