Tag Archives: being human

To Confound the Things Which Are Mighty

Nothing but a cripple.

1 Corinthians 1:25-27

Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called:

But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty;

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a cripple. (I can use that word, because my body is crippled, too.)  The world was kept from knowing the extent of Roosevelt’s disability by the compensation tricks he developed to give the appearance of his walking — and also by the willingness of journalists to keep secret his difficulties in getting out of automobiles.  Why did he have to hide the fact of his weak legs from others?  Because Roosevelt wanted to lead the people as President of the United States, and he believed, as they believed — that a true leader cannot be perceived as weak in any way.

What is physical strength?

Because Ken Burns documentary film on the Roosevelts is on my mind, let’s continue for a moment with Franklin Roosevelt — a physically disabled man who used a wheelchair, and who not only became President, but also became the strongest and most influential president of the 20th century. He was a great world leader, a man of confidence, vitality, strength, and action.  He was not a weakling.  No one knew him to be a pushover — even though he could have easily been pushed over by the slightest jostle when he was ambulating on his braces and crutches.  The fact is that the paralyzing effects of polio did not diminish Franklin Roosevelt’s inner vitality and confident action.  In fact, because his paralysis made him physically weak and dependent on others for daily acts of survival, he developed a strong, intimate compassion for others who felt helpless.  Enduring his own sufferings made his heart and his resolve stronger.  Being fatigued more easily in the body, he grew more tireless in his mind.  Some experts believe that he might never have become president at all, if not for the timing delay that the polio caused for his candidacy.  Most experts agree that his muscle wasting illness made him, instead of just president, a great president.

So, again, I ask: what is physical strength?

I have often been told that I am an inspiration. And I have often wondered why.  Most of the people who have told me this have done so after knowing me for only a few minutes.  Usually, I don’t have to say much of anything at all except the usual casual pleasantries.  I know it’s because of the wheelchair.  They see me all crippled up and crumpled up and they, if they are normally functioning humans, feel a kind of pity, or sorrow, or even scared, nervous repulsion.  Exactly the kind of reactions that Franklin Roosevelt did not want to elicit.  But, then they see my smile.  They look into the intelligence of my eyes and witness my genuine joy, smiling across my whole expressive face, they hear the normalcy of my voice — and they are surprised.  No one expects joyful strength from someone who is physically weak.  Those who personally witnessed Franklin Roosevelt’s physical struggles, and knew something of the suffering and the fatigue that his disability caused him, admired him with a deeper intensity than those who only received the illusion of physical mobility.  They got to experience, as we do now, the fullness of who he was as a person and exactly how brave he was — how strong.

That’s something people have also told me: that I’m brave. But… I don’t really know what they expect me to do.  Should I dampen my natural tendency to joy because of the underlying sorrow of my disease?  I mean, I don’t like not being able to walk.  And I am frustrated, disappointed, and annoyed that other people have to take care me.  Hate is a strong word and I rarely use it — I will say that I hate to exaggerate — but, the way that I feel about my utter physical dependency on others… we could say that I hate it.  Do I let that take over my life and who I am?  No.  Mainly, because I am loved.  And being loved, being truly loved and knowing it, is a kind of freedom.  I, who I am as a person, body, mind, heart, and soul, does not need to be chained by my chains.  We all have limitations, all unique, some more obvious than others, some more minute-by-minute limiting than others.  But, there is no limit to love. Real love.

It may very well be impossible for you to do some particular thing. It was impossible for Franklin Roosevelt to walk unaided.  It’s impossible for me to walk at all — it’s also impossible for me to scratch my head, wipe my bottom, feed myself, etc..  However — and this is very big and important, way beyond wishful thinking, justifications, or petty comforts — I am not limited in becoming who I am created to be.  I may not get my way.  But, if I am willing and cooperative, then all of who I am (especially including my limitations) will result in the accomplishment of Divine Will.  God’s way is above my way.

No matter what your limitations, there are no limitations placed upon your ability to be fulfilled in who you are. A hero, a martyr, a warrior, a mystic, a sage, a saint — all are within the possibilities of every human person.  Should somebody not even be able to utter a word or express any kind of personal communication, he or she still has the ability to teach.  God, who created each and every one of us, has given each and every one of us the particular abilities needed to reach our full potentials and to become great in God’s sight.  We will not all become President of the United States or any other kind of a world recognized leader — but everybody has the ability to lead.  By following God’s love, we can not only become who we are destined to be, but we can also lead others to their destinies.  The very fact that we are simple, that we are small, the very fact that we are seen as foolish to many, the very fact that we are pitifully weak — that is how we become able.  It is how Jesus saved the world — just look at a crucifix.

It is through the human wounds that we can see the Divine.

Unpublished work © 2014 Christina Chase

Tell the Stars

Do I believe?

Genesis 15:3-6

  1. And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

  2. And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.

  3. And he brought him forth abroad, and said, Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.

  4. And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom… You who fear him, trust in the Lord… God’s ways are above man’s ways… The LORD is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?… Fear not, for I am with you always….

Great stuff. As one who holds the Bible as Sacred Scripture, what do I do with these words? Do I hold them as sacred, as the most powerful and significant meaning of and for my life? If so, then I surely would not be suffering from a paralyzing phobia. But, I do have a phobia – a very serious one.

My particular “persistent, irrational fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that leads to a compelling desire to avoid it”[1] is a fear of not being heard. I realize that this may seem to have some cosmic, mystic overtones, but I don’t mean it that way. I am literally afraid that nobody will hear me when I call out for assistance. Being completely physically disabled by a motor neuron disease, and, therefore, utterly dependent on others for every physical need – I cannot even scratch my own cheek – I have been told that my fear is reasonable. But, it isn’t. The phobic panic begins when my mother is simply vacuuming in the next room. Every time I hear an outside door open, my insides jump and I call out to make sure that someone is staying in the house with me. My parents know my phobia very well and they would never intentionally leave me alone to suffer. But, mistakes can happen, I know and I tell them – but I very much would like to trust them more. And, even if they are human and fallible – at least, I should trust God that nothing bad would happen to me even if no other human could hear me for 10 minutes or even an hour. God’s grace can surely even calm a panic attack. Right?

Is this a matter of a lack of faith? A priest, whom I greatly respect and admire, has told me that it is not. This is, obviously, a psychological problem. Maybe I need to go see a therapist. But, it does raise serious questions about human fears and how the faithful trust in the Lord.

“For I know well the plans I have in mind for you—oracle of the LORD—plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope. When you call me, and come and pray to me, I will listen to you. When you look for me, you will find me. Yes, when you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me…”[2].

Abram believed God when he was told that God would change his lot. Abram believed in the power of God to work miracles and to make the impossible possible. And Abram put all of his trust, all of this faith – all of his heart – in the LORD. “I believe” or “credo” means to give one’s heart. Abram followed God with utter trust, even though it meant leaving everything that he knew behind him. His leap of faith was a life-changing experience – it was even a name changing experience. This man did not merely believe, in an intellectual kind of way, that the words spoken to him by God were true. He believed in God. He was willing to give over everything to the One in whom he believed, the one to whom he had given his heart. Even when he didn’t understand. Even when he sorrowed over it. And God counted it as righteousness in him – Abraham was exactly who he was supposed to be.

But, we humans crave certainty. We want to know for sure. We want proof. But… Where there is proof, where is trust? Because there is no dead certainty in the life of faith (no, there is nothing dead in God) people are often uncomfortable in it. They turn to concrete matters and science for answers and guidance. If something cannot be methodically tested and, therefore, scientifically verified, then it is dismissed. But, by doing this, we miss out on the fullness of life. For there is something beyond certainty that is precious and powerful. There is something more beautiful and profound in the leap of faith than there ever can be in sure knowledge.

Am I sure?…

I am a messy, mixed up human being. And I am in love… and I am believing…

 

© 2014 Christina Chase

 

[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/phobia

[2] Jeremiah 29:11-14

Departed

I would like to say that I am innocent… But I am not.

Psalms 18:21

For I have kept the ways of the LORD, and have not wickedly departed from my God.

When I was nine years old, I was a thief. Not only did I steal gulps of wine with my friend from the kitchen (warm alcohol in a Mickey Mouse tumbler) and grams of chalk dust from the school gym supply (folding it up in some paper and sticking it inside my wheelchair while waiting for the short bus to come and take me home) and various small things – construction paper, carbon, broken chalk – that I wanted and I judged no one would miss… but I also stole knowledge. At the end of third grade, I was allowed to stay inside with my friend Beth for recess one day and we decided to open our teacher’s desk drawer and find that secret list. A secret list existed near the close of every school year with the names of the teachers that each student would receive the next year. We all wanted to know what classroom we would end up in – would we get our favorite teacher, would our friends be with us? But, that information, as I recall, was never shared until the summer. Beth and I didn’t want to wait. We wanted to know.

If memory serves, I was the one who instigated and told Beth to do it. Being physically limited, I was used to “bossing people around”. Not only did we find out who we would have for teachers, but also who our friends, and people with whom we would like to be friends, were going to have. Before the end of the school day, we whispered the secrets to everyone that we could. Eventually, other kids in other classrooms let it slip that they knew – and when asked where they had heard the news, directed authorities to Mrs. B’s class. Mrs. B made us all put our heads upon our desks until the guilty party, or parties, confessed the crime. I did not raise my head. I did not say a word. And neither did Beth. Mrs. B couldn’t keep us there forever, we had to go home. But, as we were lining up to leave, a boy in my class told Mrs. B that I was the one who had told him, that I was the one who had stolen the list. My teacher looked down at me and I looked up at her with my big brown eyes. I remember myself mumbling something about Beth, ready to throw her under the bus – we really weren’t that close anyway – but Mrs. B had poor hearing. She just regarded me through her glasses, her bright red lips extra thin and tight. But, then her face softened. She didn’t believe the boy. She didn’t believe that I could do something so wrong. To her, and to most everyone as I would find out in my life, I was an innocent.

Indeed, this may seem like a small and innocent offense – what real harm was done? But, the harm was to my classmates who were all under the shadow of suspicion, for that afternoon with their heads down in the dark and silence, and, for all I know, for the rest of Mrs. B’s life. And the harm was done to my relationship with Beth, for we never did get close. Perhaps she overheard my mumbled ratting or perhaps the guilt was just too much for me. And the greatest harm, I know, was to myself. For I showed myself, in this incident, my true colors. Thievery was easy to me and I honestly felt no guilt about that. I was even proud. Proud that me, who everyone thought was a little angel in a wheelchair, could commit such an act that got the whole third-grade buzzing. The fact that I so blatantly got away with it just added to my happiness over the whole event. But… what I was willing to do to Beth… how I was willing to hide behind the cloak of innocence with which my wheelchair draped me while pointing my finger at her…. this is not only a crime against someone whom I considered a friend, this was, and I say this most seriously, a crime against God. Sneaky, deceptive, smarmy, and proud of myself, I was bolstered up for many years by the memory of this robbed knowledge.

It was not merely the ignorant act of a child. For, was there not some innocence in Eve when she simply wanted to gain wisdom, as I simply wanted to know? And, was there not also pride and greed at grasping for something higher than herself, to put herself at the level of a superior? And was there not shameful finger-pointing, a desperate attempt to inflict any punishment that she deserved away from herself and onto a co-conspirator? Wasn’t Adam, too, guilty of this last crime, this greatest crime: willfully inflicting harm upon another in an attempt to hide from the consequences coming justly to oneself?

To escape justice, the first humans had to hide themselves from one another – to hide themselves from God. But… there is no hiding from God. And don’t I know that, too! Knowledge thief that I am, did I not dare to proclaim that there is no such thing as God and devote myself entirely to a godless life with myself as the center of a meaningless universe? No, I never committed murder in that life – although I did strangle my soul’s promptings and suffocate my own spiritual nature. I did not steal – but I had already hijacked my own reason. And I did not commit adultery or anything like that – although I did desecrate the temple of my body. I broke the ways of the Lord by departing from my God. From truth. From real love. From life itself. And though this willful act was not committed through wickedness, I was still far from the truth of my identity as a being lovingly Created in divine image; I had banished myself far from the tree of life and the reality of reality.

Forever east of Eden, we thieves of knowledge go –
and the innocent truth of who we really are, we can’t get to know.
There, but for the grace of God, would I, ever seeking, lie;
it’s grace that’s brought me home again… I cannot hide from I.

Christina Chase

 

In His Integrity

 

What’s left?

Proverbs 19:1

Better is the poor that walketh in his integrity, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool.

“Blessed are the poor…” yes, yes, I know, but I’d like to be rich – who wouldn’t? To live in a beautiful house surrounded by comfort and conveniences and beautiful things, to not have to worry about how I’m going to pay the bills that pile up in front of me, to have nice clothes and cars and delicious foods and to be able to travel wherever I would like or give financial assistance and material help to worthy people in need whenever I am moved to do so – who wouldn’t want to do that? When we think of all the things that money can buy, we think in our minds – and even in our hearts – “Blessed are the rich.”

The stories that we hear about lottery winners always fascinate me. They win huge sums of money by luck and buy all the things that they’ve always wanted to have – and they admit that they aren’t happier. Some spend and live richly while still wisely saving and investing enough money so that they will never have to worry about blowing it all – and they say they were happier before they became rich. Friends and family members become jealous and manipulative, trying to get some of that financial boon for themselves. People everywhere seek them out with tales of woe in hopes of getting charitable contributions. And some, in resentment and also in greed, will make the lottery winners feel guilty if not enough of the winnings are spent upon things that they, the non-winners, believe are important. And then there’s all the stuff – so many things to buy, experiences to purchase, and no extra time in which to enjoy them, no extra heart-space in which to appreciate them. And the stuff has to be taken care of – or the employees hired to take care of the stuff have to be taken care of – it’s a lot of work. Some lottery winners become depressed, some commit suicide. And even the rich who earn their money never seem to be able to get enough of it, are always wanting more. Rich celebrities live glamorous lives – lives of broken relationships, drug abuse, waywardness. But, still… Knowing all this, I would still like to be rich. I would be one of those few who can handle it, who can do wealthy well. Wouldn’t I?

I don’t know. How am I doing with not being wealthy? Am I doing middle-class well? Actually, my parents are middle-class – but they physically take care of me in their home because of my severe disability. I, financially speaking, am poor. In fact, it is rightly said that I am a beggar since I can do no labor, no work inside or outside of the home, to earn my bread. I depend completely upon others for all of my needs for survival. So, to go back to my question – am I doing that well? I think I could handle wealth – but that would only be true if I can handle poverty.

Jesus did not say “Blessed are the financially destitute.” He said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” I imagine that “poor in spirit” has been interpreted to mean different things over the centuries through different schools of thought. But, the point I want to make here is that poverty itself – the deprivation of material resources, of those basic needs of survival – is not blessedness. Merely being poor is not going to make one blessed, is not going to make one happy. There are many, many people who do poverty badly. Broken relationships, drug abuse, and suicide affect the poor as well as the rich. (Perhaps, though, we may think it affects the poor more because there are more poor people than rich.) The truth is that selfishness, greed, and unhappiness abound in humanity, no matter how much, or how little, money is ready at hand. If, however, one is “poor in spirit” – well, then, one belongs to the kingdom of heaven. What does that mean?

To be poor in spirit is not to have some kind of solidarity with the poor, that is, feeling deep compassion for them in their plight and helping them however one can by donating time and/or resources. The blessedness, the happiness, comes in truly being poor – in being a beggar. For, what do we have that is truly our own? You can be robbed of possessions. Your house can burn down and your insurance company go bankrupt. You can lose your savings through disastrous investments. You can lose your job or lose your breadwinning spouse and get evicted or have your house foreclosed upon, watch your car get repossessed and sell off your jewelry, your collectibles, your furniture, until you have nothing left. Even that body which you use to earn money and go to the store and enjoy leisurely comfort – even that can lose its functionality through injury or disease. That mind that you use to make sure you have all that you need and with which you appreciate what you have – even that can lose its abilities of cognition and/or memory. And then what is left? All that is left is what has always been, what is eternally: your belongingness to the kingdom of heaven.

Whether rich or poor, if we live our lives separated from our true identities, we will never be truly happy. We were all created by the Uncreated Creator. We all belong to this Infinite/Eternal One. Your true identity, my true identity, is as a living image and likeness of God. But, is that how we live? Or, do we rather live as our own inventions for our own purposes? I’m not talking about altruism here. I’m talking about knowing who you are. You could be blessed by living your life “looking out for number one” and understanding that that most important one is yourself – but do you know who you are? If you think that you are your physical pleasures and enjoyments, then you are always going to miss the mark of blessedness. If you think that you are your accomplishments and achievements, then you will never be fulfilled. If you think that you are the praising people around you, then you will never know true love, true happiness. If you think that you are the weight of your possessions, monuments, and money enjoyed now and left behind as legacy when you are dead, then you are most sadly missing out on the fullness of your one, unique life.

The Uncaused Cause has given you an immortal soul to animate your being – and has given you Godself to restore you to true likeness so that you may know blessedness and know it eternally. Who you truly are is who you are eternally. When passing things pass away, what is left? What has always been and always will be: a beggar. May our begging bowls be open and outstretched toward the Source of Being, the Infinitely Generous One Who truly gives us our fill.

Whether rich or poor, I can be a fool. Better to have no material pleasures to distract me from knowing who I am, then to go about my life as a fool in perversity. May we not choose to live our lives perversely, obstinately desiring to do what is unreasonable – and what is unreasonable is all that is is contrary to who we truly are.

Christina Chase

To Every Man That Is among You

Get over yourself.

Romans 12:3

For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

The season of Lent (40 observation days leading up to Easter) is not wholly about ashes and sackcloth, mea culpa, mea culpa, in sorrowful repentance of our sins.  Lent is a time to focus deeply on the examination of conscience, to look deeply at our thoughts, fears, desires, as well as our words and deeds – scrutinizing our attitudes and every decision, big and small, that we make each day.  This is a time that we should devote to the Socratic maxim, “Know thyself.”  And when we take a really good look at ourselves, our conclusions should not be that we are stupid, useless or worthless – just as our conclusions should not be that we are superior to all other human beings, utterly magnificent in everything that we say and do.  We are utterly magnificent in one regard: God created us in Divine image and likeness and loves us enough to take on our humanity and die for us.  For this sacred reason, no human being is worthless.

For this sacred reason – and for this sacred reason alone – every human being is valuable, is precious.  We may think that God loves us because we have professed belief in His Son, Our Lord, Jesus Christ and/or because we do good things that are helpful to others.  But, that’s not why God loves us.  God doesn’t love me because I smile despite being physically disabled and in a wheelchair.  God doesn’t love you because you praise His Holy Name from a pulpit or in a blog.  God doesn’t love them because they are poor and simple or them because they are successful and generous.  God loves each and every human being because God loves each and every human being.  God loves because that’s what God does, because that is exactly who God is.  We have done nothing, and can do nothing, to deserve or merit God’s love – because God has already done it for us.  We are lovable precisely because God independently chooses to bring us into being through His Own Creative Love, to sustain us through His Grace, and to heal, redeem, and sanctify us through His Only Begotten Son.

We should never think of ourselves as any more than this.  And we should never think of ourselves as any less than this.  Being able to grasp the reality of who we are is, well, beyond our grasp – but we come closest when we remember that God loves every human being.  You know that person who really hurt you and doesn’t even seem to realize how badly, even though you tried to explain it to her?  God loves that person intimately and infinitely.  You know that person who is always so arrogant and says such terribly cruel things about other people?  God loves that person intimately and infinitely.  God takes no joy in their sins – God takes no joy in our sins – but He eternally loves sinners.  That means that God eternally loves us, each and every human being no matter what we do, no matter how badly we screw up His Commandments or how well we keep them.  The question that God needs to have answered is the very question that we need to ask ourselves: will we allow God to love us?

Maybe you thought that I was going to write that the question is whether or not we will choose to love God.  I thought about it.  But, then I wordlessly remembered in my heart (or the wordless memory was pushed forward for me) that we love because God first loved us (1 John 4:19).  The only reason at all that I can love anyone or anything is because God loves me.  So, even if I want to love God, I must first let God love me.  What does that mean?  What does that mean…?  It means that I have to know who I am – who I truly, honestly, eternally am.

I am God’s beloved creation – as is every human being that has ever, and will ever, come into being.  Not me alone – all of us.  I do not need to think of myself any more highly than this to be completely and utterly fulfilled in joy and goodness, in the greatness of destiny.  And I do not need to think of myself any lower than this to please the One Who loved me into existence.  Yes, I have, independently according to freewill, chosen to be unloving at times, many times, through my fault, my fault, my most grievous fault – and by so doing I have sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and in what I have failed to do.  These moments of self-centered decision, these sins, are when I did not allow God to love me – I did not allow God to lead me in my choices (for, all-loving God will always lead us to the best place for us) and I did not allow God to love my fellow human beings, to love all of His Creation, through me.  Somehow, in some way, I said “No” to Divine Will, which is Divine Love, and that is why I am sorrowing here, that is why I am dissatisfied, that is why I am longing for forgiveness and mercy and newness of life.  Forgiveness and Mercy and Newness of Life is precisely what God wants to give to me through His Love.  Will I choose to receive?

I am only human, and, as such, I can only do so much.  But, God can do everything.  Will I let Him?  Because the thing is… God loves me enough never to force me.

Christina Chase

And It Came to Pass

Is nothing sacred

Genesis 39:7-9

  1. And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

  2. But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand;

  3. There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

Humans don’t like being told that there is something that we cannot have, that something is held back from us.  We want it all!  Or, at least, we want to be able to choose from everything what we want for ourselves.  Knowing this about us humans, imagine, then, being told that you cannot have children… and that you cannot have a place of your own… and that you cannot enter a building that has stairs.  Well, you would probably be very upset and overwhelmed.  Your anger and frustration would become heartbreak and sorrow, and maybe even despair.  I know because this is my life, my life of limitations.  My list of “can’ts” is very long.

Unable to walk, unable to take care of myself, unable to enter into a physically intimate relationship, unable to bear children – unable to even sit upright for very long each day – there are some people who, in my position, would think that life isn’t worth living.  I’ve never thought such a thing.  When diagnosed with my motorneuron disease at the age of 2, the doctors told my parents that I wouldn’t live to be a teenager – well, I’ve tripled that, and counting….  The point is that, never in all that time, have I wanted to end it all.  I understand that life is a precious gift, as frustrating as its earthly limits may be, it is terribly beautiful.  And I gratefully accept the gift of life with all of its limits because, though painful and tedious, and often marred by horror, life is good, divinely created for goodness sake.  So, I lovingly receive the gift of life.

In accepting the gift, we accept everything that the gift is – and everything that the gift is not.  Not everyone who thinks that he or she would like to be a doctor has the actual ability to be a doctor.  Not everyone who dreams of competing in the Olympics will actually have the skills to get there.  I mean, hey, not everyone who runs for president becomes president.  There are limitations in life.  For everybody.  Does that mean that life is not worth living?

A man is put in charge of an estate while his master is away.  This master trusts this man with everything and gives him free license over everything in the estate – everything except the master’s wife.  There is one limitation to this man’s power, one place where he is not allowed to go.  Should he go there?  I know that there are some people who will answer this question with, “Yes!  If the wife is willing, why not?”  It’s as though we have forgotten about the existence of honor.  It’s as though we consider trust, like rules, as something to be broken.  After all, we are supposed to look out for number one, right?  Whenever we are presented with a situation in life we’re supposed to ask the question, What’s in it for me?  But, I ask these people, Do you truly love anything?  Is nothing sacred to you besides your own self-centered desire?

Someone who loves you gives you the key to his mansion for your use while he is gone.  He only asks that you don’t open one box.  Do you open it?  Your curiosity is intense and it feels like it’s killing you.  But it’s not really killing you.  It’s just trying to kill you.  If you give into that feeling, then a part of you will die.  The part of you that is honorable, the part of you that is trustworthy, the part of you that is loving will die a little in that moment when you open the box because you couldn’t handle a simple limitation.  You couldn’t take being told, No.  You weren’t strong enough.  You were selfish and feeble.  And, yes, it is a big deal.  If you abandon your honor and trustworthiness in favor of a momentary satisfaction of the flesh (in this case, curiosity) then you have sold your kingdom for a bitty chunk of fools gold.  And your capacity to give and receive love will be filled up with dust.

It took me many years to be able to accept the fact that the men that I would desire to have would not have me.  By “accept the fact” I don’t mean acknowledge it intellectually.  I mean that I no longer tried to fill the void left by this unfulfilled desire with indulgence in an active fantasy life or consumption of fictional literature, TV shows and movies.  And I didn’t even attempt to fill the void with some other pursuit or relationship, not even a spiritual one.  (For a true relationship with God is not a substitute for anything – it’s the real thing itself.)  Rather, I accepted my loneliness, my longing and my sorrow as essential components of my life.  No need to distract myself away from what I can’t have or waste time with pretending.  I am who I am.  The things that I cannot change in my life cannot be changed because they are my life – they are my life just as much as all of the happy abilities and situations for which I am so grateful.  Nobody is perfect.  And we are all different in our own unique ways.  What is it that Tolstoy said in Anna Karenina?  “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Or, to quote the Facts of Life theme song: “You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have the facts of life.”

There is such a thing as wanting too much than is good for us.  Everybody can’t do everything.  And, if we truly love one another, then we accept each other’s limitations.  And, if I truly love God, then I also accept the limitations given to me with this great gift of life.  And so I pray,

“God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

the Courage to change the things that I can,

and the Wisdom to know the difference.”

If you decided to open that box in your loved one’s mansion, you may think that you were being brave.  But, you were only being stupid.  You lacked serenity.  I’m sure that Eve and Adam thought that they were being courageous and even wise when they ate that apple – that one fruit in all the great expanse of paradise that they were told not to eat.  But, look where it got them: naked and afraid.  So, let’s accept our real limitations as part of this real life that we have received as a terribly beautiful gift from the One who loves us most.  By accepting our limitations (and the limitations of others) we are freed to explore and enjoy all of the great qualities and abilities that are part of our lives.  We will not be blinded by distractions, denials, and make-believe substitutes as we pursue the true, the good, and the beautiful.  We will not strip ourselves of honor and trustworthiness – and therefore we will be more readily able to embrace the gift of life and prove ourselves worthy of the sacred trust that is given to us in the sacrament of baptism, deepening our capacity to give and receive love – which is the fullness of life.  By the grace of God, my limited life is a truly full life because I hold my whole life, and life itself, as sacred.

Christina Chase

Cut to the Heart

Who likes to hear that they are wrong?

Acts 7:52-54

52. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers:

53. Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it.

54. When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth.

I like being right.  I like knowing the answer to a trivia question when no one else around me does, I like being able to explain something to someone who is confused, and I like being recognized and praised for a job well done.  Who doesn’t?  Now, I don’t like flattery or pretty lies, and I don’t like being patronized with compliments or winning a competition or game because someone let me.  I like being right – not being told that I am right.  But, of course, there are many, many times when I am wrong.  Most times, I don’t know the answer to a trivia question and am unable to explain something to someone who is confused.  I don’t do that many things well and I know it – I know it and own it freely.  I am flawed, as all human beings are, very far from perfect.  And, in my own human particularity, I have many, many faults and have made many, many mistakes.  I know this and I don’t hate myself for it at all.  But, still, I really hate being wrong – I hate that feeling that I get when my answer is incorrect or my understanding of something is totally off.  It does feel very much like being cut to the heart for a split second.

With years of maturing and becoming more fully myself (a human in need of grace) I’ve learned to get over this infuriating blow of being wrong and the feeling stabs much, much less – though I am no less often wrong.  But, I have to continually guard myself against anger at the person who shows me to be mistaken; I have to perpetually remind myself that I should be grateful to those who show me where my faults lie, how I need to improve so that I can become a better person.  Because life isn’t just about knowing trivial knowledge, facts and figures, but about living in relationship with others.

To be my true self, to be who I am created to be, I must always seek right and good and true relationship with my fellow human beings, with Creation, and with our Creator.  If my relationships are not right (which also means not good, which also means not true) then I myself am not right.  I can be the most ignorant person on the planet when it comes to knowledge of the world – but, if I have love, then I am enlightened in the ways of truth and goodness, far wiser than the smartest person in the world who has no love.  The smartest person might think that he is loved by the world for his knowledge and, being honored and praised, think that he has love.  But, love is not something that is possessed.  Love is given and the moment that love is received, it is given again – to the one from whom it was received and/or to others, without end.  For true love can never be stagnant.  And the only reason, the only way, that we human beings can love at all is because we are first loved by our Creator, by God.  Receiving God’s love and then giving that love is the first and most essential right relationship.  If I can do this, if I can let God love me and then love God and God’s creatures in return (for if I am to truly receive God’s love then I must give it away) then I am relating to Creation, to the universe and every being, every creature, within it in the fullness of truth.  The truth is that we are all loved into existence.  And so, without loving, we will always be out of order, out of step, out of touch – we will always be wrong.

Next time somebody points out any kind of error that I have made, whether it be in the knowledge of information, or in the loving of God and God’s Creation (which includes myself and my fellow human beings) I will try very hard to remember not to kill the messenger.  I may not like the feeling of being wrong, but if I try to defend myself against the feeling with anger and deflection and excuses that are lies, then I will be even more deeply and painfully wrong.

I am a human in need of grace, as each and every one of us is, and if that grace comes through the form of a rightfully correcting teacher, preacher, or loved one, let us not be afraid.  It is Christ, who knows all of our hungers and shares all of our sufferings, who is helping us.  We may feel hurt by the human style or tone, but we must not let that harden us to the truth of the message.  What is true is true.  And the truth will set us free.  So, let us not gnash our teeth at each other, but, rather, learn how to love.

Christina Chase

Not Avenge

What do we want most from others for ourselves?  I think it’s mercy…

Leviticus 19:18

Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD.

I am human and I make mistakes.  A lot of them.  Not being God and, therefore, not being perfect, I am bound to have flaws, to get things wrong, and to do things that I wish I wouldn’t do.  Sometimes, as I am responding to my loved one, I will hear the words coming out of my mouth and wish them back just as they hit the air.  My words can be mean – petty, spiteful, downright cruel.  And in that moment, with my murderous speech hanging between the two of us, my heart drops down into the pit of my stomach and I hold my breath, begging silently for mercy.

It’s not often that the dagger slashes of my tongue are received with warmth and kindness – okay, not ever.  My loved one feels the pain, I hurt her, I hurt him, and the love they feel for me gets locked down inside of them and they harden with anger, putting up their defenses, whipping out weapons of their own.  Often, in the deadly speechlessness of their heavy, raging sigh, arrows shoot out their eyes and I feel myself cowering.  But I don’t cower.  I don’t apologize or try to console or make it up somehow.  I just want – need – to be forgiven.  More than anything I want to be spared the wrath of vengeance I have spurred.

Yet… What do I do when someone is mean to me?  What do I do when someone’s rash words cause me pain or, worse, when someone’s willful act of cruelty slices through me?  I’ll tell you what I do – I give it right back.  They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and I well believe it.  Though, to be fair and clear, I have inherited from my father a violence of temper unmatched by my mother’s in tamed and deep-seated force.  Please don’t misunderstand me – my family is not physically violent in any way.  I thank God there is no abuse of that kind in my home.  Even if, however, our angry responses don’t rise to the level of abuse, physical or verbal, we still find ways to seriously hurt each other.  The only thing that saves us from dysfunction and despair is the depth of our love – not only for each other, but also for ourselves.  We know how to be cruel, but we also know how to be merciful.

To “love thy neighbor as thyself” is to follow the golden rule by treating one’s fellow human beings the way that one wants to be treated oneself.  If we want to be forgiven by our loved ones when we say or do things to hurt them, then we should be ready to forgive them when they hurt us.  We react and respond too often out of anger, frustration and irritation.  We let our fears get the best of us and we irrationally take it out on the people who love us the most.  We are sorry when we do this, sometimes right away, sometimes several days later, and sometimes not until our loved ones show us the harm that we have done.  We bump against and batter each other, causing damage.  Efforts to minimize the friction and to repair the breaks and dents are good.  But, really, sometimes a person can be so hurt by another’s willful act of cruelty that only God can repair the damage.  My friend, who has suffered from every kind of abuse, once told me that there are some wounds that only God’s love can heal.

It’s God’s healing love that we truly want more than anything.  We want that divide between flawed humanity and perfect divinity to be bound up so that we may know wholeness.  To be who we are created to be, we cannot wallow in worldliness, we cannot inflict each other – and so inflict ourselves – with vengeance and destruction and violent dominance.  We must look past pain to the source of all joy.  Every tongue lashing is the scourging agony of a whipped back.  Every act of selfishness is the piercing of a crown of thorns.  Every cruel twist is a spike driven through the flesh.  God knows.

To stand one’s ground in the face of cruelty is not an act of unkindness.  To let the mean one know the pain that the meanness is causing is the right and kind thing to do.  But, what is one’s ground?  Is it vengeance?  Is it to give back as good as one gets?  Or is one’s ground love?  When my loved one meets my cruel words with silence and a look that tells me how wrong I was, I feel more penitence than I do when my unkindness is met with matching rage.  There’s something within me that will not allow me to learn or grow or improve under force and aggression.  That something is the divine image in which I am created.  That something is my soul.  I was created by God with the gift of free will.  I was created by God to reflect divinity into the world.  Not to reflect my own self, my offended pride, my insulted ego – but divinity, I am made to reflect God.  I am fearfully and wonderfully made, exquisitely beautiful in the eyes of the Infinite Eternal One and I will love myself as He loves me.  I will love my God-given ability to love, I will love my God-given capacity to forgive, I will love the gift of healing that God has given me.  And then, and only then, will I love, forgive, and heal.  I am not the Lord.  I shall not lord myself over anyone.  I shall receive, rather, the Lordship of God deep in my heart and through my whole being, becoming the person that the LORD created me to be.  Merciful.  Merciful is God, giving me perfect love when I do not deserve it.  And merciful am I created to be.

To forgive is to not forget that another person is capable of cruelty, but, rather, to remember that I am likewise capable.  To forgive is not to condone the hurtful behavior of another person, but, rather, to foster love and healing behavior within me – and so the world.  To forgive is to receive and share God.

Christina Chase

With My Whole Heart before the gods

There are gods and there is God.  There are words and there is the Word.  There is strength and there is strength.

Psalms 138:1-3

  1. I will praise thee with my whole heart: before the gods will I sing praise unto thee.

  2. I will worship toward thy holy temple, and praise thy name for thy lovingkindness and for thy truth: for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.

  3. In the day when I cried thou answeredst me, and strengthenedst me with strength in my soul.

 

In our material lives we live in the flesh, solid and “real”, we direct our gazes upon the bright and shiny and our ears upon the brash and the loud.  This is our survival instinct, we do it to survive.  And we look for the symmetrical and are drawn to this beauty, and listen for the soothing and are drawn to this comfort.  This, too, is instinct, we do it to thrive.  All instinct is geared toward pleasure, the material comforts of life, the pleasing sensations of flesh.  And when this goal is achieved and we thrive successfully, we remember our choices, like patterns, and follow those patterns repetitively expecting the same results.  Being all human, when we follow the same patterns, those markers, those things chosen stand out as things to be much sought after, much desired, as things worth sacrifice in order to have.  We set them up like gods.  They bring out division among us, jealousy from within us, yielding strife, discord, wars.  Appease the gods of materialism, the gods of greed, the gods of lust, prostate your dignity before the temples of sex and money and receive the demigods’ rewards.  We are willing to pay the price because we don’t know the cost.

What is human dignity?  Is it the absence of embarrassment?  And, therefore, is it the presence of pride and honor?  If one does not have material wealth, material beauty, material health, if one does not have independence, attraction, or any physical strength, is that person undignified?  What if someone steals prescriptions from her own father or child in order to feel less overwhelmed by anxiety and more focused on things that need to be done in order to survive?  Is she not simply appeasing the gods?  What if someone dresses alluringly and uses the talents of her body to gain protection or promotion and prestige?  Is she not merely another worshiper practicing the rites?  What if someone beats or maims or murders in order that his life may look bright and shiny and his whims of pleasure answered or so that he may gain protection or promotion and prestige?  Isn’t he just surviving and thriving, praising the desirable goals as he puts an end to whoever stands between him and the gods?  Should these people not be considered role models and heroes?

We often measure strength by the ability to move one’s body in desirable ways, to push things out of one’s way, or to forcibly get one’s way.  We look at the physical.  And seriously, what else are we supposed to look at?  With our eyes we can only see what can be seen with our eyes.  Objects of beauty, comfort and praise are visible.  Words of guidance, comfort and praise are audible with our ears – for what are we supposed to hear except for what can be heard with our ears?  And we embrace and hold onto the material, as well – for our muscles for grasping are physical.  So we have gods, and words, and strength… But we have not holiness.  Holiness – the quality of a true God, and therefore of true worship – is “other”.  It is not something that we see in ourselves with our eyes, nor hear in ourselves with our ears, nor hold close to ourselves with our bodies.  Holiness is other than.  Other than mere survival.  Other than animal instinct.  Other than material wealth.  Other than physical health that is physical strength or even aesthetic beauty.  Other than worldly prestige, honor and praise.  Holiness is other than independence.

What is “real” is what comes from ultimate reality.  Ultimate reality is about being, while what we call “real” is about forms.  We think that if we cannot see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, or touch it, then it isn’t real.  Even love, which causes many to wax poetic and is the subject of much romantic sentiment and ideals, even love is easily reduced to forms.  Love has pieces and parts and is reduced to the sum of its parts: instincts of attraction, protection, attachment caused by brain chemicals and hormones; hugs and kisses; formulaic words; gifts of tribute and sacrifices as proof – for love itself is just another little god, and our instinctive or conditioned worship is to seek the little god’s blessing, reward that is felt in the flesh and that dies with the flesh.  Though the truly successful, whether they worship love or wealth or control of others, are deemed successful if they are remembered after their bodies are buried in the dirt.  If some words can be written down about them, in poems or history books or on the sides of stone buildings, or, at the very least, in newspaper eulogies and on tombstones – if these words exist, then this is all that we can know of eternity.  Certainly, it is all that we can know in the flesh.

What of the word that is other…?  The wordless Word that is not uttered with a mouth or written in any form.  The Holy Word.  The Word that is ultimate reality, that is being itself, that is the source of all forms and yet not contained within any of them.  The Word that is irreducible and imperishable and, therefore, stronger than strength – actually eternal.  The Word that we can only see with our eyes shut, the Word that we can only hear in silence – that which cannot be seen, heard, tasted, smelled, or touched.  The Word that can only be communicated through a communion… The Word that can only be received without possession.  The wordless Word of the one, true living God who is Ultimate Reality, who is what always was, what is, and what always will be.

And… if this Word were to assume our human nature, were to take on our human flesh… well, then, and only then, through this divine initiation of communion, could we be able to experience Ultimate Reality in forms and come to know holiness, and truly worship with true dignity, true praise, and true strength for all the days of living – days beyond forms, the day eternal.

Christina Chase

Thou Shalt Love

Luke 10:27

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.

So many times – too many times – people think that Christianity is all about rules.  I’m a member of the Catholic Church (Roman Rite) so I hear the rules criticism all the time in the Media.  Gratefully, I understand that Christianity is not about rules.  Christianity is about love.  Now, I don’t in any way mean that the Commandments should be thrown out – quite the contrary.  The 10 Commandments given to Moses by God should be embraced – should be loved.  The essence of what God is asking us to do is to be who God created us to be: persons of love.  First and foremost we must embrace the truth that God is love.  And we, being created in the image and likeness of God, are images and likenesses of love.

That’s a whole lot of use of the word love in one paragraph… But… what is love?

Love is the gift of self.

Before the universe existed, God IS.  God is Being Itself and generously gives this beingness to what He creates, to what is not strictly God Godself – to what is other than God.  This generous giving of self to the other is true gift.  And God created “man in His own image; male and female He created them.”[i]  God is One, there is only one God, and, in our limited human understanding, we Christians believe in one God in three Divine Persons.  The Holy Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, has been described as Lover (loving), Beloved (loved), and Love (the communion between and within lover and beloved).  As human persons we are given, by God, not only the ability to love as God loves, giving and receiving, but also the very identity of love itself.  Pope John Paul II said, “a person is an entity of a sort to which the only proper and adequate way to relate is love.”[ii]

In the book of Genesis we hear God say, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  We are made for loving relationship.  Among all the creatures of God, it is only in our fellow human beings, our fellow Divine images, that we can experience true loving communion – and therefore be truly and wholly ourselves.  No other created being “offers man the basic conditions that make it possible to exist in a relation of reciprocal gift.”[iii] God is love and we are created to be love – and this means that a “person” should never be treated as a means, a way or a tool used to get something else.  If we want to know the truth, then we need to know that persons are gifts of love and are fulfilled only when giving and receiving love, in loving communion with God and with one another.

Sometimes we use the word love in a different kind of way – for things, namely.  I can say, “I love God, I love my parents, I love beauty, I love ice cream” and mean “love” a little differently each time.  When Christ sums up the 10 commandments and reiterates the divine commandment to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, he is not speaking of the kind of love in which “we draw to ourselves what is outside of us when by that very love we love things other than ourselves inasmuch as they are useful or delightful to us.”[iv]  Rather, we are being told to love with all our hearts, souls, strength, minds, in a divine way in which “we draw ourselves to what is outside.  For, to those whom we love in that love we are related to as ourselves, communicating ourselves to them in some way.”[v]  So, when I love my neighbor as myself, it is not with the kind of self-love in which I find myself exclusively delightful and seek to please myself – that would be a disordered kind of self-love.  Rather, when I love my neighbor as myself, it is with the kind of love – true love – that is of my very being, that is who I am, being created by Love.  Christ Jesus says, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”[vi] To truly love ourselves, we must remember that God first loved us.  Anytime we want to know who we are created to be, we should look to Jesus Christ, who is fully divine and fully human.  And when we look to Christ, we see true love – for he gives of himself completely – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – giving of himself to us.  That’s how we are to love.

When I was younger, I heard of Christian love as sacrificial love.  These days, oddly and sadly, “sacrificial” has taken on some negative connotations, as though we’ve lost the spirit of generosity.  I believe that’s because we’ve lost the sense of who we are – not our own, but God’s own.  This means that we also have taken for granted the gift of life.  And by doing this, we also take for granted the self-gift that is true love.  We love because God first loved us.  To freely and gratefully accept this gift is our first act of love – and we truly accept this gift by loving the Giver.  Not “delighting in” the pleasure of being alive, per se, but by realizing who we are: gifts of divine love.  We realize this by being gifts – by giving.  This true self-awareness is the true and good and right kind of self-love.  It is how we are able to love our neighbors as ourselves.  It is how we are able to love God with all our hearts, souls, strength, and minds.  The giving of ourselves as a gift to the other is also the very “acceptance of the other as a gift.  These two functions of the mutual exchange are deeply connected in the whole process of the “gift of self”: giving and accepting the gift interpenetrate in such a way that the very act of giving becomes acceptance, and acceptance transforms itself into giving.”[vii]

And we don’t give in order to be thanked.  We don’t give in order to get some thing in return, some pleasure or other kind of self-centered prize.  (Although God is good and He has made us so that we may be able to experience true and deep joy when giving and receiving true love.)  And we don’t give because the rules say so!  We don’t give as a kind of blind obedience in order to satisfy the letter of the law.  For we cannot be “blind” if we are loving with our whole heart, with our whole souls, with all of our strength, and with all of our minds.  We are, rather, loving with the entirety of ourselves – because we are giving ourselves entirely.  And the reason that we freely give is because we are free gifts.  The 10 commandments are examples of how we are to love.  It is only if we have no real love, if we merely use others instead of seeing ourselves and others as pure gifts, that we would seek to kill, or lie, or steal, or cheat, or covet, or betray.  The 10 commandments serve as guideposts to help us discern whether or not we are being who we were created to be.

It’s all about true love.


[i] Genesis 1:27

[ii] Wojtyla, Karol.  Love and Responsibility.  Translated by H. T. Willetts. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1981, p. 41

[iii] Wojtyla, Karol.  Man and Woman He Created Them: a Theology of the Body.  Translated by Michael Waldstein.  Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006, audience 14:1

[iv] Aquinas, Thomas.  Lectures on John, Chapter 15, Lecture 4, Marietta #2036 from Waldstein, p. 129.

[v] ibid.

[vi] John 15:12

[vii] Wojtyla, Karol.  Man and Woman He Created Them: a Theology of the Body.  Translated by Michael Waldstein.  Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2006, audience 17:4