Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

All That the Father Giveth Me

Sometimes, people come into our lives who we really wish wouldn’t.

John 6:37-38

All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.

For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.

I, being a fairly normal person all things considered, have often enjoyed romantic novels and movies and have been caught up in the idea of “one true love”. Knights in shining armor… starcrossed lovers… passionate embraces… soulmates… happily ever after… these ideas are part of the mainstream culture in which I live – and, actually, have been part of the human imagination for as long as we have had sculpted and written records of human imagination. The romantic notion of “one true love” can really become part of, not only our collective consciousness, but also the practical living of life. Young people looking for someone to love believe that there is one person out there just for them and either fate or chance will bring them together. Or not.

And, if the rush of feelings associated with falling in love begins to fade away after a marriage is already taken place, and married life begins to feel ho-hum or, worse, irritating, perhaps it’s because, the fairytale believing couple will think, they made a mistake. They thought that they were soulmates, but, since they’re unhappy with each other now, they must not be soulmates, so… that “one true love” is still out there somewhere. And they go looking for a relationship like the ones they see in movies and books.

Not everyone approaches dating and marriage this way, of course. Many, many couples make a real commitment to each other, choosing to appreciate, respect, and uphold each other for the rest of their lives. They work on communication, forgiveness, forbearance, patience, gratitude, consideration, demonstrations of affection, common ground, and so on and find the benefit of a long life together. Still other couples believe neither in fairytale true love nor in loving commitment and go about meeting and connecting with people on a day by day or year-by-year basis, whatever works for them at the time. It seems to me that passion does have its season in love and that, while seasons come and go, true friendship and companionship is what brings lasting joy to life. When two people can cooperate together, overcoming difficulties, forgiving flaws and errors, to make a life together of their choosing, side-by-side – that’s a very beautiful thing. And I believe that God blesses all those people who stick to it and remember to give love and mercy.

But, that’s not what I want to say in this reflection based on the given piece of Scripture. I want to talk about those ways in which people think that they will come across their “one true love”, whether by chance or fate.

A young, single woman’s car will break down late at night and only one shop will be opened nearby as the young, single male owner had to do inventory on Thursday because his father was sick on Wednesday… And so it begins.

A man will be walking quickly along a busy street and suddenly feel his phone fall out of his pocket and onto the sidewalk and, as he stops and turns to pick it up, a woman, who is walking to work earlier than usual because a sudden change of appointment means that she will have to leave work later, gets bumped by a man going in the opposite direction and crashes into the man bending over to retrieve his phone…. And so it begins.

Life-of-Pix-free-stock-photos-new-york-people-nabeel people on the street

These are the kinds of ways that we imagine people meeting their soulmates, an odd combination of circumstances and events that lead them both to their shared destiny. And these tales are usually romantic in nature. And, if not romantic, then perhaps violent, one of those fatal, foreboding, starcrossed kind of meetings that end up with two young punks growing up to be gangsters that kill each other. You know what I mean.

But, we rarely think about the shared destiny of two people helping each other. Yes, we’ve heard the stories of people needing organ transplants suddenly meeting someone who happens to be a willing match. But, we don’t go looking for these things to happen to us unless we are the ones in need of help, unless we are the ones searching, begging, and praying for a miracle. But, what if…

What if that very rude store clerk that waited on you today and made you feel stupid was actually being sent to you on purpose? Not to make you feel stupid, but to test you. And not to test you to see whether or not you would pass or fail, but to test you in the sense of making you stronger, improving some weakness in your character, helping you to become a better, more patient and compassionate person. What if the difficulties that you are having in your marriage is part of greater plan to help you grow closer to your spouse by forcing you to let go of old baggage, resentment, jealousy, and allowing you to trust, relax, to be more open and free in your acceptance of the other? What if the illness you contracted or the injury your loved one received was destined to be part of your life so that you could more fully live your life, learning and experiencing things that you never would’ve learned or experienced otherwise? What if every deformed person that you have ever walked by, trying hard not to stare or grimace, was put in your path for a reason? What if every over-demanding boss, lazy employee, noisy neighbor, two-faced friend, annoying coworker, and obnoxious family member was sent to you by God?

Oh, we’ll get caught up in those romantic stories of two lovers, ripe with fateful meetings and twists, sacrificing all in order to be together forever. But, the new clergyman at church who seems aloof and comes annoyingly across as stubborn and willful? No, that’s a mistake, he shouldn’t be here. That homeless man that always sits on the sidewalk by the grocery store, dirty, out of it, begging for cash so that he can get drunk or high? No, that’s a breakdown in society, someone should do something about getting him away from such a public place – but, not you, right?

You cannot even think that you are being called to learn what you can from the new clergyman instead of looking for cutting ways to teach him a few lessons on what happens when he treats people that way. If you are called to do anything, it’s to criticize him behind his back and leave the church if he stays there any longer, right? And you cannot even think of yourself as the one being called to speak to that homeless man a word of sympathy, a word of helpfulness, or to give him a sandwich, a blanket, a cup of hot coffee, or kind directions to a place where he can get a hot shower and a change of clothes and maybe a bed for the night. No, not you. Do you even think about how that could be you on the sidewalk? Do you even take a moment to be grateful, a moment to be kind? Or do you just shake your head and walk away?

Maybe if you showed genuine kindness and interest in the new clergyman and his life, you could start to break down some of his walls and learn that he had a troubled childhood with a distant father or a shyness that he found very difficult to overcome, only finding solace in routines that are familiar to him. And, maybe, in the sharing of your own difficulties with him, you will start to see your own difficulties in a new light and, in seeking to comfort him, you end up being comforted by him and you both become friends, deciding that you should work together, overcoming your own challenges, to reach out to other congregants who might be facing the same issues?… And so it begins.

Maybe if you take some time for conversation with the homeless man, you will find out that he is a veteran and that he served with your dad and when you tell your dad about it, he comes with you to meet him and they recognize each other and, not only does the homeless man start to want to improve his life with the help of your dad, but your dad is able to face some of the demons from his time in military service and becomes a lighter and happier man himself?… And so it begins.

Okay, yes, these sound like movies, too. And I, like Hollywood, am making them seem easier than they would in real life. But, are these possibilities even part of our collective consciousness? Are they even part of our own ideas of the possible? Do we look for these moments in our lives?

I think this passage from John for my Bible Burst today is rather interesting. If we just look at the words themselves without taking into context anything else that Jesus has said (which, by the way, is something that you should never ever do if you want to know who Jesus is) we might find a message for ourselves. “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me.” Jesus receives the people that God The Father has sent to him, not because he, Jesus, has chosen them himself, but because they have come to him by the Father’s will. And Jesus doesn’t cast them out of his life (even if he might like to).

If we truly understand that God is all-knowing and all powerful, then maybe we can start believing that God has sent everyone to us in our lives on purpose – not to punish us or reward us, but to help us become the people that He has created us to be. We don’t choose our families, and we may not like our coworkers, neighbors, or the people in our community, but they have been chosen for us by God. They are part of our destiny. Let’s not cast them out. Let us embrace them and see where God is leading us… For God desires our ultimate happiness and knows how to get us there.

© 2016 Christina Chase


photo credit: http://www.lifeofpix.com/

Hereby Know We

1 John 4:5-6

They are of the world: therefore speak they of the world, and the world heareth them.

We are of God: he that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth not us. Hereby know we the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error.

 

St. Thomas Aquinas once wrote, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” Being that he was a magnificently intelligent and wise man, I’m not going to disagree with him. But… I never would have liked this when I was one without faith. I have a friend, too, who balks at this reasoning. It seems like just another convenient copout – “Oh, you’re not a person of faith? Well, then, you wouldn’t understand. When you become a believer, then you will understand.” Isn’t that convenient.

It sounds too much like faith and reason are opposed to one another.

And they most certainly are not. And Saint Thomas Aquinas knew that, even proved that brilliantly and often.

The thing is…

Reason and intelligible explanations can take you far, very far. Right up to the very edge of the cliff. But, no further. You can intelligently follow St. Thomas Aquinas’ five proofs of God’s existence, maybe you can even rationally calculate and weigh with Pascal and his bet – but none of this is faith. You cannot think your way into faith in a personal God. You cannot rationalize your life into a life of a believer. Reason is utterly important – a great gift to human beings from God, even of God. But, faith is also required to be fully human, to know the fullness of truth.

And, so, reason takes you to the edge of that cliff of what you can know with reasonable certainty and you stand there. You stand upon the solid ground of what you know and…. And then, what? You could just stand there, acknowledging the precipice, reminding yourself over and over again that there is no way of knowing for certain if there is anything on the other side of the gulf, clouded and fogged as it is from your eyes. You can build a life on that solid ground… but, if your mind is fully alive, then you will wonder…

And you will never know unless you leap.

The leap of faith is not like leaping to a conclusion with no facts to back you up. It is from the firm foundation of reason that you must make the leap. You can’t just go along with what other people are saying, blindly following without much thought – that’s not a leap of faith. You cannot just make-believe, pretending that a fairytale is real and enjoy the playacting – that’s not a leap of faith, either. You must never disregard reality, you must deeply consider and, with the whole strength of your being, you must commit. The leap of faith is part surrender to the beautiful embrace of Mystery and part blood oath, bodily pledge and dedication to God.

And so, to believe in Jesus Christ is to entrust your whole self to him, to love him with all of your mind, your heart, your soul, and your strength. In the Divine Mercy prayer I pray, “… take over my life and live your life through me.”

Faith is a sacred vow, the most sacred. When you make that vow, when you enter into that vow, you necessarily change. You are still a human being with a rational mind, the God-given gift of reason, but you are also a person of faith. It’s as if the world were two dimensional before, understandable and navigable, but flat. And you never knew that it was flat until you saw that it was round. Leaping from the cliff into the unknown, you saw through the clouds and fog. Now you see that the world is three-dimensional, still understandable and navigable, but needing more than one kind of tool and map to make it through.

Before I was a believer, I thought that the world was beautiful. I looked upon it as a person looks upon a great work of art in a museum. The rich and vibrant landscape lie painted before me within its frame and I loved it all. And then…

After I took the leap of faith, not all at once, but slowly, gradually, the looking changed. It was as if someone had opened a shuttered window in the room and light poured in upon the landscape. Then, the walls around it began to crumble away and the ceiling above, too. As I grew in faith, the world upon which I looked became brighter and bigger, more rich and vibrant, until I realized that the beautiful landscape upon which I had been gazing before was but only one section of reality. Through the eyes of faith, I saw clearly, the whole of the world, big and beautiful around me, until even the frame fell away. Surely this is what the composer meant when he sang, “I once was blind, but now I see.”

Reality is still real and my rational mind is still reasonable. But, now, I understand reality in the full light of day, so to speak. When people who are not believers speak about truth, they speak about scientifically provable facts. As a believer, I also speak about scientifically provable facts as truth. But, I do not limit reality to the frame of my human limitations, and, so, I do not limit truth to this frame, either. Limitations explode and no explanations as to how are necessary. And, likewise, no explanation to one who is still limited is possible.

So…

I think that’s what St. Thomas Aquinas meant.

And when we read passages in the Bible that talk about “in the world but not of the world” or “those who have ears should hear” or “He was in the world but the world did not know Him” we should also think about this meaning. As Christians, it’s not us versus them. Just as it isn’t reason versus faith or science versus religion. Like Saint Pope John Paul II said, “Faith and Reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises in contemplation of truth.”[1] As human beings, we need both reason and faith, we live most fully through both science and religion. To have one without the other is to come up short. I believe that it is wrong for a Christian to think that faith can be had without reason. Hey, after all, there is much reason to have faith. And it is also wrong to think that reason is enough without faith. We are full-blown creatures, multidimensional, and we all must strive to be fully human and fully alive if we want the fullness of truth and the fullness of life.

How would you describe the way a flower looks to someone who has never had the sense of sight? The difficulty should not only show you the limitations of someone who is blind – but also your own limitations, even as someone who can see. How necessary is an explanation of the color pink to someone who intimately knows and appreciates the fragrance of a rose? How possible is an explanation of the color pink to someone who is visually impaired, by someone who has never been? Please read no labeling of “blind” to nonbelievers or believers. It is simply that there are words and understandings for certain aspects of reality and other words (sometimes wordless) and understandings for other aspects of reality. But, all is real.

Forgive, oh Christians, those who do not believe in your Lord, my Lord, the Lord of all. And do not pull your hair out trying to explain Lordship to them – simply share the love, strength, generosity, and joy of Lordship with them.

© 2016 Christina Chase


[1] FIDES ET RATIO (Faith and Reason)

I Will Have Mercy

What do you deserve?

Matthew 9:13

But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

I read a lot of rants on Facebook and hear many more on television. Many people are angry. And it seems that spouting off insults on posts, interviews, or in debates, makes them feel better, somehow. They can complain about the smallest, most trivial things, or about much bigger and more serious problems – and, yet, the tone seems to remain the same. Some people are genuinely discontent, and rightfully so, and they raise their voices seeking for justice. But, too often, those quests for justice just sound like so many people being mad and fuming about it.

It looks like all the world, and yes, that includes me, indulges in angry pleasures.

Why? Why do we make demands with steel in our eyes and fire in our words? Why are we so bothered with other people’s small inconsiderations that we feel compelled to type it out in a message to all of our friends and acquaintances? Why are we drawn to people who use tough and mean language with their fingers pointing, people who tell us over and over again that we deserve more, that we deserve better? Why do we continually find fault in others when we are discontent, blaming other people, organizations, or groups when we aren’t getting what we want?

Do we even know what we want?

“I shouldn’t have to pay this much for cable television, it’s ridiculous – who’s profiting from that?!”

“Why do I have to stand in line forever to upgrade my cell phone – don’t these people know that I have a life?!”

“How come that person on government assistance has a new gaming system and I don’t? That’s not fair!”

“How come that rich person gets to vacation in exotic places and I don’t? That’s not fair!”

“How come people who enter this country illegally are getting free healthcare while I have to pay these huge co-pays for mine?! They’re ruining this country!”

“Why do people get upset when we call cops/CEOs/Democrats/Republicans pigs – don’t they know that none of them give a damn about real people?! They’re selfish monsters!”

“Why do people get offended when we call Muslim people terrorists – weren’t the people who attacked us and killed thousands of Americans Muslim, doing it in the name of their religion?! They all want to kill us!”

Okay, some of those lines that I’ve made into quotes are controversial, I know. But… Don’t we just seem to love controversy? Doesn’t it seem like people enjoy stirring the pot of discord and conflict? Protesters and politicians looking to get some air time and notoriety, being as loud and brash as they possibly can be in order to tear others down – as long as they can stand tall on the rubble with their microphones, megaphones, and fingers pointing down?

And, yes, that’s my rant for the day. I am guilty. And I’m not proud.

What are we supposed to do with all of this? Obviously, there is injustice in the world, in our own country, and, yes, in our own homes. But, the injustice has nothing to do with material things. If what we want is more and better material things, then we will always be discontent. We will always want more and never be satisfied. We will be breeding discord and anger, not only in our streets and world, but also in our own hearts. We will be trying to satisfy a real and deep hunger with fantasy food and poison.

Possessions can never make you happy. Nothing can make you happy. You either choose to be open to joy and to receive it into your heart – or you spend your life looking for where you are lacking in stuff, where you are being shortchanged.

Jesus knew the deepest and truest joy. He did not doubt Infinite Love. His hope was strong in the beatific vision. But, yes, it’s true – even he was angry. Even he mourned. Even he was tempted to run from suffering. Did he not whip the money changers out of the Temple? Did he not sorrow that he could not gather all of God’s people into his embrace? Did he not sharply chastise Peter for speaking aloud the thought that he, Jesus, should be above suffering? Being fully human, this is what we would expect. But, this is not how Jesus chose to live his life every day. These were moments of justified anger, very real sadness, and very real fear. As human beings, we also experience these moments in our own lives. But, to truly imitate Christ, we will not let the anger, sorrow, or fear overwhelm us, overriding our faith, hope, and love.

For Jesus is mercy. The heart of Christ, the heart of Christianity, is loving forgiveness. That’s what makes following Christ such a difficult and daily challenge for us. If we could simply recite our way into joy, into goodness and righteousness, then we would only have to tick off our prayers and memorize pages of Scripture. But, what does that have to do with mercy? If we cannot forgive our housemate for being sloppy, or our family member for being forgetful, or our friend for being irritable, then how can we call ourselves Christians?

If we cannot mercifully consider all of the complicated aspects of another person’s life, especially a person who has done us a gravely serious wrong, then why do we think that we deserve mercy?

Perhaps, the problem is that we don’t want mercy. Not really. We want justice. We demand justice. We believe that, if everything was taken into account, then the columns would add up in our favor and we would be proven to be superior and deserving of better things. We believe that the facts in evidence show that we are the righteous ones, we are the ones living lives deserving of every pleasure and privilege. We don’t believe that we need mercy at all. We think that we don’t need to be forgiven – so why on earth should we forgive anyone else?

I can’t argue out an explanation of why. This is not a matter for systematic debate, the scoring of points, or even the cold application of reason. This is a matter of honest, gutwrenching truth. I am a sinner. You are a sinner. We are sinners. I don’t deserve anything that I have. The possessions that I own and the good people in my life who treat me well do not exist because of justice. If everyone lived only according to merit, then I know that I would be alone. I would be naked and afraid. I would hunger and thirst and never be satisfied.

I don’t want to live in a just world. I want to live in a merciful world. Because that is the world in which I live – you are not you because you fashioned yourself and goodness doesn’t exist because you deserve it. You are here because God wants you to be here. And every single person on the planet is here because God wants each and every person to be here. Whether you like it or not.

The point of the world isn’t to “like” some things and angrily comment about others, trying to be as loud as you can be. The point of the world is to be. Because God wants it to be. Tragically, human beings have never been satisfied with that. Human beings have always wanted something other than what they have. We separate ourselves from what God wants – that’s what sin is – and we turn the world into a place where there is, not only injustice, but also a horrible resistance to mercy. Most people who don’t let Christ into their lives do so because of this resistance to mercy. We don’t want to admit, to acknowledge, that we are sinners in need of forgiveness – and that that need of forgiveness is a need to forgive others as well as ourselves. Mercy is the reason that we exist, and mercy is the only true way to real joy. Everything else is a lot of noise… “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”[1]

© 2015 Christina Chase

 


 

[1] William Shakespeare: Macbeth,  Act 5, Scene 5

Good Will Doing

Ephesians 6:7-8

With good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men:

Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free.

They say (whoever they are) that the good you do for another will be given back to you. Do this good thing now and you will be rewarded later in kind. And all of this rather fits in with the idea of Karma and what goes around comes around, whether good or bad. But… I don’t know that I see the proof of this in real life – do you? Too often, it seems that people get away with doing bad things – and even profit from those less than savory deeds. And too many kind, generous people, who do for others selflessly, get taken advantage of and walked all over. Where’s the cosmic justice?

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these Bible Bursts. Please forgive me if I’m a bit rusty. It has never been my habit to pick up the Bible and turn to a random page when something is troubling me or just as daily instruction. I only began doing so when I conceived this writing challenge, which was originally designed to get me back to the habit of writing. You see, I was mainly interested in my craft and not really my soul. However, over the years, I have not only returned to regular and productive writing, but I have also gained deeper appreciation for the words within the Bible – as well as the Bible itself. I have begun to see the Bible, truly, as Sacred Scripture, the inspired word of God. And that’s good thing.

I am a true believing and practicing Christian, a member of the Catholic Church, which I believe to be the Mystical Body of Christ. But, I still have my little hangups. There are still some parts of the religion (that is, what is practiced) and the Faith (meaning what is believed) with which I have real difficulty. And, every now and then, I’m still washed over by the ghosts of my non-Christian past, those doubts and disbeliefs that I had once embraced. What does any of this have to do with today’s randomly selected piece of Scripture? The verses speak of divine justice, of God rewarding those who do good. Soon after reading them, my thoughts turned to doubt, didn’t they? I asked: Where’s the cosmic justice?

And I know that one answer to that question is found in the belief of Heaven and Hell. Those who do good here on earth will be rewarded, after death, in the eternity of Heaven, while those who do evil here on earth will be rewarded, after death, in the eternity of Hell. Simple. And, yet… requiring SUCH a leap of faith. We have no indisputable proof that any of this is true. And we cannot even offer the promises written in the Bible as proof – because believing that the promises written in the Bible are true requires faith and, therefore, cannot be indisputably proven as fact. I might venture as far as to say that there is enough historical documentation outside of the Bible, reporting what eyewitnesses said and did, to declare that Jesus of Nazareth’s not being dead after his crucifixion is probable. But, his Ascension into Heaven? Continuing with our “probable” case, the fact that his followers and those who knew him may never have seen him again doesn’t prove that he “went to Heaven”. He could have disappeared into the mist and kept walking, going to live far away, in obscurity, while tales of his life and death got naturally exaggerated until they were eventually written down, thus exaggerated and embellished – in the Bible.

These are the doubts. These are the doubts that got the better of me in the past and still plague me now, from time to time. These are the doubts that many, many, many people have. We are not alone. There is, however, another thing that “they” say (whoever they are) and that is this: paralysis by analysis.

One can certainly overanalyze anything. And everything. Our God-given gift of reason can bring us to many wonderful and amazing lands of discovery in this beautiful existence that is reality. But, reason can only bring us so far. We can analyze the stories told in the Bible, as well as the historical evidence for figures in the Bible and their earliest followers, and we can even, reasonably, arrive at conclusions of possibility, or even probability. But, our God-given gift of reason is only designed to bring us so far – and no further. We are not meant to prove the Messianic power and Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth. We are not meant to prove that he is God Incarnate. God doesn’t want us to prove it.

God wants us to live it.

And in order to live the truth of Jesus, we need to love it – and in order to love it, we need to leap to it.

There is something about a human being taking a leap of faith that is more beautiful, powerful, awesome, and amazing than any other act from any other creature EVER. I even dare to say that a human being taking a leap of faith is something that even God Godself cannot do. God knows everything that exists. God knows each and every one of us intimately and infinitely. But, for us to come into a personal relationship with God, we must leap with faith.

Okay. I seem to be seriously digressing. I’m obviously more than a bit rusty! My basic point is that I don’t like to say out loud, or even to think, that acts of human kindness will be rewarded after death. Something inside of me fights against the idea that God is conditioning us to “good” behavior with the promise of yummy treats at the end of the day. Surely Heaven must be so much more – even so much other – than that. And I also resist the idea that God is conditioning our behavior here on earth with a stick and a carrot. Like, “Treat your cranky old neighbor kindly and generously and then you will see – a stranger will give you a check for 10,000 dollars!” Or, “Tisk, tisk, you better not knock your little brother to the ground or else you’ll find a hornet in your shirt and get stung!” Yeah, I don’t think so. I could be wrong – I could most definitely be wrong, God knows! – but I don’t think that God meets out cosmic justice with an elaborate system of punishments and rewards.

I do think, however, and I do believe, that goodness is its own reward. And I don’t mean that feeling of satisfaction for having done something “good”. I mean what these Scripture passages from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians are hinting at. Doing “good” and being “good” isn’t about what we do or say to our fellow human beings. When God calls for acts of charity, God is calling for acts of love, and, as Saint Paul tells us in another letter to another group of people, we can perform many marvelous acts – but if we have not love, real love, then we are nothing. Doing good and being good is about being in intimate union with Goodness Itself. “Goodness Itself” is God. And yes, that can mean following God’s commandments and thereby doing God’s will – but it means so much more. Because we could follow all of the commandments – but if we do not do so with real love, then we’re missing the mark. It’s all about loving.

As the verse for today says, it’s not about the good service that we do to our fellow Men, it’s about the good service that we do for God, for the sake of God – and we can do nothing for the sake of God unless we are doing it because we love God. Not because we want to please God so that we will be rewarded and not punished. No. Because we really love God, we joyfully do the things of God, paying no mind to the consequences. This joyfully doing is real joy, true joy. Just pleasing other human beings, or doing things for the sake of avoiding punishment or getting reward, isn’t going to cut it. The most beautiful thing that we can do as human beings is to take a leap of faith – and the most joyful thing that we can do as human beings is to love God, to whom we leap freely and unselfishly.

unpublished work © 2015 Christina Chase

He That Loveth

Whose side are you on?

1 John 3:10

In this the children of God are manifest, and the children of the devil: whosoever doeth not righteousness is not of God, neither he that loveth not his brother.

In sports, some people act as though God is on their side. People actually pray for their team to be victorious and some athletes will even say that God helped them gain a victory. Is this really how God works? Does God really care about the winners and losers of a game?

The answer is, yes, God really does care about the winners and losers of a game – God cares about them as human beings, no matter whether they are given a trophy or not. It is God’s perfect intention and will to perfectly love each and every one of us. And God is rooting for us, pulling for us to willingly receive His love and choose Him – for God knows that doing this is our greatest joy, our greatest victory. God is cheering each of us on to respect, integrity, and excellence of mind, body, heart, and soul. So, you see, God has already chosen every player on the field to be a winner – God has already chosen you to wear the crown of champions. The question is… do you choose God?

Whose Side Am I on?

I ask myself this question. I profess that I am created by God in the image and likeness of God – I believe that I am of God… but my created state is not enough. How do I live? With my God-given spiritual gifts of intellect, imagination, and freewill, what do I choose? To what thoughts, words, and actions do I give myself? For, if I do not use my God-given gifts for godly things, then I cannot truly say that I live as a person of God, that I am on God’s side. To be on God’s side requires a commitment to the eternal things of God – faith, hope, and, most of all, love. If, rather, I am committed to the fleeting things of myself – pride, greed, and all things self-centered – then I am not on God’s side. I have, instead, chosen the absence of God: what we call Hell and the Devil. And I’m on the side of delusion, destruction, despair, and death.

When I come to a fork in the road, any dilemma or choice that I have to make, what do I use as my guide? Do I use those feelings of the moment that are rooted only in my ego and hedonism? Am I led by pleasure or by real love? Do I choose what feels good instead of what is good? The two are not necessarily mutually exclusive. There is deep joy that is the perpetual result of choosing what is good, and this joy can provide some pleasure and good feelings – but not always. Sometimes, the good thing is the most difficult thing. Am I willing to struggle and even to suffer in order to choose God and do what God wills me to do? Am I willing to fight the good fight without heeding the wounds, to work hard for righteousness without minding the labor? Will I love my brother even though my brother doesn’t love me?

Knowing Whose Side We’re on

We can rightly say that God is on our side – every human being can rightly say that. God is on the side of every person because God is willing the true and eternal good of every person. God is rooting for the real and everlasting joy of every man, woman, and child. But, not all of us can rightly say that we are on God’s side, for we cannot all truly say that we are living as people of God. Whenever we choose payback instead of forgiveness – we are not of God. Whenever we choose pleasure indulgence instead of stewardship and respect – we are not of God. Whenever we choose power over others instead of selfless service to others – we are not of God. We are not on the side of God if we seek fame and fortune at the cost of loving and caring for the least of our brothers and sisters. For we cannot hate a fellow human being and love God. We must choose.

We must choose. The way of hate, the way of disdain and apathy, is the way of life that ends in death – eternal death that is the agony of losing eternal life. The way of love, the way of mercy and compassionate generosity, is the way of life that never ends – eternal life that is the bliss of being crowned by eternal love. We must choose every day in every way. And it isn’t easy – but there is an abiding ease in choosing God that is as simple and natural as a beating heart. The world has plenty of complications to complicate that ease. But, being on God’s side is exactly where we are meant to be, exactly how we are created to be – for we are created by love in order to love. If we are truly choosing love, then we are on God’s side.

So, the next time that you or I are really angry at someone, let us choose wisely. The path that we step out on today may end up leading us far away from where we intended to go. There is no guarantee that we will get back on the right path – but know that God is pulling for us, cheering us back to the side of divine and eternal love… to eternal victory.

© 2015 Christina Chase

And Ye Would Not

It ain’t always pretty.

Matthew 23:37

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!

Love doesn’t always look like a fluffy little bunny or a bouquet of pretty flowers. Sometimes, love comes as a heavy burden, or an injection of medicine, or a strong arm that knocks you to the ground just in time. Jesus is like this.

We often like to think of the Resurrection only. We have images of Jesus looking all bright and shiny and handsome, smiling, with his arms open wide in welcome – setting aside images of Jesus stripped, beaten, bloodied, his arms forced apart and nailed to a wooden beam. We’ll think of Jesus during his earthly ministry with little children gathered at his feet and blind people being gently touched by his soft hand – and not think of the whip in the temple or the rough carpenter’s hands praying in agony.

I have even seen Crosses that bear upon them an image of the Resurrected Christ, fully clothed. What’s with that???risen-christ-on-cross

That moment in the Bible when Jesus beckons the little children to come to him – this is not a purely happy moment filled with pleasant niceties. It comes with a rebuke. The disciples want to shoo away the youngsters, who are generally seen as a distracting nuisance – but Jesus says, “No.” He goes against the grain, disrupts the general practice of the time, upsets social protocol, and gathers the children to him. In the divine eyes of Jesus, every human being is a child – His own beloved child, whom He wants to hold in His arms and love unconditionally. In our modern time, to the people who, perhaps, make children over-precious and nearly adore them, this makes perfect sense. Of course Jesus wants innocent and lovely children near him. But… Jesus also wants the outcast and reviled near him. Jesus lovingly wills to die next to two thieves being executed for their crimes. Do we think of that? This is true love of humanity.

Why, then, did Jesus drive the money changers out of the temple with a scourge that he made out of cords? (John 2:15) Why did he not have mercy and forgiveness upon them and just give them a big old hug? Jesus did have mercy and forgiveness upon them – he did what he did for love of them. He spoke to them in a language that they could understand about the wickedness of their acts and the dark path down which they were leading themselves and the people. This is a moment in the Bible when we can see Jesus as most obviously human – one of us. He is upset by the callous, unloving intentions and methods of the money changers, who are not interested in helping the people to be reconciled with God. Their interest is in making a personal financial profit from people’s desire for God, using the religious laws of the time to their self-centered advantage. This cannot stand. I’m thinking that Jesus is so filled with justified anger that he cannot humanly utter a pretty speech to sway them. This is the time for Jesus to use his muscles, muscles formed hard and strong from laboring in manual construction, and shake open the eyes of the drowsing, slap the petty and cruel upside the head, and zealously protect and cleanse the Sacred Place of his Father with a show of human force. I suppose that he could have turned all of the money changers into gnutes or rained fire and brimstone upon their heads – but, instead, he did what any one of us human beings could do… and, perhaps, should do: disrupt the status quo.

Nobody likes to be told that what he or she is doing is wrong, even when it is wrong. Nobody enjoys changing his or her comfortable life for a promised, but unseen, improvement. We are naturally drawn to the comfortable, the soft, the easy, the shiny, the entertaining and sensually pleasing – yet, we are supernaturally drawn to the truth, to true love, to God. There is nothing more sublime, perfectly beautiful, and fully pleasing than God and true relationship with God – but that relationship requires a disruption of physical comfort, self-centered desires, and mundane niceties… in order to truly love.

The Savior of the World cannot simply be an extraordinarily good man who sets a lasting example of kindness, patience, and a generous sharing of resources. The Savior of the World cannot merely come to make the world a prettier place – but to set it free from such a cheap desire. How else can God get through to us and break us from our habit of, and addiction to, self-centered pleasure? How else can God work with human hands, through all times and in all places, to lovingly hold the suffering and lead the wandering home? How else can God show us the fullness of what we human beings can be, except to become one of us and to give Himself so completely and utterly to us in unconditional love that he lets us torture and beat him, ridicule and reject him, and kill him like a common thief? The dead body of God-Incarnate hanging on a cross speaks more profoundly than any Sacred Book that could ever be written, more intimately than any lightning bolt Revelation from the sky, and more fully and truly than any radiant smile of the depths of divine love and how utterly God wants to gather us to Him.ChristCrucified-father-Barron

We stone prophets. That’s what we do. We “kill the messenger”. That’s what we do. God knows. And God loves us so much that He is willing to let us do that to Him. God loves us so much that He sends His Only Begotten Son to us – to do with what we will. Christ loves us so much that he is willing for us not to like him. He is willing for us to be annoyed with him, to mock him, to try to drive him over the edge of a cliff. He is willing for us to kill him, for he will do what he has come to do – he will love us. He will show us the way to deepest and truest joy, he will become the way. Jesus gives us the promise of things yet unseen and does not couch it in niceties. He gives his very body and blood for us to gnaw upon – and if we refuse to understand it, then he is willing to let us walk away. He will not force us to love him in return, he will not force us into his arms. But, he will weep for us, weeping tears of blood, and he will be vulnerable for us, pierced through in the excruciating pain of crucifixion. And the first sign of the veracity of his promise will be an empty tomb.

© 2015 Christina Chase

Cometh Out Of the Mouth

It’s not about giving up candy, it’s about freedom…

Matthew 15:11

Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.

I can’t help but note the timing of the random receiving of this particular quote. It’s the first full week of Lent, a time when many Christians are “giving up” little pleasures. We do this in remembrance of Jesus’s 40 days in the desert, a time that he spent fasting and praying – and overcoming temptations. In ancient days, Christians were much more serious and involved in fasting for the observance of Lent. Now, we only fast at the beginning, on Ash Wednesday, and at the end, on Good Friday. But, in between, we try to make small sacrifices in solidarity with Christ and in repentance for our sins. Life is full of temptations, and we don’t always overcome them as he did, but, rather, succumb to them. Therefore, Lent is a penitential season, a time to reflect upon our own weaknesses and the sins that we have committed, sorrowfully penitent for going against God’s will.

So, many people give up candy or desserts, or sweets in general. Some people don’t drink coffee or soda during Lent, or maybe they give up going to restaurants or out to see movies. The modern thing to do seems to be giving up Facebook for the 40 day observance. I’ve given up daydreaming. That may sound funny, but, often when I need to lie down to rest, I don’t watch television. Rather, I make up my own stories in my own head. Sometimes the stories bleed out into the times when I am not needing to rest and there are days when my “head is in a cloud.” This is rather a difficult thing to give up because it is so easy to do. I don’t need to open a cupboard or refrigerator or click an icon on my computer screen in order to indulge. I merely think. And I’m always thinking.

Do I make this sacrifice for Lent because daydreaming is bad for me? No, although, I suppose it would depend on the daydream. Many things that I have written, however, things that are of substance and worth, have begun in daydreams, or what I like to call “imaginings”. I imagine a character with a certain background and personality, put that character into a particular situation and then imagine being that person. I imagine interactions with other people, many conversations, often including ethical or moral dilemmas, motivations for why people do the things that they do, moments that can speak deeply to different individuals at different times, and so on. I explore “mob mentality”, being a religious person in a secular workplace, the challenges of modern preachers, and the challenges of maintaining integrity in politics. Other people can do these things through reading, watching TV programs, movies, or listening to radio talk shows, but, when I do, I notice that I am mostly absorbing other people’s opinions. I will take facts and real life scenarios from various sources, but then I choose a deeply empathetic approach to understanding life – by actually imagining walking in someone else’s shoes.

You may be wondering, if it isn’t bad for me, then why am I giving it up? Well, if my imaginings were truly bad for me, then I shouldn’t be doing them any time of the year. It would be silly to give them up for 40 days in solidarity with Christ and then take up my bad habits and sins again at Easter. If people are overeating sweet things in their ordinary lives, suffering from gluttony, it may be a good idea for them to give up sweets for Lent – but also beyond Lent. The idea of Lenten sacrifice is to give up some little non-sinful pleasure for the 40 day observance. Some little thing that you enjoy but that is not bad for you, in and of itself. One of the best reasons for doing this is to open your eyes to how you live your everyday, ordinary life. We often become dependent upon little pleasures – thinking that we can’t start our day without a cup of coffee or that our days are not complete without checking Facebook. What would life be without desserts? Would the world stopped turning? Of course not. Lenten sacrifices can help us see that we are stronger and less dependent on “things” then we may have thought.

When I started giving up imaginings for 40 days, I discovered that I could think on those big things without the fictional characters and still enjoy myself, and still have ample inspiration for writing. In fact, I found that I prayed more often for other people in various situations instead of imagining being like them to see what it was like. In a way, this gave me greater sympathy and solidarity with my fellow human beings. You see, the imaginings are not bad in and of themselves. They will not defile me. But, perhaps the time that I am spending on them keeps me from doing something else, something else that could also be good for me, maybe even better for me.

If someone is very grumpy during this season of Lent and reasons that he or she is grumpy because he or she has given up coffee or chocolate, then that someone has missed the point. You cannot give up soda or social media for Lent and then let yourself be an unkind and self-centered person. For, you will be forgetting that third practice which is part of the Lenten observance: alms giving. Alms giving and prayer are connected to fasting. In other words, being generous and mindful of God’s intimate presence is easier when you let go of little things, mere things, that may have a hold on you in your everyday life. Know that you are free. Know that you are not enslaved to particular activities or certain foods. Do not let yourself become a blind slave to habit.

Be quiet and still and open yourself up in prayer to the transcendent reality of God. Remember that you are but dust and to dust you shall return – but also remember that you are likewise of spirit and to spirit you shall return. For, the dust from which you have been formed has become animated by the breath of God. Though you may be living your life in service only to the dust and ashes of life, those things that are self-centered and fleeting, you can return to the fullness of life in service to the eternal things of the One who has loved you into being. Christ lived and died and rose from the dead just so that you can do that. So, take the time to truly connect to this truth. Pray.

Be mindful of the things that you take into yourself every day, through your eyes, ears, and mouth. Remember that your body is sacred – although it is mortal, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, of God, and this means that your skin, your stomach, your words, your mind, are sacred to God. Refrain from indulging in the fleeting things of the earth as if they are what is most important in your life, as if the loss of them would be the end of your happiness, your joy. You are made for more than merely these things – leave room for the things of eternity, for courage, for honesty, for freedom from slavery, for love. The poor in spirit are blessed because they have nothing to lose. Know that if everything else falls away, you are still beloved in time and space and for all eternity. So, be in solidarity with Christ who emptied himself for love of God and love of you. Fast – sacrifice.

Be generous with the gifts and talents that you have been given. Remember that the person next to you – whether at home, at work, or on the street – is your other self. You are both, we are all, images of God, with the inherent dignity and sanctity of human beings, God’s beloved creations. And we suffer. Christ suffered. We are bound together by an eternal bond of sympathy that is the depth and fullness of being human – don’t neglect or ignore that. Do not be so caught up in your own suffering that you forget about the suffering of another. The smallest acts of kindness yield true love, love that heals and lifts up. You know that you don’t need all the things that you have in your life – so share some of your wealth with those who struggle with just the basic needs of survival. And be gentle, be patient. Try to be understanding. Be kind. Give alms.

It is not the food that you put in your mouth that keeps you from the fullness of life. But the words that come out of your mouth can – the words of meanness, the words of pettiness, the words of unlove. Do not let what you say and do become a barrier between you and your fellow human beings – and between you and your Maker. Learn the freedom of Christ and the joy of Christ this Lenten season. Free yourself from selfishness – free yourself for love.

If we try to do this, then we will be able to truly celebrate newness of life at the end of our 40 days.

© 2015 Christina Chase