Cease-Fire

I learned recently about CeaseFire, a faith-based intervention organization that’s mission is to stop gang violence specifically and racially-motivated strife generally. I learned they have what are referred to as “interrupters” who mediate potentially volatile circumstances

with the objective of peace and reconciliation. One interrupters name is Tim, a former gang member who found Jesus in a prison cell. Tim now stands for peace and he “punks” peace on the streets. I am inspired by his rough humility and transparency. He shared a story of a time when he himself had just successfully interrupted a confrontation between two gang members and on his way home from that meeting he was confronted by another gang member who purposefully cut him off in traffic. They ended up out of their cars and trash talking to each other. Tim said this, “I suddenly realized I was riding the same wave of pride that causes the violence I’m trying to interrupt!” He went on to say the toughest mediation is the mediation inside you. That’s what got me! I’ve never been in a gang, never faced significant injustice, heck, I’ve never even been in a fight that came to blows with my fists.

To mitigate peace, You said, “don’t fight back.” Well, actually you said more than that:

“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire….“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’  But I say to you, Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also; and if any one would sue you and take your coat, let him have your cloak as well; and if any one forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you…”

Matthew 5: 21-22; 38-42

It is highly unlikely that I will find myself myself on the streets of an inner city known for racial strife. I doubt I’ll ever be stuck in a war-torn country. But, I am painfully certain that I ride the wave of pride that can inflict pain on another. Your Word in so many places reminds me that when pride or fear rules in my heart in any relationship, the potential for violence is there, though it is often disguised in words and attitudes and motivations.

That’s the rub about You, Jesus; you look right past my entire pretense, all my righteous appearance as if You didn’t care about that at all. Dog-gone-it, LORD, don’t you appreciate how much effort I put into my Self-righteousness? When I stand before you in the final judgment and for that matter, when I stand before you in every moment, you aren’t comparing me to a gang member, or a Stalin, or a Hussein, or even my grumpy neighbor, No, you compare me to you! Nuts! That’s a tall measure.

William Barclay says it is much easier to go about declaring that there should be no such thing as violence, than to live a life in which we personally never allow any such thing as bitterness to invade our relationships with those we live every day. That kind of violence is everywhere, no boundary lines exist on that one and that kind of gang territory can tear apart a relationship faster than any verbal fight.

Back to being an Interrupter. How can I interrupt the cycle of anger or pride or fear or resentment? Slowing down, wearing the shoes of the other, seeing with your eyes and not my own. That kind of action is easier to do when the other is not so important to me. Much, much harder to do with the ones who are closest or when it’s something I’m passionate about.

Some of the most painful, cutting, violent words are words between husbands and wives, siblings, and family members. Occasionally I’m the one who must an interrupter in someone’s relational conflict. To bring peace with a word seems impossible; to mediate resentment that has built over years require much more than a few words. The word can only come from your Spirit’s gift to me–wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude and knowledge, piety and reverence. That manner of interruption accomplishes the impossible.

And then there’s times when I feel what Tim said, “the toughest mediation is the mediation inside you.” I ask your holy Spirit when I get caught up in my own resentments and the temptations to retaliate or to even the playing field, “What needs to be examined in my spirit; Why am I stuck in these emotions?” Eventually, your Spirit faithfully brings me back to this thought: “In the grand scheme of things is what I consider my territory, my rights, and my way important enough to forfeit your forgiveness?” That stops me in my tracks, sometimes it takes me awhile to come to a full stop, but I eventually give over.

God of Peace, lead me with your staff away from the temptation of comeuppance toward the people around me.

God of Peace, release me from the briar of collected grievances that twist through my thoughts and choke out patience and gentleness.

God of Peace, anoint the wounds I allow to fester with your healing oil.

God of Peace, lead me to the still waters and cleanse me of the violence my spirit wields in my thoughts and words.

Hope Springs Eternal

Mom had an expression I heard often growing up, “Hope springs eternal.” In my teen years, she would remind my melancholishness that not all is lost in circumstances that seemed hopeless. She would remind me of that during my long bouts of depression that accompanied the passage from a child to an adult.

Many a night when she would come into my room to pray with me, she’d sense my blues that increased when the sun went down. They were always accompanied by fear because I was still learning that the LORD is a faithful Father and ever-present to my needs. Needs seem so monumental when you are a melancholy teenager, but now I look back and chuckle. I’ve lived a lot of years since then and I’ve been through the school of hard knocks–I’ve learned what real struggle and doubt feel like.

Later in life, she would remind me to hope when life threatened to crowd the joy out of my heart or when life as a mother challenged my abilities. She would remind me of that when I began to face some of the real-life challenges that everyone faces from time to time. She would often tag on the line from the psalms, “Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Mom was a strong-willed optimist and that eventually rubbed off on me. I’m grateful for her presence in my life and especially that she modeled before me the importance of choosing hope in the LORD.

The time came though when those were my words to her as she slowly lost her battle to live. She lived before me what I think Ralph Waldo Emerson was hoping to communicate when he penned, “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” It was the hope in the LORD that filled mom with endurance and courage in the face of chronic disease. Her hope was her strength and it was eternal in the fullest sense of the word.

Mom’s words whispered to me today as I cleaned up winter from our garden today; as I brushed some decaying leaves away from the soil I saw the evidence of my Creator’s everlasting care. There beneath the refuse of the past season’s death, there were the tender green shoots of our Crimean Snowdrops lifting their delicate white caps upward toward the early Spring sun–“Hello again beautiful world, I’m here again to glorify the Creator!” I saw mom at that moment, her head was raised in hope fulfilled: eternal worship of our LORD!

LORD, there are times now when I feel short on hope. Help me to see beyond the present moment that threatens to steal my joy. I look at the whole scheme of things, to the very edge of my soul, and my heart wants to respond with a “YES” to mom’s words woven into the fabric of my life. It is there in that crossover moment that I see I have a choice to make: either I will dig down deep into the wellspring of life as my eyes gaze heavenward into Hope Eternal, or I will stand ankle deep in the despair, or resentment or pride or just plain sloth that has stopped me in the tracks of doubt.

LORD, I choose hope!

Prayer: The Upward Surge of the Heart

There are some people I just avoid; you know the types–self-centered and critical, distracted. I walk away from time spent with them feeling depleted in spirit and sucked dry of joy, do you have people in your life like that? People that seem more interested in talking to you instead of listening to you. Their postures reveal they’re in a hurry. They keep their eye on the phone they hold in their hand while you sit there hoping for a conversation with just them, and not with their phone. I can’t tell you how much I resent that black-screened rectangle idol sometimes, yet I know you are probably holding one in your hand right now to listen to this podcast. I don’t resent them for how they are used, I resent them for the distraction they are.

Sometimes I wonder what the LORD feels when I am distracted in prayer with him overly concerned about the voices in my head. I wonder if he looks at me and feels the absence of my spirit? I wonder if he resents the idol I hold in my hand? I wonder how he feels when I rush in and out of prayer with all tongue and no ear. I know where the problem lies, it’s in me and the idea that I hold on to that I am praying to Him. What kind of relationship is that? Sometimes I wonder if he says to himself, “Shut your mouth, Lois….can you listen for a minute?….will you turn off the noise between me and you?

It seems to me that when you and I allow the distractions of ourselves to dominate our idea of the relationship we have with God, we ARE all surface and no depth; consumed by what I have to say instead of what the LORD is whispering to me. Absent of any sense that He is Emmanuel, God with me. Our LORD is a perfect gentleman, he waits for us to weary of our own redundant preoccupations, he waits for us to fix our gaze on him and to simply stop.

Father Jacque Philippe’s book, Time for God, has been an essential guide for me in the prayerful life. “What matters in prayer is not what we do but what God does in us during those moments, the essential act in prayer is, at bottom, to place oneself in God’s presence and to remain there… This presence, which is that of the living God, is active, vivifying. It heals and sanctifies us. We cannot sit before a fire without getting warm.”

I’ve come to believe that the remedy for praying to Him is learning to understand that prayer is with Him. Doesn’t that sound genuine and inviting? How can we get there? When I unite my prayer and my desires with his heart I change my posture; placing myself with him in his presence. When I enter into his rest this way I believe he hears me saying, “I’m glad to sit with you, to kneel before you, to enjoy your company!”

The question I ask myself, you may ask yourself: Why do I delay the graces God has for me by filling the air with my words? A monologue that’s all about me, myself, and I: my self-promoting desires, my self-centered attitudes, my selfish wants….do you notice the theme here? Is it familiar to you? I remember something Dallas Willard wrote about the effect of praying with God. There is a pervasive and spiritually strengthening effect on all aspects of our own sense of self when we relax into conversation with God. I kindle to that image!

I think of the words of St. Teresa of Avila, “Prayer is an upward surge of the heart.” Now, there’s the posture I need to take that will free me from the navel-gazing I’m prone to do. As I begin to understand that prayer is the response of my whole self, born from my reverence for and trust in my heavenly Father, then I am moving closer to intimacy with my LORD. The knowing and being known through conversation, where my eyes are opened wide to the genuine life of communion with the LORD.

Friend, do you sense that our heavenly Father is patiently waiting for your presence to him? Do you weary of struggling against the thoughts that distract and dismay you? I sure do!

Oh, LORD, when we are all tongue and no ear, silence us.

When we wallow in regrets pick us up out of the mud we’ve made of our life. Hold us in your arms, speak to us your cleansing words of life.

Teach us how to listen. We desire quietness to rule our spirits. Would you enlarge our hearts with longing for you? Would you unite all our desire with yours?

You speak words of life, you give wisdom to those who listen, and you grant insight to those who will look into your eyes with humble gratitude. Teach us to pray with you!

In the name of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, it is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

Amen.

Ascending

“Lifting up his eyes to heaven..” Sacred Scripture often makes a point of this physical posture you took in Your interaction with your followers; they, like me, probably were transfixed on the world around them when their eyes should have been fixed on You. They faced the distractions of the culture–the constant yammering that arrests man’s imagination; it’s no different now. The culture’s navel-gazing fear, pride and anger is the reality of this earthly kingdom from time and memorial.

When I take the time to consider the movement of Your eyes, it stops me in my pell-mell stumbling through my everyday life. It keeps me from being caught up in the current events in the world that do nothing to console my spirit or feed my soul. I sense You patiently waiting for me to take my gaze off fears, pride and anger, just as You drew Your disciples out of their fears and their prideful posturing. You beckon me to listen to your Word and contemplate the eternal. You allow me to eavesdrop on the mystery of praying without ceasing by the epiphany of you Trinity shown at Your baptism, and then you turn to me and say, “You are my beloved child.”  You direct me in my prayer to pray without ceasing for Your Kingdom to come in me as it is in heaven. The scrim of heaven and this world is immediately lifted by Your words, “Holy Father…..I speak this in the world so that they may share my joy completely…I do not ask that you take them out of the world but that you keep them…..” I am as slow as your disciples to learn that as I lean into praying without ceasing I am somehow learning to “lift my eyes to heaven” where you display my chief end, where joy is made complete!

Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion.” (St. John Paul II) I know this to be true, but sometimes I don’t want to be in communion with “my trinity;” my neighbors, my family and the anonymous “they” that I coexist with in this earthly kingdom. It would be easier to keep my face in a cloud rather than live out the truth that my transformation often comes with the difficult relationships that tax my capacity to love my neighbor.

“Become what you behold,” you tell me. If this is true, then I do become one with you in a heaven of love, grace and mercy as I fix my eyes on You from my corner of the world. Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “The meaning of Christ’s Ascension expresses our belief that in Christ the humanity that we all share has entered into the inner life of God in a new and hitherto unheard of way. It means that man has found an everlasting place in God. [It would be a mistake to interpret the Ascension as] the temporary absence of Christ from the world. [Rather] we go to heaven to the extent that we go to Jesus Christ and enter into him. Heaven is a person: Jesus himself is what we call ‘heaven.’”

LORD, the fix of my gaze so often is on me, myself and I. Forgive me. Train me to lift my eyes to heaven, to you the True God.

LORD, may the posture I take always be as your beloved daughter: still as a child at rest in her Father’s arms. Eyes fixed on your beautiful face.

LORD, the Psalms proclaim, “All my being bless your Holy Name.” May every breath of my being fixate on your Word to me so that my every thought, action and deed blesses You, my Heaven.

Amen