Sunday, August 30, 2015

God As Creator, Man as Steward

The weather these past few days invites us to do things outdoors. Yesterday morning, I headed out on an early morning bike ride to Boundary Creek Park along the Rancocas Creek, intending to take some pictures. Because of the early start, I arrived there in time to capture a few shots of the dew still caressing the flowers and leaves. Looking at these dew drops was a reminder that there is a cycle in nature that reflects God’s hand.

Creation continues to unfold around us; each tree begins as a seed; each river begins with smaller streams and water flowing gently from crevices in mountain rocks. Each senior citizen began as a child, who began as two cells united through the miracle of God’s grace and loving action in our lives.

The leaves of a wildflower become surfaces where dew collects, and from there it may nourish that flower, or trickle down to moisten the earth. The process of evaporation cools the earth, filters the water vapor, and allows it to cycle through again as clouds, carrying once again the moisture to the higher mountains so it can flow through the earth and streams to provide, quite simply, life itself; none of us could live without water for more than a few days without dehydration and illness taking over our bodies.

I can look at this process as a scientist: I can put my undergraduate degree in biology to work to gain some understanding about the chemical reactions that allow our complex bodies to process nutrition, to metabolize vitamins, to draw in oxygen with each breath to be carried in iron-rich red blood cells to our internal organs, to our brain, our muscles and to our extremities along roughly 60,000 miles of arteries, veins and capillaries.

Or I can look at this process as a child of God: His creation continues to unfold in me and in my life. It is God’s loving hand which guides the course of nature so that dew drops form, evaporation occurs, seeds become plants which become food for each person. Each child grows, first within their mother’s own body, receiving oxygen through the amazing transfer of life, until one day they take their first breath within their small, precious, still-moist lungs. From that mother they have the chance to be nourished first in the womb, and later with milk that boosts their immune system, providing for their needs both physically and through an emotional bond.

This is God’s creation, written about in Genesis, and written about most recently by Pope Francis in his encyclical, Laudato Si. As Saint Paul reminds us, “None of us lives for oneself, and no one dies for oneself. For if we live, we live for the Lord, and if we die, we die for the Lord; so then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7-8). Pope Francis, in his encyclical, draws from St. Paul when he quotes Colossians 1:16, “All things have been created through Him and for Him.”

This week, on September 1st, Francis has invited the world to gather for a day of prayer for the Care of Creation. Planet Earth is our only ride through the Milky Way during our pilgrimage of human life. Each of us in our own vocation and calling – as children, parents, spouses, scientists, ministers, business, government and civic leaders – are responsible as stewards of the many gifts we receive from God. There is much to be done as stewards and partners in the unfolding of Creation; we may think our own part is small, but each small part makes up the whole. For many, uncertain as to “what can I do,” it may be as simple as to begin with praying along with all the world for all of God’s creation, each child, each mother, each father and grandparent; we can pray in thanksgiving for each dew drop and the lives they sustain. We can begin each day in thanksgiving to God for what He has provided, and what He will provide each day through His goodness: “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts, which we are about to receive, from Thy bounty, through Christ, Our Lord. Amen.”

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Sounds of Silence

Friday evening I had the chance to celebrate the Eucharist for a group of women at Francis House of Prayer who were on a silent retreat - seven days during which the only times they spoke were during sessions on centering prayer, lectio divina, and in offering the heartfelt responses during our shared liturgy.

For most in our busy world, filled with a cacophony of sounds almost without ceasing, such a week would be difficult; for some, it might be a form of torture. Our typical days are filled with sounds: phones; alarms; text message alerts. We drive and are alert for horns, sirens, the radio, phone calls (hands-free, I hope!) and more; some, like me, are also listening to noises that don't belong: the annoying squeek of a wiper blade, or the loose item rolling around in the trunk.

So what would we experience in silence? A very Ignatian technique for lectio divina is to place ourselves into a passage of scripture, and to imagine ourselves as a participant using all five senses. Imagine for a moment the Wedding Feast of Cana: we hear music; we smell fresh bread and fruits and meat roasting; we see the bride and groom, the joyful parents, the excited sisters of the bride; we feel the warmth of the day, perhaps the luxurious silk of a wedding garment; we taste the remarkable wine served at the end, wondering how it had been missed earlier.

Such imagination invites us to a new experience of the scriptures. A silent retreat is usually not done alone, but the experience of silence for an extended span of days brings a sharp focus to the world around us.

In the short time I shared at the retreat house with these women, I wandered outside to the chapel where we would celebrate Mass, and immersed myself in silence.

This is what I "heard:"

I heard the trickle of the fountain; I heard the scratching claws of a squirrel climbing a tree. I heard the flutter of a bird's wings as it landed near me, saw me, and immediately took flight again.

In that solitude, I also heard the Spirit urging me to pray for those on retreat ... whom I had not yet even met; in the silence I was reminded to pray for those priests who had recently lost parents, including our Bishop, Father Dan and Father John.

In the silence, the thought came to me to pray for people whose struggle in life could never imagine taking a week away to pray and immerse themselves in sacred solitude. That thought led me to pray for the families of these women on retreat, who gave them up, so to speak, for this week of prayer. In my short homily, I invited them to consider how their experience of God and the scriptures through this week may have changed them; they would go home different women than they arrived, I prayed.

In short, we have the chance to "hear" an awful lot in the midst of silence. I've mentioned before in this blog how Karl Rahner spoke often of meeting God in the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives. If we offer Him the time, we also meet God in the silence, whether that is for a week, for an hour, or for ten minutes.

Try it; He is waiting to whisper to each one of us in the silence.