Spirit and Fire

It is so easy to get caught up
in the dos and don’ts
of the morally correct life
that we forget the most important aspect
of our spiritual life is
growing in intimacy with God.

We have allowed Christianity
to be reduced to moralism,
and as a result we have become blind
to the creative presence of the Holy Spirit.

The Spirit anoints each of us
with a special gift,
which is revealed through
prayer and attentiveness.

Ancient Syrian Orthodox liturgies
describe the Eucharist as “spirit and fire.”
How do you describe the Eucharist?

Look closely at the Eucharistic Liturgy
and you will see Christ praying.

Journeying to Wholeness

The following was written during Holy Week of 2010 after filming in the massive Cité Soleil slum.

Christ loved every human being, without exception, without limits. Can we do otherwise? Love casts out the darkness of hate and division. From love flows understanding, compassion, mercy, forgiveness and peace. Love unites. Love is One.

Thomas Merton said, “The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another and all involved in one another.”

God is talking to us. God has always been talking to us. God will always be talking to us. God has been, is, and will be saying one word: Love.

And in that love rests a profound truth: We are one. We just imagine (as Thomas Merton pointed out) that we are not one, that division exists within the human family. In God there is unity. In the beginning, we were one. We are still one. We just need to recover our original unity. At the Last Supper, Jesus prayed that we all may be one. Communion needs to be a significant part of our spiritual syntax. To isolate ourselves from the world stifles our ability to sense the dignity of the divine image in human beings.

The road to salvation is, of course, a journey to wholeness. When people lack the basic necessities to sustain life – clean water, adequate nutrition, essential health care, electricity and sanitation – it is hard to become whole. Survival is struggle enough. For the people in these slums, their every waking moment is directed toward meeting their basic physical needs.

To see a woman squatting in the rotting rubbish to urinate or defecate is an unthinkable indignity. In love, through love and with love we must unite and eradicate such indignity wherever it is found. We are called to incarnate God’s love. It really is that simple. If we have the will to do it, we will figure out how to do it.

Ordinary Moments

The spiritual life does not lift us above the human condition – its misery, problems, confrontations, pain, and difficulties. Spiritual life plunges us deeply into our humanity. It would be nice to sit in church all day, hands clasped in prayer, drinking the ecstasy of the Lord. But that is unrealistic; we must enter into the marketplace, walk the alleys of commerce. We must help each other out of the ditches into which we fall. In the streets of life we encounter God. Everything human is divine.

Strive to live the present moment as it truly is: a gift from God.

Every living thing should cause us to praise the Creator of all living things. Every event of our lives is open to God; prayer reveals how. The whole world, including every aspect of humanity, is sacred and a gateway to God. Wherever you are, whatever you are doing, God is there. Strive to feel God’s presence and warmth in the ordinary moments of the day. The commonplace is also a divine place.

The sacred is not here or there but everywhere. The challenge is to become aware of it. God is rarely where I think God should be. God is on a crowded tap-tap in Port-au-Prince. God is in the quiet whispers of the trees and in the noisy rattlings of a New York City subway train. Everything speaks of God. Thank God.

I’m reminded of a something I wrote in The Sun and Moon Over Assisi: St. Francis of Assisi found God not in pomp and glory, but in infirmity and foolishness. He found God in what we throw away. Francis found the God of endless light hiding in the shadows, on the margin of society.

Doing Three Things

Scripture makes it abundantly clear that God asks three things of us: To walk humbly with God, to love kindness, and to do justice. To love kindness is more than just being nice. It means to enter into relationships of solidarity with the entire human community by being patient with and attentive to all whom we encounter. To do justice is more than being fair. It means we cannot tolerate injustice, and must intervene when the powerful abuse the powerless; it requires us to change systems of institutionalized injustice that imprison people in chains of poverty and hunger. We need to be willing to lay down our own lives for the sake of those whose lives have been stolen from them.

Institutionalized injustice can be found everywhere, in every nation. Cité Soleil in Port-au-Prince is no different from Skid Row in Los Angeles. Both are disgraceful abominations in the eyes of God, and God demands we dismantle those prisons and set the captives free. Sadly, we avert our eyes and pretend Cité Soleil and Skid Row are not there. But they are there, and people are suffering. May God have mercy on them…and on us.

False Idols

Poverty of spirit is a manger of gentle receptivity
which allows the Divine to be born within us.
To be wholly present to God,
with all of our heart, mind and soul,
we must be poor in spirit.

Poverty of spirit is far more than material poverty.
While material poverty may help
to facilitate poverty of spirit,
it is nonetheless important to realize
that a person without possessions
can still be possessed
by a craving for things.

It is the craving that makes us restless,
distracting our hearts and minds
from being present to God alone.
Poverty of spirit frees us from being
divided by false idols and uncurbed passions.

The Plague of Consumerism

Relinquishing the possessions of the ego
we all amass inside ourselves
is the most demanding form of poverty.

Simplicity immunizes you from the plague of consumerism.

Through simplicity we learn that self-denial
paradoxically leads to true self-fulfillment.
Simplicity allows us to hold the interests
of others above our self-interest.
Real simplicity is true freedom.

The Messiness of Life

We live in a world that is filled with pain. The planet is covered with people who are overwhelmed by suffering. Wars, monstrous acts of terrorism, famines, economic injustice, chronic poverty, drug addiction, diseases and natural disasters are killing people every day.  We are impotent when it comes to making the pain go away. Life is hard and messy and painful. Hurt abounds and hope is in short supply. Jesus did not clean up every mess or relieve all the pain He encountered. Jesus simply told us to take the pain and the mess of our lives and place them before God. Even then, the answers to the riddles of our lives are not always perceivable or even obtainable. Jesus teaches us to live with the questions, to live with the pain. Peace, He suggests, is found in faith. God is bigger than we are; and we, in our weakness, need to lean on the strong arm of God. Cures and answers may not come to light, but faith, hope and love changes who we are and how we deal with the messiness and pain of life.

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