Monday, March 9, 2015

It's not about you...

To be honest I am not typically the biggest fan of prayer through scripture but when I was reflecting on today’s reading and gospel in order to write this blog I found that it was very relevant to my life and my own Lenten journey right now.

            I won’t quote the whole Gospel passage for you but long story short Jesus is preaching in the synagogue using examples of the prophets (like the story of Elisha and Naaman from the first reading) and ends with the quote, “No prophet is accepted in his own native place”. Then basically everyone gets pissed and they try to kill Jesus…end Gospel. So what does this mean? I think that we too often get angry like the people in the synagogue when we do not feel like the chosen ones; like when the prophets aren’t healing those form their own land; like when Jesus favors a Gentile as much as a Jew.  Lent is a very personal and reflective time but something to keep in mind is that it is not just about you. I think we need to remember that God is in all people, that God chooses all people, and that God loves all people. You should not think of yourself as better than another because you are doing more for your Lenten journey, sacrificing more, fasting more, going to mass more. It is easy to get caught up in oneself and the “more” that you are doing and easy to forget that God is showing himself through others around you. Too easily we judge and criticize others who are just as loved and chosen by God, and too easily we fail to recognize the voice of God through these others. As we reach our almost-halfway point in Lent, I would encourage you to not only reflect on your own journey thus far but to reflect on how others have impacted your journey and how you can start to see God through all people at all times.   

Friday, February 27, 2015

“Rabbi, it is good that we are here!”

Generally, I do not tend to watch the Oscars, and in fact, would likely not have even known that they were on television had my roommate not alerted me to the fact that they were taking place. But, this past weekend I spent a little over an hour of my Sunday evening being entertained by Hollywood.
The world of entertainment certainly draws our senses and peeks our collective (or at least our mainstream) interests, for after all, the cinema’s portrayal of real and fictional events are a collect of our stories and the dreams that we have for ourselves. Even when the narrative is inaccurately portrayed or the experiences are not our own, there is something in these stories that connect our lives to one another.
In her book, We Live Inside a Story, Megan McKenna writes:

There is a saying among storytellers around the world that goes: ‘If there is no one to listen, then there is no story to tell.’ The understanding is that if you hear a story often enough, you begin to believe in it. If you believe in it, you will begin to tell it yourself. And then in the telling, you will begin to make it come true in your own life. In fact, you will come true as the story begins to tell you! This may sound fanciful to some, but stories are the most ancient and revered form of communication and expression among peoples. Stories were chanted, drummed out, carried on the notes of musical instruments, danced and mimed, even ritualised, and then in a cycle of the seasons, passed on by elders and tellers by word of mouth and remembered through generations (We Live Inside a Story, 15-16).

In this light then, besides entertaining us, the Oscars are a collection of tales both obscure and mainstream that human beings have worked hard to share with the world throughout this past year. Storytelling is powerful, and throughout history we have connected our experiences through story.
What is your favorite story, and who is your favorite character in the tale? What about this character relates to you?
The gospel that we read together this Sunday is truly one of my favorites, for upon witnessing the unexpected, Peter proclaims: “Rabbi, it is good that we are here! Let us make three tents: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” Peter was likely blown away by the fact that he saw the great heroes in his own faith narrative alive on a mountaintop speaking to Jesus. And his first thought was one of welcoming...Let us make three tents. But, I also suspect that Peter felt much like we would feel if we were suddenly to meet one of our heroes or heroines (those people in our lives that we admire whether they be real beings or fictional characters).
Ironically, (and a twist in plot we cannot miss here as a crucial part of the gospel narrative), we meet the most extraordinary of heroes in the person of Jesus: “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him.” Though I cannot precisely guess how Peter would have known Jesus when He was being transfigured on the mountaintop, I speculate that he had yet to imagine the extraordinary gift that had landed in his day to day life. This ordinary man that wandered the earth, ate food, tasted drink, spoke wise words, but did not seem altogether out of bounds--was and is the greatest story ever told.
Mark’s gospel is the earliest of the gospel accounts to have been written, and in many ways the most dire. In fact, when one reads the text from beginning to end, it turns out that no one is faithful to Jesus; all turn away and reject him in the end. Alas, I am not a Markan scholar, so I will refrain from pretending to know more than I do. But, I think it is important to note where Jesus tells us that we will find Him throughout the gospel texts, namely,  in the least of our brothers and sisters.
When do we fail to notice Jesus in our midst because she or he does not look like us? Are there stories that we neglect to tell or repeat because the people in them have less of a voice than we do? When do we focus on are own needs at the expense of those who are less fortunate? Do we spend too much time entertaining ourselves, and not enough time giving ourselves to others? And finally, who in our life today is most in need of care, that is, who among us is most vulnerable?
Like Peter, I am all too often entranced by the appearance of things, people, and ideas that distract me from the main scenario. In the ordinary and everyday moments, Peter found Jesus in his midst. What is extraordinary in our lives that we manage to miss because we have yet to grasp transfiguration and the richness of life found in the ordinary?
And back to the Oscars. My favorite scene among those I saw came when a Polish director expressed his gratitude after winning the Oscar for best foreign film. The clip is shared here, but his words transfigured me a little as he shared:
O God, how did I get here? We made a film about, as you saw, black and white...about the need to withdraw from the world and contemplation. And here we are (laughter) the epicenter of noise and world attention. Fantastic! Our life is filled with surprises (Oscars 2015).
My prayer then for all this Lenten season is that we will be delighted to find God in unexpected and new ways, just as Peter did that day atop the mount, and that we will have the grace to see clearly what is before us with reverence and awe.

Christy Hicks is a Campus Minister in Griesedieck Hall.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Not to see or to know, but to act

A lot has been on my mind as I prepared to enter the season of Lent this week. Do I give up something like sweets, or add something like cooking a meal at the Catholic Worker House, perhaps both? And all of this seems trite to another part of my mind more preoccupied with the growing violence around the world: the Islamic State across the Middle East, interstate machinations in Ukraine, the ongoing violence along the U.S.’s border with Mexico, and the string of shootings of unarmed black men by police in cities across the country, just to name a few.  It is easy for me to compartmentalize these two parts of my life, the liturgicaly grounded spiritual practices, and the political animal that longs for justice.  This happens despite my knowing that God exists in the world and for the world and that my calling as a Christian is to unite my divided mind toward the single purpose of the Kingdom of God; any belief held only in the mind and not embodied in action hardly qualifies as a belief.

Luckily for me, the world if full of people who help me keep my actions rooted in what I believe.  Amidst all the news stories passing through my mind last week was a piece about Kayla Mueller, a 26 year old aid worker who died while being held captive by ISIS.  ( story stood out because before dying she had written so eloquently about why she took the risk of doing humanitarian work in a warzone. In 2012 she wrote, "I will always seek God. Some people find God in church. Some people find God in nature. Some people find God in love; I find God in suffering. I've known for some time what my life's work is, using my hands as tools to relieve suffering." I admire her ability to look into the eyes of our suffering world, recognize God there and allow that knowledge to move her hands into action.

The Saints are held up as role models for communities, to help them get from knowing to acting.  In the last days before Ash Wednesday, as I vacillated between committing to daily mass, giving up meat and volunteering with SLU’s winter outreach, Kayla’s words and more importantly her actions struck me as a powerful witness of how I might respond to the world around me.  I am not spurred to leave my work and travel to Syria as she did, but I am reminded that again and again that the great spiritual task for me is not to see or know, but to act. That has made all the difference as I entered into this season of Lent and the tension of living the faith of Easter in a world that still longs for the resurrection.

John Burke is the Campus Ministry Faith and Justice Coordinator.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Bless this mess...

I've been thinking a lot lately about getting a tattoo.  Something to remind me about freedom and joy and presence....because you should see my house.  Toys and blocks and books are scattered around the living room, clothes are tossed wherever little toddler hands drop them,  dishes don't know if they are clean or dirty in the sink and dishwasher, and leftover juice in sippy cups and crushed popcorn on the floor tells a story of snack time.  Sigh.  And in so many ways I'm a perfectionist and NEED to keep my space neat and tidy....but living with two toddlers means that the majority of my day is then used up following behind them, tidying their messes and I become one frustrated mama who is constantly searching for a moment to catch my breath and free myself from aggravation.  I need SOMETHING to remind me that God is in this mess.   

I spent some time earlier last week chatting with my mama and she mentioned the phrase “let go”.  Let go of those things that use you up, that you spend too much time giving too much power.  Let go of your need for perfection.  Ugh.  I hated hearing that.  Letting go is not easy for me because that means that I am relinquishing control, and that leaves me feeling vulnerable and powerless...and yet, I wonder what graces can begin to creep in at that point, when I've stopped distracting myself with things that don't really bring the freedom and joy I desire.  

Following this weekend that is jammed packed with Valentine's Day and Mardi Gras, we will welcome the season of Lent.  Lent can be a tricky time where we easily get lost in the process of letting go of STUFF, but I wonder what would happen if we re-framed our understanding a bit and let go of those things that, when left, make us feel vulnerable and therefore open us to those graces that truly transform a person.  Maybe I will try to let go of my need for perfection, and instead use that energy to the know the joy of my little people and the messes we make together.  Maybe this Lent I will get a tattoo...

Julie McCourt is the Campus Minister for CLC.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Do Something!

I often listen to Christian music during my prayer time to God. Today I was listening to “Do Something” by Matthew West and the lyrics jumped out me:

I woke up this morning
Saw a world full of trouble now
Thought, how’d we ever get so far down
How’s it ever gonna turn around
So I turned my eyes to Heaven
I thought, “God, why don’t You do something?”
Well, I just couldn’t bear the thought of
People living in poverty
Children sold into slavery
The thought disgusted me
So, I shook my fist at Heaven
Said, “God, why don’t You do something?”
He said, “I did, I created you”

So often we see injustices happen before our eyes or we read about them in the newspaper or listen to them on the news. It is easy to get discouraged by the way the world looks sometimes. It is also easy to look to God and ask “why?” It is hard to imagine how our beautiful and powerful Creator could let such evil occur in the world. But maybe we are not looking at the whole picture. Look around. There is you. There is me. There are millions of others. Can’t we do something? I would argue that it is our duty, as Christians, to do something. God gave us gifts for a reason, and I challenge you to see how you can use those gifts to change the world. Let’s not be passively living. Next time you get frustrated with something you see, instead of asking God why He is not do something, try asking yourself the same question.

Hannah Vestal is a junior majoring in Theological Studies.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Here in the Middle

Let me first say I don’t really like beginnings or endings- books, classes, trips, summers, snacks, projects, and the list could go on. For me, I much prefer the middle, and I think it has something to do with the challenge that accompanies it. The challenge not to give up, to stay enthusiastic, to be present, and to know that the middle counts. In fact, back in high school a priest convinced me that it counts the most. During one of his homilies he said, “fidelity is won in the middle,” and that phrase is something that has stuck with me. Because after the initial excitement has worn off but much before the accomplishment of the end, there is the middle. In reflecting on this over the past few years of college, I have learned that this middle can mean monotony, repetition, and drudgery. However, it can also mean creativity, mindfulness, and loyalty.
            Up until this point I have been speaking in mostly abstract terms, but let’s talk how this can make sense right now. We are all in the middle of the academic year. It’s halfway done and there’s halfway to go, which deems right now the perfect time to reflect. There is a lot to consider, including academics, work, extra-curriculars, relationships, self-care, and of course, faith. How are all of these areas?  What is keeping us from committing ourselves more deeply? Are we content with the way things are, and if we are not, are we willing to make changes? These are questions I find useful at times such as this.
            Especially important to consider is faith life. For me, I see my faith in the middle as an opportunity to experience a new level of awareness and gratitude. Each 9pm Mass at College Church, every time I meet with my Christian Life Community, and all of those Upper Room Monday nights are chances to recognize not only the sacredness of tradition, but also the nuances of the Spirit. I keep going back because I have found that God meets us in the middle in a more subtle way. We are asked to look beyond what we think we know in order to experience God in all the ways She offers. So, before running off to the next class, meeting, or coffee date take a minute to reflect on the first half of this school year and remember God’s presence right here in the middle.

Cami Kasmerchak is the Campus Ministry GROW Intern.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Thomas Merton: A Man for All Seasons

January 31 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton; while he may or may not be familiar to many of you, he was arguably the best-known American Catholic author of the 20th century (Dorothy Day is the only other person I think even comes close). While there are a lot of commemorations floating around among Catholic (and other) publications whose readership skews much older than the undergraduate age range, I would argue that he remains a strikingly relevant companion for young adults who are working to make sense of their spiritual lives and the part they will play in the world.

Thomas Merton was born January 31, 1915 in Prades, France to artist parents and spent a wandering childhood between France, New York, and Bermuda. His parents had both died before his 16th birthday, leaving him adrift spiritually as much as he had been geographically. Young Merton grew into a sophisticated and literary but somewhat aimless life, including a disastrous year at Cambridge University which concluded after he fathered a child and was summoned to New York by his guardian. Transferring to Columbia University in New York City, Merton surrounded himself with friends and mentors who gradually awakened his latent desire for maturity and peace, culminating in his 1939 conversion to Catholicism and his 1941 entrance to the Abbey of Gethsemane in the woods of Kentucky, a house of the austere Trappist order. His 1948 autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain, became an overnight bestseller and remains a spiritual classic; nearly seventy years after its initial publication, it has never been out of print. While his early years in the monastery were marked by a rather world-denying split of the sacred life of monasticism from the worldly secular realm, he grew to realize that monastic life could not be about escape from the world as bad, but as critical distance to speak to the world as fallen and loved.

From his previous identity as a gifted but fairly pious and conventional Catholic author, his “second conversion” back to the world opened Merton to a new sense of dialogue with the world he had left behind nearly twenty years before. Nothing was out of reach: art, music, poetry, literature, religion, philosophy and more. Despite almost never leaving his monastery, he befriended and corresponded with some of the most significant figures of his generation, from Dorothy Day and the Dalai Lama to Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan to Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope Paul VI. From the atrocities of World War II, he gained fresh insight into the need to speak out against the same violent and dehumanizing mentality that made new terrors possible in his time: racism, the Cold War, the Vietnam conflict and more. At a time when monks were expected to remain in silent prayer, he spoke out against the seemingly imminent threat of nuclear warfare, writing essay after essay about the madness of an allegedly Christian nation manufacturing both weapons of mass destruction and the arguments that dared to legitimate their use. In the early 1960s his order silenced him from writing about nuclear war as a topic “unbecoming” of a monk; it was only after Pope Paul VI himself turned to writing against nuclear warfare that he was allowed to do so again.

When he died in December 1968 of an accidental electrocution while at a conference in Bangkok, Merton left behind over 60 published books, and at least that many more have been collected from his letters, journals, photographs, poems, drawings and book reviews. What makes him enduringly relevant nearly 50 years after his death is not only how applicable his writings are to the existential struggles and social problems we continue to face (although, that too), but his restless heart, always working to welcome a new perspective, to reach across another aisle to learn from someone else, always wondering what else is out there. In an era of information overload and media saturation, Merton paradoxically holds together the love of silence and solitude with the need to remain in conversation with the world. His best-known prayer remains one of my favorites and is a favorite of millions of people around the world who struggle to know how they will contribute to the reconciliation of the world:

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”