Daily Riches: God Has the Last Laugh (Donald McCullough, William Bausch)

“If God can succumb to the limitation–death–and transform it . . . into the world’s salvation . . . then we can move beyond optimism into an assured hope that our own death will become a doorway into life, a translation into an order of being that we cannot now comprehend. This being the case, we have good reason to believe that all the other limitations, while difficult and often painful, will also become, in the hands of God, instruments of healing and growth that will finally make possible the fulfillment of joy. God has the last laugh, in other words. There is an ancient Russian Orthodox tradition that devotes the day after Easter to sitting around a table and telling jokes. Why? According to William J. Bausch,

They were imitating that cosmic joke that God pulled on Satan in the resurrection. Satan thought he had won, and was smug in his victory, smiling to himself, having had the last word. So he thought. Then God raised Jesus from the dead, and life and salvation become the last words. And the whole world laughed at the devil’s discomfort. This attitude passed into the medieval concept of hilaritas, which did not mean mindless giggling, but that even at the moment of disaster one may wink because he or she knows there is a God.

The limitations of life, by themselves, are no joke. There is nothing funny about bodies wearing out, relationships coming to grief, achievements falling short, money running out, time slipping away, or any of the others. But when we view these things in the light of Easter, we must wink, if not laugh. We know that the story is not yet finished; if it now seems like a tragedy, it will, by an astonishing turn of events, become a comedy.” Donald McCullough

“May your Kingdom come soon.
May your will be done on earth,
as it is in heaven.”
Matthew 6:10 NLT

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • It’s hard to face the tragedy in our world. Can you periodically “go there?”
  • Are you praying daily for the soon coming of God’s kingdom? If not, why not?
  • Can you move “beyond optimism?” Can you laugh no matter how dark the times?

Jesus, may you find me neither in denial, numb or overwhelmed by the tragedy everywhere in my world. In our darkness shine your light.

For More: The Consolations of Imperfection by Donald McCullough

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Daily Riches: The Rhythm of Happiness (Thomas Merton and Richard Bandler)

“There is no such thing as failure, only feedback that what you’re doing is not working.” Richard Bandler

“We cannot be happy if we expect to live all the time at the highest peak of intensity. Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of balance and order and rhythm and harmony. Music is pleasing not only because of the sound but because of the silence that is in it: without the alternation of sound and silence there would be no rhythm. If we strive to be happy by filling all the silences of life with sound, productive by turning all life’s leisure into work, and real by turning all our being into doing, we will only succeed in producing a hell on earth. If we have no silence, God is not heard in our music. If we have no rest, God does not bless our work. If we twist our lives out of shape in order to fill every corner of them with action and experience, God will seem silently to withdraw from our hearts and leave us empty. Let us, therefore, learn to pass from one imperfect activity to another without worrying too much about what we are missing. It is true that we make many mistakes. But the biggest of them all is to be surprised at them: as if we had some hope of never making any. Mistakes are part of our life, and not the least important part. It is by making mistakes that we gain experience, not only for ourselves but for others. And though our experience prevents neither ourselves nor others from making the same mistake many times, the repeated experience still has a positive value.” Thomas Merton

“We all stumble in many ways.”
James 3:2 NIV

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Are you trying to eliminate every silence in your life? . . . to refuse “less” and “slow” in order to experience more?
  • Is that working for you? Does it make sense? Does it seem like the path to happiness?
  • Are you surprised by your many mistakes? Can you forgive yourself for them? If not, what does that say about you?

Abba, help me relax about my projects and befriend my mistakes. Help me focus on joining the human race rather than winning the rat race.

For more: No Man Is An Island by Thomas Merton

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Sources: Merton, Thomas. No Man Is an Island. New York: Fall River, 2003.

 

Special Edition of Daily Riches: No One Leaves Home . . . (Warsan Shire)

Home, by Warsan Shire (British-Somali poet)

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.

you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.

your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one would leave home unless home
chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.

it’s not something you ever thought about
doing, and so when you did –
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.

you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.

who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey.

no one would choose to crawl under fences,
be beaten until your shadow leaves you,
raped, then drowned, forced to the bottom of
the boat because you are darker, be sold,
starved, shot at the border like a sick animal,
be pitied, lose your name, lose your family,
make a refugee camp a home for a year or two or ten,
stripped and searched, find prison everywhere
and if you survive and you are greeted on the other side
with go home blacks, refugees
dirty immigrants, asylum seekers
sucking our country dry of milk,
dark, with their hands out
smell strange, savage –
look what they’ve done to their own countries,
what will they do to ours?

the dirty looks in the street
softer than a limb torn off,
the indignity of everyday life
more tender than fourteen men who
look like your father, between
your legs, insults easier to swallow
than rubble, than your child’s body
in pieces – for now, forget about pride
your survival is more important.

i want to go home, but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home tells you to
leave what you could not behind,
even if it was human.

no one leaves home until home
is a damp voice in your ear saying
leave, run now, i don’t know what
i’ve become.

 

Daily Riches: . . . And Nothing Changes (David Benner)

“The conversion of the heart that lies at the core of Christian spiritual transformation begins at the cross. It involves meeting God’s love in the cross, not simply encountering some judicial solution for the problem of human sin. It must also involve surrender to that love, not simply being warmed by it as a comforting spiritual truth.” David Benner

“Love is the acid test of Christian spirituality. . . . If we are not becoming more loving, something is seriously wrong. But how do we become more loving and what has gone wrong if we are on the Christian spiritual journey but our heart is not more and more the heart of the Father? How do we move beyond self-interest as our number one priority? How do we get from envy, criticalness or competitiveness to compassion? . . . When I am confronted with my frequent failure in love, my first instinct has always been to try harder. I recognize the poverty of my love. . . . I feel regret and discouragement. I pray for help in being more loving. I try harder. And nothing changes. . . . My own struggles to become more loving have been the most discouraging aspect of my Christian spiritual journey. But as I have begun to learn to come back through the cross to the extravagant love of God for me, slowly my hard heart is beginning to thaw. Ever so slowly my heart is becoming God’s heart–larger and more tender than anything I could have ever expected or experienced as a result of my most persistent effort. . . . Allowing myself to deeply experience his love–taking time to soak in it and allow it to infuse me–has begun to effect changes that I had given up hope of ever experiencing. Coming back to God in my failure at love, throwing myself into his arms and asking him to remind me of how much he loves me as I am–here I begin to experience new levels of love to give to others.” Benner

“If you love your neighbor,
you will fulfill the requirements of God’s law.”
Romans 13:8b NLT

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Do you ever feel like “nothing changes?”
  • In those moments, is your solution “try harder?”
  • Is God’s love for sinners something you actually experience?

Abba, let me soak in, and be infused with, your love for me–and be motivated and empowered to love others.

For More: Surrender to Love by David Benner

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Sources:

Benner, David G. Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality. Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity, 2003.

Daily Riches: If You Lose Your Mind (Janice Hicks)

“Early Christian theologians generally attributed the image of God ( imago dei) in humans to the mind/spirit or soul, which was ranked higher than the body. Basil said that ‘the rational part is the human being.’ Augustine believed the mind has two parts: ‘The higher part contemplates eternal truths and makes judgments’ and God communicates with us through it. French philosopher René Descartes further emphasized the supremacy of rationality with his dictum ‘I think, therefore I am.’ Many of us today still fall into the Cartesian idea that the rational part, thinking, defines ‘who I am.’ Rationality is important, but rationality as a determinant of the status of personhood is greatly problematic. . . . Seeing a person as ‘less than’ promotes an attitude of stigma . . . . Contemporary theologians have developed a more balanced view of what makes us human. In Eccentric Existence, theologian David Kelsey proposes that the basis for the value and relationship of the human being lies in God, that is, outside the human beings themselves. Kelsey says that personhood is ‘a status before God’ dependent on God’s relating to who I am . . . . ‘Personhood is not even a function of how we relate to God,’ Kelsey writes. Our ‘personhood is entirely a function of how God relates to us in creating us . . . and hardly at all from anything else.’ God’s relating to us is surely not lost in dementia [for instance] or any illness. According to Kelsey, other qualities beyond rationality make us human, including emotion, love, spirituality, awareness, and courage. These traits have been observed in people with dementia . . . . When a person develops dementia, are they less of a person? Do they lose their connection to God? Indeed, we value infants, and infants are not rational. We are all dependent at times. We are all limited. . . . Perhaps those with dementia remind us of our limitations and that makes us uncomfortable.” Janice Hicks in Sojourners

“We turned our backs on him
and looked the other way.”
Isaiah 53:3c NLT

Moving From Head to Heart

  • In truth, do you see (or treat) stigmatized people as “less than?”
  • Imagine if “our personhood is entirely a function of how God relates to us” rather than of how we relate to God. Imagine what that means.
  • Do you hope others will still treat you with dignity if you live long enough to lose your memory? Can you give such dignity to others now?

Abba, may I look with compassion on those less “able” than me.

For More: Redeeming Dementia by Dorothy Linthicum and Janice Hicks

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Sources:

Linthicum, Dorothy and Janice Hicks. Redeeming Dementia: Spirituality, Theology, and Science. Church: 2018.

Also helpful:

Dettloff, Dean. “After Deadly Van Attack . . . .” America. May 28, 2018.

Keenan, James F. “The Francis Effect On Health Care.” America. May 28, 2018.

 

Daily Riches: God Often Keeps Us Waiting (J. I. Packer, Annie Dillard, Henri Nouwen, Søren Kierkegaard, and Jeanie and David Gushee)

“. . . ‘Wait on the Lord’ is a constant refrain in the Psalms, and it is a necessary word, for God often keeps us waiting. He is not in such a hurry as we are, and it is not his way to give more light on the future than we need for action in the present, or to guide us more than one step at a time. When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God. When action is needed, light will come.” J. I. Packer

“The death of the self of which the great writers speak is no violent act. It is merely the joining of the great rock heart of the earth in its roll. It is merely the slow cessation of the will’s sprints and the intellect’s chatter: it is waiting like a hollow bell with stilled tongue. Fuge, tace, quiesce. The waiting itself is the thing.” Annie Dillard

“The word patience comes from the Latin verb patior which means ‘to suffer.’ Waiting patiently is suffering through the present moment, tasting it to the full, and letting the seeds that are sown in the ground on which we stand grow into strong plants. Waiting patiently always means paying attention to what is happening right before our eyes and seeing there the first rays of God’s glorious coming.” Henri Nouwen

“As my prayer became more attentive and inward
I had less and less to say.
I finally became completely silent.
I started to listen–
which is even further removed from speaking.
I first thought that praying entailed speaking.
I then learnt that praying is hearing,
not merely being silent.
This is how it is.
To prayer does not mean to listen to oneself speaking,
Prayer involves becoming silent,
And being silent,
And waiting until God is heard.”
Søren Kierkegaard

“Since ancient times no one has heard,
no ear has perceived, no eye has seen
any God besides you, who acts
on behalf of those who wait for him.”
Isaiah 64:4

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Are you in a hurry?
  • Can you adjust yourself to a God who is “not in such a hurry?”
  • Do you pay attention to “what is happening right before [your] eyes?

“Some wait in confident expectation–others wait in quiet desperation. This night I close my eyes in darkness and yearn for Your Light, brighter than a thousand suns.” (Jeanie and David Gushee)

For More: Knowing God by J. I. Packer

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Daily Riches: The Hardest World to Leave (Belden Lane, Francis of Assisi and Donald Demaray)

“Who enjoys tranquility? The one who doesn’t take seriously either praise or lack of it from people.” Thomas ‘a Kempis

“In the desert, one inescapably confronted the threat of nothingness, the loss of all one’s activities, distractions, evasions . . . . There in the desert they knew the very scaffolding of their lives to be wholly dismantled. Games were called for what they were. Utter honesty was demanded by unrelenting spiritual directors, hard as the rock beyond the cloister where they prayed. The unbending John Climacus, for example, insisted on laying bare the pretenses of people in the religious life. He spoke of those who bless silence but cannot stop talking about it; those who fast without drawing attention to themselves but then take pride in such remarkable modesty; those who weep over death and then, with tears still in their eyes, rush off to dinner. Amma Syncletica refused to let anyone deceive herself by imagining that retreat to a desert monastery meant the guarantee of freedom from the world. The hardest world to leave, she knew, is the one within the heart. In the desert Christian’s understanding of renunciation, dying to oneself also meant a dying to one’s neighbor. They knew how easy it was to invest oneself in what other people think, measuring oneself by the accomplishments of others, remaining enmeshed in a hopeless pattern of jealousy, subservience, manipulation, and resentment. ‘To die to one’s neighbor is this,’ said Abba Moses the Black, ‘to bear your own faults and not to pay attention to anyone else wondering whether they are good or bad.’ Comparing oneself to others, being concerned about their approval or disapproval, was entirely foreign to the desert way. Watching the sweep of wind over desert sand inevitably gave one practice in studied indifference.” Belden Lane

“Dear friends, I warn you as ‘temporary residents and foreigners’
to keep away from worldly desires
that wage war against your very souls.”
1 Peter 2:11 NLT

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • When you think of “worldliness”, do you think about your heart? . . . how entrenched the world is there? . . . how “hard” it is to war against that?
  • Would it be hard to quit pretending about your spiritual life?
  • Would it be hard to become “indifferent” to the approval of others?

Abba, help me to be real before you and others–no posturing, no pretending.

For More: The Solace of Fierce Landscapes by Belden Lane

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Daily Riches: Worn Of My Falsehoods And Saved By Love (Mark Nepo and Fred Rogers)

“Let me say plainly that gratitude and humility swell when thinking of those who’ve held me up, who’ve helped me endure the many ways I’ve been reduced and worn of my falsehoods through the years. I smile deeply when thinking of those who’ve opened me to the joy of simply being here. I would be less without these friendships. I love you all. I keep telling strangers: to be in the presence of those who can both share pain and celebrate just waking up, this is the answer to loneliness. Such friendship makes sharing pizza in a noisy pub and standing in silence as the old oak creaks all one could ask for. In truth, this process, of being worn to only what is raw and essential, never ends. It’s as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly. Thank you for holding me up to the elements, and for freeing yourselves, and for the joy of these unexpected moments together.” Mark Nepo

“I believe that appreciation is a holy thing–that when we look for what’s best in a person we happen to be with at the moment, we’re doing what God does all the time. So in loving and appreciating our neighbor, we’re participating in something sacred.” Fred Rogers

“Use your freedom
to serve one another in love.”
Galatians 5:13b

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Do you understand the never-ending process of “. . . being worn to only what is raw and essential?” Have you embraced it as a something good? . . .  as God’s loving care?
  • Friends who share our pain and celebrate our “waking up” can sustain and save us. Do you have some friends like that? Can you really do without such loving friends?
  • Presenting your “sculpted” self to God to love others is “something sacred” you can do. Are you available?

Abba, your strong love has freed me to fly. May I love others that way myself.

For more: Reduced to Joy by Mark Nepo.

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Sources:

Nepo, Mark. Reduced to Joy. Berkeley: Viva, 2013.

Rogers, Fred. “Commencement Address at Middlebury College May, 2001.”

Daily Riches: The Sabbath as “Sacred Stasis” (Michael Fishbane and Walter Brueggemann)

“The Sabbath, along with the other practices [Michael Fishbane] exposits, concerns the maintenance of a distinct faith identity in the midst of a culture that is inhospitable to all distinct identities in its impatient reduction of all human life to the requirements of the market. . . . [He argues that] Sabbath is a sphere of inaction.” Walter Brueggemann

”One enters the sphere of inaction through divestment, and this release affects all the elements of the workaday sphere. Business activity and exchange of money are forbidden, and one is urged not just to desist from commerce but to develop more interior spheres of settling the mind from this type of agitation. . . . Slowly, under these multiple conditions, a sense of inaction takes over, and the day does not merely mark the stoppage of work or celebrate the completion of creation, but enforces the value that the earth as a gift of divine creativity, given to humankind in sacred trust. On the Sabbath, the practical benefits of technology are laid aside, and one tries to stand in the cycle of natural time, without manipulation or interference. To the degree possible, one must attempt to bring the qualities of inaction and rest into the heart and mind. . . . The Sabbath is thus a period of sacred stasis, a duration of sanctity through the cultivation of inaction in body and spirit. . . . The heartbeat of repose may thus suffuse the mind and limbs of one’s being, and generate an inner balance poised on quietude and a settled spirit.” Michael Fishbane

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work,
but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.”
Exodus 20:8-10b NIV

Moving From the Head to the Heart

  • Imagine joining your Jewish friends for several months as they practice “the heartbeat of repose” the way Fishbane describes it. How would that feel?
  • Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could experience more “quietude and a settled spirit” in our lives? . . . our homes? . . . our churches?
  • Brueggemann points out the profound external, societal implications for God’s people. Sabbath is a major way we resist our inhospitable culture. Are you resisting a culture that wants to shape you?

Abba, may we regularly enter into inaction of body and soul–into quietude and a settled spirit.

For more: Sabbath As Resistance by Walter Brueggemann

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Sources:

Brueggemann, Walter. Sabbath As Resistance: Saying NO to the CULTURE OF NOW. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2014.

Fishbane, Michael. Sacred Attunement: A Jewish Theology. Chicago: University of Chicago, 2008.

 

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