Sunday, January 27, 2013

Life is like.....Super Mario Brothers

This week has posed some challenges. The example I offer might seem esoteric, or out of reach for some who read the blog. Yet, some of you are familiar with the 1980s hit Mario Brothers, and the sequel Super Mario Brothers so I am going to step-out and share a spinning reflection. Friday night I was talking to a friend and had a moment when the realities of our lives fit into the Mario series. Sometimes things just seem to fit the game so well, except rather than attempting to save Princess Toadstool we are questing in, and moving ever toward the kingdom of God. I recall being a teen and staying up all night playing Mario Bros. with friends, we would play until we were to bleary-eyed to move-on. I was never a strong player (my game was Tetris), yet most of the time the challenge continued to draw me into the frenzy of competition. I would work so hard to level up, only to be beaten at the end of the level by some giant menacing creature (the cool thing about this game is that you accumulate lives and do not have to go back to the very beginning each time your character is beaten). Then, there would be that moment, when by fluke, I won against the beast and moved ahead.

Last year I began playing Super Mario Bros. for Wii and found that this experience continues to hold my attention (and still this is not my best game). One thing I do not remember from the early years, is that you can work with friends toward completion of the game (yay, this game is now a team sport). The exhilaration that follows making it through a level is generally short-lived as you and your partner race toward something unknown. However, these moments of moving forward allow for Mario and crew to take with them everything they have learned from their previous experiences (i.e. tools, skills, knowledge, etc.). What I shared with my friend is that the thing that inspires me about Mario is that even when you do make it to the next level the previous ones are always open for you to explore for missing pieces. So, as I re-tool for this week and look to what is ahead I am reminded that although I feel ill equipped at times I can look to what has been learned previously for guidance into what is ahead.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Pray for us, Saint Agnes!

I write on the eve of the feast of St. Agnes, a day of celebration for my community. We have a prayer that over these months has carried me in a variety of ways and I would like to share it here (with a short reflection to follow):

what I long coveted,
I already see;
what I hoped for 
I now hold safe.
To God alone I am
associated in heaven,
Whom on earth I loved
with all devotedness.

Pray for us,
Saint Agnes,
that we may be made 
worthy of the 
promises of Christ.

Let us pray:
Almighty and eternal God,
who choose the weak
of the world to
confound the strong,
mercifully grant that we,
who are placed under the 
patronage of your
virgin and martyer Agnes,
may feel the benefit of
her intercession with you.
Through Christ our Lord.

Tonight as I write the words that most resonate are "To God alone I am associated in heaven, Whom on earth I loved with all devotedness." Sometimes, this is a difficult part of my prayer as I get caught-up in the smallness of worrying about what everyone else thinks about me and what I am doing (or not doing for that matter). When I am in the struggle of what others think it is a good reminder for me to recognize that living for another's pleasure will leave me empty in the end. I am distracted by other things as well, and wonder whether I am convinced that I love God "with all devotedness." My desire is to say, "Yes, of course I do." However, my behaviors at times are not in concert with these lines from the prayer. I can become absorbed in the temporal and, at times it seems I completely forget God is part of this journey at all. Why else would I be concerned about what others are thinking, or how I am being judged by my peers? The prayer to St. Agnes allows me to live in the tension between my limitation and potential. This prayer calls me back to my own humanity in the sense that through both limitation and potential love is ever-present. The difficulty continues in coming to know this, with the responsibility of living it out with authenticity and integrity.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


All week long I would come upon something and think it would be great for the blog, as happens many weeks. And then, I turn on the computer and all energy drains out of me and my thoughts dry up as quickly as they sprang. What is that about?

One thing that seems pertinent from last week is the video, The Empathic Civilisation (Jeff Rifkin -- see above). So, I began to write about it and everything went into lockdown. It's nearly eleven minutes long and well worth the watch so I am uploading it. My initial viewing was for a class in which I wanted to offer something contemporary that related to the social classes of Jesus' day and his response...this was contextualized the previous day in sharing a bit about faith and the person of Jesus. And, that sometimes it is just difficult to believe. So, the next logical step for me was, "Well, what can we believe in?" And, of course love was the answer. The next question was, "How do we get to love?" And the answer to that was through relationship. Bingo. That sent me on the journey for something contemporary.

A relationship that does not have empathy is vacuous. The message of Jesus that we Christians claim to share is anything but vacuous. Yet, oftentimes there are times when I lack empathy...generally when my own drama is taking center-stage, or I find someone irritating. Rifkin states that we empathize when we feel another's struggle. This describes Jesus pretty well. Woohoo, that seemed like another bingo. Then today a friend was talking about judgement and another connection happened with empathy and Jesus. When I lack empathy it is oftentimes when I feel superior to someone. Maybe because I have the right answers, the nicer disposition or a better education. Yet, Jesus does not emote a superior attitude while he lives the pain of empathy for those who suffer in big ways. So much so he chooses to be in relationship with people who suffer at the cost his own status in society. Somehow this brings me back to the question, "What is the cost of discipleship?" A question I have yet to answer as I realize this can really only be paid with our lives. ,

It looks like this week I might be networking all types of ideas that relate to Jesus, empathy and the life of the modern disciple. Hopefully this does not become a point of fixation and can actually help me to transform some of the areas where my attitudes need to be adjusted toward the suffering of another. Admittedly, this was much more exciting while dealing with the students, now it is time to attempt to put it into practice -- always the greater challenge.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Twelfth Night

Entertaining Angels on Retreat
(Okay they are not real, only staged for the photo-shoot)

Oh my gosh, what to write about, retreat or Epiphany. Let me just say retreat was amazing and was badly needed and move us into the moment of Epiphany, which seems a bigger deal in our faith.  Here we are at the formal close of the Advent/Christmas season as we celebrate Epiphany today (also known as the Twelfth Night of Christmas). This is the arrival of the three Magi in our tradition, three Gentile men who travelled with gifts for the child Jesus. The term epiphany means "manifestation." What is it that was manifest to these three sojourners? I am curious about their story. The contrast between light and dark is an aspect of the story that draws me in. King Herod enlisted them to find Jesus so he could bring his life to an end (a little foreshadowing possibly). Then when they leave for Bethlehem they travelled by the light of a star. This is a far stretch from the GPS gadgets we have today. My guess is that it was easy to fumble around in the dark and the path was not always clear, depending on how dark the night. The contrast between dark and light seems integral to this story both, literally and figuratively. For those of us who read it through a Christian lens in the 21st Century we know how it ends, and continues. Today, I wonder what it would be like if I were hearing the story of the Magi for the first time? Or, better yet, what would it be if I were the Magi? What was "manifest" to them? Herod wanted them to return and they were warned in a dream that this was not a good idea. So, these three men journeyed home on a different path (maybe one that was not so familiar, or easy). While on retreat last week I played and prayed with the contrast between light and dark. Currently, I feel steeped in the journey with the Magi, and am grateful to pray with them today. They followed a star and trusted their dreams, insight for the ages. 

So, here is a steep curve off the Magi path, just want to let you know that today I am blogging at a Starbucks as I travel to stay in Milwaukee for the week. I am very excited as I have the opportunity to substitute a sophomore New Testament class at Dominican High School, where I used to teach. Not only is this uber-exciting, I am now reflecting on how this special place has helped me to grow and become a star for me in the night sky. However, I will be using my phone to find how to get to where I am staying because my star navigation is not that of the Magi.... my how things have changed in two millennia. It's good to be back, have a great week!!!!