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Confucius may have said it best: “Everything has beauty,” he taught, “but not everyone sees it.” Seeing it, the spiritual person knows, is the task of a lifetime. It is also the reward of a lifetime well-lived, lived in balance, lived from the inside out as well as from the outside in.
Unfortunately, this culture does not teach beauty in its schools nor require it in its programs. Most of all, it does not prescribe it for its healing value. The value of beauty in shaping the soul, let alone in curing the ills that a lack of beauty brings on, we ignore.
In a plastic world, frenzied by its pursuit of money or dried to the bone by the lack of it, the whole of life is cheapened, devalued. Then the collectibles of life take precedence over its joys. Striving trumps achievement. Nothing is ever enough. Only consumption brings a sense of success in life.
And so life goes by, a merry-go-round of toys gotten or yet to get. Just for the sake of having them. Whether they bring anything of internal value in return is seldom factored into the equation.
Without obeisance to the God of More, materialism says, how can we ever say that life has been worth it? How else will we come to know that life has value in itself? How will we ever learn that life lived in pursuit of beauty has been lived beautifully?
Too often, we miss the obvious: beauty is meant to enable us to transcend the mundane, to escape the frivolous, to save us from the toxicity of the cheap and tawdry. Because of beauty, we may begin to see that the purpose of life is to make beauty possible. Beauty brings peace to the soul and satisfaction to the heart. It saves us from the stress that cacophony brings.
To be enriched by beauty is to have within us the sight of life that will never go away, that will never leave us empty. It is the sight of one single sunset that brings layers of life to every sunset thereafter. When we begin to recognize beauty, to see it all around us, it has done its work on us. Steeped in beauty, we have become beautiful ourselves. We are calm now, uplifted, enriched by the world around us, deepened in our sensitivities, our vision of the world more finely honed. We become the beauty we have come to see everywhere.
—from Two Dogs and A Parrot (BlueBridge), by Joan ChittisterContinue Reading
First Reading Exodus 17:3-7 Second Reading Romans 5:1-2,5-8
Gospel John 4:5-42
This unnamed but well-known woman experienced a major change in her life. She was engaged in the longest recorded conversation with Jesus. The most starting aspect of the conversation is that it happened at all. Jesus, an observant Jew, was expected to avoid conversation with women in public. Move than that, to begin with, the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans would have prevented the conversation in the first place. The woman herself mentions it, “How can you, a Jew, ask me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” Yet Jesus not only converses with her, he also asks her to share her drinking vessel, an action that, according Jewish law, makes him unclean.
The high point of the conversation is when Jesus reveals himself to her as the Messiah. As this, the woman becomes a disciple. She, an outcast and not a Jew, returns to her town to round up people to come meet Jesus for themselves. This personal encounter has both a social and an educational dimension. The woman became an evangelist to her own people and Jesus uses the incident to incident to teach the disciples a lesson in mercy.
Don’t you love how Jesus gently converses with this woman! In the view of his disciples she was the wrong gender, from the wrong place, and lives a wrong life. But, this day, Jesus is tired and thirsty. Then, this lady (though her neighbors would never have called her a lady) approaches. No one went to the well at high noon – it was just too hot. She is skittish at the sight of a strange man. She had to get her water when she thought no one else would be around. She’s grown accustomed to suffering two extremes: guys’ catcalls as she walked down the road or she’d been ignored. Her defenses were up. She wasn’t going to take any guff (she may have thought another word for it). But, she wasn’t stupid; she was gutsy. Despite the taboo of tradition, she talked back to Jesus. And Jesus in the words of Psalm 34 “watched over the righteous and listened to her cry; He rescued her from her troubles and drew near to this one who was discouraged; He saved her who had lost hope.” “Give me a drink.”
The exchange continued between the two of them. He offered her living water. This must have sounded GREAT! She wouldn’t have to go to that well anymore! She wouldn’t have to suffer the jeers, the whispers, the stares and finger-pointing. She took in all Jesus said, pondered his words, digested it and then insisted the townspeople listen to her. It was such an amazing, remarkable experience she couldn’t keep it to herself. She ran shouting: “Come, see a man who told me everything that I did. Can this be the Christ?!“ In the end, they answered for themselves, “This is indeed the Savior of the world.”
In Joan Chittister’s blog this week there is an excerpt from her book ILLUMINATED LIFE. Joan reminds her readers that there is a lot more involved than may at first appear in making a soul-shaking change in our lives. In Joan’s words:
Changing the way we go about life is not all that difficult. We all do it all the time. We change jobs, states, houses, relationships, lifestyles over and over again as the years go by. But those are, in the main, very superficial changes. Real change is far deeper than that. It is changing the way we look at life that is the stuff of conversion.
Metanoia, conversion, is an ancient concept that is deeply embedded in the monastic worldview. Early seekers went to the desert to escape the spiritual aridity of the cities, to concentrate on the things of God. “Flight from the world”—separation from the systems and vitiated values that drove the world around them—became the mark of the true contemplative. To be a contemplative in a world bent on materialism and suffocated with itself, conversion was fundamental. But conversion to what? To deserts? Hardly. The goal was purity of heart, single-mindedness of search, focus of life.
We do not need to leave where we are to become contemplative. “Flight from the world” is not about leaving any specific location. (Remember the Samaritan woman didn’t leave town – she ran back to the villagers. Joan continues:) “Flight from the world” is about shedding one set of attitudes, one kind of consciousness for another. We simply have to be where we are with a different state of mind. We have to sit at home … with the good of the whole world in mind…
What needs to be changed in us? Anything that makes us the sole-center of ourselves. Anything that deludes us into thinking that we are not simply a work in progress… all of those professional degrees, status, achievements, and power are no substitute for the wisdom that a world full of God everywhere, in everyone, has to teach us.
To become a contemplative, a daily schedule of religious events and practices is not enough. We must begin to do life, to be with people, to accept circumstances, to bring good to evil in ways that speak of the presence of God in every moment.
[from Illuminated Life by Joan Chittister]
I believe that Jesus Christ,
the unique son of God,
is the face of God
in whom we see best
the divine justice,
and divine compassion
to which we are all called.
we become new people,
of our brokenness
and lifted to the fullness of life.
By the power
of the Holy Spirit
he was born
of the woman Mary,
pure in soul
a sign to the ages
of the exalted place
in the divine plan
of human salvation.
He grew as we grow
through all the stages of life.
He lived as we live
prey to the pressures of evil
and intent on the good.
He broke no bonds
with the world
to which he was bound.
He sinned not.
He never strayed
from the mind of God.
He showed us the Way,
lived it for us,
suffered from it,
and died because of it
so that we might live
with new heart, new mind,
and new strength
despite all the death
we are daily subjected.
In praise of work
Scripture is very clear about the place of work in human life. The Book of Genesis is explicit: we were put into the Garden “to till and to keep it.” We work to complete the work of God in the world. Work, then, may be the most sanctifying thing we do.
The implications of a spirituality of work in a world such as ours are clear, it seems. Work is my gift to the world. It is my social fruitfulness. It ties me to my neighbor and binds me to the future.
Work is the way I am saved from total self-centeredness. It gives me a reason to exist that is larger than myself. It makes me part of possibility. It gives me hope. Martin Luther wrote: “If I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would plant an apple tree today.”
Work gives me a place in salvation. It helps redeem the world from sin. It enables creation to go on creating. It brings us all one step closer to what the reign of God is meant to be.
Work is meant to build community. When we work for others, we give ourselves and we can give alms as well. We never work, in other words, for our own good alone.
Work leads to self-fulfillment. It uses the gifts and talents we know we have and it calls on the gifts of which we are unaware.
Work is its own asceticism. When we face the work at hand, with all its difficulties and all its rigors and all its repetition and all its irritations and accept it, we do not need to traffic in symbolic penances. What today’s work brings is what is really due from me to God. And if we do it well, we will have spiritual discipline aplenty.
Finally, work is the way we really live in solidarity with the poor of the world. Work is our commitment not to live off others, not to sponge, not to shirk, not to cheat.
Work is our sign that God goes on working in the world through us. It is the very stuff of divine ambition. And it will never be over. God needs us to complete God’s work. Now.
-from In the Heart of the Temple by Joan Chittister (BlueBridge)Continue Reading