Monday, April 30, 2012

Politics as Usual?

I have some difficulty with politics. First, as a Christ follower, I put my trust in Jesus, not politicians. I consider my first loyalty and citizenship to be with Him. So, when I see and hear people invoking Christ and the Scripture to further their own political careers, I get a tad upset. In the book, "Contemplative Prayer" by Thomas Merton, it seem he had a similar concern. Written in the late 1960s, he put his finger on a piece of the issue.
"On thing is certain: the humility of faith, if it is followed by the proper consequences-by the acceptance of the work and sacrifice demanded by our providential task-will do far more to launch us into the full current of historical reality than the pompous rationalizations of politicians who think they are somehow the directors and manipulators of history. Politicians may indeed make history, but the meaning of what they are making turns out, inexorably, to have been something in a language they will never understand, which contradicts their own programs and turns all their achievements into an absurd parody of their promises and ideals.
Of course, it is true that religion on a superficial level, religion that is untrue to itself and to God, easily comes to serve as the 'opium of the people.' And this takes place whenever religion and prayer invoke the name of God for reasons and ends that have nothing to do with [God]. When religion becomes a mere artificial facade to justify a social or economic system-when religion hands over its rites and language completely to the political propagandist, and when prayer becomes the vehicle for a purely secular ideological program-then religion does tend to become an opiate. It deadens the spirit enough to permit the substitution of a superficial fiction and mythology for this truth of life. And this brings about the alienation of the believer, so that his religious zeal becomes political fanaticism. His faith in God, while preserving its traditional formulas, becomes in fact faith in his own nation, class or race."
I have seen this tendency from all sides in the political process. It nauseates me. I especially have ill-feelings concerning the policies of those on the so-called "religious right" who justify injustice, (if that's possible), in the name of some conservative economic ethic that privileges those who have against those who do not. Merton quotes Raissa Maritain, "If there were fewer wars, less thirst to dominate and to exploit others, less national egoism, less egoism of class and caste, if mane were more concerned for his brother, and really wanted to collect together, for the good of the human race, all the resources which science places at his disposal especially today, there would be on earth fewer populations deprived of their necessary sustenance, there would be fewer children who die or are incurably weakened by undernourishment." And, I might add, fewer reasons to go to war and wage terror against others.
Just food for thought.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Preserve us, O God

This is the final part of the discussion on the "Our Father." This has not been an attempt to present any kind of comprehensive understanding, much less, an exegesis of the prayer. It is simply food for thought and reflection. As a paradigm, the prayer allows us to contemplate our place before a loving and compassionate Father. Yahweh, who has allowed us to be adopted children of God, who has allowed us to be the sisters and brothers of Jesus, has given us this simple prayer on which to build our faith. My hope in these 4 short posts is that any who happen to read them will be encouraged to model their own prayers on it. To use their God given imagination to see into the depths of the Father's love, compassion and concern for all of God's children.

And do not lead us into a time of trial, but, deliver us from the evil one.          
Testing is something that we all experience. James wrote that testing proves our mettle. It builds and perfects our faith. The psalmist called on to “Try me and know my anxious thoughts.” Why, then, should we not embrace trials and testing? Why not expect that God, in all of the divine Wisdom, to try us and test us? After all, Jesus was tested in the wilderness and triumphed. This testing that Jesus instructed his disciples to pray that they might be spared is that from external powers. We may better understand it, “Father, do not take your protecting hand from us! Keep us from temptations from ungodly powers.”
We do not forsake the wilderness. It is the place where we are tried and tested, just as Jesus. The desert Fathers wrote about the aridity of the interior environment where the perfect faith was forged. We join with them in this. We agree with James and the psalmist in this. But, we must pray that Yahweh, the God who is near, will keep us and preserve us from the fiery darts and weapons of the enemy of our soul.
There is also a part of this plea that is eschatological. We pray the God’s hand will keep us from harm in the trials and tribulations that accompany the end of the age. Jesus saw this as immanent. The Kingdom of God was breaking into time and space, the end of the age was at hand. “Father, keep us from the persecutions and oppression that is to come. Through the righteous and just testing and proving of our faith, let us stand in Your strength and faithfulness when the time comes.”

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Abba, Forgive Us

And forgive us our debts
“Abba, forgive us the debt of sin. We cannot repay this…ever.” Most of us will stop at this point. We jump forward to Paul and claim “Justification!” But, there is more to consider here. We are indebted to Yahweh for everything. Our pray can continue, “Abba, forgive...The debt of having been formed in the womb; of being given the precious Breath of Life. The debt of childhood play and skinned knees. The debt of 1st loves and 1st heartbreaks. The debt of experiencing life with family and friends. The debt of being alone and forsaken by family and friends. All that we are and have and experience are debts that cannot be repaid.
As we forgive those who are indebted to us.
Those who have outright wronged us. Those who have taken a small piece of our life; love; soul and spent it on trivia. Those who have stepped on our toes. Those who laughed when we cried. Those who stole a piece of our innocence and left a wound that scarred and remains with us to this day. Those who have rubbed us in such a way that callouses formed. “O Lord, let Your grace be on us to let go of anything, anything, anything that stands between us and our adelphoi. Let our souls be free from any hint of bitterness that may germinate from holding on to the debts of others. As we have freely received, we do freely give.”

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

More from the Pater Noster

In my previous post I started to look at the prayer Jesus taught his disciples as recorded in Matthew. I mentioned that the prayer has been viewed as a paradigm for other prayers. In its written form it appears to be what Richard Foster called a 'simple prayer.' That is, it contains the simple supplication of a person looking to have simple, basic needs met by God.
Today I want to look at this as it applies to the next phrase.

Today, give us the bread that we need.
 On the surface this appears to meet the criteria for 'simple prayer.' "O Lord, you know
that we have physical needs. Our very lives depend on the sustenance that comes from
your hand." As we reflect, though, we can see that there may be more to this. In John 6,
Jesus spoke about the manna that Israel ate while in the wilderness. He said, "I am the
bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the
bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living
bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This
bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world" (John 6:48-51, NIV). A
couple things jump out at me. First, Israel received manna for the present day. God
literally provided 'daily bread' for them. This bread from heaven kept them nourished as
the trekked through the wilderness. It was received by faith. There was no guarantee,
other than God's promise, that there would be manna in the morning. Every night they
went to bed hoping and trusting that when they awoke there would be God's provision.
The second thing is that Jesus saw himself taking the place of God's manna. He said,
"Hey, I AM the living bread! I AM the provision that brings and sustains life!" Like the
manna in the wilderness, Jesus also must be received in faith. We must 'partake' of this
living bread every day. What we received yesterday has passed into history. What we
may receive tomorrow is unknowable. "Today, Lord, we ask for the living Bread of life
that You provide. Today, Lord, give me Your body as true food that nourishes my soul."
 There is much that we can meditate on in this single phrase. Our dependence; our need
for trust and faith; the truth about what is nourishment and what is not are all worthy of
our time and reflection.
May God fill you from the bounty of heaven's storehouse.