Listen Freely

Photo by Joe Grant © 2019

They brought him someone hard of hearing who had a speech impediment and begged him to lay his hands on the man. Leading him away from the crowd, he placed his fingers into the man’s ears and touched his tongue and looking heavenward sighed and said, ‘Ephphatha’; ‘Be opened!’ Mark 7:32-34

Seeker,
What does it take to open your heart?

Are you following all the surface chatter;
that social media static—
a billion voices buzzing?

Inundated by a multitude of messages,
so much is being said
about the power and prerogatives of free speech,

but who is freely listening—
opening a receptive space,
leaning in close, with focused attention?

Myriad opportunities present themselves every day,
inviting us to incline our heads
and expose our core.

Listen carefully… to the master’s instructions,
and attend to them with the ear of your heart.

From the prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict

Though there are countless modes of communication,
and immeasurable ways to attend to life,
gentle listening is the silent language of love.

We can listen for the strike;
the clash and clamor of events;
action and reaction in the explosive cloud of crisis and conflict.

Then, there is heartfelt attention,
attuned to the lingering resonances;
residual whispers of lives barely noticed.

The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares. Henri Nouwen

When mistrust breeds fear, injustice brews resentment,
and violation begets revenge,
we are bidden to listen through threats and past tears.

Will we listen till we hear
our lives and our hopes,
echoed in the cries of other voices?

Dare we wade deeply enough into realities
to acknowledge their complexity
and our complicity?

Can listening be our avenue
to share pains and bring hidden possibilities to light?
Otherwise, how might we come close to understanding?

Incline your ear to me; answer swiftly on the day when I call. Psalm 102:2

Leaning in to listen to another,
paying heed to a need beyond my own,
re-places the center of gravity outside me and mine.

We can ill-afford to reject
this defining orientation of our humanity;
an authentic expression of our God-likeness.

May we not abandon listening
but rather listen with abandon,
throwing wide the hinges of our hearts.

For healing happens when together we listen
to the LIFE within our lives; to the timeless tale
playing out behind and between our varied accounts.

We can listen our way out
of anger, if we let the heart
soften the wolf we keep inside.
Mark Nepo

Much harder than simply hearing;
we listen with our eyes,
with our faces and our entire being.

As you attend to the wind and the song-birds’ chatter,
to sea creatures and the silent stars,
let listening be your first, most enduring prayer.

And may you listen freely with the Great Listener,
for signals of resilient hope and signs of tenacious life
beneath the events of our times.

joe

Blessed Sacrament of the Other

Photo by Joe Grant © 2019

… when was it we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?…
Matthew 25:37-39

Seeker,
Who would you alienate, cast out beyond the sweep of your concern?

Made to make connections—
thee and me becoming WE—
all of us yearn for unanimity.

Craving companionship,
we need to feel part of and are afraid of being torn apart from
our common-union.

The quality
of our humanity,
is calibrated by the breadth of this connectivity.

For none can find wholeness
when the threads of correlation
are systematically severed.

Otherwise, we claim our place in the seamless tapestry,
along with every other creature
embroidered into a garment called holiness.

… we live in the light and the love of those
who came before us, and who helped us to see
and celebrate and recognize ourselves …
David Whyte

Though it wreaks devastation—
torture unspeakable for profoundly relational beings—
pervasive alienation remains; sin of a sundered world.

When the layers of connective tissue
that link us are tattered,
Christ suffers torments unbearable—in minds and bodies shattered.

Isolation haunts homes, hallways and highways,
wherever we settle for hollow commodity—
a cheap substitute for more costly community.

Meanwhile, hanging around every corner,
Corpus Christi languishes;
denuded of dignity, devoid of friendship, fettered and famished.

The Holy One draws near to the brokenhearted,
saving those crushed in spirit.
Psalm 34:18

But mercy tolerates neither exclusion nor exception.
Such exemptions lead only to
domination and desecration.

The warm glow of compassion permits no dark corners,
and no life lies beyond
its infinite, radiant range.

For we are already woven into every other life.
It is the same breath we all share;
free-gifted from forest and fresh ocean air.

We find belonging when we are blessed and broken together.
In such communion we really taste, touch, see, meet
Christ Presence, in the sacrament of one another.

Christ so close, Christ so dear.
How dare we not see you,
when you are so near?

Connection and care
unlock the tabernacle,
exposing a most blessed sacrament.

The scope of our love is not measured
merely by those we welcome,
but also by those from whom our care is willfully withheld.

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these, who are members of my family, you did it to me. Matthew 25:40

May you become a daily communicant,
ready to reach out and receive that other
sacrament most blessed —Christ-present in every sister and brother.

joe 

Sacramental Touch

Photo by Joe Grant © 2019

While travelling, a Samaritan approached and, seeing the victim, was moved with compassion. After bandaging the wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, and placing the victim on his own animal, the Samaritan led them to an inn to take care of the one who had been injured. Luke 10:33-34

Seeker,
Who remains untouchable in your life?

Have you ever seen
fevered victims;
precious people plagued by merciless disease?

Have you looked
into the anguished faces
of families facing indescribable loss?

Have you noticed the quiet courage
of medical workers and body bearers
defying danger to tend carefully to diseased bodies?

To the lost Christ shows his face;
to the unloved He gives His embrace;
to those who cry in pain or disgrace,
Christ, makes, with His friends, a touching place.
John Bell

When curious children come close
to someone’s wound—a cut, a graze, a burn—
instinctively they fear that by touching it they will share the pain.

As adults, we recoil from people in distress,
afraid perhaps
we might be implicated; drawn into their suffering or shame.

And now the aberration of abuse has eroded trust
and left us fearful;
suspicious of physicality; the touching sacrament that heals.

When Jesus touched leprous skin and blinded eyes,
or took a dead child by the hand,
he opened himself to contamination; being declared unclean.

But didn’t he also
need to make love a real;
palpable and physical connection?

Could he feel
through warm fingertips
the stories carried by the skin?

Did he caress the isolation of illness?
Would he feel the indignities of infirmity?
Could he share the powerlessness of poverty?

The house of God is not a safe place. It is a cross where time and eternity meet, and where we are – or should be – challenged to live more vulnerably, more interdependently. Madeleine L’Engle

Suffering cries out to be shared.
There is no healing
without the risk of holding and being held.

Surely you have felt
the pulsing warmth
of another hand in yours?

Such fragile, mysterious gifts are we;
messengers of a Holy One embodied;
to feel through us the burn of love.

Every human palm,
saturated with sensate receptors,
can stretch out to hold, to feel and reach in to know and heal.

Consider your own hands
that have borne suffering
and been stung by violence.

Hands that have inflicted pain
and been calloused
by rejection or disdain.

These hands have brought consolation
and have known
the touch of tenderness.

Strong and gentle,
anointed to care and caress,
and bring the healing Realm close at hand.

God of day and darkness,
bless these holy hands for the tasks of restoration:
the holding, healing, feeding, and forgiving work of the Gospel.

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice that produces beggars needs restructuring. Martin Luther King Jr.

Will you risk being touched by the suffering within the reach of your hands?

joe

Sacramental Spring

Photo by Joe Grant © 2019

God’s Realm is like someone who scatters seed on the ground. Night and day while they sleep and rise, the seed sprouts and grows, how, they do not know. The earth itself produces first the stalk, then the full head of grain. Mark 4:26-28

Seeker,
How have you received and celebrated the sacrament of today?

Sacraments are not magic.
They are majestic, messy and,
at their core, mysterious portals to the eternal.

Prolific though they be,
we just don’t see what we won’t see.
In the face of resurrection’s springtime release, how blind can we be?

Pollen to irritate the eyes,
perfumes and bouquets resplendent
to overwhelm the senses.

And still the miracle fails to arrest us,
draw us out of our own heads,
teach us humility, and school us in awe.

This grand show is eternal. It is always sunrise somewhere; the dew is never dry all at once; a shower is forever falling; vapor is ever rising. Eternal sunrise, eternal sunset, eternal dawn and gloaming, on sea and continents and islands, each in its turn, as the round earth rolls.
John Muir

But first, we must be freed
from fractious fears,
and self-preoccupations to become self effacing.

For every day is Earth Day,
when we open wide the soul’s window,
let in the bird-song Psalms,

and intentionally practice that holy communion
of breath-receiving-and-returning—
first and final sounds we ever make.

In the face of our original inhalation,
and in the wake of our ultimate exhalation,
surely all else pales.

Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.
It is all we can offer in return for the mystery by which we live.

Abraham Heschel

I went one day
for a walk in the woods,
and time lost track of me.

So, on I amble and sometimes stumble,
knowing less and less about anything,
but more and more sure about everything.

Don’t we need to lose sight to regain vision?
Knowing our blindness might cause us to reach out
and lead us into the path of another’s pain.

Amidst the meditation of mountains, the humility of flowers –wiser than all alphabets— clouds that die constantly for the sake of God’s glory, we are hating, hunting, hurting. Suddenly we feel ashamed of our clashes and complaints in the face of the tacit glory in nature. It is embarrassing to live! Abraham Heschel

In all this wildly
wonderful and woeful universe,
love alone endures.

We understand this best
in the act of letting-go
what and whomsoever we have come to love

For we do not manufacture compassion.
We only welcome it,
make room to receive it, and express it with abandon.

From first breath to final,
this is our sacramental mission,
love is not attachment; it is release, outpouring, falling, letting-go.

How strange we are in the world and how presumptuous our doings!
Only one response can maintain us: gratefulness for witnessing the wonder. For the gift of our unearned right to serve, to adore, and to fulfill. It is gratefulness which makes the soul great.
Just to be is blessing. Just to live is holy.
Abraham Heschel

joe

Christhood: Resurrection Practice

Photo by Joe Grant © 2019

Jesus himself stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’
Startled, they were terrified and thought they were seeing a ghost.
He said to them, ‘Why so frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see…’

Luke 24:36-39

Seeker,
Where have you witnessed resurrection this new day?

Whether we care
to notice it or not,
Spring has sprung.

Whether or not we perceive it,
new life has everywhere erupted;
miraculous and blooming with pungent promise.

But what does resurrection actually bring to life,
amid the deep distresses and desolations
of our times?

How do we open a space
for healing to happen
in a heated climate of suspicion and division?

And what does new life mean for people
whose hearts are boarded-up;
who are incarcerated, burdened and broken?

So here is resurrection’s scandalous secret—
a mystery so deep that no amount of surface-scratching
will remove or reveal it:

Always, always, the Christ appears unbidden,
as the wounded one;
the perforated, broken, visibly damaged life in our midst.

Sometimes that wounded Christ is you;
yes, and sometimes also me.
But more often Christ is fleshed in those we do not care to see.

For resurrection offers no escape from trials, tears or failure.
It promises a wide-wounded embrace,
a welcome solidarity with tangible sufferings and alienations all.

i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and love and wings…      e e  cummings

In the embrace of Christhood over cult,
connection over division, and mercy over punishment, resurrection
releases us from prisons of the past; dungeons of our own design.

When we practice Christhood— being in touch with wounded-ness—
the shards of our shattered world stir and shift,
as the heart-like-kaleidoscope turns into the light of a new day.

So may resurrection continue
to interfere with your plans and color your projections.
And may peace punctuate the patterns of your day,

joe

Love Withstanding



Photo by Joe Grant © 2019

When he knew that all was now finished, Jesus said, ‘I am thirsty’.
John 19:28

Seeker,
Have you ever been beside yourself, embraced by pain too big to hold?

In outward expression,
Universe appears as roiling chaos,
but at its core, it is swirling hunger and thirst for connection.

Unfolding into the void
with expansive energy,
reality radiates its longing for communion.

Such explosive outpouring
echoes an elemental ache;
the cosmic overflow of a sundered Heart.

This universal mirror,
visible to us only in darkness,
illustrates a paradox: in being broken-open we are brought together.

Mercy is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world.
A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just.
We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful (God) who is so patient.
Pope Francis

In complete contrast to control,
compassion is the release of love;
liberation that comes with loss and letting-go.

Thus, it becomes both a compass
and pathway into tenderheartedness—
misericordia that ripens consciousness from human into divine.

Behold then our Mysterious Maker,
who comes so close,
but does not condescend;

at-one with us,
electing to suffer, not because of us,
but beside us, inside us, and un-sided among us.

This love-so-wide
perforates every boundary,
leaving us open-mouthed—agape!

Screens of separation dissolve
before the solidarity of suffering-shared,
unleashing merciful lamentation that will not be stemmed.

God weeps at love withheld, at strength misused, at children’s innocence abused, and, till we change the way we love, God weeps.
God cries at hungry mouths, at running sores, at creatures dying without a cause, and, till we change the way we care, God cries.
God waits for stones to melt, for peace to seed, for hearts to hold each other’s need, and, till we understand the Christ, God waits.

Shirley Erena Murray

Nothing is below this God-most-low.
so deeply in love with all Creation
that every bit is destined not for desolation.

Embodiment of aching love,
Christ showed the way to deeper care,
through the cruciform door of suffering we share.

We lose our ‘self’ in the well of another’s pain
to become part of rather than apart from
God’s children and everything else under the sun.

And only those who have required and received mercy,
reclaiming their original likeness,
can savor and freely share it.

To a Creator bent
on the restoration of the rest of life,
it all matters:

boy and girl and undefined lives;
rich and poor and in-between lives;
me and you and every other life;

African, Asian and European lives too;
all animals, every vegetable and mineral.
Even humble matter matters.

Such sacred solidarity, in love withstanding,
sharing the one pain,
offers us the promise of full-heartedness.

Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief.
You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.
The Talmud

May we make a choice today
for love over condemnation, forgiveness over blame,
healing over hatred.

And with forbearance,
may you bear the burden of bearing witness,
standing with love at the foot of every cross and intersection.

joe

Simply Human

Photo by Joe Grant © 2019

How blessed those who are poor in spirit, the Reign of God is theirs (for the sharing). Matthew 5:3

What might a simpler life look like?

Physics teaches that with speed and pressure
comes heat and friction;
stress and tension following closely behind.

The antidote to compulsive-comparative living
lies in a wholesome embrace of our natural sanctity;
the gift of being simply (and not super) human.

Knowingly imperfect, ready and willing
to forgive and be forgiven, we are all made for mercy.
Compassionate connection is our role and link in the chain of life.

Un-possessed by possessions,
those who claim their humanness
welcome their own poverty of spirit.

For only those who know
they are incomplete
can be made whole.

And living with less (by choice or circumstance),
we are more likely, in lean times,
to lean on Providence and rely on one another.

Reverencing our limitations lets us savor and share
an abundance of simpler pleasures
and taste the humbler joys of a less-complicated, uncluttered life.

Live simply that others might simply live! Attributed to Elizabeth Ann Seton

Meanwhile, a global conspiracy consumes us;
cramming our days with stuff and activities,
promising purpose and happiness to fill the sink-hole at the heart of us.

Paradoxically, true ‘holey-ness’ widens that gaping ache within,
by reducing needs, minimizing wants,
and clearing the clutter of compulsions, to making room for others.

Though a simpler life
is intentionally uncomplicated,
simple is never easy.

It exposes the emptiness of overfilled lifestyles
as it celebrates the satisfaction
of spacious fulfillment.

Simpler also presumes slower;
moving away from purpose-driven and toward presence-drawn;
from transactional into relational living.

How we synchronize our days,
sets our patterns of rest, work and wonder,
with careful attention to well-being.

Slowing allows us to live
from that deep-within-well,
and avoid running ahead of grace.

When life becomes frenetic,
it is time for sabbath slowing,
back down to the pace of God’s good time.

Slowing… to attend to those who cross your path.
Slowing… to match the gait of frailty, the pace of infirmity.
Slowing… to meet the tottering steps of old ones and infants.
Slowing… to notice the contours of life around you.
Slowing… long enough to scent the breeze or be captivated by sunset.
Slowing… to feel the road beneath your feet.
Slowing… to be redirected, detoured into byways to learn about loss and hope.

May you follow the lead of the Timeless One,
that ageless, ever-patient lover of the lost;
so slow to anger, so simply rich in radiant mercy.

joe