Jesus was always speaking in parables, according to the Gospel of Mark. Parables are a complex and sophisticated mode of communication. They are most often brief sayings or stories that raise more questions than they answer.
Jesus was also a blunt instrument. There are many examples in Scripture of Jesus “telling it like it is.” Today’s Gospel (Mark 10:17-30) is a good illustration. Jesus rejects the rich young man’s compliment. “Why do you call me good?” He tells the rich young man that his way of life is admirable but not good enough. “Go sell your stuff and follow me.”
If we are honest when praying, God is often straightforward and blunt. He tells us what we don’t want to hear about ourselves. That should not discourage us from praying.
God invites us into a personal relationship with Him. He speaks to us through His Son, the Word-made-flesh. Prayer is our response to God, who is already speaking or, better yet, revealing Himself to us. Therefore, prayer is not merely an exchange of words, but it engages the whole person in a relationship with God the Father, through the Son, and in the Holy Spirit.
God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. In prayer, God’s initiative of love always comes first. Christ wants so badly to spend time with us in prayer, He wants to console us, strengthen us, and remind us who we are and why we are here. As we contemplate Christ, we must never forget that He is also contemplating us with intense love.
Definitions of prayer are important but insufficient. There is a huge difference between knowing about prayer and praying. On this issue, the Rule of St. Benedict is clear, “If a man wants to pray, let him go and pray.”
Imagine driving along I-80 and crops of coconut trees emerge from where farmers planted corn seeds! Scientifically, one would deduct that the soil did not operate within the unwritten but understood “law” of nature. Spiritually, our heart is much like the Earth’s soil: If we plant seeds of doubt, judgment and fear, then our lives will struggle to harvest energy grounded in faith, acceptance and love. Our thoughts are like seeds planted in the Law of the Universe, and our experiences are the physical outcome of what we sow. Currently, in our human race consciousness, seeds of fear seem to be the chosen kernel, keeping faith from cultivating and spreading compassion and hope.
Thought plus emotion equals belief, and it is done to us as we believe. What is it you desire in life? Be conscious of what you are planting. If we limit our beliefs, then the experiences we have will reflect our narrow thoughts. Beliefs we root in negative thought patterns are simply weeds that grow a scarcity mentality. The good news: Affirmative thinking changes negative thought patterns! This abundance mentality will transform your perception of reality and cultivate your life experience. Any time you catch yourself thinking about what you can’t do, simply affirm the opposite. For example, how many times do you hear someone say, “I’m not good at remembering names?” Encourage them to think, “I am great at remembering people’s names,” and see what happens! Our Divine Gardener is amazing! May you begin every day with this affirmation: “I am Love and Loved,” and reap your beautiful being.
Through the isolations of this pandemic time, it has become even clearer how important our weekly worship is for Christian communities. Churches are, when we’re at our best, one of the only places where people from all walks of life are not only welcome, but expected.
A sanctuary is expected to be filled with holy people from 3 days old to 103 years of age, gathered before God as equals. We tell a story of salvation that proclaims that God’s purpose in history will only be fulfilled when the entire human family is united again. We confess the sins that keep us from the fullness of that journey, pray together for all parts of it, and are nourished by holy food at a table where Christ makes all people welcome.
But the paradox of our age has been that the most dramatic and caring act of loving the stranger and our neighbor is to keep distance. Because we could carry illness without knowing it, we stayed away. We practiced love by discipline. We made a time of Lent out of an entire year and more. We prayed, and hoped, and held vigil.
“Returning” now takes its own temporary disciplines — vaccines and masks and some extra care around food and fellowship. Yet most churches I know are returning with a sharpened and focused sense of just how clearly our gathered fellowship is not only a chance to learn about God’s salvation … but a deeply important part of living it today. We belong to each other, and we belong with each other.